Thursday, March 19, 2015

Asset Protection Strategies for Everyone

Basic steps to protect your family from a creditor attack

For many, “asset protection planning” sounds like something to be done only by the wealthy or by people working in professions with high risk for liability, such as doctors and dentists.  However, asset protection strategies are not just for the rich - anyone can get sued or run into trouble with creditors.  Therefore, everyone can take some basic steps to help protect their assets and family from creditor attack.

Obviously the goal of any asset protection attorney is to help clients protect their estates from creditor claims, but how is this done?  Fundamentally, asset protection planning involves converting assets that may be reached by creditors to assets that creditors cannot attack (or that are more difficult to attack).  For example, if you have $5,000 in a personal checking account, any creditor could easily claim access to that cash.  If, however, you contributed that $5,000 to a properly structured irrevocable trust for your children, it may be out of creditor reach. 

Another common asset protection strategy is to use business entities to protect personal assets.  For example, if you own a rental house in your name, any tenant could file a claim against your personal assets.  Transferring the rental home to a well-designed and properly-managed limited liability company (LLC) could shield your personal assets from the tenant’s claims.

Successful Asset Protection Planning starts now

One of the keys to successful asset protection planning is to start now.  If a creditor has already taken action against you, chances are you’re too late to protect your assets against ending up in the hands of a creditor.  To be most effective, asset protection planning should begin before the underlying claim arises.  This can be months or even years before a demand letter is received or lawsuit is filed.   Late-stage planning is not only potentially ineffective, it also can be illegal, as most states have fraudulent transfer laws that specifically prohibit transactions designed solely to avoid creditor liability.

Estate planning and asset protection planning go hand-in-hand.  Many estate tax reduction strategies can also help to protect your assets from creditor exposure.  Making gifts, establishing certain irrevocable family trusts and family partnerships and retitling assets are some of the strategies commonly used by asset protection attorneys.

Gevurtz Menashe’s asset protection attorneys can help your peace of mind

Having a well-designed asset protection plan can give you peace of mind that your assets and family will be protected, even in the event of a creditor attack.  Gevurtz Menashe’s estate planning attorneys can help you review your assets and potential liabilities to create an asset protection plan that works for you.
Are you interested in learning more about asset protection planning? Our Oregon and Washington estate planning team can help! Give us a call anytime! Portland: 503-227-1515 or Vancouver: 360-823-0410.

John Christianson, Of Counsel (Estate Planning)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Are You Actually Ready for a Divorce?

How do you know you are ready for a divorce?

While Gevurtz Menashe handles a myriad of family law matters, the largest part of our firm’s practice involves the dissolution of marriages. Our clients come to us at varying steps in the decision-making process. Some clients are just thinking about divorce for the first time and want to find out as much as possible before they even entertain ending their marriage. Other clients have thought about divorce for several months, even years, and are ready to move forward with the legal process. And there are a lot of people somewhere in between – not sure if their marriage is savable but not sure if they want to end their relationship in its entirety either. Many people are simply looking for more information about the process. Wherever you may be in the process, it’s important to us to provide our clients the resources and time necessary to make this very important and intimate decision. 

Find a Divorce Attorney
Child Custody Help
High-Asset Divorces
Schedule a Consultation

Should you get a divorce?

Before we even begin our representation, we want to be sure our clients are actually ready to move forward with the divorce process.  While we are not mental health professionals ourselves, we will often ask our clients the following questions to help them evaluate whether they are ready to proceed with a divorce:
  • Have you tried marriage counseling?  While counseling is not for everyone, sometimes it can really help struggling couples learn how to communicate and work through their problems.  Alternatively, if the marriage is for certain over, couples’ counseling can sometime provide a healthy forum to communicate about divorce issues such as how to tell the children, what co-parenting in different homes looks like, etc.
  • Are there substance abuse issues that need to be addressed first?  We often encounter clients who are seeking a divorce because their spouse struggles with substance issues, and sometimes it’s our clients who have the issues themselves.  There are great in-patient and out-of patient treatment facilities in the area we refer our clients to.  There are also great programs to help spouses of substance abusers, which is equally important.  Sometimes treatment saves the marriage but even when it doesn’t, the divorce process will be much smoother if both parties are healthy and sober.
  • Have you talked about divorce with your support system?  Sometimes there are people who know us better than we know ourselves.  When making an important decision such as divorce, it’s essential to talk about it with at least one other person who you trust and can rely on.  This can be your counselor, clergy, relative, or friend.  Having a support system around you when making the decision and also as you go through the divorce process will be invaluable during each step of the way.
  • Are you and your children safe?  Most importantly, if a client’s or the children’s physical or emotional safety is at risk, we want to be sure there’s a safety plan in place to protect anyone in harm’s way.  If there is physical or emotional abuse by a party, we advise to end the relationship and seek help to protect yourself and your children, which can include legal protections.  
Although the divorce process affects all areas of our client’s life—physical, social, economic, spiritual and emotional, the court system is only able to address a very narrow slice of a very complicated situation. While we do our best to represent our clients in the legal realm, we encourage them to rely on other experts to give them guidance in these other important aspects. It’s important our clients have the emotional support necessary while we work out the legal process.

