Estate Planning for the Never Married

Married couples and parents usually have an easy time determining who will inherit their assets. An increasing number of Americans are faced with the situation of passing away without either spouses or children in place. In an article published last year, the New York Times reported that it is wiser for unmarried individuals to make the difficult choice of deciding to whom their estates will go rather than allowing them to go to distant relatives that they barely know. According to the Pew Research Center, statistics reveal that 20% of adults age 25 and older in 2012 had never married, which is an increase from 9% in 1960. Meanwhile, the number of women age 40 to 44 who have no children has increased from 10 % in 1976 to 15% in 2014. This article will discuss some essential advice for unmarried individuals during estate planning:

  • Explain Your Decisions: To prevent adverse legal actions and to ensure that your exact plans are carried out, it is wise and helpful to provide an explanation of your decisions. This type of overly thorough explanation is particularly helpful in cases where there is an unequal distribution of assets to persons with reasonably similar relationships to the testator of a will.
  • Need: Need is a potential good factor to decide how much to give a beneficiary.
  • Regularly Review Your Estate Plan: Individuals who are not married and do not have children should review estate plans at regular intervals to identify areas in which changes to the estate plan are desired. They might include third parties that they were close to at one time but lose touch with over time. In other situations, the financial circumstances of a beneficiary might change, which could signify a need to rewrite an estate plan so that individuals who are in greater need are awarded greater amounts.
  • Understand the Decisions Often Made By Others in Similar Situations: In similar situations, individuals who pass away at younger ages tend to select longtime companions, nieces and nephews, siblings, parents, and friends as beneficiaries. Older individuals who pass away in similar situations tend to select charities.
  • Use Clear and Concise Terms: Individuals without spouses or children must be definitive and clear about who should receive what parts of their estates. When there is not a clearly specified order, the state usually makes strict decisions regarding genealogical rules of inheritance. These types of decisions also tend to take an extended amount of time.

If you are unmarried, crafting an estate plan can be a difficult exercise, so do not hesitate to contact a knowledgeable and seasoned California estate planning lawyer today.

Bringing a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against a Hit-and-Run DUI Driver

Imagine that you are enjoying a quiet Monday evening in Pacific Beach. The sun is setting, the breeze is warm and light, and you are strolling peacefully down the sidewalk. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, a car crashes into you, breaking your bones, traumatizing you, and entirely upending your life. Then, to add insult to very serious injury, the driver, instead of apologizing, offering to help, and be held accountable for injuring you, attempts to flee the scene.

This nightmare scenario actually happened in Pacific Beach this month. The pedestrian was a 23-year old man just minding his own business. The driver was a 26-year old woman traveling with a 3-year old child in the back seat, and was arrested on suspicion of DUI, hit and run, and endangering a child after causing a second accident – a collision with a parked car – shortly after the initial incident. Shocking as the whole account may be, it really happened. What you need to know is what to do if something like it happens to you. Step 1 is getting to the hospital for treatment of your injuries. Step 2 is contacting a skilled and experienced San Diego personal injury attorney to seek compensation for your medical bills, lost income due to missed work, pain and suffering, and other losses.

A Personal Injury Lawsuit is a Civil Claim For Damages

The DUI, hit and run, and child endangerment suspect described in the nightmarish account above will face two kinds of liability: Criminal and Civil. The state California hates drinking and driving, and punishes it harshly. That is the case even when no one is hurt or endangered. When an injury or fatality results from drinking and driving, or when a minor or child is endangered, the criminal actions are prosecuted as a felony rather than a misdemeanor, and punishments stemming from conviction increase dramatically. This is all just on the criminal side of the justice system. On the civil side, the DUI, hit and run, and child endangerment suspect is looking at a personal injury lawsuit for damages from the pedestrian  This person – the pedestrian – suffered a broken leg and pelvis. These are very serious injuries that require substantial medical treatment and recovery time. 

During the treatment and recovery time, the victim may not be able to work, and thus lose much-needed income. In addition, there is the severe emotional trauma that results from being violently struck by a vehicle while walking down the sidewalk. All of these wrongs caused by the allegedly drunk driver are termed “damages” by the law. A personal injury lawsuit seeks to recover these damages, in the form of financial compensation, from the party responsible for causing them. If you have been injured by the careless, reckless, or intentionally wrongful acts of another, contact a skilled and experienced California personal injury attorney to bring a personal injury lawsuit to recover financial compensation for the damages you have suffered.

