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5 THINGS TO LOOK FOR BEFORE HIRING A SOCIAL SECURITY LAWYER

Scarcely a month goes by without my hearing the following sad mantra from a social security disability applicant regarding their appeal to the Appeals Council or the Federal Court after denial of a claim:

“I saw/heard a very professional looking/sounding ad on TV/Radio/Internet, called them and signed up. They seemed to be very concerned about my case.  I met my lawyer for the first time a year later, just before the hearing (or, he appeared at the hearing by phone because they were out of State). He* didn’t say much to the Judge. I don’t think he knew anything about my case. I was denied benefits. When I called the lawyer to find out what he could do to help me, I was advised that they don’t do appeals and to find another lawyer.”

The consequences of losing at the hearing level can be catastrophic. You may no longer be  insured if you have to reapply. At very least, benefits will be delayed for several years.

When looking for a Social Security Disability attorney, apply the following safeguards:

 

  1. Go to the advertiser’s website. If you see the following at the bottom of the home page, think twice before signing up.

          “Talk to an attorney right now!”

or

          “Not RealName.org is not a lawyer or law firm.”      

 These are not law firms. They are advertising services paid for by the lawyers and advocates  whose names are forwarded in response to user requests.  The lawyer you will be referred to is probably selected because he pays for the referral, not necessarily because he is competent.

  1. Never hire a lawyer until you first meet him, face to face. If it doesn’t feel right at the meeting, it probably isn’t.
  2. Hire a local attorney. He will be familiar with the Judge’s idiosyncrasies and will act accordingly. Additionally, you can schedule in person appointments without boarding a plane.
  3. Hire an attorney who is member of NOSSCR. NOSSCR is the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. The organization is committed to keeping members current on the law and changes to it and is committed to supporting a membership that provides high quality representation for claimants.
  4. Check the content on the prospective attorney’s website. If it is informative and helpful, it is worth a call and an office visit.

The delays once you file an initial application or an appeal are challenging enough so make sure the attorney you hire is by your side along the way.

*he means he or she.

[Read more…]

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: An Overview

Many individuals who have estate planning documents in place are familiar with a testamentary will and related documents, such as a power of attorney and advanced medical directive. However, estate planning and other financial planning documents can extend far beyond those parameters. One such legal tool available to those interested in them are trusts. Trusts offer a legal way for an individual, known as a grantor, to place property into a separate entity, which will be held for the benefit of a third party, also known as a beneficiary. Any type of property can be placed in a trust, and when it is, the property is considered to be owned by the trust. Trusts can be as simple or complex as the trustee wishes, and can achieve a variety of goals.

Benefits of a Trust

There are several distinct advantages to executing a trust. Trusts can not only provide for the grantor’s beneficiaries after his or her death, but it can provide for the grantor during his or her lifetime, as well. Trusts can also be useful in cases where a beneficiary has a health issue, a mental disability or incapacitation, and other scenarios that would prevent the beneficiary from being capable of managing the property on their own.

In their testamentary capacity, trusts can usually be administered without the need for the estate to be turned over to the Probate Court, since the property was transferred into the trust prior to the grantor’s death and cannot be considered part of his or her estate. In that way, the contents of the trust are also kept private.

Trusts also serve as protection of assets for trust beneficiaries, and offer a wide variety of options in creating them to suit different needs. The grantor can decide how the assets of a trust will be used and the time when the property can be distributed to a beneficiary, in addition to other terms and conditions. This may become particularly useful for parents who wish to set up a trust for the benefit of their minor children, in the event the parents become deceased prior to their children turning 18 years of age.

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts

There are two main types of trusts for estate planning purposes – revocable trusts, and irrevocable trusts. As can be expected, they operate in slightly different ways. Revocable trusts can be changed at any time. To do so, the creator of the trust would generally modify the terms of the trust through an amendment. Or, if the grantor wishes to revoke the trust in its entirety, they can do so. Any assets contained within a revocable trust are considered the grantor’s assets and will be treated as such for tax purposes and if creditors exist.

