Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I think everyone should use a qualified lawyer for every legal decision in their lives, without exception.

The idea of my dear readers walking through their day without an attorney there to point out all of the little legal potholes of life is terrifying!

However, I started this blog because I know lawyers are expensive (law school is expensive, malpractice insurance is expensive, running an office is expensive, mandatory continuing legal eduction is expensive) and you need, you deserve inexpensive access to law. (I also think you deserve inexpensive access to medicine but, really, what do I know, I’m just some liberal from California who should probably be charging more for her services.)

Friday, July 26, 2013


You find the words “per stirpes” in a paragraph that goes something like this, “I leave my grand piano to my dearest cousin Herbie Jazz. If Herbie doesn’t survive me then to his decedents per stripes.”  “Per stirpes” is a Latin word meaning to take “by representation” or “by class.”

Basically, if the named beneficiary (Herbie) dies before the testator (the person who’s Will it is), then all of the living people who are closest in relationship to Herbie, basically his children, will take “by representation” what their deceased parent would have taken, and if any of those children pre-decease the testator, their children will take by representation what their deceased parent would have taken and so it goes down the line.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Can I get help paying for someone to take care of me?

(Please note:  This is a California specific post.)

Yes, you can if you qualify.  In California, there is a program called “In-Home Supportive Services” for people with low income who need help paying for a personal assistant in their homes.

In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) provide people with low-income who are blind, disabled, or 65 years old or older with personal assistance and other services so they can live safely in their homes.  (Notice that I highlighted “blind” and “disabled,” that is because in public benefits world everything must be exactly defined — clicking on the links should give you the definitions.)  

Saturday, July 20, 2013


In the most simplest terms, probate is a court-supervised process for transferring a deceased person’s assets to the beneficiaries listed in his or her will. Typically, the executor named in your will would start the process after your death by filing a petition in court and seeking appointment. Your executor would then take charge of your assets, pay your debts and, after receiving court approval, distribute the rest of your estate to your beneficiaries. If you were to die intestate (that is, without a will), a relative or other interested person could start the process. In such an instance, the court would appoint an administrator to handle your estate. “Personal representative" is another term used to describe the administrator or executor appointed to handle an estate.

Simpler procedures are available for transferring property to a spouse or for handling very small estates.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


So, you’re standing on the ledge, looking down into the abyss before you, and it occurs to you that the guy who just strapped you into your bungie-jumping harness may have made you sign a waiver of liability for a reason. Or maybe you’re a parent and you’re signing your precious child, the one you changed your whole life around for, the most important thing in your world, up for soccer camp. But, first you have to sign, first you have to accept that if anything terrible happens it’s nobody’s fault but your own because you chose to participate.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


That wasn’t the question that I was asked. I was asked, “What should my business policy be on service dogs?” but I can read between the lines. What she meant was: “what should I do if the dog poops or bites?” But, as long as we’re using nice terms like “policy” I will start there:

While you should train your staff on the laws around service animals, you don’t need to post a policy or make any effort to inform your customers of a policy. In fact, you should avoid anything that treats any one customer (abled or disabled) differently from other customers.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


No. A registered domestic partner is definitely not the same as a legal spouse for all purposes.

A registered domestic partnership is the California name for a civil union of two same-sex people (or two opposite sex people if one person is over the age of 62). Registered domestic partners have all the same rights and obligations that married people have under state law (basically you have to share your stuff and take care of each other) and, until recently, it was the only option for gay and lesbian couples.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


More and more people are becoming interested in using bitcoins for transactions (and, no, not just people trading in illegal goods). For those of you who are scratching your head right now, bitcoins are a form of digital currency.   Basically, you buy them online and then use them to conduct business. Bitcoin enthusiasts are very excited about them because you don’t need a bank or other money trader (and their fees) to exchange them. It’s part of the “cut-the-big-banks-out” revolution that is, understandably, very popular right now. Drug and arms dealers love them because they also don’t like using banks (with those sticky rules about having to use an ID to open an account) and some online black markets have switched over to using bitcoins exclusively.

