Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is the common and form of business. Most small businesses begin as sole proprietorship, and many family-run businesses continue to use this form. In a sole proprietorship, a single individual engages in a business activity. There is no formal paperwork required by the state of Texas in order to start or form a sole proprietorship.

If the business is conducted under a name other than the surname of the individual, then an assumed name certificate (or "DBA" for doing business as) should be filed with the County Clerk's office where the business is located. If there is no formal location for the business, then an assumed name certificate should be filed with the county clerks in all counties where business is conducted.

One drawback of the sole proprietorship is that the business owner has liability for all of the debts of the business and any other claims against the business, such as tort liability.

Typically, a sole proprietorship will use the social security number of the individual owner and will pay taxes using Schedule C attached to the owner's 1040 tax form.

If you need a Texas business lawyer, please contact Peterson Law Group.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What is Separate Property?

In Texas, "Separate Property" consists of:
  • the property owned or claimed by a spouse before marriage
  • the property acquired by the spouse during marriage by gift, devise, or descent
  • the recovery for personal injuries sustained by the spouse during the marriage, except any recovery for loss of earning capacity during marriage.
The separate property remains the property of the individual spouse. Spouses may also agree to set aside portions of their community property as separate property; this is accomplished using a partition or exchange agreement.

Even if separate property is commingled with the community property of the marriage, as long as it can be traced and properly identified, it will remain separate property. This is usually done by seeing how the money was originally spent (usually on a single large purchase, like a house) and tracing the flow of the money through bank accounts and finally the hard assets. However, the better practice remains to keep separate property in a separate account, and to title any assets bought with those separate property funds in the name of the spouse owning the separate property.

If you need a Texas divorce lawyer, contact Peterson Law Group.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Is there alimony in Texas?

The short answer is sort of. In Texas, it is possible to get "spousal maintenance", which is essentially like alimony. Typically, spousal maintenance is available if you have been married for more than 10 years; you lack sufficient property to provide for your minimum needs; and one of the following 3 scenarios applies to your situation:
  • you are unable to support yourself through appropriate employment because of physical or mental disability; or
  • you are the custodian of a child who requires substantial care and personal supervision because a physical or mental disability makes it necessary, taking into consideration the needs of the child, that the spouse seeking maintenance not be employed outside the home; or
  • you lack earning ability in the labor market adequate to provide support for your minimum reasonable needs.
Spousal maintenance is generally available only for a period of 3 years after the date of divorce. Spousal maintenance could be indefinitely available to persons who are unable to support themselves because of incapacitating physical or mental disability.

If you need a Texas divorce lawyer, contact Peterson Law Group.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What is community property in Texas?

In Texas, "Community Property" basically consists of all property acquired by either spouse during marriage that is not otherwise Separate Property. All marital is presumed to be community property unless it is proved to be separate property. Spouses may also agree in writing that his or her separate property is converted to community property.

Another question that often comes up is "What about property we acquired in another state?" The general rule in Texas is that marital property acquired by either spouse while residing elsewhere is community property if it would have been considered as community property if the spouse was living in Texas at the time of acquisition.

Sometimes, these questions of community property versus separate property are very complex, and you may need legal help to determine the status of a marital asset.

If you need a Texas divorce lawyer, contact Peterson Law Group.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How soon can I get remarried after my Texas divorce is final?

This is a question we often get asked by divorce clients. In Texas, neither party to a divorce may remarry the 31st day after the date the judge has signed the divorce decree. That means you should not plan a wedding for at least a month after the date of your divorce hearing. You would be surprised how many clients have had to move their wedding date after consulting with us.

One exception to this general rule does exist. Former spouses may remarry each other at any time without waiting for the 30 days to pass. However, we have never had this situation occur in our practice.

If you need a Texas divorce lawyer, contact Peterson Law Group.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What is the waiting period for getting a divorce?

In Texas, a court may not grant a divorce before the 60th day after the date the divorce lawsuit is filed. This "waiting period" is intended to give the divorcing spouses some time to decide whether they really want a divorce or were just acting in the heat of the moment. Although we have not often had spouses reconcile during this waiting period, it has occurred on a few occasions with our divorce clients. If you are looking for a quick, agreed divorce, it is helpful to remember that the divorce waiting period is not going to let you enter a decree immediately.

If you need a Texas divorce lawyer, contact Peterson Law Group.

Friday, December 18, 2009

When can my child choose which parent to live with?

In Texas, a child who is twelve years of age or older may choose the parent he or she wants to live with, subject to the court’s approval. This must be done in writing (usually like an affidavit), and is filed with the court.

However, the court is not required to approve the child's choice of conservator. The court still must decide what is in the child's best interests considering all of the circumstances.

In our experience, the child's choice of conservator is given a lot of weight by judges.

If you need a Texas family law and child custody lawyer, contact Peterson Law Group.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What are grounds for divorce in Texas?

In Texas, the court may grant a divorce on any of three no-fault grounds:

  • insupportability
  • living apart for 3 years
  • one spouse's confinement in a mental hospital for 3 years

A divorce may also be granted on any of these fault grounds:
  • cruelty
  • adultery
  • one spouse's conviction of a felony
  • abandonment of a spouse for one year

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who Was Supposed To Be Watching Grandma?

There is a popular tune played this time of year called “Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer” which relates that Grandma -- after drinking too much eggnog -- went out into the winter cold to get her medication and was run over by a reindeer. The question is, “Who was supposed to be watching Grandma?”

Though this little tune is just for fun, it may very well raise alarms to many caregivers of the elderly. Caregivers know that even at a holiday party they cannot let down their diligent watch over their elderly loved one. As far-fetched as it may sound, with all the people and noise, an elderly family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be enjoying the family gathering and then suddenly become confused and walk to the door and leave.

