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Massachusetts Court Forces Innocent Motorists to Pay Court Costs

I was doing my normal internet sweep this morning when I came across this troubling story.  The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled that a motorist who successfully defended himself in court on a traffic ticket is still responsible for fees he or she paid to contest that ticket.  In this case, the innocent motorist was charged $70 in fees to contest a ticket he, by decision of the court, should have never received.  Essentially, the driver could have paid $30 more (the citation was otherwise $100) and not had to go through the challenge process.

Obviously, parties should be responsible for court costs where a wrong was committed; however, I struggle to see the logic in imposing costs where a person should not have (technically) been in court in the first place!   The actual court decision notes that the Massachusetts courts handle hundreds of thousands of traffic citations each year and that the filing fees serve a legitimate purpose of dissuading frivolous challenges to those citations.  I wholeheartedly agree with that purpose; however, it seems to me that the motorist in this case should have had the costs refunded after he WON and the citation was thrown out.  This policy seems to create a pretty powerful disincentive to fighting traffic (or any other) tickets.

Now, I don’t practice in traffic law, but I do have friends who know a whole lot more about this area than I do.  They have advised me that Wisconsin courts do not force the same court costs on successful ticket challengers as those who are less successful (less successful meaning every outcome from the citation upheld entirely to being reduced to a lesser offense).  Indeed, Wis. Stat. § 345.47 (“Judgment of forfeitures, costs, fees and surcharges”) states, in part,

If the defendant is found guilty, the court may enter judgment against the defendant for a monetary amount not to exceed the maximum forfeiture provided for the violation, plus costs, fees, and surcharges imposed under ch. 814, and, in addition, may suspend or revoke his or her operating privilege under s. 343.30.

This means that a party who is found not guilty will not be responsible for the same costs at issue in the Massachusetts case.  Obviously, if the party is found guilty, or if the judge simply reduces the ticket to a lesser offense, they will likely be responsible for court costs, fees and surcharges (in addition to any monetary and/or other penalty the offense provides).

Just some food for thought as you make your morning commute.

P.S. Thanks to Claudia Lombardo of Holevoet Law Office, LLC for her traffic law expertise!.

Everybody likes a deal…

I, like everyone else, enjoy getting a deal.  Along these lines, given the current state of the real estate market, deal-seeking prospective buyers may be tempted to offer a seller an extremely low-ball offer.  However, as this Madison.com Property Trax article indicates, providing such an offer may actually backfire and prevent a buyer from acquiring the property.

The two main reasons cited are that a seller either (1) cannot (likely for financial reasons relating to the amount due on their mortgage), or (2) doesn’t need to accept such an offer.   In fact, a prospective buyer submitting a low-ball offer also risks offending a seller who, assuming they are in the second category, may not believe that the prospective buyer is serious about the transaction and then refuse to negotiate with the buyer at all.  Obviously, if we are dealing with a residential property, this can mean missing out on a buyer’s dream home.

As stated in the article, the important considerations when submitting a low-ball offer are justifying your number.  For a low-ball offer to be taken seriously, a seller must feel comfortable that the buyer is serious and has a basis for his or her number.  This is where having an experienced real estate attorney on your side is truly valuable.

Attorneys at Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. have over 75 years of combined experience and are on the cutting edge of commercial and residential real estate law.  To contact one of our residential real estate attorneys, please call our office at (608) 837-7386, or send our law firm an email to schedule an initial consultation.

Disclaimer:  Please note that reading and/or commenting on this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship with Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. absent an express agreement between the firm and the client.  Contacting Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. or any of its attorneys or employees via this website or via email does not create an attorney-client relationship.

We would be pleased to communicate with you by email. However, please note that if you communicate with us-through this website, via email, or otherwise-in connection with a matter for which we do not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential and may be disclosed to other persons..

Beneficiary Designations: Do you know where your money is going?

When you die, most of your property will be passed to your heirs according to your will or other estate planning documents (assuming you have contacted us first!).  However, if you happen to have a bank account, brokerage account, retirement account, annuity, 529 account or life insurance policy, which, let’s face it, nearly everyone does, these assets will be passed according to the beneficiary designation on file with the administrator of that account.  All too often, a beneficiary designation is a piece of paper filled out when an account is set up and is then quickly forgotten by the account owner.  This article by Bill Bischoff of Smartmoney.com examines how not reviewing beneficiary designations on a regular basis can lead to unintended, disastrous (and costly) results.

The moral of the story is that you should review your beneficiary designations at least once a year or whenever a significant life event (a birth, death, marriage or divorce are the most common) occurs.  Checking your beneficiary designations usually takes a few minutes and is an easy way to ensure that your estate planning goals are met.

For more information about beneficiary designations or to schedule an appointment with one of our estate planning attorneys to review your estate plan, please contact our firm at (608) 837-7386.

Disclaimer:  Please note that reading and/or commenting on this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship with Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. absent an express agreement between the firm and the client.  Contacting Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. or any of its attorneys or employees via this website or via email does not create an attorney-client relationship.

We would be pleased to communicate with you by email. However, please note that if you communicate with us-through this website, via email, or otherwise-in connection with a matter for which we do not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential and may be disclosed to other persons..

