Saturday, January 11, 2014

FAQs - Probate and Estate Administration

What if you die after a divorce without changing your will?

Answer: A section of the Probate Act steps in and nullifies those parts of the will which make gifts to the former spouse. (755 ILCS 5/4-7(b)).

Illinois statutes also nullify powers of attorney and those terms of revocable trusts which pertain to a former spouse. (755 ILCS 45/2-6(b) and 760 ILCS 35/0.01 et seq.). However, that is not the case with respect to the beneficial interest in a policy of life insurance.

The law does not step in and revoke a designation of a former spouse as a beneficiary. The surest way to change the beneficiary is to complete and submit a formal change of beneficiary. A second-best way would be to include a waiver in the marital settlement agreement. The trick to that, of course, is to make sure the waiver is highly specific lest it will be deemed too vague to be enforceable. A third way is to take some positive step which manifests an intention to change the beneficiary, an uncertain proposition if that "positive step" is something short of formally changing the beneficiary.

What if a child is born after a will has been made, or even after the parent has died?

Answer: In general, that child will be entitled to the same share of the estate that the child would have received had the parent died intestate (that is, without a will). There are exceptions when a will exists and speaks to this point. An after-born child will be entitled to what the will calls for, or disinherited, depending on whether the will makes gifts to after-borns or disinherits them. The statutes will control when the will is silent on the point or there is no will. (755 ILCS 5/2-3 and 755 ILCS 5/4-10).

Information Technology: Cybercrime

A loved one with an entrepreneurial spirit figures to soon be procuring product for his new venture from vendors in China. His situation is far from unique.

This has raised a host of issues relevant to cybercrime (and, for that matter, the subject of online contracting):

•How does one establish that the vendor is who he claims to be?
•Will the transactional documents will remain as drawn, and unaltered?
•Will the goods will be delivered?
A lot of good advice about such concerns, among others, is available at the website of the Internet Crime Complaint Center ("IC3"), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center that was established in 2000 "to address the ever-increasing incidence of online fraud." (2012 Internet Crime Report, Internet Crime Complaint Center p. 5).

Is cybercrime a big deal?

Here is the data from the most recent year available (2012):

Total complaints received: 289,874

Complaints reporting loss: 114,908

Total loss: $525,441,110.00

Median dollar loss for those reporting a loss: $600.00

Average dollar loss overall: $1,813.00

Average dollar loss for those reporting loss: $4,573.00

Where does Illinois fit in?

It ranks seventh in number of complaints by state (8,297 complaints) and fifth in losses ($14,316,107.72). (California, Florida, and Texas rank 1-2-3 in both those categories.)

Every once in a while, the FBI catches a bad guy. But the principal contribution of IC3 is that it imparts information and education to consumers. In terms of information, it regularly publishes online scam alerts that are available at the above identified web site address.

The Wage Act

The sales representative had this dilemma: He had an offer of new employment that would soon expire. But to collect commissions on sales made in the current year he had to remain with his current employer until April 1st of the next year.

The question was whether he had any tools available, other than his own powers of persuasion, to obtain the commission immediately.

Answer: Probably.

The Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act ("Wage Act" or "Act"), 820 ILCS 115/1 et seq., classifies earned commission as final compensation for purposes of paying "separated" employees. The commission in this case was, in fact, earned. The sales had been closed. The goods had been received and paid for.

Section 5 of the Act states that the employer "shall pay" the final compensation of a separated employee at the time of separation if possible but in no case later than the next pay day. And there is no except-for language in case the agreement of the parties calls for payment on some other basis. Moreover, an agreement in Illinois incorporates and includes the law of Illinois in effect at the time when the agreement was made unless the agreement clearly excludes such incorporation. The agreement under examination here did not contain that exclusion. Hence, there was a conflict between the agreement that required presence on the payroll until April 1st of the year to come and the Act, and the agreement had to yield to the Act.

That would seem to put the employee in a solid position to accept the new offer of employment and demand his commissions. So why is the answer to the question posed above just "probably"? Because the Act applies only to "Illinois employers." It was far from clear whether there was an "Illinois employer" in this case.

The company was organized under the laws of a state other than Illinois. It had its principal place of business in a state other than Illinois. Its presence in Illinois was largely confined to the presence of its sales representative, an Illinois resident who conducted business from a location in Illinois. Most of the decisional law that bears upon this question is something less than "controlling legal authority." For it comes from the federal trial courts in Chicago and it analyzes the "Illinois employer" question on a case-by-case basis.

We recently made an inroad of sorts on this point before the Illinois Appellate Court. It began with a six-figure money judgment against an out-of-state business executive who was found personally liable for the severance pay of a former employee on the grounds that he had knowingly permitted the true employer to violate the Act by withholding the pay. (Under section 13 of the Act company officers who knowingly permit an employer to violate the Wage Act are deemed to be the employer and are personally liable for the pay.)

There was no question that the true employer in the case was an "Illinois employer": It was a limited liability company organized under Illinois law and it had its only business office in Illinois. The executive contended that he could not be personally liable unless he, too, was as an "Illinois employer," and he could not be an "Illinois employer" because he lived and worked outside Illinois and had virtually no physical contact with Illinois.

The Illinois Appellate Court rejected that contention and affirmed the judgment on the grounds, among others, that his duties as an officer of an Illinois company were sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over him under our "long-arm" statute and bring him to trial on the question whether he knowingly permitted the true employer to violate the Wage Act.

The upshot is: In order for the Wage Act to apply at all, the true employer (or the employer-in-fact) must be an "Illinois employer," but only the employer-in-fact need be an "Illinois employer."