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Can the IRS Open a Safe Deposit Box?

Safe deposit boxes can provide individuals with confidence that important documents and valuable or prized possessions will be kept safe from loss, accidental destruction, and theft. However, courts do have the authority to issue an order requiring a bank to freeze, or open, a person’s safe deposit box. When it comes to collecting delinquent unpaid taxes, the IRS has quite a bit of leeway, but cannot act to seize assets without court approval, or other particular circumstances being met. In addition to freezing accounts, levying accounts, garnishing wages, and seizing assets, the IRS can get a court order to freeze and seize or force a sale of the contents of a safe deposit box to satisfy a tax debt or penalty. Nothing Is Safe From the IRS When it comes to collecting taxes, the law tends to favor the IRS, and provide them with mechanisms to force tax delinquents to pay. Not much is safe from the taxman. However, when a court order is issued to open or seize the contents of a safe deposit box, the order must specify exactly what is to be seized. If cash is stored in the safe deposit box, this can be seized directly. If valuable items are being stored, their value may be assessed, and strategically sold off to satisfy the debt. How Safe Is Your Safe Deposit Box? Unlike normal deposit, checking or savings accounts at a bank, safe deposit boxes are not FDIC insured (though you can purchase private insurance). Typically, a bank will not be able to open a safe deposit box without the consent of the customer, or a court order and a locksmith. Most safe deposit boxes are locked by two keys, one of which is kept by the bank, while the other is kept by the customer only. However, if a customer defaults on their safe deposit box rental agreement, a bank may be able to open the box and force a sale of the contents in order to recoup their losses. When this occurs, banks are expected to attempt to contact the box holder before the sale in order to notify them of a pending forced sale to give them an opportunity to pay the outstanding debts. After a sale occurs, banks are again required to attempt to contact the box holder to give them any proceeds from the sale that are in excess of the outstanding debts. Related Resources: Need help with your taxes? Get your tax issue reviewed by an attorney for free. (Consumer Injury) Safe Deposit Tips: What Goes in Safe Deposit and What Does Not (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life) Top 10 Tax Law Questions (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life) Top 6 Tips for Filing Taxes After Divorce (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life)
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Georgia Judge Who Blocked Transgender Name Changes Overruled by Appeals Court

When Rebecca Elizabeth Feldhaus and Delphine Renee Baumert attempted to legally change their names -- to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus and Andrew Norman Baumert, respectively -- they were told by a Georgia judge that their choices weren't gender-neutral enough to suit his taste. "I do not approve of changing names from male to female -- male names to obvious female names, and vice versa," Columbia County Superior Court Judge J. David Roper, said in denying Feldhaus's request. "I think it is misleading to the public and think that it is dangerous in some circumstances for one -- for the public not to know whether they're dealing with a male or a female." But an appeals court has ruled that Judge Roper abused his discretion in denying the name change petitions, and ordered that the changes be granted. Names You Can Live With Both Feldhaus and Baumert were born female but identify as male. Under Georgia law, if a person follows the proper procedure to petition for a name change, "there is nothing in the law prohibiting a person from taking or assuming another name, so long as he does not assume a name for the purpose of defrauding other persons through a mistake of identity." And in rejecting Feldhaus and Baumert's petitions, he wrote that "[n]ame changes which allow a person to assume the role of a person of the opposite sex are, in effect, a type of fraud on the general public," and that "third parties should not have to contend with the quandary, predicament, and dilemma of a person who presents as a male, but who has an obviously female name, and vice versa." Roper also said that name changes that were not to more gender-neutral names "offend the sensibilities and mores of a substantial portion of the citizens of this state." When it came to Baumert's request, Roper suggested several names he said he "can live with," including Morgan, Shannon, Shaun and Jaimie, and when Baumert rejected those options, Roper denied his petition. Sound Legal Discretion In a terse opinion, the Fourth Division Court of Appeals overruled Roper's decisions, reiterating that "a trial court's conclusions about any person's 'confusion' or 'embarrassment' was 'not a valid basis for denying' a petition for a name change," and that the only basis for denying a petition for a name change was evidence that "showed that the petitioner was acting under an 'improper motive,' such as intentionally assuming another person's name for the purpose of embarrassing that person or avoiding the petitioner's own criminal past." Absent that evidence, the appeals court ruled, Roper should not have denied the name change requests. Name and gender change petitions are becoming more common in courts, even if some judges remain resistant. If you need help with a name change or a gender change petition, or if yours has been denied, contact an experienced civil rights attorney in your area. Related Resources: Find Civil Rights Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Oregon Residents Can Be 'Agender' as Well as 'Non-Binary' (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) DMV Sued by Transgender Woman Over Privacy (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Can Parents Block Children's Gender Transitions? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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What If I Can’t Pay My Student Loans?

