4 Reasons to Plan Ahead in Estate Planning

4 Reasons to Plan Ahead in Estate Planning

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted adage rings all too true when considering estate planning. Topics such as drafting a will or choosing a power of attorney, which often simmer on the back burner, can quickly come to a head in times of tragedy and trouble. By failing to consider important estate planning questions in a careful, timely manner, families set themselves up for hard decisions at often inopportune and chaotic times. Taking the necessary steps to establish a basic estate plan when you have the time to consider all your options is beneficial for several reasons:

1. Expense.

Establishing a good estate plan now can save extraneous costs later when some estate planning tools are eliminated as an option. For example, a person can sometimes avoid the filing of a guardianship/conservatorship action in favor of a properly executed power of attorney. A Power of Attorney document is less expensive to draft and execute than the institution of a guardianship action in county court.

2. Time to Think.

One of the most important steps in developing an estate plan is taking the necessary time to consider your options. By allowing ample time to contemplate the significant decisions that estate planning requires, you afford yourself peace of mind in knowing you have a solid plan that you and your family can fall back on if necessary. Often times, I meet with families after someone has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or has already lost cognition. This can limit the options available for estate planning. In those cases, the decisions are often forced and rushed purely due to the nature of the situation. Do yourself and a favor and give yourself the gift of time – time to think and time to choose what is best for you.

3. More Options.

Having a 30,000-foot view of your current estate assets, family dynamics, insurance needs, and potential tax implications allow an estate planning attorney to develop the best plan for you. The more advance planning you undertake, the more likely you are to be able to execute a plan that encompasses all your needs.

4. Family.

Estate planning is not only for the person signing on the dotted line. More often than not, the unintended beneficiary of a comprehensive estate plan is the family and loved ones who take care of the person when they are sick and distribute their assets after they are gone. By executing a basic estate plan, you allow your family to place their time and energy with you, during times when that is the most important thing. From choosing guardians for yourself and your minor children to the division of your assets, having a proper plan ensures you have a voice in all stages of the process that your family can lean on for guidance.

A basic estate plan includes a Will, Power of Attorney for Healthcare, and Power of Attorney for Finance. These documents allow you to make known your wishes at the time you pass and choose the person or persons who will handle your affairs, both in the event of your incapacity and after you have died.

Estate planning is more than just assets. And it is more than just passing wealth. Estate planning is about family and making sure you are taken care of, no matter your stage in life.


This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


Author, Hightower Reff  Attorney Tosha Rae Heavican holds a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. For more about Tosha, visit her profile page.

 

Need help? Contact Hightower Reff Law today at 402-932-9550 and talk to an experienced attorney about creating an estate plan that’s right for you and your loved ones.

Divorce and Taxes Part II – Child Support, Alimony, and Taxes

Divorce and Taxes Part II - Child Support, Alimony, and Taxes

The certainties of death and taxes are inescapable, as is the certainty that divorce will change your tax situation. If you’re getting divorced, you may need to think about child support, alimony, and taxes – along with other tax issues.

In this series, we look at some of the key issues surrounding divorce and taxes so you can gain the clarity you need to have informed conversations with your attorney and your CPA. That can be important to help them protect your interests.

Last time in the series, we discussed four things to consider when mediating or negotiating your divorce decree. When it comes to our topic for this installment — child support, alimony, and taxes — you may find some surprises.

 

Child Support and Taxes

If you receive child support, you don’t have to report it as income.

If you pay child support, you don’t get to deduct it on your taxes… and you don’t get to claim the child on your taxes just because you pay support. The parent who gets to take the dependency exemption for the child depends upon your Divorce Decree, temporary order, and/or the tax code.

 

Alimony and Taxes — A Different Animal

Alimony (spousal support) is altogether different than child support when it comes to tax rules. If you receive alimony, you have to report it on your taxes as income. If you pay alimony, your spousal support payments are tax deductible.

 

Getting Slick with Spousal Support and Taxes — A Sticking Point for the IRS

If your decree structures alimony payments to be high in the first couple of years and then drop off, the IRS may consider those payments to be a property settlement rather than alimony and you may not be able to deduct them.

 

Know Your Decree

Be mindful of child and spousal support tax implications when you’re negotiating or mediating your decree – including who will claim exemptions for the children.

 

A Word About Backsies

If you reach an agreement and a temporary order or final decree is entered, but your spouse changes their mind later, you may want to file your taxes before your spouse. That is unless you need them to sign IRS Form 8332 and they refuse. If that happens, talk to an experienced attorney about enforcement options as soon as you can.

