Monday, October 30, 2017

What to do and know before your first meeting with a lawyer

Meeting with lawyers is often something that makes people anxious. I thought it would be helpful if I put together some tips for those meeting with a lawyer for the first time, based on my experience in working with clients. Some are dos and don'ts from meetings that have gone well or gone very poorly. Hope that you find them helpful.

1. Remember that lawyers are just people. There's no reason to be anxious or intimidated. We're here to help try to help you.

2. Schedule an appointment. Lawyers aren't Burger King. You don't get to just walk in and meet with a lawyer. Attorneys have other hearings and meetings, and projects to work on. Schedule an appointment so that you have the lawyer's full attention.

3. Know how long your appointment is scheduled for, so that you can be respectful of the attorney's time and other commitments.

4. Be on-time for your appointment. Again this is a way to be respectful of the attorney's time and other commitments.

5. If you can't make it to your appointment, or have hired another attorney, call and let the staff know that you are cancelling. Don't just no-show. It's rude.

6. If you think that documents, e-mails, text messages, photos, or anything similar are important to your case (or might be), bring them with you.

7. If there are particular people who know something about your case, bring their contact information (name, address, telephone number) with you, so that the attorney can get in touch if need be.

8. If your issue deals with a case already on file, bring the pleadings that you were served with. At a minimum, it is best if the attorney knows where the case is filed, and what the case number is.

9. Be respectful to attorneys and staff. Remember that we're all just people trying to do the best jobs that we can.

10. Don't be afraid to ask about the costs. But remember that attorneys may need to get some information from you about your case before they can set fees, retainers, etc.

11. If you don't understand what the lawyer means, say so and ask questions. Lawyers sometimes use jargon or terminology specific to an area of law, and may not realize that you don't understand.

12. Don't bring children, pets or other distractions to your appointment. Come ready to focus on the issue at hand

13. Remember that lawyers can't change the facts or the law. We can give you the best legal advice possible, and give you an idea of what you can expect. But we can't change the underlying facts or the law that applies to those facts, so we can't always give you what you want to hear.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Happens if My Will Cannot be Located in Time?

I recently read a Nebraska Supreme Court decision, In Re Estate of Gilbert Fuchs, Deceased, 297 Neb. 667 (2017) in which Mr. Fuchs's will wasn't located until quite some time after he passed away. The Court had to decide what to do with this situation, and whether the will could even be probated.

Apparently Mr. Fuchs kept his paperwork in quite a state of disarray, with paperwork in vehicles, in totes, and all over his home. When vehicles would be sold, the buyers would package up all of the paperwork to be returned to Mr. Fuchs's Personal Representative.

The family was pretty sure that Mr. Fuchs had a will, but couldn't locate a copy after contacting local attorneys and the County Court (as Wills can be filed with the County Courts in Nebraska for safekeeping). Ultimately the Personal Representative, Mr. Fuchs's son, found the original will several months after he passed away, and several months after the probate proceedings had begun. This will differed substantially from how the law of intestacy distributed Mr. Fuchs's property. Unfortunately for Mr. Fuchs, and for his intended beneficiaries, the will was located too late. In Nebraska, the Uniform Probate Code requires that probate proceedings be commenced within 3 years of the date of death. Informal probate proceedings alleging that Mr. Fuchs died intestate (without a will) were begun shortly after his death. But a request to probate the will was commenced more than 3 years after his death. This subsequent request was denied as coming too late, and the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's finding.

It's an interesting case, but what does this mean for the rest of us? Well, it means that we need to make sure that our wills and other important paperwork is kept in a secure area, and that our loved ones know where this important paperwork is kept. Because if our loved ones cannot locate our will, then our wishes may not be carried out upon our deaths.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Oh No! My Loved One Was Arrested...What Do I Do?

This is a scenario that no one wants to find themselves in, but it unfortunately does happen. So your loved one is being/has been arrested, and you're trying to figure out what to do. Here are a few things to keep in mind and be aware of in the early stages of what appear to be likely criminal charges.

1. Don't interfere with law enforcement. If law enforcement is going to arrest someone, either on a warrant or because of conduct that they've been made aware of through an investigation, there is nothing that you can do to stop this. Don't hide a person that law enforcement is looking for, as that can be Obstructing a Peace Officer or Aiding and Abetting a Fugitive. Don't get in the middle of an arrest, as that can be Resisting Arrest or Obstructing. Let the arrest happen, and then deal with it after the fact. If you get in the middle of the situation, you can only make things worse, both for your loved one and for yourself.

2. Don't make statements to law enforcement, and advise your loved one not to either. I can't even tell you how many of my cases are proven largely by my client admitting to violations of the law, or by family members making statements that end up being harmful to my client. So the best course of action is to keep your mouth closed, and to advise your loved one being arrest to not make any statements either.

3. Hire an attorney as soon as possible. This should go without saying, but having an attorney involved at the earliest stages of a criminal case is important. Bond is set by the Court, and it's always helpful for the defendant to have an attorney to make a bond argument on his/her behalf. If there is no attorney involved, the defendant has to provide information to the Court directly, and could mistakenly make statements that can later be used against him/her. So the involvement of an attorney early on is important.

4. If the defendant can't afford an attorney, request a public defender as soon as possible. In most of the areas where I practice law, the public defenders are extremely qualified and excellent attorneys. So if a private attorney isn't in the cards financially, applying for the public defender is the next best option. And not delaying this application means that the public defender can begin working on the case as early as possible.

5. But don't think that a hired attorney or a PD can get a defendant out of jail in the middle of the night or on the weekend. In some low level cases, bonds are set by a schedule adopted in advance, so that people can post bonds and get out of jail right away. But for felonies or higher level misdemeanors, there aren't bond schedules. And it isn't required that defendants be brought before the Court for a bond setting until 48 hours. It simply isn't realistic to expect hired attorneys or PDs to be able to get defendants out of jail in the middle of the night or on weekends. Often we don't have the judge's cell phone number. And if we do, it won't do any good to make a call, as they're not going to set bond after a telephone call from one attorney. A hearing has to occur, where both the State and the defendant can make bond arguments. So don't expect middle of the night or weekend results. And don't buy into the hype from lawyers who tell you that they can achieve middle of the night or weekend results.

