Groshek Law Blog

Funding trusts

Minnesota residents can include a trust in their estate plan to ensure that their assets are handled according to their wishes after they die. However, it is important that they fund the trust.

Trusts can be used to hold real estate. A deed or deed in trusts can be prepared by an attorney who routinely handles trusts. The deed will transfer the title of the real estate into the trust, transferring ownership of the real estate from the individual to the trust. The real estate is funded into the trust once the transaction has been recorded.

Supreme Court expands Fourth Amendment privacy rights

Americans living in Minnesota and across the nation recently received important new privacy protections. On June 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, in most situations, law enforcement agencies are required to obtain a warrant before gaining access to someone's cell site location information, or CSLI. Some legal observers are calling the ruling the most important Fourth Amendment decision of the 21st century.

CSLI can pinpoint a cellphone user's location at any time of the day. As a result, law enforcement agencies have found the information useful for certain types of investigations, and, until now, they have been able to access the data if they can provide "reasonable grounds" for needing it. The case before the court involved a man who had been convicted of burglary partly because the police tracked his movements for 127 days using CSLI. The man argued authorities violated his privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment by accessing his CSLI data without a warrant. He further claimed that the Supreme Court's third-party doctrine, which holds that individuals lose their right to privacy when they voluntarily turn over information to third parties, should not apply in the highly invasive digital age.

Special needs trusts could provide long-term support

People with certain disabilities face a dilemma when they receive a large settlement or inheritance. Because of strict Medicaid rules, people who receive government benefits may only own a limited amount of assets in their own names. Fortunately, it may not be necessary for disabled people in Minnesota to choose between forfeiting a large sum of money or giving up their medical benefits.

By putting money in a special needs trust rather than in a personal bank account, a person who receives government benefits may be able to keep both. A special needs trust is an estate planning tool with guidelines specifically for people who receive government healthcare benefits. The trust gets managed by a trustee who ensures that the money is only used for certain expenses. In exchange for being able to keep assets in a trust, any money left over when the beneficiary dies gets transferred to the government to repay the costs of their medical care.

Understanding a tax lien: What you can do to help yourself

If the first time you see a tax lien is a surprise, then you're probably not sure what it means for your future. The good news is that tax liens are fairly easy to understand.

A tax lien is essentially the state or federal government making a legal claim on your assets as a result of not paying your property taxes or being delinquent paying your federal or state income taxes.

Drug charges in Minnesota: What to expect

As someone accused of a drug crime in Minnesota, your first thought must be that you need to understand those charges. Minnesota has several levels of drug charges, and depending on the circumstances, you could face a misdemeanor or felony conviction.

There are five degrees of felony drug crimes that you can be charged with. The fifth-degree charges are least damaging to you and have the lightest penalties compared to the most serious first-degree charges. Here's a little more about each one.

Moving beyond a will to comprehensive planning

Many people in Minnesota may have a simple will and assume that they've adequately handled all of their estate planning needs. However, a will often does not address all of the issues with which a person's beneficiaries may be confronted, so a full-scale estate plan can be important in providing a clearer transition for the future. This is especially true when people have a private practice, like doctors, lawyers or accountants, or another type of small business. The enterprise itself can be an important asset that is more complex to deal with than regular personal property, which can make estate planning particularly important.

An estate plan is not only a collection of documents like wills and trusts. It also involves organizing assets around a comprehensive vision of what a person wants to happen after he or she passes away and why he or she wants to achieve those goals. It can also include naming the individuals who can take action to make them possible. This is why an estate plan can include a range of documents, like powers of attorney and health care proxies, that allow a trusted person to make key decisions about medical care and finances in case the individual who made the documents becomes incapacitated.

Changing estate plans during a divorce

Estranged Minnesota couples expect that a divorce will lead to a number of significant financial, emotional and practical changes. However, there are additional issues that are often not addressed yet can have long-reaching effects and that should be handled in order to avoid problems later down the line. Estate planning is one of these concerns, as the decisions about what to do with property after death and who to trust with key decisions may change after the end of a marriage.

In many cases, a married couple may have developed an estate plan together. After a divorce, it is often necessary to revise or replace these documents in order to reflect the current familial situation and priorities. There are some changes that people can make to their estate planning documents while the divorce is pending, while others will need to be made only after it is finalized. One of the first actions people can take is to update their health care proxy naming the person who can make decisions about their medical treatment if incapacitated. While a spouse would be a logical choice during marriage, this is one document that can be changed while the divorce is pending.

The reliability of eyewitnesses

When a crime is committed in Minnesota, law enforcement officials often seek out eyewitnesses. Historically, both the police detectives and prosecutors have been inclined to base their cases on eyewitness testimony. In recent years, however, many criminal justice and legal experts have come to question the value of some so-called eyewitness accounts.

Questions about the validity of eyewitness testimony have emerged in response to cases in which DNA evidence has exonerated the accused. It turns out that cognitive biases can compromise the memories of witnesses, causing them to select the wrong person out of a live or photographic lineup.

Include a pour-over will to supplement a trust

A revocable trust offers many advantages. One of the most attractive features of a living trust is that having one could help a person's family avoid probate. As long as assets are transferred to the trust, they may pass directly to beneficiaries without having to go through a lengthy probate process. Unfortunately, there's always a possibility that a Minnesota senior will acquire property they don't get a chance to transfer to their trust before they die.

Without adding a pour-over will to the estate planning process, any assets that are not funded into the trust could be passed to heirs according to the current state probate rules for intestate succession. Bank accounts, life insurance policies and retirement savings plans may be excluded from probate if a beneficiary designation is in place. Because intestate succession is based on a formula and not the deceased person's wishes, property could be passed to an unintended relative.

Asset control and protection motivate estate planning

Making arrangements for the distribution of an estate represents an important task for people in Minnesota regardless of their wealth level. Without an estate plan in place before someone's death, the state will step in to manage an estate. An estate plan can even serve a person prior to death by protecting assets from the costs of living in a nursing home. By making decisions ahead of time and putting a financial plan in writing, people generally overcome arbitrary inheritance laws and preserve assets for heirs.

People concerned about having too many assets to qualify for Medicaid payment for nursing home care have the option of planning a spend down. This process reduces assets strategically so that benefits become available. Even if long-term care never becomes necessary, a person can still use an estate plan to retain control of wealth. A will, trust or combination of both could reduce uncertainty and allow a person to state final wishes clearly. This effort could insulate an estate from disputes among surviving family members.

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