It's Going to Cost More to Go to Court in NJ - But Don't Blame the Lawyers

$50 million a year - that is what the Christie administration is hoping to raise by increasing court fees in New Jersey.  According to the Daily Record, there hasn't been an across the board increase is court fees since 1991.  While this represents an increase of 70%, the fees are apparently going to be used to modernize (please, please, please) the court system, as well as various justice related programs.

"The money would go toward three categories of spending, including $25 million to help fund various justice-related programs in the state budget that aren’t directly part of the court system, such as the State Police laboratory, DNA testing and the Victims of Crime Compensation Office.

Another $17 million would go toward the development of a statewide digital “e-court” system, a step toward eliminating paper in the courts by requiring electronic filings and providing public access to court records, similar to the federal courts’ PACER system. One key difference between New Jersey’s plan and PACER is that the state doesn’t plan to charge the public fees for looking at digital documents."

If the increase is passed, neither the Governor nor the Legislature will determine which fees will increase by what amount.  Instead, discretion is given to our Supreme Court to determine where the increases will take place.

Curious how much it costs to run our judicial system in New Jersey?  The Daily Record prepared a historical chart, together with the interesting fact that only about 10% of the judicial branch's budget comes from court fees - the other 90% is from the state's general budget.

 

FEE HIKE

Only about 10 percent of the state judiciary’s budget is currently supported by court fees, with the balance coming from the general state budget. The proposed fee increase is expected to generate $52 million a year -- a increase in revenue of more than 70 percent, though the money wouldn’t fund the judiciary’s general budget. 


COURT FEES, without fee increase: JUDICIARY, state budget: 
· 2013 … $72,008,000 2013 … $672,981,000 
· 2012 … $68,667,000 2012 … $670,481,000 
· 2011 … $65,120,000 2011 … $637,503,000 
· 2010 … $71,562,000 2010 … $608,196,000 
· 2009 … $68,455,000 2009 … $609,750,000 
· 2008 … $68,764,000 2008 … $605,482,000

 

Don't Be that Person - Craziest Lawsuits of 2011

You have all heard the lawyer jokes ("Why didn't the shark eat the lawyer?"  ... "Professional courtesy").  Unfortunately, some of that tarnished reputation comes from our own brethren who assist clients in making the most ridiculous claims.  As a humorous, or ironic, look at last year, Findlaw.com has published The 5 Most Outrageous Lawsuits of 2011.  To share some:

Kidnapper Sues Hostages for Breaching 'Contract' to Hide Him

The most outrageous and strangest lawsuit to come out of 2011 might be this one. A convicted kidnapper in Colorado sued his former hostages for breaching an oral contract to hide him when he was a fugitive. He sought damages to compensate him for injuries incurred during his arrest.

'Bad Mothering' Lawsuit: Kids Sued Mom over Empty B-Day Card

Attorney Steven A. Miner helped his kids file a lawsuit against his ex-wife for being a "bad mother." The kids said that they were subjected to empty birthday cards, clothing budgets, seat belts, and their mother's "forgetfulness."

Most lawyers don't get involved in such cases that have no real substance - just like most attorney's practices aren't what you see on TV.  Your attorney's role should be as a trusted advisor to you - someone who educates you about the law, learns what your goals are, are helps you create and take a path through the law towards your goals.  Oh, and your attorney should be able to laugh at any good lawyer jokes.

Image: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Happy Holidays!

New Jersey News - Bright Light or Dark Spots

New JerseyI had the pleasure of attending a talk by Newark Mayor Cory Booker to Morris County business folk last week on what opportunities he sees for New Jersey to grow to reclaim its place as one of the greatest states in our country.  The Daily Record covered the event:

“New Jersey is the innovation state,” said Booker, the keynote speaker at the Good Morning, Morris! breakfast held at the Park Avenue Club. “Ideas are the most powerful things. If we can start coming together with powerful ideas, we can create transformative change.”

On the heels of such inspiring words, I get in my inbox today these articles:

Is it good to be in New Jersey or not? Do we stay or do we go?  

From my perspective, I think its important to know where we stand, but we must use that knowledge to build a better place for everyone.  I liked Mayor Booker's talk because it was inspiring - essentially, if Newark can do it, then any town or the entire state can.  So while I may not enjoy the gloom and doom emails, the facts are the facts, and perhaps armed with that knowledge all New Jerseyans can both ask more and do more.

 

NJ State Library Help Site

Everyone knows that times are tough right now - but what you may not know are NJ state resources that might be able to help a friend or family member who is struggling at this time.  Jim Shepard, Esq. kindly brought to my attention that the New Jersey State Library has created a website to assist New Jersey residents and businesses with resources to help them if they find themselves in need of assistance.

The site has links and references to the following areas:

  • New Jersey Works Tools
  • New Jersey Financial Tools
  • New Jersey Housing Tools
  • New Jersey Health Tools
  • New Jersey Parental Tools
  • Tools for Seniors

Why Have a Blog if you can't use if for the Greater Good?

While this blog is and always will be an educational resource allowing our readers to make better decisions and become more knowledgeable, I recognize that we have developed a terrific following over the years.  If you have had an article or thought touch you or help you or open possibilities, I would like to ask you to keep reading and consider giving back.

Each year my family participates in a Break-a-Thon at our martial arts school.  Last year we raised over $50,000 for children's charities.  This year, I am so pleased that we will be supporting Operation Smile and the American Red Cross.  Both of these organizations do such valuable work..  

  • For each $250 raised, Operation Smile can perform a surgery to change a child's life by fixing facial birth defects.  Last year over 60 children had life changing operations from our fund-raising efforts. Such a small amount for a miraculous change.  
  • The immense value of the American Red Cross wasn't truly real to me until a few weeks ago when Hurricane Irene devastated towns that my friends live in and I shop and do business in.  Imagine - flooded house, ruined business, destroyed livelihood.  The American Red Cross was there for my friends and neighbors offering organized, immediate support.