If you don’t need your spouse to sign Form 8332, and they tell you they’re taking the dependency exemption when they aren’t entitled, you may come out ahead if you file first because the IRS will credit the first person who files and claims the exemption.

For more on filing child support and taxes and alimony and taxes, see IRS publication 504.

 

Next in the Series…

Next time in the series we look at things to think about when negotiating the property settlement agreement in your divorce.


This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


Author, Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney Tracy Hightower, holds both a Juris Doctor and  a Master of Laws in Taxation. For more about Tracy, visit her profile page.

If you need help with an Omaha area divorce or other Omaha family law case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with one of the attorneys at the Omaha office. 

Prepping for Your Divorce Trial: Top 5 Tips (From a Divorce Lawyer)

divorce trial

What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial That Your Lawyer May Not Tell You, Part III

Walking into a courtroom for your divorce trial can be daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect.

In this third and final installment of our series “What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial That Your Lawyer May Not Tell You,” Hightower Reff Law partner attorney Tracy Hightower shares her top 5 tips so you can prep for your divorce trial.


In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” At Hightower Reff law, we believe helping our clients prepare for their divorce trial is one of our most important functions as divorce lawyers. Over the years as an Omaha divorce lawyer, I’ve found there are lots of things clients can do to improve their chances of reaching their goals. Now I’m sharing with you my top five tips for prepping for your divorce trial.

 

1. Block your calendar.

Plan to devote the day to your divorce trial, including:

  • Make plans in advance to take time off from work
  • Be proactive — ask your attorney if they need time to meet with you before the trial day to prepare you for your testimony or other things
  • Don’t be surprised if the original trial date gets continued (moved to another day) at the last minute, or if you don’t finish in one day

 

2. Prep for live testimony.

Witnesses for you or for your spouse will testify in person before the judge. You and your spouse will likely testify as well.

  • In “temporary” hearings you may have had during your divorce pre-trial motions, your lawyer probably presented evidence on your behalf by affidavit. That’s a written document, signed under oath. Trials are different.
  • At trial, witnesses testify in person. Affidavits aren’t allowed.

 

3. Your lawyer may not call all the witnesses you want — and that’s okay.

Your lawyer will only call the best witnesses. That almost always means witnesses with firsthand, personal knowledge.

  • In a nutshell, your witness must have firsthand, personal knowledge to testify. They can’t testify about out of court statements of others, or information they got from another person.
  • The most basic first step in determining if a testimony from a witness may be hearsay is to figure out whether the witness was the originator of the information. If not, it’s probably hearsay.
  • For example, your mom can’t testify about your pediatrician’s opinion that your son’s asthma is aggravated during visits to the other parent’s house.
  • There are other things that go into a hearsay determination, and it can get complicated.
  • Tell your attorney about the possible witnesses you believe may have personal knowledge relevant to the issues of your divorce. It’s their job to figure out who’s to testify at trial.

 

4. Dress your best.

The impression you make on the court is important. Appearance and grooming are key.

  • Your lawyer won’t come to court in jeans or a team sweatshirt. They dress to show respect for the court and to present a professional image for their clients and for themselves. If you do the same on trial day, you can’t go wrong.
  • The court will be assessing your credibility and perhaps your fitness as a parent. Making a good first impression by dressing appropriately and respectfully can only help boost your credibility.

 

5.  Control your face.

No matter what unbelievably shocking stupidity comes out of your spouse’s mouth, try to keep a straight face.

  • If you roll your eyes or make weird faces, the judge will see it. Most times, that isn’t a good thing. As hard as it may be, try to keep a neutral face — or at least not look like this (or anything close.)
  • Crying is okay. Divorces are emotional. The judge understands. You can be authentically emotional in court, you just can’t be rude or out of control. If you feel you need a few minutes, let your attorney know.

If you have questions before your divorce trial, don’t be afraid to ask your divorce attorney. They are there to support you through the process.

If you missed Part I of the series, read it here.

Catch up with Part II here.


This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.


 For More Information:

Learn more about Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney Tracy Hightower.

Find out more about Hightower Reff’s family law services.

If you need help with a Nebraska divorce or other family law case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with one of the attorneys at the Omaha office. 

What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial that Your Lawyer May Not Tell You, Part II: 5 Things Smart Divorce Clients Do During Their Divorce Trial

divorce trial

What you do before and during your divorce trial has an effect on the outcome of the case. In this second installment of Hightower Reff Law’s series What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial That Your Lawyer May Not Tell You, I’ll share five things smart divorce clients do during and before their divorce trial. These five things could help boost your chances of getting what you want at your divorce trial (or at the least, help prevent things that can screw up your case.)

