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Ask an Attorney: Adding Children to a Property

I want to add a child to my property.  How do I do that?

Very often, parents desire to add their children to title on their house.  The thought process (usually) is that it will keep the house out of probate and will allow for an ease of transfer where they want the child (or children) to receive the house when they die anyway.

This is a valid consideration.  Any property that goes through the probate process can be attached by unsecured creditors, who can potentially force the sale of the property to satisfy those claims.  The probate process can also delay the transfer of title until the claim period (typically six months from the date of death) ends.

However, there are multiple ways in which multiple people can hold title to real property and pass real property to heirs outside of the probate process.  There is joint tenancy.  There is a life estate without powers.  There is a life estate with powers.  All of these various methods have different implications in terms of the rights the parents retain in the home, and in some cases, their ability to “undo” the transfer.  They all have differing tax implications as well, most notably as is pertains to capital gains.

There can be various reasons that families would prefer one method over another, but it is prudent to consult with a real estate or estate planning attorney to determine which is best for you.  Thankfully, at Hillman, Brown and Darrow, we have several of those ready to assist you.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors- Or Do They?

Out in the country farmers do not put their fences on their property lines, because most farm fences surround pastures, and farmers prefer to walk around the outside of their fences, and not inside their pastures. And in the country it is easier to identify who installed the fence.

The provenance or ownership of the fence is important, because in order to claim that a fence line has become a property line through adverse possession, the adverse claimant has to prove that he or she installed the fence to mark the boundary of their property.

Things are different in the city. In a City like Annapolis, many fences have been in place for many decades, so fences often are assumed to be property lines.

Possession is nine points of the law. In olden times, in order to win a property case the claimant had to prove and win 12 points of law, and possession was 9 out of 12. So if a person has possessed land to a fence line for more than 20 years in Maryland, oftentimes that possession will become title ownership, unless the owner of the fence and the disputed strip of land can prove that the fence was built where it was for a reason and not to mark a boundary line.

This means that it is very important to know exactly where your boundary lines are. Don’t assume that a fence line is the boundary line. Spend the money to protect your property rights and get a field located boundary survey and have your corner points set with survey marker pipes. Your House Location Survey used for settlements should not be used to establish boundary lines, and that is clearly stated on the survey. Allowing your neighbor’s fence to encroach on your lot for more than 20 years may result in a loss of part of your lot.

If you are dealing with a property or real estate issue, one of our Annapolis attorneys can assist you in discerning your rights. Call our Annapolis law firm at (410) 263-3131.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask An Attorney: Workers’ Comp

If you are a business owner with employees and business is a little slow, is it ok to hold off obtaining or paying that bill for workers’ compensation insurance?

No!  Even if you are not a high risk business or have good safety practices, job related injuries to employees happen and can have devastating effects on your business and you personally.   Injured workers of uninsured employers may be eligible to have their lost wages, medical bills and other benefits paid by a state agency.  The state will seek reimbursement from the uninsured employer however, including fines and penalties. Under certain circumstances, being a corporation or an LLC will not protect you from individual liability.  Furthermore, the process often involves one or more hearings before the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission.

When you are insured, your insurance company will provide you with legal representation.  If you are an uninsured employer, however, and a claim is filed against you and/or your business, you need to hire your own legal counsel.  A workers’ compensation claim can be complex and requires an understanding of the law and how Maryland applies it. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is necessary to help you minimize your exposure. The attorneys at Hillman, Brown & Darrow P.A. have representing injured workers for over 30 years and have also represented uninsured employers before the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission.  Do not hesitate to contact one of our Annapolis attorneys if you find yourself in this predicament.

Posted in: HBD Law News

July Insurance Changes

There is a new auto insurance law in Maryland as of July 1st that all Maryland residents should be aware of. Maryland Annotated Code Insurance Section 19-509.1 states that Enhanced Underinsured Motorist (EUIM) coverage can be added to new auto policies issued in Maryland as of 7/1/18. EUIM coverage will provide better protection to any occupant of a vehicle insured in Maryland when injured due to an at fault driver who is underinsured. You might be able to also add EUIM coverage on existing Maryland auto policies as of 7/1/18, depending on your auto insurance carrier.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Co-Tenancy Agreement

My significant other and I are unmarried but want to purchase or lease a home together.  What happens if we separate?

