I recently returned to my practice after a three and a half month southern sojourn to beautiful warmer-than-here Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Much to my surprise, there was no parade in my honor. But, I did have some people ask about my training, so I thought I would talk a little bit about the experience and why I went through it.
I have been in the Air National Guard since I graduated high school. I enlisted to help pay for college, and because ladies say they love uniforms. The Air National Guard–if you don’t know–is an offshoot (or, more precisely a subordinate “command”) of the United States Air Force. We get all the same training as active duty folks and are still deployable, except that we don’t work full time for the Air Force. Most of the time, we are undisciplined civilian scum like everybody else (kidding). For eleven years, I worked as an aircraft maintainer and deployed all around the world to some good places like Germany (great beer and no speed limits!) and to some lame places throughout the Middle East (no beer and women can’t drive!).
After I became a licensed attorney, I wanted to continue my military service in a legal capacity, but that is kind of hard to do as an avionics specialist. So I took a position with the Wisconsin Air National Guard as a JAG attorney, which is as awesome as it gets in my opinion. Now, a requirement for taking this position is that you have to go to training 1) to become an Air Force officer; and 2) go to JAG training to learn how military law works. So right away in January, I packed up my uniforms and headed down to Alabama. Road trip? Roooooooooooaaaaaad trip.
For the first five weeks at Maxwell Air Force Base, I was at Commissioned Officer Training with 136 other folks with professional degrees, i.e. doctors, lawyers, chaplains, etc. It was five weeks of eating at the position of attention, marching, and not getting much sleep. I’ll spare you the mundane details of the training save for this: if you ever want to see a bunch of doctors, lawyers and pastors forget their rights from their lefts, try to teach them how to march.
After I graduated OTS, I went to the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course (JASOC) for nine weeks. JASOC is broken up into three sections: civil law, criminal law and operations law. The criminal law section is the biggest chunk of the course. We were trained in the intricacies of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, we learned about the military rules of evidence and we learned how to conduct a court martial. And before you ask, yes there was some truth, and yes, IT GOT HANDLED. We also learned a bit about operations law. “Ops law,” broadly speaking, is concerned with the laws that the United States and her armed forces follow when we are overseas. This can involve anything from combat operations to airmen getting DUIs in a foreign country. Cool stuff.
Most interesting to me, though, was the civil law arena; which put me in the clear minority among my classmates. Most people who joined the JAG corps did so to be litigators; more specifically, criminal litigators. Personally, I’ll let them have that stuff. They can have the drug possession and petty larceny cases (oooooooh, LSD and stolen iPods!). Because I am more than a little weird, I got more geared up when I was learning about how the military deals with estate planning.
Now, as you can imagine, the military has some very special concerns when it comes to will drafting and estate planning. Demographically speaking, the military has a much different client base. Most airmen and families that have their wills drafted are significantly younger than the population at large. The Air Force also deploys people. A lot. When we send people overseas for extended periods of time, we have to worry about what will happen with their family while they are gone; we also have to think about the consequences if something should happen to them while deployed. There were a lot of valuable lessons to take away from my training. And what are those lessons? So glad you asked.
1) Courts suck at figuring out what you want; get it in writing. Air Force base legal offices bend over backwards before big unit deployments in making sure that airmen have the requisite documents in place prior to heading overseas. And, trust me, it isn’t because the Department of Defense likes doing airmen needless favors. We make sure that documents are in place because family situations are complex; when it comes to property or dependents, we want to make sure that the courts here stateside know what it is an airman will want done with their kids or their property if something should happen to them. If we take care of our airmen’s concerns and worries about protecting their families, they can focus on the mission. It’s as simple as that.
2) People can change quicker than Clark Kent in a phone booth. Many problems in the family law and estate planning realm of the military community arise from a change in heart. Often, airmen will leave for a deployment thinking that their home life will be well taken care of. They have given powers of attorney or custodial rights to people that they trust, and they deploy ready to focus solely on their mission. But, as we all know, family and friends can sometimes disappoint. Occasionally, this takes the form of a spouse taking off with kids, or a family member abusing their powers of attorney. Messy stuff. This is why it is important to create checks and balances in these powerful family care and estate planning documents. You guys should love and trust your families. It’s
important. But, I’ve also learned that we lawyers shouldn’t share that same trust of your families (I’ve heard stories!). Let us be the jaded malcontents you don’t want to talk to at parties. It’s better that way.
3) The JAG community houses some of the sharpest lawyers I have ever met. The military term for these individuals is “high-speed.” I’m extremely proud to be part of the JAG community, and I look forward to many years of service in these ranks.
It is awesome to be back in Minnesota among my Midwestern folk, and I look forward to getting back to work helping the families here with their estate planning needs.
The blog gets some recognition by the MSBA. Awesome.
