The bitter family feud over the Samsung inheritance fortune that has been brewing in South Korea for the last several months should be a stinging reminder of how important it is for individuals to have end-of-life and estate-planning documents in place before death and before they grow too old or ill to do so.
Protecting Loved Ones from Tough Decisions. Planning for one’s own death is not easy. Individuals should look past the macabre elements of estate-planning, not only because death is an inevitable reality, but because it is absolutely required for the protection of loved ones. A death without a thoughtfully-prepared and frequently-revisited estate plan could leave loved ones guessing about how to handle one’s end-of-life issues, such as resuscitation and others raised by advanced health-care directives. Loved ones can be left with lasting trauma when forced to make life-altering decisions for their parents or relatives, assuming they can even reach an agreement. Estate-planning documents can provide necessary instruction and relieve loved ones from the burden of having to guess how to handle tough issues.
Problems with “DIY” Wills. For the past few years, I have been involved in a number of lawsuits involving adult children and relatives in complex families, in which a step-parent is left with virtually all of the assets and control of the family finances after the passing of the biological parent. This is a problem that can be exacerbated by overly simplistic wills. Basic or “do it yourself” wills often do not consider the problems that exist when there are biological children of now-divorced spouses and “new-family” children produced by re-married spouses. On occasions, relationships between “first-family” children and a step-parent are sour at best, and when a step-parent is left in total control of the family’s finances simply because of an overly-simplistic will, there is every risk that the “first-family” children and “new-family” children are not dealt with equally. The “first-family” child often feels hurt by the biological parent’s perceived thoughtlessness, angry at the step-parent, and resentful of step-siblings. Most of the times, the family relationships are never the same. A current and thoughtfully-prepared will on the part of the deceased could have wholly avoided these unfortunate events.
What’s the Hurry? Most Americans mistakenly believe they are too young to be worrying about end-of-life and estate-planning. This is terribly naïve. Accidents happen, children are born in and out of marriages, divorces result, and family relationships change over time. If an individual is involved in an accident that leaves him or her mentally impaired, it is usually too late. The law requires individuals be fully competent and capable of understanding the nature of his/her actions in taking estate-planning steps – otherwise, the documents could be deemed ineffective and void.
Who Should Be Planning? Any person who has a loved one needs to consider end-of-life and estate-planning issues. This includes not only the preparation of a will providing instructions on the distribution of one’s property, but also self-care instructions, such as advanced health care directives, living wills, and other documents. If substantial assets are involved, individuals should consider how best to place their assets in the hands of those to whom they wish those assets to be given. Sometimes, individuals simply want loved ones to “inherit” their belongings outright – but other times, they would prefer to leave gifts that help pay for college costs, medical expenses, a downpayment on their child’s future house, or wedding expenses – events that could happen many years after the individual’s death. There are countless ways of estate-planning in a manner that comports with one’s wishes.
Avoidance Increases the Risks. Dealing with aging family members and one’s own impending mortality is not easy – it is arguably the toughest issue that individuals face in life. But ignoring the issues simply because they are unpleasant to consider is dangerous – accidents can happen at any time and being left deceased or too impaired to prepare an estate plan can have lasting, irrevocable, and entirely-avoidable consequences for loved ones. It doesn’t take the $613 million at issue in the Samsung family lawsuit for bitter disputes to arise between family members.
A Sears’ janitor has been arrested for installing up to 60 hidden cameras in womens’ restrooms and fitting rooms.
Three female employees who learned about the peeping-tom have hired lawyers and are attempting to sue Sears for allegedly “doing nothing” about the situation.
Obviously, videotaping others undressing and using the bathroom is illegal. But the question is whether Sears is on the hook for the illegal actions of its janitor. Usually, companies are not responsible for the criminal actions of their employees unless the criminal actions were taken as part of the employee’s job duties, or that the actions furthered the company’s business.
However, Sears could be sued for failing to supervise the janitor, negligently hiring the janitor, if the janitor had any kind of history of being a peeping-tom that a background-check would have revealed, or failing to fire him, if Sears knew about the filming but did nothing. Time will tell.
Nice to know what U.S. taxpayers are really paying for. A full dozen Secret Service agents were relieved of their duties after it was revealed that they were canoodling with Colombian prostitutes in Cartegena, Colombia, on the night before the Summit of the Americas international event. Apparently one of them refused to pay for the services of the prostitute, who then complained to the Colombian police.
It may sound like breaking news, but it is not. The sad reality is that governmental employees, starting from the bottom-rung and up, consistently engage in bad behavior. Last month, it was revealed that state governmental offices were prodding into employees’ Facebook accounts by asking for their usernames and passwords, to see first-hand what kind of potentially objectionable” content could be found on their personal and private accounts. Quite ironic given the long history of fraudulent, offensive, or illegal behavior on the part of high-ranking governmental figures at the top of the totem pole.