For family caregivers the added stress of the holidays with decorating, shopping, parties and keeping up with all the family traditions is an overwhelming quest. Feelings of isolation, depression and sadness come with this added stress. There are millions of Americans who are caring for elderly frail loved ones and most of these caregivers will go through some of these emotions, especially this time of year.

There are some things you can do as a caregiver to help you and those you care for enjoy the holiday season.

First take care of yourself. Try to eat right, get plenty of sleep and exercise. This will help reduce stress and strengthen your ability to cope with caregiving responsibilities.

Prioritize your holiday traditions. Perhaps instead of cooking a large family dinner, have everyone bring his or her favorite dish. Use paper plates. Forfeit the traditional outside light decorating for a lighted wreath on the front door. Choose one or two parties or concerts to attend instead of trying to do it all.

Arrange for help. Call on other family members to help with the caregiving while you do your shopping or go out for the evening. If family is not available, ask your church group or a neighbor if they would donate a few hours.

Use community services. Many senior centers provide meals for the elderly and supervised activities, onsite, at no charge or a minimal charge. For locating senior services in your state, call your state Area Agency on Aging or check the national locator website at

Use adult day care services. Some assisted living facilities provide day activities and meals for seniors on a day by day basis. Other organizations called "adult day service providers" specialize exclusively in this sort of care support at a reasonable cost. These support services provide respite for caregivers from their caregiving responsibilities as well as social interaction for their elderly family members. There is a cost for adult day services, but the benefit for all is worth it.

For example:

Jean had brought her mother into her home to care for her when mom's Alzheimer’s made it impossible for her to be alone. When the Christmas season approached, Jean realized she had to make some choices. She did not want to give up the traditions she had set with her daughters in shopping and lunches, but it wouldn’t be possible with her caregiving responsibilities. In searching for a solution, Jean visited an adult day services facility near her home. She found she could schedule the days she needed off for her mother to come in. The adult day services company also provided transportation and would pick up mom and bring her home in the evening.

Although Jean's mother was not sure she would like to go at first, she found she enjoyed the programs, meals and conversation with new friends and the activities provided.

The time it gave Jean to have for herself was worth the extra cost for the day care.

Technology to the rescue. Here is a solution that would have kept “Grandma” from going out in the winter cold and getting run over by a reindeer. Companies that have created monitoring systems, security alarms and other safety equipment are “tweaking” them to adapt to the needs of seniors and their care givers.

Here are a few examples:

  • Ankle or wrist bands that monitor location and alert the provider when a person has gone beyond the designated perimeter, such as out the front door of the house.
  • Motion detectors. Set throughout the home, motion detectors allow someone outside the home to follow a senior as he or she moves through the house.
  • Smart medication dispensers. Live monitoring and dispensing of pills.
  • Emergency response alert. At a touch of a button on a desktop monitor, bracelet or necklace, emergency help is summoned.

Whether providing care in your home or helping senior family members in their own homes, your use of monitoring and “tech” help aids can provide extra safety for your loved ones, and peace of mind for you.

You are not alone. Join a caregiving help group. Your local senior center may have one or go on the internet to find one. Hearing about other caregivers' problems and solutions and being able to share your own and ask questions is a great way to relieve stress and gain a new perspective. Check out websites like the National Family Caregivers Association at

Work with a Senior Care Professional. Recognize that you are doing the very best you know how. You are not a geriatric health care practitioner, geriatric care manager, home care nurse or aide, hospice provider or family mediation counselor, nor do you have the years of training and experience these professionals have, but you can definitely use their experience. In fact, using a senior care specialist will make caregiving easier for you and more beneficial for your elderly family member.

As an example:

Mark stopped by his father Dan’s home every night after work to help with any errands or things he needed around the house. He began to notice that Dan was not showering, dressing or even fixing meals some days. Another concern was his father's growing confusion and disorientation. A trip to the family doctor only brought more concern to Mark, since the doctor claimed it was just the aging process that caused the confusion.

Wanting a second professional opinion on what was best for his father, Mark hired Shelly -- a Professional Geriatric Care Manger -- to do an assessment. Shelly arranged for Mark and Dan to see a geriatrician, who advised that proper meals and an increase in some vitamins, would help clear up the confusion and disorientation. Shelly arranged for a home care company to come in daily to help with personal needs and prepare meals.

Soon Dan was back to his old self and able to function on his own.

You can find a wide variety of care professionals in your area on the National Care Planning Council website at

One more thing to remember. As a family caregiver, the greatest gift you are giving this holiday season is “Love.”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Planning for Your Elder Years

If we were to ask an older person what his or her most important concerns for aging are, we would probably get a variety of different answers. According to surveys frequently conducted among the elderly, the most likely answers we would receive would include the following three principal concerns or life wishes:

1. Remaining independent in the home without intervention
from others

2. Maintaining good health and receiving adequate health care

3. Having enough money for everyday needs and not outliving
assets and income

To address these concerns or wishes and maintain the quality of life wanted in the elder years, it simply takes a little preplanning.

Few people do this kind of planning.

It is human nature not to worry about an event until it happens. We may prepare financially for unexpected financial disasters by covering our homes, automobiles and health with insurance policies.

However, no other life event can be as devastating to an elderly person’s lifestyle, finances and security as needing long term care. It drastically alters or completely eliminates the three principal lifestyle wishes listed above.

The majority of the American public does not plan for this crisis of needing eldercare. The lack of planning also has an adverse effect on the older person's family, with sacrifices made in time, money, and family lifestyles.

