This is the first post in a series of short videos by New York attorney Elliot S. Schlissel, Esq, providing basic information about important aspects of Estate Planning. This informational video is entitled, “Who Needs a Will.”

Mr. Schlissel’s is a leading Elder Law and Wills Trusts and Estates attorney in the 5 Boroughs of New York, Nassau and Suffolk Counties so we are pleased to provide this information to Elliot Schlissel New York Law Blog readers.

As always, you can receive legal updates from this site by subscribing by e-mail.

i-9-formAdjunct Law Prof Blog just posted that employers who hire an employee must verify their legal status to work and fill out the new I-9 form.  Employers must have the employee sign the form within three days of starting work. It would be wise to see the form and instructions right away, if you haven’t already done so. Those items are available here.

estate-planningSpurred on by financial abuse of the elderly, New York will change its laws with regard to executing a valid “Power of Attorney” (“POA”) document. The new law will be effective September 1, 2009, although POAs executed before that date in compliance with the old law will still be valid. 

This development makes it especially important to use an attorney who activly practices Wills, Trusts and Estate law and is familiar with these significant changes in the law.

The following are some of the changes that attorneys must now consider when drafting and handling executions of General POA documents starting Sept. 1st, pursuant to the new New York General Obligations Law §5-1501:

  • The principal’s signature of the POA document must be both notarized and witnessed by two disinterested witnesses.
  • The agent must also sign the power of attorney and his/her signature must be notarized (although the signature does not have to take place at the same time as the principal’s signature).
  • If a principal intends to give the agent power to make gifts on his behalf to anyone he has not been accustomed to giving to or which exceed $500 per beneficiary per year, he must simultaneously execute a Statutory Major Gifts Rider (“SMGR”).
  • The statutory “Caution to the Principal” and “Important Information for the Agent” sections must be included.

These changes were originally set to become effective March 1, 2009, but Gov. Patterson agreed to sign off on an extension to September 1st, 2009 in order to allow attorneys to fully familiarize themselves with these sweeping changes.  So give us a call if you are planning to execute a Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, or other estate planning document.

Picture courtesy of sayrelaw.com.

boy_in_court_picAndrew Schepard and Theo Liebmann, in the March 11th edition of the New York Law Journal, listed three important changes in New York’s new Rules of Professional Conduct as they apply to lawyers representing children in Family Court. (I explored how the new rules would affect conflicts of interest here.)

Schepard and Liebmann’s main focus was on lawyers representing children and how the new rules would clarify an attorney’s guidelines with regard to when they may take a different position from that of their child client. They pointed out the current rule, as layed out by the Chief Judge in Administrative Order § 7.2, is substantially similar to the new Rule 1.14(b). The new rule states that  “[w]hen the lawyer reasonably believes that the client (a) has diminished capacity, (b) is at risk of substantial physical, financial or other harm unless action is taken and (c) cannot adequately act in the client’s own interest, (then) the lawyer may take reasonably necessary protective action…” (emphasis and parentheses added) This “reasonably necessary protective action” includes substituting the law guardian’s judgment for the child’s judgment when those three requirements are met.

These rules set a high bar that a Law Guardian must meet before she may supplant her judgment for her child-client’s judgment. Schepard and Liebmann give the example of 10 year old Amkia P. (684 N.Y.S.2d 761 (Fam. Ct NY 1999)) who required medication for a life-threatening condition. She was in temporary Foster Care, but desired to return to live with her mother, who the Family Court believed would be not be capable of properly caring for her. Despite Amkia’s protestations, her Law Guardian advocated that she remain in temporary foster care.

Under the new rule, the Law Guardian in that case probably would have been allowed to substitute her judgmenet for the judgment of the client under those facts because Amkia appeared to be of diminished capacity (as a 10 year old), “at risk of substantial physical… harm,” and unable to take care of her own interests (again, she was only 10).

As Schepard and Liebmann point out, a Law Guardian in such a situation should think twice and three times before supplanting a client’s judgment with her own because a court will find that she should have advocated for home care to ensure that Amkia received the medicine she needed.

The new rules offer more guidance than attorneys may have had before, but they do not make these difficult judgment calls much easier.

