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Northern Virginia Law Blog

Patients face mounting medical debt

Medical treatment can leave people in Virginia struggling with massive quantities of medical debt. People across the country are facing costly medical bills that they cannot afford to pay, even when they have health insurance in place. In fact, medical debt is the leading issue linked to personal bankruptcy filings across the country. Patients worried about medical bills can take some steps to minimize their exposure to health-related debt.

People struggling with illness may also need to take on another task: understanding the complexities of their health insurance plans. Many people face costly medical debt because they receive care from doctors deemed out-of-network by their insurance companies. In some cases, these out-of-network facilities and providers may be much closer or have stronger reputations in the particular care needed. However, patients may face limited coverage or none at all. In addition, some insurers require specific processes to obtain permission to see a specialist, receive an imaging test or undergo surgery. By working with these processes, people can work to improve their chances of stronger coverage from their insurance plan.

A judgment may not be dischargeable in bankruptcy

The purpose of Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy is to provide a fresh start for an individual who has fallen behind on obligations to creditors. Most Virginia residents are aware to some degree that certain categories of debt are not dischargeable in accordance with federal law. These include student loans, child support and alimony and government taxes. However, a question remains whether or not a judgment entered against the debtor can be discharged.

At first blush, it may seem inappropriate for a debtor to be released from a judgment that was based in some form of intentional or even negligent conduct. However, in evaluating whether a judgment is dischargeable, legal scholars explain that the bankruptcy court must look to the federal exceptions to bankruptcy and not simply assume that a state case resulting in a judgment met the federal standards. This is true even if the underlying state case dealt with fraudulent conduct.

Estate planning is vital for unmarried LGBTQ+ couples

Who can forget the overwhelming joy many in the LGBTQ+ community felt when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision to effectively legalize same-sex marriage across the United States? That said, that decision obviously did not mandate every LGBTQ+ person to enter into a marriage. On the contrary, choosing to remain unmarried is one way to assert your legal rights. 

As you probably know, marrying your partner automatically conveys certain legal protections and other benefits. If you decide never to walk down the aisle, though, estate planning may be even more important. Here are a few planning tips for unmarried LGBTQ+ couples: 

Credit card debt at highest level since 2008

According to Federal Reserve Data, Virginia residents and others have combined to accumulate $1.05 trillion in revolving consumer debt as of the fourth quarter of 2018. Consumers have accrued $870 billion in credit card debt, which beats the previous record high set in 2008. At the end of 2018, there were about 100 million more credit card accounts than in 2010. Between the final quarter of 2017 and 2018, there were an additional 37 million accounts that were 90 days past due.

The percentage of accounts that are 90 days past due has increased since 2016 to about 5%. However, this is still lower than in 2009 when delinquency rates were above 10%. Research shows that there is not necessarily a correlation between a person's credit score and the amount of debt that he or she has. This is because credit scores generally track whether a person makes minimum payments each month.

How to approach estate planning

Virginia residents may have an idea of what an estate plan is. However, they may think that it is something that they create at some point in the future. Ideally, individuals will create a plan as soon as possible and continue to update it as they get older. This is often a good idea even for those who don't think that they have a lot that they need to account for.

If a person owns a car, has an online account, or owns a home, those items should be included in an estate plan. Reviewing a plan can come in handy because decisions made in the past may no longer be appropriate. For example, someone who was named to be a child's guardian might not be the right person to assume that role now.

Federal law protects consumers against debt collectors

Debt collectors in Virginia and around the country have become increasingly aggressive in recent years, and daily calls demanding payment have become the norm for people who are struggling to make ends meet. The tactics used by third-party bill collectors often border on harassment, and they may also violate federal law. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was signed into law in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, and it prohibits debt collectors from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices to secure payment.

Under the provisions of the FDCPA, third-party bill collectors are not permitted to contact consumers at their places of work or at certain inconvenient times. They are also not allowed to tell a debtor's friends or family members about unpaid bills and must cease making contact when asked to do so in writing. They are also prohibited from using coercion or harassment to encourage debtors to pay.

Do you know the difference between a will and a trust?

When you meet with your attorney to draft your estate plan, it is a good idea to have a grasp on what kind of documents you may need to create.

Depending on your family situation, your attorney may recommend you design a will or a trust, and in some instances both documents. Do you know what function these two estate documents perform? Here is a basic description of each.

Single people may also benefit from an estate plan

For some single people in Virginia, estate planning may seem like more trouble than it's worth. After all, these individuals don't usually have to worry about providing for a loved one, such as a spouse or minor child. However, estate planning is about more than just passing on assets.

For example, every adult should consider making out a power of attorney or health care proxy. These estate documents are used during a person's lifetime to address key medical and financial questions during cases of incapacitation. Single people may want to pay particular attention as hospitals and others will not be able to turn to a spouse to make these decisions. Therefore, estate owners who want to ensure that their wishes will be respected can benefit from naming a trusted person to handle these issues. One may also want to create a health care advance directive to indicate their wishes.

How bankruptcy can help resolve vehicle debt issues

Failing to make a car payment on time could result in an individual's vehicle being repossessed. However, lenders in Virginia and throughout the country don't want to see that happen. Usually, it is more expensive to repossess a car as opposed to working out a new payment plan. They will generally work with those who reach out to them in a timely manner. Car owners can also look to refinance their vehicles in an effort to create favorable payment terms.

For some, simply refinancing or modifying a car loan isn't going to solve their problem. Instead, they will need to look into filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Doing so could have a variety of benefits such as the ability to seek a cramdown. A cramdown results in a borrower owing only the fair market value of the car. Any portion of the loan that is more than this amount is converted to unsecured debt.

How parents may conceal some trust information from children

Virginia and many other states have adopted a version of the Uniform Trust Code. This law establishes certain obligations toward trust beneficiaries, requiring that they get the necessary information about the trust to protect themselves. However, for various reasons, some parents do not want their children to know very much about their trusts. Depending on what kind of information the parents want to conceal or how they want the trust administered, the solution might be to establish the trust in another state. Trusts that conceal a significant amount of information from the beneficiary are called "silent trusts".

Parents may not want their children to grow up knowing there is a trust waiting for them. They may want to create a trust that does not require the trustee to keep the beneficiary informed. They might want information to go to a third party instead of to the beneficiary.

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