New Hampshire Family Law Blog - Liberty Legal Services

In our blog we will try to provide you with general information regarding family law, as well as updates in important cases and statutes dealing with family law in New Hampshire. This is not to be construed as legal advice. Every case is unique and small facts can make a difference.

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What Is Considered Private In a Courthouse Divorce File?

As evidenced by the existence of websites such as PerezHilton and TMZ, the public has a thirst for gossip. Divorces among celebrities make headlines, like the recent divorce of Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey. Many of us will not achieve celebrity status during our lifetimes, but small town rumor mills can nonetheless be ruthless. If you are going through a divorce, then you should be aware of the rules governing public access to your divorce file. Any person can stroll down to the local courthouse and review all of the documents associated with their neighbor’s ongoing custody battle or a friend’s divorce proceedings.

The notorious case in this particular issue is the 1992 Petition of Keene Sentinel dispensed by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. During a vicious 1990 political battle for New Hampshire’s Second Congressional seat, the Keene Sentinel decided to seek access to one of the candidate’s, Charles Douglas III, divorce records. A clerk issued only a few of the divorce records to the Sentinel – citing privacy concerns. The Sentinel subsequently filed a lawsuit, and Charles Douglas III intervened, requesting that the Superior Court dismiss the Sentinel’s lawsuit. The suit was ultimately denied.

The Keene Sentinel filed an appeal, stating that disclosure should have been granted pursuant to New Hampshire’s “Right to Know” law (RSA chapter 91-A). The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that an individual involved in divorce proceedings cannot have their records sealed for the sole purpose of general privacy concerns. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that before a judge can order documents to be sealed, he or she must first determine that no other viable alternative exists, other than nondisclosure. Should a trial judge decide to seal such documents, they must do so utilizing the least restrictive method available to secure the privacy of both parties’ rights.

In general, this ensures that pleadings, orders, and other relevant documents placed in the file must be open for public viewing. The single exception is financial affidavits. With this particular document, a party is required by the court system to fill out and submit a sworn financial statement that details all debts, property, and income. This document usually contains highly private information, like pay stubs, social security numbers, and bank account information. Current New Hampshire law dictates that financial affidavits for nonparties must be kept private. Financial affidavits created for use in annulments, legal separations, and divorce proceedings must remain confidential to all nonparties. However, an individual who would not normally be granted access to such information can utilize Family Division Rule 1.30 to request access to such information.

The case of New Hampshire vs. The Associated Press provides some context as to how financial affidavit confidentiality rules work. The ruling in this case was issued by the NH Supreme Court in December of 2005. Financial affidavits used in divorce proceedings were accessible only to all parties involved in the proceedings and the lawyers on record. The Associated Press filed a motion declaring this law to be unconstitutional. In their argument, they stated that this law violated the general public’s right to access court records under New Hampshire’s state constitution. Furthermore, in their opinion, this rule created an unconstitutional restraint regarding freedom of speech per the Federal constitution. Ultimately, the trial court ruled that this law was not, in fact, unconstitutional, and The Associated Press’s lawsuit was subsequently dismissed. The AP quickly filed an appeal, stating that the court was in error in deeming the law constitutional.

The Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling, declaring the law to be constitutional. In their opinion, the Court stated that, although the general public has a legal right to access court documents and government documents, the legal right is not without limits. The Supreme Court stated that “the right of access may be overcome when a sufficiently compelling interest for nondisclosure is identified”. In this statement was included the compelling interest of preventing the exposure of divorce parties for fraud and identity theft. It is important to note that the Court purposefully kept their ruling narrow, applying it only to sealed financial affidavits.

Upon request, the Court may consider keeping case related materials confidential for collateral cases that have already been deemed confidential in accordance with New Hampshire law. This list of materials includes DCYF, neglect/abuse cases, juvenile criminal records, adoption, and termination of parental rights documents.

To learn more about divorce document confidentiality or for assistance with your own divorce proceedings, please contact one of our experienced NH divorce lawyers today.

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What Are My Options For Deciding Child Custody?

In the state of New Hampshire, you have 5 different options to choose from when it comes to deciding or settling issues related to child custody. The first decision you must make is to decide which option will work best for you. This will largely depend upon the state of your relationship with your former spouse or partner. If you can both resolve your issues through mediation or informal negotiation, then your overall costs will be considerably lower. Going through the New Hampshire court system is the most time consuming and expensive option.

Here is a quick look at the 5 different options you have to choose from in New Hampshire:

1.      Informal Negotiations. In this scenario, you and the other parent reach a mutual agreement via informal discussion. No professional presence is required. Most parents or spouses are capable of making some decisions through this method, but because this is often an emotionally charged time in one’s life, it can be difficult. Communication issues are one of the primary reasons behind relationship breakdowns. Moreover, the hurt and anger that often accompanies a divorce makes having a rational discussion difficult.

2.      Mediation. With this option, a trained mediator assists two parents in resolving their child custody related issues. A mediator’s goal is to assist each parent in expressing their needs, while simultaneously listening to the other parent’s needs. The mediator is not allowed to offer advice or to make legal decisions. Rather, a mediator facilitates discussion and helps with negotiations about disputed issues. To do so successfully, a mediator will employ “interest based negotiations”.

3.      Collaborative Practice. With the unique method of collaborative practice, both parties and their respective legal counsel agree in writing to resolve their issues without going through the New Hampshire court system. In order to resolve any outstanding issues, a series of meetings are held. In addition to the presence of lawyers, financial professionals and counselors are also on hand to assist with resolving any financial, parenting, communication, or emotional problems.

4.      Attorney Negotiations. In this particular situation, each parent hires an attorney. All negotiations regarding any outstanding issues occur between the attorneys who represent each party. No meetings between both parents take place. One lawyer will create a proposed agreement. The client and their lawyer then work in conjunction to perfect the document. Once they are satisfied with it, it is then presented to the other party and their legal counsel who then review it and propose specific changes. This process may involve multiple drafts of the agreement and multiple rounds of negotiations.

5.      New Hampshire Court System. If all other available options have been utilized and agreements still cannot be reached, then the last resort is to go through the New Hampshire court system. After a contested hearing, a judge will make a final decision in the case. In the legal field, the word “contested” means that there are one or more issues that cannot be agreed upon. A good number of NH couples have a contested hearing, but are then able to agree upon the issues and have their case settled.

How Do I Know Which Option Is Best For Me?

If you and the other parent can agree upon collaborative practice or mediation, then these would be the ideal methods. Both options are quite effective. Many couples use a combination of these 5 methods. To learn more about how to decide which option will work best for your unique situation, please contact one of our experienced NH child custody lawyers today.

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Is the Collection of Electronic Evidence Legally Admissible?

Before the Internet became readily accessible to the public masses, uncovering proof of infidelity was generally left to the capable hands of a private investigator and their telephoto camera lenses. However, with the advent of modern technology, ranging from GPS trackers to computer spyware, it is simple for a spouse to play private investigator themselves. It is not difficult to find a computer program that will screenshots, keystrokes, websites, emails, and instant messages and save this information to the computer or send it to a designated remote location. These types of programs can be readily and easily downloaded to one’s home computer. On average, an adequate GPS tracker can be purchased for around $250.00. This device can be used to discover incriminating information about a spouse’s geographic location. In a fault divorce, evidence acquired through these means, records of a spouse’s visits to a lover’s home or graphic instant messages confirming an affair, can make or break the case. Moreover, such information can also be used in other matters related to the divorce. For example, this evidence can be used to prove whom your spouse is exposing your children to, and it can be used by a court to determine what the best interest of your children are. Such information can also be beneficial in deciding alimony and child support cases.

Is evidence gathered in this manner legally admissible? Is it even legal to do so?

New Hampshire is one of a handful of states in the United States that have passed anti-spyware laws. RSA 259-H makes it a criminal offense to purposefully install spyware on a computer on which the individual is not an authorized user and to use such programs for the purpose of obtaining personal information. However, this legislation does not create a blanket exclusionary rule whether or not intercepted evidence can be used in a civil trial. Whether or not such evidence is allowed to be used is left at the discretion of the individual court system.

