What is a Cloud on a Title Report?

As much as we all love to capture images of the beautiful and interesting “cloudscapes” above us, we know too, that clouds can signal storms. This holds true figuratively as well as literally. A cloud found on a title report during a real estate transaction can be quite disconcerting as well as potentially predictive of an impending problem.

Here at Veitengruber Law, we like to make sure that our clients as well as our blog readers have a clear understanding of as much legal language as possible. We’re the first to admit that almost every area of the law is absolutely bursting with legalese that can make many legal processes mind-boggling. We deal with these terms on a daily (dare we say ‘hourly’?) basis, but we know that you probably do not – so we always try to view legalese through your eyes.

What does it mean if there is a “cloud on title?”

If you are in the process of buying or selling real property (real estate), one crucial step in the process is the title search. This step is typically performed by a real estate attorney or a title company. The earlier in your real estate process the title search is performed, the better, because discovering a clouded title right before closing will put a real damper on your excitement.

When a title search comes back as “clouded,” one of several main reasons is generally the cause:

Issues with probate

These issues usually arise with older homes who have had a multitude of owners. There are a lot more opportunities for error when previous owners have died while still in possession of the home. Locating the necessary death certificates and other documentation can prove to be rather time consuming.

Previous foreclosures

While foreclosure on its own isn’t a sufficient reason to cause a cloud on a title, if there were problems with the foreclosure procedure or the judgement, they may appear as a cloud on a title. In order to clear up foreclosure issues, it may be necessary to resubmit foreclosure documentation or potentially re-open the foreclosure case.

Fraud

Although a rather uncommon reason for a clouded title, it is possible that the deed to the property was at one time recorded fraudulently. While rare, if fraudulent transfer of the deed has occurred, you’re in for a long road to resolving the matter.

Liens

The most common reason a property may have a cloud on its title is because the property has one or more liens attached to it. A lien is a notice indicating that the current owner of the home owes money to one or more creditor. Any outstanding liens must be cleared up before the property’s title will officially be called “clear.”

Paperwork/recording mistakes

Even though we’ve been living in the Technology Age for nearly two decades, it is only very recently that governmental agencies/bureaucracies have made the move to computerized record-keeping. This means that most past transactions of the property in question were likely done solely on paper, which is much more likely to lead to errors. Many recording errors can be relatively easy to fix, but some can prove to be quite challenging.

As you can see, a clouded title can often be rather difficult to fix. As you absolutely cannot move forward on your real estate transaction without a clear title, it is best to work quickly with a New Jersey real estate attorney who has experience with clouded titles. Attempting to fix the problem yourself or hoping it will go away on its own may very well end without the sale or purchase of your dream home.

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Dying Without a Will in NJ: Who is an Heir?

dying without a will in nj

Dying without a will in NJ doesn’t mean that the state has the rights to all of the decedent’s assets. This is an unfortunate misconception, possibly because of the term given to passing away without a will: “dying intestate.”

Normally, when someone dies, an estate executor has been named in their estate planning documentation (Last Will and Testament). The executor is the person responsible for making sure all of the decedent’s assets are properly distributed as directed in their will.

However, dying without a will means that no executor has been named. So, who is going to take care of everything? It can be easy to hit the panic button when you realize that someone close to you has died without a will in place. Luckily, there are established rules for when this happens.

When no executor or executrix has been named, the New Jersey Surrogate’s Court then has the burden of selecting someone to act as such. This person is chosen from a list of the decedent’s “heirs.” Sometimes, it can be confusing and even upsetting trying to figure out if you may be an heir to someone’s estate. Since it is a big responsibility, this act is left up to the court.

An heir to a New Jersey estate is usually, but not always, a person from this list:

Surviving spouse

Surviving civil union partner

Adult child of the decedent

Adult grandchild of the decedent

Parent of the deceased

Adult sibling

Adult niece or nephew

Typically, the NJ court will select a person from the above list of heirs to act as the estate administrator. An estate administrator is able to act in the same way as a named executor or executrix would have acted. They will be charged with the responsibility of acting fairly and legally while deciding how the deceased’s property should be handled.

The heir selected as estate administrator must be sure to repay any of the decedent’s creditors from estate assets before distributing property to anyone else. If you have been selected as a New Jersey estate administrator, it is a good idea to work closely with an estate attorney so that you can avoid making critical mistakes during this time.

As estate administrator, you must be familiar with the New Jersey estate laws that dictate how an intestate decedent’s estate can be handled. The last thing you want is to discover that you’ve made a costly error and that you will be responsible for repaying it personally.

