Category Archives: Marriage

A Moment of Gratitude

Do you spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your family?  If you do, have OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyou ever stopped to consider why that may be the case?  The West is a culture preoccupied with work. While I love the fast-paced nature of the legal field, it’s crucial that I take the time to reflect on why I do what I do every day at the office. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, here are just a few things I am thankful for:

1. I’m thankful for my clients.

I’ve said it before, and I will reiterate it here: I’ve got the best clients in Texas. I learn so much from them, and they honor me by trusting me with their lives every day. Whether I am helping them survive a bitter divorce or organizing their business for the start of a new venture, each client challenges me to provide better service and value than I did the day before. That’s a tremendous blessing that I do not take for granted.

2. I’m thankful for my staff.

This year I hired a legal assistant named Tim, and my productivity soared. He keeps me on task, helps me with administrative tasks so that I can focus on legal work, and most importantly he keeps me in communication with clients when I’m in court or otherwise unavailable to talk to them directly. Tim has allowed me to be more efficient and responsive to my clients, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

3. I’m thankful for my family and friends.

If it weren’t for my friends and family, my life would be totally out of balance. Being in a service-based industry is difficult because other people’s life problems become my problems. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the very serious concerns that clients bring to my office. It’s also easy to take on more work than I can handle because it’s much harder to say no to a potential case when my cup is overflowing with obligations.  Today I vow to prioritize my family over my potential profit. If I can’t offer the best service at the time due to having a full case load or simply not being able to handle the problem before me, it is my ethical obligation to refer that potential client to another professional who can.  I’ll no longer value my professional life over my personal life because integrity goes a long way, and I took an oath to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

I hope and pray that you are taking time off from work to spend time with the people who really matter in your life. I know I will, and I can’t wait to kick back with my friends and family to recharge before coming back to work to serve more clients and help more people along the way.

 

 

Top 3 Things People Don’t Know about Community Property

file0001248906240I got a question from a colleague who works as a financial planner: he wanted to know if a 403(b) retirement account was subject to division in divorce. The short answer to this question is probably yes. Many people don’t realize that in the absence of a premarital agreement, all assets obtained during divorce (with very few exceptions) are considered community property in a Texas divorce. Most people realize that a court may determine the division of their house, vehicles, and tangible assets, but there are some subtle nuances to the presumption of community property that could dramatically affect their odds for a positive outcome in divorce. It is always preferable for spouses to agree on the division of their property, but sometimes agreement is simply impossible, so I wanted to shed some light on the three most surprising aspects of community property division in divorce.

1. Inheritance is off the table.

If a relative passes away and leaves you a large sum of money, that inheritance is not subject to division as community property in your divorce. The money you receive in an inheritance is your separate property. However, if you mingle that money with your community funds (perhaps by using it to purchase other assets with your spouse), it could become a part of the community estate. This phenomenon is known as co-mingling. If you’re married and are on the verge of receiving an inheritance, it is a good idea to meet with a family law attorney to ensure your inheritance is definitively separate property.

2. Retirement accounts are subject to division.

As previously mentioned, retirement accounts (including IRAs, pensions, defined benefit plans, defined contribution plans, 401ks, and 403(b)s) are part of your community estate once you marry your spouse. If you’ve worked for decades at the same company,  you’ve likely acquired a substantial nest egg in your retirement plan. Most people believe if they work hard and obtain retirement benefits, they’re entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labor when they retire. However, once you marry, your contributions to your retirement plans become community property, and as the value of the plan increases over time, the balance of the plan from the date of your marriage becomes subject to division in divorce.

No one wants to lose their inheritance or their retirement. So what are couples to do if they want to avoid these outcomes? Thankfully, the presumption of community property can be overcome.

3. Couples can agree to define their assets as separate or community at any time.

Premarital agreements allow future spouses to decide what assets they want to keep as their separate property and which assets will be their jointly owned community property. Ideally, each party will have his or her own attorney to review the documents and advise as to the consequences of the agreement. This is a great opportunity for them to discuss their finances at their very onset of their marriage and establish clear boundaries about how their assets will be treated if they divorce. If you do not have a premarital agreement, do not despair. You and your spouse can create what’s known as a postnuptial agreement after you marry.

