The Importance of Estate Planning

Frannie is a 92-year-old low income woman who lives alone. She was concerned about her heirs and how they would receive her assets after her passing. That’s when she reached out to St. Ambrose to have a will prepared.

She told her St. Ambrose attorney that her husband had died, after which she sold their marital home. In total, she had approximately $70,000 in liquid funds from the sale of the home. She had worked with her husband for decades to establish their equity and she wanted to ensure that the funds would go to her chosen heirs.

Medical issues left Frannie with limited mobility so an attorney visited her in her new rental apartment. The attorney provided advice and counseling about estate planning. He reviewed her asset and financial documentation and told Frannie what was already taken care of in her estate plan and what still needed to be done. To tie up all of the loose ends, the attorney prepared a will for Frannie in her own home during the visit.   

After this brief in-home meeting, Frannie had an ironclad estate plan. She now knows where all of her assets will go after she passes away. The attorney also enabled her to avoid the probate process for as many of her assets as possible, saving her heirs time, money, and the headache that many experience while dealing with probate assets.

As always, if you are have any questions regarding estate planning, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, ext. 209.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of St. Ambrose clients.

Why Advance Healthcare Directives are Vital for Older Adults

Gerald had an upcoming high-risk surgical procedure. The 71-year-old Baltimore native needed a legal document to guide his health care providers in the event that something went wrong during the surgery. Gerald went to the Baltimore City Register of Wills where he was referred to St. Ambrose.

A St. Ambrose attorney prepared an advance directive for Gerald free of charge. This advance directive ensured that if there were a complication during the surgery, one of Gerald’s loved ones had the authority to make healthcare decisions on his behalf. It also allowed Gerald to dictate what kind of medical treatment he would receive ahead of time if he were to suffer a major debilitation.

Gerald walked into St. Ambrose’s office two days before his procedure. With such an urgent need, he was unable to secure legal services from other nonprofits with longer intake periods. He could not hire a private attorney because he lived on under $1,000 per month. From start to finish, St. Ambrose addressed Gerald’s needs in less than one hour.

Thankfully, Gerald’s procedure was a success. The fact that he had an advance directive ahead of time gave Gerald one fewer thing to worry about and the peace of mind so that he could focus on his health and recovery.

As always, if you are have any questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of St. Ambrose clients.

Sylvia’s Story

Sylvia found herself living in a homeless shelter for the first time at the age of 79. Her Baltimore County home had been sold at a tax sale and then foreclosed on, leaving her with nowhere to call home. A social worker at the shelter helped Sylvia get in touch with St. Ambrose because Sylvia thought that the house sold for more than what she owed in taxes. A St. Ambrose attorney looked into the matter and discovered that Sylvia was owed a $46,000 surplus.

Under Baltimore County policy, homeowners that lose their home to tax sale have to file a motion in the Circuit Court to claim any surplus. This is simple for lawyers to do, but can be prohibitively complicated for people without legal experience. Sylvia’s attorney filed a motion to disburse her surplus, which she eventually received.

Had Sylvia automatically received her surplus, she likely would not have ended up in a homeless shelter. She could have used the $46,000 to transition homes in a dignified manner. Rather, she had to live in a shelter while going through the time-consuming process of finding and retaining counsel and then wait on a motion to process through the court.

While Sylvia’s case eventually resolved in her favor, she faced undue hurdles that many do not overcome. Without free legal services, she likely never would have received the money that she was owed. Sylvia no longer had to worry about her housing and health as she ages, giving her peace of mind knowing she would be taken care of.

As always, if you are have any questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of St. Ambrose clients.

How this Advocate jumped in to help St. Ambrose and never looked back

“When I was a law student looking for a summer job that didn’t involve standing in a file room or making copies for 10 hours a day, I came across the opportunity to apply for a public interest grant and St. Ambrose was one of the eligible sponsors. Vinnie Quayle was the contact so I reached out and we met for a few hours in his office one spring afternoon sharing war stories. Prior to that encounter, I had never stopped to think about how much depends on safe, stable and affordable housing; from children’s performance in schools to job stability, mental and physical health, safety and future financial security. St. Ambrose had just filed a lawsuit against a predatory lender preying on vulnerable minority communities in Baltimore at the time of our meeting. The stories of abusive lending practices were heart wrenching and infuriating. They were short staffed and up against large law firms on the defense side so I jumped in to help and really never looked back.