New Jersey heirs and appointed administrators can seek counsel from an experienced estate planning attorney near you to ensure that you are abreast of all of the laws that relate to dying without a will in your state.

 

Selling a NJ Property When the Owner has Passed Away

If you have recently experienced the loss of a parent, grandparent, or other close relative – first and foremost you have our sincere condolences. Making big decisions at a time like this can be difficult, as it can often be challenging to even manage regular, everyday life choices while grieving. It’s so unfortunate, then, that when a person close to us dies, we are often the one(s) charged with making very important and sometimes complex decisions regarding their estate.

It goes without saying that selling someone’s home is a lot easier when they’re alive as compared to after they’ve passed away. However, it’s not impossible, and there are a lot of resources for those who need to sell a home of a deceased owner in New Jersey.

To wit: New Jersey estate laws state that a deceased homeowner’s property can only be liquidated (sold) after the decedent’s will has been filed in Surrogate’s Court. Once a NJ will is filed, an executor will be named. To read more about what a New Jersey executor’s duties are, you can visit our blog post on that very topic.

In relation to selling the deceased’s real property, the estate executor (or executrix/female executor) must obtain Letters Testamentary from the Surrogate’s Court. To translate that legalese for you: this is a document that formally allows the estate executor to begin the process of selling the decedent’s home.

What if my parent died and didn’t leave a will?

When a NJ homeowner dies without a will, that means no executor has been named. While this may initially feel disastrous (as many things will in the aftermath of the death of a loved one), the simple recourse is that an heir to the estate simply requests to become the estate administrator. The legal form to request in this situation is called Letters of Administration.

Once there is an established executor or administrator, the sale of the home can move forward. The executor or administrator will be the only person qualified to sign any documents relating to the sale of the property (deed, real estate contract). This person will be signing “on behalf” of the decedent’s estate.

How can I get the New Jersey estate tax lien removed?

In New Jersey, estate taxes and inheritance taxes will be due upon the sale of the home of someone who has passed away. When the executor or administrator moves to sell the home, these taxes will appear as a “cloud” on a title report, which can give buyers pause. In order to ease the minds of potential buyers, the executor/administrator must apply for a NJ tax waiver. The good news is that this will ultimately release the lien. The bad news is that it can take awhile to receive the waiver.

Do I have to wait to sell my mother’s home until the NJ tax lien is removed from the title?

This is a common question asked by estate executors in NJ, and luckily it is one with the answer you’re probably looking for. You do NOT have to wait until the lien is removed to sell the home. Because NJ real estate transactions require “clear title” in order to progress, the executor or administrator can deposit enough money into an escrow account to be held until the taxes are paid. This act gives buyers peace of mind and will allow the sale of the home to move forward.

Can I sell my deceased parent’s home on my own?

Because of the relatively complex legal process involved in selling the home of a decedent in New Jersey, it is a good idea to work with a NJ estate planning attorney to ensure that you dot all of your I’s and cross all of your T’s.

3rd Annual Leadership Summit – Monmouth County, NJ

Can I Sue the Person Who Stole my Identity?

Stories of identity theft are on the rise in this country, which comes as a surprise to those who have become rather comfortable with trusting various forms of technology in every facet of their lives. Indeed, our techno-centric lives have contributed to the creation of tech savvy criminals who can hack virtually any computer system or device.

Although it seemed like identity theft and account hacking were less prevalent for a few years, accounts of stolen personal identifying information are now on the rise again. Hackers have learned their way around firewalls, safety features and encryption settings designed to prevent this very crime.

It seems like nearly every day that we hear about a friend’s Facebook, email or other online communication/social media account being hacked. While those used to be more of a nuisance than a danger – we can now shop right from our Facebook and other social media profiles. This means a hacker can shop as you if they are able to gain access to your account(s).

Additionally, there have been far too many reports of corporations experiencing data breaches – nearly everyone has received at least one notification letter in the mail detailing what information of theirs was potentially stolen during their recent cyber attack. Even giants like Target and Equifax have been victims of cyber crime.

What would you do if you discovered that your personal information – that being your name, birth date, social security number, home address, and other identifiers was stolen during one of these data breaches and used by another person in order to create accounts in your name? The potential for damage to your credit score is huge. What recourse do you have?

While it can be a primal instinct to want to sue the pants off the person who stole your information, that isn’t always easy to do. However, if you are able to pinpoint the criminal in question (or the corporation who allowed your personal data to be leaked) – it is possible to sue for up to three times the damages you experienced.