Today, many couples live and own or lease property together before getting married. While most couples hope their relationship will last, in the unfortunate event that it does not, couples should consider entering into a co-tenancy agreement with their significant other before purchasing or leasing any property together. A co-tenancy agreement can define each person’s rights and can cover issues such as the payment of mortgage and utility payments, repairs, pets, guests and so on. It can also address issues of how to divide up other types of property if the relationship doesn’t work out.  Before leasing or purchasing a home, parties should have a clear written understanding of all of their rights and obligations. A well-drafted agreement could save many dollars in the future. Contact one of our Annapolis Attorneys today to learn more.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Special Needs Trust

I have a family member/ friend with special needs. What can I do to protect their financial interests and ensure their future?

Ensuring loved ones are taken care of after reaching maturity is something many families must address. You want to ensure they are well taken care of, and still have their independence they need and deserve. There are many options, including special needs trusts, powers of attorney (financial and of property), and guardianships. Each option comes with pros and cons, and depending on their legal capacity and intellectual ability, our Annapolis attorneys want to make sure that everyone’s needs are addressed. We do not believe in a one plan fits all approach. Between now and August 1, 2018 HBD will donate 10% of fees collected when working with special needs clients to Gigi’s Playhouse of Annapolis.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: How to Avoid the Hassles of Litigation

I am looking to hire a subcontractor for a home renovation. How can I be sure I am hiring the right subcontractor so that I am avoiding the problems and possible litigation down the road?

Our Annapolis attorneys are virtually inundated on a regular basis with both homeowners and contractors who find themselves in disputes over renovation work performed on both homes and commercial properties.  Their disputes almost always arise as a result of the parties’ failures to fully flesh out in writing what is to be performed and how much is to be paid for that performance.

Both homeowners and contractors oftentimes “assume” that the other side knows what they want or forget to amend the contract when changes are made.  Do not fall into that trap.  Get a clear and precise contract, and if there are deviations or changes to that contract, always get modifications reduced to writing.  Your life will be a lot easier.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask An Attorney: Separation Advice

My spouse and I are separated with kids.  Things are amicable right now and I don’t want to rock the boat.  Do I need an attorney?

Both marriage and divorce are legal actions regulated by the State of Maryland.  The divorce process is not intended just to dissolve your marriage, but to also resolve custody, property distribution and support issues as well.

Even in the most amicable situations, you will always benefit from the guidance of a family law attorney who can advise you on preparation of a separation agreement, filing an uncontested divorce, or requesting judicial relief on issues where there is no agreement.  Without a written agreement or court order, there is nothing protecting you in the event of a future disagreement or unexpected change in circumstances.  One of our family law attorneys can advise you on the best course of action for your goals and can help prepare you should something unexpected occur.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Renovations

I want to expand/renovate my home or office, where do I begin?

There are many steps necessary to prepare for an expansion. Before hiring a contractor you need to acquire an updated property survey. An experienced real estate attorney should review the plats to ensure you are in compliance with the county zoning requirements and all setback and critical area restrictions. If you violate these restrictions during your expansion, it can be very difficult and costly to correct the problem. When beginning your search for a Home Improvement Contractor, you should obtain multiple bids and have your attorney check each contractor’s MHIC licensing status. Upon hiring the contractor, ensure that a written contract is drawn up and executed, to protect all parties and help prevent surprises through the rest of your expansion. One of our Annapolis attorneys at Hillman, Brown & Darrow, P.A. can help you get started on your Spring projects today.

Posted in: HBD Law News

How do I pick the right attorney?

How do I pick the right attorney?

Hiring the right lawyer is one of the more important decisions you will make in your life.  They can help you protect your family, minimize your liability, make others accountable, get you good results in a divorce or custody matter and make sure your loved ones are taken care of after your death.

