Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

January 2015 Archives

Legal How-To: Disclaiming an Inheritance

Although an inheritance of money, property, or other assets is often a welcome gift for the recipient, there are circumstances in which a person may want to disclaim a gift from another person's estate.

For example, a person whose own estate may already be at or near the limit of the federal estate tax exemption may choose to disclaim an inheritance for tax purposes. Disclaimers may also be used to take advantage of martial deductions or to prevent a beneficiary's creditors from making a claim on property that he or she inherited.

So how do you legally disclaim a gift or bequest made by another person' estate? Here's a general overview:

What Is Rent Control?

In order to prevent the cost of rental housing from skyrocketing, local governments may institute rent control regulations.

Without rent control, rental prices in some cities can be, as former New York City mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan eloquently put it, "too damn high." Though as it turns out, McMillan's rent was actually pretty low: He was recently evicted from an East Village apartment he was renting for well under the market rate, thanks in part to New York City's rules for rental units. (McMillan also maintains another apartment in Brooklyn which he reportedly occupies rent-free in exchange for performing maintenance.)

So what is rent control, and what does it actually do?

How many Americans support laws that limit cellphone use while driving? According to a new FindLaw.com survey, it depends on what kinds of limits you're talking about.

Half of those surveyed (50 percent) said they support laws that require hands-free cellphone use while driving, while 42 percent said they support a complete ban on drivers' cellphone use. Just 8 percent said they didn't support any limits at all.

Regardless of your feelings on the issue, laws restricting cellphone use while driving are in effect from coast to coast. Here are three facts you may not know:

Are You an Independent Contractor or an Employee?

Determining whether you're working as an employee or an independent contractor is about a lot more than just knowing what to call yourself.

Although independent contractors and employees may often perform similar types of work, even working side by side, there are a number of legal differences between the two. How you're classified can have a profound effect on employment benefits, taxes, and legal liability issues.

How can you tell whether you're an employee or an independent contractor?

Top 3 Everyday Legal Questions From FindLaw Answers: January 2015

You've got questions... we've got answers. If you have not yet asked or answered a question in FindLaw's Answers community, what are you waiting for? This amazing free resource supports a dynamic community of legal consumers and attorneys helping each other out. Simple as that.

We see a lot of great questions in our Answers community every day. Here's a look at the Top 3 recent questions from our various boards:

1. Both my parents passed away without a will. There is a family cabin (not worth very much money) that I would like to have and my sister does not want. How do I go about doing that?

This is a great question; issues with wills, inheritances, and general estate planning are popular on our boards. In this instance, the individual is actually dealing with two issues: what happens to his parents' estate because they died without a will, and how to get his sister to disclaim her inheritance.

Legal How-To: Reporting Online Bullying

Online bullying, also called cyberbullying, has become a widespread issue. As you may recall, a FindLaw survey in 2014 found that nearly one in 12 children had been the victim of online bullying.

What can parents do about this? One Minnesota dad whose daughter was being bullied over Snapchat talked to the bullies' father, filed a police report, and then fought back by posting the bullies' (and their father's) messages on YouTube, reports Minnesota Public Radio. Publicity following the release of the video spurred the child's school to launch an investigation and also led the father of the alleged bullies to lose his job.

If your child is being bullied online, how and to whom should you report it? Here are a few tips you may want to consider:

How Do Unmarried Fathers Establish Paternity?

When a child is born to a married couple, the husband is generally presumed to have paternity rights as the child's father.

But what about a child born to unmarried parents? Establishing a child's maternity is generally fairly straightforward (for hopefully obvious reasons). Paternity, on the other hand, may in some circumstances require legal action.

Why is paternity important, and how do unmarried fathers go about establishing it?

Is It Legal to Keep Pets Outdoors in the Cold?

As the cold weather continues through the remainder of winter and into spring, most pet owners likely don't need to be compelled to bring their animals in from the cold.

But what about those who choose to leave pets outside, even in extreme cold weather? Besides being hazardous to your pet's health or even potentially fatal, depending on where you live, leaving an animal outside in cold weather could actually result in criminal penalties including fines and jail time. In other areas, however, animal owners are free to leave pets outside no matter how cold it gets.