Other states have followed the example created by one trial court in denying that such evidence can be used in trial. In the state of Florida, one woman installed the spyware program Spector on her husband’s personal computer and utilized it to record entire conversations the man had with another woman. Upon discovering the presence of the program, her husband requested that the court prevent his wife from utilizing the evidence in their divorce. The trial court issued a ruling, subsequently upheld by an appellate court, that although the federal and state wiretapping laws did not provide an exclusionary rule, the court possessed the legal authority to exclude the use of the evidence because it had been obtained in an illegal manner.

Whether or not a New Hampshire court will permit this type of evidence to be used will come down to the circumstances surrounding how the information was obtained. Was the spyware program installed before, during, or after the separation occurred? Was the program downloaded on a shared computer that both parties had ready access to? In theory, evidence captured by a spyware program installed on a family computer by an “authorized user” prior to a couple’s separation would be classified as admissible. On the other hand, installing a spyware program on a spouse’s work computer would more than likely gather evidence that would not be admissible in a NH court of law because it was obtained in an illegal manner.

Current spyware and wiretapping statutes, on the other hand, do not cover GPS trackers. Although it depends upon the particular jurisdiction, some law enforcement agencies have adopted the view that attaching a GPS tracker to a person’s vehicle is a form of stalking and is punishable by law. Recently, Kevin Merritt was charged by the Nashua Police Department with a stalking misdemeanor after he installed a tracker on his wife’s private vehicle and used the information to follow her to different locations. Whether a New Hampshire court would allow evidence gathered in such a manner and whether or not a person would be prosecuted by police will be dependent upon the unique facts surrounding a case. This includes who owns the vehicle and exactly how the information was gathered from the tracker and for what purpose it was used.

In New Hampshire, the waters surrounding electronic information gathering are murky, and it will require the assistance of an experienced New Hampshire divorce lawyer to assist a client in navigating the complex channels. To discuss the particulars of your case, please contact one of our experienced NH divorce attorneys today.

 

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Grandparents Legal Rights In New Hampshire

Most New Hampshire residents are familiar with visitation within the context of parenting matters or a divorce. At the same time, most individuals are unaware that grandparents in New Hampshire possess specific rights for visitation with their grandchildren. Although parents maintain constitutional responsibilities and rights with regards to how they raise their own children, including who they allow to see their children, where they live, and what school they attend, NH statute RSA 461-A:13 imbues NH grandparents with their own set of legal rights.

When a situation arises where the parents of a minor child determine that their own parents can no longer visit with their grandchildren, the grandparents possess the legal right to petition a New Hampshire court for a court order for visitation on the provision that they meet the statute’s requirements. In order to request the right for visitation, a nuclear family unit must be absent, whether by death, divorce, or termination of parental rights. Simply put, if a father and mother mutually decide that the grandparents can no longer see their grandchildren, then the statute will not allow a grandparent(s) to seek visitation.

If a nuclear family unit does not exist, a New Hampshire court will examine the factors laid out within the statute to decide whether or not granting visitation would be within the child’s best interest. This list of factors includes:

§  If the best interests of the child are served by granting visitation

§  Whether or not a relationship with a grandparent would interfere with a parent’s authority over the child or the parent-child relationship

§  The prior existence of a relationship between the child and grandparent (e.g. frequency of contact, etc.)

§  How the relationship between the parents and the grandparents would affect the child

Beyond reviewing the aforementioned factors, an NH family court will appoint a guardian ad litem for the child and carefully listen to their recommendations regarding the grandparents’ visitation petition. A court may also take the child’s personal wishes into account if he or she is deemed emotionally mature.

An excellent example of this statute is the case of Dufton v. Shepard, which was heard by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in June of 2009. The plaintiff, Kathleen Dufton, gave birth to her daughter, Vicki, when she was 16 years old and subsequently placed her for adoption. When Vicki was 26 years of age, she reunited with her biological mother. From that point forward, the two shared a close relationship, and Kathleen Dufton was present for all of the important occasions in her grandchildren’s lives, including births, birthdays, vacations, and so forth. When her biological daughter developed cancer and passed away, Ms. Dufton was by her side. After Vicki died, her husband, Terry, actively prevented Kathleen from seeing her grandchildren, and Kathleen petitioned an NH court for a visitation order under the grandparents statute.

Terry requested that Kathleen Dufton’s petition be dismissed, stating that she should not be considered a “natural” grandparent because she had relinquished Vicki for adoption. However, the court determined that “natural” stood for “biological” and that Kathleen’s decision to give Vicki up for adoption had no bearing on the current state of her relationship with her grandchildren. She was subsequently granted visitation rights.

While grandparents in New Hampshire can request visitation rights under New Hampshire’s state law, every state does not afford the same protections to the grandparent-grandchild relationship. For example, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Troxel v. Granville, overturned a Washington state statute that imbued grandparents with the legal right to petition a court for visitation with their grandchildren over parental objections. In their opinion, the court specified that parents possess a constitutional legal right to raise their children as they deem appropriate. In their ruling, it was affirmed that a presumption exists that fit parents act in accordance with the best interests of their children.

Despite the ruling in the Troxel case, NH family courts continue to grant rights to grandparents because state law has established safeguards for the rights a parent has over their children. Even if the grandparents are, in some manner, purposefully or accidentally infringing upon the parents’ rights, what is most important is the children’s best interests. In some scenarios, a child’s best interests are best served by maintaining a relationship with their grandparents, even if the parents object.

To learn more about grandparents’ rights in the state of New Hampshire, please contact one of our experienced NH family lawyers today.

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Are Both Parties Required to Sign Divorce Papers?

There are numerous different types of divorce papers, and the functions they serve and the problems they address are even more extensive. However, there are only a handful of types of divorce papers that require two spouses to both sign them, and there are a few that don’t require any signature at all. Even if one spouse does not agree to a divorce, this cannot stop the divorce from going forward. If one spouse refuses to sign the necessary documents or refuses to participate altogether, then a New Hampshire court will generally finalize the divorce without their participation.

How Petitions Work

In general, the spouse who initially files for the divorce is required to sign their own complaint or petition; however, there are some states that allow an attorney to do this on behalf of their client. The other spouse who is named in the complaint will create, sign, and file their own responding petition. There are a handful of states that enable a couple to divorce via mutual consent. In this scenario, if both spouses mutually agree to end their marriage, they can file a joint divorce petition. Both parties are required to sign it. Should one party change their mind and refuse to sign the joint petition, then the other spouse can file a standard divorce petition and start a contested matter.

The Process of Being Served

When only one party files a divorce petition, they are required to have the documents served to the other party so that their state has jurisdiction over them. The served spouse has the option of signing a waiver that indicates they are in agreement with the divorce. This does not require a process server or sheriff to officially “serve” them with papers. The served spouse can also choose to sign an acknowledgment of service document, which confirms that they have received the appropriate paperwork.

There are a few states that allow an individual to be served via registered mail. Under this scenario, the served party is required to sign a mail receipt. If the spouse who is being served refuses to sign for the divorce petition of their own free will, then the spouse who initially filed the divorce petition has other means that can be used with a court’s approval. For example, if a sheriff cannot find a person in order to serve them papers, then they can be “served” via service by publication. Their refusal to sign any divorce related documents cannot prevent the divorce from moving forward. After a newspaper has published the notice, the other party can file default because they did not participate, and the divorce will ultimately be granted.

Mutual Settlement Agreements

When an uncontested divorce occurs, both parties involved are able to mutually settle all issues related to their marriage, property division, and the division of assets. The agreed upon terms are spelled out in a formal document that then becomes part of the divorce decree. Both spouses’ signatures are required in order for the document to become valid. Each person’s signature serves as their confirmation that they are agreeing to the document’s terms. For this reason, most courts will require the document to be notarized. In a situation where both parties have retained legal counsel, their divorce attorneys will sign the document as well.