Some people pick lawyers like they buy airplane tickets; cheapest price and fastest route.  When you hire an attorney, learn who that attorney is, feel comfortable and check the attorney out.  See what prior clients think of the attorney and how they were treated.  While you may have anxiety in the process, you need an attorney who you can trust, lets you sleep better and someone who you believe will do the best for you.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Staying in Compliance With Your Local Alcoholic Beverage Laws This Holiday Season

With the Holidays in full swing and the New Year just around the corner, everyone has a lot on their plate. But whether your non-profit is hosting a holiday party, your restaurant is hosting a New Year’s Eve Party, or you are thinking of offering wine and beer at a fundraiser, it is important to always check with your Annapolis attorney to stay in compliance with your county or local alcoholic beverage laws.  If you are hosting a fundraiser at a local business, do you need a one-day liquor license? Have you ensured that you have requested your license well in advance of the deadline? Are you staying open later on New Year’s Eve and obtained any necessary permits or licenses, if applicable. Make sure that you can enjoy your Holiday season, and stay in compliance with your local alcoholic beverage laws. At Hillman, Brown & Darrow, our Annapolis attorneys are happy to help with any questions you may have when navigating the Alcoholic Beverage Article of the Maryland Code, or any other issue you may have this holiday season.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Evelyn Spurgin Recognized as Maryland Super Lawyer for 5th Year

The Super Lawyers distinction is based on a peer balloting process involving attorneys from across Maryland. Nominees are then systematically researched and evaluated using a complex, patented selection process. Hillman, Brown & Darrow now proudly has a third lawyer who has been recognized in recent years as one of the top 5% of attorneys in Maryland.

A crucial step to the selection process is a comprehensive research evaluation based on Super Lawyer’s “12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement”. Among these 12 indicators taken into consideration are: experience, client representation, verdicts and settlements and outstanding achievements as an attorney. With more than 30 years of experience, from clerking for the Honorable Elsbeth Bothe, to advocating for her clients as a fierce litigator, gaining her current reputation as a sought after appeals attorney in Annapolis, Evelyn’s list of qualifications reflect her commitment and dedication to excel in the courtroom.

Evelyn joined Hillman, Brown & Darrow in 1984, focusing on accidents, personal inury and workers’ compensation cases. Her compassion and ability to counsel her clients through difficult times helped her to broaden her focus area to family law. She is now a top family law and appeals attorney, taking on divorce cases as well as child custody and support cases. Celebrating 35 years with the firm next year, Evelyn still enjoys challenging work and meeting her clients’ needs with both a high knowledge of the law and compassion to counsel them through difficult periods in their lives.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Same Sex Marriage

My Partner and I were married in a state that allowed same sex marriage before it became legal in Maryland. Can I file for divorce in Maryland?

Yes, provided you meet the legal requirements for a divorce in Maryland. Married same-sex couples are treated no differently than married heterosexual couples in divorce and custody cases. If jurisdiction is available in two states, however, you need to determine which state is more beneficial to you. One of Hillman, Brown & Darrow’s Annapolis attorneys can help you navigate the best course for you. We can also help with other issues affected by the new law, such as inheritance, insurance and other benefits.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask An Attorney: Your Estate

My spouse just left me. How do I keep him/her from inheriting my estate?

A common reason people ask for wills is to disinherit their spouses when they separate. It’s a natural reaction, but not as easy as you might think. Separated isn’t Divorced. Even if you write your soon-to-be ex out of your will, he/she can renounce your will and instead elect to take half your estate (or a third if you have kids or grandkids) while married. This does not mean you should not make the will (or change beneficiaries). If you have no will and die before you’re divorced, your spouse could potentially get MUCH more. So you need planning and retitling of assets. If your spouse won’t waive the right of election, it is still preferable to create a will that limits his/her share to the minimum allowed, and hope you can live long enough to be officially single again. A lawyer can help you through these minefields.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Adoption

What is a “step-parent adoption”?

Adoptions come in all shapes and sizes. For example, there are international and agency adoptions, private adoptions and “family adoptions.”  Family adoptions are typically adoptions by someone who is related by Blood or Marriage.  This includes adoptions by a step parent.

Adoption law is one of the more satisfying areas of practice especially if it is a friendly adoption.  Judges are happy to preside over step-parent adoptions.  It is great to bring families together rather than litigating to break them apart.  The laws are very exact and the “i’s’ must be dotted and the “t’s” crossed.  It is essential that you have an experienced lawyer who understands the process.

