Category: Beneficiaries

Consider a family meeting about estate planning

Consider a Family Meeting about Estate Planning

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well” emphasizes that no matter the amount of wealth that a family has, wealth education is crucial to overall financial education, preparing for the future and to becoming a good steward of an inheritance. Consider a family meeting about estate planning.

Family meetings are a great way of bringing members of a family together with a goal of facilitating communication and education. This allows for sharing family stories, communicating values, setting goals to help ensure transparency and helping members across generations understand their roles around stewardship and wealth.

Here are some ideas on how to have an effective family meeting about estate planning:

Prepare. The host of the meeting should spend time with each participating family member to help them understand the reason for the meeting and learn more about their expectations. There should be a desire and commitment from the participants to invest time and effort to make family meetings about estate planning a success.

Plan. Create a clear agenda that defines the purpose and goals of each family meeting about estate planning. Share this agenda with participants before the meeting. Select a neutral location that makes everyone comfortable and encourages participation.

Have time for learning. Include an educational component in the agenda, such as an introduction to investing, estate planning, budgeting and saving, or philanthropy.

Have a “parking lot.” Note any topics raised that might need to be addressed in a future estate planning meeting.

Use a facilitator. Perhaps have a trusted adviser facilitate the meeting. This can help with managing the agenda, offering a different perspective, calming emotions and making certain that everyone is heard and understood.

Follow up. Include some to-do’s and schedule the next meeting to set expectations about continuing to bring the family together.

Consider a family meeting about estate planning that will allow all family members to feel they are included in decisions, and foster a better understanding of what their inheritance will look like.

If you would like to learn more about difficult family conversations, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 1, 2021) “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well”

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The Estate of The Union Episode 10 out now

 

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Estate planning for same-sex couples

Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples

Proper estate planning can help ensure that your wishes are carried out exactly as intended in the event of a death or a serious illness, says Insurance Net News’ recent article entitled “What Same-Sex Partners Need to Know About Estate Planning.” Having a clearly stated plan in place can give clear instructions and potentially avoid any fights that otherwise might occur. With estate planning for same-sex couples, this may be even more crucial.

Your estate plan should include a will or trust, beneficiary forms, powers of attorney, a living will and a letter of intent. It’s also smart to include a secure document with a list of your accounts, debts, assets and contact info for any key people involved in those accounts. This list should contain passwords for locked accounts and any other relevant information.

A will is a central component of an estate plan which ensures that your wishes are followed after you pass away. This alleviates your family from the responsibility of determining how to divide your property and takes the guessing and stress out of how to pass along belongings. A will or trust might also state the way in which to transfer your financial assets to your children. You should also make sure your beneficiary forms are up to date with your spouse for life insurance policies, bank accounts and retirement accounts.

For same-sex couples, it is particularly important to create a clear medical power of attorney and create a living will that states your medical directives, if you aren’t able to make those decisions on your own. If you aren’t married, this will give your partner the legal protection he or she needs to make those decisions. It is important for you to take time to have those conversations with your partner, so the plans and directives are clear. You can also draft a letter of intent, which is a written, personal note that can be included to help detail your wishes and provide reasoning for the decisions.

Protecting Your Minor Children. Name a legal guardian for them in your will, in the event both parents die. Same-sex couples must make sure that both parents have equal rights, especially in a case where one parent is the biological parent. If the surviving spouse or partner isn’t the biological parent and hasn’t legally adopted the children, don’t assume they’ll automatically be named guardian.  These laws vary from state to state.

Dissolve Old Unions. There could be challenges, if you entered into a civil union or domestic partnership before your marriage was legalized. Prior to the 2015 marriage equality ruling, some same-sex couples married in states where it was legal but resided in states where the marriage wasn’t recognized. If you and your partner broke up, but didn’t legally dissolve the union, it may still be legally binding. Moreover, some states converted civil unions and domestic partnerships to legal marriages, so you and a former partner could be legally married without knowing it. If a former union wasn’t with your current partner, make certain that you legally unbind yourself to avoid any future disputes on your estate.

