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Jane Zhang – 5th Element – Opera Performed Live

by Miriam - March 14th, 2017

The 5th Element is one of my all-time favorite movies (right up there with “Princess Bride,” and yes, I know I have simple tastes). There is an opera number in the film performed by an alien. The actor who sang the number was digitally augmented, and popular theory was that the human voice could not achieve the range of the song.

Theory disproven, below.

Jane Zhang is a popular Chinese pop artist. She has another charming video that features a modern take on classic painting, and is with the watch:

Bi-annual Rant: Daylight Savings Time – How is this Still a Thing?

by Miriam - March 11th, 2017


PS – Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead an hour tonight.

And now for something completely different

by Miriam - March 3rd, 2017

Nice 10 minute interlude for a Friday. Hard to believe this is real.

(Hint: The voiceover is very typically from the 50’s. If that grates on your nerves, it’s just as entertaining to watch without the sound.)

If you can read this….You are not a majority

by Miriam - February 28th, 2017

If you have a computer and an internet connection, you are more privileged than most.

Cool video that gives you a good perspective.

Hello? Is there anybody out there?

by Miriam - February 24th, 2017

Very cool. ICYMI this latest bit of space technology news, NASA reported the discovery of 7 planets that have the potential to support life around a dwarf star 40 light years away. Stellar news.

What’s up with these living trusts?!

by Miriam - February 24th, 2017

It’s February 24, and I just made an appointment with my THIRD client this year will bring me an empty Living Trust. That’s the third one this year.  I typically handle this type of client in this situation about twice a year.

The 90’s and early 2000’s was the peak for the “Living Trust” mills.  While not “really” a scam (IMHO, they are a scam, for the reasons below), the model was this:

Attorney and/or insurance company advertises a “free” estate planning seminar which discusses the use of Living Trusts to “avoid probate.” (Some went so far as to incorrectly advertise that Living Trusts “avoid estate taxes.”)  Even without the Living Trust mill format, a LOT of my colleagues were preparing these types of trusts because they were popular, and their clients were requesting them.

The theory behind a Living Trust is that you put ALL of your worldly assets (real estate, personal residence, cars, boats, investment accounts, retirement accounts) in the name of the Trust.  Because it is (technically called) a Revocable Living Trust, you treat the assets as your own – you file taxes on the income, deduct the expenses, and control the asset as if it were your own.  At your death, the assets are simply distributed to your heirs.  No probate, no muss no fuss, easy-peasy. [That’s not really true, but that’s the speal.]

By the way, my clients report that these Living Trust documents (usually bound in nice leather binders with the client name embossed on the cover) cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for a married couple (usually, there is one trust for each spouse).

Generally, I have a lot of concerns about this type of estate planning – particularly for my agriculture clients (and 9 out of 10 clients that come to me with these Living Trusts are agriculture clients).  The details on why this is not usually the best alternative for estate planning is a topic for another (lengthy) post.

However, my primary frustration with this type of Living Trust is that THEY ARE NEVER FUNDED!  The client brings me a nice, expensive binder, and NO ASSETS WERE EVER TRANSFERRED TO THE TRUST.

The whole purpose of the trust is to manage assets – if you never transfer the assets into the trust, there is nothing to manage and the purpose of the trust fails.

[If you are an attorney reading this, yes, I am aware that a pour-over trust that accompanies the Trust documents will technically accomplish the client’s ultimate distribution objectives – but the purpose of the trust to “avoid probate” will be thwarted, and the client will have paid for the creation of the trust and for probate administration.]

This means that my clients have a very expensive doorstop and a very awkward estate plan.

One would think that the attorney who provided these very expensive documents would take the time to instruct the clients on transferring assets to the trust and would provide the deeds for the real estate transfers (in my clients’ cases – usually several parcels of farm ground).  One might even suggest that to fail to supervise this part of the project would constitute malpractice on the part of the drafting attorney.

Often, the new clients that come to me in this situation either have heard me speak about the dangers of Living Trusts or (in the case of the clients I saw this week) just want to “update their estate plan.”  By this time the attorney responsible for drafting the initial document is long gone.

MORAL OF THE STORY.  If you have a Living Trust for your farm estate plan, double-check to be sure that the farm ground was actually transferred into the Trust.  Also, verify that all your other assets are in the name of the Trust.  Under Indiana law, if you die with assets in your name greater than $50,000, those assets must be administered through the probate court.  If you forget to transfer that brand new car, or that vacation home, or that bin-full of grain into the Trust’s name, you will have lost the major benefit of having the Trust.

If you have a Living Trust, talk to your attorney (sooner rather than later) to be sure that is properly set up and properly funded.