Because of changing demographics and potential changes in government funding, the current generation needs to plan for long term care before the elder years are upon them.

Let us look at some facts.

  • The population of the "very old,"--older than age 85--is the
    fastest growing group in America. This population is at
    highest risk for needing care. (Statistical abstract of the United States,
    2008, population)
  • Medical science is preventing early sudden deaths, which
    means living longer with impaired health and greater risk of
    needing long term care.
  • The Alzheimer's Association estimates the risk of
    Alzheimer's or dementia beyond age 85 to be about 46% of
    that population.
  • It is estimated that 6 out of 10 people will need long term
    care sometime during their lifetime.
  • Children are moving far away from parents or parents move
    away during retirement making long distance care giving
    difficult or impossible.
  • Government programs--already stretched thin for long term
    care services--will experience even greater stress on
    available funds in the future.

One of the important things for planning is how to maintain your lifestyle as you age. You may be healthy enough to stay in your own home with help provided for the following activities of daily living:

maintaining a home,
providing meals,
transportation and
shopping services.

This type of care at home is non-medical and must be provided free of charge by family, friends, or volunteers or the care must be paid for out-of-pocket by the family.

Government programs, in most cases, will not pay for this kind of care. It is estimated that 80% of all long term care is non-medical, with 90% of that care provided in the home. It is most likely that your long term care will begin with home care.

It is wise to plan now how you will pay for care when it is needed. In evaluating your future income you may find it necessary to add some resources such as long term care Insurance to pay for assisted living or nursing home costs. Long term care insurance must be purchased while you are younger and healthy. Failing health, stroke or other aging issues will not allow you to qualify for this insurance.

A reverse mortgage will also help pay for home care if staying in your home is an option.

Consider where you may want to live in your elder years. Many assisted living facilities offer complete care alternatives with a nursing home wing if needed. Senior retirement communities also offer many amenities with some including home care options.

Now is the time to do estate planning. A professional estate planner will give you direction on how best to protect your assets for future needs and for Medicaid planning.

Do your paper work. Now is the time to create your trusts, will, medical directives in a living will and any other documents you want noted for future use. Gather Insurance policies and bank records where they can be found by family members in case you are not able to get them yourself.

We don’t like to think of our elder years in terms of health problems, but a sudden stroke, heart failure or onset of dementia could make it impossible to carry out our own wishes if preparation was not made ahead of time.

The process of long term care planning involves the following four

1. Knowledge and preparation are the keys to success.
2. Having funds to pay for care expands the choices for care
settings and providers.
3. Using professional help relieves stress, reduces conflict, and
saves time and money.
4. Success is assured through a written plan accepted by all
parties involved.

(The above excerpt is quoted from "The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning," National Care Planning Council)

The National Care Planning Council' s website -- -- provides over 700 pages of information for long term care planning and lists services of professional care providers in estate planning, long term care insurance, reverse mortgage, home care and many other important long term care services.

The National Care Planning Council' s book, “The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning,” provides information on what Medicaid and Medicare will cover as well as an overview of professional long term care service providers and how their services can help you create and execute your long term care plan. A check list of what to do to create a plan and forms for creating necessary paperwork are also included in the book.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

PreNeed (Pre-Paid) Funeral and Burial Plans

Advantages and Disadvantages of Prepaid Plans

One way to plan in advance for the end of one's life is to sign a formal contract called a "preneed funeral plan." With this plan, money to pay for a funeral and/or burial is held in a trust, in an escrow account or paid through an insurance policy on the life of the person desiring the plan. Parts of or all of the funeral service and burial are designed in advance and pre-funded in advance and the family has little to do but show up.

This type of planning has become very popular in recent years. A survey conducted by the AARP in 1999, found that two out of five people over age 50 had been approached to pre-purchase funerals and burial goods and services. An AARP survey in 1998 indicates that 32% of all Americans over age 50, roughly 21 million people, have prepaid some or all of their funeral and or burial expenses (but not necessarily through a formal preneed plan). Breaking that down; about 25% of the over age 50 population have prepaid for their burials (cemetery plot, mausoleum or niche), 18% have prepaid for headstones, urns, caskets , grave liners or vaults, opening and closing of graves and so on and 13% have prepaid for goods or services from a funeral home or funeral director. The same survey indicates that over $25 billion is being held in preneed trust funds. Roughly another $25 billion is waiting to be paid out in life insurance benefits. Prepaid or preneed funerals and burials are big business.

Funerals and burials funded privately by the family, or paid from an individual life insurance policy and arranged informally through a funeral home or funeral director are generally not subject to state regulation. Any formal arrangement through a second party or involving a contract is subject to regulation in all states. Each state has adopted different rules as to who can sell these plans, what the plans can provide, what contract provisions must be, how the plan is to be funded and what recourse purchasers might have in the event of fraud or default. All states call these regulated plans "preneed" funeral and burial arrangements.