San Diego Wrong-Way Car Crash Wrongful Death Claims

Late year in San Diego more than a dozen drivers and passengers died in car crashes caused by a driver driving the wrong way down the city’s freeways. The tragedies have shaken the San Diego community, leaving loved ones in anguish. To lose someone in an automobile accident is difficult enough. To know that their last moments involved the sight of another vehicle traveling in the wrong directions towards them at high speeds is, if possible, even more difficult – and disturbing. For families, along with the grief and loss, there is the effect of the loss of income and financial support provided by the loved one. While nothing can replace a loved one lost in a wrong-way car crash, a wrongful death lawsuit can bring compensation for present and financial losses – compensation that can make a substantial difference in life after loss. If you have lost a loved one in wrong-way or other automobile accident, contact a dedicated and experienced San Diego wrongful death attorney.

Why are So Many Wrong-Way Crashes Occurring on San Diego’s Freeways?

Why on earth are so many fatal wrong-way crashes happening on San Diego’s freeways?  Based on Caltrans, the state agency in charge of highway, bridge, and rail transportation, planning, construction, and maintenance, making recent efforts to improve freeway off-ramp signs, it stands to reason that the poor quality, visibility, or content of the signs have played a role – causing some drivers to be confused about the right direction to drive in. To reduce confusion and, most importantly, further injuries and fatalities, Caltrans is increasing the size of off-ramp signs, as well as including flashing lights in an effort to reduce the number of drivers who mistakenly attempt to enter the freeway on off-ramps (as opposed to on-ramps). This is all well and good for the state and its drivers, but what about for individuals and families who have lost a loved one to a wrong-way wrongful death on San Diego’s freeways?

A Wrongful Death Claim May Result in Compensation for the Loss of a Loved One

If your loved one was killed in a wrong-way car crash, you may be able to bring a wrongful death claim for damages against the party or parties responsible. Wrongful death law is a subset of negligence law. Negligence is the breach of a duty owed that results in damages. Damages in the wrongful death context are many, and include medical bills for treatment prior to death, funeral and burial expenses, loss of income and financial support, loss of love and consortium, and more. In a wrong-way fatality, the negligence can take multiple forms. If your loved one was killed as a result of another driver wrongly entering an off-ramp, the negligence is likely attributable to the other driver and the state. If your loved one was killed as a result of inadequate traffic signs leading them to attempt to enter the freeway via an off-ramp, the negligence is possibly attributable to the state of California. For either scenario, contact a skilled and experienced California wrongful death attorney.

Bringing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in the Wake of a Murder in California

Losing a loved one to murder is perhaps the most difficult thing one can be forced to go through in life. The future transforms from clear and bright to dark and unknowable when a loved one is taken. Shock, grief, anguish, anger, sense of loss – these emotions come first. At some point, whether early on or with the passage of time, there emerges a deep need for justice. Under California law, there are two avenues for seeking justice, criminal and civil. The criminal justice system punishes wrongdoers for unlawful acts. The civil justice system affords victims and survivors the opportunity to seek justice from wrongdoers in the form of financial compensation.  The purpose of this article is to familiarize victims and survivors with broad strokes of how justice is dispensed in each system. If you have lost a loved one to murder, contact an experienced California attorney about filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The State Prosecutes Murder in California

In California, the state itself prosecutes individuals charged with murder. There is no need to independently hire an attorney to prosecute murder in the criminal justice system. The state has criminalized murder and works aggressively to convict and punish individuals guilty of this most heinous crime. To convict, the state must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. A killing is unlawful when it is not justified – by self-defense, for example. A killing is committed with malice aforethought when it is done with one of four types of specific intent:

  • Intent to kill
  • Intent to inflict serious bodily harm
  • Reckless disregard of an unjustifiably high risk to human life
  • Felony murder rule (a killing that occurs during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.)  

If the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of any one of these four types of intent in conjunction with unlawful killing of a human being, a conviction for murder is proper.

An Attorney Litigates a Wrongful Death Claim in California’s Civil Justice System

While the state prosecutes murder in the criminal justice system, it is an attorney who litigates a wrongful death claim in California’s civil justice system. While conviction in a criminal court will send a murderer to prison for many years, it will not result in financial restitution to survivors. To seek compensation for the lost future income a loved one was to provide, in addition to medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of love and affection, and other losses, you must file a wrongful death claim in California’s civil justice system. While the burden of proof in the criminal context is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it is the lower “by a preponderance of evidence” standard in the civil context. If you have lost a loved one to murder, contact a dedicated and experienced California wrongful death attorney.

