Biding Wills in a Digital World

Abogado Aly Law Biding Wills

You get a call from your mother that you’ve been dreading. Your favorite “Uncle John” has passed away. To your dismay you ask about the funeral plans and if there is anything you can do to help. As the time comes to go through belongings, an unsent text message to your mother was found on his phone, stating he was leaving his small family fortune in you, as you were always his favorite. Now, typically family fortunes are written in bidding wills. So, does that text message constitute as a binding will?

 

Real Life Case

In Australia, a similar case occurred. A man passed away with an unsent text message to his brother, leaving him everything. However, the wife argued that it did not count as her late husband’s will. Going all the way to Queensland Supreme Court, that text message changed everything.

 

What is in a Will?

What determines the validity of a will? A last will and testament are legally enforceable and must meet requirements specific to a person’s state, in the United States. A few of those requirements have to do with legal age, witnesses, and must have some sort of signature. Although most wills are written down in some sort of documentation, “nuncupative” wills are said out loud with at least two witnesses.

 

Back to Brisbane

In the end of the Australian court system case mentioned earlier, the text message was declared by a judge, a valid last will and testament– leaving the brother and the nephew with everything the deceased had appointment them just like the text message stated.

Like in the United States today, in Queensland, a formal typed or handwritten will used to be required by law. However, changes made in 2006 loosened acceptable wills to a more informal approach, which leads to how a drafted text message was a legal will.

 

Electronic Ages

As we progress into a digital age, there is no question that electronic last will and testaments will become legal. Wills were formed where most people easily had pen and paper at hand. Today, we all have a heavy reliance on mobile devices and tablets, replacing the necessity of pen and paper.

The English Law Commission already has made a proposal for electronic wills. It proposes that voicemails, text messages, emails, videos and other forms of electronic statements should serve as a valid will.

This issue of validity among electronic wills is not only something debated in Queensland, Australia and England, but is something we can expect to see come with a digital age in the United States, and other countries as well as the years progress.

4 Ways To Make Divorce Easier

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Divorce is already a difficult situation emotionally, but when you add the legal aspect, it can turn into a full blown nightmare. However, some people have easier divorces than others. While some of these differences have to do with the nature of the divorce or the personalities of the parties involved, the are certain aspects that are more in your control. Here are a few ways to make divorce easier:

 

1 ) Get a lawyer who isn’t aggressive.

If you don’t get a lawyer who has your best interest at heart, you could end up hiring someone who fans the flames. Make sure your lawyer supports the idea of keeping your divorce civil. Interview potential attorneys and ask them whether they prefer negotiating a settlement to bringing it to court. Some lawyers are aggressive, and if your spouse hires someone like that, it can still turn into a bit of a battle even if you have a more peaceful lawyer. If possible, try to make sure that you both get lawyers who are on board with an amicable divorce.

 

2) Consider divorce mediation.

As you can imagine, negotiating everything with your spouse can be emotionally draining. A mediator’s role is to help you and your spouse get past those emotional barriers. You should be able to come to an agreement that is beneficial for both of you. While a lawyer works with one individual person in a divorce, a mediator works with both spouses at the same time. Instead of representing the individual spouses’ interests like a lawyer, they facilitate a negotiation between spouses. Typically the result is an agreement that meets the needs of both sides. A mediator is especially helpful if you have children who are struggling through this hard time.

 

3) Consider collaborative practice.

Certain family lawyers are taking a relatively new approach called collaborative practice. Through this approach, the clients and lawyers agree not to go to court but instead to voluntarily share information and work cooperatively toward a settlement. A collaborative lawyer will not take a case unless the other spouse has also hired a collaborative lawyer. The lawyers then sign an agreement stating the parties will need to hire new lawyers if the case cannot be settled. This way, the lawyers will not go to court just to make money, and parties are more likely to settle earlier.

 

4) If you fear violence, get help.