Here are some advantages as to why one would want to buy a preneed plan for funeral and burial services and goods.
  • It provides peace of mind knowing these arrangements have been made in advance.
  • It avoids the burden on family members to make decisions when they are most vulnerable to manipulation.
  • It allows one to virtually control from the grave by determining in advance the funeral products, funeral services, burial products and burial services that one would prefer having for final arrangements.
  • It helps the family to avoid taking loans, arranging finance plans, raiding savings or selling assets to pay for a funeral and burial.
  • It guarantees (for many contracts) that if products and services currently purchased are not available in the future, equivalent substitutes will be provided at no additional cost.
  • It locks in guaranteed prices (available with some contracts) forever.
  • It allows for inflation in future costs (for those contracts that do not guarantee prices) by investing money in an interest-bearing account or buying life insurance that increases in value over time.
  • Depending on the contract, it may allow for transfer to another funeral home or for partial or full refund.
Unfortunately, there are also problems with prepaid, preplanned final arrangements.
  • With some trust fund and insurance funding options there may be no refund if someone wants to cancel the plan in the future.
  • If a purchaser moves to another state there may be no transfer options or there may be different rules governing the funding option.
  • In some contracts, interest earnings on investments resulting in excess money not needed for the plan may be retained by the funeral home or funeral director.
  • On installment plans interest may be charged but not credited to the account.
  • In certain insurance funded contracts, the ownership or death benefit may be irrevocably assigned to the contract holder (funeral home), preventing the purchaser from enjoying ownership rights in the policy.
  • In certain insurance funded contracts, a growth in the death benefit over time that exceeds the cost of the preneed plan services and goods may be pocketed by the contract holder (funeral home) instead of being refunded.
  • If the contract provider goes out of business or fails to secure 100% of the funds for future payment, there may be no recourse to get all of the money back that was put in.
  • If certain services or goods that were purchased initially are not available in the future, but more expensive versions might be, the family may be forced to pay extra for those items.
  • In certain insurance funded plans, if the insured dies too soon, there may have been a waiting period in which few or no benefits are paid at death, thus forcing the family to pay out of pocket for the funeral.
  • Certain unscrupulous providers may have failed to provide an itemized list of services and goods or failed to identify properly, specific services and goods, thus allowing the provider in the future to substitute less expensive items or to leave out services and goods that were originally anticipated in the agreement.
What Services and Goods Can Be Prepaid?

All states allow for prepaid plans for funeral services and merchandise. This would include such things as picking up the body, embalming and restoration, rooms or chapel for viewing and funeral services, casket, vault or grave liner, transportation, permits, death certificates, obituaries and so forth. Almost all states allow for prepaid burial services and merchandise as well. Only about six states do not allow it. Burial services and merchandise might include opening and closing the grave, grave markers, vaults or grave liners, mausoleums or niches. Cemetery plots are excluded from prepaid plans in all states.

The AARP has excellent information for consumers on planning for funerals. Quoting from the AARP:

"Most states have a licensing board that regulates the funeral industry. You may contact the board in your state for information or help. If you want additional information about making funeral arrangements and the options available, you may want to contact interested business, professional and consumer groups."

To find a planner in your area you may also contact the National Care Planning Council at or call 800-989-8137

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How to form an LLC in Texas

Many companies in Texas choose to use a limited liability company (or LLC) for their business. LLCs are great small business entities because they provide limited liability while also providing flexibility for taxing purposes.

To form an LLC, the first step is to choose a name for your limited liability company. You can use almost any name you want, except for names that are too close to the names of existing LLCs, violate someone else's trademark, or a few restricted names. You can check the LLC name options by contacting the Texas Secretary of State's Office.

The second step is to file a Certificate of Formation. This certificate, which used to be called Articles of Organization, lists basic information about your limited liability company. The information you will need includes:

  1. Name of the LLC

  2. Name and address of the Registered Agent

  3. Address of the LLC's principal office

  4. Names and addresses of the LLC Managers

The registered agent is a person that will receive formal notices from the State of Texas about matters involving the LLC. The registered agent will also be the person that will be served with any lawsuits involving the limited liability company. The LLC managers are essentially the same as a board of directors; they will manage the day to day operations of the limited liability company.

The third step is to file the Certificate of Formation and the required filing fee to the Texas Secretary of State. Once you receive confirmation (Certificate of Filing) from the Secretary of State, your limited liability company will be official and the LLC formation complete.

However, you probably also need to:

  1. create an LLC Operating Agreement

  2. sign initial LLC meeting minutes (or a written consent)

  3. order a corporate record book and issue the LLC membership units (LLC stock)

  4. apply for a federal tax id number

  5. apply for any licenses or permits needed for your business

If you need help in starting an LLC, Peterson Law Group has 2 ways to help you. You can use our full service law firm or you can use our self help virtual law firm.

How to form an LLC in Texas

Many companies in Texas choose to use a limited liability company (or LLC) for their business. LLCs are great small business entities because they provide limited liability while also providing flexibility for taxing purposes.

To form an LLC, the first step is to choose a name for your limited liability company. You can use almost any name you want, except for names that are too close to the names of existing LLCs, violate someone else's trademark, or a few restricted names. You can check the LLC name options by contacting the Texas Secretary of State's Office.

The second step is to file a Certificate of Formation. This certificate, which used to be called Articles of Organization, lists basic information about your limited liability company. The information you will need includes:

  1. Name of the LLC

  2. Name and address of the Registered Agent

  3. Address of the LLC's principal office

  4. Names and addresses of the LLC Managers

The registered agent is a person that will receive formal notices from the State of Texas about matters involving the LLC. The registered agent will also be the person that will be served with any lawsuits involving the limited liability company. The LLC managers are essentially the same as a board of directors; they will manage the day to day operations of the limited liability company.

The third step is to file the Certificate of Formation and the required filing fee to the Texas Secretary of State. Once you receive confirmation (Certificate of Filing) from the Secretary of State, your limited liability company will be official and the LLC formation complete.

However, you probably also need to:

  1. create an LLC Operating Agreement

  2. sign initial LLC meeting minutes (or a written consent)

  3. order a corporate record book and issue the LLC membership units (LLC stock)

  4. apply for a federal tax id number

  5. apply for any licenses or permits needed for your business

If you need help in starting an LLC, Peterson Law Group has 2 ways to help you. You can use our full service law firm or you can use our self help virtual law firm.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is the purpose of collaborative law?