Divorce Decrees

Finally, many divorces do proceed to trial because a judge’s input is required to settle issues between the divorcing spouses. When a judge makes a divorce decree, no signature is required but that of the judge. A divorce decree is essentially defined as a judge’s issued order for the purpose of resolving contested matters. It is a binding ruling for both parties involved in the divorce, and neither one has to agree to it or like it in order for it to take effect. However, all states, including New Hampshire, have legal procedures in place that enable a spouse to appeal the judge’s ruling or request that he or she reconsider it.

To learn more about New Hampshire’s laws regarding divorce, please contact one of our experienced NH divorce attorneys today for a free consultation.

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5 Mistakes You Should Avoid While Going Through a Divorce

No two New Hampshire divorces are quite alike. Each involves its own set of unique circumstances; however, despite this fact, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about a divorce. There are a number of recommendations and rules you should follow in order to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for many couples, whether on purpose or unconsciously, to commit common mistakes that can ultimately have a detrimental effect on them.

If you plan to separate from or file for a divorce from your spouse, here are 5 common mistakes you should strive to avoid:

1.      Do not let your emotions take over. Any divorce is an emotionally charged affair. The feelings a person feels can run the gamut from anger to grief to relief. However, in order to reach an amicable agreement with your soon to be former spouse, you must ensure that your emotions do not play a role in negotiations. A mediator or collaborative coach can assist each party in expressing their needs in a healthy manner and ensure that the other spouse’s concerns are heard too.

2.      Your children should be your first priority. Divorces and separations are complicated matters, and it becomes more complex when children are involved. In the wake of anger and other emotions, divorcing parents often lose sight of the bigger picture, and it is the children who suffer for it. It will be better for everyone involved, in the long run, if your children’s needs are made your first priority.

3.      Do not focus on the past. There is truth in the old adage that one cannot begin to move forward until they have let go of the past. Of course, this is much easier said than done, particularly when a reluctant spouse is involved. When one or both parties involved in a divorce focus only on what has already occurred, it is difficult to consider how their divorce and the subsequent settlement will affect their future, and it is important to ensure that your future is assured. Coaching or counseling can assist you in creating a vision for the future and creating a plan to achieve your goals.

4.      Do not refuse to compromise. It is not uncommon for one or both spouses in a divorce to engage in a “my way or the highway” mindset. This mentality will only result in additional frustration and more conflict. In order to reach an agreement that is suitable to both spouses, you must be willing to compromise. This is the only method of reaching a mutually beneficial middle ground, and it becomes critically important to do so when children are involved in the process.

5.      Don’t neglect to learn what your various options are before initiating divorce proceedings. This is the most common mistake made by individuals who wish to file for divorce. Many separating or divorcing couples are simply unaware that it is possible to reach a divorce agreement without having to go through the New Hampshire court system. There are actually 5 different options a couple can utilize when it comes to obtaining a divorce in New Hampshire, and if you invest the time required to learn about each one, you can select the option that will be most beneficial to you and your children.

It is tricky to successfully navigate through a legal separation or divorce, but it does not have to become a bona fide disaster. The first step is to secure competent and experienced legal counsel who can ensure that your best interests, and those of your children, are protected through each step of the process. To learn more about your options, please contact one of our New Hampshire divorce lawyers today. Your initial consultation is 100% free, and we look forward to hearing from you.

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3 Common Mistakes In Divorce Settlements You Should Avoid

For most individuals, going through a divorce is one of the most far reaching, expensive, and trying experiences they will ever have. The proper mindset and attitude will increase your chances of obtaining a quick and adequate divorce settlement.

In order to be able to appropriately assess the situation and make the right decisions, here are 3 common mistakes you must avoid making:

1.      Do not assume that your divorce will be quick and inexpensive.

 

Depending upon whom you hire to act as your NH divorce lawyer, the amount of monetary assets at stake, the level of cooperation between you and your spouse, etc. your divorce require much more time and monetary expenditure than you realize. For most couples, the entire process will take a minimum of one year, possibly longer. The total cost can range from several hundred dollars to thousands upon thousands, even if your divorce does not involve going to court.

 

Initially, you might believe that dividing your family’s finances would be a simple matter. Equitable property division that is proportioned according to each spouse’s divorce rights would tempt one to believe that each spouse would be entitled to half of what they shared together.

 

However, this mathematical formula rarely works in a divorce case. Two spouses will have unequal income potential and salaries. Often, many families will have lived beyond their means, and there may simply not be enough funds to go around. Such factors, which do not include attempts to “hang on” to each dollar, can considerably lengthen the divorce process. The additional time required only adds to the overall cost of the divorce.

 

2.      Do not neglect to lavish enough attention on your income taxes.

Your income taxes will be one of the most critical components in determining your divorce settlement. In general, if property is transferred pursuant to the divorce, then it cannot be taxed; however, this changes if the property is subsequently sold. At the time of the sale, you become responsible solely for paying all of the taxes on the profit earned from the time you and your former spouse initially purchased it.

If you are currently going through the process of a separation, you must carefully consider how your income tax returns will be filed. Even though non-financial considerations must be taken into account, the Married Filing Separate filing category generally yields the largest overall tax rate. The category for Filing Head of Household usually produces the least amount.

It will also behoove you to review the tax implications of child support and alimony, dependency exemptions, and other tax credit benefits that come with having sole custody of a child.

3.      Failing to recognize when you have an advantage in hand…

 

There will be certain specific decisions you must make. For example, do you want the family SUV that is worth $30K or the mutual fund that is also worth $30K? Do you want $250,000.00 right now or guaranteed lifetime payments that will begin when your spouse retires?

There is truth in the old adage that “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” This principle can generally be applied to divorce cases. The family SUV may be worth $30K at the moment, but with depreciation, what will it be worth next year? If you needed cash immediately, how much could it be sold for? By comparison, the mutual fund will only increase in value, is liquid, and can provide a financial cushion in times of emergency.

Likewise, guaranteed lifetime payments might sound secure, but you would have to wait many years before you could begin receiving them. It might be more prudent to take the cash now, make sound financial investments, and begin creating your own nest egg for retirement.

It is often difficult for a couple going through a divorce to take a good look at the bigger picture; however, striving to avoid the above mentioned mistakes will make the whole process much smoother. For more information about divorces in New Hampshire or for assistance with your own divorce, please contact one of our experienced NH divorce lawyers today.

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Why Your Will Should Be a Priority

According to the most recent census, in 2012, the state of New Hampshire had a population of approximately 1.3 million people. Assuming that New Hampshire’s adult population is on par with the national averages, nearly half of these individuals have not created a will. While the average American’s lifespan is longer than ever, there is no doubt that having a will in place lessens the burden that your loved ones must carry once you pass away. For New Hampshire’s residents, estate planning and wills have never been more important.

Simply defined, a will is a document that dictates how your property and assets should be divvied up after your passing. A will has a simple purpose: it ensures that your monetary assets and physical property are left to those of your choosing.

Wills In New Hampshire

In our state, a will is accepted by the New Hampshire courts in only one format. It must be in a written format, attested to by the appropriate number of witnesses, and finished with a notary seal. There are only a handful of scenarios in which an exception will made to this requirement. In general, these exceptions are applicable only to those who are members of the armed forces. Your New Hampshire estate planning lawyer can assist you in creating a will that follows the proper format.

A will is classified as valid only when it has been signed by two or more witnesses who can testify to the fact that you (the testator) created the will under your own volition and without the presence of duress. In the arena of estate planning, a testator is defined as the individual whose estate is addressed within the will. Any changes or codicils made to your will at a later date must also meet these conditions before they are legally considered valid.

New Hampshire Intestacy

In the state of New Hampshire, if a person dies without having created a will, then this scenario is known as intestacy or intestate. Rather than following the directions of a will, your monetary assets and physical property would automatically pass to your closest family members, which generally means your children. If you do not have any children at the time of your passing, then your assets would pass on to your spouse – assuming that your parents are not living. If you are married at the time of your passing and other descendants are living, then your spouse would receive the first $250,000.00 in addition to one half of your remaining estate. The other half of the estate would pass to your other descendants.

