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

February 2012 Archives

The love that binds is not enough to create a legally binding contract, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 6-1 decision, Ohio's highest court affirmed a legal principle settled by Ohio case law in the 1800s: Love and affection are not consideration for a contract.

The case involved a cohabitating couple and proceeds from the sale of their house, The Columbus Dispatch reports. A March 2005 contract gave Frederick Ormsby, 57, of Medina, Ohio, the first $324,000 in proceeds from the sale; the rest would go to his then-fiancée Amber Williams.

But in a June 2005 contract, the couple agreed to split the home-sale proceeds 50/50 if they ever broke up -- which they did in 2008.

Your "Last Will and Testament" can include complicated instructions for what happens to your property after you die. But some language in your will -- while legal in appearance -- may not be legally enforceable.

Rules and practicalities may render parts of your carefully crafted will a waste of time and effort. Here are some items experts say you should not include in your will:

CO Pot Legalization Will Be on Nov. Ballot

Is America on a path toward slowly legalizing recreational marijuana? As reported earlier this month, supporters of a Colorado pot legalization measure were given until February 21 to collect the additional 3,000 signatures needed to earn the measure a place on the November ballot. Well, they've done it.

Come this fall, Colorado voters will be asked to decide whether the state should legalize the drug for recreational purposes. Though they rejected a similar measure in 2006, attitudes towards marijuana have changed significantly in the last 6 years. A recent Gallup poll even concluded that 50% of Americans now support full-scale legalization.

You May Be Liable for a Dead Relative's Debt

Aunt Millie died and she left all this debt -- a mortgage, credit card bills and a loan or two. Unfortunately, she also left very little money in the bank and had few assets to speak of.

As her closest relative, you're now waiting for the debt collectors to call. What do you do? Are you legally responsible for a dead relative's debt?

Probably not.

Divorcing Couples Use Smart Phones as Legal Weapons

Think your smart phone is off limits during a divorce? Think again. That baby is a treasure trove of potentially damning evidence, and your soon-to-be ex may be entitled to see it.

The use of smart phones during divorce and custody proceedings is becoming more and more common, according to a new survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Ninety-two percent of respondents report seeing an increase in the use of such evidence in the past 3 years.

That includes text messages, e-mails, call and search histories, and GPS data.

College graduates should be allowed to discharge student loans in bankruptcy, an influential bankruptcy lawyers' group recommends. And there's a renewed effort to push the change through Congress.

It's not the first time the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys has called for a revision to how the bankruptcy code treats student loans.

But with outstanding student loans (which altogether topped $1 trillion in 2011, according to Forbes) now eclipsing credit-card debt (about $800 billion), the lawyers' group is calling for urgent action.

Citibank Says Frequent Flier Miles Taxable

Are your frequent flier miles taxable? This is the question that stumped many consumers who received 1099 tax forms from Citibank. The bank sent the forms to customers who opened a checking or savings account last year and received American Airline miles.

The bank asserts the airline miles can be taxed.

Is that right? Or, is Citibank crossing a line? Unfortunately for consumers it's likely the former.

Ferret Owners Face Jail, Fine Under CA Law

Ferrets. They’re legal in 48 states, but currently outlawed in California and Hawaii. Some California residents want that to change.

A group of ferret fans is looking to challenge the state’s 80-year-old ferret ban, and is in search of a state legislator who will sponsor a repeal. If the bid is unsuccessful, ferret ownership will continue to carry up to a six month jail term and a $1,000 fine.

And California’s ferrets will remain hidden underground like the weasels they are.

San Antonio Takes Animal Laws to New Level

Every Friday morning at the San Antonio Municipal Courthouse in Texas, Judge Daniel Guerrero takes on the dogs -- and their owners. He's even met a cat or two.

This weekly exercise is part of the city's plan to crackdown on pet owners breaking the law. Guerrero's animal court is designed to deal with dog bites, stray animals and owners who don't register or vaccinate their pets. Violators face hundreds of dollars in fines.

Why ProtectMarriage Didn't File Prop. 8 Review at Supreme Court

California's Proposition 8 won't be heading to the Supreme Court just yet. Instead of appealing to the nation's highest court, the Protect Marriage coalition has asked a larger panel of the 9th Circuit to review the court's February 7th decision.