Review Your Real Estate Documents. Check your real estate documents to confirm that both partners are listed and have equal rights to home ownership, especially if the home was purchased prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage or if you aren’t married. There are a few ways to split ownership of their property. This includes tenants in common, where both partners share ownership of the property, but allows each individual to leave their shares to another person in their will. There’s also joint tenants with rights to survivorship. This is when both partners are property owners but if one dies, the remaining partner retains sole ownership.

Estate planning for same-sex couples can be a complex process, and they may have more stress to make certain that they have a legally binding plan. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate planning process to put a solid plan to help provide peace of mind knowing your family is protected.

If you would like to read more about planning for same sex couples, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Insurance Net News (June 30, 2021) “What Same-Sex Partners Need to Know About Estate Planning”

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New Installment of The Estate of The Union Podcast

 

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Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

It is common for people to misunderstand and confuse the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship. A conservatorship is created to let one person manage another’s finances. The conservator is court- appointed and may be responsible for financial decisions, such as retirement planning, the purchase or sale of property and the transfer of other financial assets.

The laws for conservatorships and guardianships can vary widely in different states. A conservatorship or guardianship is typically necessitated by a disability or injury that prevents a person from caring for themselves.

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One” explains that once you have a conservator in place, the burden is on you to prove you no longer need it. The biggest issue in most cases is abuse of power or neglect. Either (the conservator) is doing something self-serving, such as spending money on something other than the senior’s care, or they’re not helping the conservatee, or providing the care they need.

Estate planning attorneys may recommend a conservatorship or guardianship in standard estate planning documents, like a power of attorney. A conservator can be any adult, possibly a family member, who is tasked with the responsibility of managing the person’s finances.

Because a conservator would be in charge of a person’s assets, it’s common for the same person to be named to serve as attorney-in-fact or agent with a power of attorney. However, because a guardian is in charge of the person themselves, it’s wise to nominate the same people who are named to serve as health care agents in the client’s health care proxy. Sometimes, these are the same, but if they’re different, it is important for that difference to be stated.

A guardianship is created in cases when a person can’t take care of themselves and requires another person to make some or all of their personal decisions. This might include decisions about his or her medical care, support services, housing, or finances. While a court appoints both a conservator and a guardian, a conservatorship is generally limited to financial decisions. In contrast, a guardianship deals with personal decisions, like medical care, and may, in some instances, also cover financial decisions.

Just about every state has laws designed to protect those placed in a conservatorship or guardianship. For example, in New York, individuals must satisfy medical requirements to be determined unable to care for oneself. The burden of proof to meet such restrictions is high.

In addition, individuals can seek professional help in preparing for future circumstances that may prevent them from managing their finances and personal affairs. This includes estate planning documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary forms and health care proxies. An estate planning attorney can help you better understand the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship, and advise you which is the best option for you and your family.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and guardianship, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News & World Report (Aug. 19, 2021) “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One”

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New Installment of The Estate of The Union Podcast

 

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keep the vacation home in the family

Keep the Vacation Home in the Family

There are several ways to keep the vacation home in the family and is not overly burdensome to any one member or couple in the family, according to the article “Estate planning for vacation property” from Pauls Valley Daily Democrat.

To begin, families have the option of creating a legal entity to own the asset. This can be a Family LLC, a partnership or a trust. The best choice depends upon each family’s unique situation. For an LLC, there needs to be an operating agreement, which details management and administration, conflict resolution, property maintenance and financial matters. The agreement needs to include:

Named management—ideally, two or three people who are directly responsible for managing the LLC. This typically includes the parents or grandparents who set up the LLC or Trust. However, it should also include representatives from different branches in the family.