Picture courtesy of George I. Kita.

cellphone-driving1In this post, I am speaking in my personal capacity, and not in my capacity as an employee of the law firm. I want to offer my theory regarding how the NY Cell Phone statute should be interpreted narrowly so as to allow one to use the speaker phone feature of a phone while holding it in the vicinity of the chin. And I would like to illustrate this theory through a personal anecdote.

Ever since I read New York’s anti-cell-phone-while-driving law, I had a hankering to get pulled over so that I could put my law-school-acquired statutory construction skills to good use. For good measure, I xeroxed a copy of the mobile phone statute and kept it with me in the car just in case.

My wish came true a few months ago. I was holding the phone in my hand. It was on the “speaker phone” setting and I was holding it an inch or two below my chin. I was pulled over by a nice Nassau County police officer. After surrendering my license and proof of insurance, he told me that he was going to give me a ticket for talking on the cell phone. I asking him if, since he’d already decided to give me the ticket anyway, I could explain to him why I thought I didn’t violate the statute. Out of a sense of amusement, I think, he gave me the go-ahead.

So I whipped out the copy of the New York VTL (Vehicle and Traffic Law), § 1225-c that I had prepared for just such a moment and I showed him the pertinent parts of the statute that you can read here:

§ 1225-c. Use of mobile telephones.
1. For purposes of this section, the following terms shall mean:

(c) “Using” shall mean holding a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, the user’s ear.

(f) “Engage in a call” shall mean talking into or listening on a hand-held mobile telephone, but shall not include holding a mobile telephone to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of such telephone. (These words were just deleted by the NY State legislature on March 6th.)
(g) “Immediate proximity” shall mean that distance as permits the operator of a mobile telephone to hear telecommunications transmitted over such mobile telephone, but shall not require physical contact with such operator’s ear.
2.
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall operate a motor vehicle upon a public highway while using a mobile telephone to engage in a call while such vehicle is in motion…

At first, he argued, “Were you using a hands-free device or not?!”

I retorted that the statute does not require someone to use a hands-free device. Rather, in order to violate 2(a), the actual prohibition in the statute, two elements must be present for the purposes of my case. One has to be (1) “using” a mobile phone and (2) “engag[ing] in a call.” Subsection 1 of the statute defines “using” as “holding a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, the user’s ear.” And it defines “engage” as “talking into or listening on a hand-held mobile telephone.”

In my case, while the second element may have been present since I was talking to my father on the phone, the first element was absent. The phone was not “to, or in the immediate proximity of, [my] ear.” It was in the vicinity of my chin, but not my ear! One cannot violate a criminal statute unless the state can prove all elements of the violation, and because the first element was absent in my situation, I did not violate the statute.

The officer responded that what I was saying wasn’t true. It didn’t mean that it had to be by my ear. It just meant that I was in violation merely by holding the phone. In the alternative, he argued that the phone’s position below my chin should also be considered “in the vicinity of” my ear.

I responded that I didn’t think that could be true. If the legislature wanted to prohibit all calls where the cell phone is in one’s hand, it could have left out the definition of “using” in subsection 1, thus leaving only the definition of “engage in a call” as the only operative part of the statute. Then, the mere act of being on a phone call while driving would have been prohibited.

Alternatively, the legislature could have defined “using” as “holding the phone in the user’s hand” without any reference to proximity to the ear. Obviously, since they inserted the language about “proximity to the ear,” they intended only to prohibit calls where the phone is right by the driver’s ear. Not only that, but the statute requires the phone to be in the immediate proximity of the ear, and not merely in the “proximity” of the ear, thus requiring that the phone actually be extremely close to (even if not touching) the ear. Perhaps they even inserted this language specifically to indicate that they were permitting the use of cell phones with the “speaker phone” feature, like mine.

The officer vehemently disagreed with me but nevertheless said that he would not give me the ticket. (!!!) I think he realized that I might take this to trial and didn’t want to be cross-examined by this over-eager, Perry-Mason-Wanna-Be law student. Yay!

Incidentally, my fourth grade daughter made the policy argument that since the reason for the statute is to prevent distracted driving, that perhaps I shouldn’t even use the speaker phone while driving in the spirit of the reason for the statute, which is probably the biggest question on my statutory construction argument.

Picture courtesy of expiredmeter.com. HT  nom de plum.

cops-rear-view-mirror-police

Our office has a significant criminal and traffic ticket defense practice and we therefore come across many of the common mistakes made by both the police and the individuals who are ticketed by them.

