By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
If you pass away without a will in North Carolina, there are statutes that govern who will serve as your executor and who will inherit your estate. However, dying without a well-written will can leave your loved ones with a variety of legal hurdles to overcome.
The first article of this series discusses who will be responsible for administering your estate if you pass away without a will and what are some of the issues they may face when trying to get appointed by the probate court. The next article in this series will discuss how property is distributed if you die without a will in North Carolina.
When you die without a will, you are deemed to have died “intestate.” Each state has its own intestacy laws, which are the “default” option that outlines major decisions in the probate process, such as who can serve as your executor and their qualification requirements. The appointment of the executor is the first step in probating an estate. The executor is responsible for collecting all of your remaining assets at death, paying all of your legally enforceable debts and expenses out of those assets, and distributing any remaining assets to your heirs. A court will never appoint an executor who is a convicted felon, incapacitated, or under the age of 18, but generally, if you have a will, you can name anyone, and the court will respect your decision.
If you die without a will, the clerk of court will appoint someone in the following order: (1) a surviving spouse; (2) any heir; (3) any next of kin, with the person who is of closer kinship under having priority; (4) any creditor of the decedent; (5) any person of good character residing in the county who applies therefor; and (6) any other person of good character. The person the court appoints could be someone you don’t particularly want to handle your estate, and you could avoid that by naming them in your will. Also, there could be issues with relatives who are the same degree of kinship arguing over who should serve, which could cause unnecessary delays and expenses if the dispute cannot be resolved without attorneys.
The other issue is that, generally, a bond is required of the executor of an estate. This bond is an insurance policy, and it is required to protect the beneficiaries of the estate in the event that the executor breaches their duties in administering the estate, such as by running off with the estate assets. The executor must be able to pass a credit check in order to obtain the bond and pay the bond premium of out-of-pocket (which can sometimes be quite high) because they will not have access to your assets before they are appointed executor by the probate court.
There are two ways to avoid the bond. First, all of the heirs could sign a document waiving the bond requirement, but this requires them to all be in agreement (which sometimes doesn’t happen) and they all must be age 18 or older and otherwise have capacity. The second way to avoid the bond is to waive the requirement in a will. This makes is easier from the outset for your desired executor to serve. After all, they’re doing a job for your benefit and the benefit of your family.
Lastly, another benefit of having a well-written will is that attorneys can put helpful provisions in the will that don’t otherwise exist under the default intestacy statutes that make it easier for the executor to do their jobs. For example, we can write in the will that the executor can sell a house if needed to pay debts of the estate; whereas, if the same person died without a will, the executor would have to file a motion with the court and having a hearing (costing them money, and likely requiring an attorney) in order to sell the house.
If you have questions about intestacy in North Carolina, drafting a will, or ensuring that a person of your choosing is able to manage your estate once you have passed away, please call Jesson & Rains.
By Attorney Edward Jesson
Hearings were recently scheduled on a proposed North Carolina state bill entitled “An Act to Provide Consumer Protections Related to Roofing Repair Contractors.”
If passed, the law would have a big effect on the roofing industry in North Carolina--written contracts between roofing contractors and consumers would now be required. The proposed bill would require the following provisions to be included in these contracts:
1. The roofing contractor’s contact information;
2. The name of the consumer;
3. The physical address of the property being worked on and a description of the structure being repaired;
4. A copy of the repair estimate that addresses:
a. a precise description and location of all the damage being claimed on the repair estimate;
b. an itemized estimate of repair costs, including the cost of raw materials, the hourly labor rate, and the number of hours for each item to be repaired; and,
c. a statement as to whether the property was inspected prior to the preparation of the estimate and a description of the nature of that inspection.
5. Date the contract was signed by the consumer;
6. A statement that the contractor shall hold in trust any payment from the consumer until the materials have been delivered to the job site or the majority of the work has been done;
7. A statement providing that the contractor shall provide a certificate of insurance to the consumer that is valid for the time during which the work is to be performed;
8. If the consumer anticipates that insurance funds will be used to pay for any portion of the job, a disclosure from the consumer that states that the consumer is responsible for payment if the insurance company denies the claim in whole or in part and a disclosure from the contractor that he or she has made no guarantees that the claimed loss will be covered by an insurance policy.
The new law, if passed, will also give the consumer the right to cancel the contract if the consumer’s insurance company denies the claim. Further, it will prohibit various practices from roofing contractors, including offering to pay insurance deductibles for the consumer or offering the consumer anything of value in order to display a sign or any other type of advertisement at the consumer’s property.
It is important to note that the proposed law specifically excludes licensed general contractors or subcontractors working underneath a licensed general contractor from the definition of “roofing repair contractors.”