6. Be patient. I know that this is exactly the type of thing that people don't want to hear when their loved one has been arrested. But it's probably the single most important piece of advice. The wheels of justice turn slowly. Dismissals usually don't happen at the first hearing; and trials aren't immediate. It takes time to get discovery (police reports, photos, recordings, etc.) and plea offers. And it takes time for a criminal defense attorney to review this information and discuss it with a defendant. So even though it's terribly difficult, be patient.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Interpreters: How to Work Well Together

I've written previously about speaking for court reporters, and the advice that I had then applies very much the same when speaking for interpreters. However, there are some differences. And there is more to working with an interpreter than simply speaking clearly. I thought it would be appropriate to devoting a blog post to this topic, as it comes up fairly regularly in my practice, but also would be useful information for other people as well.

#1: Speak slowly.
Most people speak too quickly, especially when they are nervous.  People are more likely to be nervous when in court or in a deposition, and this is when interpreters are trying to convey every word that you say.  Therefore, if the interpreter is going to be able to repeat everything in another language, you need to speak slowly.  Chances are that you are probably still speaking more quickly than you think, anyway.  This rule is even more important if you are using medical terminology or other specialized terms which the interpreter is not likely to encounter very often, or for which there may not be a direct translation and which may need to be explained to convey the meaning.

#2: Read even more slowly.  
People read much more quickly than they typically speak.  If the document that you are reading is important (and it probably is, or you wouldn't bother to read from it), then you should slow down while reading to make sure that the words are translated.

#3: Don't go off on tangents.  
If the interpreter asks you to repeat something that you have said, do just that—repeat only what you said.  Do not go off on a tangent explaining the concept or background story to the interpreter. The interpreter was not asking you to repeat yourself because s/he did not understand the concept, but only because s/he did not hear or understand the words that you said.  

#4: Do not interrupt or speak over another person.  
An interpreter can only take interpret the words of one speaker at a time.  When people talk over one another or interrupt each other, the record becomes muddled and the interpreter cannot keep up.  Wait until one person has finished speaking before you speak.  

#5: Answer out loud, using real words.  
Do not nod or shake your head, as an interpreter cannot convey this.  Try to minimize mmm-hmm, hmm-mmm, uh-huh, and huh-uh, as these are often difficult to hear, and may lack direct translations.  Use "yes," "no," and other real word verbal responses.  

#6: Minimize the use of slang.
Slang often cannot be directly translated, or even conveyed in a meaningful way to speakers of other languages. Minimize the use of slang, making the interpreter's job easier, and making for language easier to understand by the listener.

#7: There is a difference between a translator and an interpreter.
Did you know this? I didn't until an interpreter explained the difference. A translator changes language from one to another in written form. An interpreter changes language from one to another in verbal form.  

#8: Court certified interpreters really are better.
Interpreters who have gone through the process to become court certified interpreters really do a better job. They have the skills necessary to convey meaning from language to language, and understand that the role of an interpreter simply is to repeat what is said (to the extent possible). When it is possible to use a court certified interpreter, I recommend it.

#9: Interpreters are not lawyers, however.
So we cannot assume that interpreters understand legal concepts well enough to explain them if there is no direct translation. Some interpreters have been working in the court system that they do understand, but not all will. So attorneys need to ensure that they are explaining concepts, and not just trusting or assuming that the interpreter can or will.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 10. Applying for a Liquor License as a Non-Profit

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

It is common for non-profit organizations to host events or fundraisers where they wish to serve alcohol. State laws will dictate what the organization needs to do to be able to serve alcohol at these events. This article will focus on the requirements in Nebraska for certain non-profit organizations to apply for a liquor license.

In Nebraska, an organization that is planning to have alcohol available at an event is required to get a liquor license, with only a few very limited exceptions. In the vast majority of situations, if there will be alcohol available for consumption or sale at the event, a license is required. Obtaining a traditional liquor license can be a very involved and costly process. Nebraska, though, provides a less intensive process for certain non-profits that are seeking a liquor license for only one or a few events throughout the year.

Non-profits that qualify, can apply for a Special Designated License (SDL), instead of a more traditional liquor license. Normally, a liquor license allows an organization to serve alcohol on an ongoing basis. The SDL, though, approves liquor service for only a single event.  In order to qualify for this less intensive application, the non-profit organization must be 1) formed as a corporation under state law, and 2) exempted from paying federal income tax (this is commonly achieved by receiving 501(c)(3) status as explained in installment 6 in this series).

If the non-profit meets these two requirements, they are able to apply for the SDL. The application is submitted to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to determine whether it will be approved. In order for the application to be approved, the non-profit must show that they are taking certain precautions to ensure that alcohol is being served only to people aged 21 or older, and being served in a safe and responsible manner.

For more detailed information on what specific precautions are required, and to access copies of the forms required to be submitted for the SDL application, this website is a great resource,

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 9. Additional Applications and Accounts for Non-Profits

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

Once you have made the decision to start a non-profit organization and completed the steps to officially form an entity (filing Articles of Incorporation, for example), there are additional steps that may be necessary. This article will explain some of those additional steps.

Apply for Federal Employer Identification Number
One of the next steps will be applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN or federal tax id). This is a unique number assigned to the organization by the IRS. An EIN will be used for things like opening bank accounts and identifying the organization for tax purposes. The organization will complete a form called an SS-4, which can now be completed online through the IRS website. If completed online, the organization can receive the EIN immediately after the application is submitted.

Set Up EFTPS Account
Your organization may also need to set up an account with the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. This is a system for the organization to deposit tax money withheld from any employees the organization may have. This will include money withheld from employees’ paychecks for FICA taxes and income taxes. The organization should automatically receive instructions in the mail for setting up this account after they have received their EIN.

Apply for State Identification Number
Even if you have received an EIN through the IRS, you may still be required to obtain an additional tax identification number through the state where your organization is located. Many states require the organization to apply for this additional identification number for state tax purposes. This is likely necessary if you will have employees that the organization will be required to withhold state income tax for, or if you will be required to collect a sales tax or other state tax. This can typically be done by submitting an application for an identification number through the state’s department of revenue.

