We Are Leaders

SYK Family Law Attorney Adriana Gomez is featured in this month’s edition of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin as a recipient of the Oregon New Lawyers Division (ONLD) Member Services Award. The mission of the ONLD is to assist new lawyers with the transition to practicing law in Oregon and to engage and leverage new lawyers in support of the mission, functions, and values of the Oregon State Bar. Congratulations Adriana!

Online Education for Older Adults – Really, for ALL Of Us

Have you heard of, or been the target of, an online scheme?  Of course you have!

  • Warning!  Your Account Has Been Locked
  • Fake Government Threats From the IRS or FBI About Your Misdeeds
  • Alleged Problems With Your Bank Account with “Vishing” (voice phone hacking)
  • Demands For An Extended Car Warranty
  • Text Message Scams (“Smishing”)
  • Online Dating or Sweetheart Scams

The potential list is much longer than the one above, but with the number of cyberattacks and scams increasing over the pandemic, we must be diligent to protect ourselves and our elders. A detailed online article is available through Berkeley

You will learn not only to recognize the warning signs, but also how to protect yourself by changing your passwords and using strong passwords, contacting your credit bureau and banks, asking for support if you need it, scanning your system for malware, disconnecting your device so malware does not spread, being careful about giving away information, noticing odd emails and avoiding the “too-good-to-be-true” offer.

With respect to assisting older online users, they recommend, “If you want to help your older relatives stay safely connected online during these difficult times, make a point to offer your support.  Set aside an hour or two to talk through online safety protocols with your family member, explain the risks they face online and point out a few common red flags that they might need to look out for.”  You can use the article as an excellent launching point, and since your elders took such good care of you, isn’t it time you return the favor?

How a Prenuptial Agreement May Keep You Happily Married

I am often asked by clients whether they should get a prenuptial agreement or not.  Some of my clients only come to see me because their parents are “making” them get a prenuptial agreement in order to secure some future inheritance or perhaps shares in the family business.  Others have been asked to sign a prenup and they aren’t sure they should. Whatever your situation, here are some questions you should be asking before deciding whether to enter a prenuptial agreement before you say “I do.”

Do I need to get a prenuptial agreement before I actually get married, or can I get one after we are married?  Believe it or not, I do get asked this question from time to time.  The name itself answers this question: pre (BEFORE) nuptial (MARRIAGE).  So yes, you must enter this agreement with your betrothed before you are legally married.  If you don’t, then you are looking at a post-nuptial agreement which is an entirely different legal animal and we will leave that topic for another day.

Are prenuptial agreements valid?  The lawyer’s answer is, it depends.  You want to make sure you have an attorney advising you, that you both fully disclose your assets and debts to each other, and you want to make sure you have plenty of time to consider, negotiate and enter the agreement…ahead of your wedding day. These are typical challenges to whether a court will uphold your agreement.  You don’t want to take these chances and will want to meet with an attorney to make sure you have these challenges covered.  The last thing you want to see is the judge legally throwing out your prenup in the middle of a future divorce proceeding.

Why do I need a prenuptial agreement?  Prenuptial agreements are often used by clients who have amassed wealth that they do not necessarily want to share with a potential ex-spouse in a future divorce, or that they want to protect for their children from a prior relationship in the event of their death, or divorce.  Some clients may own a family business and want to make sure the business stays within the family and not with a future divorced in-law.  If you are self-employed and want to avoid sharing all of your blood, sweat and tears in building your business in a future divorce, then you should consider a prenup. If you want to protect your income from a large spousal support obligation, a prenuptial agreement can do that, or if you stand to inherit any wealth and want to make it clear from the beginning that any inheritance you may receive remains your separate property after you are married.

Have you and your betrothed had “the talk?” Better put, do you know anything about your soon to be spouse’s finances?  Are they employed?  Do they have savings? How much debt are they carrying on their credit cards?  Are they still on the mortgage with their former spouse?  Are you moving in with your spouse or are they moving into your house?  Are you putting them on the deed?  Should you put them on the deed?  How do you plan to handle your joint expenses?  Are you expected to contribute or are you going to support your beloved? If you have assets of any significance and you don’t want to take the risk of having to share half of those in a divorce, then you absolutely should be talking to an attorney to decide whether to get a prenuptial agreement.