In my years as an Omaha divorce lawyer and child custody lawyer, I’ve noticed that clients who are effective players in their divorce legal team usually share five common behaviors. Those things seem to have a positive influence on not only the outcome of the case but also the way their divorce trial impacts their children’s lives and their own.

In this article, I’ll share with you the five things these smart clients do during their divorce trial that have a positive impact on the outcome of their case.

What you need to know about your divorce trial that your lawyer may not tell you… What you do during your divorce case matters.

Smart clients know that a real divorce trial isn’t like the ones you see on television. How effective your lawyer can be on your behalf is limited by reality. That means actual facts – the way things are.

The court makes its findings for your divorce decree based on evidence – or, in other words, proof of relevant facts. Things like financial circumstances, including income, retirement savings, and debt are important facts the court considers. In child custody, your lifestyle and behavior also come into play as the court evaluates the best interests of the child. During the trial, it’s your lawyer’s job to present all of this evidence to the court.

What you do or don’t do during your divorce case will affect whether your divorce lawyer is able to present evidence effectively to prove your side of the case. It may also bear upon how much credibility or weight the court gives some of the evidence both sides present.

 

 

 

 

 

Next Time in the Series

Next time in the series What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial that Your Lawyer May Not Tell You, we’ll step inside the courtroom to prepare you for what to expect on the big day (or multiple days) of your divorce trial.

(If you missed Part I of this series, What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial That Your Lawyer May Not Tell You – Has my Lawyer Fallen From the End of the Earth? Don’t fret, you can catch up here.) 

 

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


For More Information:

Learn more about Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney Tracy Hightower.

Find out more about Hightower Reff’s family law services.

If you need help with a Nebraska divorce or other family law case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with one of the attorneys at the Omaha office. 

What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial that Your Lawyer May Not Tell You – Part I, Has my Lawyer Fallen from the End of the Earth?

What you need to know about your divorce trial

Divorce trials are strange, unfamiliar things to most people. You can feel like you’re in the dark. If your divorce attorney doesn’t do a good job being clear with you, that feeling of being in the dark can turn to mistrust of your lawyer, insecurity, and fear. In this series, What you Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial That Your Lawyer May Not Tell You, I’ll shed some light on your divorce trial.

In this first installment, Has My Lawyer Fallen from the End of the Earth? I’ll explain why your lawyer’s seeming disappearance before trial isn’t a sign he or she has met a bizarre end or doesn’t care about your case. (So hold off on emailing tabloid websites with your proof the world is flat because your lawyer just fell off the edge of it.)

Pre-trial pre-production for your divorce trial

Before any organized presentation, there’s a lot of preparation. That prep is crucial to make sure the presentation is smooth and coherent, and as well thought out as possible. Think of it as pre-production.

Divorce trials are no different. They require a LOT of pre-production. A well prepared attorney generally spends four to five hours of preparation time for every hour they’ll spend in court.

How is that possible? A divorce attorney preparing for a divorce trial or other family law trial has a lot to do.

 

 

 

Not proof the world is flat 

Your attorney has a lot on their plate when preparing for your divorce or other family law trial. During the busiest parts of that trial preparation, they may rely on another attorney in the firm, a law clerk, or assistant to help support you. Those trusted members of your divorce team may support you through any questions or issues come up.  If that happens, don’t take it personally; your attorney isn’t blowing you off. They haven’t fallen from the edge of a flat earth, and they certainly haven’t stopped caring about the outcome of your case. It’s quite the opposite.

Your attorney cares so much that they are directing the lion’s share of their time and attention to preparing for your trial. They want to be as prepared as possible for your divorce trial so they can do what you hired them to do: get you the best result they are able to achieve.

Many attorneys miss out on time with their families, other personal events and interests, and even needed rest because they become incredibly focused on preparing for your trial so they can do a good job for you.

An alternative to the tribulations of a divorce trial 

If a divorce trial sounds like it’s not for your circumstance, there’s an alternative: collaborative divorce.  Not every attorney is trained in this amicable divorce option. Also, it’s not appropriate for every case.

At Hightower Reff Law, however, (as well as practicing in traditional adversarial divorce) attorney Scott Hahn and I are both certified collaborative divorce attorneys.