Additional State Requirements
There may be additional requirements that vary by state. For example, in Nebraska, the organization may have to purchase a workers’ compensation insurance policy. This is an insurance policy that provides benefits to employees who are injured during their employment. Unless the organization meets certain exceptions, they may have to provide this type of insurance for its employees or officers. Another example in Nebraska, is the requirement that the organization complete an application through the Department of Labor for unemployment insurance. If the organization will have employees, they may be required to complete this to provide unemployment benefits to employees.

This list provides information on some of the next steps that the non-profit organization will need to take once they have officially formed an entity. There may be additional requirements depending on the state in which the organization is located, and the type and size of the organization. To ensure that you have completed the necessary steps, submitted the necessary applications, and created the necessary accounts, it is best to speak with an attorney in your state.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 8. Tax-deductible Contributions

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

The previous article in this series explained that one of the benefits of a non-profit organization obtaining 501(c)(3) status, is that contributions made by others are tax deductible. This means that the person or business that donates (the donor), can deduct that amount from their taxable income, which may help lower their tax burden. The non-profit that is receiving the donation (the donee), and the donor, must comply with certain federal rules regarding disclosures and recordkeeping. This article will explain some of those requirements for cash contributions. It’s important to note that the requirements discussed in this article are for cash contributions, and will differ if the contribution is in the form of goods or services.

Requirements of Donor
To take the tax deduction, the donor is required to keep a record of the contribution. For a cash contributions (which includes cash, checks, electronics funds transfers, debit cards, credit cards, and payroll deductions), the donor must keep one of the following: a bank record (canceled check, bank statement or credit card statement); a receipt from the donee; or a payroll deduction record. Simply keeping track in a check register will not be enough, one of the above records must be retained in order to deduct the contribution from the donor’s taxable income.

If the donor makes a cash contribution of $250 or more, they must also get an acknowledgment from the donee. This acknowledgment is explained in more detail below.

Requirements of Donee
If the donee receives a contribution of more than $75 from one individual or business, they must provide a disclosure statement to the donor. The disclosure must be written, must note the value of the contribution, and must inform the donee that the contribution is tax-deductible. If the donee does not provide this disclosure statement, the IRS may impose a fine on them.

As mentioned above, if the donee receives a cash contribution of $250 or more, they must provide an acknowledgment to the donor. The acknowledgment must meet the following requirements:

·         It must be written;
·         It must include the amount of cash contributed;
·         It must indicate whether the donor received goods or services for the contribution (including the value of the goods or services); and
·         It must be received by the donee before their tax return for that year is due.

This article provides a general guideline of the disclosure and record keeping requirements for cash contributions to non-profit organizations that have qualified for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3). There may be additional requirements for larger cash contributions, and the requirements for contributions of goods or services will differ significantly. There are also additional rules on whether the donor can deduct these contributions, and if they can, how much can be deducted. The extent to which contribution is deductible will depend on each individual’s circumstances, so it would be best to speak with an attorney or other tax professional to discuss your specific situation.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Meet the Staff (Part 2)

At Fye Law Office, we have some great staff. And we want our clients, potential clients, and friends to have the opportunity to learn a little bit about them, and to hear some advice and thoughts from them. Today, you get to meet Kristi, one of the legal secretaries in our office.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
    My husband’s name is Brad and he works for KAAPA Ethanol at the Minden location.  I have 2 children, Amie and Spencer.  Amie is married to Kyle and has 4 children, JJ, Quincy, Halle, and Maddex.  She is a para at the Holdrege Elementary School, and Kyle works for Husker Irrigation.  Spencer is a Program Director for the YMCA at an elementary and a middle school in Lincoln.  I have 3 step-children, Chelsea, who is the manager of a Caribou Coffee in Omaha, Grant, who is in the uniformed division of the Secret Service protecting Embassy Row in Washington D.C. and is getting married this summer, and Bryce who is an assistant manager of a Hy-Vee in Lincoln.   I live on a farm near Axtell, but I am originally from the Holdrege area.

How long have you worked for Fye Law Office?
     A year and 5 months.

What is your work experience/education/training prior to coming to work for Fye Law Office?
     I worked for several years as a bookkeeper for a couple of local farmers and then took a position at CPI at their Funk location as a grain merchandiser and scale operator for 4 years before deciding to try something new and went to work for a friend of mine at her family’s car dealership in Holdrege.  When the dealership sold, the opportunity to work for Fye Law Office was available and I decided to yet again try something new!  I had absolutely no law background and Tana took a chance with me!

What advice do you have to potential clients who are meeting with an attorney for the first time?
     Be as upfront and honest as you can. Attorneys can only deal with the information they are given and it is better for them to find out right away then to have something pop-up in court and not be prepared to deal with the information.

 What advice do you have to clients in working more effectively with their attorneys?
     A couple of the main things would be to make sure your attorney has an updated address and phone number and if possible set up your voicemail so messages can be left.  Another thing would be to not wait until the day or two before court to try and talk to your attorney.  Their schedules fill rather quickly.

Do you have any memorable experiences since working at Fye Law Office that you'd like to share?
     Without getting into much detail, I’ve had a client tell me they were going to sue me, which scared the crap out of me!!  Other than that, probably just things that clients seem to think they need to share with us!

What do you like about working in a law office?
    We have such a variety of cases that we work with and some of them can be very interesting.  Our office is pretty laid back and we all get along so well!

What is your favorite type of case or matter to work on? Why?
    I haven’t worked on many, but probably the adoptions.  It’s just so rewarding to see these kids adopted by loving families and to finally have some stability in their lives.

Thanks to Kristi for sharing a little bit about herself, as well as her thoughts with all of you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 7. Benefits of 501(c)(3) Status

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

The previous article in this series explained what the term 501(c)(3) means, and briefly which organizations can qualify for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3). As explained in that article, many non-profit entities seek tax-exempt status under this provision as charitable organizations.