Unfortunately, finances are one of the primary motivating factors for divorce, so the sooner you and your partner get on the same page about the money in your relationship, the better off you will be as a couple. For more information about community property or to discuss your financial circumstances, feel free to give me a call at (713) 574-8626 to schedule a consultation.

3 Tips for Parents Going Through Divorce

032cc38c6b791fc5612c6823ab93fb44In my practice, I see many people at their absolute worst. Their marriage is over, and they’re coming to me for advice and counsel during the divorce process. Some of those people have children which further complicates matters. How does one navigate the divorce process without taking their children on an emotional roller coaster? Frankly, this is a difficult question without a simple solution or answer because every family is different, but these three guidelines are critical if you want to exit your marriage with as little damage to your kids as possible.

1. Never Bad Mouth the Other Parent

This one may seem obvious, but if you’ve been served with a divorce citation, you probably have some choice words to say about your soon to be ex. You should share those choice words with your divorce lawyer, your therapist, your best friend, or your pastor. Who you should not vent to under any circumstances is your child. It doesn’t matter if he or she is an absolute scoundrel. Your child loves her other parent just as much as she loves you. It’s not fair to place a child in the middle of an adult situation by deriding your spouse. It will drive a wedge between you and your child and place you in a terrible light when she gets old enough to process what you said about her other parent. Find healthy ways to express your frustration but keep it away from the little ones.

2.  Avoid Using Your Child as a Bargaining Chip

Similarly, parents going through divorce have to navigate several issues such as who will stay in the family home, who will pay child support, and what the possession and access arrangement will be for the children. Although it may be tempting to punish your ex for his or her wrongdoing by withholding access to the children, please do not do this. Your children will not understand, and it’s simply not in their best interest. The family unit as they know it is changing dramatically; do not make that change even more severe by making the children feel guilty for wanting to see both parents on a consistent basis. Doing so is emotionally abusive and could severely impact your child’s well-being.

3. Maintain Their Routine

Your children may not tell you this, but the day to day happenings in their life are what makes them feel safe. Eating breakfast, getting ready for school, catching the bus to school, sitting through classes, going to extracurricular activities, and doing homework are all a part of their daily routine. If you and your spouse are going through a divorce, it is likely that their routine has been interrupted by one of their parents moving out of the home, or by them moving away from one of their parents. Some interruptions are unavoidable, but if you can minimize the disruptions from your child’s daily life, your child can continue to develop and grow as an individual. The more you provide stability for your children, the less likely they are to resent either of their parents for divorcing. You and your ex have a responsibility to let your children know that you both love them unconditionally even though your marriage is ending. You can show that love by maintaining their routine as much as possible.

We all love our families. Sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re doing the right things for them. If you’re contemplating divorce and need practical advice and guidance, feel free to give me a call at 713-574-8626.

Free Wills Month: Your Mortality? It’s Not Morbid.

tigerThis month for the entire month of May, this law office is participating in a campaign known as Free Wills Month. Anyone over the age of 55 years old (or married to someone 55 and up) can get a FREE consultation with us to prepare a simple will.

For those of you who follow the blog, you may remember that we did this promotion two years ago. You can check out the inaugural blog here.

Anyway, this is one of those things that should be an easy sell. Everyone likes things that a free, but when it comes to pondering one’s eventual demise, people are incredibly reluctant to do so. Specifically, older people. This makes total sense and is natural, but in some way it’s counter intuitive. We plan for our weddings. We plan for vacations. We plan for every other event in our lives except  death.

This is not to disparage or demean the Baby Boomers in my life, but you guys…please, come on.  Your children and extended family will very much appreciate knowing your desires about what should happen to your belongings when you meet the fate that will greet us all. Dad, if you’re reading this, this blog is dedicated to you. I sincerely hope that after years of patient badgering, I have worn you down and finally convinced you to follow my advice.