Does signing on an iPad count as a legal signature?

With technology changing at such a rapid pace, the question of what makes for a valid signature is really getting interesting. If you can sign a little screen at the grocery store then can you sign a contract on your iPad? In a word: yes.

In most states, if a court finds that your signature was intended by you to be valid it really doesn’t matter what form it took (e-signature, a scribbled “x”, a signature that someone signed on your behalf with your permission). This is because signatures in our country are generally judged on the signatory’s intention when she signed rather than the modality of the signature. It is also related to the fact that in the U.S. many types of agreements do not technically require any writing at all to be valid (but see here for my post on what types of contracts do need to be in writing and why the rest of them should be).

There are two major exceptions to this rather lackadaisical approach to signatures. The first is by agreement: people and businesses can contract to accept certain methods of signatures in their business relations. You could, for example contract to only accept “wet” signatures that are handwritten with a pen or to accept faxed signatures as originals. Because of this freedom to agree about what constitutes a valid signature, the many different companies you interact with may have different rules that you agreed to (I know you read every riveting page of that agreement with Visa you signed when you got your credit card).

The second major exception to the general rule of “it’s valid because it was meant to be valid,” is when a specific statute in your state says that certain types of agreements or documents have to have a witnessed, acknowledged, sworn under penalty of perjury, and/or wet signature. In many states, for example, the signature on a will must be witnessed by two people. The signature doesn’t have to be fancy, with certain exceptions an X will do, and the person (called a “Testator”) doesn’t even have to write the signature themselves (though, unless there is a Court order, they must at least be directing the writer to sign on their behalf), but two witnesses must witness someone actually signing and rules are rules— the signature isn’t valid otherwise.

But can the Testator and her witnesses sign on the a iPad? Funny you should ask. (Well, you didn’t really ask, but far be it from me to let truth get in the way when I’m attempting a pithy segue.) Recently, in Ohio, a judge ruled that a will written on a Samsung Galaxy tablet computer, because no paper was available, was valid. I don’t know of a similar ruling anywhere in California, but it’s bound to happen if it hasn’t already, as electronic signatures are becoming the norm in every other aspect of our lives. For now though, I would stick with a wet signature for such an important document.

For more information on what constitutes a valid electronic signature see the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act. Here are the cliff notes: under UETA, the term means “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.” If that sounds pretty broad, it is. Also, just to save you the research time, I will let you know that is the same definition adopted by the U.S. ESign Act of 2000, which has been adopted in every state except New York, Washington State, and Illinois (and each of those states have their own electronic signatures statute). So, yeah, basically if you signed the contract on an iPad, you’re stuck with it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


So you and your best bud came up with a fantastic mousetrap that will blow the competition out of the water.  There are stars in your eyes, there is a fire in your belly and, for the moment, you are thrilled at the way your best friend’s talents complement yours.  Sound familiar?  It is familiar if you’ve ever been in love.  And just like love, business partnerships start out with the biggest hopes, the strongest ideals and a rosy-hewed generosity between the parties that, well, you just never see again.  Okay, that was harsh.  I will amend that to say that it is rare to find two people who can sustain that level of expansiveness throughout the duration of a relationship.  If you form a for or non profit corporation you will have a board of directors to help arbitrate, mediate, etc. in case of a disagreement, but in a simple partnership you are one your own.  So do yourself a favor and take advantage of all that good will to put a solid partnership agreement in place.

Monday, July 1, 2013


You are not sitting with this question alone. In these difficult times hundreds of thousands of Americans have seen their retirement nest eggs crash in value. Younger adults have time to reconfigure and recover before they will need those funds, but many retirees are scrambling to come up with money to pay the bills today. For those seniors who own their homes, the reverse mortgage is worth considering.

A reverse mortgage allows you, if you are 62 or older, to receive cash advances based on the equity in your home. This means a lump sum, monthly payments, or a line of credit depending on the terms of your loan. Generally, they are set up so you do not pay anything back until you sell your home, transfer title, leave your home for an extended period, move out or die.
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