Category Archives: legal

Home court — Legal action lets couple love life in Alaska

Editor’s note: This is part two in a series of stories about the legalization of same-sex marriage in Alaska.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Tammie Willis and Isabelle Boutin Tammie Willis and Isabelle Boutin, of Sterling, were married in San Francisco earlier this year. Same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in Alaska, so they chose to be married in California.

Photo courtesy of Tammie Willis and Isabelle Boutin
Tammie Willis and Isabelle Boutin, of Sterling, were married in San Francisco earlier this year. Same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in Alaska, so they chose to be married in California.

Of course life isn’t a fairy tale. What you want isn’t always what you get. Finances, illnesses, responsibilities, logistics — all can create insurmountable obstacles to one’s ideal scenario. Tammie Willis and Isabelle Boutin get that. They’re realistic. They know there’s no silver spoons or platters. They expected sacrifices to be made in order to make a life together.
But they didn’t feel like they should have to accept not even being able to try — being denied the right to even attempt to construct their life the way they wanted it. In the U.S., that land of the free, as gay people, they didn’t have the same opportunity as straight couples to even pursue the happiness of living in a place they love with the person they love.
“There is this segment of people in leadership positions who think it’s OK to deny one subgroup of people their rights because their beliefs are different. That’s the hard part for me,” Willis said.
Willis, originally from Virginia, moved to the central Kenai Peninsula by way of Oklahoma going on two years ago, taking a job as associate director of residence life at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus as the new residence hall was being built.
She quickly fell in love with the place and wanted to share it with the person she loved, but couldn’t. Boutin, an information technology specialist, is originally from Canada and had been working in Australia for 17 years. The two met through their mutual interest in online gaming. Their strategizing in “Star Wars: The Old Republic” expanded to conversations about other things, and a relationship developed via email, text messages and Skype. By the time Willis took the job at KPC, they were already strategizing a way to be together in the real world, not just online. They visited each other, and Boutin was as taken with Alaska as Willis had been.
“I really love the community around here, how friendly people are. When I visited and when I went back to Australia, that’s what I kept in my mind, ‘Wow, the people are so friendly.’ I just find people are really, really accepting,” Boutin said.
While the federal Defense of Marriage Act was still in place in the U.S., their options were limited. In order to live in the country, Boutin would have to immigrate, but she couldn’t get a K-1 fiancé visa with Willis as her intended spouse.
“There are 1,138 rights, benefits or privileges afforded to people who are married, and gay people (before the DOMA decision) had none of them,” Willis said.

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One and the same — Kenai Courthouse performs its 1st same-sex marriages

Editor’s note: This is part one in a series of stories regarding same-sex marriage on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tanya Luck, left, and Heidi King were married Friday at the Kenai Courthouse after the lifting of the ban on same-sex marriages in Alaska. The couple has been together six years and had a commitment ceremony in 2010.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tanya Luck, left, and Heidi King were married Friday at the Kenai Courthouse after the lifting of the ban on same-sex marriages in Alaska. The couple has been together six years and had a commitment ceremony in 2010.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For an event so charged with controversy, moral condemnation, protestations of equal rights, years of legal wrangling and no less than an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ceremony Friday at the Kenai Courthouse was most remarkable in its absence of anything particularly remarkable. All went as it normally would.

The couple arrived a bit early after spending hours getting fancied up, yet still having to rush out of the house because such primping always takes longer than expected. In the clerk’s office they filled out paperwork and paid the fee, while chatting and laughing about nothing in particular, with the nervous energy inherent in completing the mundane that precedes something momentous.

The crowd of friends and family in attendance were just as patiently good-natured, a knot of smiles, laughter and camera phones brightening the solemn vibe more typically imbuing a courthouse hallway.

The marriage ceremony itself was mostly boilerplate. The officiant read from a script, and the participants spoke when expected to, responding as expected to. The crowd teared and cheered on the regular cues — the entrance march (with music they provided themselves, singing an enthusiastic a cappella “dah, dum t’dumm, dah dum t’dumm”), the exchange of rings, the kiss.

There was, of course, the obvious difference. The bride, with her pink bouquet and white lace overlay dress, facing her bride, with her pink bouquet and white-and-black floral dress.

The officiant asking if Heidi would take this woman, Tanya, to be her lawfully wedded wife. And if Tanya would do the same, both promising to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as they both shall live.

Heidi King and Tanya Luck’s ceremony Friday was only the second same-sex marriage to be performed at the Kenai Courthouse — the first being two men married the day before — since Alaska was required to lift its ban on gay marriage.