Our family is part of a team whose goal is to raise $3000 for these charities.  I ask that if you have gotten value from this blog over the years, that you consider making a donation through our FirstGiving page at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/trevor-liss/break-a-thon-2011.  (By the way - if you are involved in a fundraiser, consider leveraging Firstgiving.com - our donations more than doubled the first year we added it to the Break-a-Thon).  

In reading our team's story you will see that every little bit helps.  We will break 1 board for every $5 raised.  You will also see that by donating to this effort you will be supporting two admirable young men who are actively giving of their time, financial resources, and energy to those less fortunate.  

Thank you for your support.

- Deirdre Wheatley-Liss

Speaking About Important Subjects

In my view the value that attorneys bring to their clients is to connect complex rules and laws to the client's situation and goals.  This needs to be done in such a way that the client is partnering with the attorney to evaluate their own situation, brainstorm and critically analyze possible solutions, and work together in developing and carrying out a plan of action.  This is true for both business situations and personal planning.  The key in my mind to partnering with a client is effective commuication of those same complex rules and laws in a way that they become relvant and actionable to the client.

I am often asked to develop seminars and speeches about various area of tax law, estate planning and business planning (as an aside - if you have a group looking for a speaker, feel free to reach out to me). As the subjects I talk about are, let's face it, pretty dry and even downright depressing (death, taxes, old age - not on the top 10 fun list), I have worked very hard over the years to develop ways of presenting this information that is actually engaging and relevant for the audience.  Something must be clicking as I was recently asked to be a speaker on "The Art of Public Speaking" by the Morris County Chamber of Commerce.  In preparing for that talk, I developed the 5 Don'ts and 3 Do's of Public Speaking that I wanted to share.

Why am I sharing these public speaking tips?  We are fortunate that our readers ask some great questions about how the law effects them, and our readers are clearly vested in learning more. Perhaps these tips will help you connect another person with how they can be empowered in their own planning. 

5 Reasons Why Speakers Miss Their Marks

 

  1. Time Management –  a/k/a “The Never Ending Speech
    • Instead - Respect the audience by respecting their time
      • Ask how long you have, with or without questions?
      • Tell audience when ending and meet your goal (use a watch!)
      • Practice and time yourself
  2. Reading a speech – a/k/a “The Monotone Droid
    • Instead – Have a conversation about material you know cold
      • Get main points on a single sheet of paper to glance at
      • Talk the speech to yourself, early and often
  3. PowerPoint Overload – a/k/a “The Read and Flip
    • Instead – Let the audience learn with their ears, not with their eyes
      • The audience can read anytime, they are there to listen
      • If you must, use the 10/6 Rule – Max 10 slides, 6 bullets, no sentences
      • PowerPoint is the skeleton, you are the dressing
  4. Body Language – a/k/a “The Stiff
    • Instead – Be as dynamic and interesting as your material
      • Move, shift focus, take up space on stage
      • Stand beside the podium
      • Fake it until you make it
  5. Stories – a/k/a “The Bore
    • Instead – Use stories to illustrate and tie in key points
      • Short, to the point, a key practical points or real life example
      • Cut any story if it’s about you instead of giving value to audience

3 Keys to a Successful Presentation – the ABC’s of Public Speaking:

 

Audience –

  • Know your audience
  • It’s about the audience
  • Engage the audience - tend the fire by adding and moving energy

Breathe –

  • Before you begin
  • Create pauses and change tempo
  • Before answering questions

Confidence –

  • Prepare, par down and practice material so you’re having a conversation
  • The 2% rule - If you know 2% more, you appear a genius
  • Remember the context – the audience either volunteered to be there or you want to persuade them to your point of view

 

Image: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 Days to Launch - The Wealthy and Wise Community - Get us your Questions Now

Help with QuestionsThe Wealthy and Wise Community will be launching in 10 days!  Here you will find videos. podcasts, and articles aimed at educating the middle-class millionaire about how to make good critical decisions about protecting and building their wealth.

I am so excited to be working with Laura Mattia as a Co-Host of The Wealthy and Wise, and grateful to Grey Sky Films for their production work and support.  

This community is being created for YOU - a person who wants to know more about law and investment and to make better decisions to meet their goals.  In order to give you that information, we need to know what your questions are.  What topics here interest you most? What questions do you have about investing that you never got a solid answer on?  There is a lot of noise out there (do this, don't do that, shouting and yelling about everything) and our goal is to cut through it with real, targeted information.

How can you help?  Leave a comment here - or send an email to questions@thewealthyandwise.com - about what you would like to know.

And look for the official launch day!

 

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It's an Honor to be Nominated - But I need your help!

 LexisNexis Estate Practice & Elder Law Blogs 2011

It truly is an honor just to be nominated. I just received an e-mail that New Jersey Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog has been nominated for the LexisNexis Top 25 Estate, Probate, and Elder Law Blog 2011. Wow!

"Each year, LexisNexis honors a select group of blogs that set the online standard for a given industry. I’m pleased to notify you that NJ Elder Law & Estate Planning is one of the nominated candidates for the LexisNexis Top 25 Estate, Probate, and Elder Law Blogs of 2011, featured on the LexisNexis Estate Practice & Elder Law Community. " 

Thank you LexisNexis for the nomination - I blog because I'm passionate about what it is that I do and how we are able to help empower clients and consumers with the knowledge to make good decisions about their estate plans, tax law and elder law issues. Having said that, it's a wonderful feeling to have such a prestigious organization follow and syndicate our posts.

But, this is only the nomination. To make the list I need your help.  

To support our nomination, please comment on the announcement post at this link to the LexisNexis Estate Planning and Elder Law Community.  Or - just click the picture at the top 

To vote, you will need to log on and/or create a free Communities account.  If you like this blog, you will really enjoy the terrific posts on similar topics by attorneys around the country that are syndicated in the LexisNexis communities.  Here are the rules:

Each comment is counted as a vote toward the supported blog. To submit a comment, visitors need to log on to their free Communities account. If you haven’t previously registered, you can do so on the LexisNexis Estate Practice & Elder Law Community for free. The comment box is at the very bottom of the page. The comment period for nominations ends on March 31, 2011. On April 1, we will post the Top 25 Estate, Probate and Elder Law Blogs of 2011 based on votes received. Thereafter, our community will vote on the Top Blog through a Zoomerang survey. I anticipate the final announcement to be made on or before April 15.

