Law Firm of Gregory A Ross, PC

August 22, 2012

The 3 Most Important Documents Every Parent Should Have for Their College-Bound Teenagers


Back to School is an exciting time for those parents who have children about to go to college for the first time (or returning to college).

•But did you know that once your child turns 18, your rights as a parent end?
•Did you know you do not have the right to look at their grades or talk to their doctors if there is a medical issue?

What’s that you say? But, I’m paying their bills for college (or their health insurance), why shouldn’t I have the right to look at their records or speak to someone about them? Well, the fact of the matter is, once a child turns 18, they become an adult and parents lose their rights.

So, what can you do about this?

You can make sure that your child signs a Durable Power of Attorney (which will allow you to deal with their finances, school records, etc.) a Medical Power of Attorney and a HIPAA Release (which will allow you access to their medical records and the right to talk to their doctors) BEFORE they go away to college. Then make sure you supply their school and their treating physicians with copies of these documents so that, if there is an emergency, the right people have the documentation in place to know that they can legally talk to you.

For more information about estate planning documents for your college-bound teen in Texas, please contact the Law Office of Gregory A. Ross, PC today.

For over 20 years, Gregory Ross has been serving the legal needs of North Texas area families. Mr. Ross is licensed in both State and Federal Courts. It is his mission in the practice of law to protect, honor and educate his clients. He advocates on behalf of his clients in the areas of Adoptions, Bankruptcy, Foreclosures, and Mental Health Commitments. He also provides clients with comprehensive estate planning including wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, and gives his clients peace of mind. His blog is updated regularly about laws affecting, Adoptions, Bankruptcy, Estate Planning and Probate, Foreclosures, and Mental Health Commitments.

June 1, 2011

Federal Estate Tax

Filed under: Family Law,Financial Planning,Probate — Tags: , — gregoryrosspc @ 12:21 pm

The Estate Tax is a tax on your right to transfer property at your death. It consists of an accounting of everything you own or have certain interests in at the date of death. The fair market value of these items is used, not necessarily what you paid for them or what their values were when you acquired them. The total of all of these items is your “Gross Estate.” The includible property may consist of cash and securities, real estate, insurance, trusts, annuities, business interests and other assets.

Once you have accounted for the Gross Estate, certain deductions (and in special circumstances, reductions to value) are allowed in arriving at your “Taxable Estate.” These deductions may include mortgages and other debts, estate administration expenses, property that passes to surviving spouses and qualified charities. The value of some operating business interests or farms may be reduced for estates that qualify.

After the net amount is computed, the value of lifetime taxable gifts (beginning with gifts made in 1977) is added to this number and the tax is computed. The tax is then reduced by the available unified credit. Presently, the amount of this credit reduces the computed tax so that only total taxable estates and lifetime gifts that exceed $1,000,000 will actually have to pay tax. In its current form, the estate tax only affects the wealthiest 2 percent of all Americans.

Most relatively simple estates (cash, publicly traded securities, small amounts of other easily valued assets, and no special deductions or elections, or jointly held property) do not require the filing of an estate tax return. A filing is required for estates with combined gross assets and prior taxable gifts exceeding $1,500,000 in 2004 – 2005; $2,000,000 in 2006 – 2008; $3,500,000 for decedents dying in 2009; and $5,000,000 or more for decedent’s dying in 2010 or later (note: there are special rules for decedents dying in 2010.)

Exerpt from IRS article at: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=164871,00.html

March 24, 2011

Adoption Records in Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Cases

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Closed Adoption Records unit maintains adoption records for individuals who have been adopted through the Child Protective Services program. If Child Protective Services (CPS) or DFPS was involved in the adoption case, those records are kept by the agency. If an adoption was consummated through a private adoption placement agency, the records will be maintained either by that placement agency, or the Central Adoption Registry. If you are unsure of what agency placed you, please contact the Central Adoption Registry maintained by the Texas Department of State Health Services at 512-458-7388.

How Can I Get My Records?

In the State of Texas, adoption records are sealed by law. However, an adoptee can obtain a redacted copy of their adoption record. The redacted copy will have certain personal information deleted to ensure privacy of the involved individuals. In order to honor a request for closed adoption records the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services must have been involved in the placement and adoption of the adoptee.

To inquire if DFPS was involved in your adoption, please call 512-929-6675.

Agency case records of children and adults are only releasable to certain parties and not to the general public.

Depending on your relationship to a case, you may or may not be entitled to the information you are seeking. General guidelines for entitlement are provided by program below.