Property and ownership rules must be clarified and documented. The property’s use and rules for transferring property are a key part of the agreement. Does a buy-sell agreement work to give owners the right to opt out of owning the property? What would that look like: how can the family member sell, who can she sell to and how is the value established? Should there be a first-right-of refusal put into place? In these situations, a transfer to anyone who is not a blood descendent may require a vote with a unanimous tally.

There are families where transferring ownership is only permitted to lineal descendants and not to the families of spouses who marry into the family.

Finances need to be spelled out as well. A special endowment can be included as part of the LLC or as a separate trust, so that money or investments are set aside to pay taxes, upkeep, insurance and future capital requirements. Anyone who has ever owned a house knows there are always capital requirements, from replacing an ancient heating system to fixing a roof after decades of a heavy snow load.

If the endowment is not enough to cover costs, create an agreement for annual contribut6ions by family members. Each family will need to determine who should contribute what. Some set this by earnings, others by how much the property is used. What happens if someone fails to pay their share?

Managing use of the property when there is a legal entity in place is more than a casual “Who calls Mom and Dad first.” The parents who establish the LLC or Trust may reserve lifetime use for themselves. The managers should establish rules for scheduling.

For parents or grandparents who create an LLC or Trust, be sure it works with your estate plan. If they intend to keep the vacation home in the family and wish to leave a bequest for its maintenance, for instance, the estate planning attorney will be able to incorporate that into the LLC or Trust.

If you would like to learn more about protecting property in estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (July 29, 2021) “Estate planning for vacation property”

New Installment of The Estate of The Union Podcast

 

www.texastrustlaw.com/read-our-books

Estate planning for couples with big age differences

Estate Planning for Couples with Big Age Differences

Estate planning becomes more complicated for couples with big age differences. Seniors who are married to younger spouses have a special situation for estate planning, a situation that’s become more common, according to Barron’s recent article “Couples with Big Age Gaps Require Special Attention.”

This kind of family requires planning for the older spouse’s retirement needs and healthcare costs, while determining how much of the older spouse’s wealth should go to the children from any previous marriages while balancing the needs of a future child with a younger spouse. Beneficiaries for all financial accounts, last wills and all estate documents need to be updated to include the new spouse and child. The same goes for medical directives and power of attorney forms.

Social Security and retirement account considerations differ as well. The younger spouse may begin receiving their own Social Security at age 62, or a portion of the older spouse’s Social Security, whichever is greater. If the older spouse can wait to file for Social Security benefits at age 70, the younger spouse will receive more spousal benefits than if the older spouse claims earlier. Social Security pays the survivor’s benefit, typically based upon the older spouse’s earnings.

Pension plans need to be reviewed for a younger spouse. If the pension plan allows a survivor benefit, the surviving spouse will receive benefits in the future. IRAs have different beneficiary distribution rules for couples with significant age differences. Instead of relying on the standard Uniform Lifetime Tables, the IRS lets individuals use the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy Table, if the sole beneficiary is a spouse who is more than ten years younger. This allows for smaller than normally Required Minimum Distributions from the IRA, allowing the account a longer lifetime.

Families that include children with special needs also benefit from trusts, as assets in the trust are not included in eligibility for government benefits. Many families with such family members are advised to use an ABLE Savings Account, which lets the assets grow tax free, also without impacting benefit eligibility. There are limits on the accounts, so funds exceeding the ABLE account limits may be added to special needs trusts, or SNTs.

A trustee, who may be a family member or a professional, uses the SNT assets to pay for the care of the individual with special needs after the donor parents have passed. The child is able to maintain their eligibility.

For same sex couples, revocable or irrevocable trusts may be used, if the couple is not married. Nontraditional families of any kind with children require individual estate plans to protect them,  which usually involves trusts.

Trusts are also useful when there are children from different marriages. They can protect the children from the first marriage and subsequent marriages. Estate planning is more complicated for couples with big age differences. A wisely constructed estate plan can do more than prevent legal battles among children—they can preserve family harmony in the non-traditional family after parents have passed.

