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Portsmouth Legal Blog

When can police enter your Virginia home?

The freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure of your property is one of the most basic rights you have as an American. That is why it is in the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights.

Unfortunately, if people do not understand the way that the modern courts and law enforcement officers interpret the Fourth Amendment as it applies to their house or residence, they may fail to stand up for themselves when confronted with law enforcement at their door.

Power of attorney may be your most important legal document

While most of us would prefer not to think about it, a person’s cognitive abilities decline as they age. Once we reach an age where we can no longer manage our financial and medical affairs, we need someone we trust to step in and help make those decisions.

That is why choosing a power of attorney (POA) here in Virginia could be the most critical decision you can make as part of your estate plan. It’s a big decision regardless of your age or how much money you have.

Probable cause and electronic information

When Virginia police officers want to search a suspect's home, car or possessions, they generally must first obtain a search warrant, and the judges who issue these warrants only do so when they are presented with probable cause to believe that useful evidence will be discovered. It may be logical to believe that the Fourth Amendment is pervasive and protects confidential electronic information just as it does personal papers, but that is not currently the case.

The federal government has not passed a law restricting police access to private electronic data, and only three states currently require law enforcement to provide search warrants to obtain it. In the overwhelming majority of cases, technology companies only ask for a subpoena before handing digital information over. This is of great concern to civil rights groups because obtaining a subpoena is relatively simple for police officers as establishing probable cause is not necessary.

The first step in estate planning is often the hardest

For many Virginia residents who realize the importance of creating an estate plan, getting started is often the most difficult step. The reluctance to face the harsh reality of one's ultimate death is certainly a factor, but there are other considerations as well. One is the lack of clarity on the purpose of the various legal documents that may be utilized in an estate plan and how they work in conjunction to protect the creator's interests. As with other complex tasks, it is a good idea to break things down to individual components and start at the beginning.

Financial planning analysts recommend a natural starting point is to consider who will inherit the estate assets. It is not necessary to determine who gets what at this point, only the individuals who will be beneficiaries. One consideration to keep in mind is that financial accounts typically have beneficiary designations, and these operate as a matter of law immediately at the time of death and supersede any contrary instructions in a will or trust.

False confessions and ignored evidence in high-profile cases

Police officers in Virginia and around the country are often put under great pressure to make an arrest when the cases they investigate attract a lot of media attention. A study published in the Northeastern University Law Review suggests that this pressure results in detectives developing tunnel vision and ignoring potentially exculpatory evidence after they have identified a prime suspect. This was the conclusion that criminologists from Texas State University reached after studying 50 wrongful conviction cases.

One of the most worrying observations made by the researchers was the frequency with which detectives coerced false confessions from suspects they had become convinced were guilty. However, these findings are unlikely to come as a surprise to advocacy groups like the Innocence Project. The nonprofit group says that about one in three of the people they have helped to have exonerated were convicted of crimes they did not commit after being coerced into confessing.

Good reasons to start estate planning immediately

Virginia residents and others may put off creating an estate plan for various reasons. However, it is generally a good idea to put one into place before getting sick of experiencing other significant life events. Significant life events include the birth of a child or grandchild or getting a divorce. In some cases, a child or grandchild will get divorced, which can result in a blended family.

Things may get even more complicated if a son or daughter gets remarried and has a child from two or more different marriages. To protect a child's inheritance, It may be a good idea to create a trust to hold assets in. That trust can either be revocable or irrevocable, and it should be updated as necessary to ensure that assets are properly titled. An estate planning professional or attorney may be able to help create a trust or other plan documents.

Living wills and living trusts are not the same

Virginia residents are sometimes confused by the amount of paperwork that can be included in an estate plan, and their bewilderment sometimes grows when they find out that some of these documents have names that sound alike. It would be reasonable to assume that living wills and living trusts are broadly similar, but that is not the case. While their names may sound the same, the two documents actually serve very different purposes.

Living wills are drafted to provide physicians with guidance and instructions regarding end-of-life situations. They specify when life-prolonging treatment should end and only care that reduces pain and provides comfort should be administered. Documents like living wills are known as advanced medical directives. A life-prolonging procedure declaration is another type of advanced medical directive that provides doctors with a very different set of instructions. These documents tell medical professionals that their drafters wish to remain alive for as long as possible and want treatment to continue until every option has been exhausted.

Simple things to keep your kids from fighting about your estate

As a parent, the last thing that you want is for your children to fight over your will when you die. When you pass, you want your children to be there for one another, and to lean on one another. You don't want them to be arguing over your assets and everything that you have left behind.

Lawyers get phone calls all the time from children who have recently lost their parents and are arguing over the will.

When children want to change the custody plan

Separated parents in Virginia may go through challenging times when their children say they want to change the custody arrangement. There are several reasons why a kid would make these requests. Examples range from serious situations like abuse or neglect to simply wanting to pursue a better educational opportunity. It is a big decision, and there are many issues for parents to consider before making a major change to how a family handles custody.

It is important for parents to communicate openly with their children and listen to what they have to say, especially if they are unhappy with their current living situation. In addition, it is important that both parties respect each other rather than use the potential change of residency as an emotional weapon. Parents should also think about how their children feel in the difficult environment that can come with a parental divorce. This may be particularly true if the parents do not get along well or have significant conflicts.

Rights children have after a divorce

Children of divorce in Virginia often experience a wide range of emotions when a marriage comes to an end. Parents may be able to make the transition to a two-household life easier by being mindful of unofficial "rights" that their children have after a marriage ends.

First of all, children of divorce have a right not to be affected by lingering anger that divorced parents may have toward one another. This means parents should not to openly bad-mouth their former spouse and not discourage their child from enjoying time with the other parent, even if stepparents or new significant others are part of the picture. Also, kids tend to appreciate being reminded that the divorce was not their fault and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent it.

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