10 Quick Tips – It’s Tax TIME

by Miriam - February 16th, 2017

It’s tax time, and whether you prepare your own taxes or have a professional prepare the taxes for you, don’t overlook deductions and avoid these common mistakes which will cause a delay in your refund or generate a letter from the IRS:

  1. Watch for Data-Entry or Math Errors.  Proofread essential information including W2 and 1099 information.  It’s very easy to transpose numbers.
  2. Avoid Misspelled or changed names.  Don’t forget to spell your children’s names correctly – the IRS matches names with SS# in their database, and they don’t recognize nicknames or misspellings.
  3. Confirm SS#s.  Make sure that the SS#s for everyone on your return is correct.  See “Data Entry Errors,” above.  This is another common error.
  4. Verify Direct Deposit Information.  If you are expecting a refund, double-check your bank account and routing information.  If you use a professional preparer, provide your preparer with a check image.
  5. Note Changes in filing status.  If you are divorced and have alternating custody, if you get married, have children or your children leave the nest, make sure you catch that change on your tax return.
  6. Verify deductions.  Schedule A deductions include mortgage interest (match that 1099), charitable deductions (check the donor acknowledgment letters) and medical expenses (keep your receipts from doctor visits and prescriptions).
  7. Verify your Health Insurance Status.  Be sure you run the calculations to prove that you had health insurance coverage for the previous year and that your adjusted gross income matches your health insurance for the Affordable Care Act.
  8. Look for Credits.  Child Care Credit, Education Credits, IRA contribution credits, Child and dependent care expenses and other credits may be available – don’t miss out on this opportunity to reduct your taxes.
  9. Sign and date the return – or make sure that the e-file requirements have been met.
  10. File early – file timely.  The earlier you file your return, the sooner you will receive your refund.  More importantly, don’t miss this year’s April 18 due date! [Trivia – April 15 falls on a weekend, Monday, Apri 17 is Emancipation Day for Washington DC, which means that the Tax Due Date is April 18]

Email from the 80’s

by Miriam - February 14th, 2017

Wow – the Internet has changed a little since 1984. Here’s how you get email in the ’80’s:

Check out the password. And the “software transmission” at the end of the broadcast. Psychadelic.

The Map of Mathematics

by Miriam - February 9th, 2017

This is a terrific Coffee Break – This is an overview video about the history and purpose of mathematics, and particularly about all the different kinds of math and what each is about.

10 minutes well-spent.

My favorite observation: “Some infinities are bigger than others.”

Where do you deploy 500 drones? The Superbowl, of course!

by Miriam - February 7th, 2017

Drone technology continues to evolve. ICYMI, here’s the Lady Gaga intro to halftime including the drone backdrop video from the Superbowl (due to NFL restrictions, you’ll need to click through to view the first video directly on YouTube):

Here’s the “behind the scenes” (more promotional than informational, but still of interest):

Fun facts:
– These drones are very lightweight, and only have a battery life of about 20 minutes.
– This design is developed specifically for light display.
– Due to the large number of drones, special FAA permission is needed for flight.

Guinness Book of Records – Largest K’nex Contraption

by Miriam - February 4th, 2017

Austin Granger, from Minnesota, USA, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota computer science undergraduate built this machine.

What a resume’-builder.

Learn more about the story, here: K’Nex Guinness World Record

TBT – Cheap Trick “It’s Only Love”

by Miriam - January 26th, 2017

A typical and unremarkable 80’s song by Cheap Trick – didn’t even break into the charts.  Released in 1986, the most remarkable thing about this video is that it is the first commercial, main-stream video to incorporate ASL into the video and include an interpreter box in the bottom corner.

It’s worth the coffee break just for the hair.  Ahh.  The 80’s.

Magical Timelapse -Europe

by Miriam - January 20th, 2017

Be sure you click through the video to the Vimeo post to learn about all the places visited and the details of the photo shoots.  Amazing.

Magical Europe – Timelapse from StanChang on Vimeo.

5 Tax Organizing Tips for Farmers

by Miriam - January 10th, 2017

My farm clients have started calling for tax appointments, even though they don’t have all their financial information collected.

As you gather information for your tax preparer, keep these tips in mind:


1.  Separate your major farm activities into separate businesses (Enterprises). If you have multiple farm entities, each should have its own bank account and cash flow statement. If you have multiple activities under one entity, keep separate records so you can track profitability. Livestock enterprises should be a different cash flow statement from grain, for example.

2.  Use accounting software to keep your farm financial records organized. Very few people (these days) are careful and detail-oriented enough to keep accurate paper ledger records. If you use a computer for anything, use a computer to keep track of your financial records. Your lender will thank you and your tax preparer will thank you.

3.  Keep farm and personal income and expenses separate. Even if you think you can deduct some personal expenses as farm expenses, keep separate records and ask your tax preparer what is deductible.

4. If you own farm ground for rent, or if you rent farm ground to farm, keep seperate records of each “farm” and “tenant” (or landlord). This will both help you track profitability for each farm and allow your tax preparer to record rental information correctly on the tax return.

5. Consider a “pre-tax” meeting (or phone call) with your tax preparer before the end of the year. Check to see whether there are any changes in tax law that will affect your bottom line. Some of my clients ask for a “dry run” tax return before the end of the year to check that they are on track with cash flow as the year draws to a close.

Bonus Tip:  Ask questions throughout the year.  As you think of questions, or as you consider a major purchase or payoff of debt, call your tax preparer to see what she might suggest.  After the fact is too late for spending money if you don’t need to (or missing an opportunity for a timely deduction).  Your tax preparer can keep notes about the conversation and make sure that it gets into the conversation at tax time.

If you don’t use these methods for organizing your financial records, now is the time to start. Your tax preparer can help you get set up to be more organized for 2017. It will save you both time and money. If it takes me a long time to organize your records when I prepare your taxes, I charge you for it. My organized clients have a much lower tax prep bill.

The best way to shovel snow off your walk

by Miriam - January 6th, 2017

All I need is a pre-teen or teenager to drive the snow shovel.  And a hoverboard.