CPS records are confidential under Section 261.201(a) of the Texas Family Code. Most records will not be released unless there is a court order to release the records. Some individuals are entitled to a copy of the record or portions of the record without a court order, including the following:

• Parent or other legally responsible adult of the child who is the subject of the case,
• An adult who was, as a child, the subject of the case, including adoptions,
• A person alleged or designated to be the perpetrator in the case, or
• Other individuals identified under 40 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) 700.203.

DFPS must comply with all statutes and rules pertaining to confidentiality of CPS records.

February 25, 2011

Did You Know Past Due Child Support Can Keep You From Getting a Passport?

When someone owes child support of $2500 or more, they are put on a list that denies them the ability to obtain a passport. Once adequate arrangements are made for payment of the child support, they can be taken off the list. However, it can take several weeks before that happens.

You should contact the State Child Support Enforcement Agency in the state where you owe child support and make sure that they contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to inform them that acceptable arrangements for payment had been made.

HHS takes your name off the list of those who are in arrears of child support. They send notice to the Department of State Passport Services which enables you to apply for a passport.United States Passport

February 14, 2011

What is an Owelty Deed or Lien?

An owelty of partition is an instrument used to allow one co-owner of property to buy the interest of the other co-owners while using 100% of the interests as collateral for a loan to acquire the property.  Common examples are in the situation of divorces, probates and division of co-owned assets by people who are not partners.

In Texas there are limited ways to create an encumbrance (a lien or mortgage) against real property that is a person’s homestead.  The most common ways to create such an encumbrance are for purchase money loans, or for home improvements loans.  And while home equity loans are allowed in Texas, equity loans can be made only up to 80% of the value of the real property.  These restrictions come into play when a person tries to buy out a co-owner of real property, and finance that purchase through a Lender.  While a purchase money lien or mortgage would attach to the interest being purchased, it would not attach to the interest the person already owns.  Most lenders would not want to loan money and accept a mortgage against anything other than 100% of the property.

That is where the owelty deed or owelty lien comes into play.  In 1995, the Texas Constitution was amended to specifically designate an owelty of partition as one of the permitted encumbrances on a Texas homestead.  For an owelty of partition to properly be ordered, the owners must be co-tenants.  If the court vests title in one party and divests the other, they are no longer co-tenants and no owelty of partition can be ordered.  A court-imposed lien does not extend to the interest already owned by the acquiring party.  Only an owelty lien can reach that interest.

If you have any questions about owelty of partition, or jointly owned real property, call the Law Office of Gregory A. Ross, PC at 940-692-7800, or email us at info@gregoryrosspc.com

January 23, 2011

Financial Peace University

“More than one million families have attended Financial Peace University with amazing results. On average, these families paid off $5,300 in debt and saved $2,700 in just the first 90 days! Stop worrying about money, and start your journey to Financial Peace today.”  Taken from Financial Peace University, http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/home/

Years ago I discovered Financial Peace University (FPU) and can honestly say it made a significant difference in my financial life.  While I sometimes stray from the ideas taught in this course, overall its teachings guide my financial planning.  I would encourage you to look into this program.  The instructor, Dave Ramsey, is entertaining as well as passionate about  FPU. The course teaches on the following subjects:

  • Super Saving – How and why to save money
  • Relation with Money – How to communicate with your partner about money
  • Cash Flow Planning – Developing a monthly budget that works
  • Dumping Debt – Tools to eliminate debt in your life
  • Credit Sharks in Suits – Credit scores and how to deal with debt collectors
  • Buyer Beware – Marketing and its effects on you
  • Clause and Effect – Understanding the world of insurance
  • That’s Not Good enough – Understanding the power of purchasing with cash
  • Of Mice and Mutual Funds – Understanding the jargon surrounding investing
  • From Fruition to Tuition – Retirement/college planning
  • Working in Your Strengths – Finding that right job
  • Real Estate and Mortgages – Understanding the largest investment most will make
  • The Great Misunderstanding – How generous giving can change your life

I have no connection with and make no money from this course.  I simply think it is the best course out there.  If you’ve ever struggled with finances, please consider Financial Peace University.

November 8, 2010

Gambling Addiction Resources

National gambling addiction hotlines:

National Council on Problem Gambling: 1-800-522-4700
Gamblers Anonymous: 1-888-424-3577

Online support:

Gamblers Anonymous: www.gamblersanonymous.org
Gam-Anon: www.gam-anon.org
National Council on Problem Gambling: www.ncpgambling.org
Women Helping Women: www.femalegamblers.info

Books:

Sojourner, Mary. She Bets Her Life

Anonymous. A Day at a Time: A Book of Daily Meditations for the Compulsive Gambler

Davis, Diane Rae. Taking Back Your Life

Gamblers Anonymous. Sharing Recovery Through Gamblers Anonymous (a.k.a. The Blue Book)

(above resources taken from Sojourner, Mary. She Bets Her Life).