On the other hand, an irrevocable trust is not able to be changed once it is executed. It is imperative to take appropriate measures when executing an irrevocable trust in order to ensure the grantor’s estate is properly protected and their wishes and needs are being properly addressed, since the property contained in the trust can no longer be controlled by the grantor once it is transferred into the trust. Benefits associated with irrevocable trusts include the possibility of decreased or eliminated estate taxes and a high degree of asset protection.

Drafting a Trust

If you are interested in executing a trust in the state of Florida, the knowledgeable attorneys at Hoffman, latin & Agnetti, P.A. can discuss your matter with you and advise you of the best options available in light of the facts surrounding your case. Please feel free to contact us today to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties.

Bills Recently Signed into Law in Florida

Old Florida State House

(image CC-BY-SA 3.0 Urbantallahassee via Wikimedia Commons)

News outlets are reporting that Governor Rick Scott signed 94 new bills into law in Florida on June 13th. The bills that were made law cover a wide range of topics, ranging from abortion to charities. While not all of the laws may have an effect on every citizen of Florida, it is possible that a significant portion of the new laws will have an effect on a large number of people in one way or another.

Notable New Laws

A number of the bills signed into law were more controversial or otherwise more talked about than others. Some of the more notable new laws include the following:

House Bill 1047 – Bans the abortion of a viable fetus, which is generally considered after the 23rd week of a woman’s pregnancy. The new law replaced Florida’s former law banning abortion in the third trimester, with the new law applying about 2 weeks earlier in gestation, making the time to obtain a legal abortion in the state of Florida shorter overall. The practical impact of the law is likely to be little, however, with 90 percent of abortions occurring in the first trimester and 10 percent in the second, since the law only affects the very end of a woman’s second trimester.

House Bill 629 – Bans charitable groups who have violated certain laws in other states from doing business in Florida. The new law will require paid telemarketers hired by charities to submit to background checks, as well as more detailed reports from charities collecting more than $1 million each year but spending less than 25 percent of that money on their cause.

Senate Bill 224 – Bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. This law is in accord with others already in effect in the state that restrict the sale of other tobacco products to young people. The signing of the bill indicated the Governor likely sided with those who believe that electronic cigarettes lead to tobacco addiction. There is ongoing debate over whether they are safer than conventional cigarettes and whether that means they are actually harmless, especially for youths.

Senate Bill 320 – This new law requires commercial parasail operators to have $1 million in liability insurance and be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard before carrying passengers. The law is aimed at better regulating the parasailing industry, which has been responsible for hundreds of injuries and more than 70 deaths nationwide over the last thirty years.

Parasailing Image

Parasailing over water (image CC-BY-SA 3.0 Arek N. via Wikimedia Commons)

Senate Bill 670 and House Bill 287 – The former shields those who invest in nursing homes from liability when residents are abused or neglected, also making it more difficult for plaintiffs to collect punitive damages. The latter repealed a moratorium made effective in 2001 regarding adding nursing home beds to control Medicaid costs.

Florida Attorney

An experienced attorney will not only be able to advise you based on the facts of your case, but also in light of the latest developments in the law and relevant procedure. At Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A., we have successful experience helping clients in matters that include personal injury, bankruptcy, civil litigation, and divorce and family law, among other practice areas. Contact us today for a consultation to discuss your matter. Our offices are located in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties.

Issues to be Addressed by Florida Legislature in 2014

The 2014 legislative session is upon us in Florida, and there is no shortage of issues expected to be addressed. A recent article highlighted some of the key issues that have arisen in the state recently, and gave some insight as to what sort of action Florida citizens can expect from their elected officials concerning each topic.