Just wanted to pass along some firm news to everyone. In the near future, I will be departing to sunny Montgomery, Alabama for Commissioned Officer Training, immediately followed by the Air Force’s Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course. While this is surely an exciting and valuable opportunity for me, it also means that I will be closing the doors on my firm until this spring.
I will be available to respond to emails and questions occasionally, but generally speaking, I will be busy doing things like PT, ironing uniforms and learning the UCMJ frontwards and backwards. If you have any estate planning needs, I would really enjoy the opportunity to work with you when I return. In the meantime, let’s all watch the greatest basic training scene in the history of cinema…..
Take care everyone!
Around Halloween last week, there were a bunch of old horror movies on AMC. Friday the 13th (and its sequels II-∞), Evil Dead 2, and Cabin Fever peppered the airwaves all day. Since I have kids, I was forced to watch “The Great Pumpkin” a hundred times instead of these great slasher flicks. But from what I remember, there seemed to be a pretty consistent theme with a lot of these horror movies: they all involved unwitting teenagers holed up in a cabin in the woods, awaiting their imminent demise. I have no idea why so many horror movies use this sub-genre and take place in cabins or in the woods. I’m sure some film expert could explain it to me, but then they would quickly try to convince me that Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever and I would stop listening. Because Citizen Kane is really boring.
Back to my point. We Minnesotans are different in how we think about cabins. We never associate bad things like Jason Voorhees or the Blair Witch with our Up-North or out of state cabins, because we strictly think of them as the most wonderful of places. People here are crazy-bananas about cabins. Minnesotans will endure 6 hours of traffic every weekend just to get up to the Whitefish chain. We fish, we relax, we come back reeking of bonfire and summer. And we absolutely love it.
But there are times when cabin situations can get a little spooky (you see how I tied that in?). Joel Mullen, a local expert on cabin trusts writes:
[Owners] want the cabin to continue as a family asset where their kids can continue to enjoy it with their own kids. Unfortunately, without the proper arrangements, instead of bringing the family together as intended, the family cabin can tear a family apart after the parents are gone.
Parents often have illusions about how well their kids will comport themselves when they share property with other family members. There are often disagreements about if and when to sell a property, how to manage it, when they can use it, etc. Cabins are a lot of work, and you can’t just assume that your family will figure out how to manage it on their own when you aren’t around.
There are several ways to help a family keep, manage and enjoy their property all while maintaining family sanity. With careful planning, I can help you:
- establish who can have ownership in the cabin;
- insulate the property from potential divorce proceedings;
- lay out the terms of selling one’s ownership in the property;
- shielding the property from liability (think: guests, beer, and jet skis);
- lay out an agreement on how the property will be managed (how will future owners fix a broken septic system? And don’t say with their noses plugged…)
Cabins are a wonderful place for families. But often, the drama and tension that comes with co-ownership of an expensive property can make your kids act just like they did when they were teenagers. And we all know what happens to teenagers in cabins, don’t we, Jason???????????
Jason totally agrees.
jet ski: http://flic.kr/p/3QgPKH
Well, you can imagine how pumped I was when I saw this movie trailer for a new Rom-Com with Katherine Heigl and the guy from the Transformers movies. The trailer mentioned something about a will and guardianship provisions in it, so I had to go see it, right? Unfortunately, my firm has a strict “No-Horrible-Movies” policy (note the rottentomatoes score), so I had to skip it last weekend. But wikipedia is just as good right?
So here comes your lazy review of a movie about some fictional couple’s wills…
After a disastrous first date, all they have in common are their mutual dislike and their love for their shared goddaughter, Sophie. However, after a devastating car accident leaves them as the one-year-old Sophie’s legal guardians, they try to put their differences aside, since they are advised to both move into Sophie’s home, to minimize her need for adjustment to the new situation.
Without going into a protracted explanation of how bad an idea it is to name two people that don’t know each other–let alone hate eachother–as joint guardians of your kid, I will just say this: don’t do that.
They struggle to learn how to care for Sophie and to get along with each other. Holly develops a relationship with a doctor named Sam (whom Messer nicknames “Doctor Love”)
Oh, man, this movie sounds terrible.
Their lives begin to smooth out until Holly must leave Sophie with Messer while she covers an important catering job – the same night that he is given the opportunity to direct a big basketball game. When Messer loses his focus due to Sophie’s constant crying, he returns home to argue with Holly and leave on his motorcycle. Later he comes back and makes amends with Holly.
Ah, the classic take off on your motorcycle bit. You know this is a movie because Messer has a motorcycle and a kid. It’s actually a rule that you hand over your motorcycle keys when you have your first kid. There’s a jar that you put them in at the hospital and everything.
Soon Messer is offered a director job in Phoenix, Arizona, and since this has been his career goal for several years, he seriously considers making the move – but does not discuss it with Holly. Holly learns of the probable move at a neighborhood block party; she is upset and basically orders him to go to Phoenix.
I wonder if they make up before the end of the movie?