In a nutshell, in collaborative divorce, you and your spouse work with a team of professionals to come up with an agreement to submit to the court. That agreement will become your final Divorce Decree. There’ll be some court involvement to get everything finalized. However, collaborative divorce is usually easier in the end, in part because you have everything agreed upon ahead of time instead of “duking it out” at trial.

There’s more info on collaborative divorce available on the Hightower Reff blog and website.

Next time in the series, What You Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial That Your Lawyer May Not Tell You

Next time in the series What you Need to Know About Your Divorce Trial that Your Lawyer May Not Tell You, I’ll share some ideas on what YOU can do to prepare for your trial to help increase your chances of success.

 

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 


For More Information:

Learn more about Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney Tracy Hightower.

Find out more about Hightower Reff’s family law services.

 

If you need help with a Nebraska divorce or other family law case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with one of the attorneys at the Omaha office. 

5 Ways to Turn Your Divorce Case Into a Train Wreck

Divorce Case

There are plenty of opportunities for divorcing spouses to make a mess out of everything during a divorce case. In this article, I’ll tell you about five things that will turn your divorce case into a train wreck.

Divorce is tough. It’s emotional. Your soon to be ex-spouse may also be a complete bag of (insert preferred expletive). Maybe they’re so bad that you’re considering doing whatever you can to stick it to him/her during your divorce case out of spite.

Maybe spousal retribution isn’t your goal, but you’re just so emotional about the ordeal, you don’t know

I’ve seen clients employ these five tactics with great success… if your goal is screwing up your divorce. Read on and learn the secrets so you too can turn your divorce case into a train wreck, or avoid it (the preferable goal).*

 

1. Listen to everyone but your lawyer.

divorce case

If you really want to make sure your divorce is a gruesome train wreck, be sure to listen to everyone except your attorney.

Base your expectations for your case on what everyone but your lawyer says will or should happen in your divorce. Do this regardless of whether these people are Omaha family law attorneys familiar with the facts of your case, or laypeople who watched that Divorce Court TV show a time or two.

Pay attention to what your friend got in their divorce, or what you heard your friend’s friend got in theirs. Even if their circumstances are completely different from yours.

Set unrealistic goals based on the unrealistic expectations you’ve made… no matter what your lawyer says.*

 

2. Use your kids as a weapon.

divorce case

Use your kids to make your spouse suffer. Tell your kids what a giant bag of monkey turds their other parent is. (Double bonus if you can actually make your kids dislike the other parent and refuse to spend parenting time with them.)

Sure the judge may not like it, and it’ll probably eventually backfire on your and end up damaging your kids, but just think of how ticked your spouse will be in the meantime.

Also consider teaching your kids to spy on your ex and tell you everything. It just makes sense. They work cheap, they’re small, and can easily go unnoticed.

Psychology experts would poo-poo all of these ideas. Remember, though, they would be concerned with your child’s best interests. All you care about is wrecking your divorce, no matter the impact on your kids.*

 

3. Order or suggestion? You decide.

divorce case

If you don’t like the judge’s Order, do what you want. The Order is probably just a guideline or a suggestion anyway. It’s not like it’s a Court Order…

Wait — uhh, well. I guess it is a Court Order. But still.

Your lawyer might say fancy words like “willful disobedience,” “show case” and “contempt.” The important thing here is making your spouse suffer and making yourself feel good for a little while. (Plus, your friend Larry says your lawyer is wrong.)*

 

4. Make a scene on social media.

divorce case

The more photographic evidence of your inappropriate behavior you post on social media, the better to irritate your spouse with. It’ll show them you’ve moved on. If your child’s a social media connection, make sure they also see the post and point it out to your spouse.

Social media is also a great place to publicly embarrass your spouse by airing your grievances and/or posting private things about them. Who cares if it does long-term damage to your ability to work with your spouse to parent your kids. This is about short-term revenge.*

 

5. Freak out.

divorce case

If your spouse says things like, “I’m going to get full custody,” or, “I’m taking you to the cleaners,” believe them. Freak out every time they say something l like that. It will wreck your divorce case really well.

Although probably lacking a law degree, your spouse is likely psychic or knows something you don’t. Also, your spouse’s lawyer is presumably awesome and your lawyer is, in all likelihood, a clown — just like your spouse keeps telling you.

The ideal reaction is to freak out. A lot. Really flip out. Lose sleep, don’t eat, and be sure to tell your kids all about it (refer back to number two). Ultimately, your goal is to dance like a marionette every time your spouse pulls your strings.