 Thank you in advance for your support!

Should the Rich and Wealthy get something for paying all those taxes? (Humor)

Dividing Dollars I came across Top 10 'Bad Ideas' for Taxing the Rich and couldn't help but share it.

The premise, how to encourage the rich to pay more in taxes, in a tongue in cheek fashion.  Author Robert Frank summarized some of the "best" suggestions:

1–Naming Rights. Depending on your tax bill, you get naming rights for federal property such as highways, bridges, etc.

2–Frequent Flier Points. One reader wrote: “High income taxpayers would accumulate points based on their tax percentile, which could then be redeemed for the ultimate status symbols: merchandise frankly (yet discreetly) proclaiming the bearer’s high income bracket. Imagine, for example, a metallic Coach tote with a sterling ‘1%’ charm on the zipper, proclaiming that the woman carrying it is in the top 1% of US taxpayers. And what businessperson wouldn’t want the Montblanc half percent pen, with a simple ‘.5%’ engraved in the snowy tip of the pen? Those in the know would recognize and respect these symbols of achievement.”

3–A Parade. On April 15, rich people who paid more than $500,000 in taxes could march down Constitution Avenue and shake hands with the President and members of Congress at the end.

4–Tax the Foreign Rich. We should provide “expedited citizenship” to immigrants who will buy a home for a value of at least $300K-$400K. This will reduce our excess housing stock, bring capital into the country and probably bring in productive taxpayers.

5–Access Passes. The rich would get preferred access to public parks/national museums.

6–Exemption from jury duty.

7–The “Fat Tax.” Impose tax incentives tied to a person’s overall Body Mass Index (BMI), as well as a % change in BMI versus the prior tax year.

8–A telethon. A 24-hour live TV auction offering one-on-one experiences with 1,000 “A-List” Stars of entertainment, sports, business and politics with 100% of proceeds earmarked to help fund a specific U.S. Government program. Experiences might include lunch with the President, a concert with Lady Gaga and helicopter skiing with Will Smith. All proceeds would go to taxes and the stars would revel in the patriotism of helping the government.

9–Rent out paintings and other artifacts from the Smithsonian. “The Smithsonian provides 1,000 treasures that are each available for one-year (or more) rentals at $50+ million (plus shipping) annually to the highest (sealed) bidder,” one reader suggested.

10–Shame. Anyone who agrees to pay a higher tax rate will be exempt from having their names published in the local newspaper. Rich people, after all, hate adverse publicity.

I personally like 2, 4, 6 and 9 :)

Photo:  © Alexandr Denisenko | Dreamstime.com

 

The Wealthy and Wise - A New Community Coming Soon for You

AnnouncementI am so excited to share that a new go-to website, The Wealthy and Wise, is in its countdown to launch phase.  You can get a preview (without all the bells and whistles that are in the works) at www.thewealthyandwise.com.  

What is The Wealthy and Wise all about?  It's an information resource created to fill a void in giving middle class millionaires, and those looking to join them, the tools they need to understand how to protect and build wealth.  Laura Mattia of the Baron Financial Group is joining me in hosting The Wealthy and Wise.  This Community targets families who have been successful in working hard and are at the point of looking around at what they have built and asking "OK, what should I be doing next?"  

In the new The Wealthy and Wise Community, you will find:

  • Webisodes of The Wealthy and Wise TV - our monthly video series on topics you need to educate yourself about in order to know how to protect and build your wealth. Free subscriptions will be available through iTunes.
  • Podcasts of Case-Studies and Current Events – our audio series of specific case-studies about questions we see in our practice and solutions we have offered that may parallel your current life situation. Here, we will also address current events relevant to protecting and building wealth. There will be free subscriptions to the podcasts available through iTunes.
  • Video Spotlights - short, in-depth videos addressing a specific areas of current events, tax, law and finance for your reference and information.  You can see an example in my prior post about Gift, Estate and Generation Skipping Taxes being on sale in 2011 and 2012.
  • The Wealthy and Wise Guides - e-books providing in-depth coverage of key topics to implement the right strategies to reach your goals. Guides will be available for purchase at Amazon.com.

Can I ask for your help? We want to build our shows and this site around the information you want to have.  What topics do want clarity about?  What are the questions about you wealth that you haven't found full information for, or felt that maybe the person answering them didn't go into enough depth.  Please leave a comment or email me.

We look forward to bringing some new information to you at www.thewealthyandwise.com.

New Lease on Life

HeartMany times as attorneys we are asked to help people during hard times - an illness, the death of a loved one, business downturn, tax issues. The contrast of an uplifting call can be so great that I wanted to share it.

One of my partners just stopped by to share with me that a client of his had just called to say he had had a successful heart transplant this past Saturday.  Just sit back a moment to consider the wonderousness of that call.  This gentleman had an operation that will extend his life by decades.  We have advanced so far in life altering surgery that he is on the phone 2 days later.  This miracle came as a gift of life from someone who had taken the time to complete an organ donation card.

Each of us has the ability to create a gift of life from a tragedy if we choose to do so.  Look at Consider Becoming an Organ Donor in New Jersey. Thinking about organ donation is not a usual New Years resolution, but as you are looking around for new actions to take in a new year, completing an organ donor card might be one to consider.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Seasons Greetings - Yes, there is a Santa Claus

 

Happy Holidays to you all!  

In this time of family, friends and thanks for good fortune, I like to recall a very famous letter written by 8 year old Virginia in 1897 to the to the New York Sun asking "Is There a Santa Claus?" for her father had told her that if it was printed in the New York Sun it must be true.

The editor,  Francis Pharcellus Church, created a response that 100 years later still embraces the magic of children, joy, and hope for the future.  My favorite part:

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

I wish you the joy of seeing all the Santa Clauses who abound in your life this holiday season.

- Deirdre

 Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Why I love to blog

 I author this blog, quite simply, because I'm really passionate about what it is that I do.

