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

October 2015 Archives

Has Anyone Died in Your House? Now You Can Find Out

Is your house haunted by ghosts and meth labs past? You can find out for $12, which may be worth it if you are the curious type or are about to buy a property with a grisly tale.

The Died In House site says it will search 130 million police records and death certificates associated with an address for a fee. It will also give you facts about death data in your state for free.

Most public sector employees have the right to form a union, and to collectively bargain for the key terms and conditions of employment. But before any of that, you need a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board declaring that you are, in fact, an employee. And this can get a little tricky.

Graduate students, who are often expected to perform similar work as tenured professors but without the same pay and benefits, have found it difficult to unionize. This is mostly because they have found it difficult to be recognized as employees. But a new case in front of the NLRB may change that.

Can prosecutors try and pick an all-white jury? Can you sue a company for breaking the law, even if it didn't hurt you in the process? And can alleged criminals use legitimate assets to get a lawyer? These questions, and more, will get argued in front of the Supreme Court next month.

The Court will hear a total of twelve cases in November -- here are the three biggest that you need to know about:

Payment Plan: Can I Pay a Lawyer in Installments?

You do not have to pay an attorney's full fee up front. Many lawyers will work with clients on a payment plan. Make regular installments, as agreed, and you should have no problem.

Not all lawyers or types of cases work the same way, however. So, let's look at a few kinds of cases and what goes into lawyers' fees, briefly.

Estate planning is never easy. Contemplating end-of-life decisions and inheritance questions can be legally and emotionally complex. Unfortunately, estate planning for a family member with special needs can make the process even more difficult.

But there are ways to make estate planning for people with special needs easier. And knowing what to expect, including the potential perks and pitfalls, is the best way to start.

5 Silly Halloween Laws to Make You Scream

Some laws are just dumb. Some are a little funny. Then there are those passed to combat the dangers of Halloween that are so stupid they might make you scream.

Here is a survey of silly rules around the nation that attempt to regulate various aspects of Halloween. From trick or treating ages and hours to appropriate costumes to use of silly string, lawmakers around the nation have thought of almost everything.

Grave Matters: How to Sue a Cemetery

Strange things happen in cemeteries. And we're not just talking ghosts. When it comes to the business of burial, there is plenty to fear.

Burial plots have gotten double booked. Corpses have gone missing. Bodies are not always buried where they are supposed to be. And of course, sometimes graves get robbed.

You can sue a cemetery for falling short with a corpse. It's a grim topic. But Halloween is upon us, so now's as good a time as any to take a look at how it is done.

Trending Questions From FindLaw Answers

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 some of the most commented on questions lately from our FindLaw Answers boards.

Student Rights: Can I Get Searched at School?

Students do have constitutional rights but they are limited. Public school students have an expectation of privacy for their property but can be searched when authorities have a reasonable suspicion of illegality.

Student rights balance the demands of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution with public school authorities' need to maintain school order and discipline. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Still, students -- and particularly in private schools -- can be searched, and more easily than adults.

Beware the Grandparent Scam

A call from family can warm a grandparent's heart. That is, of course, if the caller is actually family. All too often these days, a caller is a con man or woman, posing as a grandchild in need, in order to scam money from trusting and protective grandparents.

The grandparent scam has become more and more pervasive in recent years, preying on the best intentions of vulnerable senior citizens. Here are some ways to identify the scam and protect yourself and your loved ones.

It's fun to tell ghost stories and imagine things that go bump in the night, so long as they don't involve your own home. Thinking of angry spirits stalking the halls of your new house doesn't exactly lend itself to a good night's sleep.

With Halloween just around the corner, many folks will be decorating their homes to look haunted, but what if it turns out your house is actually haunted -- is there anything you can do? Well, that may depend on whether the seller told you the house was haunted.

How to Serve Your Spouse With Divorce Papers

Serving divorce papers is relatively simple. But you do have to follow specific procedures and the details will depend on where you are getting divorced.

There are, however, some general principles that are consistent throughout the land. It will serve you well to familiarize yourself with these whether you have an attorney or are handling your divorce independently.

Good drivers are always on the lookout for cyclists, and good cyclists always follow the rules of the road. But sometimes those rules aren't obvious.

Like when it comes to groups of riders, are cyclists allowed to ride side by side, or two abreast? Does it matter how fast they're going? Or what kind of road they're on? Bicycle laws can vary by state, so let's take a look:

When we hear that something is against the law, we generally don't question where the law comes from. But 'the law' can mean a lot of things, from general ideas about jurisprudence all the way down to a written ordinance. And while the words 'law' and 'regulation' are often used interchangeably, they can refer to very distinct things.

Although the effect of laws and regulations can often be the same, it is important to understand how they are different.

IRS Will Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

Any tax code that talks of marriage will apply to all married couples, wherever wed. The Treasury Department and IRS yesterday proposed rules that will put in practice the Supreme Court's June decision recognizing same-sex marriage.