Topics to be Addressed

Some of the topics especially relevant in the legal field include the following:

Tax cuts: It is well known that the governor’s number one priority this year is to make tax cuts and eliminate some fees – in the amount of $500 million. Members of the legislature are on board with doing away with certain vehicle fees and holding a sales tax holiday during back-to-school time. However, there are a number of other issues associated with the cuts that need to be addressed.

Marijuana: A number of plans have been proposed that involve decriminalizing a particular strain of marijuana that is known to reduce seizures in children who suffer from severe epilepsy. However, lawmakers are careful to point out that their willingness to make an exception for this one identified strain does not mean they are willing to approve the proposal that would legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Florida legislators are considering legalizing a certain strain of marijuana.

Florida legislators are considering legalizing a certain strain of marijuana.

Pensions: A plan to overhaul Florida’s retirement system was proposed that reflected a compromise made in order to make the plan more likely to be passed by the Senate. The plan involves suggesting that new hires be prevented from entering the pension system and instead be required to enroll in a 401(k) or similar style plan, or cash-balance plan. Law enforcement and firefighters would be exempt from the requirement. It is highly questionable whether the proposal has the approval of some members of the Senate or the governor.

ALFs/Nursing Homes: Lawmakers are trying to pass a measure that would impose stricter reporting requirements for abuse and neglect that occurs in Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Homes. It would also increase fines for violations and force the state to create a rating system for elder care homes. Although the industry has tried to avoid such changes over the last few years, the bills have the support of House and Senate leaders. On the other side, a proposal to further shield nursing homes from lawsuits has wide support from the legislature.

Sex predators: Bills that would impose harsher sentences involving increased jail time for sexually violent predators who have reoffended are expected to be addressed.

Red-light cameras

Red light camera system at the Springfield, Ohio intersection of Limestone and Leffels.

Red light camera system at the Springfield, Ohio intersection of Limestone and Leffels.

In light of information that shows a reduction in the number of crash related fatalities, but an increase in the number of overall crashes, bills were filed that would repeal red-light camera programs. Since cities do not seem to be in favor of such a bill, increased regulations regarding the camera programs may be the resulting compromise.

Growth: With the improving economy and increased revenues from home building, lawmakers are suggesting that the few remaining growth rules operative in Florida be limited in an attempt to encourage further development. The bills address numerous regulations including water rights, road projects, conservation easements, local growth rules, and exempting highly populated counties from a layer of state oversight.

Florida Attorney

These and other proposed laws could affect your rights as a Florida citizen. It is an attorney’s responsibility to not only keep informed of law changes, but to be prepared to advise clients on how laws affect their rights. The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. have successful experience representing clients in a number of different types of cases, including family law,  civil litigation, personal injury, social security, and bankruptcy and foreclosure defense. If you are interested in speaking to an attorney about your case, contact us today. We serve clients in Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law Continues to make Headlines

NBC News, among many other media outlets, recently reported on a Florida case involving many similarities to the George Zimmerman case: a man in Florida was charged for killing a black teen, who was unarmed at the time of his death, and is arguing self-defense at his trial. While most people are familiar with the outcome of Zimmerman’s trial, many are not so sure that Michael Dunn, the man charged in this case, will follow the same path.

The Cases Distinguished

Many experts are saying that Michael Dunn’s case is only similar to the Zimmerman case on the surface. The substantial differences will make it difficult to successfully argue self-defense. Main differences that experts are pointing to as the basis for their reasoning include:

  • In November 2012, Dunn fired ten times into a vehicle full of teenagers, killing the 17-year-old driver, and then drove back to the hotel where he was staying. After the incident involving Zimmerman and his victim, Zimmerman stayed on the scene of the shooting.

  • Zimmerman was the only eyewitness to the incident ending in Trayvon Martin’s death. In Dunn’s case, numerous eyewitness accounts are available.

  • Zimmerman sustained injuries as the result of the incident involving Martin. Dunn received no injuries in the exchange with the teen victim. [Read more…]