During my tenure as a law student and then attorney at St. Ambrose, there was a guiding statement featured prominently in the halls and in many individual offices that read: The temple stands unfinished until all are housed in dignity. This statement is a personification of the work accomplished from the rowhouse on 25th street and forever etched in my own conscience. For this perspective and for the freedom I had to grow and become a better person and lawyer, I will always be grateful and supportive. The work that is done and the lives impacted by the Agency deserve far more support than my nominal monthly donation. Giving a voice to those who are without and ensuring that the most vulnerable are housed in dignity has never been needed more in my lifetime than it is today and I hope others will give as generously as they can in support of this critical mission.

Every day at St. Ambrose, we help our families make themselves at home in strong, stable communities where they can develop relationships with neighbors and create stable home environments where their children are able to live, learn, and grow.

When people turn to St. Ambrose, your generosity ensures that we’re able to provide for them.  Whether it’s preparing someone to buy their first home, making it possible for an aging homeowner to continue to live in the neighborhood they know and love, or helping one generation care for the next, your support can help us change lives.

Monthly giving to St. Ambrose ensures that individuals and families have a pathway to secure, stable housing, which is critical today and every day. You can make sure the families and individuals that come to St. Ambrose have what they need to survive and thrive by mailing a check or by donating online. To become a monthly donor at St. Ambrose, please visit www.stambros.org/donate and select “Monthly” under Recurring Payment options.

Your generosity makes it possible for us to consistently provide the highest quality services to those who turn to us in times of need in order to ensure a brighter, better future for all.

“St. Ambrose staff works tirelessly to ensure that all persons are treated with dignity and integrity. They make sure that our neighbors are given their basic human rights and Constitutional processes when one illness, one death, one divorce or one job loss brings them to the brink of homelessness. I am very fortunate to have learned these principles at the very start of my legal career. I had never purchased a house, read the fine print of a credit card disclosure or car loan application. With all of the wisdom and arrogance of a 2nd year law student, I walked into my first client meeting in the row-house turned office on 25th street, expecting to impart great wisdom on my first client. Instead, I was the one that very quickly realized I had much to learn. I was mentored and supported by my St. Ambrose colleagues and Board Members from that day forward as I stumbled through many more client meetings, hearings and legislative sessions. I quickly learned that during down economic times, the voice of the most vulnerable amongst us is often the one first ignored and too quickly vilified. And I learned that it is up to all of us to stand up for those marginalized and fight for equality. St. Ambrose has never backed away from fighting for what is right and just and I am so grateful to have started my career on the right side of our evolving history.” – Anne Balcer

About Anne

I was born and raised in Northeast Baltimore in Mayfield. I lived in other parts of Baltimore City and County except for when I was in Virginia for my undergraduate degree and then ended up in Montgomery County, Maryland in 2013. I currently live in Kensington. My parents were children of Polish immigrants that landed in the Canton/Fells Point area of Baltimore City. My Mom went to the convent and my Dad to the seminary and both graduated but never took their respective vows. They met a few years later in a chemistry class at the University of Maryland where my Mom was studying pharmacy and my Dad medicine. My Mom passed away when I was young so it was up to my Dad to raise 3 girls on his own. I’m the youngest and he instilled in us a relentless work ethic and insistence on doing what is right even if it’s not popular. He came from very little and worked at Bethlehem Steel during the summer and a car garage during the school year to put himself through medical school. He remarried another Baltimore native, years later, and I was lucky enough to become the youngest of 6 total children, 4 are still in the Baltimore area. In terms of my immediate family today, I’m married to an incredibly supportive husband, Matt, a New Jersey native, and have two girls. Melli just turned 11 and is kind, compassionate and already a staunch advocate for social justice. Lucy is almost 2 and strong-willed (maybe a bit stubborn) and determined just like her older sister.