I enjoy helping people find ways to pay their legally minimum required taxes. I think that the government's partnership in everything you earn shouldn't be a secret – everybody should know how tax law will affect their decisions.

I think that it's a shame that people who worked their entire lives, served in our military, and built the country that we know today are fearful of how they will be cared for or be able to stay in their own homes as they get older.  I feel good about showing families that there are steps that they can take today to be in a position of empowerment tomorrow.

I find other people's businesses fascinating – what's their growth strategy, what's their secret to success, what are their fears? I love working with business owners to find ways, through the legal arrangements that they enter into, to support those successes and minimize those fears.

I blog about these things because this platform is my soapbox, where I get to stand up and grab my virtual loudspeaker. So many of my clients have the same concerns, the same questions, are seeking the same information. This blog gives me an opportunity to educate a whole world of people that I haven't yet met about why they should be concerned about how the law impacts their daily lives, to answer questions that are commonly asked, and to give people information so that they have the ability take action in their own lives.

What was the inspiration for this soliloquy? I was recently interviewed by Lexblog (the company that hosts and supports this site) and it got me thinking about why this blog has been part of my life for the past five years. You can enjoy the interview here, or even listen to the podcast (a first for me).

Right now, all the ideas on the topics covered on this blog come from my head, out of conversations with my associates and partners, out of client meetings, or through what I'm reading in the news as I keep up with the ever-changing terrain of law. What I'd love to know is what kind of questions do you have that you'd like to see me addressing on my virtual soapbox?

 

Bagel with or without a schmeer of Tax?

New York City is justifiably known for its bagels - having lived in other parts of the country I can testify that it must be something in the water because they just can't get bagels right in Boston, Charlotte, Tampa or LA. What can't New York get right? How it taxes its famous bagels.

This a a true head scratcher. Buy an unsliced bagel - no sales tax. Buy a sliced bagel - sales tax. Now I know that everyone is looking for sales tax revenue, but seriously? What are they going to do, send in undercover bagel auditors to do a tally of sliced versus not? And what if the bagel is purchased wholesale pre-packed sliced with spread? Since you were not the perpetrator of the slice, are you subject to tax? Or if you offer a knife to your customers, do they need to pay for the privilege?

So if I buy a dozen unsliced bagels its $10.00. If I buy a dozed sliced it is $10.89 (the NYC sales tax is 8.875% made up of (1) City sales tax rate of 4.5%, (2) New York State sales tax of 4%, and (3) the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District surcharge of 0.375% - making Jersey look like a good deal).

Tax laws are necessary and even good I daresay (I for one appreciate having roads, police, and the army), but smart and reasonable tax policy is needed. This is an example of the hair on the end of the tail of the dog wagging the whole canine.


Thanks to Steven Loeb in our Tax Department for bringing the absurdity to my attention.

Meet our Toms River NJ Attorney Team

 

We recently opened our Toms River office to service the needs of our existing clients who had moved to Ocean County as well as to offer services to new clients who wanted a local law firm with a large pool of talented attorneys.  Our Ocean County and Monmouth County clients now have a convenient office to discuss estate planning, elder law, probate and real estate issues with attorneys who focus in those areas of law.  Other attorneys also use this office as a base to meet with clients on matters dealing with litigation, business law and family law.

  • Vincent DiMaiolo, Jr., Esq. - Managing Shareholder Toms River Office.  Vince is a long-time Manchester resident who spearheaded the drive to open an office in Toms River to bring our legal services to his friends and neighbors. He concentrates his practice in the area of commercial litigation, with an emphasis on creditors rights, bankruptcy and real estate related litigation.
  • Henry H. Fein, Esq. - Shareholder, Tax, Trust and Estates.  Hank co-chairs the Corporate and Tax Departments.  In assisting clients over the years, he has seen clients retiring from North Jersey to Monmouth and Ocean County, but continuing to seek the services of a North Jersey law firm with whom the clients and their friends and neighbors have a long standing relationship.
  • Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, Esq., LL.M (Taxation), CELA - Shareholder, Tax, Trusts and Estates, Elder Law.  As both a tax attorney and a Certified Elder Law Attorney, Deirdre has seen the law and client's circumstances becoming continually more complicated over the years.  Her goal is to offer the efficiencies a larger legal  practice to clients with the benefits of  local service. 
  • Eric S. Kapnick, Esq. - Shareholder, Real Estate.  As a residential and commercial real estate attorney, Eric has assisted clients in all markets, good, bad and flat, to buy, finance and sell real estate.  Our Toms River office offers the convenience of local closings with the knowledge of a department of staff and attorneys devoted to real estate.
  • Stacey C. Maiden, Esq. - Of Counsel, Trust and Estates, Elder Law, Guardianship, Real Estate.  Stacey comes from Monmouth County to join our Ocean County office to expand service to local residents in estate planning, elder law and real estate. She also has significant experience in guardianship issues, bringing a new area of practice to clients.
  • Steven A. Loeb, Esq., LL.M (Taxation) - Associate, Tax, Trust and Estates.  Steve focuses much of his practice on asset protection, including the use of domestic asset protection trusts.  These trusts can be a valuable tool for Monmouth and Ocean county residents such as business owners, doctors, traders, real estate investors, and other professionals who are concerned with claims from creditors.
  • Kristen A. Klics, Esq. - Associate, Real Estate.  Kristen's goals are to help people buy and sell their homes and deal with issues of aging.  She often works to educate first-time home buyers, as well as assists seniors who are moving out of their homes to another living arrangement.
  • Christopher Koos, Esq. - Associate, Litigation.  Chris is a Toms River native who works in our litigation practice area.  Chris helps clients resolve the disputes within the offices of the Ocean County Surrogate, or before the Ocean County Superior Court. The Toms River office has allowed Chris to bring service from our attorneys based in Parsippany to his clients who have needs in Ocean County.  

Our Toms River office is conveniently located at at 833 Route 37 W., Suite B. Toms River, NJ 08755.  Click here for directions, and look for the building below.