Obtaining consent to a step-parent adoption is often the first step.  The State will not create a new legal parent, until the prior parent’s rights are terminated (unless the biological parent is deceased).  The spouse of the step-parent seeking to adopt will join the petition for adoption, and consent of the parent who will be terminating their parental rights is required for the adoption to be uncontested.  A step-parent adoption can add new depth and meaning to your family, but like any legal proceeding, things can become complicated quickly. In addition,  there are other ramifications  that must be considered before a petition for adoption is filed for and is completed.

Our lawyers at Hillman, Brown & Darrow can help navigate the process for you.  Give us a call.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask An Attorney: Should I appeal?

I was just involved in a hotly contested family law trial and I am not happy with what the judge did.  Should I appeal?

Family cases can be so difficult – they can involve what matters to us most, our families and our children in particular, plus complex financial issues.  If you were unable to resolve the issues and had a contested trial, chances are you are not happy with everything the judge did.  It is also likely you spent a lot of money on attorneys’ fees and costs!  The issue of whether to appeal a judge’s decision is also complex, however.

First there are strict time requirements therefore if you want to pursue an appeal, you should consult with your trial lawyer and/or an appellate lawyer as soon as possible.  In addition, appeals are costly so it is important to get an opinion from a lawyer who can give you an idea of whether it is worth your while or whether there could be other steps to take.  Generally, the appellate courts review whether the trial judge applied the law properly and will not retry the facts of the case. It is not easy to get an appellate court to reverse what the trial court did.  Family law cases involve so many different issues, however, that the appellate courts review the cases closely and will reverse either part or all of a case if the trial court has made a legal error.

The family law attorneys of Hillman, Brown and Darrow, P.A. not only handle all aspects of your case whether it is settled or tried, but are also experienced in appeals of family law cases, even if we were not involved in the trial.  If your lawyer does not handle appeals or you want a second opinion, feel free to contact us to review and develop a plan for addressing whether appealing your case makes sense or whether there are other post-trial steps that might be beneficial.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Collections

I got a judgment against someone. How do I collect it?

If you are forced to sue someone for money someone owes you, getting your judgment is just the first step in the process.  The judgment is just a piece of paper.  You then have to collect the money the judgment gives you the right to collect.  The law allows a number of different avenues to help you collect on your judgment.  First of all, you are allowed the opportunity to ask questions of the debtor, either face-to-face in court or in writing, to determine what assets they own.  In many instances, you are allowed to attach his or her bank account and force the bank to turn over funds belonging to the debtor.  In many instances, you are allowed to attach his or her wages and force the employer to withhold a portion of pay to the debtor and turn it over to you.  You are also, in some instances, allowed to seize personal or real property of the debtor and sell it to satisfy your judgment.  There are other, more complex ways to recover your money, but these are some of the most common.

All of these avenues involve the legal process and legal filings.  Further, debtors have certain rights and protections that must be honored, and certain exemptions against collection.  You can get into legal trouble for violating these rights and exemption.  All of this may seem complicated and time consuming (and it can be), but before you resort to the baseball bat, come talk to one of our Annapolis Attorneys and see what your options are.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Boundary Lines, Encroachments and Additions

 House Location Surveys contain this Surveyor’s Legend:

I hereby certify that I have located the improvements on the property known as ___ And the improvements are located as shown. This plat is not to be used for the purpose of establishing property lines.

The reality of this legend is that you should not rely on your house location survey for establishing property lines or constructing buildings or additions or expensive fences, because the mere location of improvements on a platted lot is not a guarantee of perfection of location and property lines.

House Location Surveys are often done shortly before a settlement as a quick “drive-by” with quick measurements to make sure that the house is located on the lot and that there are no visible encroachments. A prudent homeowner should always take a tape measure and verify locations in relation to lot corners or sideline that have been marked with stakes or other boundary markers. However owners should also know that stakes often get placed by owners and are not necessarily set correctly by surveyors.

In order to be certain of your boundaries if there are any encroachment issues a property owner should pay for a field measured boundary line survey and have corners marked with a surveyor’s registered survey marker.