Consider these examples:
- General Services Administration Martha Johnson, who fired two GSA officers and quit herself after over $800,000 was spent in Las Vegas on a 4-day training conference for GSA employees;
- Ultra-religious conservative John Ensign (R-NV), who quit last year before the Senate Ethics Committee began examining fiscal violations in connection with his extramarital affairs;
- Tom DeLay (R-TX), convicted in 2010 of money laundering;
- Rick Renzi (R-AZ), prosecuted for 35 charges of fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering.
- Spencer Backus (R-AL), accused of insider-trading to avoid financial losses after being given a Congressional report on the impending melt-down of the American economy;
- David Rivera (R-FL), under investigation by the FBI, IRS, and other state organizations for money-laundering, public-corruption, and tax-evasion
Although these are just a couple of examples from recent years, the larger list of scandals involving governmental leaders and employees is stunning (as well as the two presidencies under which the greatest number were apparently reported.) The state/local list is longer and just as lurid.
Secret Service agents are certaintly entitled to blow off steam, just like every other employee. But this isn’t the first time they or other federal security agents have misbehaved. In November of 2011, a federal agent providing security shot an unarmed man in a Honolulu McDonald’s and was charged with second degree murder. In August, a Secret Secret Service agent was apparently driving drunk in Iowa and arrested. Three newsworthy reports in the past six months. The Secret Service (organized under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) requested $1.9 million in appropriations from the federal budget for 2012, nearly $1.7 million of which is intended to pay for salaries. If the majority of Secret Service funds end up as employee wages, the agents themselves are the agency’s most important asset, and must perform accordingly.
The good news is that the Obama administration, upon becoming aware of the misconduct, relieved the agents of their duties immediately instead of covering up the story or brushing it away under the guise of a long drawn-out “investigation” ultimately leading to nowhere. But where there is smoke, there is usually fire. A deeper clean-up may be in order.
There won’t be much of a chance of smooth taste here. Heineken USA has ordered a recall of several brands of its beer products, including Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Indio, Beers of Mexico, and Best of Mexico varieties. Apparently, there were some defects in the glass-manufacturing process (produced by a third party supplier) and detected through quality control inspections. U.S. Food Safety reports that there may be grains or particles of glass in the liquid that separated from the lip of the bottle.
The U.S. Dep’t of Justice filed a lawsuit today accusing Apple and other e-book publishers of colluding to price-fix the cost of e-books, in violation of federal antitrust laws. The antitrust suit was filed against Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster. Three of the publishers have agreed to a settlement, while the Justice Department will continue to litigate against Apple and the two publishers Macmillan, and Penguin.
The Justice Department accuses the publishers of conspiring to limit e-book price competition, increasing Amazon’s e-book retail prices and causing “consumers to pay tens of millions of dollars more for e-books than they otherwise would have paid.” The publishers settling with the DOJ have essentially agreed to pay more than $51 million back, to compensate consumers who bought price-fixed e-books.
What is unusual about this story is not the increasingly commonplace efforts by blue-chip corporations to swindle average consumers, but how the DOJ appears to be handling the allegations. The civil antitrust lawsuit is seeking only the repayment of money, which seems to be a departure from prior antitrust price-fixing lawsuits by federal and state authorities, which have on numerous occasions resulted in the perpetrators getting arrested or going to prison. Perhaps, a pound of cash truly is more valuable than a pound of flesh.
Last week, the UK began a probe of Apple in connection with Apple’s advertising campaign that promised iPad 4 users 4G speeds. Apparently, 4G is not even available in the UK.
Around the same time, Sprint revealed that there is only a single U.S. town, Kankakee, Illinois, that receives 4G Speed signals. Sprint said it will offer 4G LTE service by June in Kansas City, Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston.
Sprint’s admission begs the question: why would anybody pay more to buy 4G phones if 4G service from Sprint isn’t actually available?
“Cramming,” for those who may not know, is the practice adopted by cell phone and telephone companies that permits third-parties to access customer billing accounts and place charges on them. Sometimes, those charges are not authorized by the customer, leading to infuriated customers who have to spend hours on the phone with the telephone/cell phone providers to get the charges removed.
In the FCC’s open-meeting agenda last week, Senator Charles Schumer (D) called for the FCC to ban cramming altogether. Since cellphone/telephone companies of course make a lot of money through cramming, especially when customer bills are “auto-paid” and not closely scrutinized, some degree of campaign contributions resistance from both vendors and cell phone conglomerates should be expected.