The same rule is applicable if you to leave behind a living spouse and parents with one general exception. Your surviving spouse would receive the first $250,000.00 and three fourths of your remaining estate. The rest of your estate would pass to your parents.

If you were to pass away and did not have a current will or any living relatives, then your estate would automatically pass to the state of New Hampshire, and your assets would be absorbed into their coffers; however, this scenario rarely occurs. In fact, New Hampshire state laws are designed to prevent this from happening – even if it means that your estate is inherited by a fifth cousin you have never met before.

The What If Questions

There are always a handful of extraordinary scenarios that could potentially become a bit problematic. For example, there is a period of time that is referred to as “the survivorship period”. Simply put, it means that any individual who is to inherit a portion or all of your estate must live a minimum of 120 hours after your passing. If the recipient were to pass away 118 hours after you do, then their estate will not enjoy any of the benefits that come with inheriting your estate.

A similar remarkable situation is that of “half relatives”. Were you aware that, within the state of New Hampshire, “half relatives” are classified as “whole relatives” when it comes to estate planning? For example, let’s say that your parents divorce sometime after your birth. Each parent goes on to remarry and have other children. These new children have now become your half brothers and sisters. For the purposes of estate planning, the “half” title is dropped.

If the unimaginable occurs and a New Hampshire resident dies while leaving behind a pregnant spouse, then the unborn child is bestowed with the same legal rights as any living children upon their birth. However, the survivorship period is still applicable. The child must survive their parent by 120 hours.

There’s no doubt about it: New Hampshire estate planning can be a tricky business. The best course of action is for you to consult with an experienced New Hampshire estate planning attorney who can assist you in navigating these intricate and complex channels. There is an undeniable peace of mind that accompanies the knowledge that you have covered all of your bases – even if you live to be 101.

To learn more estate planning in New Hampshire, please contact our law offices today to speak with an NH estate planning lawyer. Before meeting with one of our attorneys, take a moment and write down any questions you may have, so we can answer them during our meeting. We look forward to hearing from you.

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What Happens If I Die Without Creating A Will?

Should you fail to create a last will and testament before your death, then your existing estate will be divvied up among your surviving heirs according to the intestacy laws of the state where you are residing at the time of your death and the laws of any additional states where you own real estate or personal property. Furthermore, if you have minor children, and both your spouse and you pass away before your children become legal adults, then a New Hampshire probate judge will determine who obtains custody of your children and who will manage their inheritance on their behalf until they reach the age of 18.

So what exactly is wrong with this scenario? In many instances, New Hampshire’s intestacy laws will produce different results than what you would have desired if you had simply invested the time in creating a last will and testament. Moreover, if you own personal property or real estate outside of your home state, then your estate could be divided among two different sets of beneficiaries.

What If I Don’t Own Any Property Outside of My Home State?

If you only own personal property and real estate within your home state, or if you do not own real estate at all, then the beneficiaries who inherit your estate will be determined solely by New Hampshire’s intestacy laws.

If this scenario is applicable to you at all, then it is important for you to understand how New Hampshire’s intestacy laws work. These types of laws vary greatly from one state to the next.

What Happens If I Own Property In Multiple States?

If you reside in one particular state and own tangible personal property and/or real estate in another state, then the beneficiaries who inherit your estate and property will be decided by the intestacy laws of these two (or more) different states. The final result could involve two sets of beneficiaries. What happens if you own property in three or more states? The intestacy laws of each state will be applied to your estate, and there is a possibility you could have three different sets of heirs.

Who Will Assume Care of My Minor Children and Their Inheritance?

In addition to determining what will happen to your property and who will inherit it, your last will and testament will also dictate who receives guardianship of your minor children and their inheritance. If your spouse (whether current or former) is still living, then they, as the children’s biological parent, will be the first choice in caring for your children and in managing any inheritance they might receive. However, what will happen if your children’s other parent is deceased or otherwise unable to care for them?

If you do not have a will in place, then a New Hampshire judge, whom you have never met and is not familiar with your familial dynamics, will decide who assumes care of your children and any inheritance they receive.

New Hampshire’s Intestacy Laws

In the state of New Hampshire, if you pass away without a last will or testament in place, then your estate and all of your assets will pass to your closest relatives under New Hampshire’s intestate succession laws. For example, if you leave behind children but no spouse, then your children will inherit all of your estate. Likewise, if you leave behind a spouse, but no parents or descendants, then your spouse will inherit your full estate. From this point on, New Hampshire’s intestate laws become more complicated. Who receives what from your estate is dependent upon whether or not you have a living spouse, children, parents, and other close relatives.

As aforementioned, intestacy laws vary widely from one state to the next. For example, in the state of Florida, if you leave behind a spouse and children who have all resulted from the marriage, then your spouse automatically receives 100% of your estate, and your children do not receive anything. If one or more of the children you leave behind are from a different parent, then your current legal spouse will receive half of your estate and each of your children will equally share the remaining half. If you own personal property or real estate outside of New Hampshire, then the intestacy laws of other states can drastically affect how your estate is divided.

Will New Hampshire Get My Property?

If you die without a last will and testament in New Hampshire and do not have any close family, then your estate will be assimilated into New Hampshire’s coffers. However, this scenario rarely occurs, because our state’s laws are designed to ensure that your property is given to any person who is even remotely related to you. For example, the New Hampshire government will not take your estate or property if you leave behind children, a spouse, siblings, grandparents, parents, uncles or aunts, great aunts or uncles, nephews or nieces, cousins, or the siblings, parents, or children of a spouse who passes away before you do.

What Should I Do?

Although New Hampshire’s laws are designed to ensure that your relatives receive your estate upon your demise, the only method you have of ensuring that your estate is divided among the beneficiaries of your choosing, in what time frame they will receive their inheritance, how you want them to receive it, and who will assume guardianship of any minor children is to create a last will and testament.

An experienced New Hampshire estate planning attorney can assist you in creating a last will and testament that will ensure your final wishes are carried out exactly how you’d like. To learn more about estate planning or New Hampshire’s intestate succession laws, please contact our law firm today.

 

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The Rise In Estate Planning Scams

Although the Internet offers a plethora of tools for creating your own estate plan, many New Hampshire estate planning attorneys strongly oppose the DIY method of estate planning. Running an estate planning scam might seem as though it would be difficult to successfully execute, but the number of these scams is quickly growing. The ease with which estate planning scams, both in New Hampshire and across the United States, are being pulled off is startling. The elderly and children, two of the most vulnerable populations in the United States, are always popular targets among the unscrupulous, but those who are passing themselves off as legitimate estate planners have New Hampshire law enforcement scrambling to find a better method of protecting the state’s older citizens.

What Are Estate Planning Scams?

When most of us hear the name Bernie Madoff, we equate his name with Ponzi schemes; however, were you aware that the majority of his victims were elderly Americans who were already in retirement? While his crimes left a bad taste in the mouth of many Americans, there is a newer type of crime that brings the general public’s disgust to a whole new level. Many retired Americans across the country have received distressing phone calls from “grandchildren” who are hysterical and purportedly in dire need of money.

“Grandma” receives a desperate phone call from one of her grandchildren who claims they have been detained in a foreign country and are frantic to get home. Since the emergency scenario appears legitimate at first and because scammers choose victims with whom this scam is a sure bet, the worried grandparent immediately agrees to send their darling grandchild hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. The distressed grandparent does not pause to check the legitimacy of the call with their own adult children because of the frantic state their grandchild appeared to be in. After the funds have been wired, it’s too late to recover any lost money. If a criminal believes that he or she has enough to time to “work over” their victim(s), then they will coax the worried grandparent into sending larger amounts of money. The loss of these monetary funds can have a significant impact on a senior citizen’s already tight budget.

