Fall 2003
Fisher's Law Office

Welcome to the NEWSLETTER of Fisher's Law Office, providing
you with legal information you can use in your everyday life.

1. What is the easiest place in the world to get divorced?

Answer: Malaysia. An Islamic court in the country of Malaysia declared in July 2003 that Muslim men can legally divorce their wives by sending a mobile telephone text message three times that states: "I divorce thee." Under Islamic law, if a man declares to his wife that he wishes to divorce her three times, then he is legally divorced.

2. Act now in order to take advantage of the Florida Department of Revenue's tax amnesty program.

Beginning July 1, 2003 and ending October 31, 2003, the Florida Department of Revenue will grant tax amnesty to Floridians who admit they owe state taxes. If you have failed to pay intangible taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, real property taxes, personal property taxes, excise taxes or other taxes to the state of Florida, this is your opportunity to come forward and tell the Department of Revenue about your tax problem and deal with it without paying penalties and without paying penalty interest rates. If you have tax liabilities, see your lawyer today and consider paying the tax you owe before the amnesty ends October 31, 2003.

3. With all of the tax changes in the federal law, here are a few pointers to help you with your taxes and investments:

(a) The tax on dividends has been reduced to 15%. If you don't have a "taxable account" (a brokerage account holding stocks or mutual funds), now is an excellent time to consider opening one because the tax on earnings from such accounts is so low.

(b) To qualify for the 15% tax rate, you must own a stock on the day the dividend is declared (the "ex-dividend" date) and for more than 60 days during the 120 day period surrounding the dividend date.

(c) If you have a child born after 1986, you are entitled to extra child credits beginning in 2003. See your tax professional to see if you qualify for the additional credits.

4. Residential real estate red alert.

(a) Is real estate about to crash? According to several housing experts, the value of real estate may be negatively affected by the recent increase in long term interest rates.

(b) If you have a home that has appreciated substantially, now might be an excellent time to put your home on the market.

(c) If you have a variable interest rate on your home mortgage, watch out. Your payment could go up, along with long term interest rates. Consider getting a fixed rate loan over 15 years if you can afford do so.

(d) Lastly, be aware that the foreclosure rate is at an all time high in the United States. The cheapest place to buy a home is often the courthouse steps where homes are sold in foreclosure sales for the loan balance and even lower amounts.

5. If your home does go into foreclosure, here are some tips to possibly save your home.

(a) Most lending companies do not hold the mortgages that they originate. They instead sell them to large organizations such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. These organizations will often work with you to "capitalize" the missed payments and have you resume making payments.

(b) Be cautious when you use debt counselors to help you renegotiate credit card and loan balances. Credit counseling companies are often owned by the credit card companies themselves and they may have conflicting interests in the course of advising you. Remember, the credit card companies will do anything to get you to pay them back even if it's not good for your long term financial health.

(c) Keep talking to your lender if you have missed a mortgage payment and your loan has not gone into foreclosure in the court system. As long as a debtor continues to talk with lenders, the lender often will delay putting a house into the legal process of foreclosure.

(d) If your loan has already gone into foreclosure and a judgment is entered, the court will set a sale date. If you truly wish to save your home and you have enough money to pay the payment but not credit cards and other debts, consider filing bankruptcy. This will delay the sale of your property and will allow you to reorganize your finances. Often after discharging all of your credit card and other debts in bankruptcy, there is enough money to pay the mortgage.

(e) Most mortgages have a clause which allows a debtor to reinstate the mortgage (pay up all of the missed payments and resume making payments under terms of the mortgage). Read your mortgage carefully and see whether you can make a demand for reinstatement under the terms of the mortgage.

(f) Remember, lenders do not like their loans to go into default and will often do anything within reason to work with you to have your mortgage considered current. Florida is unique in how quickly it allows foreclosures to take place. For example, in the country of Argentina, all loan foreclosures have been put on hold for over one year. While this is good for homeowners who do not have to make their payments, it is a disaster for banks and others who have loaned money. The irony of Florida's efficient legal system is that lenders are more willing to loan money when they know they can quickly foreclose if a borrower defaults on his loan.

(g) Lastly, always be careful about borrowing against your home so that you don't overextend yourself and end up in a foreclosure situation. If you are in a foreclosure situation, don't hesitate to seek legal help. Fisher's Law Office is here to help you.

6. Divorce checklist.

Here's a checklist of items to consider and secure whenever a divorce is eminent:

(a) Always secure copies of your U.S. federal income tax returns, W-2's, bank statements, 401(K) or other savings statements, credit card records and titles to property. Don't forget your payment book for your car, your car registration and car titles. You may want to keep these documents in your car so that if you have to leave your spouse at a moment's notice, you already have the documents you'll need in a divorce case.

(b) If you have children, go to the Fisher's Law Office website ( and do a calculation of child support for yourself to have an idea of how much money you will have coming in (or that you'll be paying out) after you are divorced.

(c) Write down the following information to give your lawyer: the date you were married, your full legal name, your address, the county where the marriage was last intact, social security numbers for all family members and dates of birth for all your children. Also, write down the addresses where your children have lived for the last five years and the people they lived with.