 

Congratulations to Randolph's New Mayor Trina Ruane Mitsch

 A wholehearted congratulations to my friend Trina Ruane Mitsch on being named Mayor of Randolph last week.  I admire Trina for balancing not only a successful career as a financial planner with the roles of mom, wife and family member, but also for volunteering her time to help govern our town.  

http://www.randolphnj.org/news/mayor_resigns/

America's Billionaires are Giving it Away

 2010 is the year of no estate tax.  It only goes to follow that the wealthiest of all Americans are rejoicing that they need not share their wealth with others, and can go back to counting their coins without worry about the government asking for their share, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that "34 Billionaires Are Giving Half of Their Fortunes Away" according to Time Newsfeed.


A a few week ago Bill Gates and Warren Buffet announced that they were going to solicit the very exclusive club they belong to, America's Billionaires, to donate at least 50% of their fortunes to charitable causes during their lives or after their deaths through The Giving Pledge.  The Giving Pledge is described as an effort to "invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of thier wealth to philanthropy."  You can even view pledges to see who has made the pledge so far.  Some names you will recognize

  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Warren Buffet (who is leaving 99% of his wealth to charities)
  • Dian Von Fursetnberg
  • Bill and Melinda Gate
  • Barron Hilton
  • George Lucas
  • Ted Turner

You can even see what has motivated these people who have been blessed with success to give back.. George Lucas' passion is educational innovations.  Michael Bloomberg believes that "by giving, we inspire others to give of themselves, their money or their time."

Within the estate tax code has always been the concept that you can give it in taxes, or give it to charity.  Charitable gifts are not subject to tax.  The acts of these individuals inspires me to think "Why don't more people take charge of where their money is going on death and instead of leave it grumbling to the government, leave it to cause you believe in?."   Think of all the change if The Giving Pledge was not limited to only America's billionaires?  The Giving Pledge has inspired me to have more through discussions with my clients about trading tax dollars for philanthropy.

 

 

The 14th Amendment is up for Debate? Seriously?

There is a lot of noise coming out of Washington this week that we need to re-examine the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.  What?  Excuse me?  I shook my head when I read these headlines, not seeing where this could possibly be coming from.

Let's look at what the 14th Amendment says (Section 1 being the most sweeping):

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Click here for Sections 2,  3, 4, and 5

And a bit of historical background for context courtesy of wikipedia:

[The 14th Amendment] represented the Congress's overruling of the Dred Scott decision to the extent that decision held black people were not, and could not become, citizens of the United States or enjoy any of the privileges and immunities of citizenship.[1] The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had already granted U.S. citizenship to all persons born in the United States; the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment added this principle into the Constitution to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to be unconstitutional for lack of congressional authority to enact such a law or a future Congress from altering it by a mere majority vote.

More importantly, the 14th Amendment contains the equal protection clause that prohibits the government from treating people differently based on race, religion, gender, disability, etc. and is the fundamental constitutional support for the promise set forth in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal".  Among others, the 14th Amendment was the basis to end segregation, and the underpinnings of granting women the right to vote.

So I see today that 14th Amendment of all things is trending on Yahoo and Google and go to an article.  "Whither the 14th Amendment?" at the Washington Post explains that:  

Chalk it up perhaps to election-year bizarreness, but suddenly the capital is debating whether the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ought to be repealed, refined or left alone.

Specifically, the back-and-forth, which started among Senate Republicans and was joined Tuesday by the White House, focuses on the amendment's citizenship clause.

A pair of Republican senators -- Jon Kyl of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- are not so sure the amendment's intent was to grant automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to parents here illegally.

Ok - In 1866, when passed, where do you think the additions to the US population were coming from?  The answer, immigration.  Regardless of where you stand on the debate, lets adhere to some historical accuracy.  In the 1850's and 60's, immigrants represented between 5 and 6% of the US population. Today it is more like 1%.  (US Immigration as Percent of Population1820 - 2004) .

Politico reports that "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday night argued that the 14th Amendment no longer serves the purpose it was designed to address and that Congress should reexamine granting citizenship to any child born in the United States."

I find it ironic that the issue of a constitutional amendment becoming "historic" in that it  no longer serves its purpose, given that such an argument echoes the 2nd amendment reformers have been saying for year.

Lets skip the rhetoric and focus all this time and energy on solving a real problem, not creating a red herring of sound-bites without providing a fair context for digestion.

Checkup on Gov. Christie's 88 Campaign Promises

It is indisputable that Governor Chris Christie has been cutting a path through New Jersey's fabric since January.  Whether a support, a detractor, or somewhere in between, this administration has and will continue to effect all New Jerseyans in material ways.

One question of interest always for all politicians is "how is the rhetoric matching the deliverables?".  Northjersey.com recently took a look at "How is N.J. Gov. Christie doing on his 88 campaign promises?"  Of the 88, they take a look at Promises Kept, Promises on Track, and Promises Not Met, with analysis of the impact of each.

Some Promises Kept:

  • No. 4: I will make full use of my veto pen — the absolute veto, the conditional veto and line-item veto — to shape legislative budget policy.
  • No. 18: I will require all new state workers and state retirees to contribute to their health insurance costs.
  • No. 53: I will appoint a commissioner of the Department of Education whose priority will be approving high-quality charter school applications.

Some Promises on Track:

  • No. 20: I will implement aggressive economic growth strategies via public-private partnerships like the "New Jersey Partnership for Action."
  • No. 27: I will strengthen our weak "pay-to-play" laws by eliminating special-interest labor union loopholes to ensure labor unions are treated just like any other entities that have contracts with government.
  • No. 30: I will increase honesty and openness in government by requiring fully searchable and transparency websites for all state and local governments and school districts, providing links to property records and taxes, government payrolls, expenditures, school-performance report cards and other information.

Some Promises Not Met:

  • No. 5: I will rely only on recurring revenue to balance our state budget, not one-shot gimmicks like federal stimulus aid or other revenue unlikely to recur in the future.
  • No. 23: I will fully eliminate dual-office holding by our state's elected officials by proposing immediate changes to state law.
  • No. 33: I will cut New Jersey's income taxes across the board for all taxpayers.
  • No. 83: I will consolidate all renewable energy manufacturing efforts under the "Renew NJ" program, which will promote and market the state to prospective energy manufacturers both at home and abroad and deliver grants, loans and other state incentives in an efficient and timely manner.

