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What is Marital Property in North Carolina?

What is Marital Property in North Carolina?

What is Marital Property in North Carolina? Before 1981, our state had traditional title ownership. This meant that the assets would be awarded to the person in whose name they were owned if a couple divorced. If the house or vehicle was in the husband’s name, for example, the wife received no share of the value for it. Reform: Equitable Distribution Some states have what they call community property. Instead, we use a process known as Equitable Distribution to divide marital property. After a particularly harsh result in a 1979 case that demanded reform, an equitable distribution statute was created, NC Gen. Stat. §50-20. Title ownership was fairly straight forward, but the newer process has lots or grey area. Instead of strictly using the law to simply look at the name on the deed or car title, the statute requires judges to divide property fairly (i.e., equitably) between spouses. When the court decides property is marital, it is given to (i.e., distributed to) one spouse or the other, even if his or her name is not on the title or other ownership title. Equity gives the judge discretion to award assets as he or she sees fit, so long as it is within the terms of the law. The law requires judges to divide marital property equally unless one uses his or her discretion to do otherwise when there are special reasons. Marital Property Definition Marital property includes land and personal property that is acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage but before they separate. It must also be owned at the time they separate. If it meets these requirements, the property is legally presumed to be marital. In other words, if a spouse wants to show that property is his or her separate property, he or she must prove it is separate property. To beat the legal assumption that it is marital property, he or she must prove the property was acquired before they married, after they separated, or acquired by a spouse by devise (property transferred by a will) or by descent (property inherited upon death). What Counts as Property? The current statute includes just about everything with a dollar sign on it, and a few things that don’t have any real value, such as photo albums, or even a negative value such as an overdrawn bank account. Other examples you might not think of include cemetery property,...

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Life or Death Decisions: Healthcare Powers of Attorney

Life or Death Decisions: Healthcare Powers of Attorney

Life or Death Decisions: Healthcare Powers of Attorney By Amy A. Edwards Using a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA), you may designate an agent to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. You must be legally competent to sign the HCPOA, but it remains in effect even if you later become legally incompetent. When is the HCPOA Triggered? The HCPOA becomes effective when an adult “lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate decisions relating to [his or her] health care.” [1] You can choose the physician(s) that you trust to determine whether you are unable to make or communicate your healthcare decisions. The Agent’s Authority Your Health Care Agent makes decisions based on what you direct in your HCPOA. The default is to allow your agent to make any and all medical decisions for you. But it is your job to set any limits, restrictions, requirements or special conditions. Like any fiduciary, a trusted person given the ability to act on someone’s behalf, the agent must act in good faith when carrying out your instructions. Setting Limits in Your HCPOA General Health Care Decisions. Choose whether your agent has access to your medical records, can hire and fire medical providers, and the right to place you in, or release you from, a hospital or other facility, such as assisted living or nursing home. Mental Health Care. Authorize or prevent certain mental health treatment, such as psychoactive medications or shock treatment. Consider whether the agent can admit you to, or keep you in, a mental health facility, and if so, your preferred facility. The state can always keep you in a facility based on civil commitment laws, for example danger to yourself or others. Life Prolonging Measures. This is your right to a natural death. [2] Choose whether to allow or withhold life prolonging measures, such as a mechanical ventilator, artificial nutrition (i.e., feeding tube) or artificial hydration. Most people want “reasonable steps to keep me as clean, comfortable, and free of pain as possible so that my dignity is maintained, even though this care may hasten my death.” You can say that some/no life prolonging measures will be given in the following situations, described in that statute: An incurable or irreversible condition that will result in your death within a relatively short period of time; or You become unconscious and, to a high degree of medical certainty, will never regain consciousness; or You suffer from advanced dementia or...

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New: Links For Senior Citizen Resources

New: Links For Senior Citizen Resources

Links For Senior Citizen Resources Great Overview Sites: Good starting point and overview is the Senior Citizens Handbook: Laws and Programs Affecting Senior Citizens in NC (The Young Lawyers Division of the NC Bar Association)  See also the National Caregivers Library Other Good Sites: • AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)  • See our law firm Pinterest board for caregiving • Tips For Extended or Frequent Hospital Visits • Eldercare Directory of Federal Gov’t Programs for Seniors, including reverse mortgages • Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIP) for NC • Social Security Medicare Benefits • Social Security Retirement Benefits • Library of Congress Resources for Senior Citizens and Their Families • Pitt County Council on Aging Services – and Pitt County “Resource Guide For Older Adults“ • NC Department of Justice: Help for ID theft • NC Dept. of Aging and Adult Services Assistance (scroll to the bottom)...

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Digital Privacy: Does Your Separation Agreement Have It?

Digital Privacy: Does Your Separation Agreement Have It?

