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Agent Orange and veterans benefits

For Texas naval personnel who served in Vietnamese territorial waters during the conflict, additional benefits are now possible. A recent federal court decision opened up a possibility for disability benefits and medical care due to Agent Orange-related sickness.

For many years the Department of Veterans Affairs denied benefits related to Agent Orange exposure unless the vet served on land or in waterways inland. Agent Orange was the main vegetation-destroying chemical used during the war. Since the end of the conflict, thousands of veterans experienced various illnesses that were eventually traced to Agent Orange exposure. Since that time, more than 650,000 vets have received disability benefits for these illnesses. That figure stands to grow substantially due to the court ruling.

Sentencing alternatives proposed for certain violent offenders

Jails and prisons in Texas and across the United States are overflowing with inmates. In fact, there are currently around 830 prisoners for every 100,000 adults living in the country.

It used to be worse. In 2008, there were 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. adults. However, many federal, state and local jurisdictions chose to decriminalize certain minor offenses, explore incarceration alternatives for low-level offenders, and reform law enforcement practices to drive inmate numbers down. Further, in 2018, Congress passed the FIRST STEP Act, which reduces sentences for certain non-violent federal crimes. This law is expected to lower the inmate population in federal prisons, but it won't do anything to lower inmate populations on a state and local level.

Know when you may have to challenge a loved one's estate plan

In the wake of the loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to do is focus on frivolous issues, such as finances. However, failing to stand up for your rights and assert yourself during estate administration is a major mistake that can haunt you for years to come.

Whether you worry about someone influencing the last will left behind by your loved one or believe they were not in a proper frame of mind during the creation of their estate plan, you may have reason to contest the last will in court.

Misdemeanor cases often marked by inequality

When people in Texas think about criminal cases, the first that come to mind are often felony trials. However, misdemeanors account for around 80 percent of all the criminal cases that fill American courts, according to one author. Misdemeanors are typically low-level offenses that carry sentences that do not exceed one year of incarceration. While felony cases are often the most widely reported, misdemeanors comprise the vast majority of arrests, with 13 million new cases filed every year.

Unfortunately, the relatively low penalties attached to misdemeanor cases may mean that they receive less attention, even when fundamental rights are at stake. Public defenders, prosecutors, and judges are often burdened by massive case loads, and misdemeanors receive the least attention. This is especially true in cases where people are represented by public defenders who are pressured against pursuing constitutional arguments in misdemeanor cases. As a result, the reliability of convictions and access to justice may be significantly worse for misdemeanor defendants.

Why estate planning is important for baby boomers

For the youngest baby boomers in Texas, 2019 will mark their 55th birthdays. This occasion may prompt many in that generation to think about how they will plan for the future, including their retirements as well as passing on assets. The baby-boom generation is the wealthiest in American history, with over $30 trillion in assets to spend or pass along in the coming several decades. Nevertheless, many don't have estate plans. Up to 42 percent of baby boomers have yet to create an estate plan or even a basic will.

Of those who have made some sort of plan, many of their estate documents are years out of date. They may not reflect major life events like the birth of children, marriages, divorces or even deaths. In addition, they might not be updated to account for changes to the law, including the significant expansion of exemptions to the federal estate tax. Wills, trusts and powers of attorney all have an important role to play in passing on a person's property and fulfilling their plans for the future. Transfer-on-death accounts and life insurance can also be important.

Bill may allow some federal inmates to shorten their sentences

Some federal inmates in Texas could find their sentences reduced if a bill that is making its way through the Senate is successful. Despite some conservative opposition, overall, the bill has broad bipartisan support that includes both the American Civil Liberties Union and police unions as well as senators and representatives from both parties.

The bill underwent some revision in order to get that support. It is designed to give people in prison for certain types of crimes time off their sentences for participation in such activities as work or education. The hope is that participation in these types of activities will reduce recidivism. The ACLU and some other groups did not support an earlier version that allowed more discretion from the government as to who would be eligible. A provision was also added that would let people petition for release if they were serving a sentence for crack-cocaine offenses. In 2010, the disparity between sentencing for cocaine and crack cocaine was eliminated by Congress because of its racial bias, but it was not made retroactive.

Estate plans are rarely set in stone

A will that is created in Texas may or may not be valid in another state. It is also possible that a will created today won't meet a person's needs in a year or a decade from now. Therefore, it is important that a person takes time to review an estate plan after it has been created. An estate review includes spending time looking at beneficiary designations on 401(k) plans and similar documents.

The person who is listed on the designation form is the person who gets the asset. This is true even if someone else is named in a will or trust. Individuals may also need to update an estate plan if they have a child or grandchild to provide for. As life events occur, a person may need to be taken out of a will or trust. For example, a former spouse may not be the appropriate party to receive cash or a home.

3 possible defenses against drug possession

Most people who have been accused of drug possession will have a better idea of what happened -- or what went wrong -- leading up to their arrest and charges. In many cases, people accused of drug possession are innocent of the crimes.

Perhaps you were in the wrong place at the wrong time; the police made a mistake; the drugs didn't belong to you or some other reason led to your inappropriate arrest and criminal charges. Whatever your circumstances happen to be, it's time to get serious about your defense.

First Step Act could introduce criminal justice reforms

The First Step Act is of particular interest to people dealing with criminal sentencing in Texas, especially if they are in the federal court system. The bill has been backed by an unusual coalition of supporters ranging from President Donald Trump to longtime advocates of criminal justice reform. Widely understood as a compromise bill, the legislation has been criticized both for being soft on crime and for avoiding serious reforms that could change the inequalities built into the system. However, it is important for people to understand what changes may take place if the bill becomes law.

The bill could make a significant change for almost 2,600 federal prisoners who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses before 2010. In that year, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to equalize sentencing for defendants convicted of powder cocaine or crack offenses. Before that time, crack offenses were much more harshly penalized, resulting in sharply disproportionate effects in African American communities. While sentencing changed for people moving forward, those convicted before the law was passed were not affected. The First Step Act would enable these people to petition a judge for release.

Asset protection and irrevocable trusts

People in Texas who are planning for the future may be looking for ways to best pass on their wealth to future generations while simultaneously shielding themselves from taxes over the years. Irrevocable trusts can be an important tool that help people to achieve their goals for their assets. When people transfer property to this kind of trust, it is removed from the estate of the trust creator. It also means that the creator has to relinquish control over the assets, an option that could help to protect beneficiaries from creditors or other parties.

Once an irrevocable trust is created, it is permanent; the trust itself becomes the owner of the assets after it is funded. The trustee then has the responsibility of managing the trust for the benefit of its beneficiaries. While creating an irrevocable trust may protect funds from being accessed during the grantor's divorce or by his or her creditors, some may wonder if it could be vulnerable to those seeking assets from the beneficiary.

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