Love always,

Your tireless youngest daughter

P.S. This campaign directly benefits Texas Children’s Hospital and will run from May 1 to May 31, 2016. For more information, check out the website.

Doing Well by Doing Good

March is an important month in my life. I was born on March 19th, and as my birthday DSCF9141approaches, my desire to make good on the New Years promises I made to myself is renewed. One of those beginning of the year promises involved spending more time in service to others, outside of my professional obligations. Recently, I took a step toward fulfilling that goal by meeting with Mike Jansen and Dayton Gilbert of the American Heart Association. I had questions about the organization, and they were very generous with their time and insights over coffee.

One of the challenges that my clients and I face is how to balance the demands of daily life with the need to give back to the community. Many of my estate planning clients are Baby Boomers, thinking about how to equitably divide their assets. Those of this generation who are religious routinely leave bequests in their wills to their local church, synagogue or mosque. The other segment of my estate planning practice are newlyweds and young parents. They want what’s best for their families in order to secure their future. Each of these types of clients asks for advice, recommendations, and warnings about how to arrange their affairs in the face of the unknown. I advise each of these groups to consider making a testamentary bequest to a reputable charitable organization.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women. The American Heart Association funds heart research, hosts scientific sessions for continued advancement of the medical community, and educates the public about lifestyle, diet, and stress management. Its primary goal is to connect the best medical research to the doctors who need it most so that they can save lives by decreasing risks in current procedures. Due to the AHA’s efforts, scientists have learned how to slow down heart attacks and make stints safer and more effective for the people who need them to keep their arteries free from blockages that cause heart attacks.

My first professional experience with the American Heart Association happened in 2014 when I participated in a marketing campaign known as Free Wills Month. The AHA was one of the featured organizations, and it sent several informational booklets and newsletters detailing its mission. I felt comfortable recommending it to clients considering a charitable bequest in 2014, and I have continued confidence in that recommendation.  The impulse to serve others is a noble one. If you have been fortunate enough to leave assets to your spouse, children, friends, family or faith tradition, why not support a good cause? I encourage you to think seriously about donating your time, influence, and money to a cause you believe in. Both of my parents have heart disease; the efforts of the American Heart Association have tangibly benefited my family, and if you look deep enough, you’ll probably find they have helped yours too.

For more information about this wonderful organization from the Sugar Land attorney who cares, give me a call at (713) 574-8626. Also pay a visit to the American Heart Association website here.

The Challenge Presented by Difficult Clients

ANGRYThis week I’ve been confronted by the reality that a large part of what I do involves dealing with people at their worst. My clients are going through divorce. Some are facing bankruptcy. Others have been personally injured, and still others are facing jail time. Stress can do a number on a person’s ability to cope and adapt to life’s ups and downs. Sometimes that stress gets taken out on me. Occasionally, my clients will lash out at a staff member, and while I’m sensitive to what they’re going through, a vital part of my job is to remind my client that it’s never appropriate to take their frustrations out on me or my staff because we’re here to help. We’re all on the same team, and as the old adage goes: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

There are times when I’ve had to escort clients out of meetings to remind them of the fact that while I’m sensitive to their emotional upset, at no time is it okay to curse or yell at me or anyone who works for me. How can I effectively advocate for a person who can’t maintain his composure in our private interactions? If I’m not able to reign in an irate client in private, I run the risk of allowing that person’s bad behavior to impact the outcome of his case in the eye’s of the judge when we make it to court. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I’d much rather offend a client and obtain the desired outcome he seeks than placate a difficult person to his own detriment.

Contrary to popular belief, lawyers are people too. We have good and bad days like everyone else, but the lawyer who can’t control her emotions is the one who cannot keep a cool head to make sound decisions for her client, and I refuse to be that type of attorney. I’ve seen lawyers in screaming fits, in tears, and visibly shaken in the hallways of court rooms, but once those lawyers reach the presence of the judge or the jury, their game face is on in spite of how they may be feeling. An important part of our job is how we relate to our clients. Any attorney who has been practicing for any amount of time has more than a few stories about the time they had to talk a client off of the ledge in order to get past the strong emotional component of their case and make sure the job is done.

