Some people who think they’re legally married really aren’t

some-people-who-think-theyThese days, a growing number of couples are opting out of traditional church weddings and are choosing instead to be married in less formal ceremonies, often presided over by a friend or relative rather than a priest or rabbi.

That’s fine if that’s what the couple wants – but the problem is that some such weddings might not be technically legal.
Typically, a valid marriage requires a license, witnesses, and solemnization by someone with the legal authority to do so. “Legal authority” is the problem. In many states, this means either a justice of the peace or a person who has been ordained by a recognized religion.

Many people believe that they can perform weddings if they’ve been ordained by the Universal Life Church, an Internet “religion” that has no particular belief system but that allows people to fill out an online form and quickly become “ordained.” The ULC’s website proudly touts that its “ministers” can perform weddings. But just because something appears on a website doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.

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Homeowner’s insurance usually won’t cover you if there’s a flood

homeowners-insuranceMany people are surprised to discover that their standard homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover them in the event of a flood.

If you want flood insurance, you generally have to buy a separate policy. Typically these policies are sold by private insurers, but are backed by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Some federally backed mortgage programs require homeowners to buy flood insurance if they live in a high-risk area. Some private lenders require this as well, and they may require it even if the property is not in a high-risk area.

You should note that just because a property is not in a high-risk area doesn’t mean that flooding is impossible. High-risk areas are typically low-lying regions that are subject to storm surges or overflowing rivers, but even property in a very low-risk area can still be flooded due to heavy rainfall, drainage system failures, or a broken water main.

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Background checks’ of employees may violate federal law

In the past, employers typically required background checks only for high-level jobs with security clearances. But the Internet has made background information much more readily available, and employers are taking advantage of this fact, particularly in a tight job market where they can afford to be selective. Today, background checks are routinely performed on potential telemarketers, fast-food cashiers, and pizza cooks.

But many employers who conduct these checks – and many job applicants who are subject to them – are unaware that a federal law strictly limits how they can be conducted.

Employers who don’t fully comply with the law can be sued, and if they routinely conduct these checks, they could be subject to a class action. Recently, Wal-Mart paid $6.8 million to settle a class action under the law, and the company that owns the Greyhound bus service paid $5.9 million.

Many employers have gotten into trouble because they buried a background check disclosure in the middle of other material for the applicant to sign, or relied on a ‘catchall’ waiver at the end of a document.

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U.S. Government helps personal injury victims

government-helps-personal-injury-victimsTwo U.S. Government agencies have issued rulings that will make life easier for some personal injury victims who are pursuing lawsuits.

One is from the federal Medicare agency, and it affects anyone who is insured by Medicare.

In general, if you have an accident and Medicare pays any of your medical expenses … and you later bring a legal claim against someone and recover compensation … you’re required to reimburse Medicare out of your settlement proceeds.

A big problem is that Medicare is a huge bureaucracy, and it often takes it a very long time to determine exactly how much it’s owed in reimbursement.

As a result, many claims and lawsuits that would normally result in a fairly speedy settlement for the injured person instead get caught up in red tape.

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Here’s another good reason to review your will and estate plan

Here's another good reason to review your will and estate planIt’s very common for people’s wills to provide that the executor will pay the estate’s expenses out of the estate’s assets, and what’s left over will be divvied up among the heirs.

That’s usually a good plan. But one of the many reasons for regularly reviewing your estate plan is that changes in your financial arrangements could result in some of your heirs being unfairly burdened with estate expenses, while others will get a windfall you didn’t intend.

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