The purpose of collaborative law is to resolve a dispute in a manner that is beneficial to all concerned. The parties and their lawyers voluntarily agree to cooperate honestly and in good faith to develop options and possible solutions.

If you are interest in this process, contact us today. We are members of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.

For more information concerning collaborative law, visit our website at

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How does Collaborative Law help?

Collaborative Law is a voluntary dispute resolution process originally developed by a family law attorney who had become disenchanted with the traditional style of litigation. Often court battles became so bitter and destructive that wounds between the parties never healed. In an effort to alleviate the emotional scars and financial hardships of divorcing couples, the collaborative process was born. Collaborative law aims to preserve the dignity and relationships of individuals involved in divorce or other family-related litigation. After all, they may still have to communicate on parenting and other issues in the future.

For more information concerning collaborative law, visit our website at

Sunday, June 07, 2009

How does collaborative law work?

The way collaborative law works is:

• The process is voluntary and everyone has to agree to use Collaborative Law. Each person hires a lawyer trained in the collaborative dispute resolution process.

• All participants and their lawyers sign a Participation Agreement and then prepare a schedule for “face to face” meetings. Each meeting follows an agenda and is attended by the parties and their attorneys. Unless all parties agree otherwise, only topics on the agenda are discussed. The agenda helps keep the discussions on track and helps to minimize surprise and emotional issues. Each person has the opportunity to express that party’s complaints, explain any concerns, and listen to the complaints and concerns of the other people involved.

• The Participation Agreement provides that all sides will exchange all necessary information which is in their possession or control. They also agree that they will not make unnecessary and expensive discovery requests from the other parties.

• The participants agree to seek an expert opinion regarding a fact or issue, or they may elect to mediate or arbitrate an issue of the dispute.

• If at any time during the process a person decides not to continue participating, the collaborative lawyers must withdraw, and the parties continue their case in court with new attorneys.

For more information concerning collaborative law, visit our website at

Friday, June 05, 2009

What is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative Law is a process for resolving legal disputes. All parties and their separate lawyers agree to keep the case out of court and to exchange information that pertains to the dispute. A court or judge only gets involved to sign the divorce decree and other documents that the parties have agreed upon.

For more information, visit our website at

Friday, May 29, 2009

In the News: Chris Peterson

Chris Peterson was named the Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Research Valley Partnership. He was appointed to the Board last year by the Bryan City Council. Peterson will serve as Treasurer until May 2010.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

College Station's Draft Comprehensive Plan

The City of College Station has come out with a draft of their Comprehensive Plan. Developers in Bryan/College Station should take a look at the future land use and throughfare plans to see any effects on potential developers. Landowners, especially those in the City's extraterritorial jurisdiction, may want to look at how the future land use plan may affect the sale or development of their property.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Collect your invoices quick or you won't get paid.

A recent study revealed that bill more than 60 days past due can collected about 89% of the time. However, that number drops to 67% after 6 months, and to 45% after 1 year. Thus, the key to accounts receivable collections is to catch it early, have consistent communications, and to take further action soon. For more info on Peterson Law Group's debt collections practice, click here.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Long Distance Care Givers Receive Help

Living in a different city or state -- miles from aging parents -- can be very difficult. Keeping in touch by telephone and making long trips to help parents or aging relatives with their needs can be time consuming and not nearly as effective as being available full time in person.

Mark Sessions spent two years juggling his restaurant business with multiple daily phone calls to his elderly parents, checking on their needs and answering their questions. Family vacations were spent traveling the 500 miles to his parent's home to personally take care of home maintenance and provide health care visits to their doctor. During his last visit, Mark noticed his father had difficulty walking and his mother was confused as to which medications she was to take and at what time. This alarming change in his parent's condition concerned Mark that his parents' care needs required more than frequent phone calls and vacation visits. Running his business and handling his parent's long distance care was now becoming very challenging.

According to a report by the Alzheimer's Association of Los Angeles & Riverside, California, there are approximately 3.3 million long distance caregivers in this country with an average distance of 480 miles from the people they care for. The report also states that 15 million days are missed from work each year because of long distance care giving. Seven million Americans provide 80% of the care to ailing family members and the number of long distance caregivers will DOUBLE over the next 15 years.
Long Distance Caregiver Project – Alzheimer's Association LA & Riverside, Los Angeles, CA (May 15, 2002, National Web Seminar by Judith Delaney, MFT, Clinical Coordinator)

The long distance caregiver is a new role that is thrust upon children and younger family members. Families used to live closer together, with children residing and working near their parents. But nowadays family members are more distant from each other. Society, today, is recognizing this. Some caregiver services have tweaked their programs to work as liaisons between long distance caregivers, senior loved ones and local medical professionals.

Professional care managers -- a lso known as Geriatric Care Managers, Elder Care Managers or Aging Care Managers -- represent a growing trend to help full time, employed family caregivers provide care for loved ones. Care managers are expert in assisting caregivers, friends or family members find government-paid and private resources to help with long term care decisions.

They are professionals -- trained to evaluate and recommend care for the aged. A care manager might be a nurse, social worker, psychologist, or gerontologist who specializes in assessing the abilities and needs of the elderly. Care manger professionals are also becoming extremely popular as the caretaker liaison between long distant family members and their aging elder loved ones.

Jacqueline Marcell -- author of "Elder Rage, or Take My Father...Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents" (Impressive, 2000) -- says,

"The most important thing to do is to find a geriatric care manager in the area where your loved one lives. She will have knowledge of all the services in the area and can be your eyes."