I’ve been fortunate to have the time and opportunity to coach my daughter Melli’s lacrosse team. It has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences to watch young girls develop confidence and teamwork that I know will help them navigate the difficulties of being a female in today’s world as they grow older. I also volunteer with local and national political campaigns. Having the right leaders in office and ensuring that our collective voices are heard through voting and demonstration is so critical to our future and that of my girls. Otherwise, my career as General Counsel for Congressional Bank, a community bank headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and my family keeps me pretty occupied but I do sneak in some yoga, running, gardening, reading and cooking when I have a few spare minutes.

Tenant’s Rights: COVID-19 Fact Sheet

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions and resources for renters.

If you or someone you know is currently dealing with a landlord who is imposing self-help eviction or is not adhering to the executive order, call St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for free legal advice and landlord-tenant counseling: (410)-366-8550 ext. 209.

  1. What is the eviction moratorium?
    1. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Larry Hogan has issued an emergency order (Executive Order 20-04-03-01), that prohibits Maryland courts from evicting tenants who can demonstrate they are suffering a financial loss due to COVID-19.
  2. What does this mean for tenants who are delinquent on their rent payments?
    1. A landlord can file for an eviction in court, however, because the Maryland court system is closed, the court system cannot process any open or recently filed eviction orders or cases. 
    2. Unfortunately, the eviction moratorium is a temporary fix and does not excuse tenants from paying rent. However, tenants who demonstrate their financial hardship can pay their rent at a later time.
  3. Examples of situations that demonstrate a tenant is suffering a financial loss due to COVID-19 (but not limited to):
    1. Diagnosed with or under investigation for COVID-19
    2. Lost or reduced unemployment benefits
    3. Needing to care for a school-aged child
  4. When will Maryland courts hear eviction cases?
    1. Even though the Governor’s office has not confirmed the end date for the eviction moratorium, the Maryland Courts will start to hear eviction, foreclosure, and “pay rent matters” on July 25th, 2020. Meaning, evictions can be issued once the courts open on July 25th, 2020. 
  5. What landlords cannot impose: self-help eviction
    1. Under the Maryland Code, Real Property, Section 8-216, landlords cannot use self-help methods to evict a tenant. Self-help eviction occurs when a landlord uses methods of intimidation to force the tenant to move out. These methods include: 
      • Cutting off utility services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone, cable TV, and internet. 
      • Changing the locks so the tenant no longer has access to the property. 
      • Removing the tenant’s personal items from the property. 

Landlords CANNOT use methods of intimidation to evict a tenant. These methods include: Cutting off utility services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone, cable TV, and internet, changing the locks, or removing the tenant’s personal items from the property. 

What renters can do:

  • If you were illegally evicted:
    • Call 911: 
    • File an emergency case:
      • “If you were illegally evicted, you may consider seeking legal assistance and filing a complaint in court against your landlord. Because the courts are only hearing emergency cases, the complaint should be filed as an emergency matter if you are trying to get back into the property.” Even though the court system is closed, the court has made an exception to hear emergency cases. 
      • During your time as an evicted tenant, you should keep track of all of the expenses you have accrued as a result of your illegal eviction. These expenses could include but are not limited to “hotel bills and lost property.”
    • Document communication with the landlord:
      • If you are experiencing COVID-19 related hardships that will affect your rent payments, you may consider writing a letter to your landlord. The letter would be part of a paper trail illustrating your situation and how your COVID-19 circumstance will affect your ability to pay rent. 
      • You may also consider keeping track of all of the communication between you and your landlord in regards to your COVID-19 circumstance. 
      • If the landlord agrees or disagrees to accommodate your financial situation, you should get that in writing.  
    • Call 211 for financial assistance:
      • If you are experiencing COVID-19 financial hardships, please call 211, text your zip code to 898-211 (service is only available to Maryland zip codes) or visit 211md.org for assistance. This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and in over 180 languages. 

Conclusion

Under Executive Order 20-04-03-01, even if a tenant is unable to pay the rent, the landlord cannot evict their tenant.  Therefore, if a landlord uses self-help eviction methods in response to a tenant being unable to pay their rent due to their COVID-19 related financial loss, the landlord violated the executive order and imposed an illegal eviction.

Note: Once the courts open, it is unclear how the courts will respond to these unprecedented situations.

