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December 2014 Archives

5 Legal New Year's Resolutions for 2015

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, adding a few legal goals to the list can be a great way to stay current on your long-term legal needs.

From estate planning to personal finances, there are a number of ways to be proactive when it comes to legal planning. And though you can't always prevent legal issues from arising, you can put yourself in a better position to handle them once they do.

What can you do this New Year's to help plan for a better legal foundation in 2015? Here are five legal New Year's resolutions:

New Year's Eve Party-Hosting Tips: From Cocktails to Car Thefts

New Year's Eve approaches, and that means party planning, drunken coupling, and counting down to the new year.

No one should assume that their New Year's Eve party will become a giant liability in the new year, but it wouldn't hurt to take a few precautions.

Check out these helpful end-of-the-year party hints:

Legal How-To: Paying Off Someone Else's Mortgage

When it comes to giving a gift that might truly last a lifetime, paying off someone else's mortgage might be the ultimate present.

Video of a young tech entrepreneur paying off his parents' mortgage for Christmas last week has gone viral, The Sacramento Bee reports. Joe Riquelme, founder of the smartphone app Videoshop, posted the video to YouTube, where it has since racked up over 7 million views.

How can those considering paying off someone else's mortgage next Christmas (or any time before then) do the same? Here's a general overview of what you need to know:

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'W'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

Lawyers love to use a whole world of weird and wondrously whimsical words to describe certain facets of the law.

And as you might have guessed, a good deal of them may begin with the letter "W." Don't be caught without your wits. Learn more about these five legal terms beginning with "W":

  • Wanton. No, this isn't another way to spell the Asian dumpling. In fact, the word describes very unsavory action or indifference on the part of a person, typically resulting in serious harm or death. Often a person's actions are described as wanton when an attorney wishes to meet the legal standard for recklessness. In a criminal case, a prosecutor might use "wanton" to describe a murder defendant's acts which have a malicious or craven intent.

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Indiana

Connecting the Midwest with the Great Lakes, Indiana is the 16th most populated U.S. state, despite being the smallest contiguous state west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Known as the Hoosier State, Indiana's motto "The Crossroads of America" makes reference to the state's central location, which makes it a hub for several major interstate highways. But what should those passing through or looking to become a Hoosier themselves be aware of when it comes to Indiana state laws?

Here at 10 laws you should know if you're in Indiana:

Searching for 'Divorce' After Christmas? You're Not Alone

Family issues often come to a head around the holidays, and Christmas may have you mulling over the possibility of divorce.

And you're not alone. According to The New York Times, there is a "significant rise" in Google searches for "divorce" in the 10 days following Christmas. Times opinion contributor Seth Stephens-Davidowitz attributes this to holiday reflection on dysfunctional facets of family life and our tendency to put off unpleasant events until after the holidays.

Are you searching for "divorce" this holiday season? If so, here are some things you should consider:

With Drones on the Rise This Christmas, FAA Launches Video

With small drones being one of this year's popular Christmas gifts, the FAA has launched a new safety campaign advising drone pilots how to safely operate the aircraft.

The campaign includes a new website and a video, both titled "Know Before You Fly," and follows a number of incidents involving injuries and other problems caused by drones. Earlier this month, a photographer was injured during a promotional stunt by a New York restaurant in which drones carrying mistletoe hovered over diners. The use of drones has also been temporarily banned in National Parks after the aircraft began disturbing wildlife and endangering park visitors.

What does the FAA think recreational drone pilots should know before they fly?

Can You Have Your Pets Killed, Buried in Your Will?

When you die, can you instruct in your will that your pets be killed and then buried beside you?

That's the question posed by a recently deceased woman's will, asking that her dog, who survived her, be euthanized, cremated, and place among her own ashes. According to Cincinnati's WCPO-TV, Connie Lay, who passed away in late November, requested in her will that her dog Bela be either sent to an animal shelter in Utah or be killed and buried with her.

Is it legal to include killing and burying your pets in your will?

2014 in Review: Our Top 7 Estate-Planning Blog Posts

Despite dealing largely with one of life's must unchanging truths -- that everyone ages and eventually must die -- estate planning is a surprisingly ever-changing area of law.