Despite the larger legal context — the Alaska Legislature passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 1998 with a voter referendum approving the measure, a federal district court on Oct. 12 declaring the ban unconstitutional, the state appealing the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court declining the hear a similar case, thus validating the lower court decision — the ceremony itself was a lot like all the other marriages performed at the courthouse prior to last Thursday. And that’s exactly how the couple wanted it.

“Really, we’re like any other couple,” King said.

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Legal Ease: You have the power, take care in sharing it

By Mark Osterman, for the Redoubt Reporter
Editor’s note: Legal information listed here is intended to be general preventative measures and legal first aid to help readers avoid problems before engaging legal counsel. These are not a substitute for hiring an attorney and should not be considered to be legal advice specific to any situation.

A frequent telephone call to my office deals with the issue of powers of attorney. A power of attorney is a specific document that directs another person to be a representative for someone else.

A power of attorney can be many things for different reasons. For instance, a person may want a power of attorney given to their parents to take care of a child. This is frequently called a delegation of powers by a parent. There is even a statutory form available through the Office of Public Advocacy’s Family Guardian Program. See the Web address below for more information. If you check the Alaska Court System’s Self-Help Center under Family Law on the Internet, you will find this form.

Another power of attorney is for an adult. The person who receives the power is called an “attorney in fact.” A power of attorney confuses a lot of people. Some think that if Grandpa gave me a power of attorney, he loses power and I posses it. This is so far from the truth and I mention it because I have seen people in nursing homes staying there because the daughter has the power of attorney and “won’t let them leave.” You do not give away power with a power of attorney, you share it with the person you name, unless it is a durable power of attorney and you are sick and cannot think straight.

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Legal Ease: Death and taxes together again

Editor’s note: Legal information listed here is intended to be general preventative measures and legal first aid to help readers avoid problems before engaging legal counsel. These are not a substitute for hiring an attorney and should not be considered to be legal advice specific to any situation.

When President Bush took office eight years ago, he began changing the estate tax system with an eye toward phasing out the “death tax,” which is taxation on an excessive estate. During the Bush presidency, only people with million-dollar estates had to pay taxes. This was not always the case before he took office.

Over the years, the federal government had increased the gate or the level by which the government would start to tax. For instance, there was a time when, if a husband and wife had a combined estate of $1.2 million or less, they would not be taxed federally. But any estate above $1.2 million was taxed between 33 percent and 45 percent, depending upon the size of the estate.

Before his inauguration, President Obama’s administration signaled its displeasure with the elimination of the estate tax. Suggestions from the Obama administration indicate that the threshold figure would be substantially reduced from the levels set during the Bush administration. A recent Wall Street Journal report suggests the Obama administration may be focusing as low as $100,000 on an estate.

At the present time, the largest amount of money possessed in the United States is held by the Baby Boomers, who are gradually retiring, and also dying. If the average citizen has a house of $150,000 and savings of approximately $50,000, under the $100,000 cap the first $100,000 would not be taxed, but any amount over that could be taxed as much as 35 percent. So there would be a $35,000 tax on the $200,000 estate, more than one-third of the estate after the cap is met.

Generally, people think about a will when they die. A will is a good start but if the estate tax gate amount changes, a trust may become a viable option. A trust, for lack of a better comparison, is a sort of company you and your spouse control until one or both of you die. Then, a designated person takes over the management. It allows for a disabled person — child or spouse — to receive care from the trust as long as there is money and a need for it.

New probate laws will be needed, and this brings with it several other problems. For instance, many estates are never “probated,” or taken to court. The estates are moved by transfer through deed by adding a son or daughter. Moving the property by deed would bring its own set of red flags. The Internal Revenue Service monitors such things and capital gains taxes are required. Additionally, one family member may get on the deed and the other kids get nothing.

A trust would be a worthwhile vehicle provided that people put most of their substantial assets that are over the government cap into the trust. All the family is protected and there are no real IRS consequences, depending on the amount of the trust and the estate.

People who are thinking about estates ought to consider a trust before federal legislation changes. There was a time, not long ago, that a trust had to be approved by the Internal Revenue Service (called a Q-Tip trust) thus ensuring regulation of what was happening with unreported trusts. I expect those days to return, too.

A trust document is worth its value and meeting with an estate attorney to go over estate plans is worth the money. A little bit of planning now can save your family a substantial amount of taxes in the future.

Remember, the government has to make up for its budget shortfalls, and taking the money from the deceased meets little resistance for the government. After all, dead people only vote in Chicago — or so I’ve been told.

Mark Osterman is a lawyer in Kenai and has practiced in Alaska, Michigan and federal courts for 19 years doing family, commercial, divorce and criminal law.