Maryland recognizes a 20 year statute of limitations for removing encroachments or crossing paths. Once 20 years has passed, the burden shifts to the encroached upon owner to prove that the original encroachment was permissive. If the encroachment was provably permissive then the grantor of the permission has the right to revoke permission and require removal of the encroaching structure. This of course means that 20 years ago the neighbors knew that there was an encroachment and had an agreement. These agreements are always best documented with an easement recorded in the land records spelling out the terms of the agreement and rights to revoke and remove encroachments. Oftentimes the passage of 20 years causes lack of agreement and claims of rights that may not have been agreed to 20 years earlier.

Before spending large sums of money to design an addition or expensive fence or pool a property owner should definitely hire a licensed surveyor to measure exactly the front and rear and side line setbacks, and locate wells and septic systems and other improvements. If a major addition or improvement is contemplated, a detailed surveyed site plan with all setbacks and wells and septics labeled should be done before spending architectural fees on a building that does not fit on the lot.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Mediation: A Dispute Resolution Option Advanced by the Late Judge Howard Chasanow

Judge Howard S. Chasanow died  last month, the day before his 80th birthday.  He served as a District Court Judge (1971-77), a Circuit Court Judge (1977-1990) and on the Court of Appeals until 1999.  While he is remembered as a keen and fair jurist, he devoted the next 15 years of his life to mediating disputes.  Many legal experts credit him with creating modern mediation.

In its April 4th article on the Judge, The Washington Post quoted Judge Chasanow: “The phrase I hate most is ‘Good mediation is when both sides walk out equally unhappy,’  Judge Chasanow told the Daily Record of Baltimore in 2011. ‘A good mediation is when people walk out understanding they’ve reached a fair compromise.’”    A party may second guess a choice to settle or not settle in mediation, but the parties retain greater control over that outcome than if a judge decides the case..  Mediation can short cut the litigation process.  However, it is critical that your lawyer explains your rights, options and alternatives, and that you have all necessary information regarding your case before you mediate.  Preparing for mediation is just as important as preparing for trial.  If you and your attorney fail to prepare for mediation, then the process can not be successful FOR YOU.

Mediation is an opportunity to resolve a dispute that might otherwise consume the parties’ time, money and emotions.  Litigation and a trial can be an expensive method for resolving a dispute. While mediation is not binding (a mediator cannot rule against or for you) the goal is to create a binding and thorough contract that will finally resolve the dispute.  A mediator is an experienced neutral third party who meets with each side to explain the range of potential outcomes and encourages them to control the outcome through agreement.  A good  mediator is qualified, diligent and persuasive to both sides.

Mediation is not always the best option.  It takes two to tango.  Sometimes the parties are too far apart on issues.  Sometimes one party is being unreasonable.  Sometimes, people need their day in court to tell their story for the world to hear.  However, if your case is suitable for mediation, we recommend having a lawyer on your side  to protect each aspect of your case, your rights and correctly memorialize any agreement reached.  Thank you Judge Chasanow for a life well lived!

Posted in: HBD Law News

Help with Home Repairs and Modifications

Hillman Brown and Darrow’s attorneys are constantly being presented with problems that people deal with when they are having any kind of home-improvement or other construction done for them. The problem always reveals itself after the work has started because the clients have failed to undertake a very simple investigation into who they are contracting with. If you are going to have anybody do any work around your house it’s very easy now to check with the official state databases to see if the corporation exists or not, if it’s in good standing or not and if it actually is licensed. Before you want to enter into a contract make sure you do these simple steps. If you have any problems give us one of our Annapolis attorneys a call. It’s a lot cheaper to address the issue in the first instance rather than have to litigate it after the fact.

Posted in: HBD Law News

DWI FAQ

Being arrested and prosecuted for drunk driving is a daunting experience.  From the moment the lights and sirens go on until the charges are resolved in court and even afterwards, there are a series of important decisions to be made, decisions that could make a difference in the outcome.  This blog post addresses what happens when you are pulled over by police on suspicion of drunk driving.  In subsequent posts, we will discuss what happens at the police station, in court and at the MVA.