If you would like to learn more about estate planning for older couples, or those in second marriages, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Barron’s (July 27, 2021) “Couples with Big Age Gaps Require Special Attention”

Episode 8 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

 

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how to address an estranged child in your planning

How to Address an Estranged Child in your Planning

For most families, estate planning is a relatively straightforward task, protecting loved ones and preparing to distribute assets. But when parent-child relationships have frayed or fractured, estate planning becomes more complicated and emotional, according to the article from The News-Enterprise titled “Estate planning must account for estranged children.”  This poses the question of how to address an estranged child in your planning.

The relationship may be broken for any number of reasons. The child may have married an untrustworthy person, have addiction issues, or have made a series of hurtful decisions. In some families, the parents don’t even know why a break has occurred, only that they are shut out of lives of their children and grandchildren.

The reason for the estrangement impacts how the parents address their estate plan regarding the child. If there is an addiction problem, the parents may want to limit the child’s access to funds, and that can be accomplished with a trust and a trustee. However, if the situation is really bad, the parents may wish to completely disinherit the child. Both require considerable legal experience, especially if the child might contest the will.

There are three basic options for dealing with this situation.

One is to leave an outright gift of some kind, with no restrictions. The estranged child may receive a smaller inheritance, but not so small as to open the door to litigation.

Second, the parent may create a testamentary trust in their last wills. Testamentary trusts become effective at death, with funds going into the trust and controlled by a trustee. The heir will have no control over the assets, which are also protected from creditors, divorces, or scammers.

Third is the option to completely disinherit the child. That way the child will not be entitled to any portion of the estate. The language in the last will must be watertight and follow the laws of the state exactly so there is no room for the disinheritance to be challenged.

There needs to be language that clarifies whether the child’s descendants (grandchildren) are also being disinherited. If the child is disinherited but their children are not, the descendants will inherit the child’s share as if the child had predeceased his or her parents.

Some estate planning attorneys recommend writing a letter to the child to explain the reasoning behind their disinheritance. The letter could be seen as reinforcing the parent’s intent, but it may also open old wounds and have unexpected consequences.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to clarify the steps to be taken to address an estranged child in your planning. This is a situation where it will be helpful to discuss the full details of the relationship so the correct plan can be put into place. If you would like to learn more about managing family dynamics, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (July 20, 2021) “Estate planning must account for estranged children”

 

Understanding the responsibilities of the trustee

Understanding the Responsibilities of the Trustee

Being a fiduciary requires putting the interest of the beneficiary over your own interests, no matter what. The person in charge of managing a trust, the trustee, has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiary, which is described by the terms of the trust. Understanding the responsibilities of the trustee requires a review of the trust documents, which can be long and complicated. This is explained in a recent article titled “Estate Planning: Executors, executrix and personal representatives” from nwitimes.com.

An estate planning attorney will be able to review documents and explain the directions if the trust is a particularly complex one.

If the trust is a basic revocable living trust used to avoid having assets in the estate go through probate, duties are likely to be similar to those of a personal representative, also known as the executor. This is the person in charge of carrying out the directions in a last will.

A simple explanation of executor responsibilities is gathering the assets, filing tax returns, and paying creditors. The executor files for an EIN number, which functions like a Social Security number for the estate. The executor opens an estate bank account to hold assets that are not transferred directly to named beneficiaries. And the executor files the last tax returns for the decedent for the last year in which he or she was living, and an estate tax return. There’s more to it, but those are the basic tasks.

A person tasked with administering a trust for the benefit of another person must give great attention to detail. The instructions and terms of the trust must be followed to the letter, with no room for interpretation. Thinking you know what someone else wanted, despite what was written in the trust, is asking for trouble.

If there are investment duties involved, which is common when a trust contains significant assets managed in an investment portfolio, it will be best to work with a professional advisor. Investment duties may be subject to the Prudent Investor Act, or they may include the name of a specific advisor who was managing the accounts before the person died.