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Legal Ease: Hazards ahead — buying automobile insurance

Editor’s note: Legal information listed here is intended to be general preventative measures and legal first aid to help readers avoid problems in legal situations before engaging legal counsel. These are not a substitute for hiring an attorney and should not be considered to be legal advice specific to any situation.

Nearly every adult in Alaska needs to drive and thus needs automobile insurance. Public transportation is minimal and distances are often too great to walk or bicycle, even if the weather is dry and 50 degrees above zero, rather than 50 below.

Every driver is legally required to have automobile insurance whenever they are driving. If you don’t have insurance and get a ticket or are in an accident, you will probably lose your driver’s license for some time and could be legally prosecuted.

However, all automobile insurance is not the same. Continue reading

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Legal ease: Don’t let precious paper pile up

The dark days of winter are leaving, but the long days of winter are yet to come as we crowd into the end of February. If you want something important to do that will be helpful for you and for your family, then it is time to dust off several important papers in your house and get them in a single, safe place.

For many years, my wife and I kept a briefcase by the front door. In the briefcase were our passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, estate plans and other valuables that could be taken out of the house in a moment’s notice in the event of fire. As time went on, we purchased a fireproof safe. Too heavy to carry, but fire safe.

A really great project for this time of year is to gather up all of those papers and get them into a fireproof box or safe. These documents, while not impossible to replace most of the time, are very difficult to replace. Birth certificates and baptismal certificates are still necessary items when you hire for a new job or need a passport.

With passport requirements changing at borders, these documents are more necessary than ever. Having them safe is also important. I can spend $20 and get my birth certificate, and it may just take three weeks to get. But more than likely when I need it, I need it today, not in three weeks.

Your insurance policies also are important. This tells you what your house and its contents are worth. Since you bought that couch back in 1965, it has gone up in value and its replacement will require a lot more money. Simultaneously, you and your spouse may have accumulated jewelry, guns, coin collections, rare stamps, stocks and bonds, children’s birth certificates and the pedigree of your dog.

All of these documents are important enough that they should be kept safe and they also should be checked again for value.

The single biggest difficulty I hear about after a house fire is not that there was no insurance (which happens far too often) but rather that the dwelling and its contents were greatly undervalued.

People who are the victims of a house fire or severe damage suddenly discover that the house they paid for will now require a new mortgage to be rebuilt because its value to the insurance company wasn’t updated.

People like to rent a safety deposit box at the bank, but there are a couple of things to know first. If you put the box in your name only and something happens to you, there is a list of problems if someone has to get in it.

First, somebody has to know that you have a safety deposit box. They have to know where the key to the box is or the box has to be drilled out and the lock replaced, which costs money. Third, because the box is an important item, you have to have a court order to get in if someone is incapacitated or dies.

When the court order gets issued to open the safety deposit box, some tax authority has to be standing by when you open it to be sure there isn’t an excessive amount of cash or property on which you may be obligated to pay taxes.

If you’re renting a safety deposit box to keep your insurance policies in, you’re paying for awfully expensive storage. A good floor safe will keep an honest person honest.

You may not be interested in keeping grandpa’s gold watch there, but keeping a document safe in the closet of your bedroom means you can access these important documents and they are safe from fire and hazard. And this may cost you less than a couple of months of safety deposit box rent. A couple of screws in the floor or a cable around the back stud of the closet will keep anybody from running off with the safe.

A safety deposit box will certainly keep thieves away from the expensive valuables. But a good safe or fireproof box in the floor of your closet will certainly give you substantial peace of mind concerning your policies, important documents, and the valuables you will find time-consuming and difficult to replace in the future.

So get those policies updated and your important documents safe.

Mark Osterman is a lawyer in Kenai and has practiced in Alaska, Michigan and federal courts for 19 years doing family, commercial, divorce and criminal law. The information in this column is not intended to be used as legal advice. Please contact a legal professional for specific questions.

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Filed under legal

Legal ease: Don’t let precious paper pile up

The dark days of winter are leaving, but the long days of winter are yet to come as we crowd into the end of February. If you want something important to do that will be helpful for you and for your family, then it is time to dust off several important papers in your house and get them in a single, safe place.

For many years, my wife and I kept a briefcase by the front door. In the briefcase were our passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, estate plans and other valuables that could be taken out of the house in a moment’s notice in the event of fire. As time went on, we purchased a fireproof safe. Too heavy to carry, but fire safe.

A really great project for this time of year is to gather up all of those papers and get them into a fireproof box or safe. These documents, while not impossible to replace most of the time, are very difficult to replace. Birth certificates and baptismal certificates are still necessary items when you hire for a new job or need a passport. Continue reading

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