The police can stop a vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur.  What amounts to a reasonable suspicion depends on the circumstances.  The police might stop a vehicle for speeding, unsafe or erratic driving, a sobriety checkpoint or even something so innocuous as a defective taillight. So your best defense to a DWI is not to get behind the wheel after you have been drinking.

There is a large body of law on the legality of police stops.  If you are charged, you need an attorney who understands this area of the law and who can advise you on possible defenses.  It’s very important you consult the right attorney because if the stop was not legally justified, everything that flowed from it, including evidence of drunk driving, cannot be used against you in court.  Hillman, Brown & Darrow lawyers have reviewed and tried hundreds of these type of cases.

Once a vehicle is pulled over, the officer will make contact with the driver.  If the officer suspects the driver has been drinking alcohol, he or she will look for a sufficient basis to ask the driver to step out of the vehicle to perform “standard field sobriety exercises”.  Often, the officer will ask the driver if he or she has been drinking alcohol.  You don’t have to answer that question!   If you are stopped by police, you do not have to answer potentially incriminating questions.  If you do admit to drinking alcohol prior to driving, the State will use this against you in court.  If you actually have consumed alcohol, it might BE better to say nothing.  Always be respectful to the officer and simply say you would like to speak to your attorney before answering any questions.

Other “clues” officers look for include the smell of alcohol, bloodshot or red eyes and slurred speech.  If the officer observes any of these clues, the driver will be asked to step out and submit to the sobriety exercises on the side of the road.  These tests are supposed to help the officer determine if a driver’s coordination and balance are impaired by alcohol.  But, if the officer is asking you to take the tests, he probably already suspects you have been drinking and he is gathering evidence to use against you in court.  Did you know that drivers do not have to submit to these tests and may refuse them?  Understand that the officer can still arrest you even if you refuse to take field sobriety tests. The best course of action depends on the unique circumstances of each case.  You should always speak to your attorney about your specific situation as each case is unique.

The State spends considerable time and energy charging and prosecuting these offenses.   Officers are trained to gather evidence for the prosecutor to use in court.  The officer’s job is to get evidence, not explain options.  The officer does not have to tell a driver that he or she can refuse to answer incriminating questions or that participation in the sobriety exercises is voluntary.  People assume they have to take the tests. People think they can talk their way out of being arrested.  But the result is usually that they just incriminate themselves!  Remember, everything you say and do affects the outcome of your case.

The best defense is to never drink and drive (but did you know even if you are not actually driving they still could arrest you?) If the lights and sirens go on and you wind up facing charges, you must understand that the State will not have an experienced attorney waiting for you in court.  You need an experienced attorney to represent you.  You need someone who can review the case and help you understand and navigate the system.  The criminal and traffic defense attorneys at HBD, including Samuel J. Brown and Crighton A. Chase, are  your best allies when you are facing drink driving charges.  Call us today for a consult.

Watch for a future blog post regarding what happens after you are arrested.

Posted in: HBD Law News

New Laws in Effect: Drinking and Driving

Did you know that as of October 1, 2016, a Maryland driver who refuses to take a breath test for alcohol will either have to use an ignition interlock for nine months or have his or her license suspended for nine months? Also, anyone who is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for six months or be suspended for six months. These new laws are in effect now. If you have been charged by police with any sort of drinking and driving violation, you should talk to an attorney right away. One of our experienced attorneys at Hillman, Brown & Darrow can help you navigate a complicated traffic violation.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: MVA Expungement Part I

The judge found me not guilty of drinking and driving. How can the MVA still take my license?

You probably either refused to take the breath or blood test or your test result was .08 or greater. The MVA and the Court are separate agencies that have difference interests.One hearing does not relate to the other. So yes, the MVA can suspend your license even if you were found not guilty or received a PBJ in court. But, there are certain rules that must be followed before the MVA can take your license. You can request a hearing to challenge the suspension or have an ignition interlock installed, but you need to know which is better for you. Neither of these options are automatic and must be requested within a short time period after you are charged. Do not delay. Get help immediately if you find yourself in this predicament. One of our Annapolis attorneys can guide you through this process.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask an Attorney: Wills & Estates

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will?