How Will a Prenup Keep Me Happily Married? You hoped I would get here.  Here is my answer:  no one should enter a marriage without having “the talk” ahead of marriage.  Don’t make assumptions about financial issues because, in my experience, financial issues are what cause most marriages to break down.  If you determine you need a prenup, then the process of negotiating the prenup will answer most of these questions.  Once we have gone through the process, clients are relieved to know they have protected what they have built, they have control over their wealth, they can acquire joint property with their spouse without fear of losing their separate property, they can share their wealth by gifting without risking their estate planning, and they can provide for their heirs while also providing for their spouse if they want.  And if you are the spouse with the smaller estate, you can negotiate provisions that allow you to be provided for in the (hopefully) unlikely event of a divorce or the untimely death of your spouse. So starting a marriage with all of this worked out ahead of time does allow the parties to focus on the happy aspects of marriage like love and family, which should help you to stay happily married ‘til death do you part.

Your Employees’ Workday May Begin Sooner Than You Think

When a workday begins can depend on the type of work performed and necessary steps to start the work each day. But with the ever-growing presence of computer software use in the workforce, can starting up and shutting down a work computer add some extra time to a paycheck? The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says that it is possible.

While many may be quick to compare starting up computers to waiting in line to punch a timecard, the Ninth Circuit ruled that for the call service employees at Connexx, the two are entirely different. In Cadena v. Customer Connexx LLC., decided October 24, 2022, call service employees claimed they should be compensated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for the additional 18.9 minutes it takes for their computers to turn on and off each day. Relying on the FLSA and the Portal-to-Portal Act, the Ninth Circuit found that booting up work computers could be compensable time, but shutting the computers down should not.

In specific situations, turning on computers each day can now be likened to the donning and doffing of protective gear. Without the use of functioning computers, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Connexx employees could not access any of the programs necessary to answer customer calls and perform scheduling tasks, the employees’ principal duties. Thus, the time spent starting up their work computers is integral and indispensable to the employees’ principal duties and should be compensated.

This case is a good reminder to all employers that under the FLSA, you are required to pay employees starting at the time of the first principal activity of the day. However, time that passes while the employee is waiting to begin their first activity of the day is not always compensable. For activities to be principal, and thus compensable, they must be integral and indispensable to the employee’s work. In today’s world, it isn’t as easy to determine when compensable time begins as it once used to be. With the days of punching in a timecard and walking straight to a workstation mostly behind us, employers should be aware of what tasks are integral and indispensable to their employees’ job performance and ensure they are compensating them appropriately.

Important New Case Law Confirms Protection for Vulnerable Oregonians

SYK is proud to announce financial elder abusers under ORS 124.110 cannot wipe away debts to their victims just by filing for bankruptcy.

While one would hope that would not be controversial, the previously reported cases provided too much gray area for abusers.  However, with SYK’s recent work, the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit held that the elements of Oregon’s financial abuse statute squarely meet the elements of the “larceny” or “embezzlement” grounds for exception to discharge of a debt under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(4).

The case is Bryce Peltier and Kristine Diane Peltier v. Van Loo Fiduciary Services LLC, 2022 WL 4181728 (BAP No. OR-22-1000-FBGBk) (Date Filed August 16, 2022; Ordered Published September 12, 2022).

Congratulations to SYK fiduciary litigator and appellate attorney Darlene Pasieczny, who secured the original state court judgment and handled all aspects of the appeal before the BAP.   SYK bankruptcy and debtor/creditor rights attorney Jessica McConnell assisted with the adversary case filing in the bankruptcy proceedings, and was integral in helping navigate the specialized rules of that court and bankruptcy law, while fiduciary litigator Victoria Blachly assisted throughout.

Our SYK litigation team successfully preserved over $1 million of the state court financial abuse judgment in favor of our client, who is the court-appointed conservator and personal representative for the victims.

Ms. Van Loo responded to the ruling, “SYK’s help was vital.  Thank you so much for helping turn the tide in case law to protect those who have been financially victimized.’”

SYK Partner Victoria Blachly’s Work on the Uniform Law Commission

Happy 130th Birthday to the Uniform Law Commission (“ULC”)! Samuels Yoelin Kantor Fiduciary Litigation Partner Victoria Blachly is an Oregon Commissioner for the ULC.  Read our interview with Victoria about her work on the ULC.

What does the ULC do?  

The ULC “provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.” They do not have authority to enact legislation, rather they propose legislation to states to address legal issues that cross state lines and would benefit from uniformity.  You may know them from some of their greatest hits, like the Uniform Commercial Code or the Uniform Trust Code.

How did you become involved with the ULC?  

It’s a very long story, but let me see if I can fight my litigator’s tendency to go on forever and give you the highlights.  After seeking to make the laws in Oregon better by chairing a committee with proposed legislation for access to digital assets by personal representatives, trustees and other fiduciaries, I learned the ULC  was interested in the same project, on a national level.  I became an “Observer” to the study committee and then the drafting committee, which resulted in the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. I was impressed with the diligence of the volunteers, in striving to propose new laws to help so many.  Then, when an opening became available in 2014, I submitted my name for consideration to the Governor of Oregon.  Since then, it’s been nothing but sunshine and lollipops.

