Intra-Family Agreements

by Elizabeth Q. Boehmcke, Esq.

Click here for .pdf version

On Sunday, January 11, 2015, the Virginian-Pilot reported that a lawsuit had been filed in the Chesapeake Circuit Court in which a woman alleged that, despite investing substantial assets to build a mother-in-law suite in her daughter’s home, paying rent and utilities for more than four years and assisting with the cost of installing a backyard swimming pool, she was “kicked out” of her daughter and son-in-law’s home. Although it appears from the article that the daughter and son-in-law have a different version of the chain of events that lead to the woman no longer living with them, the sheer fact that this matter has ended up in the courthouse is more important than the ultimate merits of this case.  It is not unusual for family members to make informal agreements among themselves in connection with matters of all kinds. For instance, children take elderly parents into their homes to care for them when it becomes too difficult or expensive for the parents to remain in their own homes. Family members make loans to each other on all kinds of terms. However, at the time these arrangements are made, it is not uncommon for there to be misunderstandings about the exact terms of the agreements or about what to do if problems arise down the road. When problems and disagreements do arise, the stress on the family can fracture relationships and lead to a crisis that lands everyone in the last place they intended: court.

It is for this reason that Hook Law Center stresses the importance of reducing these intra-family agreements to writing. By spending the time at the outset of the agreement to put into writing the exact terms of what each party will do, you lay the groundwork for a clear understanding of what matters the agreement covers and what matters it does not. For instance, if a parent is planning to move into a child’s home, the agreement should specify whether the parent is paying rent or merely paying a portion of the expenses of maintaining the home. The agreement should also cover the circumstances that would necessitate the parent leaving the home, such as ill health that necessitates assisted living or nursing home level of care, and the circumstances that might allow a return to the home.  Depending on the specific circumstances of the family, other terms might be important to include in such agreements like transportation to and from medical appointments, provision of medical care in the home, cooking meals, etc. Families should also be cognizant of their own stresses and needs – if a parent needs constant care, the agreement may want to contemplate that the parent will pay for outside caregivers so that the family can take a vacation without worrying about the parent’s safety.  Many times the mere act of writing down the agreement will spur the parties to ask each other the very important “what if” questions. Coming to an agreement about how these issues will be handled at the outset is preferable (and will likely lead to a better solution) than trying to deal with the issues in a crisis.

Although reducing an agreement to writing cannot guarantee that a lawsuit will not be the ultimate result, a well-thought-out agreement does provide a roadmap for navigating the choppy waters that occur in life. It can be the basis for a mediated settlement between the parties. It can also be used to diffuse concerns of other family members who question why Dad has made certain payments or is moving out of the house. In addition, written agreements can be used as a tool to assist people in qualifying for government benefits. Hook Law Center is committed to assisting our clients and their families as they search for ways to do what families do best: care for each other.  Contact any of our attorneys to discuss putting an intra-family agreement in writing.

Andrew H. Hook

Andrew H. Hook was quoted in the Virginian Pilot newspaper concerning the drafting of Advance Medical Directives.  The article appeared in last Sunday’s Business Section but it is available online by clicking here.

Kit Kat

Ask Kit Kat: Wildlife in Your Backyard

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what should one do if they find animals in their yard that are causing problems?

Kit Kat: Well, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommends that you shouldn’t trap and relocate wild animals. The success rate in such transplantation is very low. For example, one study found that squirrels which were moved from a suburban area to a woodsy area had a 3% survival rate after 88 days. You might think it’s the same type of habitat, but wild animals like squirrels, foxes, and possums get to know their home territory. They have mapped out escape routes, they know where to find food, etc. Also, when they are scooped up and removed, they may be leaving behind some babies who are too young to fend for themselves.

So what should you do if you find a groundhog poaching the flowers or a squirrel eating the birdseed? What the HSUS recommends is gentle harassment measures such as loud noise from a radio, flashing lights, or vinegar-soaked rags strategically placed. Eventually, they will get the point and move on their own terms, when they’ve made a plan. Once it is clear the animals have moved, you can erect some barriers which will prevent their return. Preventive barriers include caps on chimneys, sealing holes in porches and sheds, or using temporary fencing. Many people fear opossums, but they are nocturnal and take care of a lot of garden pests such as insects and rodents. They really should pose no serious problems, and can be quite beneficial to your property’s ecosystem.

So, be respectful of your property’s natural inhabitants. It is possible to co-exist peacefully.  (Nancy Lawson, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” All Animals, January/February 2015,p. 32-33)

Upcoming Events

  • January 29 – 31, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook and Jessica A. Hayes will be attending the NAELA Summit in Newport Beach, California.
  • February 7, 2015 – Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro will be speaking to the Down Syndrome Association of Hampton Roads’ Baby Play Group.
  • February 10, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook will be teaching a continuing legal education seminar to personal injury attorneys on “Protecting Your Client’s Settlement Using Trusts.”
  • February 20-21, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook will be speaking on Managing a Small Law Firm at the 2015 VAELA UnProgram in Charlottesville, VA.
  • February 23, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook and Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro will be speaking on the ABLE Act to a local financial advisory firm.
  • August 12, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook will be speaking to a group at Maryview Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
  • August 21, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook will be speaking to a group at DePaul Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.
  • August 27, 2015 – Andrew H. Hook will be speaking to a group at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, Virginia.

Special Announcements 

The Hook Law Center, a leader in the field of Elder Law, serving Hampton Roads, is seeking an experienced Elder Law attorney. The firm has an AV Martindale rating, offices in both Virginia Beach and Suffolk, and attorneys who have held leadership positions in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Special Needs Alliance, and the Virginia Bar Association. The ideal candidate will have expertise in public benefits,guardianshipspecial needs planningestate planning, taxation, and trust & estate administration. The candidate must also have excellent writing, research, and communication skills.  Our goal is to attract an attorney who will work collaboratively with our experienced staff, provide  consistent, high-quality client service, strive to improve his or her skills and seek relevant certifications, and is motivated to continue the success of our firm. Membership in the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys or certification in Elder Law or Financial Planning is desirable. Please send resume and references to Sandra Buhr, Office Administrator, at sbuhr@hooklawcenter.com.

Hook Law Center is also seeking an experienced Paralegal.  The Paralegal must have 3+ years experience assisting Attorneys in the area of estate planning.  Experience in long term care planning is a plus. Knowledge of the legal process and terminology used in this practice area is required. This Paralegal must be able to read, comprehend, and act with knowledge on instructions, regulations, and laws related to this area. Candidate must be efficient at managing client matters while maintaining accurate timekeeping; therefore, prior experience working with in legal time and billing systems is necessary. Candidate must be a detail oriented, independent worker with excellent critical thinking skills and computer skills. Proficiency in the use of WordPerfect, Word, and Excel is required. This self-starter must have excellent clerical skills, including spelling, grammar, proper punctuation, and proofreading. As client contact is frequent, the position also requires a person with exceptional client service skills. Hook Law Center offers an excellent work environment as well an excellent compensation and benefit program.  Please email your resume to buhr@hooklawcenter.com

Distribution of This Newsletter

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