 

Montclair State University Planned Giving Advisory Council

I am delighted to have been asked to serve on the Montclair State University Planned Giving Advisory Council. Through some of my sons activities I have had the opportunity to spend numerous hours on the beautiful campus of this hidden gem of New Jersey.  Although not an MSU Alum, by volunteering for this position I hope to support the Planned Giving Department in educating their alumni base about the value of donations to the university, as well as how to leverage that value by creating tax savings for the donors and their families.

You can find out more here.

 

Are Americans Overtreated to Death by the Medical Establishment?

A truly valuable article from the AP today "Americans are treated, and overtreated, to death".  The article stares down a hard question - When do we stop focusing on a cure and start caring about how we die?

The statistics are disturbing:

Americans increasingly are treated to death, spending more time in hospitals in their final days, trying last-ditch treatments that often buy only weeks of time, and racking up bills that have made medical care a leading cause of bankruptcies.

More than 80 percent of people who die in the United States have a long, progressive illness such as cancer, heart failure or Alzheimer's disease.

More than 80 percent of such patients say they want to avoid hospitalization and intensive care when they are dying, according to the Dartmouth Atlas Project, which tracks health care trends.

Yet the numbers show that's not what is happening:

_The average time spent in hospice and palliative care, which stresses comfort and quality of life once an illness is incurable, is falling because people are starting it too late. In 2008, one-third of people who received hospice care had it for a week or less, says the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

_Hospitalizations during the last six months of life are rising: from 1,302 per 1,000 Medicare recipients in 1996 to 1,441 in 2005, Dartmouth reports. Treating chronic illness in the last two years of life gobbles up nearly one-third of all Medicare dollars.

Do we want to tell people they can't be treated for their disease because .... (fill in the reason - money, age, citizenship, whatever?).  I don't think so.  However, what is missing from the discussion about terminal disease is how do you care for it as opposed to how do you cure it, because there may not be a cure.  Death is part of life - harsh and unwanted and soul-destroying as it may be, it is and always will be the end.

The article suggest that an answer to all of these disturbing questions may start in a conversation - a real back and forth dialog with all parties being fully informed - of what it means to battle a disease or care for it.  

So where do you go to have that dialog? In a conversation I had with David J. Shulkin, MD, Chief Operating Officer and President-elect, Morristown Memorial Hospital a few weeks ago he suggest patient message boards.  He believes that patients need to be active participants in their own health care, and part of that is leveraging the experience of other dealing with the disease is addressing the "cure" v. "care" question.  

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Consider Becoming an Organ Donor in New Jersey

 April is Donate Life Month and New Jersey is asking residents to consider becoming organ donors.  

National “Donate Life Month” is the perfect time to consider the difference you can make in the lives of others through organ donation,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Alaigh. “I urge all residents to register as organ donors. Just one person can make a difference in as many as 50 lives. The gift of life is truly the greatest gift of all.”

Nationally, there are more than 106,000 people—including nearly 4,600 New Jersey residents—on a waiting list to receive a life-saving organ transplants, according to the New Jersey Sharing Network.

Becoming an organ donor in New Jersey is a simple as a click of a mouse - you can find out more information at the online at the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission Organ Donor page, or simply download the organ donor form.

You can get more information on Organ Donation at www.organdonor.gov.

 

Randolph NJ Schools at a Crossroad - What do we value?

Randolph NJ Schools are at a cross roads. Gov. Christie has cut an additional $3.7 million in funding for the 2010-2011 school year. This is on top of a shortfall of $2.27 from our operating budget from this year.

The Board of Education has outlined our bleak options in a press release.

While none of the options are desirable, we all need to be informed residents to determine how our town will move forward. We need to make decisions about today and our future.

Here is how our "options" break down:

1 - The residents fund the shortfall - A one time additioanal special tax increase of approximately $113 per average household in addition to the increase of $253 per household already suggested to deal with the $2.27mil shortfall (average assessed value is around $338k I think)  - or a total of $366 per average house instead of $253 per average house OR

2 - Slashing the education our schools provide through either:

a - Cutting 57 teachers (in addition to the 22 already slated to be eliminated to make up the $2.7 shortfall already incorporated into the 2010-2011 budget) - meaning a total teaching staff reduction of 79 teachers  OR

b - Cutting ALL of the following:

  • All sports, clubs and extra-curricular activities in all schools (elementary through high) AND
  • Busing for families who live within 2 miles or the school (meaning kids are walking to school in Millbrook with no sidewalks) AND
  • All kindergarten classes AND
  • All AP classes at the high school AND
  • All elective courses at the middle and high schools beyond the core state curriculum

An additional option is offsetting some of the cuts costs by a wage freeze for all education system staff.  Whatever your thoughts on that, the reality is that our school budget vote is next month and the teacher contract won't be done by then, so it is irrelevant to the immediate issue.  I put this in the category of good news if it happened, but not something to be counted on now.  Right now, we have some hard choices.

Nobody wants tax increases - but I put forth to you that if we residents don't come together to increase the funding to maintain our schools by agreeing to a one-time tax levy, our community will be lost as residents flee for better schools and nobody will buy our houses for a school district with no kindergarten, no AP, no busing and no sports.

We can all agree the education system is broken, but the answer can't be to punish our children who only get one shot at education in life - without the solid quality foundation we have been able to provide, our children's potential will be stunted.

Would I suggest different allocations in cuts if it were my decision? Absolutely - I see areas of waste and misallocation of resources.  Am I wiling to punish all of our children as a result? No.

I am a member of this community and know that if we can work together to maintain and grow, then all of us will benefit.  I would prefer a tax increase that is incremental spread out of over a year to having to pay for private school, private transportation and suffering more reductions in the value of my house.

We vote April 20th from 2-9 at the local firehouses.

 

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Randolph NJ Schools Possibly Failing - Why?