What are some highlights from your work as a Commissioner?  

The first thing that comes to mind is that I am so very grateful for meeting and working with such a dedicated group of volunteers, including the rest of the Oregon delegation:  Justice Martha Lee Walters, Lane Shetterly, Joe Willis and Carl Bjerre.  Also, the annual ULC meetings are filled with other volunteer attorneys, professors and judges that take the work seriously, are very detail-oriented and raise and address complicated legal issues with the utmost of professionalism and respect for a variety of ideas and insights.  The ULC, as a non-political group, is a refreshing contrast to how some currently opt to debate legal issues.

Tell us about some issues that the ULC is currently working on.

The number of active committees and projects is too voluminous to address here, but their website has a wealth of information available. Currently I am on a Committee for updates to the Uniform Determination of Death Act. There are a large number of medical professionals, patient advocates and lay people Observers with amazing and often heartbreaking stories, who all share their perspectives.  As science has progressed and knowledge has changed, the convergence between law and science makes the topic a challenge to decipher in a way that provides good answers to often bad choices.

Too Good To Be True: Inheritance Scams

The Federal Trade Commission just posted a strong reminder on their Consumer Advice page:  If you get a letter from an alleged law firm claiming you are the beneficiary of large piles of money, to be split between the law firm, you and some charities – but you must keep it a SECRET – it is a scam.

They suggest you delete it, warn your friends and family of the scam and report it to www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Then again, if you DO get a legitimate notice of a massive and unexpected inheritance, CONGRATULATIONS! – and make sure you meet with your SYK estate planners and update your plans.

This Is ALL Of Us: Musings From the End of a Television Series and The End of A Life

NBC’s “This Is Us” aired its penultimate show last night.  It is perhaps the most poignant and heart wrenching writing and acting that I have ever seen on television.  As the matriarch of the family, Rebecca Pearson, suffers with Alzheimer’s Disease and, in a way, had already left her family behind some time ago, as her memories failed her with the insidious disease.  Her final journey is then portrayed through a series of vignettes through the cars of a train, showing her family and other important people in her life, at various ages.  The thread woven through it all is love and sharing, and a good deal of open communication.  (Those Pearsons DO love to talk.)

Planning for an aging loved one’s journey is something we all need to face with compassion and courage, and the legal tools to get the right people situated for success is apparent in the show.   Take the time to talk with an elder law attorney or estate planner to make that journey less painful.

Nobody wants to plan for their final train, but leaving behind less stress for your loved ones is important.  As they said in the show, “If something makes you sad when it ends it must’ve been pretty wonderful when it was happening.”

Social Media & Child Custody

Celebrity divorces are not news and many celebrities go out of their way to keep their divorces out of the mainstream and social media.  One recent exception is the ongoing divorce of “Kimye” or Kim Kardashian and Ye (aka Kanye) West.  The “Kimye” divorce has not made the news because of the size of their multi-billion-dollar marital estate; but rather much of the recent publicity has been their dispute over their 8-year-old daughter, North’s, TikTok account.  In an interview earlier this year, Kanye said “My children [aren’t] going to be on TikTok without my permission.” North shares her TikTok account with her mother, Kim, who also manages North’s account.  To date, the California court has not made any public decisions about this issue as part of the child custody claim, but will in a final resolution if Kim and Kanye cannot settle their differences. 

The questions of whether and how a judge might consider a child’s use of social media in deciding which parent should be awarded custody of the child in a divorce are unsettled in Oregon. Meaning, there is no published opinion on how an Oregon trial judge has decided this question. 

Under Oregon statutes, Family Court judges determine which parent is awarded legal custody of a child by giving “primary consideration to the best interests and welfare of the child.”  With the role social media has come to play in the mental health and safety of youth, it is plausible that a court could factor in a parent’s approach to the child’s social media habits when determining custody. Factors likely to be considered are the child’s age, the nature of their posting, time allowed on social media, and whether there are any parental controls available. 