Why Don’t Young Adults Estate Plan?

As a young lawyer, one of my main goals is to get out in the community and meet as many people as possible.  Given that I am 28 years old, my networking efforts typically involve people my own age.  After discovering that I am a lawyer in Sun Prairie and practice estate planning, the conversation almost always goes like this (NYP = Noncommittal Young Person):

NYP:     Estate planning…yeah, I looked at having a will and some other documents drafted a while back.  I really meant to get it done, but I never quite got there.  I really should.

Me:      Why didn’t you have them done?

NYP:     I don’t know, I was going to get it done but I got sidetracked / I didn’t really know the attorney / the form was really long / I forgot to call the attorney back / I was really busy with other things at the time / I didn’t want to think about it / I didn’t know who should take care of my kids, dog, etc. / I am not married or don’t have any kids / I was told that I didn’t need to do it and that the state would take care of me.

In my experience, most young people do not see the pressing need for executing estate planning documents.  They view estate planning as something their parents and grandparents should be worried about, not them.  They also don’t think they need to execute any documents unless they are married or have children.

These views are all false.  Everyone over the age of 18 should have a Will, Financial (Durable) Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney document in place.  End of story.  My reasoning for this is quite simply that accidents happen, even to us young people!  According to recent CDC data (the most recent available, as far as I could find, was for 2007) the single leading cause of death for individuals aged 25-45 was accidents (24%).  I will grant you that it is statistically unlikely that a young person will be affected by an accident.  However, if such an accident occurs and you have not executed these documents, then you are ceding your decision-making authority regarding your health treatment, finances, etc. to other people (judges, state-appointed social workers, etc.).  Nothing against these fine individuals, they are very good at what they do and they work very hard, but when you consider that the state procedures are already over-burdened, and are costly, stressful and time-consuming to families, all at a time when that family is already scrambling to get back on its feet, I hope it isn’t hard to see why being proactive and executing estate planning documents (and, thus, avoiding the majority of this hassle) is good advice.

Moral of the story: Accidents happen.  Even to young people.  You owe it to yourself and to your family to be proactive and get these documents in place.  If you would like to discuss your estate planning needs, please call (608) 837-7386 and one of our estate planning attorneys would be happy to assist you.

Disclaimer:  Please note that reading and/or commenting on this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship with Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. absent an express agreement between the firm and the client.  Contacting Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. or any of its attorneys or employees via this website or via email does not create an attorney-client relationship.

We would be pleased to communicate with you by email. However, please note that if you communicate with us-through this website, via email, or otherwise-in connection with a matter for which we do not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential and may be disclosed to other persons..

Digital Assets – A New Frontier in Estate Planning

In their first year, every law student takes a class called Property in which these eager future lawyers learn, among other things, how real property (a/k/a real estate) can be passed on to future generations.  In later estate planning classes, law students come to learn the laws pertaining to “personal property” (a/k/a nearly everything else).  Personal property is further divided into tangible and intangible personal property.

Tangible personal property (cars, household furnishings, etc.) may be passed on to specific beneficiaries through an individual’s will and incorporated property list (as described in Wis. Stat. § 853.32(2)).  Intangible personal property (stocks, bonds, bank accounts, 401(k)s, etc.) is generally passed on, depending on the specific type, via a will, payable on death designation or beneficiary designation.

Until recently, these categories and mechanisms were sufficient to describe and guide lawyers in handling and disbursing of all of the property owned by an individual.  However, as described in this Wisconsin Lawyer article, a new category of quasi-property – so-called “Digital Assets” – has emerged and doesn’t quite fit into the current estate planning structure.

The article generally defines Digital Assets as “(1) any online account; and (2) any file stored on a person’s computer or on a server.”  Common digital assets include the following:

  • Email accounts;
  • Facebook accounts;
  • Digital photos (stored on an individual’s computer or with an online service like Picasa);
  • Websites, blogs or domain names;
  • Online sellers accounts (i.e., eBay or Amazon.com);
  • Paypal.com;
  • Online trading accounts;
  • Paid online subscriptions; and
  • Important computer files stored on an individual’s computer (i.e., bank account statements, tax records, etc.).

Under this definition almost everyone, whether they realize it or not, owns digital assets.  Obviously, similar to personal property, some Digital Assets will have monetary value (i.e., Paypal accounts and online trading accounts) and others will simply have sentimental value (i.e., digital photo albums and facebook accounts).  In either case, you will want these assets to end up in the hands of your desired beneficiary.  Attorneys at Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. have teamed up with the fine folks at Entrustet.com and are prepared to assist you with your digital estate planning needs.

For more information about Digital Assets or to schedule an appointment with one of our estate planning attorneys, please contact our firm at (608) 837-7386.

Disclaimer:  Please note that reading and/or commenting on this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship with Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. absent an express agreement between the firm and the client.  Contacting Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C. or any of its attorneys or employees via this website or via email does not create an attorney-client relationship.

We would be pleased to communicate with you by email. However, please note that if you communicate with us-through this website, via email, or otherwise-in connection with a matter for which we do not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential and may be disclosed to other persons..