October 22, 2010

Name Changes in Texas

Name Changes in Texas

Changing your legal name in Texas is a relatively simple process. While most name changes are completed in conjunction with a marriage or a divorce, this article will largely address obtaining a name change as a separate, independent process.

In almost all circumstances other than marriage or divorce, a request for change of name must be made in a petition filed with the court and the court must sign an order granting the person a new name. To permit a person to change his or her name, the court has certain requirements that must be met to ensure that the change is not sought to avoid legal trouble. If the name change is for a child, there are added requirements that the parents or conservators of the child must be served and the name change must be in the best interest of the child.

Filing a Petition For a Change of Name

The first step in obtaining a name change is to file an original petition for change of name. The petition must be filed with the district clerk of the county where the person requesting the name change, known as the petitioner, resides.The clerk will then assign the case to a specific court. According to Texas law,the petitioner must sign the petition in the presence of a notary and swear that all of the information it contains is true.

If you are requesting a child’s name change, Texas law requires that the petition requesting the name change be served by a constable or process server on each parent of the child that has not had his or her parental rights terminated or any managing conservator or guardian of the child. Additionally, a petition for the change of name of a child requires different information than a petition for an adult’s name change.?

Preparing and Entering An Order for Change of Name

After a petition has been filed and properly served, if service is necessary,the petitioner will have to schedule a time with the court’s coordinator to appear before the judge and have an order signed by the judge.

Like the petition, the order that the judge will sign must contain certain information. The order must not only contain the same information that is included in the petition, but must also state that the name change is in the interest or to the benefit of the petitioner and is in the interest of the public.When the petitioner presents the order to the court, he or she must also testify in open court as to each of the things listed in the order.

When the name change is requested fora child, the order must state and the petitioner must show that the parents or other required persons have been served with the petition for name change and that the required parties have agreed to the name change either by signing the order or testifying in court. If the matter is contested, the request for the name change must beset for a hearing with the court on a specific date and time and all necessary parties must be notified of the hearing.

The order for change of name for a child must include the same information as the petition, a statement that the change is in the best interest of the child and signed agreement of the parents or other required persons if the name change is uncontested.

After the Order Is Entered

After the court has signed the order,several government agencies and organizations must be notified of the name change. Among other offices, a person must notify the Social Security Agency and Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a new social security card and driver’s license. In addition to government agencies, credit card companies, banks,employers, insurance providers, and other private organizations must be notified of the name change. Each group has different requirements as to how this information will need to be updated, so it is important to contact the individual organization to determine how to proceed with recording the name change. If proof of the name change is required, a name change certificate can be obtained from the district court clerk for a small fee. If a child’s name has been changed and the child has been the subject of a custody or child support order, the person that obtained the name change must also send a copy of the order to the Central Record File at the Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Finally, it is important to remember that a court ordered name change does not release a person or a child from liability incurred in that person’s previous name or defeat any right the person or child had in the previous name.

This article is excerpted from Name Changes in Texas, a pamphlet produced as a public service by the Texas Young Lawyers Association. To download a full copy of the pamphlet, visit tyla.org, write TYLA, P.O. Box 12487, Capitol Station, Austin 78711-2487, or call (800)204-2222, Ext. 1800.

September 10, 2010

Adoptions in Texas

Filed under: Adoption,Family Law — Tags: , , , — gregoryrosspc @ 6:42 pm

There are a variety of ways for Texans to enlarge their families through adoption, including placement by the state through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, placement by a licensed agency, placement by the child’s birth parents (“private adoption”), and international adoption. This article is intended to help those considering adoption make informed decisions by answering commonly asked questions and by providing a list of available resources. The information should not be substituted for the advice of an attorney.

“Open” and “Closed” Adoptions
Depending on the type of adoption, adoptive parents can have some, little, or no contact with the birth parents. In a completely open adoption, the parents meet each other and participate in post-placement visits. Closed adoptions, on the other hand, are completely anonymous, and most commonly take place through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Both of these types of adoptions are rare. Most adoptions are considered “semi-open” – the adoptive parents meet the birth mother (and in some instances the birth father) during the adoption process, and exchange pictures and letters as the child grows up.