For 10-15 years, many of the firm’s traffic court clients, who receive insurance card tickets, have reported that the police have told them to send the court a copy of their insurance card to obtain a dismissal of the ticket. This is incorrect.

Courts will not accept a photocopy of one’s insurance card, even if it appears to be valid on the day the ticket was received, because insurance may have lapsed on the day the ticket was received. 

Courts therefore require an original letter from the home office of the individual’s insurance company. Photocopied letters will not suffice. This letter must contain the following elements:

  1. The letter must be on the insurance company’s letterhead.
  2. It must be typed, not handwritten.
  3. The letter must state the effective dates of the coverage period.
  4. It must also state that no lapse occurred during the effective dates of the coverage period.  Or, that if a lapse occurred, state the dates of the lapse in coverage.
  5. The letter must specifically state that coverage was in full force and effect on ______________ (the date the ticket was received).
  6. The letter must give a description of the insured vehicle including the: a) Year b) Make c) Model d) Color e) License Plate Number and f) Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the car.
  7. Insurance Cards are not acceptable!

If you find yourself in criminal or traffic trouble, the cost of increased insurance, fines and State surcharges often exceed the cost of the legal fees necessary to retain representation in traffic court. So give us a call.

Picture courtesy of nstsa.dot.gov.

This is for those that relied on Arthur Miller’s help to pass Civil Procedure in law school. HT Above the Law.

divorce-decreeMany non-custodial parents think that they can get the child tax exemption that they are entitled to (based on I.R.C. § 152(e)2)) pursuant to their divorce decree by simply attaching the divorce decree to their tax return. People try this use the divorce decree in lieu of IRS form 8332 because they are either hesitant or feel unable to have that form filled out and signed by the custodial parent.

Unfortunately, this does not work. As accountant Louis J. Cercone, Jr. points out, even when a non-custodial parent can take a tax exemption pursuant to a divorce decree,  the Internal Revenue Code only permits him (or her) to do so if the custodial parent fills out Form 8332 or signs a letter with the following information contained in it:

  1. The name of the child to which an exemption is released;
  2. The year for which the exemption is released to the non-custodial parent;
  3. A signature, date of signature, & social security number for the custodial parent; and
  4. the name and social security number of the non-custodial parent to whom the exemption is released.

Without either form 8332 or a letter signed by the custodial parent with the aforementioned elements, a non-custodial parent cannot get the exemption he or she is entitled to according to the divorce decree. The divorce decree, which is not signed by the custodial parent, will not suffice.

For any other legal advice on matrimonial or family law issues, please call our office for information.

Picture courtesy of cityofcyn.

mirandaOur office  maintains a significant criminal defense practice and therefore the issue of police Miranda violations is of great interest to the firm.

Miranda v. Arizona established a “Miranda right to counsel” during custodial police interrogations, purportedly based on the Fifth Amendment.  One problem with the Miranda decision is that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel during “criminal prosecutions” implies the absence of any constitutional right to counsel prior to the commencement of a formal criminal prosecution. A possible solution to this problem with Miranda‘s interpretation of the Fifth Amendment will be offered.

The Miranda court  derives its asserted Fifth Amendment right to counsel from the provision that “[n]o person shall… be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” The court reasoned that someone’s right not to be compelled to make incriminating statements is functionally impossible without an implied right to counsel during an “inherently coercive” custodial interrogation, which usually occurs before the onset of a “criminal prosecution,” i.e. arraignment, when the Sixth Amendment right to counsel kicks in.

The Sixth Amendment states, in pertinent part, that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall… have the assistance of counsel for his defence.” The Supreme Court, in Hamilton v. Alabama, held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel begins in the “critical stages” of a “criminal prosecution” such as arraignment, when certain defenses must be preserved in many states.

It appears from a comparison between the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, then, that Miranda‘s implied Fifth Amendment right to counsel is broader than the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel because it applies during custodial interrogation, an earlier point in the process than the subsequent arraignment, when the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel begins.  But there is a logical problem with this.

The Sixth Amendment boldly set forth the rule that one has a right to counsel beginning at arraignment or at some similar “critical time” in criminal prosecutions. If an even broader right to counsel already existed much earlier in the process based on the Fifth Amendment, then what is the Sixth Amendment adding?! Put another way, the Sixth Amendment’s assertion of a right to counsel at a point like arraignment implies that no such right existed prior to that point in the process.