As soon as you realize that another person has been using your personal information to make purchases or perform other actions while posing as you – make a police report at your local police station. The sooner your identity theft matter is on record, the better. It’s important not to simply ignore it and hope it goes away, because you definitely want to avoid hitting the statute of limitations on a crime like this. Reports show that the average identity theft victim spends an average of two years trying to prove their own identity, getting charges removed from credit cards and fixing credit reports that now contain false information.

For more information about New Jersey identity theft and the statute of limitations on such crimes in our state, read about the Wrongful Impersonation statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17) and contact a certified and experienced NJ credit repair attorney to help you right the wrongs that have been done.

Should I Pay my Debts or Hire a Bankruptcy Attorney?

bankruptcy attorney nj

When you are face to face with a huge pile of unpaid debt, you might wonder if it would be more cost effective to put a pay-off plan into effect or to make an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney. Naturally, both options are going to cost money – but there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you determine which option will end up costing you less in the end.

Firstly, it must be said that there isn’t a cut-and-dry, cookie cutter answer to this question, so please take the advice herein with that knowledge. There are a number of variables that will affect the direction you ultimately choose to take, like:

  • How much debt do you have?
  • What type(s) of debt do you have?
  • What is your current income?
  • Do you foresee your income increasing in the near future?
  • Is there a potential financial windfall in your near future (like a work bonus)?
  • How long do you want to spend paying off your debt?
  • Are you ok with losing credit score points (temporarily)?

If you are currently not even (or barely) able to make the minimum payment each month on sky high credit card debt, you’re looking at a very long road ahead and you will have paid a huge amount of interest at the end of your debt pay-off journey. In this case, filing for bankruptcy looks like it would be a better decision, because your bankruptcy attorney’s fees are likely to cost you less than how much you’ll be paying in interest over the years. Also, by filing for bankruptcy, you can rid yourself of your burdensome debts as soon as you case is approved for a discharge. This will allow you to start a savings account, put your child through college, or otherwise focus more of your income in a way that you weren’t able to before.

The bankruptcy route will knock your credit score down for awhile, but if you’re working with a bankruptcy attorney in NJ who knows what he’s doing, you’ll be counseled on how to potentially bring your score even higher than it is now. This can usually happen in 12-18 months after a bankruptcy discharge if you follow the recommendations given.

On the flip side of the coin – maybe you have more debt than you’d like to have but you’re not drowning in debt. This is not an uncommon situation to be in. If your income is substantial enough to handle your monthly cost of living plus (give or take) double your minimum payments on at least one of your debts, you may be a good candidate for avoiding bankruptcy.

It’s impossible to give you a completely straight answer to this question, as mentioned earlier, because everyone’s financial situation is so unique. The above general tips are just that – general – and you should base your final decision off of the in-person advice you get from an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney. He will be able to comb through your debts and assets in order to properly guide you toward making the choice that will best fit your finances.

Get in touch with a reputable New Jersey bankruptcy attorney today – most offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose but debt!

How to Respond to a Frivolous Lawsuit

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you’ve probably heard reports of at least one frivolous lawsuit in your lifetime. Some people today are quick to sue, even when a lawsuit is not warranted. If you have found yourself on the receiving end of a frivolous lawsuit and/or a litigious friend – you’re not the first. It has happened to many people before you. Although this may not bring you great comfort, just know that you are not alone, and you are not the first to be wrongfully sued.

If you have been sued for something that you ultimately didn’t do or aren’t responsible for, your first reaction may be to panic. Luckily, you can relax. It can be shocking and upsetting at first, especially if the plaintiff is (was?) a friend of yours. Once the initial shock wears off, you probably want to know what you should do.

First things first: It’s important for you to understand that if you’ve only been threatened with a lawsuit, the majority of these type of threats go unfounded and it’s likely that you will not end up being sued. If a lawsuit has been brought against you, it does not mean that you’re guilty of doing anything wrong.

What is a Litigious Person?

Litigious people react to situations that make them mad or upset by taking the offensive position. They are more likely to initiate lawsuits than the average person. Oftentimes, these people are found to be insecure and unsure of themselves. They may feel easily wronged or targeted. Conversely, some litigious people are full-grown versions of the bully that we all knew and avoided in elementary school.

As long as it remains simply a threat, you have nothing to worry about (legally), and the best advice would be to steer clear of this person indefinitely (if not permanently). However, if they have taken action and filed a lawsuit against you, it’s time for you to do something about it.