While the new law would create an extra requirement that roofing contractors in NC may not be happy about, we always recommend having written contracts in place between contractors and the consumer. Too often the only written documentation is a cost estimate and, if there are any disputes, there are no provisions in these cost estimates for handling those disputes. The proposed law may also strengthen the reputation of the roofing industry by weeding out unscrupulous roofing contractors.
Jesson & Rains will continue to keep our clients updated on the passage of this law and are happy to assist with the drafting or review of any construction contracts. You can follow the status of the law yourself at: https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookup/2019/S576.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
Amendments to the Payroll Protection Program (“PPP”) that have been discussed for weeks finally made it to law on Friday. The amendment makes six major changes:
1) Forgiveness period possibly extended: The definition of “covered period” has changed to give businesses the option of choosing the eight-week period, or the earlier of 24 weeks or through December 31, 2020. This enables businesses to have more time to spend PPP money on forgivable expenses, thus increasing the likelihood that the entire loan may be forgivable. However, there’s a catch: because the “covered period” has extended, the business owner needs to maintain payroll levels appropriately under the CARES Act during the extended period in order to obtain full forgiveness. Thus, some business owners may opt to keep the shorter 8-week period.
2) Businesses need only spend 60% of the loan on allowable payroll expenses: This is a decrease from 75%, which is not in the CARES Act but was made a rule by the Treasury Department. It obviously has a negative effect on businesses that have large rental or mortgage expenses. Now, they can use 40%, instead of 25%, on rent, mortgage, and utilities
and still have that part forgiven.
3) New PPP loans allowed to be paid off within five years: This is an increase from two years. While this only applies to new loans, existing lenders may allow existing borrowers to take advantage of this term as well.
4) Businesses may not be penalized if they cannot rehire workers or resume business during the covered period: As mentioned above, the amount of forgiveness depends on a business’s ability to pay covered expenses (60% has to be payroll) and re-hire or maintain its workforce. What if it CANNOT reopen due to mandatory closures? The PPP amendment exempts businesses from being negatively affected by these requirements if the business in good faith
documents: (1) both the inability to rehire individuals who were employees on February 15, 2020 and the inability to hire similarly qualified employees for unfilled positions by December 31, 2020; or (2) the inability to return to the same level of business activity it enjoyed before February 15, 2020, due to compliance with government closures or federal safety and sanitation requirements related to COVID-19.
5) Repayment deferral period has been extended: Instead of it being deferred for six months, the amendment defers repayment until the date the amount of forgiveness determined is remitted to the lender. This is beneficial because business owners won’t have to start repaying the loan without knowing how much they actually have to repay (makes sense, right?). However, if a borrower fails to apply for forgiveness within 10 months of the last day of the covered period, repayment must begin on that date (10 months after the last day of the covered period).
6) Payment of employer payroll taxes delayed: Businesses can delay the payment of employer payroll taxes until December 31, 2021 (up to 50% of the amount due) and December 31, 2022 (the remaining amount due). Prior to this amendment, businesses were prohibited from taking advantage of this benefit if its PPP loan was forgiven in whole or in part.
These changes are certainly welcome to business owners. Keep in mind, though, the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration still have the ability to provide further rules and regulations, so business owners should keep their eyes and ears open in order to fully take advantage of the PPP! Please contact Jesson & Rains with any questions!
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
Business owners around the country are starting to reopen their businesses up to employees and customers. However, regardless of government announced “phases,” businesses owe a duty to their employees and customers to keep them safe while on the premises. Lawsuits are starting to pop up, according to Market Watch.
What can you do to limit your potential liability? Businesses should follow healthcare and government recommendations, such as wiping down surfaces, frequent hand washing, wearing masks, socially distancing, etc. These recommendations sometimes change, so business owners should stay abreast of updates. Keeping your employees from getting sick on the job in the first place is key: in a worker’s compensation case, all the worker has to do is prove they were injured on the job and there’s a causal connection between the two. For example, a grocery store cashier may have a claim due to exposure to the public. A worker’s compensation claimant does not need to prove that the business was negligent.
For businesses that don’t have a large volume of public traffic (such as law firms), owners may ask patrons to sign a document before coming into the premises stating that they do not have COVID-19, are experiencing no symptoms, and they have not been around anyone with COVID-19 or who has otherwise been experiencing symptoms. While patrons can, of course, lie on these forms, at least it’s one additional step that business owners can show that they are taking to
protect their employees and other customers. Showing that you are taking the necessary steps to keep people safe is important in defense of personal injury lawsuits, where the plaintiff has to show not only causation (that they caught COVID-19 at your business) but negligence (that you failed to act with reasonable care).