It is all well and good to reason that the Fifth Amendment must imply a right to counsel because one’s right not to be compelled to make incriminating statements against himself during custodial interrogation would be functionally impossible without a concomitant right to have an attorney present.  However that is only compelling if no other Amendments make a statement explicitly or implicitly about the presence or absence of a right to counsel. But because the Sixth Amendment grants a “narrower” right to counsel during “criminal prosecutions,” it thereby implies that no right to counsel existed prior to that moment, thus negating any interpretation of the Fifth Amendment that reads a right to counsel therein. This is (one of) my problem(s) with Miranda.

An answer to this problem is possible because it is not actually true that the Miranda right to counsel is broader than the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  In some instances, the Sixth Amendment right is broader than the Miranda Fifth Amendment right. Where a defendant has been arraigned and released on bail pending trial, he is still at a “critical stage” when the Sixth Amendment gives him a right to counsel. But because he is walking free, he is not in a “custodial interrogation,” and the Miranda implied Fifth Amendment right to counsel is not invoked. At that juncture, Miranda‘s right to counsel is narrower and “more lenient” than the Sixth Amendment’s broader right to counsel.

It is possible, then, that an implied Fifth Amendment right to counsel would not render the Sixth Amendment right superfluous. The Sixth Amendment adds on the additional right to counsel in those situations where a defendant is post-arraignment and not subject to any custodial interrogation.  Since the Sixth Amendment does add a right to counsel that does not exist in Miranda‘s Fifth Amendment right to counsel, in such situations, it is possible to assert that a “narrower” (in some instances) right to counsel exists in the Fith Amendment as well.

The fact that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is broader, in some instances, than the Fifth Amendment Miranda right to counsel certainly does not prove that there is a Fifth Amendment right to counsel. Many arguments still exist that the Miranda Court was wrong in reading a right to counsel into the Fifth Amendment. But the above-mentioned factors  indicate that the existance of a Sixth amendment right to counsel is not dispositive as to the absence of a Fifth Amendment right as well.

Picture of Ernesto Miranda courtesy of pbs.org.

GB_NorthwesternOne strategy that has been very effective for me in my law school career has been listening to audio summaries of many of my courses. In addition to preparing for class, briefing cases, outlining, and doing practice exams (indispensable!), I use my time driving to and from work and law school to listen to audio lectures of the courses I’m taking, especially as exams begin to approach. I’m working full time at The Law Offices of Elliot Schlissel, which is a great experience, and attending law school part time in the evenings. So time management is very important to me. I’m nearing the end of my 3rd year, out of four, in law school. So I have had the opportunity to listen to audio lectures on most of my classes up to this point.  The following are my reviews of the CD sets that I have listened to. I’ll give each one a rating of either (5) Excellent, (4) Good, (3) Average, (2) Bad, or (1) Terrible and my reasons.

civil-procedure-author-miller-sum-and-substance2Civil Procedure with Arthur Miller : (5) Excellent!  Everyone I’ve spoken to loves these as well. He is a great speaker with a great voice and he is a known expert on Civil Procedure. He has the ability to take a potentially boring subject and making it interesting and enjoyable to listen to. That is a major accomplishment. It’s the longest set of CDs I’ve gotten so far, numbering at 10. But it is well worth the investment financially and with regard to one’s time. It is an excellent review of the subject. I listened to these CDs between 4 and 6 times throughout the semester and it really helped me keep my understanding of the subject organized and clear during the exam. These are really indespensible. A must-buy!

contracts

Contracts with Douglas J. Whaley: (4) Good. He is also an interesting speaker and he gives some nice examples to illustrate some of the concepts. I found these CDs very useful and I would definitely recommend them to others.

 

property-cd-sum-substanceProperty with Julian Jurgensmeyer: (4) Good. Even more than Civil Procedure, this was a difficult course. And anyone who has taken Property understands why. The bulk of the class seems to focus on estates system from England 400 hundred years ago. This is a difficult and hard-to-relate-to system. Given the difficulty of the subject, Prof. Jurgensmeyer does about as good a job as seems possible when teaching the Rule in Shelly’s Case, the Rule Against Perpetuities (“the RAP”) and the like. Nothing that I know if can make this subject easy, but these CDs were definitely a good supplement to my class.