Of course, the tried and true scam of shoddy individuals who pile on worthless types of “insurance” or who promise to update estate planning paperwork for ridiculously high fees still exist. Both these new types of insurance and the “updated” estate planning documents are worthless. The most potent danger in an estate planning scam is the ease with which a criminal can access a person’s Social Security Number, bank account information (for the purpose of paying monthly “premiums” for an illegitimate insurance policy), and a plethora of other personal information that makes identity theft a simple matter. Many victims across New Hampshire have stated that these scammers were so convincing in their act that they believed their own NH estate planning lawyers had dropped the ball.

The Long Term Effects Of Estate Planning Schemes

Any type of estate planning scheme is both frightening and worrisome not only for the victim, but also for the victim’s family. It can destroy a victim’s trust in other people and leave them wondering exactly who they can trust with the estate planning needs. Bearing this in mind, here are several things you should consider as you being the process of finding an ethical and experienced New Hampshire estate planning lawyer.

The first item that you should remember, and that a consumer should understand, that DIY wills and other estate planning documents will leave your loved ones vulnerable. A person who chooses this option may believe that the appropriate legal protections have been put into place, but there are a plethora of concerns associated with these online documents and websites. First and foremost, you cannot be certain of whom you are entrusting your personal information too. Secondly, confusion as to whom should file the documents and where they should be filed often arises after the documents have been completed. Finally, it is rather hard for a layperson to be assured that their estate plan is in full compliance with federal and New Hampshire guidelines.

Remember that no two states laws are exactly alike when it comes to estate planning. The ideal option is for you to meet with an experienced and qualified NH estate planning attorney who is familiar with the complex New Hampshire tax laws and other applicable laws that could potentially cause problems if they are not properly addressed. The peace of mind that a professionally executed estate plan brings is priceless in and of itself, but the benefits that a properly prepared plan brings will ensure that your loved ones are not burdened with considerable taxes and other legal costs.

To learn more about estate planning schemes in New Hampshire and to learn what you can do to protect yourself from these scams, please contact our law offices today.

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New 2014 Legislature Impacts Estate Planning In New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s laws regarding trusts and estate planning are among some of the most progressive in the nation. Recently, lawmakers in New Hampshire passed Senate Bill 289, a sweeping piece of legislation whose objectives include:

§  Clarifying the extent to which creditors can legally assert valid claims against a deceased individual’s revocable trust.

§  Reducing post-mortem litigation regarding the validity of a deceased person’s estate planning documents.

§  Modification of New Hampshire’s Uniform Trust Code.

A Deceased Individual’s Creditors

Our state’s probate statutes offer the executor of one’s estate a robust variety of procedures for handling the claims of creditors against a deceased person’s estate. In general, a creditor must file notice of a legal claim against an NH probate estate in the six month period following an executor’s appointment by a New Hampshire probate court. This notice must then be followed by the filing of a formal lawsuit against the estate’s executor within one year of their appointment. This statute of limitations was intentionally designed to be short to enable executors to deal with creditors’ claims in a timely manner. In turn, this enables an executor to make the necessary distributions to a will’s beneficiaries rather quickly.

The increasing number of New Hampshire citizens who have opted to utilize revocable trusts in order to avoid the involvement of a probate court when it comes to the distribution of a decedent’s estate has caused the process for handling a creditor’s legal claim rather ambiguous. New Hampshire’s Uniform Trust Code includes provisions that specifically subject the assets of a deceased individual’s revocable trust to the creditors of the decedent; however, the Uniform Trust Code did not offer procedural mechanisms for validating these claims. This left the trustees of a revocable trust vulnerable because the legal protections offered by robust statutes of limitations for executors were not present.

Bill 289 seeks to remedy this situation by addressing this procedural gap by offering the trustee of a revocable trust with a notice procedure that limits to one year the statute of limitations in which a deceased individual’s creditors can file a claim against the trustee. The bill also includes certain similar provisions to legally protect the trustees of specific irrevocable trusts.

Post-Mortem Litigation

In accordance with the goal of reducing litigation related to estates, Senate Bill 289 has established new judicial procedures for verifying the validity of an individual’s will while he or she is still alive. If the will’s creator anticipates that a family member or beneficiary of the will challenge the validity of their will upon their passing, the testator now has the legal ability to petition the probate division of a New Hampshire Circuit Court to request that the court determine that their will is valid. In doing so while the testator is still alive, he or she can testify as to what their intentions are, as well as offer evidence that their will was created while they were of sound mental capacity. Bill 289 also reinforces the enforceability of the no contest clauses found in trusts and wills.

New Hampshire’s Uniform Trust Code

The majority of the 40 odd sections contain within Senate Bill 289 are geared towards technical revisions of the NH Uniform Trust Code. Among the most prominent of these revisions are the reinforcement of the NH statutory scheme towards trusts that transfer to New Hampshire from other states, the broadening of a trustee’s legal powers to enact modifications of an irrevocable trust via decanting and other various options, and clarification of the responsibilities and roles that trust advisors, trust protectors, and trustees have.

The primary reason behind the modification of New Hampshire’s Uniform Trust Code is to enhance its attractiveness as a location to administer trusts.

To learn more about Senate Bill 289 or to learn more about establishing your own trust or estate plan, please contact one of our experienced NH estate planning attorneys today.

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How Estate Planning Can Affect Your Grandchildren

Grandparents are well-known for their generosity. As children, we adore and love our grandparents. In adulthood, we observe our own parents become grandparents, and we see the influence they exercise over our children. We can rest assured that whatever our sweet little darlings want, their grandparents will go to the ends of the earth to secure. Eventually, we develop feelings of envy and begin to long for the type of happiness that we wish to know when we reach their age. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that grandchildren often serve as the basis for the decisions we make regarding our wills. Grandchildren and estate planning go hand in hand with one another.

Grandchildren & New Hampshire Estate Planning

Most grandparents believe that their family legacy lies in the precious little faces that smile up at them. Grandchildren serve as living proof that a new generation is being formed, and grandparents want to ensure that the next generation receives the benefit of their hard work.

Many times, these ample resources translate to school and college tuition, fees for summer camp, new automobiles, and a plethora of full-fledged vacations and weekend getaways. It is not unheard of for grandparents to wish to bestow even more extravagant gifts on their grandchildren if the financial resources are available. For example, a grandparent may wish to provide an adult grandchild with a down payment for their first home. However, before any grandparent makes such a significant decision, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration.

Own a Business? There Are Plans For That Too

Suppose an individual owns a business. Their children are not interested in the family business, but their grandchildren are. For the owners of small businesses, having a plan for business succession is a critical aspect of estate planning. The failure to complete a business succession plan can spell financial disaster and mitigate any value grandparents believe that the business can offer their grandchildren. In addition to one’s grandchildren, having an established plan for business succession is also valuable to employees, clients, and business partners.

Avoiding Favoritism In the Family

Bear in mind that the whole family’s eyes will watch grandpa or grandma to see how they handle an expensive gift with the rest of their grandchildren. Let’s say that Bob and his wife have two daughters. After each daughter grew up, they married and had one child apiece. Eventually, the eldest daughter divorces her husband, and the man quickly proves himself to be a deadbeat father to the couple’s son. The younger daughter gives birth to her own daughter.

In this particular scenario, the female grandchild has two sets of grandparents (one on her mother’s side and one on her father’s side); however, her male cousin only has one set of grandparents in his life – Bob and his wife. Fortunately for Bob and wife’s grandson, their family is close, and no one seems to mind that they lavish extra attention and time on their grandson. It is quite obvious to anyone who knows the family that they love both of their grandchildren equally. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with all families. Not all families share the type of closeness that would prevent the giving of an extravagant gift to one grandchild and not another from affect the family’s dynamics. Grandparents who are going through the New Hampshire estate planning process should understand that there may come a time when they must defend their decision to bestow an extravagant gift or early inheritance on one grandchild and not another.

