PROTECTING THE FINANCIAL SECURITY OF OLDER AMERICANS: Free Guides from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

March 2, 2014 Comments Off on PROTECTING THE FINANCIAL SECURITY OF OLDER AMERICANS: Free Guides from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Older Americans face financial risks and challenges that differ from those faced by younger Americans. In particular, older Americans may find it necessary, at some point, to turn over management of their financial affairs to a relative or trusted caregiver. Doing so often means the use of a power of attorney, a revocable living trust, or a court-appointed guardian or conservator. But many older Americans and their relatives and caregivers misunderstand the duties and responsibilities (and potential liability) of a person who manages the finances of another under these legal tools.

Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently published three guides designed to help older Americans and those who are asked to manage their finances. These guides address the fiduciary responsibilities of: (1) agents under a power of attorney; (2) trustees under a revocable trust; and (3) court-appointed guardians and conservators. The guides are available at no cost and downloadable at the following links:

We hope you find these resources helpful. If you need more information about your legal rights and responsibilities, or for more information on our legal services, please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

Advertisements

THE VALUE OF A WILL (PREPARED BY AN ATTORNEY)

November 15, 2013 Comments Off on THE VALUE OF A WILL (PREPARED BY AN ATTORNEY)

When making a will, some people overlook the value that an attorney can add to the will-making process and turn to document preparers, forms, or software programs. Attorneys add value to the process because they are trained in the law of wills and can draft a will that uses the law to achieve the testator’s intent. Every individual and married couple has different life circumstances and brings different priorities and concerns to the will-making process, such as issues involving minor children, prior marriages, and adult stepchildren. An attorney has the knowledge and skill to consider each individual’s and couple’s unique situation and to draft a will or wills designed to minimize potential problems.

In a recent presentation, I discussed several advantages to having a will prepared by an attorney, including:

  • Moderating the burden on loved ones at a time of loss
  • Control over the distribution of assets (who gets what)
  • Decisions related to blended families and second marriages
  • The downside of intestacy (not having a will)
  • The limitations of document preparers and form kits

The slides from my presentation on The Value of a Will Prepared by an Attorney provide an overview. For more information on making a will and the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

DEVELOPING ENVIRONMENTAL LAW IN INDIAN COUNTRY

September 30, 2013 Comments Off on DEVELOPING ENVIRONMENTAL LAW IN INDIAN COUNTRY

Professor Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner recently posted a working paper, entitled Examining Tribal Environmental Law, that reviews the existing tribal laws governing environmental protection and provides some initial thoughts on further development of tribal environmental law.[1] In this article, Professor Kronk (Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the University of Kansas School of Law) surveyed the publicly available tribal laws and found that just over one-half of all federally recognized Indian tribes have enacted an environmental law in at least one of four categories (air, water, solid waste, and environmental quality). She also found that only the Navajo Nation has enacted tribal environmental laws in all four categories.

After discussing the legal and jurisdictional context for tribal environmental law, and the results of her survey of existing tribal codes, Professor Kronk provides three initial thoughts on the development of tribal environmental laws. First, she suggests that, because some tribes may not be ready to enact fully developed environmental laws (due to financial considerations, small land bases, limited natural resources, or other tribal priorities), tribes may want to consider codifying their environmental ethic without implementing a full environmental code. At a minimum, codifying an environmental ethic will provide an important interim statement and emphasize the tribe’s intrinsic connection with the land, water, plants, and animals on tribal land and elsewhere.

Second, tribes may want to craft tribal environmental laws that will apply to non-Indians and non-member Indians who are acting on non-Indian lands within tribal land. Professor Kronk bases this suggestion directly on the Montana rule,[2] which holds that Indian tribes do not have jurisdiction to regulate the activities of non-members who act on non-Indian land within a reservation’s boundary. Notably, however, the Montana rule has two exceptions that will permit the tribe to regulate non-members acting on non-Indian fee land if: (1) the non-member has significant commercial dealings with the tribe or tribal members; or (2) the non-member’s activities threaten the political, economic, or welfare interests of the tribe. Professor Kronk contends that a tribe can obtain jurisdiction over the non-member by enacting tribal environmental laws requiring that permits for the discharge of pollution affecting tribal land be issued only if the non-member agrees to tribal jurisdiction (under the first exception to the Montana rule). Further, she suggests that tribes can invoke the second exception by drafting tribal environmental laws designed to protect the health and welfare interests of the tribal community.

Third, Professor Kronk suggests that tribes may want to consider tribal customs and spirituality when developing tribal environmental laws. In so doing, each tribe’s environmental laws will reflect the environmental ethic of that tribe. Federal environmental laws do not regulate to protect cultural and religious interests, and thus, federal law does not preempt or prevent Indian tribes from exercising their sovereignty and regulating for such purposes. Thus, a tribe could enact an environmental law to protect a cultural or sacred site that is within the boundaries of its reservation.

Finally, Professor Kronk contends that, although many reasons exist for tribes to adopt environmental laws, tribe may want to consider adopting environmental laws for two main reasons. First, tribal environmental laws will promote both tribal sovereignty and tribal environmental ethics. Second, tribal environmental laws are necessary because of current environmental issues and the development of natural resources.

The research of Professor Kronk and others on tribal environmental law seems particularly relevant today as tribes seek to develop natural resources and green energy as well as protect tribal environmental, cultural, and religious interests. A copy of this paper can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network.

We hope that this summary has been informative and helpful. For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

Endnotes

[1] Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner, Examining Tribal Environmental Law (Sep. 7, 2013) (unpublished working paper), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2322322.

[2] Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 564-66 (1981).

INDIAN COUNTRY INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS, 2011-2012: Annual Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice

July 4, 2013 Comments Off on INDIAN COUNTRY INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS, 2011-2012: Annual Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued its first annual report on Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions as required by the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) is broad legislation designed to improve and enhance law enforcement in Indian country. Among many other measures to improve law enforcement, the TLOA seeks to hold federal agencies accountable by requiring the Department of Justice to file an annual report with Congress on criminal investigations and prosecutions in Indian country.[1]

The DOJ’s report, which covers only criminal matters reported to federal (and not tribal or state) agencies, reflects the increased priority placed on law enforcement efforts in Indian country and provides data showing an increase in the criminal caseload of federal agencies of 54% between 2009 and 2012. The report’s executive summary sets forth several major points based on the data:

  1. The FBI referred a “substantial majority” of Indian country criminal investigations to the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for prosecution.
  2. The USAO prosecuted a “substantial majority” of the Indian country criminal cases it opened.
  3. When the FBI did not refer a case to the USAO (but instead closed its investigation), the most common reason was the FBI’s conclusion that no federal crime had occurred.
  4. When the FBI investigated a death, but closed the investigation without a referral to the USAO for prosecution, the primary reason was a conclusion that the death was due to an accident, suicide, or natural causes.
  5. In 2011, the USAO declined to prosecute just under 37% of Indian country criminal cases submitted to it for prosecution. In 2012, the USAO declined to prosecute approximately 31% of Indian country cases submitted. The two most common reasons for declining to prosecute were insufficient evidence (61% of cases in 2011 and 52% in 2012) and referral to another prosecuting authority (19% in 2011 and 24% in 2012).

A copy of the DOJ’s report is available here.

For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

[1] Other steps to improve law enforcement under the TLOA include increased training and funding for Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal law enforcement officers, improved communication and coordination of efforts between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and tribal officials, increased sentencing authority granted to tribal courts, deputization of tribal prosecutors that allows prosecution in federal court, and prevention and treatment programs focusing on at-risk youth and drug and alcohol problems.

USING LIFE INSURANCE AS PART OF AN ESTATE PLAN

June 27, 2013 Comments Off on USING LIFE INSURANCE AS PART OF AN ESTATE PLAN

Life insurance can be an effective tool in any estate plan and provide benefits to family, loved ones, and charities while avoiding probate. For example, a person who is concerned about financial support for family members and dependents can obtain a life insurance policy that will provide funds for support upon death. A life insurance policy can also be used as a kind of forced savings program or annuity if the policy allows the policyholder to draw benefits upon reaching retirement age. In this post, I’ll explain a few basics about life insurance policies and how they can be used as part of an overall estate plan.

Whole Life v. Term Life Insurance

A life insurance policy is basically a contract under which a buyer (the policyholder) pays premiums and the insurance company agrees to pay the policy’s proceeds to beneficiaries if person whose life is insured (the insured) dies while the policy is in effect. Life insurance policies can be structured either as whole life policies or term life insurance policies.

Under a whole life policy, the policyholder agrees to continue to pay premiums to the insurance company until the policy is “paid up” (the agreed price is fully paid). In return, the insurance company agrees to pay the face value of the policy when the insured person dies, whether that occurs before or after the policy is paid up.