It is unfortunately possible that during your divorce you are afraid of potential violence occurring against yourself or your kids. If this occurs, take action as quickly as possible. Move to a safe place and get a temporary restraining order against your spouse if necessary. If you do this, it is crucial that you get a temporary order for custody of your children as well. Otherwise, you’ll be accused of kidnapping. If you are strapped for cash, you have the legal right to withdraw money from your joint accounts, but try not to take more than half of the money available. After you’ve taken the amount of money you need plus some extra, file an action in court for support.
From the emotional tensions to the legal difficulties, divorce is not an easy situation. But with a good lawyer, you’ll be able to get through the process as smoothly as possible.

Hero and Civil Rights Leader Jack Greenberg, Dies at 91

Jack Greenberg HeadshotJack Greenberg is one of the most famous personality in civil rights struggle. He led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. for 23 years. According to his wife he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and being treated for it for many years. He joined the LDF in 1984 and since then he has been fighting for civil rights. He was a 24 years old Columbia Law school graduate at that time.  Sherrilyn Ifill is the current president of the LDF and she really admired the contribution of Greenberg in the domain of civil rights. She even said that he modified the face of modern civil rights law and powerfully enforce the concepts of justice and equal opportunities for everyone.

Greenberg was the only white legal counselor for LDF. From 1949 to 1961 Greenberg argued multiple cases on behalf of LDF. Greenberg was part of the team who fought Jim Crow. He was also a member of the team who fought Brown case in Supreme Court of US. He stayed 23 years there and fought multiple cases in Supreme Court. He also helped in filing multiple cases of employment discrimination.

Greenberg’s tenure ended at LDF on 1984. After that, he opted for a lectureship at Columbia University. From 1989 to 1993 Greenberg served as Dean of Columbia University. He was promoted to the post of Senior Director LDF and he stayed at that position until fall 2013. He also served as visiting faculty in many Universities like University of Tokyo (1993-1994), St Louis University Law School in 1994, Lewis and Clark Law School 1994 & 1996, Princeton University 1995, University of Munich 1998, Tokyo University 1996, the University of Nuremberg-Erlangen in 1999-2000, and at Hebrew University in 2005 Greenberg was born in 1924 in a Jewish family. He grew up in Brooklyn. During World War 2 he served in the navy for some time and after that, he did bachelors and masters in law from Columbia University.  He was given Presidential Citizen Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Greenberg was not just a lawyer he had several eclectic interests. He wrote different books on civil rights and law. Other than that he also wrote some books on cooking which includes Dean Cuisine with Harvard Law School Dean James Vorenberg. He was also an editor of Franz Kafka: The Office Writings. Greenberg also received multiple awards for his services in the field of civil rights. He got the Thurgood Marshall Award of American Bar Association for his work in the domain of law and civil rights. He worked really hard to make sure that equal opportunities are given to everyone and all people get their civil rights. He also received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Notre Dame University in 2005 and an honorary degree in 2004 from Howard University. Greenberg was selected as a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Science in 1998.

In honor of Greenberg, a memorial service will be held on December 5th in Paul’s Chapel.

Technology Making Law Accessible?

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As we have talked about before, the amount of civil law lawyers available to the public is dramatically less than what is needed in this country. Civil cases do not have a right to defense, even though a civil case can end with a person going to jail, losing custody of their children, losing health care coverage, or losing a home. Out of the five people who need a civil lawyer’s help, four of those people do not have access to it.

 

Landlords, creditors, and companies always have lawyers, tenants and debtors almost never do.

 

While most state bar associations support a civil right to counsel, and 18 different states are considering laws to guarantee a lawyer in certain civil situations, but we may have a long time to wait until that time. So what can be done in the meantime? Well, Matthew Stubenberg may have an answer that can help ease one of the burdens associated with lack of available civil law help.

 

While a student of law at University of Maryland in 2010 doing a clinic full of expungements -helping clients fill out and file petitions to erase qualifying parts of a criminal record. Even if there is no conviction, and even if there is, there are some lifelong ramifications to the effects of the records that can include homelessness from inability to get a job.

 

Maryland has a public database called Case Search that you can use to pull up relevant information to help you fill out the required parts of the forms, but the information transfer process can be long and tedious. “We spent all this time moving data from Case Search onto our forms,” Stubenberg said. “We spent maybe 30 seconds on the legal piece. Why could this not be easier? This was a problem that could be fixed by a computer.”