Whenever prospective clients inquire about making a will, a chief concern of theirs, understandably, is cost.  Legal work can be expensive, even for what a prospective client might think is a “simple” matter, such as a “simple” will (if there is such a thing).  Some ask if they could create a will themselves, or, on occasion, ask about sites like LegalZoom, which provide basic form estate documents for minimal fees.

While it is advisable to use an attorney, whether someone could “get by” with a self-created will or one pulled off a website depends on the particular situation of the client.  In some limited situations, they work fine, and I have no problem telling clients that.  For most married couples, for clients with children (especially minor children), for clients that have unusual or complicated succession plans or significant wealth, self-created or form wills will almost never sufficiently address critical issues that may arise after death.

The estate attorneys at Hillman, Brown and Darrow are always here to discuss your needs and achieve the most cost-effective results for you.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Divorce Update

Getting a divorce can be complicated and time-consuming.  For some couples, however, a recent change in the law has simplified the process.  As of October 1, 2016 couples who have no minor children and who have reached a written agreement resolving alimony and property issues are able to obtain a divorce without a waiting period.  The agreement must be submitted to the court and both parties must appear.  Couple who fall under this category no longer have to wait a year after separation to get divorced.

While the process has been streamlined, divorce laws on alimony and property can still be daunting.  To ensure that your rights are protected, feel free to contact one of our experienced family law attorneys.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask An Attorney: Car Accident Concerns

I have been in a car accident – now what do I do?  What do I say to the insurance company that keeps calling?  What do I drive while my car is getting fixed?  How can I get more money for my car if it is totaled?  Who is going to pay my medical bills and lost wages?  What is PIP?

The lawyers at Hillman, Brown and Darrow, P.A. hear these concerns often and know how to help.

A car accident can be traumatic and the fallout hard to navigate, especially if you have been injured.  Hillman, Brown & Darrow, P.A. has been representing people injured in car accidents for over 35 years. Our Annapolis law firm can help you deal with the insurance companies while you focus on getting well.  We have a strong history of obtaining fair settlements for our clients or if necessary going to court to fight the insurance companies.  If you have a car accident, do not hesitate to call us – you will get personal representation from an experienced lawyer who can help you through this unexpected and often frightening occurrence.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Expunging Your Record Part II

Most people don’t realize that you can have a criminal or traffic record expunged, which means it is wiped from the records.  This is extremely important for job applications, future legal issues including other tickets, or criminal charges, or even divorce actions. In a prior blog we elaborated on expunging certain criminal records.  We now would like to acquaint you with the expungement process through the MVA.

If you have received a moving violation, and if you are willing to be patient, the MVA will take the points off of your record automatically after 3 years.  But the conviction will still show. Under certain conditions, and if you have not been convicted of other moving violations or your license has not been suspended, on application by you, after specified time periods, the MVA can wipe your record clean.

There are certain criteria that must be met to expunge your record. Those criteria are set out in the Maryland Transportation Article and allow you to do it yourself.  But if you need some help or don’t understand the process a knowledgeable attorney at Hillman, Brown & Darrow can assist you in discerning your rights and completing the paper work for a reasonable fee. Call our Annapolis law firm at (410) 263-3131 today for more information.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Use Versus Possession and Squatter’s Rights

Everyone has heard the term “squatter’s rights”, but what does this term really mean? There are two real estate issues at play here: “Adverse Possession” and “Prescriptive Use (Easement)”.

A “prescriptive easement” becomes a legally protected right of use when someone has used property by prescription, meaning “actual, open, notorious, hostile, under claim of right and without permission, and continuous for more than 20 years”. Adverse possession confers legal title and ownership on someone who adversely possesses property, “adversely” meaning “actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, under claim of title or ownership, and continuous or uninterrupted.”