The main takeaway is that parents should use caution and seriously consider what is safe and reasonable, and what is crossing the line. Here are some things to consider if you find yourself seeking to resolve a custody dispute: 

  • Most social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, require users to be a minimum age of thirteen. If a social media company determines that your child is too young to interact with social media, the court may find a child under the company’s age requirements is too young to have their own account.  
  • There have been a number of recent studies on the effects of social media on youth that provide fodder for both proponents and opponents of youth accessing social media.  Studies, such as those linking social media use by teenagers to worsened perspectives of themselves, highlight the negatives. Yet other studies have shown that social media can provide LGBTQ+ teens support by being able to access information and communities that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Staying informed can benefit your understanding of your child’s interactions with social media and show a judge that you are taking your child’s welfare seriously. 
  • In March 2022, Instagram launched a new feature allowing parents to monitor their children’s time on the platform. Known as “Family Center,” the feature allows parents to track their children’s time and activity on Instagram. Family Center also allows parents to get updates on the accounts their children follow and allows parents to set time limits for their children. Using this tool could evidence you are monitoring your child’s social media presence in a responsible way.  
  • Like Kim managing North’s TikTok account, managing your child’s social media could be a safe middle ground. The “bio” section of Kim and North’s TikTok account even states that the account is “Managed by an adult.” 

You may not be a celebrity with hundreds of thousands of people clamoring to see what your celebrity children are up to, but that doesn’t mean that your child’s social media presence isn’t important. When it comes to deciding what is in the “best interest” of your children, be aware that their social media accounts could play a role in how a court perceives you as a parent in your child custody dispute. 

New Guardianship Rules in Washington

I think we’ve all succumbed to the siren song of New Year’s Resolutions, right? Whether it’s losing a few pounds (guilty!), going to the gym, meditating, we all start the year with the best of intentions. Washington State is no different with the adoption of the Uniform Guardianship Act in January 2022, although unlike most of our personal resolutions, the new rules are likely to stick. “But wait,” you say, “Washington has completely overhauled its guardianship rules?” The short answer is “yes.” But Never Fear, the Washington statutes have some familiar components with some key differences, discussed below.

Jargon. The updated Washington statutes change how we refer to the parties in the proceeding, and adopted the use of terms that mirror those in Oregon. Most importantly, Washington did away with the distinction of Guardian of the Person and Guardian of the Estate. Now, you have guardianship, dealing with personal rights of the Adult, and you have conservatorship, dealing with the financial/contractual rights of the Adult. Where you formerly called a Respondent an “incapacitated person” or “alleged incapacitated person,” these folks will be referred to as “Respondent” or “Adult” (See RCW 11.130 generally). Upon petitioning for appointment of guardian or conservator for an adult, a court visitor will be appointed (RCW 11.130.280).

Representation. Respondents have the right to be represented by willing counsel (RCW 11.130.285 and RCW 11.130.385). If the Respondent does not have funds to pay a lawyer those fees can be paid by the County.

Emergency Relief. Washington now allows petitioners emergency relief for Adults who may require assistance before or during the pendency of a petition for guardianship and/or conservatorship. (See RCW 11.130.225 and RCW 11.130.320). Similarly, RCW 11.130.580 allows “other” protective arrangements, which ostensibly will be for lesser restrictive alternatives to the guardianship or conservatorship but provide protection for a vulnerable adult.

Report & Accounting.  Annual reporting and accounting requirements remain relatively the same. For example, guardians are required to report annually, and there are state/county wide forms for guardians to fill out with respect to the Adult.  Conservators are likewise required to account for their activities. Washington judges have the authority to expand the accounting period from one year to three years in certain circumstances.

Notice. Washington expanded the parties who are entitled to notice of the Petition under RCW 11.130.275 (guardianship) and RCW 11.130.370 (conservatorship). Service requirements have also changed to ensure that the Respondent, Court Visitor, and interested parties receive notice. After appointment of Guardian and Conservator, the fiduciary has expanded notice requirements to the Respondent and interested parties: post-appointment, upon delegation of duties, and for other matters concerning the Adult. The prudent practitioner will very carefully consider the provisions of RCW 11.130 relating to the duties of Guardian and Conservator or consult with experienced counsel to properly advise their client of their duties under the statute.

Forms. Model forms have been included in the statute in RCW 11.130.640– 665, which will supplement each county’s model forms. Practitioners should consult each county’s local rules and websites to confirm whether there are preferred local forms.

Court Visitor. Washington requires the appointment of a court visitor upon petition for appointment of a guardian or a conservator for an Adult (RCW 11.130.280 and RCW 11.130.380), or upon the court’s own motion. The powers and duties are outlined in RCW 11.130.280 and RCW 11.130.380

Training. While training for fiduciaries is not a new requirement, it is worth noting that Washington State provides a free online training for all proposed guardian and conservators. This training is required pre-appointment, unless good cause is shown to waive the requirement.

Washington’s shiny new statutes attempt to do a better job at protecting the liberty and autonomy of all persons, helping Adults exercise their rights to the maximum extent possible—consistent with their personal capacity. The New Year brings exciting changes in Washington law which attempt to better promote self-determination and independence while providing Adults the support and care, tailored to their needs.