Not only do the laws governing estate planning change over time, but so to the techniques used by estate planning attorneys to address their clients' needs. With the popularity of cremation on the rise, questions regarding the legality and logistics of scattering ashes have become more common. The use of trusts has also become popular in estate plans, with different types of trusts to address specific needs and situations.

What were some of the most important issues in estate planning in 2014? Here are our Top 7 estate-planning posts from the past year:

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'V'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

Slowly but surely, our weekly series Legalese From A to Z has been working its way through the alphabet, one letter at a time.

Legalese is the name given to the specialized language used by lawyers and judges, found within statutes and other legal documents. It's not necessarily its own language, but it can seem pretty foreign to those outside the legal world.

Each week, we pick a letter of the alphabet and take a closer look at five important, noteworthy, or particularly interesting bits of legalese. This week, we take a closer look at five legal terms beginning with the letter "V":

  • Vacation. While lawyers certainly take vacations from time to time (some more than others perhaps) the word vacation has another, specific meaning in the legal context. When a judgment has been vacated it has been set aside and made legally void, typically by a higher court. In the criminal system, a conviction may be vacated because of ineffective counsel, juror misconduct, or the breach of a plea agreement, among other reasons.

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Arizona

Arizona was the last of the 48 contiguous states to join the union (in 1912) and, at least in that sense, represents one of the final vestiges of the infamous "Wild West."

And even though the gunfight at the OK Corral -- located in Tombstone, Arizona -- occurred more than 130 years ago, there is still a touch of the Wild West to be found in Arizona's state laws. Whether you're heading to Arizona to watch a little Major League Baseball spring training or residing permanently in the Grand Canyon state, there are some laws you should be familiar with.

Here are 10 laws you should know if you're in Arizona:

Fla. Judge Grants Same-Sex Divorce, Invalidates State Law

A Florida judge granted Florida's first same-sex divorce on Wednesday, simultaneously striking down the state's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriages.

Heather Brassner and Megan Lade were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2002, but Brassner has tried unsuccessfully to untie the knot in Florida for the last five years. The Associated Press reports that Circuit Judge Dale Cohen dissolved Brassner and Lade's union after recognizing their marriage as legal, which required declaring that "out-of-state marriages should be recognized in Florida."

How does this gay divorce decision square with Florida's other gay marriage cases?

Can U.S. Passport Holders Travel to Cuba Now?

President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States will resume "full diplomatic relations" with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.

This historic agreement means that Cuba will now host a U.S. embassy in Havana, and Americans might get a chance at legally purchasing those sought-after Cuban goods (read: cigars). But it might not mean that you can go to Cuba on vacation.

So can U.S. passport holders travel to Cuba now?

Most Americans Like Red-Light Cameras: FindLaw Survey

Most Americans -- 56 percent -- are in favor of red-light cameras being used at intersections, according to a new survey by

The survey comes as New Jersey pulls the plug on its red-light cameras (they were turned off overnight, the Asbury Park Press reports); several other states and cities have taken or are considering similar steps. Supporters of the cameras say they are an effective tool for ticketing dangerous drivers. But opponents argue that they are merely money-makers that do little to improve safety.

The controversy also extends to the courtroom, where multiple questions have been raised about the admissibility and legality of red-light camera evidence.

Legal How-To: Revising or Amending Your Living Trust

Like most estate planning tools, a living trust may require revisions or amendments from time to time.

Fortunately, modifying a revocable trust is often fairly straightforward. Similar to revising a will, the exact laws for amending or revising a living trust may vary from state to state. Generally however, there are some basic guidelines for how to go about make changes to your living trust.

So how do you revise or amend a living trust? Here's some info to get you started:

Bill of Rights Day: How It Came to Be

December 15 is recognized as Bill of Rights Day, a time when we reflect on the ratification of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791.

The Bill of Rights contains some of our most cherished civil rights and some of the foundations of our legal system, so it only seems right to remember the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution in some fashion.

So how did Bill of Rights Day come to be recognized?

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'U'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

Undertaking: a word that is both a prime example of legalese, the unique language used by those who work in the legal field, and an apt description of our continuing series, Legalese From A to Z.

Like many legal terms, undertaking has a common meaning -- "a promise or a pledge" -- as well as a more specific legal meaning. In this case, an undertaking is a cash or written promise given as security or surety bond by a party in a property action, such as an attachment.