We can’t always be your friend. We’re also not your therapist, although we are definitely legal counselors. Boundaries have to be maintained for our welfare and for the benefit of our clients. Keep that in mind the next time you blow off some steam on a customer service rep or anyone else you may encounter on a bad day. That person has feelings and is just trying to do his job. We’re all doing our level best to help you, and that’s made much easier when you cooperate and keep your emotions in check.

For professional advice and to schedule a legal consultation, be sure to give me a call at (713 ) 574-8626.

Should I Hire a Lawyer or Handle It on My Own?

ttronslien-8953 (1)I get asked this question in different ways from time to time, so I thought it would make a great blog topic. Is it a good idea to hire a lawyer or go pro se?

In most instances, we have no problem going to a professional for services. Car making a funny noise? Go to a mechanic. Need a haircut? See a barber. Broke your key in the door? Call a locksmith. But when it comes to legal services, people with absolutely no legal experience or training strangely believe that they can do it themselves, get the outcome they want, and successfully represent themselves in court. This is almost always a terrible mistake.

“I have the right to represent myself in a court of law”, you may be thinking. This is true. You absolutely do, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Like me, President Lincoln was an attorney, and he had a great reason for making this remark: the law has its own set of rules, guidelines, and vocabulary. There is a reason lawyers have to attend several years of school and pass their state bar examinations. Competence in the courtroom comes with years of experience handling legal problems again and again. A person without this background is simply not prepared to properly represent him or herself.

Typically when a person goes pro se, that person quickly realizes they’re in over their head and hires an attorney. When I meet someone who has filed their own lawsuit, I look at what they have done on their own and determine what, if anything, I can do to fix their mistakes and protect their interests. This often results in my new client paying more than he or she otherwise would if they had simply come to me with their legal problem from the very beginning. The additional work needed to pick up where a pro se litigant has left off usually results in me having to spend more time on their case, and therefore a higher bill. Sometimes they’ve waited too long to seek my help, and I can’t do anything for them because the case is too far gone.

Even a skilled lawyer who represents himself is at a disadvantage. We are humans, and our emotions tend to cloud our judgment when it is our own personal interests at stake. I take my own advice in this regard. When my grandmother passed away, I advised my mother (her executor) to hire an attorney. I did not want to bungle my grandmother’s estate. I had recently graduated from law school and had not yet learned how to handle probate matters. I wouldn’t pull my own tooth if I had a toothache, and something tells me you wouldn’t either. The same principle applies to the law: when in doubt, hire a professional.

Domestic Partners: Are you Ready to Get Married?

married_car_02This seems like a slightly rude and obtrusive question, but it’s a good one. If you have filed for domestic partnership instead of getting married (either because you’re LGBTQ and it was previously illegal or because you and your partner wanted benefits through your jobs without being married), pay close attention.  The New York Times wrote a very interesting piece on this topic that I strongly suggest you read. In part, it discussed how certain companies have rescinded their domestic partner benefits to employees living in states where same-sex marriage was legalized and has given these employees a few options. The legalization of same-sex marriage has touched on some very interesting questions: namely, is it fair for married couples to have exclusive benefits simply because they are married? Also, is it fair to coerce couples to marry for purely economic reasons now that they can do so without interference from the state?

Last July, Verizon gave its employees until the end of the year to decide whether to marry. IBM gives employees a one-year grace period, though a spokeswoman said the time frame was under review; Delta said it provided a grace period as well, about two years. And some states have sought rollbacks as well.

Many employers extended the benefits only to partners of gay employees because they did not have the option to legally wed. Plenty of other organizations, however, extended domestic partner coverage to opposite-sex couples as well — and those companies are expected to maintain the benefits more so than those that offered them only to same-sex couples.

“With no legal barriers to same-sex marriage, it is likely some employers will eliminate their benefits for unmarried same-sex partners,” Todd Solomon, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery who has written a book on domestic partner benefits, said. Is this fair? Is this what was intended by Justice Kennedy’s decision? To force people who would otherwise choose alternative arrangements to marry? I don’t think so, but there are compelling arguments to be made on each side. For a closer look into this issue, please check out the source.