 

After law school he dusted off his coding skills and built a software that automatically transferred the tedious work into the new forms, helped determine if the case can, in fact, be expunged under the guidelines, and prints a completed form needing only a signature and filing with the court. Called MDExpungement, it puts one more thing that a civilian can do into their own hands. In October of 2015 there was a change in a Maryland law that made more cases applicable for the expunging process. Between October 2015 and March 2016, people filed almost eight thousand petitions in Baltimore City District Court, and more than two-thirds of those petitions came from MDExpungement.
While there are legal groups that are fighting to help bring civil law aid to those who cannot afford a lawyer in almost every state, the more that people can utilize technology to build systems that help, rather than disenfranchise, those who cannot afford legal counsel, the better off we all will be in the long run. We have made some strides in this area in regards to credit, taxes, and other financial applications. The next step is to make civil law easier to navigate on your own.

“Equal Justice Under Law” not Really Equal

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In the U.S. Constitution, the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law” is promise the the law will uphold justice equally for all in our courts. The National Center for Access to Justice created the Justice Index. From the website: “Justice depends on having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. At minimum, a person should be able to learn about her rights and then give effective voice to them in a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the rule of law, and enforces the result. That is Access to Justice”

But, according to the Justice Index’s numbers, we are failing our country in law and other legal areas. The way the numbers break down, there is less than one lawyer who can provide free legal aid in civil cases for every 10,000 Americans who need representation but live under the poverty line and cannot afford it.

“[These are] life and death kinds of matters, when you consider that people are being evicted from their homes, facing the loss of their homes in foreclosure or loss of their children in family court,” said David Udell, the director of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law which created the Justice Index.

You are probably aware, either from personal experience or television and movies, of the idea of having a court-appointed lawyer, or the right to counsel. However, most are not aware that this only applies to criminal cases, not civil ones. Civil law includes rent disputes, debt collections, domestic violence, child support, credit and employment issues, evictions, custody cases, and even civil rights cases. There are roughly the same amount of criminal and civil cases adjudicated every year in the United States, and while there are some organizations out there built to help provide aid, there is no burden on the legal system to bear the weight of these civil law needs.

But in addition to a dearth of lawyers, there is also a severe lack of education. The perceived high cost of filing fees prevent thousands of Americans from pursuing justice, but only 12 states have laws that require court employees to inform the public that they can waive those fees. The other states have no obligations. When you consider that almost every state (48 in total) have raised the fees of both criminal and civil courts in the last five years, this lack of available knowledge makes things more unsettling. And in some cases the lack of ability to pay court fees can keep a citizen seeking justice in an incarceration limbo.

This goes even further than lack of ability to pay. For those citizens for whom English is a second language, there are more obstacles than ever. There is no clear avenue for individuals to understand the civil law system. Almost half of all states have no interpreter requirements for staff. Many courts with no interpreter regulations make non-English speakers pay for the services of an interpreter. This is leaving people facing foreclosure or fighting domestic abuse completely without state resources of what their options might be, and the proper steps to take in pursuing a civil case.

The Justice Index breaks down into four categories: Attorney Access: Number of Attorneys for People in Poverty, Self-Representation Access: Support for People Without Lawyers, Language Access: Support for People With Limited English Proficiency,  Disability Access: Support for People With Disabilities. (an obscene 45 states do not provide court employees dedicated to helping those with mental disabilities.)

From the website Pacific Standard: “funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency that supports and monitors civil legal aid in the U.S., is meager. According to a 2013 report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, LSC funding “today purchases less than half of what it did in 1980, the time when LSC funding provided what was called ‘minimum access’ or an amount that could support two lawyers for each 10,000 poor people in a geographic area.” This is the result of both inflation and budget reductions that severely hindered the agency in 1982, 1992, and 2012. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the LSC lost 10.3 percent of its legal aid staff. 