The proposed regulations would also interpret the terms "husband' and 'wife' to include same-sex spouses as well as opposite-sex spouses, a Treasury Department statement explains. These regulations implement the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and extend a revenue ruling from 2013.

Divorce is never easy, even when it's the right thing to do. But there are ways to make it simpler, less expensive, and less painful. Being prepared, working with your spouse, and making smart filing decisions can cut down on unnecessary delays, costs, and emotional anguish.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when beginning the divorce process and some ways to keep your divorce as fast, cheap, and painless as possible.

Wedding Woes: Can I Sue My Photographer?

Here comes the bride and she's all dressed in white. But wait! Where's the photographer?

If you spent many months planning a perfect wedding but something goes terribly wrong with the photographer, you do have recourse. Filing suit against your photographer won't make the special day go as planned -- too late for that -- but you may claim breach of contract.

Can Towns Say No to Fracking Waste? Not in Pennsylvania

Corporations are legal people. Ecosystems are not. So, a federal court has denied a Pennsylvania community's legally creative efforts to ban fracking by saying it violates the legal rights of trees and rivers.

Grant Township tried to stop fracking -- or hydraulic fracturing -- with a community bill of rights that created "rights of nature" for trees, rivers, and entire ecosystems and invalidates a corporation's rights as a legal person if it fracks in the township. Pennsylvania General Energy Company sued, saying the bill of rights was invalid. The court agreed. But the legally creative efforts will be repeated.

Come on, who among us hasn't fudged a little on their resume? Maybe you inflated your job title or embellished your management experience. (No, managing to not get fired doesn't count as management experience.) But you're not going to get tossed in jail for a tall tale on your resume, are you?

Well, if you fabricate federal work experience you might. Fox News guest commentator Wayne Simmons found that out the hard way when he was arrested last week for lying about his work for the Central Intelligence Agency. It turns out there are some other resume lies that could get you jail time.

Ever since your neighbor got that drone for Christmas last year, he's been buzzing around your backyard and the rest of the neighborhood. Is there anything you can do about it? Now that they make a rifle that can shoot down drones with radio waves, can you take out your neighbor's annoying flying contraption?

While nothing would feel better than shooting that drone out of the sky, there are a few legal considerations you may want to think about first.

Family Feud? How a Lawyer Can Help

Lawyers who practice family law often become skilled in navigating family feuds. If your family is involved in serious disputes that have legal implications, it's probably time to contact an attorney for help.

Tough topics -- like death or money -- make people uncomfortable and emotional. Add to that deeply entrenched family dynamics and you have a recipe for disaster. Having an attorney handle a personal matter may seem, well, impersonal, but it's actually a way to avoid having destructive exchanges that will be difficult for you and your family to recover from.

Can I Move out of State With Joint Child Custody?

Moving out of state with a child in joint custody can subject you to a kidnapping charge. If you want to move out of state and you share custody of your kid, you will need to make a deal.

You can come to an agreement with the other custodial parent or with the court. But do not just move without making an official arrangement.

Issues of child custody can be emotionally and legally complex. Unfortunately, not being married doesn't make matters any easier.

The best way to ensure custody and visitation of your children is to have a signed custody agreement, preferably an order from a court. Here are a few legal considerations when trying to obtain custody of your child:

What to Do If You Feel Violated by Your Doctor

If you feel violated by your doctor, you have several options. Some of them will be awkward. However, not speaking up means more of the same -- not just for you but for other patients.

Given the somewhat intimate nature of a doctor-patient relationship, you probably feel confused. It may be hard to even distinguish between discomfort based on being a patient in an examination and a violation. You do not have to decide. First, tell the doctor if something does not feel right.

Do I Have to Respond to a Lawsuit?

You've been served with a summons and complaint. If you just ignore it, will it go away? Unfortunately not. You do have to respond to the lawsuit. If you ignore this problem, you risk losing the case by default.

Deadlines to respond vary depending on the context of the case, your location, and whether the case is filed in federal or state court. But usually you have 20 to 30 days to file an answer. Failure to respond altogether could result in a default judgment, meaning the court determines that the opposition wins based on its filings exclusively.

Living with a disability may not be easy. But paying your taxes may be a little easier on your wallet. The tax deductions and credits available to a disabled person could limit your tax liability, eliminate it altogether, or result in the IRS owing you money.

Qualifying disabilities could be a physical or mental disability that limits your employment, or a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits your major life activities. If you are disabled, here are the tax deductions, credits, and exemptions to which you may be entitled:

Voter Registration Around the Nation: California vs. Alabama

Automatic voter registration is the law in California as of Saturday. The Golden State will now automatically register eligible voters when they obtain a driver's license. Oregon is currently the only other state to provide automatic voter registration.

The California effort to increase electoral participation stands in stark contrast to Alabama, which last week announced the closing of 31 Departments of Motor Vehicles based on budget cuts, a move some say is designed to prevent the state's disenfranchised from registering to vote.