The accumulated student loan debt for all Americans is nearly $1.3 trillion, and rising by the second. And these aren't just people seeking advanced degrees like law and medicine -- some 40 million Americans have some student debt. For many of those who owe money for their education, making payments on those loans is difficult, if not impossible. So what can you do if you can't pay your student loans? Repayment and Settlement Options If you're able to pay some, but not all of your monthly payment amount, you can try restructuring your payments. There are two mains options to help ease your monthly payments:Income-Based Repayment: Some lenders will permit income-based repayments or graduated repayment plans. Income-based repayment (IBR) has been offered since 2009 for federal student loans. The plan is designed to keep loan payments affordable, even if you don't make a substantial income. Monthly loan payments are based upon your income and family size. In general, you should expect to pay 15 percent of your income. The good news is that, under IBR, your loans will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years if you consistently make your payments on time.Settling Your Debts: If your debts are truly out of control, you can try settling with the lender. However, settling student loan debt is notoriously difficult. If you legitimately cannot afford to make payments on your student loans, your options become much more limited. What About Deferment or Forbearance? A deferment on your student loan payments allows you to stop making payments for a specific amount of time, provided you can qualify. A lender may grant a deferment if you can show: Economic hardship. You will need to prove that your income is not sufficient to make payments. Unemployment. You will need to prove your unemployment and/or your search for a job. Re-enrollment in School. You will need to prove your acceptance and continued enrollment in a qualifying educational program. One benefit to a deferment, depending on the type of loan you have, is that it will stop interest from accruing on the unpaid balance during the time you can't make payments. (Although not every loan or lender offers this option.) A forbearance is similar to a deferment, only interest will normally continue to accrue during a forbearance, so your loan balance will be higher when you come out of the forbearance. Forbearances are limited to certain amounts of time and require proof of an inability to meet your loan payments. But a forbearance may be easier to obtain than deferments because they are not always dependant on the type of student loans you have or covered by the rules that apply to deferments. Both deferments and forbearances require you to file applications with your lender, and your eligibility and benefits under deferments and forbearances will vary depending on your loan. Bankruptcy Isn't Much of a Bailout Here's the biggest problem with federal student loans: most student loans can't be discharged through bankruptcy. This means that, in most cases, even if you file for bankruptcy, you'll still owe your student loan debt. In fact, the only way to discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy is to prove that making the loan payments is an undue hardship, a legal standard that is almost impossible to meet. To Default, or Not to Default? The latest information regarding defaulting on your student loans has been confusing at best. It was generally understood that defaulting on federal student loans would produce disastrous consequences: hijacked tax returns, garnished wages, federal lawsuits, and even revoked professional licenses. Conventional wisdom said that all these horrors awaited those with the temerity to stop paying their loans back. But there are stories out there, like urban myths or legends, of people defaulting and turning out fine. These tales include people who ignored the robocalls and potential lawsuits and credit score demolition long enough to have the debt wiped away and their credit restored. One of these fables was recently printed in the New York Times. And of course the obvious backlash followed, noting the extraordinary collection powers of the federal government and the permanence of federal debt. With all of the certainty in this case falling on the side of creditors, those with student loan debt probably shouldn't consider defaulting on that debt as a viable option. Before taking any action on your student loans, you may want to consult with an experienced student loan relief and bankruptcy attorney in your area. Related Resources: Browse Bankruptcy Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) The FindLaw Guide to Student Loan Debt (PDF from FindLaw) Legal How-To: Getting Student Loans Forgiven (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Will Obama's Executive Order on Student Loans Pay Off for You? ...
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What Do Federal Child Abuse Laws Say? 3 Things You Should Know