And Then There Are The Taxes…

They say that the only two certain things in life are death and taxes. Despite this bleak prognosis, there is a bright spot. Recently passed federal laws mandate that you do not have to worry about taxes unless the gifts you bestow exceed the $5.25 million mark. However, there are specific annual limitations that should be kept in mind. Any annual gift made to an individual that exceeds the $14,000.00 mark must be $14,000.00 to the same grandchild or recipient and bypass this federal requirement for tax returns; however, the moment this monetary threshold is crossed, it becomes a whole different ballgame. With that being said, a recipient is not required to report on their tax returns any payment or gift that is made directly to educational or medical institutions for monetary costs associated with tuition, healthcare, or other similar types of expenses.

Offering Flexibility For the Future

When it comes to estate planning in the state of New Hampshire, there are several different routes one can choose to take. For NH residents with custody of minor grandchildren, including a trust in their estate plan can offer the best method of ensuring that their grandchildren are cared for financially until they are able to care for themselves. A trust essentially “holds” financial assets for the recipient until they reach an age that the designator deems appropriate – rather than the arbitrary age of majority. To explore more of the options available to grandparents, NH residents are encouraged to speak with an estate planning lawyer.

Hire Experienced Representation Today!

These are just a few of the considerations you must take into account when it comes to estate planning. It is always recommended that you consult with an experienced New Hampshire estate planning attorney to ensure that the grandchildren you adore will be adequately provided for upon your passing. For a free consultation, please contact one of our skilled NH estate planning attorneys today.

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Estate Planning For Women – What You Need to Know

On average, women outlive men. Due to this fact, women often control the majority of a couple’s property and assets. Consequently, women develop a plan for their estate that carries out their desires and wishes with regards to how their estate should be distributed amongst their heirs.

One of the first questions that must be answered is whether or not you should go with a trust or a simple will. If state or federal estate taxes are of concern, then you should consider establishing a trust. If you are not concerned with estate taxes, you might still wish to consider creating a trust as a method of avoiding probate. There are time delays and monetary costs associated with the New Hampshire probate process, and creating a trust does cost more than simply having a will prepared. Women are encouraged to evaluate the benefits and costs of each option and decide which option will best suit their needs.

It is equally imperative for women to decide if they would like to employ the estate planning technique of lifetime giving. Traditionally, lifetime giving is used during estate planning as a method of removing assets from one’s taxable estate. However, with current estate tax exemptions being so high, women should take into consideration whether or not it is preferable for assets to remain within their taxable estate to provide their heirs the benefits the assets have to offer upon their death.

Another consideration that must be taken into account is the portability of a dead spouse’s unused estate tax exemption. This could potentially remove some of the importance of complicated trust planning. Many New Hampshire estate planning attorneys encourage their clients to explore portability when developing an estate plan.

Estate Planning For Women – Powers of Attorney

It is a common misconception that estate planning for women is the same as estate planning for men. As aforementioned, on average, women live longer than men – generally by an average of 5-6 years. By the time an adult in the United States reaches the age of 85 years, there are approximately 6 women for every 4 men. Moreover, when it comes to second marriages, women frequently marry men who are an average of eight years older than they are. Because of this discrepancy in lifespans, a woman should create an estate plan that includes provisions for incapacity. For this sole reason, a critical component of each woman’s estate plan is powers of attorney.

Women should ensure that health care and financial powers of attorney are firmly in place. The majority of New Hampshire women name their husbands as the chosen agent under her power of attorney. Since women tend to live longer, the choice of who will serve as executor of her estate is quite important. Their successor agent should be a trustworthy individual and a person whom the woman is comfortable sharing her wishes and expectations wish.

A woman should also take into consideration whether or not it is prudent to name a co-agent as her successor agent. Although this course of action is feasible when it comes to financial powers of attorney, it is rarely advisable to name co-agents when it comes to powers of attorney involving healthcare. Powers of attorney regarding healthcare are generally activated only in the case of an emergency, and it is impractical and imprudent for healthcare providers to have to contact multiple agents when a medical decision must be made quickly.

It is equally important for women to regularly update their powers of attorney. An experienced NH estate planning attorney will usually recommend that their clients update their powers of attorney every 3-5 years or sooner if New Hampshire’s laws change or the woman experiences a significant life change.

Estate Planning For Women: Hiring An NH Estate Planning Lawyer

There are a wide variety of factors that go into creating an estate plan. In most instances, a simple will, in conjunction with a variety of documents pertaining to childcare, management of finances, and healthcare, will be all that is required. In other cases, a pour over will, along with a revocable living trust, will be sufficient. Other estate plans will be more complicated, requiring irrevocable living trusts, sub-trusts, special needs trusts, and dynasty trusts. The point is that one size does not fit all.

This is where the professional services of a New Hampshire estate planning lawyer can be invaluable. Employing the services of an experienced attorney will save a woman a considerable amount of money, time, and undue grief in the long run. The “post husband” era of a woman’s life can present a myriad of legal and economic challenges, but having a plan in place can be of great help. Most importantly, when a woman proactively manages her estate, she will spare her loved ones the ordeal of having to deal with expensive attorney fees, expensive probate court proceedings, and avoidable estate taxes.

 

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A Beginner’s Guide to New Hampshire Wills

Creating a last will and testament is an important component in devising the distribution of your property and estate upon your passing. A New Hampshire will enables your children, surviving spouse, other members of your family, and even pets to be cared for after your death. Although the services of a New Hampshire estate planning lawyer are not required to create a will, you are highly encouraged to hire one. He or she can assist you in creating a valid last will and testament and in selecting an executor of your estate, who will ensure that your final wishes are carried out.

The Basic Requirements For a Valid New Hampshire Will

The creator of a New Hampshire will must either be married or at least 18 years of age. He or she must possess sufficient mental faculties to reason and make rational decisions.

An NH last will and testament must be signed by the individual who created it, and in order to be valid, it must also be signed by two or more credible witnesses who do not receive property in the will. These witnesses must, at the request of the will’s creator and within their presence, attest to the creator’s signature.

To be valid, the will must be placed in writing. Wills in New Hampshire can dispose property to any individual to whom the creator wishes. New Hampshire does, under certain circumstances, recognize nuncupative wills, which is an oral will. For example, a soldier who is currently serving in the military can create an oral will to dispose of personal property that will be legally recognized in a court of law. However, the requirements to create a legally valid oral will are quite strict and must be closely followed in order to be deemed valid.

The Purpose Of a New Hampshire Will

A will is a legal document that is created for the explicit purpose of determining how your estate and personal property will be distributed after you pass away. A person’s estate consists of monetary assets and physical property, including bank accounts, your residential home, land, automobiles, furniture, and stocks and bonds. Your estate can also be passed on to a charity or property, like a church. New Hampshire laws place few restrictions on how and to whom you can distribute your property.

Wills are also used to establish who will assume guardianship for any minor children or dependent family members who are unable to care for themselves.

However, there are several exceptions to how your property can be distributed:

§  Property that is jointly owned between you and another individual, where right to survivorship exists, is automatically passed on to the surviving owner.

 

§  You cannot change the beneficiary of a life insurance policy through your will.

 

§  If a surviving spouse is excluded from your will, then he or she is entitled to assume a portion of your estate within a specific of time as established by New Hampshire’s current laws.

 

Revoking and Changing a New Hampshire Will

Under New Hampshire’s current laws, a last will and testament can be changed whenever you decide you would like too. Last wills and testaments are altered through the creation of a codicil. This legal document makes changes and additions to an existing will. In order to be considered valid, a codicil must be created in compliance with New Hampshire’s probate laws.

Should you choose too, your current New Hampshire last will and testament can be revoked through a codicil or by the creation of a new will. Alternately, you can choose to destroy your current will by obliterating, tearing, or canceling it.

New Hampshire Estate Taxes and Probate

New Hampshire’s current estate taxes include Federal credit for estate taxes. Within 9 months of your passing, estate taxes that must be paid as a result of the probate process must be paid to the NH Department of Revenue Administration.

