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

September 2009 Archives

Why You Can Still Afford to Donate

With recent news of a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, major earthquake in Indonesia, tsunami in the American Samoa, and flooding in Atlanta... many Americans feel compelled to help.  What can you do?

If you are Red Cross-certified to assist in emergency situations you may be pinged by the organization to assist in relief efforts.  However, more likely, physically participating in the relief efforts may not be feasible.  Then, there is donating your money.  At a time when the economy is weathering its own storm, you may feel like making a monetary donation is not an option.  But, it still might be. 

The IRS confers significant tax benefits for donations, making donating more palatable then you might have thought.  As outlined by Charity Navigator-- a national evaluator of charities-- here are 5 reasons why you may still be able to afford to donate:

Employment Contract Breach: Jon Exits, Leaving Kate Plus 8

Reality show employment contracts are kept under tight wrap from the public eye, but once in a while we are able to piece together their contents by unexpected changes to shows.  Jon Gosselin of the TLC show "Jon and Kate Plus 8" has become the subject of an employment contract gone sour, and the show's multi-million viewer fan base has seemingly eroded along with the contract agreement.

The family show "Jon and Kate Plus 8" originally followed the married couple as they raised their 8 children.  However, in recent months the separation, pending divorce, and off-screen misadventures of the couple have strained relations between dad Jon Gosselin and the network.  It is reported that TLC informed Gosselin that he violated the morals clause of his contract for his affairs, erratic behavior, and possible mismanagement of family finances.  By many indications, Jon Gosselin himself may have been seeking ways to free him from the contract. 

Workers' Comp Not Working For Low-Wage Employees

Workers' compensation is a state-mandated program for workers who are injured while on the job.  However, a recent study conducted by the National Employment Law Project found that low-wage earners are not likely to file for workers' compensation even when seriously injured.  Many workers were required to report to work after an injury, the study said.

The study, titled "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers" involved interviewing nearly 4400 low-wage employees in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City.  It was conducted by researchers at UCLA, University of Illinois-Chicago, Cornell University, and Rutgers University.  Below are some results from the survey.

Stimulus Spending & New Opportunities: You Keep Track

It has been months since the much-debated and highly-publicized $787 billion government stimulus package was approved by Congress.  And considering that federal taxpayer dollars were allocated for the stimulus, it is no wonder that Americans want to know how the money is being spent and how what new job and benefit opportunities have been created by the infusion of funds.  

The main 3 goals of the American Recovery Act of 2009 were identified as:

  • creating and saving jobs
  • spurring economic activity and investing in long-term economic growth
  • fostering unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending

How can you find out how government stimulus dollars are being spent?

Wisconsin Bank Extends Foreclosure Moratorium

Earlier this month the California Foreclosure Prevention Act, which established a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures in the state, ended.  Mortgagors have been relieved that the close of the program on September 15, 2009 has not been marked by a pronounced spike in new foreclosure filings.  And while California homeowners may be on their own, Wisconsin residents are getting a little more time to sort out their home finances.

Marshall & Ilsley (M&I) Corporation announced this week that it was extending its foreclosure moratorium for another 90 days---until December 31st 2009.   The moratorium is on all owner-occupied residential loans for customers who agreed to work in good faith to reach a successful repayment agreement.  It applies to applicable loans in all M&I markets.  The moratorium was launched in December 2008 and has since been extended two times before the present extension.

5 Tell-Tale Signs that an Eviction is Illegal

Some landlord-tenant relationships are compatible matches that leave both parties fulfilled and satisfied; however others, are the stuff that nightmares are made of.  If you are a tenant who finds yourself in the latter category, you may suspect that the landlord is trying to evict you.  Evictions can be legal, but they must be filed in court and ordered by a judge. 

If you notice any of the following, you may be the victim of an illegal eviction:

1. You come home to find your personal belongings on the curb.

2. The door is padlocked shut.

3. Your gas, electricity, heat, or water has been turned off or tampered with.

4. Your property has been destroyed.

5. The landlord has allowed the rental property to become uninhabitable.

Class Action Suits: To Join or Opt Out?

Sure, you have received notices in the mail informing you about a class action case that you may be able to opt into.  Or maybe last time you went to drop off a movie rental or pick up groceries, the attendant handed you a note card with details about a pending class action case that you could join. 

And before you launched into your next errand or tossed the mail into the "look at later" pile, you have may wondered...should you join in or opt out?