What are some examples of cold-weather pet laws across the United States?

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Missouri

Before Missouri was admitted as the 24th state in 1821, it was part of the much larger Missouri Territory. This was the name given to the Louisiana Purchase to avoid confusion following the admission of Louisiana as a state in 1812.

However, Missouri is still part of a no-less-confusing quirk of U.S. geography: Kansas City is mostly in Missouri and not, as one might expect, in Kansas. Missouri's other major metropolitan area, St. Louis, is known for its Gateway Arch, but has recently made headlines for the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb.

What about Missouri's legal system? Here are 10 laws you should know if you're in Missouri:

Same-Sex Marriage Returns to Supreme Court: 3 Things You Should Know

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case that could decide whether the U.S. Constitution requires states to allow or recognize gay marriage.

The Court's announcement Friday comes after it declined to hear appeals of a ruling that legalized gay marriage in five states in October, reports USA Today. In this case, the petitioners are challenging a November ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states: Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

What do you need to know about this potentially landmark Supreme Court case? Here are answers to three important questions:

Church Fires Unwed, Pregnant Woman for Violating Moral Code

An unwed, pregnant Virginia woman was fired from her job at a church daycare after failing to marry her live-in fiance.

Apryl Kellam said she received a phone call Monday informing her that she was being fired for violating church policy, Richmond's WTVR-TV reports. Church officials had reportedly warned Kellam for several months that she needed to marry her fiance and father of her unborn child, James Coalson, in order to comply with the church's moral code of conduct for employees. Kellam and Coalson live together and both have children from prior relationships.

The couple said they are considering legal action against the church. Do they have a case?

U.S. Eases Rules on Travel to Cuba: What You Need to Know

The U.S. government is set to begin easing its long-standing rules restricting travel to Cuba on Friday.

The Obama administration announced the changes on Thursday, reports The New York Times. In December, President Obama has previously said that the U.S. and Cuba would resume full diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years, including hosting a U.S. embassy in Havana.

What do these new rule changes mean for those interested in traveling to Cuba?

Supreme Court Mortgage Ruling: 5 Things Borrowers Should Know

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court this week may be of particular interest to homeowners hoping to rescind a mortgage loan.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of Minnesota couple Larry and Cheryle Jesinoski, Reuters reports. The Jesinoskis sued their mortgage lender, Countrywide (now owned by Bank of America), after the company refused to rescind the couple's $611,000 loan. The company claimed that the federal law allowing for mortgages to be rescinded required the couple to file a lawsuit within three years, which they did not do (they merely sent a letter). The Court ruled that in this case, the letter was good enough.

What should consumers take away from this ruling? Here are five things borrowers should know:

Is It Legal to Not Vaccinate Your Kids?

Vaccinations have become a contentious, hotly debated topic in parenting and medical circles. But there are also legal questions regarding the legality of not vaccinating children.

These questions are being raised after a recent outbreak of measles at California's Disneyland theme park. The outbreak, which involves more than two dozen cases of the deadly disease, includes a number of children who were not vaccinated against the disease. Of the 16 California cases where the vaccination status of the infected person is known, 12 of those sickened were not vaccinated against measles, reports Forbes.

Is it legal for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children?

Supreme Court Calendar: 10 Cases to Watch in January

The U.S. Supreme Court returns from its winter break to hear 10 cases in January, starting today.

Many of the High Court's cases this month will deal with statutory interpretation, but a few deal with polemical issues like free speech, housing discrimination, and unlawful searches.

Here's what Court watchers have to look forward to this month:

Is It Legal to Charge Friends for Haircuts?

You don't necessarily have to be a licensed barber or stylist to give a good haircut, but is it legal to charge for the privilege?

Most people probably know at least one friend or family member who is always down to showcase his or her amateur haircutting skills. And when these amateur cuts are dispensed free of charge, the only problem might be with the quality of the haircut.

But what about when an amateur haircut comes with a price tag?