Each week, we undertake the selection of a letter of the alphabet and break down five legal terms or phrases starting with that particular letter. This week, we take a closer look at five legal terms beginning with the letter "U":

  • Ultrahazardous activity. An ultrahazardous activity is an activity where the risk of injury cannot be eliminated, no matter how many precautions are taken. Engaging in ultrahazardous activities, such as blasting or storing hazardous chemicals, creates what is called strict liability. Strict liability allows a person injured by one engaged in ultrahazardous activity to recover for his or her injuries without having to prove negligence.

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is rich with history and, befitting its revolutionary past, a number of unique state laws.

Massachusetts was the state where the Pilgrims set up their first settlement. The state also played host to the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which began the Revolutionary War.

Fortunately, things have certainly settled down a bit from those days in Massachusetts. But whether you're traveling through or looking to relocate, it's a good idea to become familiar with Massachusetts' laws. Here are 10 laws you should know if you're in Massachusetts:

Divorce: Is Mediation Right for You?

Divorce mediation can be a cheaper and overall more pleasant way to settle what is often an acrimonious and thoroughly uncomfortable situation.

Mediation is rarely forced on divorcing couples, so it is up to the splitting spouses to determine whether to go at it in court or not.

So how can you tell if divorce mediation is right for you?

Is Dual Citizenship Legal in the United States?

Many Americans are citizens of another country as well, and may be wondering if their dual citizenship is legal under U.S. law.

U.S. law doesn't address dual nationality or require a person to choose one country's citizenship over another, but the government doesn't encourage it as a matter of policy, according to the federal government's official Web portal,

So the short answer is that the government won't punish those who have dual citizenship. But why do people want it, and who's eligible for dual citizenship?

Rafter, 75, Fined for Dumping Trash in Grand Canyon

Don't dump trash in the Grand Canyon. That's the message that you might learn from a rafter who was just ordered to pay close to $2,500 for dumping trash in the Colorado River.

In a press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona, federal prosecutors announced that Nels Nicholas Niemi, 75, was ordered to pay fines and court costs after being found guilty of "dumping refuse into the Colorado River." Niemi was leading a group down a 12-day rafting trip through Grand Canyon National Park when the violation occurred.

Why is this Grand Canyon dumping case so special?

Leave Pot Laws to States, Allow Federal 'Waiver,' Report Suggests

A new report finds that a majority of Americans believe the federal government should not interfere with a state's decision to allow the legal use of marijuana.

The report by think tank Third Way found that 60 percent of American voters believe states should be able to decide whether to legalize marijuana, reports The Huffington Post. The report also found that 67 percent would support the federal government offering these states safe haven from federal laws making marijuana illegal.

The report proposes a federal "waiver" exempting states from federal marijuana policy. How would this waiver work?

Legal How-To: Deciding Which Estate Planning Tool(s) to Use

Estate planning is complicated by the fact that every person (1) is mortal and (2) has his or her own arrangement of property, relationships, and assets.

And until this whole ephemeral nature of the human condition problem is solved, it's a bit easier to focus on the latter complication -- sizing up your own situation and deciding which legal instruments are best (wills, trusts, etc.)

When deciding how legally protect your estate, start by considering the following:

Traveling With Guns: 3 Things You Should Know

Luggage can be a complication any time you travel. But traveling with guns can make things even more difficult.

Gun regulations can vary widely by state and even by city, and these are in addition to federal regulations. Thus, being sure to check the regulations of the specific states and cities you are visiting is critical when traveling nationwide with a gun.

But what else do you need to know about traveling with guns? Here are three tips:

Legalese From A to Z: 5 Legal Terms Beginning With 'T'

Legalese From A to Z - FindLaw

You probably know a number of legal terms that begin with the letter "T": trial, transcript, and trespass, just to name few. But what about tenancy by the entirety? Or when was the last time you invoked an action for trover? If you're scratching your head, don't worry. These terms are prime examples of legalese, the unique language used by those who work in the legal field.

Each week, we pick a letter of the alphabet and break out five legal words or phrases worth knowing for our series, Legalese From A to Z. This week, we take a closer look at five legal terms that start with the letter "T":

10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Washington State

Washington is the only state to be named after a U.S. president, and its legal legacy hardly stops there. The Evergreen State is chock full of unique laws and rules, and whether you're passing through or planning to put down roots, you should be aware of them.