Understanding What Constitutes a “Serious” or “Violent” Felony Under California’s Three Strikes Law

If you already have a prior felony conviction in the state of California, and are charged with a second, third, or subsequent felony, it matters greatly if one or more of the felonies are regarded as “serious” or “violent” in the eyes of the law. This is because California has a “Three Strikes” law that applies to the sentencing of repeat felony offenders. Under the current incarnation of the law, conviction of three or more serious or violent felonies in the state is grounds for the imposition of a 25-years-to-life prison sentence. This rule, though still harsh, is a softening of the law in its pre-2012 form. Because of the reforms, certain individuals who are currently serving a lengthy prison sentence under the old law may be eligible for a sentence reduction. The purpose of this article is to explain what constitutes a violent or serious felony under California law. If you have been charged with a crime in California, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. For you future freedom, it is imperative that you mount the strongest possible defense of the charges against you.

“Serious” or “Violent” Felonies are “Strikes” Under California’s Three Strikes Law

California Penal Code Sections 1192.7c and 667.5c outline what constitutes a “serious” or “violent” felony in the state of California. As common sense dictates, crimes like murder and rape rise to the level of both “serious” and “violent.” Other “strike” felonies codified by statute include felonies in which the defendant personally brought about great bodily injury on the victim, felonies in which the defendant personally used a firearm, and felonies subject to the state’s “gang enhancement” sentencing law. The inclusion of these types of crimes on the “strike” list is hardly controversial. Other offenses on the list, however, are less obvious “strike” candidates.  Take for example, robbery and residential burglary.  When these crimes involve violence or cause great bodily injury to victims, it is no-brainer that they should be counted as “serious” and thereby as strikes.  But what about when burglary or robbery does not involve violence, or occurs when the residents of a home are not even present? Here, the law makes no distinction; these felonies are deemed “serious” just the same.

Drug Crimes are Among the Most Impacted by Reforms to California’s Three Strikes Law

Drug crimes, such as possession of a controlled substance, reflect an interesting and somewhat complex grey area in the reformed version of the state’s Three Strikes Law. Under the 2012 version of the law, for a drug-related third or subsequent felony offense to justify a 25-years-to-life mandatory sentence, the offense must included more than mere possession.  Specifically, the drug offense must involve possession for sale, transportation, or manufacturing. In such instances, the maximum penalty is proper.

If you have been charged with a second, third, or subsequent felony in the state of California, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest defense possible of the charges against you.

Defending Against Gang Crimes Charges in California

California imposes strict punishments on gang-related crimes. If you have been charged with a gang crime, it is imperative that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

Both California and Federal Law Punish Gang Crimes Harshly

In the United States, there are two bodies of law – State and Federal. With regards to gang crimes, both California (state) and federal law impose strict penalties. This is because both bodies of law allow for sentencing “enhancements.” An “enhancement” is an increase. An enhanced punishment may be ordered by a court for a gang crime conviction even if you are not officially a member of a gang. Committing a crime on behalf of a gang or as an attempt to become a member of gang is enough.

On the state level, the law that provides for sentencing enhancement for gang crimes in California is Penal Code 186.22 PC. Under this law, anyone who commits a felony crime to benefit a gang is subject to an enhanced prison sentence. Importantly, the concept of “benefit” requires specific intent. Specific intent is a legal doctrine that pertains to state of mind. In other words, to be guilty of committing a crime for the benefit of a gang, you must intend to promote, further, or aid in the gang’s criminal activities. If specific intent is proven in court, an enhanced sentence is proper under California law.

On the federal level, the law that provides for sentencing enhancement for gang crimes in California and the other 49 states is 18 USC 521 – the Criminal Street Gangs law. The federal Criminal Street Gangs statute authorizes a penalty enhancement of as many as 10 years for gang members who commit crimes in furtherance of the criminal activities of a gang, or simply to maintain or improve his or her place in the gang. The enhancement is not merely an extension of the penalty for the underlying crime, but an additional punishment. For example, if a gang member commits the felony of armed robbery, he or she will be punished both for the felony and for committing the felony to further the gang’s activities. As you can see from both the state and federal laws, gang-related crimes are punished extremely harshly in the U.S.