Here are some considerations to help you decide:

Kennedy Interim Senator Paul Kirk and Health Care Reform

Two-time Harvard graduate and longtime Kennedy aide, Paul Kirk, has been chosen to stand in late Senator Kennedy's place as Massachusetts Senator.  The interim role is thought to help Democrats reach the critical mass of 60 votes-- the threshold needed to further the health care reform bill by ending debate on the floor.  However, considering the hesitancy of moderate Democrats concerning the current health care reform measures, soon-to-be Senator Kirk's vote may not be the deciding one.

And you may be wondering, who exactly is Paul Kirk?

The Tax Extension Countdown to October 15, 2009

If you waved the tax collectors by last April by filling a Form 4868 extension, you should know they will be coming by again on October 15th.  The six-month automatic extension comes due in just a few weeks. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You have to pay interest on any 2008 tax that was not paid by April 15, 2009

Top 4 Things You Should Know About Living Wills

The term "living will" can be confusing.  Is it a will or a set of instructions?  What does a living will cover?  Do you need an attorney to write a living will?  These are all common queries when it comes to understanding what living wills are all about.

Here are important characteristics about what a living will is, and what it is not.

1. A living will is not actually a will.  That's right, to dispel confusion early on, it should be known that a will or trust is an estate planning tool to determine how your property will pass after your death.  On the other hand, a living will covers how medical decisions will be made for you in an end-of-life health care scenario when you may not be able to convey your preferences.  A living will is also called an advance health care directive.

Unemployment Benefits Extended by the House

If you have lost your job and are seeing an end to unemployment benefits in your near future, you may be in for some good news.  The U.S. of Representatives this week approved a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.  The catch is that the extension applies specifically to states with 8.5% or higher unemployment rate, making it applicable to 27 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. 

FDA: Flavors for Candy, Not Cigarettes

Mint, vanilla, cinnamon, orange, lime... these may sound like stand-up selections for gum, candy, or cereal but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is putting its foot down to using the flavors in tobacco cigarettes.  The FDA has banned the flavor use in cigarettes as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, effective September 22, 2009.

The efforts are part of a multi-pronged initiative to steer children and youth away from cigarettes.  FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg pointed to the statistic that 90% of adult smokers started as teenagers as support for the national ban.  And considering the stigma that is attached with cigarette-smoking, it is no wonder that the tobacco industry is trying to re-brand itself in new flavors for the changing consumer.

Abercrombie & Fitch & Employment Discrimination

Abercrombie & Fitch is back in the spotlight in an employment discrimination matter.  This time, a case has been brought by a Muslim teenager who wears a head scarf known as a hijab.  She claims that she was denied a job at the Abercrombie & Fitch retail location in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June 2008 for practicing her religious belief by wearing the scarf.  Samantha Elauf filed the case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in U.S. District Court in Tulsa last week.

The EEOC and Elauf allege violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on religious belief or practice.   According to the EEOC, the formal lawsuit was filed after settlement talks with Abercrombie & Fitch proved unsuccessful.

What is a Living Trust?

You may have received a flier inviting you to a free talk or an email announcing a lunch seminar to inform you about setting up a living trust.  But what is a living trust?  And do you need one?

First thing's first, here are the basics on what a living trust is and its features:

  • A living trust is a written, legal document that transfers title to a person's property to a trust immediately-- during the trust creator's lifetime-- to be managed by a trustee.  
  • The trust creator can name themselves as trustee during his/her lifetime.

Warning: Being Uninsured Can Be Hazardous to Health

The study results are in. And things are not looking good for the estimated 46 million people who find themselves uninsured in America.  The study conducted by Harvard researchers found that the uninsured have a 40% higher risk of death than those who have private health insurance.  This is significant increase from the 25% risk of death for the uninsured, determined in a similar study done 16 years ago in 1993.

In a developed nation that is a leader in medical and technological advances--how the can risk of death for its uninsured residents have nearly doubled in the past decades?

No ID, No Vote: Voter ID Law Not Okay in Indiana

An Indiana appellate court declared no-go on a state law that required Indiana residents to show photo identification in order to vote.  The state court ruled that the voter ID law violated Indiana's constitution by failing to treat voters on an impartial basis, even though though the U.S. Supreme Court last year found the law to be in line with the Constitution.

The Indiana voter ID law was passed in 2005, challenged in federal court, and then found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.  The matter wasn't done after that though, the League of Women Voters took up the cause and case and filed suit in state court.