Whether you're acting out your "Frasier" fantasy in Seattle or scaling Mount Rainier, you should really know these 10 laws:

What Is a Demurrer?

Demurrer is a legal way of rejecting a claim without addressing the factual allegations contained within it. To demur to a civil lawsuit, a defendant essentially argues that even if the allegations are true, there is no legitimate legal claim.

This legal device is being used by comedian Bill Cosby in response to a woman suing him for allegedly molesting her as a child 40 years ago. Cosby's attorney filed a demurrer to the woman's lawsuit, claiming that regardless if the allegations are true, there is no legitimate legal claim.

How does a demurrer work to strike down a lawsuit without addressing the facts in the case?

Is It Legal to Sell Your Own Organs?

Whether for the sake of pure curiosity or in the face of financial hardship, many have likely wondered whether selling an organ would be legal.

After all, there is a perpetual need for organs for use in organ transplants. And according to the National Kidney Foundation, organs such as the kidney and parts of the lung, liver, and pancreas are among those can be transplanted from living individuals.

But is it legal to sell your organs?

5 Things Drivers Should Keep in Their Cars During the Winter

Winter isn't just coming, it's already here in many places, and drivers aren't taking too much time to appreciate the change in seasons.

AAA reports that as we reach the end of 2014, national gas prices have dipped below $3 per gallon for the first time since December 2010, and drivers are taking advantage of the low prices to continue hitting the road.

We heartily support Americans exploring our country in winter, but drivers should probably put these five things in their cars first:

Are Elderly Drivers Actually Safer Drivers?

A new study seems to debunk the widely held belief that elderly drivers are less safe than younger drivers.

The study, released this week by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that seniors are more likely to avoid unsafe behaviors behind the wheel than younger drivers, reports CBS News. As a result, accident rates for drivers 65 or older have been declining, with 31 percent fewer fatalities in 2012 than in 1997.

What else did the study have to say about older drivers?

Is the Divorce Rate Really 50%? Or Is That a Myth?

At least 50 percent of marriages end in divorce -- or at least, that's what most Americans still think.

But according to data from University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers, more than half of marriages that began in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s are still going strong. The New York Times' Claire Cain Miller urges the uninformed to realize that divorce rates have been dropping over the last few decades.

Is the 50 percent divorce rate a myth, and even if it is, does it matter for your marriage or divorce?

Twitter Updates Tools for Blocking, Reporting Cyberabuse

Social media platform Twitter is updating the tools it provides users to report and block cyberabuse.

The new features will roll out to all Twitter users over the next several weeks, reports Ars Technica. They come amid increasing reports of abusive and threatening behavior online. A recent survey by research firm YouGov found that more than 1 in 4 Americans admitted to engaging in malicious online activity known as "trolling."

How do the new safety measures work, and what prompted Twitter to take action?

Legal How-To: Enforcing HOA Rules Against a Neighbor

When your neighbor gets on your last nerve, you may be able to turn to your homeowners' association (HOA) for help.

HOAs are set up to enforce certain standards for their members under the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) that legally bind each member. And that includes your aggravating neighbor.

So here's a general overview of how to legally enforce your HOA's rules against your neighbor:

5 Legal Reasons to Have an Updated Passport

Even when you're not planning any trips abroad, keeping your passport current can be worth the effort for a variety of legal purposes.

According to the U.S. Department of State, a passport can be renewed if it is undamaged and can be submitted with a renewal application, was issued when you were 16 or older, was issued within the last 15 years, and was issued with your current name (unless you can provide an original or certified copy of legal documentation of your name change such as a marriage certificate).

Why is it worth the time -- not to mention the money -- to renew your passport? Here are five good reasons:

Calif. and Ohio Lawmakers Moving to Increase Holiday Pay

As the holidays approach, employees everywhere are dreading having to work on a handful of days. Some of them will receive a bump in pay as incentive, but that isn't always the case.

Lawmakers in California and Ohio are trying to increase that incentive by increasing holiday pay in their respective states. U-T San Diego reports that California legislators are pushing for a new bill that would entitle workers to double pay on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What will these holiday pay laws change if passed?