An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Defend You Against Gang Crime Charges in California

With enhanced punishment meted out for conviction of gang crimes in California, you need an experienced California criminal defense attorney to protect your legal rights and defend against the charges levied by state and/or federal law. To convict you of a gang crime, the prosecutor must prove that you committed the underlying crime, that you were a member of a gang, that the gang actually meets the criteria of a recognized criminal gang, and that you committed the underlying crime in furtherance of the gang’s activities. An experienced California criminal defense attorney will explore all avenues of reasonable doubt and work to protect your rights.

Defending Against Voluntary Manslaughter Charges in California

It is not always the case that murder charges result when one human being kills another. The reason for this is because the law sometimes factors in intent when determining the criminal charges to be levied against a defendant. The purpose of this article is to explain the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the state of California, it is imperative that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. With the state’s prosecutor making every effort to prove each element of the charges against you, an experienced attorney is needed to protect your legal rights.

Voluntary Manslaughter is a Lesser Charge to Murder

Murder is the most serious charge that the state can bring against a defendant accused of killing another human being. The legal definition of murder is “the killing of a human being by another human being with malice aforethought.” This definition is one of the oldest in the law, dating all the way back to the common law era in England. To the layperson, the words that jump out are “malice aforethought.” What this antiquated language, sometimes termed “mens rea,” means in modern terms is “specific intent.” Specific intent can be understood as “state of mind.” To bring it all together, a murder charge is only appropriate when there is probable cause that the defendant acted with a certain type of intent in allegedly killing the victim.  

There are, specifically, four types of “malice aforethought”:

  • Intent to Kill
  • Intent to Commit Grievous Bodily Harm
  • Depraved Heart
  • Felony Murder

Voluntary Manslaughter does not reflect any of these four types of “malice aforethought.” Its applicability is rather narrow. A charge of voluntary manslaughter is only appropriate when a human being kills another human being during a sudden dispute or in the “heat of passion.” The classic example that brings this abstract legal terminology home is the scenario in which a spouse comes home to find his or her spouse in bed with another person and, in a sudden fit of rage, kills the both of them. Returning to the concept of state of mind, intent is clearly different in this scenario than the four types of malice aforethought. This is especially the case with regard to the duration of forming the mind state to kill. “Suddenness” is key – the being caught off guard and enraged by a most traumatic sight.

Penal Code 192(a) Governs Voluntary Manslaughter in California

In the state of California, the law that governs voluntary manslaughter is Penal Code 192(a).  Conviction of the crime will result in a term of three, six, or eleven years in one of California’s state prisons. With jail time a very real possibility, it is imperative that you entrust your legal defense to a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney. Protect your legal rights and contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Understanding the Insanity Defense in California

If you or a loved one have been charged the murder in the state of California and believe that you were not in your right mind at the time of the alleged incident, the legal defense of insanity may be available to you. The purpose of this article is to explain the insanity test used by the state of California. To protect your legal rights and understand the possible applicability of this defense to the charges against you, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

The M’Naughten Test

There are four insanity tests used in the courtrooms of the Unites States: 1

  • M’Naughten
  • Irresistible Impulse
  • Modal Penal Code
  • Durham

Each state is free to utilize the test it believes to be the most reliable and effective. The M’Naughten Test is the test that California applies when considering the validity of an invocation of the defense of insanity. The reason the insanity test is made available is a theoretically humane one – that you cannot be found guilty of a crime you committed if you were legally insane at the time of the commission of the crime. The rationale here goes to state of mind. To be guilty of the crime of murder, for example, you must have possessed either an intent to kill, an intent to commit serious bodily harm, a so-called “depraved heart,” or killed another human being during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.

Intent is synonymous with state of mind, and, with regard to murder, is often marked by the elements of deliberation and premeditation. These mental acts are considered to require a sane mind to truly reflect intent. After all, it is the ill intent that merits the harsh punishment meted out for a murder conviction. But what if a killing was the product of an insane mind – a mind that does not understand morality or the consequences of certain actions? This is where the M’Naughten Test comes in.

Under the M’Naughten Test, you are considered legally insane if you either did not understand the nature of a criminal act you committed or did not understand that your actions were morally wrong. If either prong of the test is met, you are considered legally insane and thus cannot be found guilty of the crime you have been charged with.

A Successful Insanity Defense Leads to Mental Health Care

If you are found legally insane under California’s M’Naughten Test, you will be sent to a state mental hospital instead of prison. To invoke the insanity defense, it is imperative that you rely on the skill and expertise of a California criminal defense attorney. Evidence will need to be presented, including that pertaining to your mental health history, and it must be proved by a preponderance of evidence. With your legal rights and future at stake, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney immediately.