criminal-law-dressler-sum-substanceCriminal Law with Joshua Dressler: (5) Excellent+!+!  Criminal Law is already an inherently more interesting subject than some others and Prof. Dressler does an amazing job of clearly and engagingly explaining everything. Along with Arthur Miller, Dressler is the best of the best. It is definitely worthwhile to get these CDs. In fact, I wish Professor Dressler had lectures on every subject in law school. He is also the author of the casebook my professor used so it was nice to get a consistent perspective on things  from both the casebook and the lectures. A must-buy!

constitutional-law-chey-sum-substanceConstitutional Law with Mary Cheh: (4) Good. These CDs were very good and interesting. Prof. Cheh was extremely organized and explained everything clearly and is a good speaker. I would certainly recommend these lectures to anyone taking Con Law. There are a lot of controversial topics in this subject and I think she handled them fairly and even-handedly, such that one cannot really tell where she falls out on those issues. I cannot say anything negative about these lectures and I would definitely recommend them.

intellectual-property-thomas-sum-substanceIntellectual Property with  John R. Thomas: (2) Bad. I did not feel that he explained the concepts clearly and, although this is subjective, I found his voice to be annoying. Although Prof. Thomas does not come from an ostensibly Ivy League background, he speaks, laughs and makes jokes as if he goes to Harvard, his name is Biff, and he likes to play golf with his friends Thurston, Muffy, and Tiffany. Perhaps this lecture series was more beneficial to me than nothing at all, but even if so, it was not by much.

international-law-burr-sum-substanceInternational Law with Sherri Burr: (1) Terrible. Prof. Burr was an unengaging, disorganized speaker. For the first time, I was not able to even finish listening to these CDs. It sounded like she was reading from a low-quality  textbook. I would definitely recommend searching out some other resource to supplement one’s course in International or Transnational Law.

wills-trusts-and-estates-johansen-law-school-legendsWills, Trusts & Estates with Stanley Johanson: (4) Good. Professor Johanson is definitely different from other lecturers. Some people I spoke to didn’t like him, but I did. I found him charming like a quirky old timer uncle from East Tennesse who is fun to chat with during family reunions and get-togethers (although he’s from Texas, not Tennessee).  He has a cute sense of humor and an unusual way of teaching. Rather than give his lectures in outline format like most of these audio lectures, he includedes a pdf file full of hypothetical situations with the CD set. And his lectures are organized around him explaining the answers to those hypotheticals throughout the lectures. I found these CDs amusing and helpful and would recomend them to others.

federal-income-tax-block-law-school-legendsFederal Income Tax with Cheryl Block: (4) Good. Prof. Block does a good a job in this subject. Federal Income Tax is actually not about math. It’s about understanding tax law and it’s actually fairly easy to relate to as a subject since we all do things, have done things, or know people who’ve done things that have tax consequences. The subject is fairly easy to relate to when learning the subject. Prof. Block did not stand out as over-the-top great, but she is a good speaker and the lectures are definitely helpful and I would recommend these lectures as a very helpful supplement to your class.

criminal-procedure-dressler-sum-substanceCriminal Procedure with Joshua Dressler: (5) Excellent +!+!+! If Professor Dressler was great in Criminal Law, he is outstanding in Criminal Procedure. He wrote a Treatise on Criminal Procedure and he is just as clear, mellifluous, interesting and organized in Crim Pro as he was in Crim Law. Before taking this class, I expected the class to be more about the nuts and bolts of criminal cases and police procedure. In reality, this class is just an extension of Constitutional Law. Whereas the 2nd half of Con Law focuses more on 1st Amendment and 14th Amendment substantive due process rights, Criminal Procedure focuses more on 4th Amendment Search & Seizure, 5th Amendment self-incrimination, and 6th Amendment right to counsel issues. But both subjects are merely different areas of Con Law. Because of the Con Law nature of the class, and the inherent drama in the process of police investigations, searches, arrests and interrogations (there are countless TV shows with these themes, after all), this is certainly one of the more interesting subjects. And again, Professor Dressler is an amazing resource for understanding the rules and historical progression of the law in this area. Another must-buy!

I have also listened to the CDs on Family Law, which were very good, even though I have not taken those courses yet. I hope these reviews will help  people make an educated choice about how and which audio lectures to use in reviewing their law school courses.

Picture (top) of Prof. Stephen Presser speaking at Northwestern’s Law School courtesy of USNews.com.

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