A defense to a negligence action is “assumption of risk.” Some business owners may ask patrons to sign waivers of claims, saying that the patron is “assuming the risk” of contracting COVID-19 by coming to their establish. For example, someone who voluntarily eats at a restaurant or goes to a nail salon knows that there is a risk that they may be infected, and a business is not guaranteeing 100% that they will not be infected, because there’s no way to do that.
Governor Cooper provided business owners with extra protection a couple of weeks ago when he signed the Coronavirus relief bill. The act provides for limited liability for businesses deemed “essential” under the Governor’s prior stay-at-home order. If an employee or customer gets COVID-19 from spending time at an essential business, the business is not liable for damages unless it is “grossly negligent” or worse. Gross negligence is a higher standard than simple negligence. Instead of a plaintiff showing the absence of reasonable care in a negligence lawsuit, a plaintiff would have to show the conscious disregard for reasonable care to prove that a business was grossly negligent.
While essential businesses should be comforted by this law, we are of the opinion that this should not change how they do business. In fact, if they consciously fail to abide by social distancing and cleaning protocols, they could arguably be grossly negligent.
If you have any questions about how to prepare your business for reopening, give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
During this time of uncertainty, people may question whether they have their affairs in order to better protect themselves, their loved ones, and their assets in the event that a worst-case scenario occurs such as incapacity brought on by illness or death. Below is a short list and description of important documents that can help complete an estate plan.
The documents that deal primarily with distributing assets at death are a will or a revocable living trust. The best type of document for a given individual depends on a variety of factors such as family situations, the type or amount of assets, and overall goals for estate planning, but both documents allow you to have control over who will be responsible for carrying out your final wishes and ensuring that your assets are distributed to the beneficiaries you have named in your documents.
For parents, there are also important decisions relating to caring for your children if you pass away. Unless you have a terminal illness, the only way to name a guardian for your children in North Carolina is to do so in a will. When appointing a guardian for a minor, the court will give preference and priority to the person named as guardian in a will. By law, a child can inherit property outright and with no strings attached upon reaching the age of eighteen, regardless of the amount or type of property. With proper estate planning, your will or living trust can outline specific age restrictions or conditions on when your child can inherit your property while ensuring that all expenses relating to your children’s health, support, maintenance, and education are taken care of by a trustee.
A durable power of attorney allows you to name an agent to act in your place and make financial, business, and legal decisions if you ever become incapacitated (i.e. unable to handle your affairs). In the absence of naming an agent, a loved one would have to petition the court to be appointed as your legal guardian. The guardianship process is much more cumbersome, time-consuming, and costly than executing a durable power of attorney in advance.
A health care power of attorney allows you to name an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you cannot speak for yourself. This document is not necessarily an end-of-life document, as it can apply in any situation where you are unable to communicate your wishes to a physician, such as being under anesthesia. You may give your agent full authority over decisions relating to your physical and mental health or limit your agent’s authority by providing
explicit instructions in this document.
An advance directive, also known as a Living Will, is an end-of-life document where you will state under what conditions and terms you do not want to be kept on life support such as a ventilator, artificial nutrition, and artificial hydration.
In the absence of a Health Care Power of Attorney or an Advanced Directive, North Carolina law sets forth an order of priority (family members) as to who can consent to medical treatment on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. This can cause problems for people with interesting family situations or no family at all. There is no default decision maker under North Carolina law for business, financial, and legal decisions, so a durable power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning tools we draft.
With all of these documents, timing is everything, as the signer must have capacity at the time of signing. You cannot “get power of attorney over” someone. If you are interested in discussing your estate planning goals or needs, please contact Jesson & Rains.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
It’s hard to think about celebrating small businesses this month when so many are suffering due to coronavirus-related closures and illnesses. During this time of crisis, we’re right here with you, navigating these unusual waters.
We thought this would be a great time to feature one of our clients, Help Mask A Hero, who saw a life-or-death need and immediately sprang into action to fill the gap! Help Mask A Hero, Inc., is a North Carolina non-profit corporation, with its 501(c)(3) status pending. Founded by Charlotte’s own Dr. Lakesha Legree, owner of Elev8 MD Wellness Center, PLLC, and several other anesthesiologist colleagues, Help Mask A Hero uses donations to purchase coveted N95 masks to ensure that our frontline healthcare workers are receiving the PPE they need to treat COVID-19 patients AND stay healthy themselves. Help Mask A Hero also accepts donations of masks and other protective equipment. Help Mask A Hero has been featured all over major national news channels. We are so proud to serve them!
If you’d like more information, or to donate yourself, please visit: https://helpmaskahero.com
To honor our healthcare workers, we are offering a discount for those who need their estate planning documents drafted. Please give Jesson & Rains a call for more information!
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