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Lake Elmo Minnesota Legal Blog

Community service sentences promote inequity, study says

Many people in Minnesota see community service sentences as a humane alternative to hefty fines or jail time, especially for people living in poverty and convicted of relatively minor matters. However, one study contests the idea that these sentences improve people's lives. A report issued by UCLA's Labor Center and School of Law says that community service sentences for criminal convictions can also have serious negative impacts, especially on low-income communities and communities of color, much like other aspects of the criminal justice system.

In general, community service sentences are issued as an alternative to jail time for people who cannot pay court fines or fees. However, the study argues that the results of community service sentences are often similar to those of hefty, unaffordable fees. People who cannot afford to pay fines often cannot afford to spend weeks working full-time for no pay. In addition, the study questioned the connection between hours of community service and fines. It argued that people sentenced to community service are forced to work far more hours should be necessary to recoup the fine. Researchers noted that in at least one-quarter of the studied 5,000 cases, people were ordered to work at least 155 hours without pay.

How trusts can help nontraditional families in estate planning

Fewer than half of all families follow the traditional structure of a father, and mother and their children, but estate planning documents often do not reflect this shift. Families in Minnesota may need to make changes to traditional estate planning documents to suit their own situations.

Those situations might include parents who live together but are not married, cohabiting couples without children, families with stepchildren and single parents. A trust is often helpful in complex family situations, but a standard trust could still lead to problems. In some cases, confusion could arise because of legal terminology. Words such as "issue" or "descendants" may not always encompass all the people that the creator of the estate plan assumes they will. In other cases, legal documents may not be flexible enough to accommodate these family configurations. However, there are several options for making those documents more flexible or for allowing changes.

Minnesota Supreme Court changes vehicle forfeiture rules

Here in Minnesota, police can seize a vehicle on the spot under certain circumstances. For instance, if police stop you for your third DUI offense within the last 10 years, they can take possession of your vehicle before even leaving the scene. Police can keep your vehicle until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings.

But what happens if someone was driving your vehicle and police seized it for that person's third DUI? Under state law, the seizure can occur if you knew that your friend or family member was going to do something illegal in it. The problem is you had no idea that someone you trusted with your vehicle was going to get behind the wheel after drinking. In fact, you weren't even there.

Why felons may be treated unfairly

A Minnesota resident who is convicted of a felony could lose the right to vote. It may also be possible to lose the right to own a gun after being convicted of a felony. Some say that the best way to avoid this fate is to not commit a crime. However, there are many ways in which an individual could unknowingly break the law.

For instance, it is a felony to get lost in the woods or for a healthy person to call in sick to work. While a law can be struck down if it is overly vague, that does not always happen. Juries could also choose to make a law obsolete by choosing not to convict those who are charged with a particular offense. However, those who believe in jury nullification may not be given the right to serve on a jury.

What age should I begin the estate planning process?

The estate planning process involves preparing how your assets are to be distributed or passed on after your death. It is a difficult topic to think about, but there are many important decisions to make.

Estate planning can involve drafting a will, creating trust funds and writing advanced directives. Many people wonder what age they need to be to start the process. The truth is, anyone who is a young adult or older could benefit! Estate planning’s benefits change throughout adulthood.

Acting as an executor for family

When choosing who should be the executor of one's estate, many people trust family with this task. However, handling an estate once a loved one has passed away can be more complex than grantors and executors realize. Minnesota residents might like some more information about dealing with an estate.

After a decedent passes, an executor handles estate affairs like paying off debts, distributing assets and handling tax matters. If there is no trust, an executor will still do these tasks but must also go through the probate process to validate a will. This could involve using estate assets for court costs and when working with attorneys. While this process takes time, not all assets must go through probate.

Estate planning errors

Many people living in Minnesota understand the importance of an estate plan. Unfortunately, simply writing a will is often not enough to protect a person's interests or the well-being of his or her family.

One of the most common errors in estate planning is failing to designate beneficiaries of retirement accounts, insurance policies and other financial products. Another common error is to not update beneficiary designations as circumstances change. For example, somebody might name a spouse as a beneficiary on an insurance plan but then later divorce that spouse. If the policy is not updated, the ex-spouse will become the beneficiary, regardless of the estate planner's current marital status or personal desires.

Financial security throughout the divorce process

Financial security may be a concern for anyone in Minnesota who is going through a divorce. For people who are nearing or past retirement age or who have been a stay-at-home parent, this can be particularly true.

While a catastrophic illness or accident can happen to anyone, older people may be at a higher risk. This was the case with one couple in which the husband was 82 and in ill health during their divorce. If he had property that he did not want his wife to inherit and he died before the divorce was final, she might inherit it anyway. Couples may want to consider how they will handle issues such as these. Even for younger couples, insurance policies may be important in case of death or disability if one person is paying support to the other.

Why spendthrift trusts can be powerful estate planning tools

The use of a spendthrift trust could help ensure that families in Minnesota and elsewhere don't lose assets because of creditor claims. They can also prevent a beneficiary from squandering money or assets given to him or her by a parent or grandparent. A trustee is given authority to make distributions based on that person or entity's interpretation of the trust's language. Furthermore, the beneficiary would not be able to touch the principal inside of the trust.

Instead, he or she would be limited to using distributions from the trust. Creditors would only be able to take action to collect the amount of the distribution from the trust to the beneficiary. In the meantime, assets would continue to generate income that could be distributed to the beneficiary per its terms. To create such a document, an individual would create a traditional trust and add a provision declaring it to be a spendthrift trust.

Making the divorce transition easier on children

It's important for divorced parents in Minnesota to understand how to raise their children in nurturing and psychologically sound environments. From emotional issues to financial insecurity, divorce can have negative ramifications in a young child's life. However, divorced couples can protect their children by ensuring that the young ones have specific rights. For instance, parents can create a loving atmosphere for their kids by refusing to argue in their presence.

An ex should not express critical remarks about the other parent in front of the children. It's also unwise to openly blame the other parent for the divorce. Ultimately, kids want to feel close to their moms and dads. Children do not want to take sides unless one of the parents has demonstrated abusive behavior.

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