By NNA Staff
Developing Story: Updated 3-25-20. Notary Signing Agents, mobile Notaries and signers are concerned about possible contact with the COVID-19 coronavirus when meeting face to face during loan signings and notarizations. In response, some closing companies have recommended a process called “window-separated signing” or “porch signing”, in which loan signings are conducted through a window or doorway at a safe physical distance.
Signing Agents and Notaries have asked if they may perform notarizations using this new practice. A few companies have published guidance for how these signings should be performed. In response, the NNA has published its own guidance for performing these signings in a way that protects the health of all involved and ensures that any notarial acts performed comply with state laws.
The NNA recommends that Notaries should follow these minimum guidelines when perform “window-separated signings”:
Among the significant developments is a new NNA recommended best practice that both Notaries and signers/borrowers complete a disclosure prior to each individual signing. The disclosure which, if used, will be produced by your contracting party and may include questions about your recent travel and if you have had contact with any people diagnosed with the coronavirus. There are a variety of new precautions, policies, and procedures being implemented by the mortgage finance industry.
Reach out to your contracting parties for specific guidance and be sure to follow any new procedures they prescribe. Notaries should expect enhanced precautions from contracting parties for as long as the COVID-19 crisis remains a threat to health and safety.
Your health and safety, and that of borrowers and signers, is the top priority of the NNA and industry officials, and each closing will need to be evaluated and handled on a case-by-case basis. As such, we are issuing this additional guidance:
If you feel sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home and contact your healthcare provider.
The Notary Bulletin will report further developments as they occur amid this rapidly evolving issue.
With the worldwide pandemic spreading throughout the United States and cases in Los Angeles on the rise, many businesses are being impacted both in the short- and long-term. We have seen closures to all public places where ten or more people may gather in LA. In other cities, curfews have been imposed. Economic stimulus packages are being discussed, and other measures to secure the public safety are being imposed. So, we wanted to touch base and provide some information that may be helpful to you and your business.
Even though factories are reported to be opening again in China, many businesses worldwide continue to shut down to protect workers, reduce liability, and sanitize. Entire countries like Italy are on lockdown. The closures have severely impacted supply chains in all industries and may lead you to question what contractual rights you may have if a contract by a supplier, or even you, are breached.
Here are some things to think about, speak to your lawyer about, and action steps to take.
COVID-19 has and will continue to disrupt businesses around the world for months to come. It is best to take a proactive approach to any potential business and legal issues that may arise. I've gone into further detail in a brief YouTube video on the Corona Virus and Contracts.
Please give Eric J. Proose's office a call if you have questions regarding your business and its contractual rights, obligations, and potential liabilities. We are here to help in these unprecedented times.
Thank you to Eric J. Proos, Esq for this valuable information.
Eric J. Proos, Esq.
THE LAW OFFICE OF ERIC J. PROOS, PC
458 N. Doheny Dr. #69712
West Hollywood, CA 90048
In support of National Consumer Protection, last week we covered internet merchandise scams, phishing/spoofing, fake prizes, sweepstakes, or free gifts, fake check scams, and advance fee loans, credit arrangers. We continue the top 10 scams reported in 2019:
6. Romance scams/sweetheart swindles
The set-up: Someone you’ve met online on a dating website, online forum or via social media quickly develops a friendship or romantic relationship with you. Eventually, they ask for money for a visit, to cover an unexpected emergency, or some other reason.
How to avoid it: Don't leave protected dating website messaging platforms for unprotected text or instant messaging chats. Never send money to someone you’ve only met online or talked to over the phone.
7. Recovery/refund scams
The set-up: If you’ve lost money in a scam, someone may claim to be able to recover those losses for you. The only catch it that you must pay a fee or hand over sensitive personal information like bank account numbers or grant access to your computer in order to recover your losses.
How to avoid it: You should never pay money or give up personal information in order to recover fraud losses. Anyone who claims to be able to help you recover your losses in exchange for a fee is just trying to scam you.
8. Computer equipment/software
The set-up: Also known as the tech support scam, a caller may claim to be with a well-known software company like Microsoft or an anti-virus company and have information that your computer is infected with malware. They request remote access to your computer in order to “diagnose” the problem. They may then urge you to buy an expensive tech support solution to “fix” the problem.
How to avoid it: If someone calls you unsolicited offering tech support, it’s almost certainly a scam. Scary pop-ups on your phone or computer may also urge you to call a phone number to get the problem fixed. Don’t fall for those either as they are simply a lure to get you paying for tech support you probably don’t need.