H1N1 Vaccine: To Have and To Share

Swine flu anxiety got you down?  Well you can chin up a little as the FDA approved its first batches of swine flu vaccines developed by four pharmaceutical companies, ensuring that there will be enough to reach Americans who seek H1N1 vaccine protection.

The U.S. has put in an order for 195 million doses of H1N1 vaccine which is projected to be enough for the country's 300 million-strong population.  Though the numbers don't seem to add up, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that millions of flu vaccines are discarded on an annual basis after flu season.  Since the H1N1 vaccine is not mandatory for all people, the CDC is confident that the doses ordered will fulfill the nation's needs.

Schwarzenegger and Renewable Energy: Doing it His Way

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is set to veto state legislation for renewable energy this week.  But he will follow up by signing an executive order propelling California to the top spot for most stringent energy standards in the country.

The "Governator" will veto legislation that has been passed in state Legislature because of its restrictions on sourcing renewable energy out-of-state.  Instead, he will sign an executive order that mirrors the state legislation's mandate that 33% of California's energy be sourced by renewable energy--such as solar, wind, and geothermal--by 2020, but that will allow utility companies to seek renewable energy from beyond California's borders. 

What Is a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)?

A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a compelling legal option for anyone facing domestic violence. It is a court order that protects a person or persons from physical, mental, verbal, or other abuse. It can require the abuser to keep at least 100 yards away from the victim, enforceable by arrest. It can be filed against a spouse, ex-spouse, parent of a child, boyfriend, girlfriend, grandparent, or anyone else initiating harm. And under some circumstances it can prohibit the abuser from purchasing a firearm.

If you are facing domestic violence, there is help and there are legal steps you can take to pull you and your family out of harm’s way. If you are ready to take action and pursue a temporary restraining order, here are some important things to keep in mind:

Ukraine Refuses Elton John Adoption Request

Singer Elton John's request to adopt a 14-month old toddler from an orphanage for HIV-infected children in Ukraine has been denied by the country's minister for family affairs.  Ukraine's Family, Youth, and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko said that Sir Elton John is not eligible due to his age and his non-traditional marriage. 

Ukranian law requires parents to be no older than 45 years to adopt.  And the country does not recognize same-sex unions as a form of marriage.  The singer entered a civil union with his longtime partner in 2005, the year the United Kingdom first began to recognize officially recognize same-sex civil unions.

Paying Alimony: The 5 Types of Alimony

Breaking up may be hard to do, but it is even harder if one side can't support itself after the separation or divorce. And that's where paying alimony comes in.

Alimony is payment made by one ex-spouse to another to help support them during divorce proceedings and afterward. It is usually ordered when the judge finds that the divorce caused unfair economic consequences for one ex-spouse.

Below are the 5 types of alimony that most state courts recognize:

Annie Leibovitz's $24M Loan Extended

As a follow-up to an earlier post on the lawsuit filed against Annie Leibovitz to collect on a $24 million loan the famed photographer took out from a high-end loan lending firm, it is reported that the parties have come to an agreement and the lawsuit has been dropped.

The loan made to Leibovitz by Art Capital Group had more than money at stake.  It contracted to assume rights to all of Leibovitz's photographs in the case of default.  It came due earlier this week on September 8th 2009 without fanfare, or payment.  Just days after, Art Capital Group announced that it has granted Leibovitz a reprieve to pay back the loan. 

NY Insurers Must Cover Swine Flu Vaccine for Youth

New York Governor Paterson announced this week that state insurance companies are required to cover seasonal flu and swine flu, or novel H1N1 virus, vaccinations.  To be sure, he said the State Child Wellness Law required that New York insurers cover the vaccines, not subject to co-payment, co-insurance, or annual deductible for youth ages 19 and younger. 

The State Child Wellness Law mandates insurance coverage for vaccines that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. And its not much of a surprise that the ACIP recommended vaccines for both the swine flu as well as the seasonal flu this year.  The state is anticipating delivery of shipments of the vaccine to the state by late Sep

Is the Big Apple ready for flu season? 

Fact Check: Health Care Reform Speech and "You Lie"

Last night's health care reform speech was much-anticipated by liberals, conservatives, and middle-of-the-roaders alike.  And the public may have left with either a better understanding or more questions, but it did also witness a live example of the deep divisiveness associated with this subject.  