By contrast, a term life insurance policy is in effect only for a certain period of time (for example, one year). Once the term of the policy has expired, the insurance company is no longer obligated to pay any proceeds to the beneficiaries and can keep premium that was paid.

Whole Life Insurance and Cash Surrender Value

Another difference between whole life insurance and term life insurance is that whole life polices often include a “forced savings” or investment feature. Here, the policyholder pays premiums that cover both insurance on the life of the insured and a savings or investment feature that accumulates over time. The accumulated savings allow the policy to include a “cash surrender value” and a sort of opt-out option for the policyholder. Under this opt-out option, and after paying premiums for a number of years, the policyholder can terminate the policy, and the cash surrender value will be paid to the policyholder.

Basic Uses of Whole Life Insurance

The most basic uses of whole life insurance involve financial protection for family and loved ones and providing funds for expenses upon the death of the insured. Perhaps the most basic use of life insurance is to provide funds that the beneficiaries can rely on in place of the financial support previously provided by the insured. Even a person of modest means can provide this financial protection for family and loved ones.

Another basic use of life insurance is to provide cash for the expenses that can arise at or after death of the insured. This can include the cost of a funeral, outstanding debt on family residences, short-term living expenses, and federal estate taxes.

Using the Cash Surrender Value to One’s Advantage

The cash surrender value provides at least three advantages beyond terminating the policy and having the cash value paid to the policyholder. First, the cash surrender value can be used as security for a loan—just as a security interest in bank account or shares of stock can be given to a lender. In some cases, the lender may also be the insurance company that issued the policy.

Second, the policyholder can use the cash surrender value as a final premium payment that converts the policy to a paid-up policy (although this usually reduces the face value of the policy). Converting the policy in this way is advantageous if the policyholder is unable or unwilling to continue paying premiums.

Finally, some whole life insurance policies permit the policyholder to use the policy, in effect, as an annuity and draw retirement benefits for a predetermined number of years. In most cases, the policyholder cannot draw the retirement benefits until he or she has reached retirement age.

Other Advanced Uses of Life Insurance

Life insurance can also be used in two other ways that do not take advantage of the cash surrender value. In a business context, partners who share ownership of the business often enter agreements with each other that allow surviving partners to purchase the interest of a partner who dies. In order to provide cash to purchase that business interest, the business purchases life insurance policies on the life of each business partner and name the other partners as beneficiaries.

Another advanced use of life insurance policies involves purchasing one or more policies and naming an irrevocable trust as the beneficiary of the policy or policies. In most cases, the trust is established for the benefit of the insured’s family, but the trustee must administer the trust according to the trust agreement. This almost always requires the trustee to invest the insurance proceeds (prudently) and distribute income from the investments to the trust beneficiaries—although the trustee can be given discretion as to whether and how much to distribute.

Conclusion

Whole life insurance can be an effective tool in an estate plan that transfers assets without going through probate. Its basic function is to provide financial support and security for family and loved ones and to provide cash for expenses that can arise after the death of the insured. Moreover, the cash surrender value of a whole life policy can be used as a savings program or as security for a loan. Finally, a life insurance policy can be used to purchase the ownership interest of a deceased business partner or to fund a trust.

An estate plan is one of the most caring and thoughtful things that an individual or married couple can do for family and loved ones, and whole life insurance should be considered as an option in any estate plan. For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

NAVAJO NATION HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION MEETS WITH UN WORKING GROUP

June 9, 2013 Comments Off on NAVAJO NATION HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION MEETS WITH UN WORKING GROUP

Earlier this month, Indian Country Today reported on a meeting between the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC). On April 27, the UN Working Group and NNHRC met to discuss the effects of two (non-Indian) business activities on the human rights of Navajos. First, the meeting addressed the use of treated wastewater to make snow at Arizona Snowbowl on the San Francisco Peaks. Second, the meeting examined the predatory auto sales and lending practices of Santander Consumer USA in light of language and cultural barriers.

The UN Working Group met with the NNHRC while on an official visit to the United States. After visiting other countries, the UN Working Group will prepare and publish a report, which is expected in June of 2014.