If there is room for any discretion whatsoever in the trust, be careful to document every decision. If the trust says you can distribute principal based on the needs of the beneficiary, document why you did or did not make the distribution. Don’t just hand over funds because the beneficiary asked for them. Make decisions based on sound reasoning and document your reasons.

Being asked to serve as a trustee reflects trust. Understanding the responsibilities of the trustee is a serious responsibility, and one to be performed with great care.

If you would like to learn more about the role of trustee, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nwitimes.com (July 18, 2021) “Estate Planning: Executors, executrix and personal representatives”

 

what a power of attorney should include

What a Power of Attorney Should Include

The pandemic has taught us how swiftly our lives can change, and interest in having a power of attorney (POA) has increased as a result. But you need to know how this powerful document is and what it’s limits are. It is important to understand what a power of attorney should include. A recent article from Forbes titled “4 Power of Attorney Clauses You Need To Focus On” explains it all.

The agent acting under the authority of your POA only controls assets in your name. Assets in a trust are not owned by you, so your agent can’t access them. The trustee (you or a successor trustee, if you are incapacitated) appointed in your trust document would have control of the trust and its assets.

There are several different types of POAs. The Durable Power of Attorney goes into effect the moment it is signed and continues to be valid if you become incapacitated. The Springing Power of Attorney becomes valid only when you become incapacitated.

Most estate planning attorneys will advise you to use the Durable Power of Attorney, as the Springing Power of Attorney requires extra steps (perhaps even a court) to determine your capacity.

All authority under a Power of Attorney ceases to be effective when you die.

There are challenges to the POA. Deciding who will be your agent is not always easy. The agent has complete control over your financial life outside of assets held in trust. If you chose to appoint two different people to share the responsibility and they don’t get along, time-sensitive decisions could become tangled and delayed.

Determine gifting parameters. Will your agent be authorized to make gifts? Depending upon your estate, you may want your agent to be able to make gifts, which is useful if you want to reduce estate taxes or if you’ll need to apply for government benefits in the near future. You can also give directions as to who gets gifts and how much. Most people limit the size of gifts to the annual exclusion amount of $15,000.

Can the POA agent change beneficiary designations? Chances are a lot of your assets will pass to loved ones through a beneficiary designation: life insurance, investment, retirement accounts, etc. Do you want your POA agent to have the ability to change these? Most people do not, and the POA must specifically state this. Your estate planning attorney will be able to custom design your POA to protect your beneficiary designations.

Can the POA amend a trust? Depending upon your circumstances, you may or may not want your POA to have the ability to make changes to trusts. This would allow the POA to change beneficiaries and change the terms of the trust. Most folks have planned their trusts to work with their estate plan, and do not wish a POA agent to have the power to make changes.

The POA and the guardian. A POA may be used to name a guardian, who would be appointed by the court. This person is often the same person as the POA, with the idea that the same person you trust enough to be your POA would also be trusted to be your guardian.

The POA is a more powerful document than people think. You need to know what a power of attorney should include to make it work the way you want. Downloading a POA and hoping for the best can undo a lifetime of financial and estate planning. It’s best to have a POA created that is uniquely drafted for your family and your situation.

If you are interested in learning more about powers of attorney, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (July 19, 2021) “4 Power of Attorney Clauses You Need To Focus On”

Episode 7 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

 

www.texastrustlaw.com/read-our-books

When should you terminate an ILIT?

When Should You Terminate an ILIT?

When should you terminate an ILIT? The purpose of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is to own and control term or permanent life insurance policies, so the policy proceeds aren’t part of the insured’s taxable estate upon death.  Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?” looks at the situation where a person created a revocable (RLT) and an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to take care of his family after his death.

However, now everyone in the family is financially independent and the value of his estate is far below the 2021 taxable threshold of $11.7 million.