During the President's review of who would be covered by the proposed health care plan, he asserted to legislators and the public that the proposed legislation would not insure illegal immigrants residing in U.S.   It was at that time that the online and video-viewing audiences heard a muffled comment made from the live audience.  To the vocal interruption, President Obama took a moment to respond with "It's not true" before proceeding with his speech.

First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit: The Basics

If you have been looking to enter the housing market by now, realtors, friends, family, and colleagues have probably already alerted you about the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit.  You've heard about it, but how does it work? And what are the requirements? Below is the information you need to take advantage of the program. 

FMLA Rules: What Employees Should Know

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects the jobs of certain employees who take time off for medical reasons, birth, adoption, or caring for a family member who has a serious health condition. If you are an employee, don’t wait until you need to use FMLA to find out what it’s all about, here are the basic FMLA rules.

Are Elderly Poverty Rates Actually Higher?

There have been countless changes in the economy, health care, and cost of living over the past half-century.  So it may not make sense to use a government equation formulated in 1955 to determine the country's rate of elder poverty.

Outdated formula

The National Academy of Science (NAS) has raised an eyebrow to the existing formula used to calculate poverty of Americans 65 and older.  In fact it devised its own, with startling results.  The government's projection of poverty rate of Americans 65 or older is 9.7% or 3.6 million whereas the NAS calculation suggests that the number is closer to double that, 18.6% or 6.8 million people.

MJ Laid to Rest: What You Can Learn about Burial Planning

Whether or not we have recovered from the shock of Michael Jackson's early departure, the constant stream of headlines ranging from custody matters to cause of death to burial planning decisions have kept the King of Pop where he was most comfortable-- in front of his fans.

Late this week the singer, dancer, performer-extraordinaire was laid to rest, over two months after his death on June 25th 2009.  Deciding on a burial location proved to be an involved process for the Jackson family.  But in front of 200 close friends and family on Thursday, Michael Jackson assumed his final place in the Great Mausoleum located in the Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Southern California.

What can we learn from the burial experience of the superstar?  Considering that none of us know how or when we will make our exit, there are a few choice considerations to keep in mind so that our transition from life to the hereafter is made smooth for those we love and care for.

The Adoption Option: Can Single People Adopt?

Smart, educated, working, independent, wants to have a family.  No it's not an introduction from an online dating website, it describes the profile of single women and men hoping to adopt these days.  Single would-be parents have been coming forward in force over the past decades, seeking to fulfill a part of their lives by bringing a child into the picture.  It is estimated that 5% of all adoptions are done by single people. 

But, are there restrictions? Can single people adopt? And, what should a single person keep in mind during the adoption process?

27 + 1 to National Health Care Reform

We have been following the ongoing debate, and gridlock, facing the national health care reform movement.  And now the grandmaster of change himself is preparing to reveal all.  President Obama will be addressing Congress next week in a primetime delivery aimed at outlining a plan that he supports.  The speech is anticipated for Wednesday evening, just a day after the House and Senate reconvene after August recess.  Currently there are plans in both Houses that endeavor to reform healthcare in the U.S. but which employ distinctly different strategies to achieve fundamental change.

While the speech will be aimed at clarifying the President's vision of tangible reform, it enables him to address the population that will be directly affected by the changes, you and me.

Insurance Claims: What To Do After A Fire

Hot, dry weather, erratic winds, and thirsty trees and brush can abet a spark, enabling it to progress into an uncontrollable and dangerous wildfire.  If you have survived such a blaze, first thank your lucky stars for being able to walk away from the consuming heat and debilitating smoke.  And once the air clears you will be faced with coming to terms with a disfigured home and taking steps to file a claim to recover losses and begin rebuilding your life and home. 

You may be confused about what to do after a fire. 

California Insurers Brace For Fire Damage Claims

A wildfire that has engulfed 80 homes with thousands more in its path is still blazing with ferocity in Southern California.  As of today 6,600 homes in the Los Angeles foothills were evacuated under mandatory orders.   And the fire more than doubled on this, its sixth day, claiming the lives of two local firefighters.

And the heat is on for insurance companies too.  Travelers Cos., Farmers Insurance Group, and Nationwide have already mobilized catastrophe teams to assess the initial damage.

The wildfire insurance carriers in Southern California feel relatively prepared for the claim filings, having weathered over half-a-dozen wildfires in the past two decades.  Since 1990, 7 California wildfires have instigated $6 billion in insured losses.  And that doesn't account for the millions of acres that have been scorched as well as the thousands of homes that have been gutted by flames.