While state sources supposedly made up the difference, austerity measures born from the 2008 Great Recession — when coupled with an uptick in civil actions stemming from foreclosures, consumer credit disputes, layoff disputes, and other recession-related conflicts — have left courts without adequate funding. As a result, legal aid attorneys are drowning in cases.”

 

Infographic: Civil Law Statistics

Civil Law Statistics Infographic by Abogado Aly. Abogadoalylaw.com

Civil Law Statistics Infographic by Abogado Aly. abogadoalylaw.com

Civil Forfeiture Has Its Days Numbered

Civil forfeiture laws enable law enforcement agencies, like state and local police forces, to seize any property that is suspected of being involved with criminal or illegal activities. In order to do this, the authorities do not need to prove the owner of said property guilty of anything. In many cases, police has seized money from people for carrying what they considered “too much” of it, saying that it could be money from the sale of drugs. However, the owner of the money does not need to get arrested or charged with anything.

The burden in cases of civil forfeiture has always been on the property owner to prove that property’s “innocence” through the court system. However, before that even happens, authorities can then liquidate that property and, in many states, keep the profit and use it at their discretion. Many see civil judicial forfeiture as the single most important threat to property rights across the United States. But with attention recently focused on this issue, states like Montana and New Mexico have begun enacting laws to reform civil forfeiture laws.

As of July 1st, both Montana and New Mexico will see two major reforms go into force. In Montana, the government and its enforcement agencies are various levels, are now required to first obtain a criminal conviction before they can seize and liquidate a person’s property. This also goes as far as turning the burden of proof unto the state and not the person who had their property seized because it was used by someone else to commit a crime. Prior to this, if your neighbor was suspected of using your car to commit a crime, the state had the power to seize it and sell it without accusing you, the owner, of participating in the criminal act. Profit from the sale could then be pocketed by the agency involved.

New Mexico, on the other hand, went a lot further than Montana in its blow to civil forfeiture as we know it – it abolished it. Law enforcement agencies can only seize property after a criminal conviction has been obtained and instead of pocketing the profit, the money will be deposited into a general fund.

The Institute for Justice, which has been leading the fight for reform of civil forfeiture laws, hopes that these landmark reforms in Montana and New Mexico will continue to pave the way for more reforms across the country and, ultimately, at the federal level. Civil forfeiture creates a financial incentive for law enforcement agencies to continue to seize property. In many cases, money seized by local authorities have been used to pay for entertainment and other nonessential things. Many supporters of civil forfeiture law reform believe that the money could also be put to better use, such as going toward education funds across the states. The following Institute for Justice video provides an excellent overview of what civil forfeiture is and why reform is needed:

Immigration Law Approval in the US and Canada

Abogado Aly Immigration LawDoes immigration really help the economy? What kind of specific immigration law helps the economy? In Canada today, only about one third of the population believe that immigration is a hindrance rather than an opportunity. According to Jeffery Reitz, Canadians are convinced on the economic advantages of immigration. So much so that in areas of economic distress, Canada implements incentives for immigration to those areas. Even unemployed workers insist that immigration is beneficial.

In Canada, under the point system, there is a greater flow of skilled labor mostly from industrialized countries. When looking at the labor market, immigration represents a shift outward to the right of the labor supply curve which decreases the real wage rate. In Canada this should only affect the high-skilled labor market because they do not allow low-skilled labor into their country. Therefore, immigration of high-skilled labor into Canada should decrease the real wage rate for high skilled jobs like doctors and engineers. In turn, this decreases the wage inequality gap by reducing the wage rate for high end jobs while keeping the low end job wage rate constant. Canadian statistics show that for every 10% increase in the immigration population, real wage decreases by 4% and real wage for people with post graduate degrees is decrease by 7% . In the United States there is the opposite problem. Since most of the United States’ immigrants come in the form of low skilled labor, this reduces the wage rate in the unskilled labor market while keeping the skilled labor market relatively constant. This widens the inequality gap with regard to the real wage rate.