Below is a partial list of what a care manager or Professional Geriatric Care Manager might do:

  • Assess the level and type of care needed and develop a care plan.
  • Take steps to start the care plan and keep it functioning.
  • Make sure care is in a safe and disability friendly environment.
  • Resolve family conflicts and other issues with long term care.
  • Become an advocate for the care recipient and the caregiver.
  • Manage care for a loved one for out-of-town families .
  • Conduct ongoing assessments to implement changes in care.
  • Oversee and direct care provided at home.
  • Coordinate the efforts of key support systems.
  • Provide personal counseling.
  • Help with Medicaid qualification and application.
  • Arrange for services of legal and financial advisors.
  • Provide placement in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
  • Monitor the care received in a nursing home or in assisted living.
  • Assist with the monitoring of medications.
  • Find appropriate solutions to avoid a crisis.
  • Coordinate medical appointments and medical information.
  • Provide transportation to medical appointments
  • Assist families in positive decision making
  • Develop care plans for older loved ones not now needing care
    “The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning,” National Care Planning Council

Services offered will depend on the educational and professional background of the care manager, but most are qualified to cover items in the list above or can recommend a professional who can. Fees may vary. There is often an initial consultation fee that is followed by hourly fees for services. Health insurance does not generally cover these fees but long-term care insurance might.

In 2002, the AARP published a survey from geriatric care mangers about their fees:

“Respondents were asked how much they charged for their services, which might include: an initial consultation; fees on an hourly or per visit basis; fees for development of a care plan; and fees on a fixed-price contract basis. Hourly fees averaged $74 an hour. GCMs charged an average $168 to develop a care plan. Initial consultations averaged $175. Seven of ten current GCMs responded in the affirmative when asked if they had a statement that listed their fees. ” Written by Robyn Stone, DrPH, Principal Investigator; Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator; Jean Machemer, MSG, Research Associate; and Danylle Rudin, MSW, Research Associate of The Institute for the Future of Aging Services, Washington, D.C.Barbara Coleman, Project Manager, AARP Public Policy Institute November 2002

When you take into account the time absent from work and time to find the right care resources for your loved ones, along with the cost of travel expenses to monitor their care, you will probably concur that using a caregiver is money well spent. Add on to this the stress of handling your own life circumstances combined with being a caregiver and you will probably wonder how you could have ever done without the care manager.

A professional or geriatric care manager can be an important asset to all families in elder care situations. Here is an example of how a care manager can help.

Mary is taking care of her aging husband at home. He has diabetes and is overweight. Because of the diabetes, her husband has severe neuropathy in his legs and feet and it is difficult for him to walk. He also has diabetic retinopathy and, therefore, cannot see very well. She has to be careful that he does not injure his feet, since the last time that happened he was in the hospital for four weeks with a severe infection. She is having difficulty helping him out of bed and with dressing and using the bathroom. She relies heavily on her son, who lives nearby, to help her manage her husband's care.

On the advice of a friend, Mary is told about a professional care manager, Sharon Brown. The cost of an initial assessment and care plan from the care manager is $175.00. Mary thinks she has the situation under control and $175.00 for someone from the outside to come in and tell her how to deal with her situation seems ridiculous.

One day Mary is trying to lift her husband and injures her back severely. She is bedridden and cannot care for her husband. Her son, who works fulltime, now has two parents to care for. On the advice of the same friend, he decides to bring in Sharon Brown and pay her fee himself.

Sharon does a thorough assessment of the family's needs. She arranges for Mary's doctor to order Medicare home care during Mary's recovery. Therapists come in and help Mary with exercises and advice on lifting. Sharon advertises for and finds a private individual who is willing to live in the home for a period of time to help Mary with her recovery and watch over her husband. Sharon makes sure the new caregiver is reliable and honest and that taxes are paid for the employment. Sharon enlists the support of the local area agency on aging and makes sure all services available are provided for the family.

Sharon also calls a meeting with Mary's family and explains to them the care needs and how they need to commit to help with those needs. Sharon makes arrangements to rent or purchase medical equipment for lifting, moving and easier use of the bathroom facilities. Medicare will pay much of this cost. Sharon also works closely with an elder law attorney and a financial planner who specializes in the elderly. The attorney prepares documents for the family including powers of attorney, a living will and advice on preserving Mary's remaining assets. The financial planner recommends a reverse mortgage specialist to help Mary and her husband tap unused assets in their home's equity. Some reverse mortgage proceeds are used to pay off debt. The remaining proceeds are converted into income with a single premium immediate income annuity in order to provide Mary adequate income when her husband is gone and she looses one of the Social Security payments.

With the help of the care manager, Mary's life and future have been significantly improved. Her husband as well, if he adheres to the care plan, may end up having a better quality of life for his remaining years.
“The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning,” National Care Planning Council

The National Care Planning Council promotes and supports professional and geriatric care managers on its website .

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

College Station's new zero rise floodplain ordinance taking shape

The City of College Station has come out with a draft zero rise floodplain ordinance. It is a pretty significant departure from current city policy. Those interested in real estate development in the City of College Station should attend a stakeholder meeting on April 13th at the College Station Conference Center from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Lunch will be served at that meeting.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Estate Tax under Obama's Budget

Folks have been worried for some time about the changes to the current estate tax system with the change in President. President Obama's current budget does make a coupld of significant changes to the current estate tax system.

First, the estate tax exemption for 2010 is replaced in toto. Previously, there was an unlimited exemption in 2010, which meant that no estates would be subject to estate tax. Now, that has changed, and the unlimited exemption has been removed for 2010.