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If you or someone you know is currently dealing with a landlord who is imposing self-help eviction or is not adhering to the executive order, call St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for free legal advice and landlord-tenant counseling: (410)-366-8550 ext. 209.

 

Welcome New Legal Services Summer Intern!

We have a new addition to the St. Ambrose team! Please join us in welcoming Shereen Ibrahim as one of our new Legal Services Summer Interns.

“I am a student from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The legal fields I am interested in are environmental, constitutional and national security law.

I chose to clerk at St. Ambrose because I want to use my legal abilities to assist members of underserved communities navigate property decisions. As a law clerk, I will be assisting clients with their foreclosure process, review landlord and tenant issues, and prepare wills and deeds. Serving underprivileged communities is one of my ultimate goals as a attorney and being a law clerk at St. Ambrose is a great first step in my legal career.” -Shereen

Welcome to the team, Shereen!

Thinking about adding somebody to your deed? Here are a few things to think about.

The St. Ambrose Legal Services Department often receives calls from Marylanders who have been advised to add a relative’s name to the deed for their house. It is a common misconception that this is the only way to ensure that a house passes to a family member after the owner’s death. In fact, there are several more ways to ensure that your loved ones receive your home after you pass away.

At St. Ambrose, we help clients prepare three different documents that help secure clients’ property for the next generation. Take a look below for an explanation of these documents and their benefits and risks.

1. Will

The simplest way to ensure that your house transfers to your family members after you die is to write a will. The will specifies who is to receive your home after you pass away – it can be one person or multiple people.

Benefits: Writing a will is a quick, easy way to make your estate plans legally binding. Will appointments at St. Ambrose are free and they typically take less than an hour. Wills also cover other property like your physical possessions (cars, clothing, jewelry, etc.) and money in your bank accounts.

Drawbacks: After you pass away, somebody will have to open an estate on your behalf. An estate is the legal entity that represents a person who has passed away. Your family members may have to pay money to open your estate after you pass away. Additionally, if you die owing debt (credit card debt, medical debt, etc.), those creditors may file a claim into your estate. All claimed debts that are allowed by the Orphans’ Court must be settled before any assets, like your house, can be given to the person or people that you designated to receive them in your will.

2. Joint Tenancy Deed

You can also have a deed prepared where you add one or more people as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship.” This means that once the deed is filed, you become a co-owner of the property along with whoever else you have added.

Benefits: This ensures that whoever you have added to the deed remains an owner of the property after you have passed away. There is no need for anybody to open an estate for your co-owners to retain ownership of the property. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You lose a certain amount of control over your property by filing this kind of deed. If you want to sell the property and a co-owner does not agree, you will not be able to sell without filing a lawsuit. Also, if a co-owner gets sued and loses, a lien could be placed on your property and you could be forced to sell it even if you are alive and living in the property. You will also have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a deed.

3. Life Estate Deed with Powers

This is a special kind of deed that allows you to keep your ownership of the property during your lifetime and specifies a person or people who automatically receive the property after you pass away – these people are called “remainders.”

Benefits: After filing a life estate deed with powers, you keep full ownership of your property during your lifetime. This means that you can sell it, take out a loan on it, refinance a loan on it, or anything else that you were already able to do with the property. If you still own the property at the time you pass away, your remainder(s) automatically take title to the property after you die. There is no need to open an estate for the property to transfer ownership. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You will have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a life estate deed. Also, if you want to change who is the remainder on the deed, you will have to have a new deed prepared and recorded. If your remainder dies before you do and you do not change the life estate deed before you die, then your property will go to your remainder’s legal heirs.

If you would like any of these documents prepared for you or have any other estate planning questions, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550 extension 209.

What happens when you can’t pay the mortgage? A forbearance explainer

During the current public health emergency, many homeowners are facing difficulties making their regular mortgage payments on time. Here are some things to consider when it comes to forbearance agreements and managing your mortgage in general:

If you can afford it, try to continue making your mortgage payments.

There are a lot of mixed messages being shared about whether or not you should continue making housing payments. The truth is, the best thing for your financial future is to continue to pay your obligations if you have the means to do so. While it is true that some protections are in place for consumers during the pandemic, it is safer (and easier) to continue meeting your obligations until circumstances change. If you have to make tough choices, remember to take care of urgent needs (food, medicine, shelter) first whenever possible.