In addition to state laws prohibiting child abuse, the federal government has its own laws meant to protect children from neglect and other forms of abuse. These laws include minimum child welfare standards to which the states are required to conform. However, a recent three-year study by the Children's Advocacy Institute found that none of the states are actually meeting these standards, NPR reports. What do federal child abuse laws require? And what did the study find when it comes to enforcement of these laws at the state level? Federal Child Abuse Laws As the Department of Health and Human Services explains, federal child abuse laws are found primarily in two sources: the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Social Security Act. What should you know about these laws? Here are three quick facts: The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was enacted in 1974 and established the federal Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. It also provides grants to states for child abuse and neglect programs that meet certain federal standards. The Act also sets the minimum definition of child abuse and neglect as "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation," or "An act of failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm." The relevant portions of the Social Security Act further established federal child welfare oversight of state welfare policies and practices by the Department of Health and Human Services, including the collection of child welfare statistics and the administration of child welfare information systems. Report's Findings According to the Children's Advocacy Institute's study, over a three-year period, no state met the federal child welfare standards, but the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for enforcing these rules has largely taken a hands-off approach. "There is no meaningful oversight and the states know it," the report asserts. The report estimates that at least 686,000 American children were the victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, including 1,640 who were killed as a result. The report suggests that Congress should require HHS to take punitive action against states that don't follow federal regulations and sanction the executive branch, of which the HHS is a part, if it fails to meet its regulatory responsibilities. Related Resources: Federal government failing to protect children, report says (The Associated Press) What To Do if You Suspect Child Abuse (FindLaw's Blotter) Meth-Related Child Abuse Cases on the Rise? (FindLaw's Blotter) Adrian Peterson Indicted on Child Abuse Charges; Freed on Bond (FindLaw's Tarnished Twenty)
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Ellen Brotman Representing Client Indicted in TARP fraud

Ellen Brotman of Montgomery McCracken in Philadelphia is representing the ex-board chairman of Nova Bank, a failed Philadelphia bank, who was just charged with TARP fraud. The chairman, Barry Bekkedam, a former Villanova University basketball player, was charged along with the ex-CEO Brian Hartline with multiple counts of fraud. A Justice Department press release describes the Indictment. Ellen Brotman set the tone in vigorous defense of her client when she spoke to the Philadelphia Business journal. She said both men “are innocent and they will be exonerated and vindicated at trial. This indictment should not have been brought and I am shocked that the government chose to go forward with these charges, in reckless disregard of the reputations they are damaging in the process. This prosecution is a misguided attempt to salvage an investigation that should never have gone this far.” Knowing Ellen Brotman like I do, the Government will certainly have a tough fight on their hands and her client couldn’t be in stronger or more capable hands. Stay tuned!
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Ed. Dept. Wants ‘Borrower-Focused’ Student Loan Servicers

The U.S. Education Department made a student-friendly move on Friday, announcing it would renew focus in its contracts with student loan servicers on being "borrower-focused." Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell noted in an interview that the new student loan servicers would be put "on notice" that they have to be more consumer friendly, reports The Wall Street Journal. The new federal contracts even provide quarterly bonuses for servicers who have lower rates of borrower delinquency. What does this shift mean for America's student loan borrowers? Fighting Default With Better Loan Service Part of the reason for this shift in federal policy is the alarming increase in both student debt and default rates. According to New York Federal Reserve data (as reported by the WSJ), approximately one in four borrowers who have loans are "at least 90 days behind on student loan bills." Combine that with the fact that over half of Americans are still paying off their student loans, and you have a recipe for disaster. Trying to stem this tide of defaults, the Education Department has announced it has renegotiated contracts with major student loan servicers in order to incentivize working with borrowers to avoid default. According to a recent press release, these incentives include: Increasing the weight of borrower customer satisfaction in performance metrics for servicers; Payment structures which are tied to servicers' success in keeping borrowers in on-time repayment and avoiding default; and "Additional incentives" aligned with reducing payment delinquency across each servicer's portfolio. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted that borrowers "deserve high-quality support from their federal loan servicer[s]," and hopefully these changes will help provide better service. What Should Borrowers Do? The renegotiation of federal servicer contracts includes big names like Nelnet Servicing, LLC and Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. Even if you don't have either of these servicers, watch your inbox and check out your servicer's website to make sure you aren't missing out on an easy way to reduce your payments or avoid default. Related Resources: Feds Overhaul Servicing Contracts (Inside Higher Education) Legal How-To: Getting Student Loans Forgiven (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 5 Strategies to Manage Your Student Loans (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Why Settling Student Loan Debt Is So Difficult (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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