Hope you like the New Look of my Web Site

Well, it took about three weeks to complete, but I think I now have all the pages on my web site converted to the new design.  I have tried to make the pages look brighter and more optimistic in color scheme and tone, and easier to read.  In particular, I’ve tried to make the pages more friendly to mobile devices. A little over two years since I hired a gentleman to redesign my entire site.  I must have liked the design he chose, because I said yes to it.  But it certainly did not grow on me over time.  The longer I looked at it the less I liked it.  I started to feel that it was too dark and foreboding, almost Gothic, with it’s almost black background image and dark brown graphics.  It seems to me that people with financial problems are probably already depressed enough without looking at something that gloomy.  The other thing was that I was having trouble making changes and updating content.

There were many things about my own site that I could not figure out when it came to editing. I went back to the website creation software I had been using before I hired the expert – Microsoft Expression Web.  I checked for updates and found that there were none.  In fact Microsoft has discontinued the program and is now giving it away for free.  I found a template that looked as if it could accommodate what I had in mind, and then went to work rebuilding the entire site one page at a time.  It can be very tedious, but I started to enjoy it after while.

As I went along I updated all the content that needed updating, and added a bit more content here and there.  I found errors in the HTML code that needed to be corrected, and did that. Then I tested the pages in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  For reasons I can’t understand things would look straight in one browser, and be not lined up right in another.  I also tested the pages on my Samsung Galaxy and my Kindle Fire.  Finally I started to launch the pages and the new images one item at a time.

Looks to me as if I have it all now. But if you see something that  looks goofy, I wish you would let me know.

CBS Evening News?

As I’ve gone about my business this week, I’ve been somewhat disturbed by what I saw on Memorial Day when I sat down for the first time in years and watched the CBS Evening News.  Most days I’m still at the office when that comes on. 

Earlier that day I had seen in the Wall Street Journal that the mood of the country was turning pessimistic.  This seemed to jive with the tone of the phone calls I have been getting and with the mood of the people who come in to see me.  So I was curious to say the least when CBS presented a piece about how things were getting all better and consumer confidence was on the rise.  The scene they presented was Atlantic City, which if I recall correctly is located in New Jersey.  Several merchants were interviewed along with a few customers, and they were all upbeat and optimistic.  In part this was because of the drop in gasoline prices. 

No mention here of how the reason for the gas price drop – again what I see in the Wall Street Journal – is that the world economy is apparently on the edge of some sort of collapse or depression, Exhibit A being Greece. 

I noted with interest on Tuesday morning a report from the AP indicating new consumer confidence numbers showing the biggest drop in months.  And today I can’t help but notice that the unemployment rate – which had gone down some because of the large number of people giving up on looking for work – just went up this morning.

So what’s the deal with CBS News?  I felt a bit insulted to be expected to buy that item about how everybody is confident that things are getting better.  I used to love Walter Cronkite.  He told us the way it was.  Can’t help but feel disappointed with what I saw from his previous employer on Monday.

Launching New Website Soon

If you have been having trouble finding my website, please know that I am still here.  The site at http://www.mn-bankruptcy.com suddenly became less visible when Google changed it’s algorithm
about two weeks ago.

I’ve always done the site on my own, but maybe that was a mistake.  I constantly tell people to seek professional advice, and I guess it’s time for me to do that.  Gosh I hate to.  I suppose that’s how people feel when they decide they need to call me. 

Long story short, last week I hired a web site design person who is now in the process of reworking my entire site.  When he analyzed the site as it stands now he found over 40 code errors.  We are hoping to have the newly designed site launched within a couple of more weeks. 

On the new site the information you are looking for will probably be easier to find.  So keep an eye out for the changes.

Tax Refunds Predicted to Fund Over 200,000 Bankruptcies

Just finished reading a USA Today article which refers to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study says they expect over 200,000 American households to use their income tax refunds to pay for filing bankruptcy.

“Last year the average tax refund was $2,913, NBER says. That’s enough for many Americans to file for bankruptcy,” says the article. “Those who have trouble saving money will delay filing for bankruptcy until they have a one-time cash infusion, such as tax rebates or tax refunds.”

It’s not news to me that people often will use their tax refunds to hire me or someone like me to prepare a bankruptcy filing. The predicted number, however, seems pretty high to me even though it is a nation wide number. If asked to guess off the top of my head what the number would be, I would have figured about half that – maybe 100,000.

Well, tax day is Tuesday – April 17th this year. Getting the returns filed is important. I no longer will file a bankruptcy case in a situation where all the tax returns have not been filed first. But take care of yourself and don’t get too frantic about it. In particular, don’t have a car accident over it.

Big Meeting Tonight

The state bar association bankruptcy section is meeting tonight. The topic will be lien stripping.

Judging just from the announcements concerning tonight’s meeting, a bit of controversy seems to be brewing. At first the topic was announced as how to lien strip or words to that effect. Then the topic was changed to something like “a discussion of the pros and cons of lien stripping.”

I believe that sooner or later the process of lien stripping will be commonplace in Minnesota. Right now the procedure still seems a bit unsettled. I’ll have more to say after tonight. Perhaps my opinion will change. I would probably be willing to try it if I had the right case.

Life Estates and Fraudulent Transfers

Seems I’ve been hearing a lot lately from people who have what they call a remainder interest subject to a life estate. If you search the archives of this blog there should still be an older item there where I called life estates an idea from hell. A life estate is created when someone transfers ownership of real estate – such as a cabin or farm – to some younger relatives, but keeps the right to live there and use the property for the rest of their life. The transfer is done by means of a deed. The person who keeps the right to use the property during their lifetime is said to have a life estate, and the people to whom the rest of the ownership was transferred are said to have a remainder interest. Typically the person with the life estate is a parent, and the people with the remainder are the children. Sometimes the parents will do it without telling their children.

The people who receive the remainder interest usually don’t think much of it because they can’t use the property now, but the law considers it an asset that they own right now. If you need a bankruptcy it can be a big problem. A remainder interest can be bought and sold, and there actually is a market for such things. There are investors out there who buy them. Most of the time the value of the remainder interest is enough so that it becomes impossible to file a Chapter 7. The will trustee claim the remainder interest as an asset for the creditors. It could make a Chapter 13 difficult too.

When I explain all this to somebody who is unfortunate enough to have one of these things, they often will say “well then I’ll deed it back and get rid of it.” My response to that idea is that it would be considered fraud to do that. There are both state and federal fraudulent transfer statutes that make it possible to undo the transfer when it is for the purpose of hiding an asset from creditors. When it is done in anticipation of a bankruptcy, it might be considered bankruptcy fraud which is actually a felony. Concealing an asset can be grounds for having a bankruptcy case dismissed without a discharge, even though the trustee might recover the asset from whoever it was transferred to first. So you can lose the asset, keep all your debts, and maybe be charged criminally besides. It’s hard to believe it can get that bad but it can.

Before filing a bankruptcy for someone, I often ask them to check with any elderly relatives who might have done one of these arrangements. I need to know for sure that no such property interest exists.

A couple of years ago the Minnesota legislature created a new alternative to the life estate. Now one can do what they call a transfer on death deed. The difference between the deed creating the life estate and the transfer on death deed is that the latter is revocable. It has no effect until the grantor actually dies, so what it really does is create a right to inherit a particular piece of real estate without putting the property through probate. For bankruptcy purposes this new idea scares me. I’m not sure if I trust it. I would want to be sure that it was tested in some court decisions before I rely on it.

Minnesota 13th in Country in Surplus Lawyers

I took a look this morning at a news digest from the Minnesota State Bar Association. A story that caught my eye was full of charts and graphs comparing the number of lawyers admitted to the bar to practice law compared with the number of job openings. You can see the full story at economicmodeling.com.

For the year 2010 Minnesota had a lawyer surplus of 510, according to the article. Only New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Maryland Connecticut, and North Carolina had bigger surpluses. The nation as a whole had a lawyer surplus of $27,269.

Interesting enough, our neighbor Wisconsin actually had a lawyer deficit of 14. In other words, Wisconsin had 14 more job openings than there were new lawyers to fill them. The only other state with a deficit was Nebraska. Nebraska’s deficit was only three, however; pretty close to break even.

Whenever I get a call from my Alma mater, the University of Minnesota Law School, asking for a financial donation, I have had to ask myself whether I feel that Minnesota really needs more lawyers. The answer to that question for me has always been in the negative. This article seems to confirm that.

My Ten Seconds (or less) of Fame

My wife Karen, our two dogs Ben and Jerry and I went camping this past weekend at Jay Cooke State Park just south of Duluth. We were minding our own business Saturday morning. I was drinking coffee and having some Cheerios. Ben and Jerry had taken up residence on Karen’s lap. Then along came a crew from WDIO TV Channel 10 in Duluth.

They were interviewing folks on the subject of the impending state park shutdown – a side effect of the impending state government shutdown. The story was their lead story on the 10 pm news that night. The video is posted at the WDIO web site. The TV guys spent several hours at the park that day, but the story is edited down to two minutes.

Here’s a link to the video if you would like to watch

Spike in Traffic to my Web Site

I’ve been noticing for a few years now that the volume of phone calls and the traffic to my web site seem to ebb and flow with the news about the economy. The trends I notice in my incoming traffic seem to run in advance of the news by anywhere between a couple of weeks and a couple of months.

I wasn’t surprised recently to see that the unemployment rate is back up to 9.1%, real estate prices dropped another 10%, and jobless claims are over 400,000 per week. I wasn’t surprised to hear that we have 1.9 million less jobs now than we had when the “stimulus” program was announced. I wasn’t surprised because earlier this spring I was noticing a spike in my phone calls. I told a couple of friends that it reminded me of the spike in calls I had in early 2007.

Now I am noticing a spike in the traffic to my web site. This morning I took a look at the Google Analytics for mn-bankruptcy.com. Compared to last week, traffic is up 22.9%. Compared to last year, traffic is up 22.68%. The number of visitors on Tuesday this week, June 14th, was 117. That’s the highest for one day since January 24th. My best guess would be that something is shifting with the economy again. Downward.

I don’t need or want it to get any worse. I’m already very busy.

Warning: Extreme Danger

I keep getting these phone calls. Yesterday morning was the second time this week. They come in from several sources which are outside Minnesota, and perhaps outside the US. Friday morning’s call sounded like a guy from India. They start by asking if I am still accepting new cases, which of course is a yes. Then they say they have clients in Minnesota who need my help. After carrying on and trying to white wash what they are really up to for a few more minutes, it always turns out that they have some sort of an on line bankruptcy generating factory. They want to put my name on their work and have me file it for them here in the Minnesota district of the federal bankruptcy court.

In other words these are entirely on line bankruptcy filing services which never meet face to face with their clients. I strongly suspect that they never even speak with them on the phone either, but that they rely entirely on fill in the blanks forms submitted by their “clients.” I use forms too, but I can’t remember a client who understood all the questions; and I consider the forms to be just the starting point in what is going to be an intense and face-to-face process.

Bankruptcy is a process regulated by federal law. This should not be taken to mean, however, that it is exactly the same and entirely uniform all over the US. There are tremendous variations in what law applies and in how the laws are interpreted from state to state, and there are even variations with the states. There are subtle differences, for example, between how things are done in Minneapolis as compared to how it goes in St. Paul. You don’t want to be relying on someone who is not from here and hasn’t even been here.

In my opinion they are trying to automate a process that cannot be automated, trying to use a one-size-fits-all approach in a profession that requires an extraordinary amount of individual attention, and these people are extremely dangerous.

I told them that I cannot get involved in something like that, I do all my own work, and no I’m not interested.

That guy who called will keep on until he finds somebody who will take him up on his proposal. RUN THE OTHER WAY. FAST AS YOU CAN.