Also, habitually call or email your lawyer to report your spouse’s prophecies. Ask your lawyer for a detailed plan regarding how they intend to stop each and every one of your spouse’s predictions from coming to fruition. Not only will this help screw up your divorce, it will also make your legal bills skyrocket.*

 

divorce case

Hightower Reff Law doesn’t endorse any of these, and strongly suggests you do the opposite.

 

Consider keeping your nose on your face instead. 

Doing any or all of these things is likely to make your divorce case take longer and cost both you and your spouse more. More in financial and emotional resources.

If you choose to turn your divorce case into a train wreck instead of behaving prudently, you’ll also have to wait longer before you can move on with life.

Notice that I’m talking about you, not your spouse? If making the divorce tougher to spite your spouse is your goal, you may accomplish it. However, you’re also quite likely to cut off your own nose to spite your face.

Consider as well that acting in these ways is likely to harm your credibility with the court. Bad behavior that calls into question your parental judgment or fitness could also negatively affect your child custody case.  Moreover, in some circumstances, the court could sanction you for contempt of court. (Your friend Larry is wrong.)

At any rate, if you act badly during your divorce case, you’ll cause major collateral damage. The victims likely to be hurt most… your children.

 

*Hightower Reff Law doesn’t endorse train wrecks.

As you may have gathered, Hightower Reff Law doesn’t endorse these ill-advised spite tactics or purposefully turning your divorce into a train wreck in any way. We strongly suggest you not try these five ways to turn your divorce case into a train wreck, or any others.

These kinds of bad behaviors are very likely to harm the outcome of your divorce case and/or damage your family relationships. Most concerning, some of these emotionally driven, poor choices hurt children.

I hope this information will help readers avoid these mistakes. The client who makes well reasoned, rational choices, instead of emotional poor choices can be at peace, knowing their family relationships and children won’t suffer avoidable negative consequences.


This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.  


Author, Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney Susan Reff, is a well respected Omaha, Nebraska family law and criminal law attorney with more than fifteen years of law practice experience. For more about Susan, visit her profile page.

If you need help with an Omaha area divorce or other Omaha family law case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with one of the attorneys at the Omaha office. 

How Remarriage Could Affect Child Custody – Five Things You Should Know

Remarriage can throw your child custody co-parenting relationship into a tailspin.

It doesn’t have to, however… and usually shouldn’t. Before you remarry with the idea it’ll help your Nebraska child custody case – or before you fret for days about how your ex’s remarriage could affect child custody, there are five things you should know:

 

 

Keep parenting and child custody issues between the parents – regardless of remarriage 

When a child custody dispute happens around a remarriage or new relationship, the Omaha family law attorneys at Hightower Reff Law recommend our clients work it out between themselves and their ex – without “help” from the new spouse(s) or significant other(s).

As well intentioned as step-parents may be, putting them in the mix of co-parenting decisions or disputes is generally a bad idea, unless both parents are okay with the step-parent’s involvement. Even then, it can sometimes add complications to an already rocky situation.

In some cases, however, step-parents can become a great asset to a coparenting team. Those step-parents became an asset to the co-parenting team by being supportive without overstepping their bounds. They didn’t insert themselves into the parenting mix until both parents let them know their involvement was welcome.

Mediate before you litigate

Going to court to litigate child custody and other family law cases tends to heat up emotions. That can make it more difficult for you and your ex to co-parent. When there’s a disagreement about changes to parenting time schedules because of remarriage or a new relationship, if you can’t work it out on your own, try mediation before you head to court. You could end up saving your child a heartache and yourself a headache.

If you decide to try to work out your child custody disagreement, a good Omaha family law attorney can help with Nebraska child custody mediation and other alternative dispute resolution options.

You don’t have to go it alone. At Hightower Reff Law, we believe in the alternative dispute resolution process for Nebraska family law cases. We’ve found in Nebraska family law cases that solutions our clients work out in mediation or negotiation work out better for them and for their children in the long run.

 

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 

For More Information:

Learn more about Hightower Reff  Partner Attorney Tracy Hightower.

Find out more about Hightower Reff’s family law services.

If you need help with a Nebraska child custody case or other family law case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with Tracy or one of the other experienced attorneys at the Omaha office. 

Omaha’s Hightower Reff Law and Leadership go Hand in Hand

For the second time in as many years, a Hightower Reff Law attorney has been named to the annual Omaha New Leaders Council Class of Fellows.

Congratulations Hightower Reff attorney Scott Hahn!
For details about Hightower Reff Attorney Scott Hahn, visit his profile page.

More information about Scott’s divorce practice is available here.

If you need help with a Nebraska divorce, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with Scott at the Omaha office.