Once you have passed on, probate procedures are utilized to prove that an NH last will and testament is valid, pay off estate taxes and any existing debts, appoint a legal executor of the will, and ensure property is distributed according to your wishes and desires.

New Hampshire’s Intestacy Laws

It is imperative to ensure that you create a valid New Hampshire last will and testament if you wish to exercise control over how your estate is distributed. Should you pass away without a valid will in place, and you are determined to have died “intestate”, then your estate and your personal property will be distributed in accordance with New Hampshire’s strict laws.

For example, should you leave behind a surviving spouse, but no living children or parents, then your spouse will automatically receive the entirety of your estate. Similarly, if you leave behind children, but no surviving spouse, then each of your children (whether biological or adopted) will receive an equal share in your estate.

However, if you create a New Hampshire last will and testament, then your will prevents New Hampshire’s intestacy laws from determining how your estate is distributed.

New Hampshire Estate Planning Lawyer

New Hampshire’s probate and inheritance laws are intricate and complex. You can benefit greatly from the expertise of an experienced NH estate planning lawyer, particularly if you have considerable assets and property. To receive assistance with planning your estate today, please contact our law firm.

 

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7 Tips For Finding the Right New Hampshire Estate Planning Attorney

The search for an attorney who can assist you in preparing a superb estate plan often seems like an impossible task. However, with a little assistance, you can find the right New Hampshire estate planning lawyer. Here are a few tips to assist you in starting your search:

1.      Ask family members, close friends, or business associates for referrals.

The highest praise an NH estate planning lawyer can receive is an enthusiastic referral from a current or former client. Business associates, friends, and family members are ideal individuals to ask for a referral. Even if the attorney they recommend is not located in your immediate community, modern technology can enable you to work closely with a lawyer and still achieve the same satisfactory results as the individual who recommended them to you.

2.      Request a referral from your financial advisor.

Many financial advisors serve as ideal sources for recommendations. The majority of NH financial advisors see estate planning as a critical component of achieving their clients’ overall goals, and consequently, most advisors have one or two trusted estate planning attorneys with whom they have worked closely in the past. If your financial advisor has not broached the subject of estate planning with you before, raise the topic yourself. Moreover, ask your financial advisor who prepared their own personal estate plan. Their answer could provide the results you are looking for.

3.      Accountants can also provide referrals.

A good number of New Hampshire’s estate planning attorneys employ the services of accountants for assistance with income, trust, and estate taxes. Therefore, your accountant can more than likely recommend several lawyers in your community who can assist with putting together an estate plan. In a similar fashion, many accountants search for estate planning attorneys on behalf of their clients because accountants have intimate knowledge of their clients’ familial situations and financial information – all of which necessitate then need for the creation of an estate plan. As with your financial advisor, do not be afraid to ask your accountant who prepared their personal estate plan.

4.      Consult with other lawyers you have worked with in the past for referrals.

Whether it was for reviewing a contract, purchasing a home, or establishing a business, the chances are that you have worked with an attorney before. This lawyer may be familiar with knowledgeable estate planning lawyers in your immediate area. Attorneys are almost always happy to refer a client to another attorney who practices outside their area of expertise because this generally results in referrals coming from the other way. Ask the lawyers you have previously worked with who prepared their own estate plans. There is a saying that a lawyer who attempts to represent himself in legal matters has a fool for a client, and this rings especially true in the arena of estate planning. Therefore, it is highly likely that attorneys you have worked with in the past have had an estate planning lawyer do their work for them.

5.      Contact your local bar association or the New Hampshire state bar for recommendations.

Each state, including New Hampshire, has their own bar association. Some cities and communities also have their own bar associations. The majority of these associations keep an updated list of their members and what areas of law they practice. Some bar associations offer to the general public certified referral services. To find a certified referral service in your area, go online or look in your community’s telephone directory.

6.      Research advertisements found in your local newspaper or telephone directory.

Alternately, advertisements for NH estate planning attorneys can also be found on television, the radio, and the Internet.  A wise estate planning lawyer will advertise to potential clients through a variety of different mediums, which include print, the media, and the Internet. Each state in the U.S. regulates the manner in which lawyers advertise their services, so you can rest assured that the only ads you see will be ones that have passed the exacting standards of New Hampshire’s state bar association. What this means for you is that you do not have to worry about an advertising lawyer promising unreachable results or making false claims.

7.      Make contact with your local probate court to ask for referrals.

Whether or not this option will work for you depends on what type of community you live in. If you live in a large, metropolitan city, then it may not be feasible; however, in smaller communities, court clerks are familiar with local estate planning lawyers, which ones the judges have a preference for, and which ones are the easiest to work with. For many lawyers, it is a point of pride to maintain good working relationships with judges and other court personnel. This can be a promising source for referrals.

This blog is meant to serve as a starting point in your search for the right NH estate planning lawyer. We do not have the time or space to address the unending amount of information you can find about estate planning lawyers on the Internet. However, in some instances, too much information can be detrimental, so stick with the basics and use these 7 tips to get your search off the ground.

To learn more about estate planning in New Hampshire or to speak with one of our professional and experienced lawyers, please contact our law firm today.

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Your New Hampshire Divorce and Your Four Legged Family Members

Did you include the four legged members of your family on your shopping list this holiday season? If so, you aren’t alone. On average, Americans spend nearly $50 billion on their pets each year. Unsurprisingly, pets often become members of our family. In fact, there are a number of New Hampshire citizens who prefer their pets to actual people.

It is not uncommon for new clients to ask our NH family law attorneys “What will happen to our pets after our divorce is finalized?”

Although our pets become a part of our families and we often treat them like children, New Hampshire Family and Probate Courts do not classify pets as children. Subsequently, “custody” of your pooch is most decidedly not determined by NH child custody laws, which take the best interests of children into consideration.

In the event of a New Hampshire divorce case, pets will be classified as property. As such, pets are subject to New Hampshire’s equitable division of property laws, pursuant to RSA 458:5 and 458:9. Regardless of how much you might love your pets, your dog, cat, or lizard possesses no more legal standing, under New Hampshire state law, than your lawnmower or living room furniture.

In compliance with NH divorce laws, all property that is mutually owned by either party in a divorce case, “no matter where situated, when acquired, or how acquired”, is subjected to equitable division during divorce proceedings. This means that you and your former spouse must fairly divide all property between the two of you, including your pets.

When determining exactly how your marital property should be divided, a New Hampshire court will take into account a number of different factors, including, amongst other elements, how long your marriage lasted, the conduct of both parties with regards to the marriage’s breakup, the age and health of both parties, their occupation and station, both parties’ estates, each party’s contributions to the preservation and acquisition of the marital estate, each party’s homemaking contributions, and each party’s needs.

Although pets are classified as property under New Hampshire law, it is not unusual for an NH court to take into account whether a pet was owned by one spouse prior to the marriage and which party served as the primary caregiver to the pet during the course of the marriage.

Your concern for your pets’ well-being is quite understandable, and our NH family law attorneys understand how important it is to you. When it comes to the custody of pets, we can work closely with you to reach an agreement with your former spouse regarding pet ownership. If these efforts fail, then we will work diligently within the court system to ensure that you obtain custody of your beloved four legged friend.

To set up a free consultation regarding your case, or to have your questions answered by one of our experienced NH divorce lawyers, contact our law firm today via email, phone, or through our website.

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Parents Can Agree Upon Legally Enforceable Agreements For College Expenses

Since the year 2004, the family courts of New Hampshire lacked the legal authority to require one parent to pay for the college related expenses with the only exception being the enforcement of agreements and orders that were established prior to 2004. An NH Supreme Court decision in the Goulart case held that a family court didn’t possess the jurisdiction to legally approve agreements or orders between parents concerning the payment of expenses related to college.