When Thanksgiving rolls around, Messer returns to Atlanta, hoping to patch things up with Holly, but he finds her apparently happy in her relationship with “Doctor Love”. He and Holly exchange heated words (which, however, include his I love you)
Something tells me Doctor Love isn’t the one for Holly…
When their CPS caseworker shows up for the last appointment to see if they are fit parents for Sophie, Holly realises that she cannot take care of Sophie without him and drives…
Please, oh please, let their be an airport scene at the end…
…to the airport…
… with the caseworker, who rushes with her through the airport. Holly finds that the flight has departed and returns to the house disappointed, where to her surprise, she finds Messer. They kiss and the film ends with them still together as a family on Sophie’s 2nd birthday.
Oh, that was sort of painful. But saving you from terrible movies is just one of the many services that I offer at my law firm. The overall lesson in all of this, as you can see, is that if you don’t have a properly drawn up will, your children may be subjected to horrible hollywood cliches.
photo link: http://flic.kr/p/4Q8kcq
I was able to sit down with a reporter from Minnesota Lawyer last week to talk about blogging (or “blawging” as some lawyers like to call it). It was a great experience, so I thought I would link the story here:
Photo link: http://flic.kr/p/4xVw4h
When people are bored at a party, they will sometimes ask about what is happening with the Estate Tax in 2010 and 2011. And man oh man, do they regret asking me that when I start talking.
The estate tax, as you may have heard, is on ice this year. That’s why when George Steinbrenner and a few other billionaires died this year, there was quite a bit of coverage on the news about how their estates may have gotten off scot-free. Well, maybe they did and maybe they didn’t.
It is true that the estates probably won’t pay any estate tax on the transfer of assets this year, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the assets won’t be saddled with capital-gains taxes. And there is also no guarantee that future legislation won’t reach back for the 2010 transfers; though that does seem unlikely.
For many of you, the changes leading up to this haven’t affected you in any way. However, with the way that the legislation currently stands, you might have some cause for concern. Unless Congress acts, the estate tax will affect all individual estates over 1 million dollars in 2011. One miiiiiilllllllion dollars.
If that legislation doesn’t change before next year, a lot more people will be affected by the estate tax than in years past. And those that aren’t affected by the estate tax may be affected by changes in the capital-gains tax. CNN Money has a good breakdown here, where they point out that:
“Unless Congress acts, the estate tax will be back next year and no more than $1 million of a person’s estate would be exempt from it. That’s well below the $3.5 million exemption in place last year. And the top estate tax rate would be 55%, up from 45% in effect last year.”
55% of anything over 1 million dollars. That’s the kind of taxation that inspires people to make poorly worded picket signs.
So what is the good news in all of this? The good news is that most experts believe that the estate tax mess will be resolved before the 2011 changes take hold. The bad news is that we have to depend on Congress to fix it.
In the meantime, what can you do? The short answer is: speak to an estate planner (that’s me!). Because even if you don’t have the kind of assets that will trigger the federal estate tax in the coming years, you may have enough assets to trigger your particular state’s estate tax. And if you don’t have those assets now, you may in the future. And remember, calling me won’t cost you anything; not doing anything could cost you a lot.
For the IRS Frequently Asked Questions on the 2010 Estate Tax, visit here.
My family and I recently went on vacation to Florida. It was a blast. But like all parents who take small children on airplanes, I wondered at one point: “couldn’t we have just left the kids with someone (anyone) back home?” Then one of my kids spilled juice on me and I quickly forgot what I was thinking about.
Parents often leave children at home while they go on vacation for various reasons. But they seldom take the steps that they need to when leaving town without their kids. Most of us have heard the song and seen the awesomely nineties video, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” We know what happens when you leave children to their own devices while you are on vacation. So when you go on vacation, we know that we need to leave our kids with temporary guardians. This is smart. But what most people don’t do is sign a “Delegation of Parental Authority” before they leave. This is because most vacationers don’t know what it is or why they need it. Read on, fair travelers.
When you and the other child’s parent signs the Delegation of Parental Authority, you are authorizing someone back home to temporarily care for your child. You are legally authorizing them to provide a home for them and make schooling or medical decisions for them. This form is doubly important if something happens to you or the child’s other parent while you are on vacation. If something happened on vacation and you became incapacitated, this document would help ensure that your child would be properly cared for on a temporary basis until you were able to return.
The Delegation of Parental Authority is only temporary, though. A DPA doesn’t name a Guardian in the event that something more permanent happened to you and the child’s other parent. Naming someone to care for your child on a long-term basis means appointing a Guardian. You can only nominate a guardian in your will. You have a will don’t you? The other thing that a DPA can’t do is make sure that your children don’t throw parties at your house or take your new Porsche for a little spin while you are out of town. For that, the only remedy is to send them to live with their Auntie and Uncle in Bel-Air.
If you want additional information on the subject, Maggie Green has a nice write up on why parents need a will and a Delegation of Authority in place before you leave town here.