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has a large listing of children available for adoption. These children have been removed from their parents or guardians for abuse and/or neglect, and many have behavioral, learning, medical, or psychological issues. Many of these children are non-infants and come from mixed racial backgrounds. Many loving parents have found satisfying and fulfilling solutions to their quests for enlarged families through an adoption from DFPS. A search for a child should always include contact with the adoption
supervisor at your local DFPS office. For additional information, go to www.dfps.state.tx.us
and select the adoptions and foster care link.

Private Adoptions
Texas law states that a person who is not the natural or adoptive parent of the child, legal guardian of the child, or a licensed child-placing agency may not serve as an intermediary between a prospective adoptive parent and an expectant parent or parent of a minor child. An intermediary cannot identify the parties for each other, facilitate the placement of the child, or place the child for adoption. Therefore, private adoptions cannot be completely confidential. If an adoptive couple has found a baby, they must deal with the birth mother directly and not through an intermediary.
The reason for the authorization of private adoptions, according to legislative history, is to allow a birth parent to have some say in choosing adoptive parents. For example, a family can collectively decide that the child’s grandparents, or some other close family relative, will become the adoptive parents. Private adoptions are also allowed where the birth mother herself places the child for adoption with a non-family member.

Questions surrounding private adoptions often arise regarding the expenses the proposed adoptive parents can legally pay. It is a crime in Texas to “buy” a baby or to pay money for the placement of a child. A birth mother cannot choose adoptive parents based upon which set of proposed adoptive parents presents the most attractive financial package (car, rent, or cash, for example).

Proposed adoptive parents can only pay “reasonable medical, legal, and counseling expenses” related to the health of the child. Reasonable medical expenses include doctor’s fees, prescriptions, etc. Paying questionable charges may subject both the adoptive and the birth parents to possible criminal charges.

As a general rule, pay the birth mother no money. You cannot give the birth mother a $5,000 check and simply note on it “for medical expenses.” Instead of giving money to the birth mother for medical expenses, pay the medical provider directly. Although you cannot legally pay an attorney for the placement of a child, you may pay reasonable attorneys fees relating to his or her preparation of documents and representation in proceedings to terminate the birth parents’ rights to the child and in the adoption proceedings. Because the law contains unanswered questions, we strongly recommend that you secure the legal help and advice of someone experienced with and knowledgeable about the adoption field.

International Adoption
In an international adoption, the child being adopted is a foreign national and there are a number of different legal issues that must be considered and dealt with. We highly recommend you speak with an experienced international adoption agency and/or attorney before proceeding. There are a number of steps that must be carefully completed or you may not be able to bring the child home to the United States.

First, not all countries allow American citizens to adopt. If you are interested in a particular country, you can check the U.S. State Department’s website to see if an adoption is even an option for that country.

Next, you need to consider whether or not the child will be able to immigrate to the United States. At least one of the prospective adoptive parents must be a U.S. citizen. In order to obtain a visa and travel to the U.S., the adoptive child must either have been abandoned by both parents or the sole remaining parent must be unable to provide for the child and be willing to irrevocably release the child for emigration and adoption in writing. In the typical international adoption, you would seek “advance processing” to obtain pre-approval to adopt internationally before identifying a specific child. This process takes a number of months but is definitely worth it. Even if you have identified a child, the advance processing route may be the better choice for a smoother adoption and immigration.

Once you have been pre-approved, you (through an agency most likely) identify a specific child and travel to the foreign country. Each country has a different process and you should talk with your agency about the process in the country you are considering. Next, an Orphan Petition is filed to obtain the child’s visa. In the majority of cases, the actual adoption takes place in the foreign country, and you will receive an IR3 visa for the child. The pre-approval can certainly expedite the “orphan investigation” and the visa process. Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, a child that enters the U.S. under an IR3 visa is automatically a United States citizen and a certificate of citizenship will be mailed to you. Upon your return to the U.S. with the child, you may choose to have the foreign adoption recognized by the State of Texas. This court proceeding results in a Texas order formally recognizing the foreign adoption and allows you to obtain a Texas birth certificate for the child. It also allows you to change the child’s name, in the event the name change in the foreign country is incorrect or you have changed your mind. If for some reason the adopting parents have not both seen the child prior to the adoption proceeding or the actual adoption cannot occur in the foreign country, the adoption must be finalized in Texas with the same formalities as a domestic final adoption (for example, you will be required to complete post-placement supervision that meets Texas requirements). After the Texas adoption (or “re-adoption”) is complete, you will be able to obtain a Texas birth certificate and also a certificate of U.S. citizenship.

As with any adoption, legal counsel is invaluable when navigating the complexities of international adoption, particularly with the crucial immigration aspects involved.