When asked about the Prop 8 rehearing, the group's general counsel explained that it would give "the entire 9th Circuit a chance to correct this anomalous decision by just two judges overturning the vote of seven million Californians."

A New York woman's lies to get on a jury may lead to a new trial, in a case that sheds light on what constitutes juror misconduct.

Catherine Conrad of Bronx, N.Y., admits she lied to "seem more juror-marketable" in a tax-fraud case in 2011, the New York Daily News reports. Conrad was selected as Juror No. 1, and four men were convicted.

Conrad, a suspended lawyer, insists she fulfilled her duty as a juror by deliberating without bias. But Conrad's lies amount to juror misconduct and warrant a new trial, the convicted men's lawyers say.

Parents Arrested When a Kid Misses School?

Can a parent be arrested when a kid misses school?

There are more and more stories about such arrests, with the latest coming out of Lake County, Fla. Elizabeth Marrero's daughter, who should be in high school, hasn't yet graduated from middle school. She's missed two years of classes despite the school district's attempts to get her back on campus.

When the state attorney found out, Marrero was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Mortgage Settlement: Will You See Any of It?

What does the mortgage settlement mean for me?

Borrowers across the country are asking themselves this very question, wondering whether they will get a piece of the landmark $25 billion agreement. The settlement is directed at borrowers who are in danger of losing their homes, as well as those who already have.

Unfortunately, you won't immediately know whether you qualify.

$5 Fine for Chewing Gum at School Upsets Parents

Noble Street Charter Network, a group of charter schools in Chicago, is under fire for a strict disciplinary code that includes fines. Students who receive four demerits in two weeks are given detention. Parents must pay the school $5. Twelve detentions require a behavior modification class worth $140.

A group of parents organized as Parents United for Responsible Education is fighting back. They've obtained documents showing that parents have paid the network $387,000 in fines in just three years.

The IRS' message to taxpayers over its latest "Where's My Refund" website glitch: We're sorry, and we're working on it.

"The IRS apologizes for any inconvenience and will provide updated information as soon as possible," a message on the IRS website says.

The apology is aimed at alleviating taxpayers' concerns, after the "Where's My Refund" site mistakenly told them the IRS had no information about their e-filed returns. "It's not even coming up, it just tells me my information is incorrect," a distraught taxpayer in Tennessee told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Presidents Day, officially known as Washington's Birthday under federal law, is a time to honor our nation's chief executives. There have been 44 presidents to date, and many have faced lawsuits before, during, and after their terms of office.

Here are five notable lawsuits involving U.S. presidents:

  1. Marbury v. Madison (1803) -- President James Madison, our nation's fourth chief executive and widely known as the "Father of the Constitution," was named in a landmark lawsuit. While serving as President Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state, Madison was sued in a dispute over a man's appointment to a newly established court. The man's claim was denied because the law that allowed him to sue was held unconstitutional -- the first time the Supreme Court made such a ruling. Marbury v. Madison also helped to form the basis of judicial review.

The late New York heiress Huguette Clark's last will is a fraud, her relatives claim in a legal challenge. More than $400 million are at stake.

Clark, who was 104 when she died last year, was heiress to her family's copper-mining fortune. Her last will from 2005 gave more than $30 million to her longtime nurse, and $500,000 each to her attorney and her accountant, MSNBC reports. Her family was entirely cut out.

But in another will, signed just six weeks earlier, the reclusive heiress gave $5 million to her nurse and the remainder -- more than $400 million -- to her family, the relatives claim in a court filing.

The challenge will turn on several factors.

A new report identifies five states with the most homes in foreclosure, and suggests a lengthy foreclosure process may be partly to blame.

The foreclosure process averages 140 days nationwide, an analysis by the website 24/7 Wall St. shows. But in states with the highest foreclosure rates, homes remain in foreclosure much longer — 220 days on average.

What accounts for the difference? Court and judicial involvement, the 24/7 Wall St. report suggests.

Remember, Reptiles Banned from Mardi Gras Parades

If you're heading to New Orleans for Carnival, leave your reptiles at home. The scaly creatures are banned from the city's parade routes -- for 2 hours before, and 1 hour after.

Apparently some people once thought live snakes would make great scarves.

The Big Easy has seen it all -- breast-baring women, public drunkenness and flying objects. As a result, it's got some pretty great Mardi Gras laws.

Mardi Gras is all about celebration -- and throwing things at your friends. But permission to toss the iconic beads is limited in scope. Drunken revelers are cautioned not to throw beads from 8 feet above the ground -- it's illegal under local law, explains KNOE-TV.

Whitney Houston's unexpected death at age 48 is tragic, but it also offers lessons in estate planning: It's never too early (or too late) to create a will, and it's also a good idea to create a separate document to spell out funeral and burial plans.

Whitney Houston's funeral is set for Saturday in New Jersey, at the church where the singer first took to the stage, Reuters reports. But there was a family dispute about Houston's burial plans: Some wanted her buried in New Jersey, others in Atlanta, according to the website TMZ.

Such disagreements may have been avoidable, had Whitney Houston left her final wishes in writing -- and not just in a will.

NJ Senate Votes for Gay Marriage

New Jersey's gay marriage law took another step toward passing this week. The state's senate voted in favor of the bill. However, proponents of gay marriage shouldn't celebrate just yet. Gov. Chris Christie has said he will veto the bill if it is passed through the assembly.

New Jersey's vote came after Washington recently legalized gay marriage. Washington became the seventh state to do so. Gov Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law this past week.

Even if New Jersey's bill is doomed for a veto, it may still be something worth celebrating for gay marriage supporters.

3 Things You Can't Include in a Prenup

"My husband will perform all dish-washing duties for the duration of our marriage."

Guess what? You probably can't include that in your prenup, as tempting as it is. Prenuptial agreements are versatile. Though, what you can put into your agreement may vary. Prenup laws are mostly state-dependent.

They're also mainly meant to address asset division and a couple's finances. So what can't you put in your prenup agreement?

Did You Get Your 1098-E Form Yet?

Don't forget about the student loan interest deduction this year. The 1098-E form lays out how much interest you paid.

If you haven't gotten your 1098-E form yet, you should check with your student loan servicer. They are required to either mail you a copy or deliver one electronically. Individuals that opted for paperless billing may need to log into their loan accounts to see if the form is uploaded online.

Those with multiple servicers on different loans will get separate forms from each institution.

Can a teenager's alleged church confession to his minister be used against the teen in court? A Michigan appeals court is set to decide, in a case that could set a precedent with regards to the state's priest-penitent privilege.

Samuel Bragg, now 19, faces a sexual assault charge in connection with an alleged rape in 2007. The victim was a 9-year-old girl; Bragg was 15 at the time, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The girl told her mother, who then told her pastor, the Rev. John Vaprezsan. But how the pastor handled the situation is now in question.

Should US Regulate Sugar like Tobacco, Alcohol?

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco believe the U.S. should regulate sugar. The group recently published an article in Nature magazine, explaining that sugar is a toxin -- it causes liver damage, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. It kills people slowly.

On average Americans consume 40 teaspoons of added sugar a day. It's thus become a major public health issue, much like tobacco and alcohol. The researchers argue it should therefore be subject to similar, if not more stringent, regulations.

Can You Help Someone Commit Suicide?

There's a lot of debate about assisted suicide. Should friends, family or physicians be able to help a terminally ill patient die? Is it wrong to commit suicide, or does it ensure dignity near the end of one's life?

Whatever your moral stance, assisted suicide is ultimately governed by law. When one asks whether they can help someone commit suicide, they're really asking whether it's legal under a state's assisted suicide law.

And in the United States, most of those laws say no.

Making Recreational Pot Legal Now Seems Possible

Washington State is poised to become the first state to legalize recreational pot use. On January 26, the Secretary of State certified Initiative 502, finding that supporters collected enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

Polls show that 48% of voters support the ballot measure, while only 45% oppose it.

And if Washington doesn't legalize recreational pot this November, Colorado may. Activists fell about 3,000 signatures short of a ballot measure, but have until February 21 to collect the rest. It's not expected to be too difficult.

Don't Freak out If You Receive a 1099-C

If you've received a Form 1099-C, don't freak out -- but don't ignore it either.

If a creditor has forgiven or canceled a debt of $600 or more, it is obligated to send you and the IRS a copy of this form. This includes debts discharged in bankruptcy and those forgiven by credit card companies.

Now that you know why you received a Form 1099-C, you need to determine whether or not you must pay taxes on the reported amount.

How Are Hookah Bars Still Legal?

Are hookah bars legal?

That's the real question you should be asking, as the law treats hookah smoking and cigarette smoking the same, as they are both tobacco products regulated by the same statutes.

As cigarette smoking decreases, hookah use seems to be rising, particularly amongst the younger generations, possibly contributing to the perception that hookah bars are legal while cigarette smoking is not.

This is actually not the case, as many hookah bars operate illegally.

Why the Tea Party Loves the 10th Amendment

The 10th Amendment, the darling of the Tea Party, supports states' rights.

You've likely heard some version of this phrase invoked by presidential candidates and other politicians recently. It's referenced in debates about medical marijuana, gun control and health care reform. It's brought up when pundits speak about abortion legislation and the Defense of Marriage Act.

But what does the 10th Amendment mean? In legal terms, that is.

A federal appeals court is set to release its long-awaited ruling Tuesday on California's Proposition 8, a ballot measure that barred same-sex marriage in the nation's most populous state.

But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' Prop. 8 ruling, set for release at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, will likely not end the same-sex marriage debate. All parties expect the Ninth Circuit's decision to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, NPR reports.

Here is some background about Prop. 8, and some possible outcomes in the Ninth Circuit's Prop. 8 ruling:

A Washington state agency is set to review Josh Powell's child-custody case after a scheduled visitation ended in a deadly house explosion. Powell and his sons, ages 5 and 7, were killed.

"We really look at the service delivery with the case. Was there anything we can learn about what happened?" a deputy director with Washington's Children's Administration told The Seattle Times.

Josh Powell's struggle to regain legal custody of his sons apparently led to the explosion that investigators believe was a murder-suicide. The custody fight was the latest hardship to hit Powell since the unsolved disappearance of his wife Susan three years ago:

JFK Signed the Cuban Trade Embargo 50 Years Ago

On February 7, 1962 -- fifty years ago -- President John F. Kennedy signed the Cuban Trade Embargo, strengthening a partial embargo that had existed since 1960.

The new terms of the Embargo would end almost all ties between the two governments. It would cut off trade and travel to Cuba; freeze Cuban assets in the U.S.; and impose sanctions on nations that offer assistance.

It would thoroughly weaken Fidel Castro's Communist regime.

The Cuban Trade Embargo has undergone some changes in the last 50 years. Entitled the Cuban Democracy Act, it was officially codified into law in 1992. Congress wished to make the Embargo permanent since there were few signs that Cuba was moving towards a democratized regime.

CA Woman Wins $10K in Honda Small Claims Suit

Heather Peters won her Honda small claims lawsuit on Wednesday, earning a $9,867 judgment from a California state judge.

Peters brought the small claims suit after opting out of a proposed settlement in a Honda class action. The company was accused of overstating the fuel economy associated with its hybrid vehicles.

To settle those claims, the car manufacturer proposed a $200 settlement. It would also provide covered hybrid owners with a $1,000 nontransferable credit towards a new car.

Super Bowl Gambling: Illegal or Harmless Fun?

Millions of Americans will tune in February 5 to see the Giants and Patriots play in Super Bowl 46. Some might even want to wager a bit of money on the game. Which begs the question -- is Super Bowl gambling illegal? The answer may hinge on whether or not your state has social gambling laws.

It's an issue that is important to many sports-loving Americans. After all, an estimated half of all adult Americans bet on the Super Bowl.

Bets range in terms of size and scope. Some may choose to play in an office pool and buy squares. Others may choose to place sizable sums on a team through sportsbooks.

Voters in Washington state are set to decide on a proposal that would legalize marijuana possession for non-medical use and authorize its sale in state-run stores.

Initiative 502, which supporters call "a new approach to marijuana," qualified for November's statewide ballot Friday after a months-long petition drive, Reuters reports. If approved, I-502 would make Washington the first U.S. state to legalize both medical and non-medical pot.

The new pot law would come with limits, however. Here's what I-502, Washington's marijuana-legalization initiative, would actually do, according to the New Approach Washington campaign:

British Tourists Deported Over Twitter Jokes

If you've been making anti-American jokes on Twitter, it's time to stop. The Department of Homeland Security may be after you.

British tourists Leigh Van Bryan, 26, and Emily Bunting, 24, were stopped at Los Angeles International Airport last week after going through customs. Agents arrested the pair and interrogated them for 12 hours.

They were then deported over Twitter jokes.