Again, remember to remain calm, especially if this is a lawsuit that you know developed out of frustration or desperation. Remind yourself that the person you’re dealing with is likely lonely and possibly deserves your sympathy. Make an attempt to settle out of court (if there is anything to settle); show this person that you regret any misunderstanding. That may be all it takes for them to drop the case.

What are my Options? I’ve Done Nothing Wrong!

On the other hand, if the person you’re dealing with is acting out in anger, aggression or vindication, it is probably a good idea to consult with a local attorney. If you know a NJ attorney who can give you some advice, ask to drop by his office one day soon for a consultation. Most NJ lawyers will give you a free one-time consultation.

If you don’t know any lawyers in New Jersey personally, perhaps a friend can refer you to an attorney they trust. Run the details of the lawsuit by the lawyer you decide to meet with. It is almost certain that you’ll be advised that this is a frivolous lawsuit. This means that it has no legal merit. Believe us when we say that no New Jersey court likes or caters to frivolous litigation.

Your attorney can help you get the case settled (with the help of mediation) or dismissed (via Motion to Dismiss). If the lawsuit truly has no legal basis, it will more than likely be dismissed by the court without the need for you to even file an Answer.

 

Can I “Cramdown” my Mortgage in a NJ Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

While it may invoke images of a young parent’s attempt to eat dinner in between meeting the constant needs of a new baby, the term “cramdown” actually has nothing to do with food (at least in our context).

Debtors who file for a chapter 13 bankruptcy have determined that they can no longer stay above water paying their monthly expenses for their current lifestyle. Chapter 13 applicants typically have a dependable job with a decent income, and they are able to pay back at least a portion of the money they owe to creditors.

During NJ chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings, a reconfigured payment plan will be laid out for the debtor that will allow them to avoid losing valuable assets. A home loan modification and a reorganization of other unsecured debts may also be part of a chapter 13 plan.

What exactly is a “cramdown?”

Another very effective strategy employed in many chapter 13 reorganization plan is called a “cramdown.” In order for a debtor to “cram” a loan down, it must be a personal property loan, like a loan for a car, home furnishings or appliances, or investment property. An important restriction here is that, unfortunately, mortgages on principle residences cannot be crammed down.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s make it easy and use a car loan as an example. These types of loans are often crammed down in chapter 13 cases due to the rapid depreciation of all vehicles immediately upon being purchased.

If a debtor borrowed $30,000 to buy a car a number of years ago, and today still owes $20,000 on that loan, it’s important to learn the current market value of the car. Let’s say the vehicle is only “worth” $15,000 now (we’re using easy figures for this example – your numbers may vary). Even though the debtor technically owes $20,000 to the creditor, a chapter 13 allows them to cram that balance down to the amount the car is actually worth. In this case, the debtor will benefit from a reduction of his loan balance by $5,000, only owing the current value of the vehicle, or $15,000.

This same process can be applied to other personal property loans that are currently upside down. To be upside down on a loan means that a debtor owes more than the property is currently worth. The cramdown strategy can only be used during a chapter 13 bankruptcy.

The amount “left over” when a loan is crammed down in a chapter 13 will be treated like the rest of the debtor’s unsecured debts, which include loans for things that are not physical property. A portion of a debtor’s total unsecured debts can be discharged, but only after they have completed their chapter 13 payment plan (which is usually spread out over 3-5 years).

The most common types of unsecured debts in New Jersey today are credit card debt and medical debt. Other examples include personal loans, student loans, alimony arrears and child support arrears. Not all debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy. Discuss your specific debt with your bankruptcy attorney.

In addition to the lump sum reduction in the amount due on a loan, a chapter 13 bankruptcy cramdown allows many debtors to reduce the interest rate they are currently paying on some (or all) of their personal property loans.

There are other benefits to a loan cramdown as well as some limitations and timelines that must be closely adhered to. Talk to your New Jersey bankruptcy attorney to learn more, and to find out of a chapter 13 bankruptcy could be the answer you’ve been seeking.

Can Wages be Garnished for Money Borrowed from a Friend?

There are certain situations in life that call for borrowing money from a family member or friend: if your financial situation is less-than-optimal, and if your credit score is poor. When you’ve exhausted all traditional lenders and “bad credit” lenders, your Hail Mary may be asking someone you know to lend you money.

In these situations, most people make grandiose promises to pay the money back (sometimes with interest). Out of sheer gratitude, it can be easy to make promises you’ll never be able to fulfill. On rare occasions, the friend or family member (especially if it’s one of your parents or grandparents) will wave you off if and when you try to pay them back. Note the use of the word “rare.”

The honest truth of the matter is that, unless they’re abundantly wealthy with cash flowing in faster than they can spend it, your personal lender is going to expect to be repaid the money that you borrowed from them. In all likelihood, they’ve probably dug into a savings account that was specifically earmarked for something important in their own life, like paying for a child’s college education or putting a down payment on a home, in order to help you out of a bind. Failure to repay this ultra-generous favor is frankly very uncool.

Just as you wouldn’t borrow money from a traditional lending company or banking institution if you had no means to pay back the loan (because they wouldn’t lend you the money if you didn’t qualify in the first place) – you shouldn’t take money from a friend or relative if you have a pretty solid hunch that repaying them isn’t in the cards.

What can happen to me if I never repay a debt I owe to a friend?

Just as any debt that you leave unpaid, the lender (in this case, your pal) has every right to collect the money from you. Naturally, most loans of the personal nature tend to start out with the lending party casually mentioning the money he’s owed. This may happen several or a multitude of times, depending on the nature and patience level of the person who loaned you the funds.

You can prevent straining your friend’s patience by making a plan to pay him back the very second his money hits your hand. After all, “it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Electing to borrow money from anyone and then ignoring their requests for repayment is a bad deed, indeed.

Your good-natured lending friend is likely to tire quickly of gently asking you for the money he’s owed, and personal relationships are bound to suffer the longer you fail to make good on your handshake agreement. What many people don’t know is that even personal loans between friends and family members can be enforced in the NJ court system.

What started out as a buddy helping a buddy out can end with a nasty court case wherein you’ll be sued for the money owed, and wages can be garnished from your paycheck if you don’t have enough money to satisfy the judgment straight away.

Save yourself the hassle and a relationship that you likely value: start repaying the money you borrowed, even if it’s a small amount at a time. Good faith often goes a long way, especially when life-long friendships are involved.

Divorce Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Credit Score!

While the act of separating and/or getting divorced from your spouse won’t affect your credit score on its own, it is likely to cause indirect damage to your finances. So, while there won’t be a giant mark on your credit report that says “GOT DIVORCED, automatic 100 point deduction,” your score can and will begin to drop after a divorce if you aren’t hyper-aware of the potential damage.

In order to take proactive steps to maintain a good or excellent credit score during and after a divorce, you first have to know what you’re up against. Some of the biggest factors that cause divorcees financial strife include:

  • Suddenly dropping from two incomes to one income
  • Joint debt that goes unpaid by your soon-to-be ex-spouse
  • Shared bank accounts that can be drained by either party
  • Spiteful actions of one spouse, like running up a joint credit card balance
  • Lack of an independent financial identity and/or credit history
  • Divorce expenses
  • Child support and/or alimony

Even if the split is something that will ultimately make you happier, the process of getting to that end goal is undoubtedly going to be stressful. It is much easier to miss a bill payment or make other financial errors when you are stressed to the max.

Why is My Credit Score so Important After Divorce?

Losing a few credit score points shouldn’t make or break anyone, right? In many situations, this may be true. However, for those people who are going through a divorce, maintaining a solid credit score is IMPERATIVE.

You may need to buy or rent, initiate utility services for, and completely furnish a new home. In order to do so, your credit must be fair to good at minimum (ideally in the upper 600s or above).

Additionally, many divorcees seek higher-paying jobs in order to make up for the second income that was lost in the split. These days, it is common practice for employers to check the credit history of all potential hires before extending a job offer. If your score tanks during or after your divorce, it may prove difficult to make even a lateral employment move.

What Can I Do to Maintain a Good Credit Score After my Divorce?

As soon as you know that divorce is in the cards, your first move should be getting a current credit report from each reporting agency. This will allow you to know precisely what debts and recurring payments are officially your responsibility as opposed to your spouse’s.

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty.” ~ Will Durant

After you have current credit reports in hand, it’s important that you take smart action based on the information contained in your report(s). For example, you may not have realized that your spouse listed you as an ‘authorized user’ on a credit card. If the card’s balance gets maxed out due to extra expenses during your divorce and your ex-spouse stops making payments, you could be held responsible for the balance. In addition to removing yourself from any joint accounts, you should:

  • Create an amended budget using your adjusted spending limit.
  • Make it a priority to make all of your payments on time.
  • Closely monitor any accounts that you’re unable to separate immediately.
  • Get educated on the topic of good financial habits.
  • Seek the help of a financial advisor or NJ credit repair attorney, if needed.