In order to qualify under the charitable portion of 501(c)(3), your organization must be operated for a purpose that is recognized by the federal government as “charitable.” Purposes that are recognized include:

Relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged;
Advancement of religion;
Advancement of education or science;
Erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works;
Lessening the burdens of government;
Lessening neighborhood tensions;
Eliminated prejudice and discrimination;
Defending human and civil rights secured by law; and
Combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

When seeking tax-exempt status, the non-profit organization must go through an application process to be recognized as having 501(c)(3) status. During this process, the organization must ensure that they operate for one or more of the purposes listed above to qualify as a charitable organization.

If the organization’s application is approved, it will be considered tax-exempt for purposes of federal law. There are two major tax benefits to obtaining 501(c)(3) status. First, the organization is exempt from paying federal income tax. Second, the organization can receive tax deductible contributions. This allows people who donate to the organization to deduct their contribution from their income, which may lower the income tax they would otherwise owe. This provides a direct benefit to the donors, and an indirect benefit to the organization. Because the donors’ contributions may help lower their tax burden, it can encourage donors to contribute to an organization that has 501(c)(3) status over one that doesn’t.

If you believe your organization could benefit from having status as 501(c)(3), it is best to speak with an attorney in your state to discuss the requirements further. This article provides general guidelines, but you should seek advice specific to your situation to determine whether this is the best option for your organization.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We're Hiring!

Fye Law Office seeks candidates for an Associate Attorney position. Applicants with all levels of experience are encouraged to apply. A successful candidate will have an interest in family law, juvenile law, estate planning/probate. Interest in other areas of law is also welcome. Travel to counties in South Central NE should be expected. Applicants must either be admitted to practice law in the State of Nebraska or eligible to apply for admission.

A cover letter, resume, and references may be submitted to: Tana Fye, Fye Law Office, 713 Fourth Avenue, Holdrege, NE 68949, or

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 6. What is a 501(c)(3)?

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

The term 501(c)(3) is commonly used to refer to a non-profit organization. But what, exactly, is a 501(c)(3)? This goal of this post is to explain what this term means, and what types of organizations have 501(c)(3) status.

501(c)(3) is not actually a term that describes an entity itself, but instead describes its status (a non-profit corporation can’t technically BE a 501(c)(3), but it can have 501(c)(3) status). The term 501(c)(3) refers to the provision in the United States Code (federal law) that grants certain entities an exemption from paying federal income tax. Section 501(c)(3) is a specific part of Section 501. Section 501, appropriately captioned “Exemption from tax on corporations, certain trusts, etc.,” provides, with detail, what entities are exempt from paying federal income tax. Here is a link to a website that displays the actual language of Section 501 if you are interested in reading it

Section 501, as a whole, includes the provisions allowing the exemption. The wording of the section is broken down into subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, etc. In the term 501(c)(3), 501 is the section, (c) is the subsection, and (3) is the paragraph. Subsection (c) provides a specific list of what entities are allowed the exemption, each one explained in a separate paragraph. There are 29 categories of entities (and thus 29 paragraphs) listed under Subsection (c) that are allowed the exemption; Paragraph (3) is just one of those 29.

Although there are 29 categories, many non-profit organizations fall under the category in Paragraph 501(c)(3), which provides that the following entities are exempt, “Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes…” The explanation of entities included in this paragraph continues, but many non-profit corporations fall under the “charitable” portion of this paragraph. Thus, if you are a charitable non-profit corporation, you are exempt from having to pay federal income tax pursuant to paragraph 501(c)(3).

Simply stating that a non-profit corporation’s activities are charitable, though, isn’t enough to qualify for this tax exemption. To be exempt under this provision, your activities must meet the federal government’s definition of “charitable.” To learn about what activities are considered “charitable” check back for the next article in this series.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Meet the Staff (Part 1)

At Fye Law Office, we have some great staff. And we want our clients, potential clients, and friends to have the opportunity to learn a little bit about them, and to hear some advice and thoughts from them. Today, you get to meet Destinee, one of the legal secretaries in our office.

How long have you worked for Fye Law Office?
     Started in October 2015

What is your work experience/education/training prior to coming to work for Fye Law Office?
     I worked for Lincoln County Attorney's office for 2.5 years while completing my AAS in business degree. I then moved to Holdrege. I worked as an office manager for 4 years before taking a job with Tri-Basin Natural Resource District as a secretary then moving into a public education position. I worked there for 4.5 years before starting with Fye Law Office.

What advice do you have to potential clients who are meeting with an attorney for the first time?
     Be as upfront and honest as you can. Attorneys can only deal with the information they are given and it is better for them to find out right away then to have something pop-up in court and not be prepared to deal with the information.

 What advice do you have to clients in working more effectively with their attorneys?
     Keep them up-to-date with any information that may change. It is hard to get a hold of clients when addresses or phone numbers change and we do not know about it. Also, remember that you are not their only client. They are good which keeps them busy.

Do you have any memorable experiences since working at Fye Law Office that you'd like to share?
      It is amazing how open some people are about what is going on. It is also interesting some of the stories the clients can come up with. We have definitely heard some good ones.

What do you like about working in a law office?
    I love how everyday is a different day. Each case is different. It is not the same thing day after day.

What is your favorite type of case or matter to work on? Why?
    I really love doing the adoptions. It is great knowing that a child is finding a forever home. Children need that acceptance it's great to see that happen.

Thanks to Destinee for sharing a little bit about herself, as well as her thoughts with all of you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Non-profit Series: 5. What Happens at Meetings?

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

There are a few different types of meetings that can be held by a nonprofit corporation. Some meetings are required under state law, and others can be held at the discretion or need of the corporation.

The first meeting that will be held will be an organizational meeting. This meeting is typically held after the articles of incorporation are signed and filed with the State. This meeting is held by the initial directors if they are named in the articles of incorporation, or by the individuals that started the corporation if there were no directors named in the articles of incorporation. The purpose of this meeting is to elect directors (if there are none yet), appoint officers and adopt bylaw. Other matters can be addressed at the meeting as necessary.