We help protect what’s most important to you

If you are interested in learning more about the divorce process in Oregon or Washington, give us a call anytime. You can also check out our attorney profiles and read more here. When you’re ready, our legal staff will work with you to schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys who will provide information and resources to help with your decision. To reach us in Portland, call 503-227-1515. For our office in Vancouver, WA, call 360-823-0410.

By Paige A. De Muniz, Shareholder

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Before You Leave: Legal Considerations for Traveling with Children

Traveling has become one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s “modern family” particularly when it comes to families of divorce. With spring break right around the corner, it’s high travel season for vacations.  Whether you’re gearing up for a fun-filled beach retreat, or a quick visit to grandma’s house, it’s important to know the legal procedures required for divorced parents with traveling children…including considering updating your estate plan.

Understanding Your Parental Rights

Do you know your parental rights when it comes to traveling? Do you have an updated parenting plan? If a planned trip by one parent with children infringes in any way on the other parent’s legally specified parenting time, the traveling parent must obtain authorization, preferably in writing, from the non-traveling parent.  Even if the trip takes place only during the traveling parent’s allocated parenting time, it is good practice to obtain a signed consent from the other parent.  The consent should confirm relevant logistical details, such as the dates of travel and specific locations of travel.  If the agreement is for “make-up parenting time,” that should also be confirmed in writing.  If problems are anticipated in obtaining a signed consent from the other parent, the parent who wants to travel should consult with an attorney as soon as possible, preferably well in advance of the travel date.  If problems actually occur, it may be appropriate to contact an experienced family law mediator and seek assistance from the mediator to work out a solution.

Prepare Your Child’s Passport Application

Do you or your ex-spouse plan on leaving the country? For a child under age 16, it is generally required that the child’s passport application be made in person with both parents or legal guardians present, unless one parent has been granted sole legal authority to apply for the child’s passport or the second parent has provided a notarized statement of consent on the U.S. State Department’s approved form.  Documents supporting the child’s passport application must also be provided at the time of the application.  The application form should be completed but not signed until the passport agent so advises.  To make it through the process without problems, a parent or other legal guardian who needs to acquire a child’s passport should start early and be well prepared—in some cases it can take a few months.  

The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) allows parents to register their U.S. citizen children under age 18 in the U.S. State Department’s Passport Lookout System.  The Passport Lookout System then gives all U.S. passport agencies, as well as U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, an alert on a child’s name if a parent or guardian registers an objection to passport issuance for his or her child.  If a child’s information is registered, the registering parent should then receive advanced notice of the other parent’s attempt to obtain a passport for the child.  This notice may help prevent unauthorized international travel with the child. See link to the CPIAP website HERE.

Airline Requirements for Unaccompanied Minors

Will your children travel unaccompanied? It is fairly common for children to travel by airplane for parenting time with their long-distance parent.  According to the US Department of Transportation, most airlines will permit children who have reached their fifth birthday to travel unaccompanied under certain circumstances.  Children ages 5 through 11, flying alone, must follow special “unaccompanied minor” procedures. On some airlines, these procedures are required for unaccompanied children as old as 14.  On many airlines children ages 5 through 7 will only be accepted on direct or nonstop flights and an “unaccompanied minor” fee is often charged.  Airlines generally do not permit children younger than age 5 to fly alone.  Check the website for the airline the child will be flying for specific requirements.

Resolving Travel Disputes

If one parent wants to take a child on a trip outside the U.S. and the other parent will not agree to sign a travel authorization document, the parent who wishes to travel overseas should consult an attorney. Most likely, you will petition the court to order the other parent to provide authorization.  Mediation with an experienced family law mediator might also help resolve the conflict. Sometimes the other parent will agree to authorize the travel if the parent who wants to travel provides all the pertinent details about the trip, including the date when the children will return, and if that parent also offers to provide the other parent with a reasonable amount of contact with the children during the trip, including texts, phone calls and Skype, if at all possible.

Unless the applicable court order says otherwise, the travelling parent is not required to “check-in” with the other parent during their trip.  However, given today’s technology, communication is much easier to achieve and highly recommended.   By facilitating brief check-ins with the other parent, challenges down the road may be prevented allowing for more future family travel fun.

Estate Planning Considerations

Do you have an updated will? Traveling carries with it the risks of illness, injury and other unexpected conditions.  Before heading out of town, spring breakers should review their wills and estate plans to make sure they have properly planned for these risks.  Wills and revocable trusts should be reviewed and updated so that proper fiduciaries are appointed and distribution plans reflect current wishes.  Travelers should also consider who they have named under their durable powers of attorney and health care directives.  Depending on the trip, it might make sense to name a different (or alternate) person to serve under these documents.  If traveling without minor children (or if minor children are traveling alone), parents should ensure that non-parent caretakers are properly authorized to consent to medical treatment on behalf of the children.

If you are planning your next vacation and would like to learn more about your parental rights and or updating your estate plans, we are here to help! Contact us or give us a call at our Portland office: 503-227-1515. For Vancouver call: 360-823-0410.

By Kathryn S. Root, Shareholder and John J. Christianson, Of Counsel