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Dear Carolyn:

My wife and I have been married almost two years. Recently, and unfortunately, her grandmother passed away. Her grandmother had no immediate means to pay for funeral and burial services. The costs were paid by my wife and me on our credit card. The family has considerable land assets in Guilford County, but it is in her grandmother’s and multiple siblings’ name. My wife will inherit a portion of her grandmother’s land (split with my wife’s uncle). No one in the family has the means to buy us out, and, as is often the case, there is no reachable agreement by the family to divide the land. Is there any way to sell off some or all of what my wife is entitled to help reimburse us for the costs of the funeral and burial services?

Thanks for your helpful insight,

Jon D.

Dear Jon,

We have a solution for you!  The property can be sold to pay funeral and burial expenses, but there are several steps you must follow.

The answer assumes there was no Will, as a Will was not mentioned.

First, your spouse will need to go to the Clerk of Court, Estates Division at the Guilford County Courthouse if the grandmother died in Guilford County and open an estate file for the grandmother. If the grandmother died in another county, you need to open the estate file in that county.  Someone is going to have to qualify as the administrator of the estate.  Your wife, as a granddaughter, may apply; others may also apply, but hopefully they will not.

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Jennifer Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law GroupJAC

           For the next several installments of our practical series for family law attorneys in Piedmont Triad area, we will be reviewing the admission of hearsay statements through the business records exception, Rule 803(6). In this installment, we will consider the case of In re S.W., 625 S.E. 2d 594 (N.C. App. 2006).

We have all been there; you sent out the subpoenas to the doctor, the nurse, the social worker, the therapist, the detective, and anyone else you can think of who can testify about the abuse. Lo and behold on the day of the hearing, not a single witness shows up, but luckily you have already got your hands on some records that detail the incident. What is the attorney to do? The case of In re S.W. is extremely helpful when an attorney is unable to get a witness into court, and there are written records of the events.

In re S.W. involves a termination of parental rights case and the admission of various exhibits which contained hearsay statements.  The child, in this case, was initially removed from the mother’s custody after being found out in the rain while the mother was buying illegal narcotics in October of 2001. The child was determined to be neglected but was reunified with the mother. The mother then left the child unattended at the homeless shelter where they were both staying for over a day and a half on Christmas Eve. The Department of Social Services removed the child again from the mother’s custody, and the child was placed in foster care. The Department of Social Services then filed their Petition to Terminate Parental Rights of the mother in 2003 as the mother had failed to maintain regular contact with DSS, failed to maintain stable living arrangements, failed to attend drug treatment regularly and had only visited with the child three times in 2003.

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13062458_1042739802458603_2436945721037467362_nBy: Dana M. Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group


Have you wondered how much of your estate is your spouse entitled? What happens to all of your assets when you die? Do you have much control over the disposition of your estate? Does having a will make a difference? To demonstrate the nuances involved in determining how much your surviving spouse is entitled to, I am going to set up a hypothetical, with a Greensboro couple – Rocky and Petunia.

Petunia owns 40% of a closely-held business started by her family, Home Grown Lawn Care, and will likely inherit another 11%. Petunia’s brother will inherit the other 49%. Petunia is engaged to Rocky, an engineer with a promising future, who has joined an engineering firm. To set up the financials, Harry makes $70,000.00 per year. Petunia, as a Vice President for Home Grown Lawn Care, has a salary of $60,000.00 per year and typical K-1 dividends of another $25,000.00 per year. Petunia also gets a tax distribution to pay the federal and state income tax on the K-1 distribution.

Neither Petunia nor Rocky have been married before, have any children, or have any college debt. They do, however, have the following assets: there are Petunia’s shares in Home Grown Lawn Care valued at $100,000.00; a 401(k) with $10,000.00 for Petunia; and a 401(k) with $10,000.00 for Rocky.

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By Kristina Pisano, Blog Writer, Woodruff Family Law Group

Recently we went home to Pennsylvania to visit my husband’s 88-year-old grandfather. He is the patriarch of the family and provides warm bear hugs any time we visit with a “Welcome home” whispered in your ear. He is the baby of 12 siblings and has survived two heart attacks and a stroke. Needless to say, he is a real fighter. During Easter dinner, he collapsed and coded twice after being rushed to the hospital. We were in North Carolina and were afraid that we would not be able to say goodbye. He received a pacemaker and defibrillator and now is back to his barrel laughs and typical jokes at a rehabilitation center.  Seeing him and his wife, who we call Memie, made me thankful that my husband’s parents had the difficult conversation several years ago with them about downsizing and moving into a retirement home.

Memie and Pappy lived in a 1930’s colonial style home with bedrooms upstairs and a washer and dryer in the basement.  When they both passed their 80th birthday, we could all see that it was harder and harder to go up and down steps. This house was Memie’s dream house; we loved visiting them because it felt like we were actually home. When the topic of downsizing was first brought up, it was met with a defiant, no! They wanted to live out their last days in the home they always dreamed of.

After having more delicate conversations and Memie seeing Pappy having more issues climbing the stairs every night, they agreed to at least tour a few facilities in the Pennsylvania mountainside. They found one they liked, after many objections, it was in an apartment in a larger retirement community. The amenities offered were a restaurant just steps from their apartment door, library, craft room, and entertainment center. Once Memie heard she would not have to cook, and a cleaning service would come in monthly to do a deep cleaning, she was sold. Continue reading →

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by Carolyn Woodruff, JD, CPA, CVA, North Carolina Family Law SpecialistCarolyn

Had my Dad lived, he would have been 100- years-old today!  Instead, he’s having some birthday cake in Heaven.  My Mom survives and is here on Earth.  While I am the older of their two biological children, they were older parents when I was born.  I thought I’d take a day to remember him and all he meant and means to me.  I’ll also use this as a time to opine on “family of origin”.

My Dad overcame a lot to graduate from the University of Alabama, shortly after the great depression.  His mother, my Grandmother with whom I was very close, moved to Tuscaloosa and ran a boys’ college boarding house so my Dad could go to college and get his degree.  Then along came World War II.  My Dad dutifully and courageously served in the Army in the 103d General Hospital in London.  He was involved in a landmine accident that impacted the remainder of his life with impaired hearing.  I have to think as much as he talked about the “War” that there must have been some good times.  I know he became an ace pool shooter and a swing dancer (maybe setting the precedent for me, you think?).  I also think this was the time he became committed to diversity, and there’s nothing like covering each other’s backs when there is someone shooting at you—you align as fellow soldiers regardless of race, creed, and religion, and you help your fellow soldier.  I witnessed him keep up with some of these fellow Veterans for most of his life.  I think he brought his knowledge of diversity home from the War, and I learned diversity at his knee in the tumultuous sixties and seventies in Alabama.  He witnessed the great march in Selma, Alabama after the federal judge allowed the march to happen from Selma to Montgomery.

He met and married my Mother, and I believe they loved and treasured each other until the day of my Father’s tragic death from Alzheimer’s.  Mother and Father had two children—a biological male and me.                Continue reading →