Corporations are typically also required to have annual meetings. The time and place of these regular annual meetings should be stated in the bylaws. The directors, officers and members are all invited to attend the annual meeting. At this meeting, the president and treasurer will report on the activities of the corporation and the financial condition of the corporation. Other matters that will usually be addressed include re-electing directors and officers if their term has expired (the term of directors and officers should be set in the articles of incorporation or bylaws). Past and future activities of the corporation will also be discussed at these meetings, and decisions can be made about what activities or transactions the corporation will pursue. What actions the corporation takes will be determined by taking a vote of the directors or members. Whether the directors or members are authorized to vote will depend on the proposed action and any provisions included in the articles of incorporation or bylaws specifying voting authority. For example, state law may require that some actions be authorized a two-thirds majority vote in favor by the directors, or the bylaws may provide that certain actions can be authorized by a 51% vote in favor by the members.

Additional meetings, usually called special meetings, can also be conducted in between annual meetings. These meetings are usually held when the corporation needs to make decisions about whether to engage in activities that need to be addressed before the next scheduled annual meeting. To hold special meetings, there must be proper notice provided to those that are allowed to attend. This notice must include the purpose of the meeting (what will be discussed), and the time and place of the meeting. There are usually specific requirements regarding how far in advance of the meeting notice must be provided. This will depend on state law, so it is important to make sure you check your state’s requirements to make sure you provide adequate notice.

Meetings are where individuals involved in non-profit corporations make decisions about what activities they will pursue and how they will spend their money to further their purpose. Annual meetings provide an opportunity to have regular updates about how the corporation is performing. When matters come up throughout the year that need to be addressed before the next annual meeting, corporations can use special meetings to address those things, but they need to ensure that proper notice is provided.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Power of Attorney, Guardian, Conservator, Personal Representative...What's the Difference?

When someone becomes sick, a relative often handles their affairs for them. But there are different titles or roles that the caretaker can be acting under while managing the affairs. There are differences between the roles, but people often do not realize this.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a document signed by an individual allowing another individual to manage a predefined set of affairs. The powers of the person acting as POA are limited to those matters set forth in the POA, and can extend no further. Our office typically drafts separate POAs for healthcare and general affairs. This allows for people to list separate individuals for these roles if they wish, as well as to allow for a bit of privacy.  

POAs can be durable or springing. A durable POA means that the document is effective immediately upon signing, and the POA could act immediately. A springing POA takes effect once the subject is declared incompetent. A doctor is the one that needs to declare the subject incompetent; and doctors are often loathe to do so. This can leave a gap in decision-making, bill paying, and handling of affairs. For this reason, a durable POA makes more sense for most people. Some clients are concerned about the POA being effective immediately. But ultimately, if you are trusting someone enough to handle your affairs should you need them to do so, you should trust them enough to not act when you don't need them to do so.

A POA is effective until revoked by the subject or until the death of the subject. After the death of a subject, a Personal Representative handles the affairs of the subject. The POA is no longer effective after death.

Guardian and/or Conservator

A guardian or conservator is a person appointed by a court to manage the affairs of the subject. His/her powers are limited by the court's grant of authority. Typical duties of the guardian or conservator include arranging for housing or care for the subject, paying bills, and handling property of the subject. For a lot of situations, the guardianship is indistinguishable in day to day practice from a POA. 

The Court can appoint either a guardian, or a conservator, or a guardian/conservator. Conservatorships are used when there are more significant assets at play. Guardianships are used when the subject's day to day affairs need to be managed. Both are sometimes needed and therefore appointed.

But the guardianship and/or conservatorship can only be terminated by the Court, rather than by the subject just revoking it. And the guardian/conservator has reporting requirements to the Court. This is an annual packet that has to be filed with the Court, with updates on the condition of the subject and his/her financial affairs. Other individuals can also participate in the guardianship/conservatorship proceedings by filing documents with the Court to be considered interested parties. Once an interested party, he/she is then entitled to notice about any hearings, as well as copies of documents filed with the Court. A guardianship proceeding provides for oversight of the affairs that is not found with a POA.

A guardianship/conservatorship is effective until terminated by the Court. It can be terminated by the Court because it is no longer needed, or due to the death of the subject. Guardians/conservators can also resign or be removed. A guardianship/conservatorship is no longer effective after death, and the guardian/conservator simply has final accounting type reports to submit to the Court.

Personal Representative

A personal representative is the person who handles the probate of the subject's estate after his/her death. This person is typically nominated in a Last Will and Testament, but then is appointed by the Court. A personal representative and an executor are the same thing, but personal representative is the term commonly used in practice now. 

The personal representative's duties are to carry out the directives of the Last Will and Testament, pay any final bills, and to wind up the final affairs of the subject. If there is no Last Will and Testament, then the Personal Representative's duties are dictated by state law. There are a whole host of documents that need to be filed with the Court in the probate proceedings, so most Personal Representatives choose to have an attorney assist them through the process.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Who's Who?! Simplifying the Roles of People Involved in Court

Sometimes it's pretty confusing trying to sort out who's who, and who does what in the court system and the justice system. This post isn't meant to be exhaustive, but simply a quick guide. If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us (or your own attorney if you're already represented by one).

Judge: The judge is an attorney licensed in the state. He or she is appointed by the Governor and then up for retention election in the district in which he/she serves. There are two types of judges that people commonly come into contact with, District Court Judges and County Court Judges. They each handle cases filed in their respective courts (District Court or County Court). The judge oversees jury trials, decides bench/court trials, and oversees and decides any other types of hearings that may be held. In addition to the judges in the District Court and County Court, there are also judges who serve on the Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, and Worker's Compensation Courts.

County Attorney: This is the prosecutor. He or she is a licensed attorney and is an elected official, although the county's board may appoint individuals to fill a term. He/she brings charges against people who have allegedly committed crimes. They also handle juvenile cases and file petitions and make allegations in these types of cases. The County Attorney also handles child support enforcement cases, other types of civil cases that may involve the county, and advises the county.

Deputy County Attorney: This is a licensed attorney that is hired by the County Attorney. He/she has any powers delegated by the County Attorney.