3 Risks to Owning Property With Family Members

Owning property with family members seems like a good idea on the surface. You probably are going to pass the asset on to the same people anyway. So why not avoid probate by ensuring that ownership is handled before you die?

There are a few reasons to avoid this. First, you run the risk of saddling family with the gift of higher estate or income taxes. Second, you expose the property to more creditor claims. Third, you lose control of the asset. However, as explained below, there are alternative methods of managing your estate that achieve the same goals as joint ownership -- but with fewer risks.

Do Doctors Have a Right to Ask About Guns? The Fight Continues

What do guns have to do with your health? Lawmakers in Florida seem to believe there is no connection. Since 2011, Florida has barred doctors from asking patients about firearm ownership. Doctors, however, do not like the restrictions and are asking for review of the law.

Physicians groups are banding together nationally and pushing back in Florida. They are asking the full panel of judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the earlier ruling. In the meantime, legislation to limit physicians from counseling on firearms has been introduced in ten other states, including Minnesota, Tennessee, and Ohio.

The state of Alabama has never taken too kindly to the Supreme Court's rulings on civil rights. When the Court said the Constitution does not allow for racially segregated schools, then-Governor George Wallace blocked the doors of the University of Alabama. And now that the Court has ruled that the Constitution gives same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry, some Alabama judges are turning to segregation-era laws to avoid issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

This continues Alabama's long history of bristling at federal oversight of its discriminatory laws, and while this may be disheartening for Alabama residents today, we have a good idea of how this will turn out tomorrow.

Kanye West is afraid that 3D printing will kill the shoe industry. Why is Kanye afraid? Maybe because adidas, who makes his Yeezy Boost 350 (which you can get on the second-hand market for a cool $1,000), said it's making a running show with 3D-printed materials. Now enterprising bootleggers might start printing their own Yeezys.

Kanye might be right to worry -- the laws against 3D printing are pretty lax. But there are a few things that are illegal to 3D print.

Child Protective Orders: What You Need to Know

A child protective order is issued by a court to shield a child from contact with an abuser or other dangerous person. The child does not need to be the direct victim of abuse to qualify for protection.

A child protective order is a court order. The specifics of the law -- and even what the orders are called -- vary from state to state. By issuing the order, the court's intent is to regulate contact between parties who can no longer do so on their own.

Maybe it's the "gig economy." Or maybe it's employers trying to avoid paying benefits or taxes. Either way, more and more people are working as independent contractors these days.

While it's great that workers can take advantage of more flexible employment designations, what happens when employers try to take advantage of their independent contractors? Many contractors don't know what they're entitled to when it comes to employment agreements, work decisions, and wage and tax responsibilities.

Can I Airbnb My Apartment?

You want to rent out your rental apartment or home on Airbnb. Can you do it? Well, it depends.

There are many factors that go into this answer and, ultimately, you do so at your own risk. Here are some things to consider and to research when deciding:

    4 Things to Know About Flu Shots and Work

    Flu season is upon us and it is time to talk shots. Whether you are for or against influenza vaccinations, you probably have a position. Neutrality does not seem to be an option when it comes to this topic.

    Here are four basics about flu shots and employment to make the decision that will work for you this winter.

    California will become the fifth state to allow physician-assisted suicide after Governor Jerry Brown signed the "End of Life Option Act" yesterday. The law, which will take effect sometime next year, will permit physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients.

    Despite legal protections in place to prohibit misuse of the law, some remain opposed to any aid in death or dying.

    October 5 is World Teachers' Day, and we're celebrating our favorite educators by taking a look at the rights of teachers in public schools.

    From discrimination and academic freedom to union membership and collective bargaining, teachers occupy a unique place, both professionally and legally.

    Do Landlords Have to Allow Service Dogs or Assistance Animals?

    Your landlord must make reasonable accommodations for an assistance animal or service dog under the Fair Housing Act. For the purposes of the FHA, any animal that serves a person's disability is an assistance animal.

    The Fair Housing Act definition is much less restrictive than the one for service animals in the context of the American with Disabilities Act. The ADA governs accommodations to disabilities in the public context -- work, government buildings, etc. -- while the FHA governs the housing context. The allowances for assistance animals in the FHA apply to public housing as well.

    Hospitals perform all kinds of tests in order to provide necessary medical care. And in some cases, it may be necessary to know what's in a patient's bloodstream before knowing the proper course of treatment.

    But what if patients don't consent to a drug test? Or don't even know they're being tested? And are there ethical or legal considerations when turning the results of these drug tests over to police?

    Coming out of the Summer break and having completed its Long Conference, the Supreme Court is gearing up for a busy Fall. On the oral arguments calendar for the October term are cases covering juries in death penalty trials, energy consumption incentives, and whether a man who's been in prison over 50 years can be set free.

    Here's what you need to know about the biggest cases coming up in the Supreme Court: