Phone: (507) 663-1211

It’s fair to say that most of us don’t want to pay any more tax than necessary. Did you know that it’s possible to owe taxes even after you die?  This “estate tax” is determined based on the amount of assets you  own at the time of death.  This includes your home and other real estate; stocks, pension or retirement accounts, collectibles, and any liquid assets such as bonds or money in bank accounts.  Once you include real estate, many people have assets over $1 million, and anything over $1 million in assets is subject to the estate tax.

There are some simple and inexpensive ways to minimize the amount of estate taxes that will be paid to the state and the federal government.  For example, many couples hold the title to most (if not all) of their assets jointly, meaning that they each maintain ownership of one-half of the asset.  However,  if  a couple divides their assets so that they each have sole title to approximately half each, this will enable each spouse to utilize his or her exemption from Minnesota (or federal as the case may be) estate taxes. [click to continue…]

Student loans and bankruptcy

by Lance Heisler

Question: How are student loans and herpes alike?
Answer: You can’t get rid of either one of them.

When I first began practicing law (more years ago than I care to remember) it was common for students to incur substantial debt by means of student loans, and then to discharge those loans in bankruptcy shortly after graduation, thus providing the student with a debt free start in his or her new life after school.

Several years ago, however, Congress determined that the discharge of these loans by students who received an education – and thus more earning power – by virtue of these school loans was an abuse of the bankruptcy process. Accordingly Congress enacted bankruptcy code provisions that specified that nearly all student loans would be non-dischargeable – meaning that these debts would survive the bankruptcy and could not be eliminated by the Debtor. [click to continue…]

Most people know that DUI laws have gotten a lot tougher in recent years. A fourth DUI can result in felony charges that will land the guilty driver in prison. Further, drivers suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol are required to take a chemical test, and can be charged with a crime if they fail to do so.

Perhaps the change with the most repercussions for the average person is the one in which the Minnesota legislature reduced the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration from .10 to .08 while driving or within two hours of driving. This means that some people who have consumed as few as two drinks may be over the legal limit and subject to a DUI charge. A person does not have to be drunk or even feel “tipsy” in order to be over the limit.

We wish you all a joyous New Year, and we hope everyone can celebrate this season with family and friends. But if your celebration involves driving, please monitor your alcohol consumption carefully. Consider volunteering to abstain from use of alcohol and be a designated driver for your friends. Don’t let your evening of celebration turn into an evening of tragedy.

If you or a friend or loved one has questions about our DUI laws, or needs experienced, effective representation, please  contact us.


Lawyers are people too

by Maren Swanson

Don’t believe all the lawyer jokes. I am proud that most lawyers are caring human beings who are concerned about their clients as people and not just about making a living.  And I am proud that the law sometimes does offer people a real remedy for injustice.

Two of my proudest and happiest professional accomplishments were avoiding litigation entirely in one case, and winning another case that was based on false allegations of child abuse:

  • Early in my career, I told a young wife who couldn’t deal with her husband’s alcoholism any longer, though she loved him, about a process called “intervention” which might be used to get him into treatment. I was delighted to hear from her a year later that she had organized an intervention, her husband had completed treatment, and their marriage was back on track.
  • Later, I represented a young father in a successful battle to win custody of his 3-year-old daughter after he was falsely accused of child abuse by the mother, as a tactic to get the child back after the mother had abandoned the child for over a year.

A few years ago I started practicing collaborative family law, an approach based on a commitment not to go to court, to be respectful and honest in settlement negotiations, and to cooperate in resolving issues to achieve the best possible result for both parties and their children.

These are just a few examples of the good that attorneys can do for their clients. I would be happy to speak with you about your legal needs. Contact us today to schedule a free half-hour consultation.

As helpful as the law can sometimes be to solve problems, I have come to believe that litigation and court-imposed solutions are rarely the best choice for divorcing couples.

At a recent gathering of family lawyers, we were asked to throw out words we associate with the litigation process in family law cases. The words included:  war, conflict, anxiety, fear, risk, distrust, dissatisfaction. There was not one positive or reassuring word suggested, even though we were not asked to focus on the negative.  As another option, I now offer my divorce clients a collaborative family law process.

In collaborative law, both parties:

  • commit to not going to court
  • work together with their collaborative attorneys—usually in 4-way conferences—until they reach a settlement that is truly acceptable to both of them
  • treat each other respectfully
  • establish and work toward mutual goals such as financial security for both parties and the healthiest possible outcome for children

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It is important to note that if you are divorced, and your divorce decree requires you to pay credit card debt  incurred by your former spouse during the marriage (including cards on which you are jointly liable with your former spouse),   you likely will not be able to discharge the obligation to your former spouse to make those payments on his or her behalf.

In other words,  if your former spouse is required make a payment on a credit card that your divorce decree required you to pay, you will be liable to reimburse your former spouse for any payments  he or she made on credit cards you were required to pay, even if you have listed that credit card debt in your bankruptcy petition.

If you have questions about how a divorce decree might impact your liability to pay credit card or other obligations,   call me at (507) 663-1211 or email me to schedule a free confidential appointment.

Domestic support obligations, which include alimony, spousal maintenance, and child support, are considered  priority claims under bankruptcy law. This means that if the debtor is making monthly payments under a Chapter 13 plan, the full monthly domestic support obligation must  be paid in full as part of the plan, including those payments that become due after the bankruptcy petition is filed.

It also means that under either a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy or a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, no part of the debtor’s domestic support obligations are discharged,  including the interest which has accrued on those obligations.  Domestic support obligations continue to be a priority even when they are assigned to a governmental unit (usually the county Human Services Department) for collection purposes.  Typically, only expenses incurred by the Bankruptcy trustee in the administration of the assets of the debtor are paid before payment is made of domestic support obligations.

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I frequently counsel with people who have a regular income, but simply cannot keep up with all of their monthly payments.  Fortunately, there is a provision in the bankruptcy law called Chapter 13, which allows people with regular monthly income to fashion their own affordable repayment plan.

Each month, the debtor makes one payment into the bankruptcy court in an amount that he or she can afford, and the court then distributes the payment fairly to each creditor.  Once the plan is approved by the court,  the plan will be put in place even if all the creditors don’t agree.

We have helped many clients put together workable, affordable  repayment plans that allow them to get out of debt,  and at the same time eliminate the stress of unwanted communications and legal actions brought by creditors and collection agencies.

We’d like to help you too.  Please contact us to schedule an appointment with me for a FREE initial consultation. During that first conference, I’ll discuss your situation with you in detail, and thoroughly explain your options. Don’t lose another night’s  sleep worrying about debt. Contact me now!

Nearly every day I speak with clients who tell me they postponed coming in to see me for months – and sometimes years! – because they were afraid they would lose everything in a bankruptcy action.

The good news is that most of my clients don’t lose anything in the bankruptcy process. This is because the law provides that many of your assets are exempt, and cannot be taken from you to satisfy your creditors’ claims.  Exempt assets which cannot be taken include your house, your car, your household goods and furniture, your computer, and, in most cases, all of your retirement funds.

If you are contemplating filing bankruptcy but are uncertain how it would affect the property you own, I can help. Contact me now to schedule a FREE confidential appointment.

In my last post I shared some ways to help you keep your legal costs down in a divorce. Here are a few more tips.

  • Do your homework. Your legal action is a joint endeavor between you and your lawyer. You will be asked to document your income, property, and debts. The more information – and the more organized information – you give your lawyer, the less of the lawyer’s time is needed to understand and use it.
  • Be truthful. Both parties to a divorce action have a legal duty to provide complete and accurate information about income, property, and debts. Give your lawyer complete and accurate information early in the process. This will save your lawyer’s time now and will avoid the time and complexity of correcting misinformation later. It will also keep you in good standing with the judge – you don’t want to appear to have been untruthful in one instance and raise the doubt that you are generally untruthful, perhaps turning the judge against you.
  • Don’t waste time and money trying to punish your spouse. You may want to punish your spouse via the divorce. You can probably find a lawyer who is willing to spend his or her time and your money trying to help you do that. But in the end the court will be looking for a fair financial settlement and a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children, not retribution against either party. So if you spend your money trying to punish your spouse, the only punishment you will receive will be loss of financial resources – your spouse’s and your own.

Let me help you navigate your divorce at the lowest possible cost. Contact us today to schedule a free half-hour consultation.