Public Defender: This is a licensed attorney and an elected official (although the county's board may appoint individuals to fill a term). He/she handles criminal defense work for those individuals who are indigent and cannot afford to hire an attorney of their own. Public defenders handle misdemeanors and felonies, and frequently are also contracted to handle juvenile delinquency cases as well. Public defenders represent their clients at no charge to the client. The county pays the public defender either through a salary or a contract.

Deputy Public Defender: This is a licensed attorney that is hired by the Public Defender. He/she has any powers delegated by the Public Defender. Deputy public defenders represent their clients at no charge to the client. The county pays the deputy public defender either through a salary or a contract.

Court Appointed Counsel: An individual licensed attorney can be appointed by the judge to represent an individual in a particular case. Court appointed attorneys are often appointed in criminal cases where the public defender has a conflict of interest, or in counties where no public defender's office exists. They are also appointed frequently to represent parents or juveniles in juvenile cases. Court appointed attorneys are paid by the county at no charge to the client.

Guardian ad Litem: This individual is appointed by the court and is a subset of Court Appointed Counsel. He/she represents the best interests of the client. This differs from the role of the person's attorney in that the attorney represents and pursues the stated interests of the client. The Guardian ad Litem, also known as a GAL, is generally paid for by the county at no charge to the client. However, in adoptions, custody cases, and guardianship cases, if the parties have the means to pay for the GAL's fees, the court sometimes requires reimbursement.

Privately Retained Counsel: An individual licensed attorney who is hired and paid for by the client. This occurs in all manner of civil, juvenile, and criminal cases, as well as situations that may not result in litigation in court.

Attorney: An individual who has attended law school and is licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Attorney is synonymous with lawyer.

Lawyer: An individual who has attended law school and is licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Lawyer is synonymous with attorney.

Bailiff: An individual who works for the judge and/or court system. He or she manages the judge's calendar and sets hearings, works with the attorneys, does dictation, prepares drafts for the judge, and similar types of clerical duties. This individual is not a licensed attorney, but is often very knowledgeable about the court system and the judge's preferences.

Magistrate: This individual is appointed by the presiding judge of a jurisdiction. He or she is not a licensed attorney, but may act in the role of a judge in certain limited proceedings, such as arraignments and bond setting. Their ability to handle certain types of hearings is controlled by the presiding judge of the jurisdiction and rules. The individual also oversees the County Court clerks and court staff.

Clerk: This term is a bit amorphous. In some counties it means the same thing as a bailiff. In other counties it refers more to the people who work in a front office, receive and copy pleadings and oversee the general workings of the court system.

Court Reporter: An individual who records verbatim what is said and prepares transcripts of what is said. Some court reporters are employed by the courts and handle court hearings, while others are freelance and handle depositions. This person is not a licensed attorney, but is required to obtain certification in court reporting.

I hope that this brief primer on the individuals involved in the court system has been helpful in sorting out the 'who's who.' Again, if you have questions, I would encourage you to reach out to your own attorney if you have one, or to our office.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 4. What is the Difference Between Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws?

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

In order to form a non-profit corporation, state law requires that you file a document called the articles of incorporation. Some states, like Nebraska, also require that you create and adopt internal rules called the bylaws. Typically, provisions in the articles of incorporation are included to provide information to individuals outside of the corporation. Provisions in the bylaws, on the other hand, are included to provide information to individuals inside of the corporation.

Articles of Incorporation
The articles of incorporation will be filed with the state where the non-profit is located. The state agency where they are filed will keep them on file and have them available for the public to view. In Nebraska, the Secretary of State keeps a database online where anyone can pay a small fee to get a copy.

The articles of incorporation are often required to include the following information of the corporation: the name, the address of its office for service of legal documents, the name of the agent for service of legal documents, and the names of the people incorporating it. Depending on the state, there may be additional information required. For example, in Nebraska you must include whether or not the corporation will have members. If the corporation wants to include additional information, it can as long as it is not contrary to state law. The main benefit of including information in this document instead of the bylaws, is that because it is filed for public viewing, it can provide notice of these matters to the public.

Some states, like Nebraska, also require that the corporation create and adopt rules for internal operations, called bylaws. The bylaws are not filed with the state, and thus are not available for public viewing. The bylaws can contain any provision related to the internal operations so long as it is not inconsistent with law or the articles of incorporation.

Some matters commonly addressed in the bylaws include things like: voting requirements, compensation of board members or officers, authority of board members or officers, and information on how and when meetings will be held. If the corporation has members, the bylaws can include qualifications or requirements of members. For example, the bylaws may require that members pay dues or volunteer a certain number of hours to retain membership.

As always, this information is provided as a general guideline, as not as legal advice. The requirements may vary depending on the state where you are located and the type of non-profit corporation you are operating. For more detailed information on what you should include in each of these documents, it is best to speak with an attorney in your state.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My Kid Got In Trouble...Now What?

Written by Tana M. Fye

So your child got into a fight? Or stole something? Or ran away from home? Or is smoking marijuana? Now you're wondering what happens. Look no further. I intend to give a brief guide as to what happens after a child gets into trouble with the law, step by step through the process.

Step 1: Petition

After a child gets into trouble, law enforcement may give them a citation to court, or may choose to simply provide reports to the County Attorney's Office. In either scenario, the County Attorney's Office files a Petition with the Court. The Petition states the allegations that the County Attorney is making about what occurred. Typically the juvenile and the parents also receive a summons, telling when to be at court to answer those allegations.

Step 2: First Court Appearance

The first court appearance has different names in different counties. It may be called a First Appearance, an Admit/Deny Hearing, or an Arraignment. No matter the name, the purpose is the same. The judge advises the juvenile of his/her rights, the allegations in the petition, and the dispositional options that the judge has (these will be discussed in Step 4). The judge determines whether the juvenile and his/her parents intend to hire an attorney, or whether they'd like a court-appointed attorney to be appointed. The judge also determines whether the juvenile wants to admit or deny the allegations. I encourage people to hire an attorney or ask for a court-appointed attorney if they can't afford to hire an attorney. I also encourage people to enter a denial so that they have the chance to talk to their attorney before proceeding further. There are often offers made by the County Attorney to the defense attorney, so it pays to wait and see.