Second, the estate tax exemption amount for 2010 and the following years has been changed to $3.5 million per individual. Thus, with proper estate tax planning, a married couple can shield $7 million from the estate tax.

While it would have been nice to have the unlimited exemption in 2010, the 2011 exemption is a significant increase from the $1 million exemption amount that was scheduled for those years. Thus, although there is some disappointment in this news, there is also a significant silver lining that will probably be a bigger benefit to more Americans.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Little-Known Government Program Pays the Cost of Elder Care

WHAT IF 33% OF ALL SENIORS IN THIS COUNTRY could receive up to $1,949 a month in additional income from the government to help cover their elder care costs? THEY CAN!

Under the right circumstances, a little-known federal program will pay additional income to cover long term care costs for at least 1/3 of all US senior households -- that's how many war veterans or their surviving spouses there are in this country. But the provisions of this program are such a well-kept secret that only 4.7% of US seniors are actually receiving the benefit. The great news about this program is the Department of Veterans Affairs will pay you to hire your family, friends or just about anyone to take care of you (Caregiving spouses can't be paid under this program). The program is called "Veterans Pension."

Most people who have heard about Pension know that it will cover the costs of assisted living and, in some cases, cover nursing home costs as well. But the majority of those receiving long term care in this country are in their homes. Estimates are that approximately 70% to 80% of all long term care is being provided in the home. All of the information available about Pension overlooks the fact that this benefit can also be used to pay for home care.

It also comes as a surprise to most people that the Department of Veterans Affairs will allow veterans' households to include the annual cost of paying any person such as family members, friends or hired help for care when calculating the Pension benefit. This annual cost is deducted from household income and used to calculate a lower "countable income" which in turn enables families to receive this disability income from VA. Even though VA claims the benefit is for low income families, because of the special provision in the regulations -- allowing for deduction for care costs -- households earning between $3,000 to $6,000 a month or more can still qualify for Pension under the right conditions.

This extra income can be a welcome benefit for families struggling to provide eldercare for loved ones at home. Under the right circumstances, this annualized medical expense for the cost of family members, friends or any other person providing care, could create an additional household income of up to $1,056 a month for a single surviving spouse of a veteran, up to $1,644 a month for a single veteran or up to $1,949 a month for a couple.

If the disabled care recipient has been rated "housebound" or in need of "aid and attendance" by VA, all fees paid to an in-home attendant will be allowed as long as the attendant provides some medical or nursing services for the disabled person. The attendant does not have to be a licensed health professional. There is also no need to distinguish between medical and nonmedical services -- all are deductible.

For a disabled person who has been rated "in need of aid and attendance" or "housebound", a family member will be considered an in-home attendant, but that family member has to be paid for services duly rendered. There is potential for fraud here where a family member may move into the home and ostensibly receive payment as a caregiver but not actually provide the level of care paid for. Documentation for this care must be provided to VA, and it is reasonable for VA to question whether the services being purchased from a family member living in the household are legitimate. Such arrangements should be extensively documented and completely arm's-length.

The care arrangements and payment for home care must be made prior to application and there must be evidence that this care is needed on an ongoing and regular basis. We recommend a formal care contract and weekly invoice billing for services. Money must exchange hands and federal law requires employment taxes must be withheld and there must be evidence of this. All of this documentation must be provided as proof to VA when making application for the pension benefit. Costs for these services must be unreimbursed; meaning these costs are not paid by insurance, by contributions from the family or from other sources. VA will allow, however, family caregivers being paid by their loved ones, to turn around and pay the household bills for their loved ones to help defray the cost of the care.

Due to the need for a rating, documentation for annualizing care costs and the extensive proof needed to show the caregiver is indeed an employee of the care recipient, most people should not try this on their own. An expert in this area should be sought to help with the application in order to avoid lengthy delays in awarding a benefit or a possible denial of benefits. For a list of individuals or companies in your area who understand how to get this benefit go to

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

College Station's Draft Tree Preservation Ordinance

On March 26, 2009, the College Station City Council is going to consider a tree preservation ordinance that has been in the works for some time. This ordinance will affect both developers and homeowners, so it is something that all should be aware of.

The ordinance's purpose is stated as: "The purpose and intent of this Section is to promote the preservation of trees and tree stands during construction to facilitate site design and construction that contributes to the long-term viability of existing trees and to develop a process to control the removal of trees. It is further the purpose of this ordinance to prevent the untimely and indiscriminate removal or destruction of trees, maintain and enhance a positive image of the City and to protect trees and promote the ecological environmental and aesthetic values of the City."

The ordinance will require a tree removal permit before removing trees greater than 8+ inches in diameter or before clearing a site containing such trees. It also has special requirements for "protected trees", a term which is defined in the ordinance. In order to remove these trees, there must be replacement trees planted.

The ordinance is very specific and should be evaluated in detail. If you want a copy of the draft, contact the City of College Station or e-mail us at

As always, if you have a legal need, contact Peterson Law Group at 979-703-7014 or through our website,

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

2009 First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit

There is a new tax credit available for first time home buyers. The tax credit is $8,000 and does not have to be repaid.

Am I eligible?

To qualify, you must be a buyer who has not owned a principal residence in the 3 years prior to this purchase, and you must be a US citizen who files tax returns.

Does it matter how much money I make?

You can claim the full tax credit if you are single and make less than $75,000 or married and make less than $150,000. You can take a partial credit if you make less than $95,000 as a single person or $170,000 as a couple. The credit is not available if you make more than those amounts.

When do I have to buy a home?

Home purchases made between January 1, 2009 and December 1, 2009 qualify for the tax credit. The transaction must officially "close" during that time period, so don't wait until the last minute.