Interstate Adoptions
If the adoptive parents and the child reside in different states, they must comply with the Interstate Compact laws for placement of children. The Interstate Compact office of each state regulates the movement of children from state to state for purposes of adoption. Generally, both the sending state and the receiving state must approve the placement before the child can leave the sending state. Failure to comply with these laws before removing a child from Texas or bringing a child to Texas from another state is a criminal offense. Once again, seek legal counsel to ensure that requirements of the law are met.

Terminating Birth Parents’ Rights
There are two steps to secure a final adoption, which involve two separate lawsuits. First, the court must terminate the birth parents’ rights to the child. In the second suit, the adoption must be approved by the court.

Birth parents, both father and mother, generally must sign forms (called “relinquishments of rights”) indicating their desire to place a child for adoption before a court will terminate their interests. This applies whether the adoption is private, through an agency, or through DFPS.

If the location or identity of the birth father is unknown, he is nonetheless entitled to notice of the proceedings. You must show the court that you have diligently tried to find him. He can be served with notice of the termination proceeding by publication of notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. The court may require publication in the county of birth and/or the county of the birth father’s last known residence. The rules for notice by publication are complex and must be strictly followed. Notice by publication always leaves the door open for the birth father to challenge the adoption, so this avenue should be used only as a last resort to personal service and termination. This is another reason we recommend that you secure professional assistance.

The birth mother’s relinquishment must be freely and voluntarily signed after the birth of the child and after she is free of the effects of any drugs or anesthesia agents incident to the birth. Furthermore, the mother’s relinquishment cannot be signed until the child is at least 48 hours old. In a private adoption, properly signed relinquishments generally cannot be revoked for 60 days. Within this 60-day period, the court generally decides whether to terminate parental rights. A decision to terminate is, except in very unusual situations, permanent. In an agency adoption, the relinquishment is generally irrevocable once it is properly signed.

Termination is the ending of legal rights and relationships that exist between the child and the biological parents. The steps for termination vary according to whether the termination involves a private adoption or an agency adoption. In the termination order, the court will appoint someone as Managing Conservator of the child. A Managing Conservator is responsible to the court for the welfare of the child until the adoption is finalized. The adoption agency, one or both adoptive parents, or the state (in DFPS cases) commonly become Managing Conservator(s).

Check with your hospital to determine its requirements regarding what paperwork must be completed prior to the child being released to the adoptive parents. Hospitals must, by statute, accept a Third Party Release and release the child to whomever the birth mother dictates.

Adoption Proceedings
The courts, agencies, and DFPS require a pre-adoptive home screening (also known as a home study) be performed in the home of adoptive parents prior to the placement of the child in the home. The adoptive parents must also obtain a Texas Criminal History Report. Courts generally require that the child live in the home for six months before granting an adoption. During this time, the post-placement supervision requirement is usually fulfilled. This six-month requirement can be waived only if the court finds “good cause.” Generally, this requirement is only waived in private adoptions (including step-parent adoptions) as most agencies will not agree to waiver.

If the child is an American Indian child, very powerful federal laws must be complied with if the child falls under the federal act. The Indian Child Welfare Act is very complicated and if you suspect the child may have an American Indian heritage, you will want to seek legal counsel to ensure the requirements of the act are met.

In all steps of this process, the court must consider the best interests of the child. During the termination process an attorney or guardian (called an amicus attorney or an ad litem in DFPS cases) is commonly appointed by the court to report on the best interests of the child. The law states that a final adoption is truly final. There is generally no way a properly handled adoption can be rescinded or revoked. The infant you recognized long before as “your child” is now so recognized by the law.

Contact us to discuss your adoption questions.

Excerpts taken from Texas Young Lawyers Association publication, Adoption Options.

Online Links for Adoption

Filed under: Adoption,Family Law — Tags: , — gregoryrosspc @ 3:16 pm

There is a lot of information about adoption on the Internet. Here are a few trusted sites:

www.adoptionattorneys.org – American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, a well-regarded organization of adoption attorneys across the United States and Canada.

www.cradleofhope.com – Can provide information about designated adoptions.

www.adoption.org/adopt/national-adoption-clearinghouse.php – National Adoption Clearinghouse (NAC), a resource for Children & Families.

www.adoptivefamilies.com – Adoptive Families, the award-winning national adoption magazine, dedicated to providing information for families before, during, and after adoption.  They have a wonderful Adoption Planner and you can request a free one.

www.adoption.com – The largest adoption website with tons of articles and helpful information and links.

Contact us to discuss your adoption questions.

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