Sometimes the Court will set the case for a continued admit/deny hearing if an attorney is appointed, and the purpose of that hearing is very similar to the first appearance. The judge wants to know whether the juvenile is ready to admit or deny, or if an adjudication needs to be scheduled.

Step 3: Adjudication

If the juvenile chooses to admit that the allegation in the Petition are true at an earlier hearing, this step is omitted. However, if the juvenile denies the allegations, then an adjudication happens. An adjudication is the term used in juvenile court to describe a trial.

The County Attorney presents evidence, through witnesses and exhibits to establish that their allegations are true. The juvenile with his/her attorney can choose to present evidence (witness testimony and exhibits) or not. The juvenile with his/her attorney can make arguments to the Court (the judge) about why the State (the County Attorney) has not proven their allegations. The trial is to a judge only, as there is no right to a jury trial in juvenile court. The judge can make a decision immediately at the end of the trial, or can take the matter under advisement (meaning issue a written decision later).

If the judge rules in favor of the juvenile, and finds that the State has not proven the allegations, then the case is dismissed. The juvenile has no further court appearances to make. If instead, the judge rules in favor of the State, and finds that the allegations have been proven, the next step is disposition.

Step 4: Disposition

Disposition is similar to sentencing in adult court. The attorneys make arguments to the judge about what the consequences and services should be for the juvenile. The juvenile and his/her parents can make statements to the judge.

The judge can also consider a document called a Pre-Dispositional Investigation (PDI). Judges sometimes order these after an admission or an adjudication, to get additional information and recommendations. The PDI is completed by the juvenile probation office, after testing and interviews with the juvenile and his/her parents. It includes information about the juvenile's family, friends, hobbies/interests, employment, education, and any juvenile or criminal history. This document is provided to the judge and the attorneys after its completion. The juvenile's attorney will review it and then discuss it with the juvenile and his/her parents.

After considering all of the statements, arguments, and the PDI, the judge decides what the disposition will be for the juvenile. The most common outcome is probation, either supervised by the juvenile probation office, or unsupervised court probation. There are a whole host of services that can be ordered as part of probation. These include, counseling, classes, group therapy, community service, school contracts, curfew, family support, and really anything that the judge or probation believes will be beneficial to the juvenile. If the juvenile is placed on probation, then no other hearings will be held, unless a probation violation is filed.

If instead, the problems are more severe, the judge can also place the juvenile out of his/her parents' home. This could be a foster care placement, a group home, a shelter, detention, drug treatment center, or at YRTC (Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center). I tell clients that if a placement out of home is coming, the family and the juvenile will know it. The problems are pretty bad, and there should be no surprise about it. There are two YRTCs in Nebraska--Geneva for girls, and Kearney for boys. A placement at YRTC only comes after all other placement options and probation services have been exhausted. If the juvenile is placed out of home, then the case is reviewed at least every 6 months until the juvenile is returned home.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Family Law Part 4: Testifying in Court

Written by Jordan J. Mruz

            More often than not, when a case gets to the point of a trial being necessary, I will have a conversation with my client and discover that they have never testified in court before. I can understand why someone would be nervous to testify in court but with proper preparation and knowledge of the process you should be able to testify confidently.

Direct Examination

            Direct examination is when one party calls you as a witness to testify. Generally your attorney will call you as their witness, but the other party can call you as a witness for them as well. When you are called as a witness and you are being questioned by the attorney who called you up to testify, this is direct examination. Generally speaking the questions you are asked on direct examination will be open ended questions (meaning more than a one word answer). If you are on direct examination by your attorney, they will have a framework for how their questions will go. They may start with general questions, then move on to a topic that there is not much disagreement on, such as property, then move to child support, and finish with custody and visitation. I do not believe there is any right or wrong way to order the questions, but your attorney should discuss with you the direction their questioning will take.


            Cross-examination occurs when the party who did not call you up to the stand, has a chance to question you. These questions will usually be leading questions (one word answers, usually yes or no). Leading questions are allowed on cross-examination and because of this, attorneys use them because they can limit your testimony to one word answers that fit their version of events. An example of a cross-examination question would be, “Isn’t it true that you have been arrested five times.” The correct answer is either yes or no. You may have been arrested five times but only been charged with a crime on one of those occasions and you want to tell that to the attorney questioning you. If it’s the other party, they probably are not going to let you answer beyond “yes.” Your attorney will hopefully do a follow up question on their re-direct examination to clarify this topic. Something to remember: cross-examination is supposed to be limited to what is brought up during the direct examination. Depending on the judge, they may be very strict with this rule of evidence, but they may not.


            As it mentioned in the previous paragraph the party who calls you as a witness will have an opportunity for redirect after the other party has cross-examined you. Again this testimony is supposed to be limited to what was brought up in the cross-examination.

Things to Remember When Testifying

            First thing to remember is to tell the truth. It is much better to tell the truth about something on the stand than to get caught in a lie on cross-examination. Hopefully you and your attorney have discussed the areas that may hurt your case so you have a chance to testify and explain them to the judge in your own words rather than the opposing party.

            Remember to answer the question that is being asked. This is a good rule in general, but you should really remember this when your being cross-examined by the opposing party. If they ask you a yes or no question, answer with a yes or no. If they ask you about the time you got a possession of marijuana ticket in 2014, only talk about that incident and not any other things you did before or after that. You do not want to offer up more answers to the opposition that could be used against you right away. If they like what they are hearing from you, they may let you keep talking instead of objecting to your answer that was not just yes or no.

            Keeping your composure on the stand is another key. Some attorneys will try very hard to get you rattled on the stand. They may ask you really difficult questions that you do not want to answer just to throw you off. They may speed up their tempo of questions to get you to answer more rapidly than you would otherwise and maybe make a mistake. Losing your cool and making dramatic faces on the stand will not help your case.

            Last thing to remember is to stop and think about the question being asked. You do not have answer immediately upon the attorney stopping. You can pause for a second to think about the question. Make sure you heard it correctly. If you do not understand the question, it is okay to ask the attorney to repeat it or to ask it differently. It is better to get a question clarified than to offer up an answer that does not match the question. If you do not know the answer to the question, simply state you do not know.