(d) Go to your employer and determine the value of your retirement benefits. Make sure you consider all aspects of your retirement benefits when getting divorced including pensions, 401K, non-pension post employment benefits (such as health insurance or other benefits). Obtain a "summary plan description" from your human resources department for your pension plan.

(e) If children and custody are an issue, write down the names, addresses and telephone numbers of your child's teachers, social workers, doctors, day care workers and others who have information about your children.

(f) Consider seeing a psychologist to get an evaluation on yourself. Don't have a written report prepared unless the outcome is favorable.

(g) When you visit with a lawyer, have an idea in mind as to what you want in settlement of your divorce. Ninety percent of all divorces settle amicably but you cannot have a settlement unless you are able to tell your lawyer what exactly you want him to put into your divorce agreement.

(h) Before you meet with your lawyer, make a list of questions for him to answer. Lastly,never hesitate to get a second opinion after seeing one lawyer.

7. What are some methods you can use to collect child support from a former spouse?

(a) Florida allows a non-paying parent to be held in contempt and jailed for failure to pay child support and to have wages garnished by income deduction order.

(b) Florida has a very strong statute (Florida Statute, Section 61.13015) that allows for a petition for suspension of professional licenses. For example, a doctor, a CPA or another person licensed by the state of Florida can lose his license if he does not pay any child support delinquency within 30 days of service of a notice of delinquency.

(c) Florida Statutes, Section 61.13016, allows for suspension of a driver's license and motor vehicle registrations. The process is simple:

(1) A parent who refuses to support their child or who fails to comply with a subpoena to appear for support proceedings is eligible to have his driver's license suspended.

(2) A notice may be sent to the non-paying parent saying that if the child support isn't caught up, the obligor's driver's license will be suspended.

(3) The notice must state (a) the terms of the order creating the support obligation; (b) the period of the delinquency and the total amount due; (c) that notice will be given to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles unless the obligor pays within 20 days or enters into a written agreement to pay or files a petition to contest the delinquency.

Moral to the story: Don't be a victim of a former spouse or parent of your child. Exercise your right to collect child support.

8. What should you do if a loved one dies?

(a) The process of giving the deceased person's property to loved ones named in the Will is called "probate". The process should not be a lengthy one if the attorney and the personal representative work diligently and efficiently.

(b) Locate your loved one's original Will. The Will should name the personal representative (executor).

(c) Make a list of property, bank accounts and other holdings of the person who died. This is called an "inventory".

(d) Make a list of the debts of the person who died.

(e) Carefully check the mail of the person who has passed away and gather any account statements or bills to add to the Inventory and the list of debts.

(f) Once the funeral has taken place, obtain a copy of the paid funeral bill.

(g) Obtain copies of the death certificate from the state of Florida. Usually a lawyer will need at least two or three copies of the death certificate.

(h) The personal representative should preserve the property of a decedent. For example, a decedent's car should not be driven and any property of the decedent should be protected during the probate proceeding.

(i) The personal representative should make an appointment to see an attorney and bring all of the above to him. Don't be afraid to interview several lawyers about their experience with probate and estate matters. Also, make a specific fee arrangement before hiring a lawyer. The attorney should write a letter to the personal representative outlining the terms of the agreement.

9. Here are some consumer tips to prevent you from becoming a victim of fraud.

(a) Be very cautious using ATM cards. Some ATM machines have been programmed to "skim" personal bank account information for later use by criminals.

(b) According to a recent article in the New York Times, at least 21,000 people have had their personal information "skimmed" by criminals. The criminals stole millions of dollars using the information. The fraud included ATMs used in Florida.

(c) This new nationwide problem is particularly bad in California, Florida and New York. Once a thief obtains your bank account information and personal identification number (PIN), he can charge things to your credit card or take money out of your bank account. At least one criminal has been prosecuted for this crime. A man named Iljmija Frljuckic was deported from the United States but came back into the country and was caught using credit cards improperly after stealing the numbers using an ATM machine that "skimmed" consumer information.

(d) ATM fees are already outrageously high and there is no reason to take a risk of losing your money to fraud in addition to the high fees.

*Moral to the story? Consider cashing a check to get cash instead of using your ATM card even with your local bank.

10. Retirement update.

Are you thinking about retiring or cutting back on your amount of work? Consider the following:

(a) Find a backup part-time job to keep you occupied.

(b) Most people consider their retirement options long before they retire by finding something else to do to keep them occupied whether it be hobbies, volunteering or new employment. If possible, try to find a part-time job that includes health insurance (assuming you're not old enough to qualify for Medicare).

(c) Consider setting up an "S" corporation" so that after you retire, you have an entity to receive any income you may earn from your endeavors in retirement.

(d) Remember, most people need approximately 60 to 70 percent of their pre-retirement income in retirement. Check your savings and investment plans as well as income possibilities well in advance of retirement to make sure you've saved enough for retirement.

(e) When it comes to depleting your savings, remember that retirement experts say that you should plan on withdrawing no more than five percent (5%) of the principal amount you have saved from your retirement plan every year.

(f) Before you retire, consider paying off all real estate and consumer debt.

(g) Remember that you may not want to live in the same house you've lived in particularly if your existing house is a large one. Consider downsizing in retirement.

(h) Lastly, consult an attorney to make sure that you make the right retirement options with your employer and that you have an estate plan including a Will.

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