Randolph NJ, where I live and our son goes to school, is a typical suburban neighborhood in Morris County, NJ - the 5th wealthiest county in the country according to Wikipedia.  We moved there in large part because of the supposed quality of the public school education.  

Its school budget time of year again, and the news in New Jersey is not good.  We are facing a $9,000,000,000 (that $9 billion) deficit in the state, and a minimum $2,000,000 deficit in the Randolph School budget (out of a total budget of about $76 million).  All the news I have been hearing is how we need to do with less this year - but I was thinking that we have good, strong, solid school system, we just need some belt tightening.

Well, imagine my surprise to read a Daily Record article that we have a FAILING school system. That's right, Randolph High, Randolph Middle and one of our Elementary schools "received an "early warning" for a one-year lapse in reaching testing requirements."  Now, I am not here to debate No Child Left Behind and the testing it mandates (I am not a supporter).  However, it is the law of the land, and effects how our public schools are funded and operated.    

One of the more disturbing things about this is that I had to learn of my child's failing school district from the newspaper - nothing was sent to parents or township residents, and it is not on the school district news page.  

I am not an educator - I don't know what the issues are from their perspective.  I am not being critical of the test scores, they are what they are, and are good in the sense that they highlight  what are clearly issues in the Randolph NJ education system.  However, I am a parent and a taxpayer, and feel that it is reasonable to expect that a school district of Randolph's supposed quality and significant funding not only meet minimum standards, but leave them in the dust in terms of the quality of education being offered to our children.

Yes, there is a Santa Claus

Happy Holidays to you all!  

In this time of family, friends and thanks for good fortune, I like to recall a very famous letter written by 8 year old Virginia in 1897 to the to the New York Sun asking "Is There a Santa Claus?" for her father had told her that if it was printed in the New York Sun it must be true.

The editor,  Francis Pharcellus Church, created a response that 100 years later still embraces the magic of children, joy, and hope for the future.  My favorite part:

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

I wish you the joy of seeing all the Santa Clauses who abound in your life this holiday season.

- Deirdre

 

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Track those stimulus dollars

I found a great website to track exactly how the stimulus dollars are being spent, down to the county level. 

The Stimulus Tracker at msnbc.com shows the allocation of hundreds of billions of stimulus dollars on contracts, grants and loans to restore infrastructure. These are the dollars intended to jump-start the economy, and you can see exactly how they are being spent in the nation, your state, or your county.  It shows not only dollars, but new jobs created.

For example, New York, Florida, Texas and California are each getting more than $5 billion of stimulus dollars for infrastructure restoration.  I am sure it is a total coincidence that that these states have the highest amount of electoral college votes (not).

New Jersey is getting $1.8 billion of total contracts.  Essex, Camden and Bergen counties will each receive more than $100 million of those dollars.  Here in Morris County, that translates to $68.9 million dollars of total contracts, including $3.1 million to rehabilitate I-287 Nb over Rt 46 (which really needs it).  You can even drill down to the specifics of each project (like here for instance).

A more comprehensive site is Recovery.gov - Track the Money.  However, it was honestly too detailed for me and my stomach started to churn at all the blue dots of "grant money" being distributed.  I seriously couldn't even make out the map anymore.

However, you can use recovery.gov to report fraud, waste and abuse.

We all wonder where the money is going - well, here is your chance to know!

Post Script:

Another useful sight was brought to my attention: Stimulus: How Fast We're Spending Nearly $800 Billion.  

The success of the federal stimulus program may hinge on the speed with which the government is able to distribute the billions authorized by Congress. Unlike some other estimates of the cost of the stimulus, which are based on spending projections, we took our numbers from the actual budget authority issued by Congress — $792 billion and change. We'll be tracking the progress of stimulus payments made by federal agencies weekly.

When it Snows - Clean Your Car! New Law Coming

Snow Covered CarAs winter approaches (which last weeks unexpected snow reminded us is close at hand) a point of irritation bubbles to the top again - trying to get somewhere and dodging the ice, snow and debris from the car in front of you.  You know the car I am talking about - it snowed 3 days ago, and the car in front of you is encased in a 4 inch shiny snow crust with a square cut into the windshield and a rectangle in the driver side window for viewing.  As you are driving behind it you can only watch as sheet after sheet of ice comes sliding off, into your window, and making you almost get into an accident because you can't see.

Well, good news is on they way.  According to the Daily Record "Legislation that would toughen New Jersey's notoriously weak snow-removal law passed the Senate and Assembly in June. Gov. Jon S. Corzine is expected to sign it".

The current law is ridiculous - "Under the 1997 state law, a driver can get a ticket for not clearing a vehicle — but only if the snow dislodges and causes an injury or property damage, and only in the unlikely event an officer is nearby or the victim has the wherewithal to jot down a license plate number." (emphasis added).

While the new proposed law sounds better - it "would create an "affirmative duty" for snow removal with fines of up to $75"  - there will be many exemptions.  These appear to be aimed at:

  1. not being responsible for snow accumulation while it is still snowing (reasonable, so long as you cleared your car before your started your drive - not just clear a circle and go),
  2. not more than 1 ticket in a day (ridiculous - clean off your car, and if one ticket doesn't motivate you, another one might), and 
  3. exempting commercial trucks that are enroute to a place with snow removal equipment (reasonable in the sense that a trucker can't really clean whole rig, but those trucks are a hazard after the storm has passed).  

In typical New Jersey fashion, a fund is supposed to be created with some of the ticket revenue to educate people about the law. Given the state of our State's finance, I think that adding the general revenues would be a better choice.

Libraries as a Lifeline

 I have always been a huge proponent of public libraries - after all, what could be better than free books?  Over the weekend a New York Times article caught my eye "In New Jersey, Libraries Are Lifelines for Needy".  Apparently, there is better stuff at your local library than free books - there is career research and word processing for those in transition, and information on help available to those in need (mortgage assistance, food stamps, subsidized child care).  

What impressed me was not that our libraries have these resources (as a regular patron I can attest that local libraries are a fountain of information), but that New Jersey's public librarians have recognized that many patrons seeking this information might too uncomfortable to ask for it (especially in their hometown).  So the state librarians came together and created gethelp.njlibraries.org.