What types of homes qualify?

All single family homes, townhomes and condominiums qualify as long as you plan to use it as your principal residence (and meet the other requirements above).

How does the credit work?

When you file your tax return, you will apply the tax credit against the amount of income taxes you owe. So, if you owe $10,000, your tax bill will be reduced to $2,000. If you owe $5,000, you will get a tax refund of $3,000. Remember that if you are employed and have been paying withholding from your paycheck or have paid quarterly estimated taxes, you already have tax money stored up with the IRS. This credit is in addition to what you have personally paid.

To find out more information, check out www.federal

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nursing Homes for Veterans

Nursing home coverage for veterans is available from two sources within the Department of Veterans Affairs -- the veterans health care system and the state veterans homes system.

Nursing Home Coverage through the VA Health Care System
Nursing home coverage along with other long term care services such as home care and assisted living as well as geriatric care management are available through the Veterans Health Administration for qualifying veterans.

In order to get into the veterans health care program, the veteran must have service-connected disabilities, or be below a qualifying income level or be receiving Veterans Pension income. Once in the system, veterans are not guaranteed long term care services, including nursing home care, unless they meet specific requirements. Here is a list of these requirements for nursing home coverage.

Who is Eligible for Nursing Home Care

  • Any veteran who has a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or more;
  • A veteran who is rated 60 percent service-connected and is unemployable or has an official rating of "permanent and total disabled;"
  • A veteran with combined disability ratings of 70 percent or more;
  • A veteran whose service-connected disability is clinically determined to require nursing home care;
  • Nonservice-connected veterans and those officially referred to as "zero percent, noncompensable, service-connected" veterans who require nursing home care for any nonservice-connected disability and who meet income and asset criteria; or
  • If space and resources are available, other veterans on a case-by-case basis with priority given to service-connected veterans and those who need care for post-acute rehabilitation, respite, hospice, geriatric evaluation and management, or spinal cord injury.

VA's nursing home health system programs include VA-operated nursing home care units and contract community nursing homes. Many VA hospitals operate nursing home care units located in or near the hospital. Other hospitals, without adequate nursing home beds, contract with approximately 2,500 community private nursing homes nationwide to provide services.

State Veterans Homes
State veterans homes fill an important need for veterans with low income and veterans who desire to spend their last years with "comrades" from former active-duty. The predominant service offered is nursing home care. VA nursing homes must be licensed for their particular state and conform with skilled or intermediate nursing services offered in private sector nursing homes in that state. State homes may also offer assisted living or domiciliary care which is a form of supported independent living.

Every state has at least one veterans home and some states like Oklahoma have a number of them. There is great demand for the services of these homes, but lack of federal and state funding has created a backlog of well over 130 homes that are waiting to be built.

Unlike private sector nursing homes where the family can walk in the front door and possibly that same day make arrangements for a bed for their loved one, state veterans homes have an application process that could take a number of weeks or months. Many state homes have waiting lists especially for their Alzheimer's long term care units.

No facilities are entirely free to any veteran with an income. The veteran must pay his or her share of the cost. In some states the veterans contribution rates are set at a certain level and if there's not enough income the family may have to make up the difference. Federal legislation, effective 2007, also allows the federal government to substantially subsidize the cost of veterans with service-connected disabilities in state veterans homes.

State Veterans Homes Per Diem Program
The Veterans Administration pays the state veterans homes an annually adjusted rate per day for each veteran in the home. This is called the per diem. The 2008 nursing per diem amount is $74.42 and for domiciliary care it is $34.40. Adult Day Health Care – up to one-half of the cost of care -- cannot exceed $66.82 per day. The goal of state veterans homes is to get Congress to increase the per diem rate for nursing care to 75% of the state private nursing rates. In most states the per diem falls well short of this goal.

The per diem program and construction subsidies mean that State veterans homes can charge less money for their services than private facilities. Some states have a set rate, as an example $1,400 a month, and they may also be relying on qualified veterans receiving the Pension benefit with aid and attendance plus the per diem to cover their actual costs. Other states may charge a percentage of the veteran's income but be relying on other subsidies to cover the rest of the cost. Some state homes can receive Medicaid support as well.

Most of the states with income-determined rates are selective about the veterans they accept. These states may rely on a variety of private and public sources to help fund the cost of care.

Eligibility and Application Requirements for State Veterans Homes
From state to state, facilities vary in their rules for eligible veterans. And even in the same state it is common, where there is more than one state home, for some homes to have very stringent eligibility rules and others to be more lenient. These differing rules are probably based on the demand for care and the available beds in that particular geographic area.

Some homes require the veteran to be totally disabled and unable to earn an income. Some evaluate on the basis of medical need or age. Some evaluate entirely on income -- meaning applicants above a certain level will not be accepted. Some accept only former active-duty veterans, while others accept all who were in the military whether active duty or reserve. Still others accept only veterans who served during a period of war. Some homes accept the spouses or surviving spouses of veterans and some will accept the parents of veterans but restrict that to the parents of veterans who died while in service (Goldstar parents).

Federal regulations allow that 25% of the bed occupants at any one time may be veteran-related family members, i.e., spouses, surviving spouses, and/or gold star parents who are not entitled to payment of VA aid. When a State Home accepts grant assistance for a construction project, 75% of the bed occupants at the facility must be veterans.

Domicile residency requirements vary from state to state. The most stringent seems to be a three-year prior residency in the state whereas other homes may only require 90 days of residency.

All states require an application process to get into a home. Typically a committee or board will approve or disapprove each application. Many states have waiting lists for available beds.

A current contact list of all state veterans homes is available at