To protect your family in whatever shape it may be, be sure to get solid advice and counsel from an attorney who stays abreast of current events to make the best decisions for her clients. For an initial consultation, feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626.

New Parents: 4 Things You Need to Know

baby feet1. You need to meet with a financial planner. Let’s face it: children cost money. If you’re a new parent, it’s a good idea to consult with a financial planner about what kind of savings you need to begin putting in place to finance your child’s education.

2. You should purchase life insurance.  Life insurance is intended to replace the income you would provide your family in the event of your untimely death. The amount of insurance you should buy depends on the standard of living you’d like to assure your dependents. As a new mom or dad, it’s important to find out what Social Security benefits your child would be entitled to and make sure you’re able to supplement that amount with insurance proceeds or private investments. Be sure to talk to a financial adviser about the amount of insurance you should purchase. He or she will talk about your lifestyle and determine what’s appropriate for you and your family.

3. Single parents need to make sure they are receiving an appropriate amount of child support from the non-custodial parent. This one is self-explanatory. If you’re a new mom (or dad) who is not receiving financial support from the other parent, take the time to explore the Attorney General’s website for information about child support benefits. To navigate these waters, it’s a very good idea to contact an attorney to talk about what it takes to begin receiving child support for your new bundle of joy.

4. If you don’t have a last will & testament, you need to write one. If you do have a will, you need to update it to include your new addition to the family. No one wants to think about death ever, but the reality of life is that it is nothing if not uncertain. It’s a very good idea to make sure that your last will & testament is clear about who you’d like to take care of your child in the event that you’re not available to do so. If you’ve already written a will, the birth of a new child is an excellent reason to update it. Each state has different ways to handle what happens when a child is born after their parents will was written. If your will makes no mention of your child, you’re leaving your child’s fate to chance. Consult with an attorney to get your affairs in order as soon as possible.

Congratulations on the birth of your new baby. It’s my hope that you take the necessary steps to insure your child’s future. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment with an experienced attorney who’s ready to help you in this new stage of your life, please feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626 or through the contact form on my website.

Are You Proactive or Reactive?

Hey youMost of the time I meet people in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes a loved one has recently died. Other times my clients have pending criminal charges or lawsuits filed against them. In these instances, my clients are reacting to the slings and arrows of life. Crises happen and are sometimes unavoidable. However, there are times when you can prepare for what lies ahead. Being prepared for the future and planning for some of the inevitable challenges that we all face is how I define being proactive. Instead of reacting to your circumstances, you are creating options and opportunities for yourself.

  • When a person comes to me to write a last will & testament, I know my new client is proactive.
  • When a person comes to me to ask questions about a contract before signing it, I know he or she is proactive.
  • When the owner of a start-up comes to me to incorporate his new business, I know he is proactive.
  • When a person inquires about power of attorney documents so that their affairs are handled before they go overseas for military service or business, I know that person is proactive.
  • Any time I am asked to actively market oil, gas, and minerals for mineral owners seeking a sale or a lease of their property, I know my clients are proactive.

You may be wondering, “why does this matter?” It matters because being proactive puts my client in the driver’s seat of his or her life. I have a greater ability to assist the proactive client because I know that person is looking ahead to what could be instead of instinctively reacting to their current circumstances.  This changes the dynamic of our relationship and allows me to make suggestions, ask questions about their concerns, and generally be of more value.

I appreciate all of my clients, but frankly, the proactive clients are my favorite. They have emergencies. Everyone does, but more often than not, they are better prepared when trouble comes their way because they sought my counsel before something has even gone wrong in the first place. Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. Contact a lawyer to discuss your future, your business, the birth of your first child, you pending nuptials, or any other major life change you may be facing. You might be surprised what you learn, and how I may be of use to you in the long run.

To schedule a consultation with an attorney who wants to build a lifetime relationship with you, call (713) 574-8626.