As part of an initial response to the meeting with NNHRC, the UN Working Group identified both governmental and business sector deficiencies with regard to the human rights of indigenous peoples. The initial response states:

While several federal initiatives and measures to protect the rights of indigenous peoples have been put in place in the United States in recent years, many stakeholders have indicated that more needs to be done to … protect the rights of indigenous peoples with regards to impacts of business activities . . . . We notice that when it comes to contexts such as those of the Native Americans, the weakness of protection afforded by the state against human rights violations is often regrettably reciprocated by commensurately poor understanding of the intent of corporate responsibility in respecting human rights. This results in significant challenges to turn appropriate human rights policies into effective practice.

In other words, the Working Group suggested that poor efforts by the federal government to protect the human rights of Native Americans are compounded by a poor understanding of the questionable (if not irresponsible) lending practices of some non-Indians businesses.

Although the federal government has some responsibility, could tribes also take steps to protect tribal members from predatory lending practices by non-Indians? Perhaps, yes. For example, a tribe could form a tribal corporation that offers auto and other loans to its members, thereby removing the non-Indian lender from the loan transaction. Existing tribal laws governing secured transactions, or adoption of the Model Tribal Secured Transactions Act (discussed here), could be used to enforce the loans while also protecting tribal members from non-Indian predatory lenders. Some means of regulating the tribal corporation (the lender) would be necessary, but that would be under the control of the tribe.

For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO INDIAN ARTS AND CRAFTS ACT: Opening the Market to Non-Indians?

May 11, 2013 Comments Off on PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO INDIAN ARTS AND CRAFTS ACT: Opening the Market to Non-Indians?

Earlier this spring, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced a bill in Congress that would amend the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) and give certain non-Indians standing to sue under the IACA.[1]

H.R. 1066, which was introduced in March, would expand the definition of the term “Indian” as used in the IACA. Under the proposed language, the term “Indian” includes a member of an “Indian organization” if that member:

(1) resides in the state where the organization was formed, and

(2) is descended from a person listed on the “base roll of an Indian tribe” or listed on a “judgment fund distribution list, roll, or census . . . prepared by the Secretary of the Interior.”

The proposed language specifically states that eligibility for membership in a federally or state-recognized tribe is not required.

The definition of the term “Indian organization” requires that it be a state-chartered non-profit organization recognized under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and dedicated to preserving Indian culture, traditions, and arts. In addition, a majority of the organization’s members must be recognized as “Indians” under the amended definition of that term. Although the organization must maintain genealogical information on each member (to verify that he or she meets the definition of “Indian”), tribal recognition of the Indian organization is not needed.

The current version of the IACA defines the term “Indian” as any member of a recognized Indian tribe or any person certified as an Indian artisan by a recognized Indian tribe. The current IACA also provides that an Indian arts and crafts association may pursue a claim under the IACA if that association’s members are enrolled members of an Indian tribe. For an overview of the current version of the IACA, click here.

In contrast to the current IACA, the language of H.R. 1066 would extend the protections afforded by the IACA to a non-Indian if he or she is descended from a person listed on a base roll, a distribution list, or an Interior Department census or roll. The bill’s expansion of the IACA has been criticized as a means to allow non-Indians to enter the market for Indian arts and crafts at the expense of native artisans and small businesses.[2] Others have argued that the bill would, in effect, lower the standard for what qualifies as authentic Indian-made arts and crafts, undermining the consumer-protection purpose of the IACA and harming the livelihood of Indian artisan.[3]

After Rep. Rahall introduced it, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources (specifically, the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs) and to the Judiciary Committee. As of the date of this posting, Govtrack.us estimates that H.R. 1066 has no more than a 5% chance of being enacted. Nonetheless, since this bill was also introduced in 2012, Rep. Rahall may try to reintroduce it in future sessions of Congress.

The text of H.R. 1066 is available here. For more information on the legal services offered by the Law Office of James D. Griffith, P.L.L.C., please call (480) 275-8738 or use the “Contact Us” page on our website.

[1] Amendment Proposed to Indian Arts and Crafts Act to Accommodate Non-Native Artists, Cherokee Phoenix, Apr. 25, 2013, http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Article/Index/7215.

[2] Brandon Ecoffey, New Bill Opens Up Indian Arts and Crafts Act, Native Sun News, Apr. 1, 2013, available at http://www.indianz.com/News/2013/009120.asp (quoting Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, of Beyond Buckskin, a Native American fashion blog).

[3] Editorial, Our View: Tread Carefully with Native Art, Santa Fe New Mexican, Apr. 14, 2013, http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/editorials/article_c9fcd7bf-d4a8-5c73-be36-796cf22bf1af.html (last visited May 11, 2013).

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Scottsdale at James D. Griffith, Associate Attorney.