If you cannot afford to make your payment, contact your mortgage company ASAP.

Public assistance programs in the United States almost always require the recipient to request them. Assistance from your mortgage company is no different. The sooner you contact the mortgage company, the sooner you will be able to begin the process of applying for help. Some servicers are currently only requiring a few button presses to be entered into temporary assistance programs. Even then, make sure you keep a record of what day and time you applied. Also keep track of any information you may have provided to your mortgage company, in case questions arise at a later date.

What is a Forbearance Agreement?

With a forbearance, you and your mortgage company agree to temporarily suspend or reduce your monthly mortgage payments for a specific period of time. This option lets you deal with your short-term financial problems by giving you time to get back on your feet and bring your mortgage current.

If your mortgage company indicates that you are approved for a Forbearance Agreement, try getting it in writing.

When you are approved for a forbearance, try to get a in writing (or via email), if possible. If getting it in writing isn’t possible, record the time and date of the approval, as well as the name of the person you spoke with (if available). A Forbearance Agreement is NOT necessarily the mortgage company allowing you to “skip” payments, it is an agreement to allow you to make those payments at a later date in some form or fashion.

After the Forbearance Agreement ends, you may need to submit more information.

Some mortgages will allow the missed payments to simply be added to the end of the loan. Others may require you to apply for a loan modification once the forbearance period is over. Even if you “heard” from someone (including a mortgage company employee) that the missed payments will be automatically added on to your loan, it is best to be prepared in case you need to provide more information in the future. During your forbearance, keep detailed records of your finances (bank statements, tax returns, and paystubs- if you are still being paid) and be sure to open any mail you receive, especially from your mortgage servicer.

If you require assistance with any stage of this process, Housing Counseling Help is available. 

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center remains open and available to counsel individuals having difficulty paying their mortgage through our Foreclosure Intervention Counseling Program. Our counseling services are free of charge and available to all residents of the state of Maryland who need our assistance. Email us at intake@stambros.org or call us at 410-366-8550 ext. 249.

New video: Three things to know about paying rent during a pandemic: Information for Renters during COVID-19

St. Ambrose Staff Attorney Tim Darby talks about what renters need to know about Maryland’s current eviction laws and what they mean and how to have effective conversations with landlords.

As always, if you are having trouble dealing with your landlord, or have any other questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

Legal Services at St. Ambrose copy 2

The COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak has caused a lot of uncertainty for all Marylanders, particularly renters like Tim. If you are struggling to pay your rent in Maryland there are three things that you should know. Watch the video here.

  1. First, open and honest communication with your landlord is very important. Unless your landlord tells you otherwise, you still have an obligation to pay rent during this period of time. If you think you might not have rent money by the due date, get in touch with your landlord and explain what’s going on. They might be able to work with you to establish a payment plan or defer your rent payment to a later date, though it’s important to note that they are not legally obligated to do so. If you do work something out with your landlord, make sure to get it in writing.
  2. Even if you do not pay rent, your landlord can not legally evict you right now. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, landlords could not legally evict tenants without going through the court system and then paying the local sheriff’s office to conduct the eviction. Landlords can NEVER legally evict tenants without the help of the local sheriffs office. The governor of the state of Maryland has issued an order halting all residential evictions for the duration of the State of Emergency. We do not know when this State of Emergency will end. This means that right now, your landlord cannot legally force you out of your home, even if you have not paid rent or if you have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
  3. Lastly: If you do miss a payment, you will still owe that money to your landlord, even though they cannot evict you right now. Our state court system is currently running limited operations, and every county and Baltimore City is handling matters differently. However, once your local district court opens up to rent court hearings, trials may be scheduled for those who have not paid their rent. If you get to this point, you are liable for unpaid rent and also maybe fees and court costs. If you do not have this money by the hearing date, your landlord may be able to begin working with the sheriffs office to schedule an eviction.

The most important thing to know is that your landlord CANNOT force you to leave your rental property during this state of emergency. If you are having trouble dealing with your landlord, or have any other questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.