9. Investment related scams
The set-up: Someone may offer you “guaranteed” returns with little or no risk in exchange for a big up-front investment. Investment in gold coins, precious metals, Bitcoin, real estate, or Internet startups are often used to entice unwary investors.
How to avoid it: Investigate anyone offering to make an investment on your behalf. Get documentation about the track record of the investment and check to make sure the “advisor” is registered with the state or federal government. If they pressure you to make a decision right away, chances are that it’s a scam.
10. Family/friend imposter
The set-up: A caller claims to be a family member or friend in trouble (or someone helping them, like a lawyer, doctor, or policeman). They urge the victim to send money to help out their loved one. The scammer may have details about your friend or family member (likely gleaned from social media).
How to avoid it: Hang up the phone and call your friend or family member yourself. If they don’t answer, try another relative who knows them to verify what’s going on. Any urgent request to send money without verification is almost certainly a scam.
Even if you’ve studied up on the most prevalent scams, we’re all vulnerable. If you’ve been approached by a scammer or lost money, report the scam. You can help other consumers avoid these and other scams by filing a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We share complaints with our network of nearly 200 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars.
It’s National Consumer Protection Week, and there’s never been a better time to brush up on your scam IQ. To help, we’ve released our annual Top Ten Scams report, based on thousands of complaints submitted by real consumers like you to Fraud.org last year.
Each year, we monitor and analyze the complaints to track trends in scams and how con artists are tweaking their pitch to succeed at finding new victims. Our data helps us identify emerging scams we’d never heard of, what scams are fading into the sunset, and new twists on old classics.
So without further ado, here are the most reported scams from 2019 and, just as important, tips on how to spot and avoid them so that you don’t become a statistic on next year’s report …
1. Internet merchandise scams
The set-up: Scammers offer cut-rate merchandise on the Internet in the hopes that consumers looking for a deal will buy.
How to avoid it: Buy from reputable sellers. If the price for an item is well below the price offered on e-commerce sites like Amazon, there’s a good chance it’s a scam, particularly if the merchandise is electronics, luxury apparel, or medications.
The set-up: Scammers use legitimate-looking emails or spoofed Caller ID to get consumers to think they’re getting an email or phone call from the government, their bank or another entity. Once the scammer has the victim convinced they’re someone they’re not, they threaten them to get money or sensitive personal information.
How to avoid it: If someone you don’t know calls you on the phone or sends a threatening email demanding quick payment, it’s likely a scam. Delete the email or hang up the phone.
3. Fake prizes, sweepstakes, or free gifts
The set-up: The scammer contacts you to let you know you’ve won a big prize. All you must do to collect is pay them a fee for “insurance,” “taxes,” “processing” or some other reason.
How to avoid it: The prize doesn’t exist. They’re just after your money. If someone asks you to pay money to win money, it’s a scam.
4. Fake check scams
The set-up: Someone you’ve never met in person sends you a check and asks you to deposit it into your personal bank account. Then they ask you to send them some or all the proceeds from the check via wire transfer, by buying a gift card, or some other method.
How to avoid it: Don’t deposit the check and definitely don’t send money based on funds that may appear available if you deposit it. The bank will catch on, and you’ll potentially be left owing the bank for the negative balance.
5. Advance fee loans, credit arrangers
The set-up: Scammers offer a “guaranteed” credit card or bank loan to consumers looking for cash. All the victim needs to do is pay an up-front fee to obtain the loan.
How to avoid it: Only look for loans or credit cards from reputable lenders. If a lender offers you a “guaranteed” credit card or loan without a credit check, it’s probably a scam.
As Americans continue to live longer lives, they will by challenged by high out-of-pocket medical expenses, the possibility of making financial mistakes due to declining cognitive abilities and potential economic hardship during widowhood. That’s according to a new report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, “What Financial Risks do Retirees Face in Late Life?”
Researchers emphasized that while Medicare provides universal health coverage to retirees, out-of-pocket costs can still pose a substantial burden for elderly households. The authors of the report cited one recent study that estimates the average household will incur about $100,000 in total out-of-pocket medical spending and that the top five percent of spenders will incur almost $300,000.
The Center for Retirement Research says that the typical household nearing retirement with a 401(k) has only $135,000 saved, which, if annuitized, provides only $600 a month. However, nearly one-third of all households nearing retirement have no retirement savings.
The Center adds that financial skills tend to deteriorate for many, with nearly one in six seniors having reported losing money in a fraudulent investment scheme. In addition, tomorrow’s retirees will have fewer children to support them, and children are a primary source of financial management assistance.
How Secure Is Employment at Older Ages? Not Very.
Nearly half of full-time workers ages 51 to 54 experience job loss after age 50 that substantially reduces earnings for years or leads to long-term unemployment, which then impacts future retirement security, according to a new report from the Urban Institute and ProPublica.
Researchers analyzed data from the 2018 Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration, that tracks older adults. Researchers focused on employer-related separations, such as layoffs and business closings, and examined instances that were "financially consequential" with either long periods of unemployment or sustained, substantial wage loss.
As researchers point out, older workers often have more difficulty finding jobs due to age discrimination. And when they do find a new job, it's unlikely to pay as much. Only 1 in 10 of those older workers who experience an involuntary job loss ever earn as much per week after, the report found.
“The steady earnings that many people count on in their 50s and 60s to build their retirement savings and ensure some financial security in later life often vanishes, upending retirement expectations and creating economic hardship,” the researchers wrote. “This problem will likely intensify, as more people realize they must work longer to enjoy a comfortable retirement.”
The report concluded that more research was needed to understand why many employers seem reluctant to employ older workers and to devise ways to help older workers overcome these barriers.
- Richard W. Johnson & Peter Gosselin
A trust is a legal arrangement through which an individual (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a “trustee,” holds legal title to property for the benefit of another person, called a “beneficiary.” If you have been appointed the trustee of a trust, this is a strong vote of confidence in your character, judgment and maturity. However, with that comes legal liability and a significant number of duties.
Outlined below is a brief overview of some of the key duties and responsibilities of a trustee:
As a trustee, you stand in a “fiduciary” role with respect to the beneficiaries (current and future), meaning you have a legal duty to act solely in another party’s interests. As a fiduciary, you will be held to a very high standard of personal and professional conduct in administrating the benefits of the trust.
The Trust’s Terms
Read and understand the trust. The trust is your guide and you must follow its directions, whether about when and how to distribute income and principal or what reports you need to make beneficiaries.
Your investments must be prudent, meaning that you cannot place money in speculative, self-serving or risky investments. In addition, your investments must take into account the interests of both current and future beneficiaries.
Where you have discretion on whether or not to make distributions to a beneficiary, you need to evaluate his/her current needs, his/her future needs, his/her other sources of income and your responsibilities to other beneficiaries before making a decision.
Keep track of all income to distributions from and expenditures by the trust. Usually you must give an account of this information to the beneficiaries on an annual basis.
Depending on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable and whether it is considered a “grantor” trust for tax purposes, the trustee will have to file an annual tax return and may have to pay taxes.
You cannot delegate your responsibility as trustee, but if the trust document permits it, you may hire agents to carry out certain functions. For example, you may be able to hire financial advisors to make investments, accountants to handle taxes and record keeping for the trust, and lawyers to advise you on questions of interpretation. However, as trustee, you are ultimately responsible for the actions of agents taken on your behalf.
Trustees are entitled to reasonable fees for their services. Family members often do not accept fees. Banks, trust companies and law firms typically charge fees for their services. In general, what’s reasonable depends on the work involved, the amount of funds in the trust, other expenses paid out by the trust, the professional experience of the trustee and the overall expenses for administering the trust.
Expansion of Section 529 education savings plans to cover registered apprenticeships and distributions to repay certain student loans.
A Section 529 education savings plan (a 529 plan, also known as a qualified tuition program) is a tax-exempt program established and maintained by a state, or one or more eligible educational institutions (public or private). Any person can make nondeductible cash contributions to a 529 plan on behalf of a designated beneficiary. The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free. Distributions from a 529 plan are excludable up to the amount of the designated beneficiary's qualified higher education expenses.
Before 2019, qualified higher education expenses didn't include the expenses of registered apprenticeships or student loan repayments.
But for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2018 (the effective date is retroactive), tax-free distributions from 529 plans can be used to pay for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the designated beneficiary's participation in an apprenticeship program. In addition, tax-free distributions (up to $10,000) are allowed to pay the principal or interest on a qualified education loan of the designated beneficiary, or a sibling of the designated beneficiary.
Kiddie tax changes for gold star children and others.
In 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA, P.L. 115-97), which made changes to the so-called "kiddie tax," which is a tax on the unearned income of certain children. Before enactment of the TCJA, the net unearned income of a child was taxed at the parents' tax rates if the parents' tax rates were higher than the tax rates of the child.
Under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the taxable income of a child attributable to net unearned income is taxed according to the brackets applicable to trusts and estates. Children to whom the kiddie tax rules apply and who have net unearned income also have a reduced exemption amount under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) rules.
There had been concern that the TCJA changes unfairly increased the tax on certain children, including those who were receiving government payments (i.e., unearned income) because they were survivors of deceased military personnel ("gold star children"), first responders, and emergency medical workers. The new rules enacted on Dec. 20, 2019, repeal the kiddie tax measures that were added by the TCJA. So, starting in 2020 (with the option to start retroactively in 2018 and/or 2019), the unearned income of children is taxed under the pre-TCJA rules, and not at trust/estate rates. And starting retroactively in 2018, the new rules also eliminate the reduced AMT exemption amount for children to whom the kiddie tax rules apply and who have net unearned income.
Congress recently passed-and the President signed into law-the SECURE Act, landmark legislation that may affect retirement planning. Many of the provisions go into effect in 2020, which means now is the time to consider how these new rules may affect your tax and retirement-planning situations.
Repeal of the maximum age for traditional IRA contributions.
Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions were not allowed once the individual attained age 70%. Starting in 2020, the new rules allow an individual of any age to make contributions to a traditional IRA, as long as the individual has compensation, which generally means earned income from wages or self employment.
Required minimum distribution age raised from 70.5 to 72.
Before 2020, retirement plan participants and IRA owners were generally required to begin taking required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from their plan by April 1 of the year following the year they reached age 70%. The age 70% requirement was first applied in the retirement plan context in the early 1960s and, until recently, had not been adjusted to account for increases in life expectancy.
For distributions required to be made after Dec. 31, 2019, for individuals who attain age 70% after that date, the age at which individuals must begin taking distributions from their retirement plan or IRA is increased from 70% to 72.
Partial elimination of stretch IRAs.
For deaths of plan participants or IRA owners occurring before 2020, beneficiaries (both spousal and nonspousal) were generally allowed to stretch out the tax-deferral advantages of the plan or IRA by taking distributions over the beneficiary's life or life expectancy (in the IRA context, this is sometimes referred to as a "stretch IRA").
For deaths of plan participants or IRA Owners beginning in 2020 (later for some participants in collectively bargained plans and governmental plans), distributions to most nonspouse beneficiaries are generally required to be distributed within ten years following the plan participant's or IRA owner's death. So, for those beneficiaries, the "stretching" strategy is no longer allowed.
Exceptions to the 10-year rule are allowed for distributions to (1) the surviving spouse of the plan participant or IRA owner; (2) a child of the plan participant or IRA owner who has not reached majority; (3) a chronically ill individual; and (4) any other individual who is not more than ten years younger than the plan participant or IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may generally still take their distributions over their life expectancy (as allowed under the rules in effect for deaths occurring before 2020).
Here is a sampling of the dozens of new state laws that went into effect in 2020. Many affect seniors.
Washington: more older residents are eligible for property tax relief, as the threshold for relief rises based upon median county income.
Minnesota: a new law requires assisted living facilities to be licensed and sets minimum standards for safety, staffing, training and protections for people with dementia.
Nevada: Employers in the private sector with 50 or more employees are now required to provide 40 hours a year for paid leave that can be used for caregiving.
Arizona: Under a new $1 million pilot program, family caregivers may apply for reimbursement of up to $1000 for home modifications and assistive technology.
Mississippi: Court-appointed guardians may now represent at-risk adults who can no longer make decisions.
Iowa: Guardianship and conservator laws were updated to better protect Iowa’s most vulnerable residents.
AB 1482: Rent control
Communities without their own rent control laws will now be covered by statewide rent control protections. The law limits rent increases to 5 percent each year plus inflation, but never above 10 percent total. The law does not apply to housing built in the 15 years prior. The limit is a rolling number so the date housing is excluded changes every year.
SB 222: Housing discrimination
This law expands existing law to protect veterans and military personnel against housing discrimination.
AB 375: Online privacy
Want to know what information companies like Facebook or Google are collecting about you. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives internet users more control over their data. Among other things, the law gives users the right to know what data is collected, the right to reject the sale of your information and the right to delete your data.
SB 167: Public safety power shutoffs
Requires utilities like PG&E to devise plans on reducing the negative impact of planned power shutoffs to first responders and people with disabilities.
AB 247: Tree trimming
Gives the California Public Utilities Commission more oversight over tree trimming efforts by utilities. Power companies would have to submit timely reports on their brush and tree trimming work.
Marc has 36 years in financial services and 6 years in teaching.
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