New changes in NH state law now enable family courts to approve agreements that provide for the splitting of educational related expenses that go beyond high school by both or one parent. The new laws went into effect on October 1st, 2013. New statute RSA 461-A:21 specifically states:

“Parents may agree to contribute to their child's college expenses or other educational expenses beyond the completion of high school as part of a stipulated decree, signed by both parents and approved by the court. The agreed-on contribution may be made by one or both parents. The agreement may provide for contributions to an account to save for college, for the use of an asset, or for payment of educational expenses as incurred. Any such agreement shall specify the amount of the contribution, a percentage, or a formula to determine the amount of the contribution.”

The new decree from New Hampshire divorce courts offers sample language for a similar agreement in paragraph 4 of the statute. However, the old court form for parenting decree is currently undergoing the process up being updated to reflect this new legal language, so if two parents would like to include orders for payment of college expenses, then they must adapt their own. Each party must agree upon whether or not the agreement can be modified at a later date if a significant change in circumstances is later incurred. Moreover, the form also necessitates that both parents must attend mediation meetings before the family court will listen to a petition to enforce or modify an agreement for the payment of college expenses.

For New Hampshire parents, the new change in law is excellent news. It enables parents to negotiate their own agreements based upon the mutual desire for their children to invest in higher education. Additionally, a parent can now rely upon such an agreement to be legally enforced should it become necessary. However, at the same time, parents who are unable to agree upon equal footing with married parents cannot legally be forced to pay for college expenses for their children.

For more information on New Hampshire’s new laws regarding agreements and orders for payment of college expenses, please contact one of our NH family law attorneys today. Your initial consultation is free, and our family law lawyers will take the time necessary to ensure that all of your questions are thoroughly answered. We can be contacted via phone, email, or through our website, and we look forward to hearing from you.

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Parenting Responsibilities and Rights: Custody

When two parents are engaged in a contentious divorce, the usual victims of the crossfire are their children. Too frequently, we have observed warring parties who are unaware of how their behavior or conduct to or around one another can affect their children’s well-being.

Members of the New Hampshire state legislature have studied this problem extensively and have created new laws that are designed to assist parents in focusing on their needs of their offspring while simultaneously resolving their differences through their divorce proceedings. This new statute has been named RSA 461-A.

Under the former statute, issues surrounding child support, child custody, and child care were interspersed throughout different corners of the law, but this new statute gathers all of these different pieces of info about children into one centralized location.

For example, a new requirement in order to obtain a divorce when minor children are involved in the divorce proceedings is to create a legal document referred to as a “Parenting Plan”. A standard Parenting Plan is approximately 12 pages in length. Its presence is required at each temporary and final court hearings. This document’s intent is to force both parents to focus on the needs of their children and to encourage them to work together closely, in a cooperative fashion, to raise their children, regardless of what their personal differences might be. Exceptions to this new model can be made if there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, or assault present.

A Parenting Plan contends with issues of continuing and regular contact between both parents with their minor children. The new law has essentially removed the term “custody” from New Hampshire’s legal language based upon the observation that this word has created an undue amount of stress. Furthermore, there exists a perception that a parent who has “custody” has won something, and the parent who was not awarded custody has lost something. The phrase custody has been replaced with “parenting rights and responsibilities”.

There are numerous components to a Parenting Plan. If both parents are capable of agreeing on each of the contents contained within the Parenting Plan, then the final document is submitted to a New Hampshire family court at the same time as the final divorce agreement. If the parties cannot agree to all of the conditions and terms, then a legal hearing will be established and the form will be completed via a court order.

Even after your divorce has been finalized, you and your former spouse will continue to be parents for years to come, and it is in your best interests, and those of your children, to work cooperatively together.

Our NH family law attorneys have served clients throughout New Hampshire for years. With multiple offices located throughout the state, we can offer the assistance you require. Your initial consultation is 100% free, and anything that is discussed during this consultation will remain 100% confidential. We look forward to working with you in the future.

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New Hampshire Family Law

Even under the best of circumstances, separation and divorce are difficult. When children are involved, the process becomes even more difficult. At our firm, we possess years of experience in dealing with all elements of New Hampshire family law, so we understand and sympathize with your concerns and can offer assistance in navigating your way through these complicated waters.

Our NH family law attorneys have dedicated a significant portion of their careers working alongside clients to locate the ideal solution for themselves and their families. Each case is unique, and we realize that investing the required time into learning about the family dynamics of our clients and their hopes for the future have a considerable impact upon their case’s outcome. It is our pledge to you to work diligently to protect what you have worked so hard to acquire.

If you have questions that arise prior to your decision to file for divorce, or questions about the New Hampshire divorce process itself, we can answer these. We will thoroughly explain each step in the process to you, offer excellent legal representation at legal hearings, and prepare the required paperwork unique to your case. The following are just a few of the aspects of family law we are experienced in:

§  Parenting plans

§  Petitions for separation or divorce

§  Modifications or initial orders for child support

§  Spousal support and alimony

§  Division of marital assets

§  Post-divorce issues

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is a legal court order that enables a retirement plan to be equitably divided under specific circumstances, so that the plan’s participant and their former spouse can receive an equal share. Often times, in New Hampshire divorce cases, the family court system will allot a specified portion one party’s retirement plan to the other former spouse. QRDOs can also be used to pay alimony or child support to another party. In order to fairly divide the account, specific paperwork that complies with federal law must be submitted. Our NH family law attorneys have experience in dealing with QDROs and would be more than willing to discuss this option with you.

Limited Representation or Unbundled Services

If you would prefer to handle the majority of your divorce proceedings by yourself, but require legal assistance with specific elements of it, then our law firm can offer limited representation or unbundled legal services. We offer assistance with specific portions of your case, but you are responsible for managing the rest of it. Just some of the areas that we can offer limited representation on include:

§  Drafting motions and petitions

§  Reviewing or drafting agreements

§  Legal representation during mediation or settlement conferences

§  Providing legal advice on specific matters

§  Representing our clients during courtroom hearings

To speak with one of our experienced NH family law lawyers or to set up a free consultation regarding your case, contact our law firm today.

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For Divorce Lawyers, Facebook Is Their New Best Friend

Did you forget to unfriend your now ex-wife on Facebook before you posted photos of yourself on vacation with your mistress? To her divorce lawyer, this is exciting news.

Social networking websites and oversharing go hand in hand with one another, and it has created a plethora of info and evidence that is now being used in divorce cases across America. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, approximately 80% of their members have used evidence obtained from social media websites, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, in divorce cases within the last five years.

When it comes to transforming virtual reality into divorce drama in real life, Facebook has become the undisputed leader. Nearly 66% of attorneys surveyed by the AAML stated that Facebook had become a significant source of gathering evidence online. Following a close second was MySpace at 15%, and Twitter came in third with a total of 5%.

In 2008, the Pew Internet and American Life Project issued a report stating that nearly one in five American adults had used Facebook for the express purpose of flirting. However, it is not only affectionate photos with a mistress that are being used as evidence. Think of a father forcing their child to defriend another parent in an effort to boost their claims of alienation of affection against another parent.

This phenomenon is not limited solely to America. A UK divorce website, Divorce-Online, stated that the word “Facebook” had appeared in approximately one in five divorce petitions within the last five months.  Unfortunately, social media networks also create an ideal battleground for smear and hate related campaigns that often result from embattled spouses going through a nasty divorce.

For our clients who are currently going through a divorce, we offer the following tips for using social media websites wisely:

§  What you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. If you insist on lying under oath, make sure that your social media profiles aren’t full of evidence that supports the contrary.

 

§  Be wary of mutual friends. We understand the urge to trash talk can be great, but there will be some mutual friends who insist on taking sides during your divorce. Now is the worst possible time for you to share your feelings online.

 

§  A picture is worth a thousand words…and quite a bit of money. In the midst of a contentious divorce is the worst possible time for divorcing parties to be posting booze filled, sexually explicit, or carousing photos.

 

§  Privacy settings exist for a reason. Find them. Learn how they work. Use them.

 

For more information on how social media networks can influence your final divorce settlement, contact one of our experienced NH divorce lawyers today. Your well-being, and that of your children, should be your first concern, and thoughtless posts made online could have future ramifications on both of you. Be prepared and learn how to play it safe.

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