Should he terminate the ILIT and RLT and simply designate his children as beneficiaries of his investment accounts and life insurance?

In this situation, the ILIT was funded with a term policy that’s set to expire soon. As a result, it may be easier to let the policy owned by the ILIT expire.

If that happens, the ILIT would be immaterial. Note that the terms of the trust will dictate the procedure for the termination of the ILIT. This can be simple or difficult. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to examine the trust’s language. A revocable living trust lets the individual creating the trust control the assets in the trust and avoid probate.

This type of trust can also be used to manage the trust assets by a successor trustee, if the grantor who created the trust becomes incapacitated.

An experienced estate planning attorney will know the state laws that regulate trusts, so consult with him or her. For example, banks in New Jersey may freeze 50% of the assets in an estate upon the owner’s death to make certain that any estate or inheritance taxes due are paid. In the Garden State, a tax waiver must be obtained to lift the freeze. However, the assets in a trust aren’t subject to a similar freeze.

At the grantor’s death, a trustee must pay income tax, if the gross income of the trust reaches the threshold. However, the trust may not accumulate gross income of $600, if the assets are distributed outright to the beneficiaries soon after the death of the grantor. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure you have your finances in order if you terminate an ILIT.

If you would like to learn more about ILITs and other life insurance options, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nj.com (June 15, 2021) “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?”

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Episode 7 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

 

www.texastrustlaw.com/read-ou-books

the advantages of a testamentary trust

The Advantages of a Testamentary Trust

One reason to have a last will and testament is to protect minor children. A will offers a means of providing for a minor child through a testamentary trust, which is also a good tool for leaving an inheritance to someone who might not use their bequest wisely, says the recent article “What is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?” from wtop news. This is one of the advantages of a testamentary trust.

Trusts are legal entities that hold assets, and money or other assets in the trust are managed according to the wishes of the person who created the trust, known as the grantor. A testamentary trust is created through the person’s will and becomes effective upon their death. Once the person dies, their assets are placed in the trust and are distributed according to the directions in the trust.

A trust can also be created while a person is living, called a revocable trust or a living trust. Assets moved into the trust are distributed directly to heirs upon the person’s death and do not go through the probate process. However, they are administered without probate, as long as they are in effect. Living trusts are also managed outside of the court system, while testamentary trusts are administered through probate as long as they are in effect.

A testamentary trust is used to manage money for children. Another advantage of a testamentary trust is the ability to protect assets in other situations. If you are concerned about an adult child getting divorced and don’t want their inheritance to be lost to a divorce, a trust is one way to keep their inheritance from being considered a marital asset.

The oversight by the court could be useful in some situations, but in others it becomes costly. Here’s an example. Let’s say a testamentary trust is created for an 8-year-old to hold assets until she turns 25. For seventeen years, any distribution of assets will have to take place through the court. Therefore, while it was less costly to set up than a living trust, the costs of court proceedings over the seventeen years could add up quickly and easily exceed the cost of setting up the living trust in the first place.

If someone involved in the estate is litigious and likely to contest a will or a trust, having the court involved on a regular basis through a testamentary trust may be an advantage.

Having an estate planning attorney create the trust protects the grantor and the beneficiary in several ways Trusts are governed by state law, and each state has different requirements. Trying to set up a trust with a generic document downloaded from the web could create an invalid trust. In that case, the trust may not be valid, and your wishes won’t be followed.

Once a testamentary trust is created, nothing happens until you die. At that point, the trust will be created, and assets moved into it, as stipulated in your last will and testament.

The trust can be changed or annulled while you are living. To do this, simply revise your will with your estate planning attorney. However, after you have passed, it’ll be extremely difficult for your executor to make changes and it will require court intervention.

If you would like to learn more about testamentary trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: wtop news (July 19, 2021) “What is a Testamentary Trust and How Do I Create One?”

Episode 7 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

 

www.texastrustlaw.com/read-ou-books

Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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