Digital Privacy: Does Your Separation Agreement Have It? When negotiating an agreement about your divorce, you think of dividing assets like the cars and the house. But people don’t always think about their digital property and privacy. There probably aren’t lots of “boiler plate” paragraphs in separation agreements but you should ask your attorney to address it. What is Digital Privacy? My definition of digital privacy in divorce cases includes your ability to exercise sole exclusive use and ownership of your personal data, be it by key keypad, smart phone or computer. While there are legitimate and lawful purposes for using each other’s personal data, such as applying for social security benefits or filing tax returns, there are many other uses your ex might want to make of your data, even if it is just being nosey. Protected Information A good separation agreement should define what type of information should be protected. Your ex should be required to maintain the confidentiality of your personal data, such as financial records, legal affairs, medical records (including any substance abuse or mental health records), employment, records, and military or school records. Social security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, passport numbers, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, or any other similar identifying information should be held in confidence. Require other identifying information like your online account numbers and passwords, ATM transactions, your credit report, personal identification numbers (PINs), and info for online shopping web sites such as Pay Pal or Amazon to remain confidential. Posting or other sharing embarrassing and/or sexually explicit or sexually suggestive material should likewise be prohibited. Access and Security of Digital Data  By the time you’ve shared a child or a marriage, you can probably guess each other’s passwords or PIN numbers. Your first plan of attack is to change your passwords and other barriers to access. Get a copy of your credit report and close accounts you no longer use. In the agreement, list examples of what is considered a violation. The most common examples are accessing the other party’s Facebook or other social media account, accessing his or her phone, text or voice mail messages, and e-mail messages. Public Embarrassment and Humiliation  The law related to social media and what can or cannot be used or posted is constantly evolving, as is the technology we use. It can be difficult to determine what is, or is not, acceptable because these issues implicate Constitutional freedom of speech and the definition of what is a crime. There are thousands of situations that could...

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The Top Five Reasons a Divorce Matters in North Carolina

The Top Five Reasons a Divorce Matters in North Carolina

The Top Five Reasons a Divorce Matters in North Carolina By Amy A. Edwards In North Carolina, a spouse can file a claim for divorce only a separation of at least twelve months. Besides the ability to allow someone to remarry, a divorce is important for a number of reasons. This article isn’t legal advice, and it does not cover all of the reasons. But it highlights a few examples of why someone who is served with a complaint absolutely needs to contact a lawyer immediately. Reason #1 – Marital Property Married people who separate can file a claim for equitable distribution, asking the court to divide marital property equally (instead of just relying on which name is on the title or deed). Our state creates a deadline for filing those claims, and the clock starts ticking when a divorce complaint is filed. Failure to properly file for marital property division within the correct time period means it is permanently lost. Reason #2 – Health Insurance Family plans that cover both spouses and any children change the moment a divorce decree is entered. As of that moment, a spouse is no longer “related” for purposes of a family plan because they are no longer a family member. Children of the person who provides health insurance remain on a family plan after a divorce. Reason #3 – Estate Rights Inheritance rights between spouses are completely different from those of non-spouses. This is a very complicated area of the law that can be related to whether a claim for marital property. Examples of potential rights upon the death of a spouse include an allowance of money, the right to a share of the assets if there is no will, and the right to contests a will. Designation as a spouse or former spouse can involve Social Security benefits, military benefits and other survivor’s benefits. Reason #4 – Liens Against the House Married people are sometimes protected from creditors if only one of them created a debt in his or her sole name. For example, the innocent spouse who did not sign a credit card application is usually, but not always, protected from money judgments that would otherwise become a lien against the marital residence. The moment the innocent spouse becomes an ex-spouse, this can trigger a lien against the property even if the debt (such as credit card debt) is not...

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Living With Your Lover? Better Get it in Writing

Living With Your Lover? Better Get it in Writing

Living With Your Lover? Better Get it in Writing By Amy A. Edwards When people marry, the law gives them numerous rights and obligations. But what happens if you aren’t married? The law treats the relationship differently, even if you have children together. If two people in a relationship purchase a home together, each might assume that having both names on the deed protects them if they later separate. But, that can create more questions than answers. This article is about joint home ownership by unmarried people in North Carolina, and includes information to discuss with an attorney before signing the offer to purchase property.  What Are the Problems? There are more than you might think. Below is a list of four main topics: ownership, finances, the relationship between you and the other co-owner, and estate planning matters, followed by potential ways to avoid these problems. Ownership Even if both parties are named in the deed, the type of ownership (and the various rights of each type of ownership) depends completely on how the deed is written. How should it be written? Do you want survivorship if the other party dies before you do? Do you want to have each person leave their share of ownership to their heirs? Are you considering a life estate? Your property rights are different if you marry before or after you buy the property in joint names. In fact, to accomplish certain ownership rights, parties must deed the property they already owned before marriage back to themselves after they marry.   Unmarried co-owners have an inconvenient method to divide or sell the property if they separate and can’t agree on what to do. They file a lawsuit called a “partition” that requires the court to appoint three commissioners, paid by the co-owners, who meet on the premises and report to the court how they think it should be divided. NC Gen. Stat. §46. Finances Who is responsible for paying the mortgage, taxes and insurance? Is there any protection for one co-owner if the other is sued and a judgment for money owed becomes a lien on the property, such as a small claims case which might have an 8% interest rate? Should one or both owners sign the promissory note for the mortgage? Is there a home equity line of credit? Can it be “frozen” until you figure out what to do? Who pays...

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