            These four things are not the only things to keep in mind while testifying, but I believe they are among the most important to remember. If you remember these things and remember to breathe, then you should be able to testify successfully. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Non-Profit Series: 3. Who Runs a Corporation?

Written by Sagan L. Carman-Downer

If you’ve decided to operate your non-profit organization as a formal corporation, you will need to consider how it will be structured in order to carry out its purpose. A non-profit corporation doesn’t necessarily have owners to make decisions and put them into effect, so it is important to understand how these things will get done. Typically, a corporation is run by individuals serving in one or more of three roles: on the board of directors, as an officer, or as a member.

You have probably heard these terms before, but knowing the role of each can help you decide who will fill these positions. Put in very simple and broad terms, the board of directors makes the decisions, the officers carry out the decisions, and the members vote for the board of directors. Below is a bit of a closer look at each role.

Board of Directors
The board of directors is made up several individuals that are selected by the group of people starting the corporation. Some states require a minimum number of directors to serve on the board, in Nebraska the minimum is three. The board of directors provides oversight of the corporation by making decisions that they believe will help achieve or further its purpose. The board can do this by directly making decisions about operations, or by delegating the authority to others. For example, the board of directors may choose the recipient of a scholarship they are awarding, or they may authorize a subcommittee or officer to make the decision.

Officers carry out the decisions made by the board members for which they are given authority. A key point of distinction is that they can only take actions as directed by the board or as specified in the articles of incorporation. So, while they still have authority to make decisions, it is only to the extent the board or articles allows them to. Officers often include a president, secretary, treasurer and vice president. The role of each will be defined by the articles of incorporation or the board of directors. Typically, the president presides over meetings, the secretary prepares minutes of the meetings, and the treasurer keeps track of the corporation’s funds.

A corporation may choose to have members, but is not usually required to. If there are members, they are typically the ones that vote on the board of directors. Their role is to vote for directors that they believe will make decisions they agree with. Members may be required to pay annual dues, volunteer a certain number of hours for the corporation, or meet other requirements set out in the articles of incorporation or as decided by the board of directors.

Ideally, each of the three groups work together to make sure the corporation runs smoothly to provide a public benefit. Keep in mind, though, that this is a brief description of each of these roles, meant to provide a general description and understanding. Their specific authority and duties and may differ depending on your state or what type of non-profit you operate.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Do I Need a Will? And Answers to Other Estate Planning Questions

Written by Tana M. Fye

Do I Need a Will?

This is probably the most frequently asked question that an attorney hears. And if you're asking the question you likely do need a will. At a minimum, you need to consult with an attorney to determine whether you need a will. Here are a few questions that we use to help determine whether the laws of intestacy (passing away without a will) will be sufficient, or if you need to engage in some sort of estate planning:

  • Do you have minor children? If so, estate planning can help ensure that your minor children are taken care of the way that you would want them to be taken care of if you pass away while they're still minors, and that they receive any assets in the way that you'd like them to.
  • Do you have adult children? If you have adult children, you need to decide how you'd like your assets to be distributed, whether your grandchildren or any spouses of your children receive anything.
  • Have any of your children passed away, leaving a spouse or children behind? If so, then you need to decide whether these folks would receive any of your assets or none of your assets at your passing.
  • Is this a second marriage for you or your spouse? Does your spouse have children from a prior relationship? This situation is notorious for creating hard feelings between spouses and step-children, unless estate plans are created for both of the married parties, and the children know what is going to happen upon the passing of either or both of parents.
  • What are your assets? Where are they held? Some assets pass outside of probate, meaning just by direction of the parties in a particular document. Insurance proceeds and certain bank accounts are good examples. A competent estate planning attorney can help you decide what estate planning tools are best for the amount and type of assets that you hold.
What Happens to My Young Kids if My Spouse and I Both Pass Away?

This is a nightmare situation that no parent wants to even think about. But making plans for who you'd like to care for your children if you're not able to is just responsible parenting. If married spouses pass away (like in a major accident) and leave minor children, then a court would likely have to determine who raises the minor children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family, or friends can be put into a very difficult and emotionally wrenching situation of trying to decide (or fighting in court about) who raises the kids, if the parents haven't given direction. And in the worst case scenario, children could be placed in foster care while guardians can be located and things are sorted out. The wills that our office drafts include language directing who should be given priority as potential guardians for minor children upon the passing of the parent(s). 

But What Happens if I Just Become Ill or Am Injured?

In this scenario, there are other documents, besides a will, that would be necessary. A living will would give direction on issues such as life support, feeding tubes, organ donation, so that family members and doctors know what you'd like to have happen.

A Power of Attorney for Healthcare directs who gets to make medical decisions for you, and usually also has a back-up if that person is unable or unwilling to serve.

A General Power of Attorney directs who makes other types of decisions for you. This covers things like banking, business, payment of bills, and general life decisions. This document usually also has a back-up listed, if the initial person selected is unable or unwilling to serve.

Can a Power of Attorney Make Decisions or Act After I Pass Away?

No. A Power of Attorney is no longer in effect after death. At this point, a Personal Representative takes over and administers an estate, often with the assistance of an attorney. Personal Representatives are usually named in a Will, but can also be appointed by the Court.  

What Should I Do if My Spouse and I Are Going on Vacation and Leaving Our Children With Someone Else?

First, you should make sure that you have your estate plans in place, so that if something happened to one or both of you, things are easier for the family left behind. Visiting with an attorney is the best way to make sure that this has been accomplished.

But in addition to estate plans, parents can also sign a Power of Attorney for Childcare, which is a temporary delegation of parental authority. It allows for grandparents or other caregivers to gain necessary information from schools or doctors, or to make medical decisions for your children if need be. Again, this is simply responsible parenting when parents are leaving their children with other individuals for care-giving for any length of time.

In sum, it's important to consult with an attorney about your particular situation to determine if estate planning, and what particular estate planning services are best for you and your family. All three attorneys in our office handle estate planning and would be happy to meet with you or visit with you on the telephone. Please feel free to call and set up a consultation at 402-519-4061 or 308-995-8061.