The important distinction between the two are the terms “exclusively” and “under claim of title or ownership” and “uninterruptedly”. A “squatter” who occupies property “actually, openly, notoriously, exclusively, hostilely” typically becomes that way by erecting improvements like fences or other obvious boundaries which make obvious the person’s claim of ownership. If the true owner of the property does not do anything to stop the “squatter” then the passage of 20 years bars the true owner from evicting the squatter. The squatter can then go to court to obtain a decree of title after 20 years. A prescriptive easement on the other hand does not involve exclusive possession. Prescriptive easements arise when someone uses property or crosses property for 20 years. The use or crossing does not have to occur continuously and uninterruptedly on a daily basis, but if too long a period of time lapses between the times of use then the true owner’s rights will not be lost. But the use or crossing must be “actual open and notorious” meaning that the repetitive use of the property results in tracks or paths that are visible to the owner, and the property has to be in the open and not “out in the woods” where nobody goes.

Both Adverse Possession and Prescriptive Easement are defeated if the owner of the property can prove that the possession or use were permissive. But the burden of proof on permission rests affirmatively on the owner, so property owners should never “sleep on their rights” for 20 years, and should take affirmative steps in court to terminate the possession or use long before the 20 year period runs.

Never think you know for sure the law in any area of controversy. The law is always open to interpretation based upon the particular facts and circumstances, and often involves mixed questions of law and fact that require a decision by a judge. Always consult with an attorney and do not relay on arcane terms like “squatter’s rights”.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Your Estate Planning Checklist: The Maryland Estate Tax Exemption

There was big news in the state legislature this past session affecting many more Marylanders than some would imagine. The legislature voted to, over a five year period, increase the amount of a person’s estate that is exempt from Maryland estate taxation from its current level of $1 million dollars to the federal level of about $5.9 million. For quite a long time, Maryland “coupled” its estate tax exemption levels to the federal level, so that they remained the same. However, several years ago, when the federal exemption level began to increase from $1 million to $5 million, Maryland chose to stay where it was. This left a swath of people that were no longer subject to federal estate taxation, but who still had to deal with Maryland estate taxation.

Maryland’s estate tax rate (the highest rate is 16%) is not the whopper that the federal rate is (the highest rate is now 40%), but there are more people that are subject to the tax than one might think. If you told many people that they were a “millionaire,” they would laugh. But if you own a home that you have paid off, if you have a 401(k) and/or an IRA, if you have a life insurance policy, there is a decent chance that when you pool all of that together, more passes upon your death than you might think. Just because you do not have a million dollars sitting in a bank account for discretionary use does not mean you do not have a million dollars of assets.

For a number of reasons, the legislature has elected to give Marylanders a break. Starting in 2015, the individual state estate tax exemption will increase to $1.5 million, then $2 million, $3 million, $4 million, up to the federal level in 2019, which is projected to be at about $5.9 million. So while Marylanders are not out of the woods yet, as the first increase does not kick in until next year and does not reach the federal level for five years, the number of Marylanders that will be affected by the tax should dwindle considerably. In the meantime, and for those that are affected by the tax in any event, an estate planning attorney from our Annapolis law firm can provide you with advice on the many ways that your heirs can minimize the “sticker shock” upon your death.

Posted in: HBD Law News

Ask An Attorney: Family Law & Your Will

If I die before my divorce is final I do not want my spouse to have custody of our children nor access to my estate. What should I do?

When children are in your life, everything changes. Until your divorce is final, and without a written agreement in the interim, under Maryland law your spouse can still be an heir. You should immediately have your will reviewed or drafted to remove your spouse as an heir and to specifically disinherit your spouse. However you should know that your spouse has an absolute right to claim a statutory forced spousal share of one third of your estate if you die before your divorce decree is signed and docketed and final.

You may appoint a guardian for your children in your will other than your spouse. However, appointment of a guardian for your children in your will is not binding on a court, and the surviving parent of the children will continue to be the parent of the children and will most likely have custody unless there has been a judicial decision that the surviving parent is not a fit and proper person to have custody. Even then your appointment of a guardian in your will is not binding on the court.

Regarding money and property, your will should protect and preserve your assets and appoint a Trustee to hold your estate for the benefit of your children. The trust in your will should be written so that your spouse can not have access to the trust funds which should be controlled by your trustee.

You should make plans for guardianship of your children and their school, medical and personal needs. You need to plan in advance and consider the worst! You will not be there to help your children- you need to protect them now and plan for their future well-being while you can. Contact our Annapolis law firm to discuss your options with one of our experienced attorneys today.

Posted in: HBD Law News