Girl, 17, Must Undergo Chemo, Conn. Supreme Court Rules

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a 17-year-old girl cannot refuse chemotherapy to treat her potentially fatal Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The justices voted unanimously to uphold a trial court's ruling allowing state officials to intervene in Cassandra Callender's medical care, Fox News reports. Callender, with the support of her mother, had refused to undergo chemotherapy treatments that her doctors say provide her with an 80 to 85 percent chance of survival, believing the treatments would do more damage to her body than the cancer.

Without the treatment, Callender would be unlikely to survive, according to her doctors.

When Can You Appeal a Divorce Ruling?

After a divorce becomes final, a spouse who is unhappy with the result may be able to challenge the outcome of the divorce proceedings by filing an appeal or requesting the court modify the terms of the divorce decree.

Which of these options may be best in your particular situation? The answer may depend not only on the details of your divorce and the specific issue you are unhappy with, but also may depend on the divorce laws in your state.

There are some general guidelines, however, for appealing or modifying a final divorce decree.

Top 10 Legal How-Tos of 2014

The idea of tackling a legal issue yourself may seem intimidating, but you may be surprised at what you can accomplish with a little legal know-how.

Of course, there are some instances where consulting with a lawyer is the most prudent option. There are others, however, in which hiring a lawyer may or may not be necessary. Our series "Legal How-To" presents some of those scenarios, laying out what is required for those who may be interested in taking on a legal issue on their own.

What were this year's most popular DIY legal stories? Here are the top 10 Legal How-Tos of 2014:

Fla. Same-Sex Marriages Begin After Miami Judge's Order

Florida's first same-sex marriages took place Monday afternoon in Miami-Dade County, after a judge lifted her stay on a ruling finding the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

The weddings began about 1:30 p.m., reports The Miami Herald. The marriages in Miami-Dade County come just hours before court clerks across Florida will be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples by order of a federal court judge.

What are the details behind Florida's path to becoming one of the 36 states, along with Washington D.C., where gay marriage is now legally recognized?

What to Do If You Lose Your Passport?

When you lose your passport, international travel may become a bit of a nonstarter. Even if that means you're stuck in a foreign country.

Case in point: Pop star Chris Brown was stuck stateside and couldn't make it to a New Year's Eve gig he'd booked in the Philippines because he lost his passport. The Associated Press reports that Brown lost his passport the "day before the scheduled event." Bummer.

What should you do if you lose your passport?

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'X,' 'Y,' 'Z'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

As the specialized language used by those in the legal profession, legalese includes a number of complicated, curious, and occasionally confounding legal terms and phrases.

Over the last six months, our series examining this specialized language, Legalese from A to Z, has made it nearly all the way through the alphabet, one letter at a time. In this final installment, we take a look at some interesting bits of legalese from each of the last three letters of the alphabet, "X," "Y," and "Z":

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Tennessee

Tennessee's two largest cities, Nashville and Memphis, also happen to be two of the most important cities in America's musical history, launching the careers of countless American blues, country, and rock 'n' roll artists.

But Tennessee's history includes much more than just music. It was the 16th state to join the Union, and the first Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union following the Civil War.

Whether you're visiting the Volunteer State to take in its scenic beauty or moving to Nashville to make a career in the music business, what do you need to know about Tennessee's laws? Here are 10 laws you should know if you're in Tennessee:

Okla. Oilman to Appeal $1B Divorce Ruling

The Oklahoma oilman who was ordered to pay his ex-wife $1 billion in the couple's divorce is appealing the ruling in the case.

In his appeal, Harold Hamm calls the ruling "erroneous and inequitable," Reuters reports. But Hamm's appeal marks an about-face from his comments immediately following the judge's decision, which he characterized at the time as "a fair and equitable outcome to the case."

What may have led Hamm to change his mind?

Notable New Laws Taking Effect in 2015

Another year has gone by, and with it, many news laws were passed that will now (or will soon be) effective in 2015.

New recreational pot laws will go into effect this year, minimum wages will increase across the country, and even some undocumented workers will have a chance to get legal driver's licenses. Then of course, there's the portion of the Obamacare mandate that applies to employers.

Check out some of the notable new laws taking effect in 2015: