Thursday, April 07, 2016

2016 state legislation that matters for seniors

The regular two month session of the West Virginia legislature ended in mid-March. They did not successfully pass a budget, and will have to come back for another session to address that and deal with the nearly $100 million shortfall projected.

They did, however, pass over 250 bills, including notably bills prohibiting union security agreements (as are prohibited in 25 other states), eliminating prevailing wage, enabling ridesharing businesses like Uber and Lyft, restricting abortion, and unrestricting the carrying of concealed deadly weapons.

Here below are brief summaries of selected bills that passed that will likely particularly impact WV seniors:

SB 274 doubles the maximum dollar amount jurisdiction for cases in the Magistrate courts. After the law becomes effective in June the Magistrate Court will be able to hear cases up to $10,000. Before the max jurisdiction was $5,000, so if you wanted to sue someone over, say, a home contractor who charged you $8,000 and didn't do the job properly you would have had to sue in Circuit Court which as a practical matter requires representation by an attorney. Magistrate Court is a kind of small claims court that is designed for citizens to be able to navigate without having to be represented. Of course representation gives you a better chance of having your legal interests best protected, but paying an attorney $2,500 to sue for $8,000 may not be feasible or sensible for every case or litigant. This law improves access to the courts especially for low-income people for important claims.

SB 702 says that if a will says real estate is to be sold and proceeds to go to heirs the title to that property passes to those heirs if the executor of the estate still has not sold the property within 5 years of the death of the decedent. When a probate estate drags on and is not closed within 5 years this allows heirs to get title to property of their inheritance without having to continue to wait.

HB 4235 is also about probate estates. This law reduces the time window for claims to be presented for payment by an estate from 90 days to 60 days, also speeding up the time heirs can expect to receive their inheritance.

HB 4013 requires voters to present ID at the polls. Any document issued by state or federal government that includes the voter's name can satisfy the requirement, and the document does not have to include a photo. So, for example, a Social Security card or a Medicare card could suffice. If the voter does not present a valid identifying document the law provides that an adult (including a poll worker) who has known the voter for at least 6 months can sign an affidavit of the voter's identity which could allow the voter to cast a provisional ballot. So don't forget your ID when you go to the polls starting in January 2018 when this law takes effect.

HB 4309 increases penalties for criminal financial exploitation and creates a civil cause of action for financial exploitation of an older person (age 65+) or incapacitated person. The civil action also provides the judge may freeze the assets in question and issue injunction in the case, and the law provides that the defendant may have to pay attorney fees for the plaintiff.

HB 4517 limits the ability of an agent under a financial power of attorney to take self-benefiting actions unless the instrument explicitly provides authority the particular action.

HB 4417 increases the amount of wages protected from garnishment to 50 times the hourly federal minimum wage per week. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25/hr times 50 is $362.50, so if you have a judgment against you and your wages are being garnished to satisfy it you can protect the first $362.50 each week from garnishment. This is about wages, not income from Social Security which is generally protected from garnishment (with a few exceptions like for child support, taxes, federal student loan debt, etc.) by federal law. Before only 30 times the hourly federal minimum wage was protected weekly, so this is a substantial increase to protect low-income people.

HB 4739 clarifies procedures and duties related to life insurance providers and claims, and among other things creates a duty for insurers to at least annually check the Social Security Master Death Index for insureds and to deliver life insurance proceeds for dead policy holders that are not claimed to the Unclaimed Property division.

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