The site "provides links to state agencies and nonprofits, and information on jobs, food assistance, military benefits, utility assistance and even free tax preparation for people with low incomes, disabilities or difficulty speaking English."  Among other categories there are compilations of services under the heading of New Jersey Financial Tools, New Jersey Work Tools, and New Jersey Parental Tools.  The is also a link for information for seniors under  Tools For Seniors.

Charities as Victims of Cash for Clunkers?

Are Charities going to be Victims of Cash for Clunkers asks Kay Bell of Don't Mess With Taxes.

The Cash for Clunkers program (officially CARS for  Car Allowance Rebate System ) has been hugely popular. Old gas guzzlers are being traded in for new cars that have a $4500 rebate.  An additional $2 billion was added to the program last week.

Quick Aside - $2 billion is the same as $2,000,000,000.00 - ALWAYS write out the zeros when talking about how the government is spending YOUR dollars - looks quite a bit larger now, doesn't it?  At $4500 a car, that is 44,444 additional new cars being purchased.

The program requires that the "Clunkers" are junked by having liquid silicate poured into the engine, so that it is irreparably destroyed.  These cars will then be sold for scrap (and I won't go into the pros and cons of the environmental effects of that).

The problem?  Many charities rely on donations of old cars as an ongoing revenue source.  For example, Bell says:

Animal Services of Thurston County, Wash., depends on up to $20,000 in donations each year from Northwest Charity Donation Service. The service, in turn, relies on donated cars.

But since the Cash for Clunkers program began this summer, the nonprofit's source of funding is drying up, reports King 5 News in Seattle.

These are the same charities that have already lost scores of other funding sources as a result of individuals reducing contribution due to the stock market drop, corporations redlining excesses in the budgets due to the recession, and foundations staggering under market and Madoff type unanticipated losses.  So, score 1 for the car industry, and another negative for the charities that are using private dollars to address some of the staggering needs of the less fortunate.

Estate Planning - Men v. Women (these are the jokes)

Category: Miscellaneous Musings

A totally non-serious estate planning tale, but good for a chuckle....

Estate Planning

Dan was a single guy living at home with his father and working in the family business. When he found out he was going to inherit a fortune when his sickly father died, he decided he needed a wife with which to share his fortune.

One evening at an investment meeting he spotted the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her natural beauty took his breath away.

"I may look like just an ordinary man," he said to her, "but in just a few years, my father will die, and I'll inherit 20 million dollars."

Impressed, the woman obtained his business card. Three days later, she became his stepmother.

Women are so much better at estate planning than men.

Fein Such Awarded for Excellence in Workplace Flexibility

As a pat on the back to our firm and its wonderful employees, Fein Such is a proud recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility. The Sloan Awards recognize organizations that are dedicated to making work "work" for both the employer and the employees by creating effective and flexible workplaces that meet the needs of the 21st century.

Slow Medicine - A Different Approach to End of Life Care

Category: Elder Law

A recent New York Times article "For the Elderly, Being Heard About Life's End" describes the benefits of of ""slow medicine," an approach that encourages less aggressive -- and less costly -- care at the end of life."

There is an institutionalized bias to give any and all medical care. However, when a person is in their late 80's or 90's this aggressive care may hinder their quality of life and control over the quality of that life.

Aggressive medical care is sometime an exercise is substituted decision making - I can, so therefore I will. What "slow medicine" seems to promote is the question of - you can, but should you?

The article advised that "slow medicine" is "Grounded in research at the Dartmouth Medical School, slow medicine encourages physicians to put on the brakes when considering care that may have high risks and limited rewards for the elderly, and it educates patients and families how to push back against emergency room trips and hospitalizations designed for those with treatable illnesses, not the inevitable erosion of advanced age."

And the irony to this. As a class of population, the treatments are the most expensive, although the results may be limited. "The costliest patients -- the elderly with chronic illnesses -- are the only group with universal health coverage under Medicare, leading to huge federal expenditures that experts agree are unsustainable as boomers age. "

Enticing the "elderly" to turn in their driver's licenses?

Category: Elder Law, Miscellaneous Musings

We all complain about other drivers, particularly here in New Jersey where we probably have the most awful traffic, road conditions and convoluted traffic patterns (we can't just turn left - we have a lovely invention called jug-handles instead) in the country.

Elderly drivers tend to get much of the ire - for right or for wrong. In Japan, they are trying to entice "elderly" drivers to turn in their licences ("elderly" is in quotes as they define it as 65 - odd for the country with the one of the longest life expectancies). Yahoo News reports:

Tokyo businesses are to start offering benefits to elderly people who give up their drivers' licences, backing a police effort to cut back on the ballooning number of traffic accidents caused by drivers over 65.

Among more than 30 special offers, one small bank will give higher interest rates, while Mitsukoshi department store chain plans to provide free delivery from its Tokyo stores and a hotel will offer a 10 percent discount on meals in a program starting next month, Tokyo police said on their Web site.

"Have the courage to give up your licence," the police say on the site. "If you have lost confidence in your driving ... if your family says they are worried about you driving ... please think about handing in your licence."


What about some sort of accelerated re-licensing system instead after a certain age? And where does 65 come from (John McCain is 72 after all, and he claims to be spry enough).

ABA Webite adds Blawg Directory - Must Bookmark

Category: Miscellaneous Musings

The PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog tipped me off that "The American Bar Association now lists, on its home page, a link to "more than 1,000 legal blogs". This is a must bookmark site.

The blogs or blawg are listed by category according to legal practice area. Your and Yours Blawg is listed in Elder Law (13), Tax Law (20) Trusts & Estates (36), Business Law (58) and New Jersey (10) (the numbers in parenthesis are the total listing of blawgs to date in that category).

A neat feature is that if you click on any blawg listing, you can
* see all the related categories of that blawg, which will let you drill down to related blawgs;
* get the RSS feed
* see all the recent blog postings headlines

For example, click here for ABA Blog description of You and Yours Blawg.