Defending Against Embezzlement Charges in the State of California

Embezzlement is a surprisingly common crime in the state of California. People assume that embezzlement can only occur in a white-collar context. This is simply not true, as the elements for the criminal charge of embezzlement can be satisfied in many contexts and need not involve large sums of money. Embezzlement may be committed with property or cash. The purpose of this article to explain how California defines embezzlement and what the penalties are for the crime.  

If you have been charged with embezzlement, it is critical that you contact a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The state’s prosecutor will be working to prove every element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, you need a skilled attorney to defend your legal rights and explore every avenue of doubt.

California Penal Code 503 Criminalizes Embezzlement

Embezzlement is a fairly complicated crime involving several legal elements. Under California Penal Code 503, you may be charged with the crime of embezzlement if an owner of property (e.g. cash, personal property, real property) entrusted the property to you, did so because he or she trusted you, and you fraudulently converted or used the property for your own benefit while intending to deprive the owner of the property or its use. As you can see, embezzlement is a multi-layered crime. This means that the state’s prosecutor will have to put a lot of work in, as there are so many elements to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • First, there is entrustment. The state’s prosecutor will have to prove that the victim, whether directly or through a valid agent, entrusted you with the property in question.
  • Second, the prosecutor will have to prove that the victim trusted you. Common valid bases of trust include employer-employee and bailor-bailee relationship. The latter relationship involves a temporary transfer of possession of property (e.g. when you give the keys of your car to a valet to park it).  
  • Lastly, fraudulent conversion is synonymous with taking or using. The fraud aspect of fraudulent conversion is present when you seek to take unfair advantage of the property-entrusting person or intend to cause that person a loss by breaking his or her trust or intentionally failing to honor a duty.

Embezzlement Penalties Depend on the Value of the Property

The more embezzled, the greater the punishment is the most general rule with regard to penalties of an embezzlement conviction. Accordingly, the court will look to the nature and extent of the property in question. Smaller violations may be categorized as a misdemeanor rather than a more serious felony charge. Conviction for either, importantly, may result in jail time. For this reason – for your freedom – it is essential that you contact a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest possible defense against the state prosecutor’s efforts to obtain a conviction.

A Revocable Living Trust is an Estate Planning Fundamental in California

Busy already in the day-to-day, it can feel like there is no time to set aside for planning on behalf of our loved ones and charitable causes. With the help of an experienced California estate planning attorney, however, estate planning does not have to be overly complex or time-consuming. An attorney can help you select the estate planning tools that are best for your assets and intentions. One such tool is the revocable living trust. This article will introduce Californians to the benefits of this type of trust.

Estate planning is a part of wills and trusts law. In this field of law words carry especially deep significance. Accordingly, to understand the nature and function of a revocable living trust, one must understand the words “revocable,” “living,” and “trust.”

“Revocable” means capable of being canceled or changed. This word and its definition speak to something about the greater picture of what a revocable living trust is – that it is something in effect while its creator is still alive. This feature is unique because some estate planning instruments, such as wills, only take effect upon the death of the grantor (the founder, or creator, of the trust). So, at this stage, we know that a revocable living trust is something that can be canceled (revoked) and operates while the grantor is still living.  

The last word in the series of three,“trust,” is most important and far-ranging. A “trust” is at its roots a relationship between three people: the grantor, the beneficiary, and the trustee. In this relationship, the grantor gives property (e.g. money, real estate, personal property) to the trustee (a trusted friend or relative, frequently) to manage and hold in trust for the benefit of the beneficiary. The terms of the management of the trust property can vary. Sometimes, once the trust is created, the terms are set in stone. Other times, even once the trust has come into existence, the terms can be changed by the grantor. It is this flexibility that makes the trust “revocable.”

Now that you understand the nature of a revocable living trust, it is time to understand the function of the instrument. The reason revocable living trusts are a popular estate planning instrument in the state of California is because they help individuals maintain control over their assets while they are still living and dictate how they are distributed at death. Such control and management allows for a revocable living trust to substitute for a will. In addition, a revocable living trust is capable of reducing taxes and other costs associated with the management and distribution of one’s estate. Finally, revocability is akin to flexibility. Being able to change the trust’s terms allows one to more easily adjust to major life events such as marriage, divorce, and children.  If a revocable living trust sounds like it might be a wise estate planning instrument for you, reach out to a skilled and experienced California trusts attorney.

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