A study done by Stephen A. Camarota, a research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, states that for every 1% increase in the low-skilled immigration population comes a .8% decrease in native low-skilled wages . Borjas states that there is a 44% change in the wage gap between unskilled natives attributable to immigration, whereas there is only a 4.7% change in the wage gap between skilled natives attributable to immigration. Since the United States also allows high-skilled labor to enter the labor force, the wage rates in high-skilled labor fields are also reduced because of the simple increase in supply; however, since there is a much greater inflow of low-skilled immigrants willing to work for a lot less, the wage decrease becomes a lot lower for low-skilled jobs than high-skilled jobs thus increasing wealth inequality. This distinction between wealth equality is a major issue and is a main reason why so many Canadians approve of immigration whereas more and more Americans every year are disapproving immigration.

Religious Freedom Law in Texas

Abogado Aly Religious Freedom LawThe quest for agreement in the socio-political realm is hard to take on, and often leads to unsettling discord that calls for a compromise from all sides in argument. When issues of political reform are up in the air, advocates from both sides come into the forefront and offer their unabating, often conflicting perspectives. In Texas, however, the merging of two ideas which have historically caused disgruntled unrest passed with relative ease and is inspiring residents of the state to push neighbors to come to a similar understanding.
The law passed in Texas under then-Governor George Bush in 1999, peacefully bridged the gaps between a strong religious community and equally strong proponents of civil rights who wanted to secure anti-discrimination laws. Fifteen years later, Texas still shows a strong balance between the freedom of religious practices and the protection of civil rights. The members of the state, however, worry about the slowed resolutions in Indiana and Arkansas whose laws for religious freedom leave out important language explicitly protecting against discrimination of individuals, for example gays and lesbians, who pose a threat to the liberty of following religious tenets. That is, the freedom of religious practice granted under their laws may leave questions of bias unanswered. Indiana’s Governor Pence assures nobody will have the right to discriminate and deny someone an opportunity based on personal principles. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect July 1 and “would prohibit laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s freedom of religion” unless the government has more compelling reasons for doing so.2
In 1997 the Supreme Court overruled a 1993 decision saying laws that apply generally on a federal level do not apply to state laws, urging states to draft their own responses to growing questions and concerns over civil liberties. Today, Texan Republicans aim to add an abridged version of the law to the constitution solidifying its legitimacy for future rulings. More than anything, civil rights groups are worried the freedoms of practicing religion granted under law will be enough to reinterpret the protections guaranteed to groups facing discrimination. Still, lines are not evenly split as many churches, religious groups, businesses and civil groups are coming together with intentions to craft the fairest legislation that denies none his unalienable rights.

 

2015 Law Changes in Texas

Abogado Aly Texas Civil LawThere were several laws changed in Texas at the beginning of this year. Below are a list of some of the critical laws that became instated January 1st, 2015.

House Bill 62 – Prohibits all judges from holing financial interests in private rehabilitation or community residential facilities and correctional facilities.

House Bill 500 – An amendment in the Tax Code to broaden the definition of what is retail trade. The new services included in what is considered retail trade are rental-purchase agreements, auto shops, and the leasing or renting of event supplies, tool, construction equipment and furniture.

House Bill 3838 – A new requirement for motorcycles that are made to carry more than one individual. These types of motorcycles are required to have handholds and footrests for the use of the passenger.

Senate Bill 492 – A prescribed pediatric extended-care center without their appropriate license will be charged with a class B misdemeanor. Everyday the care center operates without the appropriate license will count as a separate offense.

Senate Bill 1806 – This gives the Harrison County Court at law, which was a misdemeanor court, jurisdiction with the 71st Judicial District due to high volumes of family law and civil law cases.

HB 41 – Raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

HB 48 – This law establishes review commissions after an individual is exonerated of a crime.  This law is put in place to prevent wrongful convictions.

HB 76 – Allows individuals to register to vote for the first time. The secretary of state will be responsible for implementing an official state website to allow voters to register online.

HB 80 – This law is set in place to prohibit texting and driving. The offense is now a misdemeanor with a fine of at least $25 dollars and at most $99 for first time offenders. For multiple offenders, the crime is punishable by $100 – $200.

HB 97 – Abolishes the statute of limitations for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault.