Is There Facebook After Death?

The estate and probate attorneys at Spitler Huffman law firm have substantial experience representing clients in estate and probate matters.  Located in Bowling Green and Rossford, Ohio we are dedicated to serving clients in Northwest Ohio including Wood, Henry, Hancock, and Sandusky Counties.  If you live in Bowling Green, Findlay, Perrysburg, Napoleon, Port Clinton, Fremont, Rossford, or other areas in Northwest Ohio and need estate and probate assistance, contact us today.

In an era where “it isn’t official until it’s posted on Facebook,” what happens to our profiles when we die?

With Facebook reporting that it has over 1.7 billion “active” users (or users that have logged in at some point within the last 30 days), about a quarter of the world is on Facebook every month.  With so many users, a few are bound to pass away every so often.

For the planners out there- there are options.  In response to The Inevitable, Facebook has put in place methods for a user to dictate the terms of your account prior to death.

Before Death:

Facebook gives users three options for their accounts after death- 1. Create a “Memorialized” account, 2. Deactivate upon death, or 3. Do nothing.

If you choose a Memorialized account, once Facebook is notified of your death you basically get a page where people can continue to post on a special memorial timeline.  If you choose, you can name a “legacy contact” to administer the page on your behalf, but your legacy will be limited to the memorial page.

If you choose to set your account to deactivate upon death, Facebook simply deactivates your account once it receives a death notice.

If a User Does Nothing:

That just leaves the 90 plus percent of users who have not designated any action for their Facebook account.  If this happens, your family or the fiduciary of your estate may request that your account be deactivated, or may seek a court order to shut down your account.

A Little Planning Goes A Long Way: 

Most of us write our 19 different passwords down on 19 different pieces of paper that we can never find later.  News flash- if you can’t find your passwords, your next of kin won’t be able to either.  As for legal intervention- laws so far have been slow to catch up with the problem of fiduciary access to the online records of a deceased person.  Some states, like Oklahoma and Idaho, have taken steps to authorize fiduciary access to online accounts.  However, if you live elsewhere, maybe it’s time to get more organized and make a plan which includes your digital information.

Though planning for your digital estate may seem trivial in comparison to estate planning for your health or financial future, the large and ever-increasing role of technology in our day to day financial and social lives means digital records may need to be addressed with your estate planner.  Accurate records will help your loved ones efficiently handle your estate.  And that’s something everybody likes.

-Posted by CCI

Charges Dropped Against Rossford Teacher

The criminal attorneys at Spitler Huffman law firm have substantial experience representing clients in criminal law.  Located in Bowling Green and Rossford, Ohio we are dedicated to serving clients in Northwest Ohio including Wood, Henry, Hancock, and Sandusky Counties.  If you live in Bowling Green, Findlay, Perrysburg, Napoleon, Port Clinton, Fremont, Rossford, or other areas in Northwest Ohio and need criminal law assistance, contact us today.

On August 13th, 2016, Wood County Common Pleas Judge Reeve Kelsey found Perrysburg resident Todd Long guilty after Mr. Long attempted to frame a Rossford Middle School teacher for drug trafficking.

Bowling Green Attorney Steve Spitler represented the teacher and assisted in having all charges dropped against his client.  Mr. Spitler was quoted in the case by the Toledo Blade and a link to the full article can be found here:

-Posted by CCI

Ayersville Water & Sewer District Recovers Substantial Share of Missing Funds

Defiance, Ohio- The Ayersville Water & Sewer District has recovered a substantial share of funds which, according to the State Auditor, were apparently taken by a former District employee.  The District, in collaboration with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, recovered roughly 80% of the misappropriated funds.  A link to the Crescent-News article on the investigation and recovery can be found here:

-Posted by CCI

Trihalomethanes: You Don’t Have Cholera (But You Might Still Have a Problem)

When was the last time you missed work because you had cholera?  Never, because for the last hundred years or so, U.S. water distribution systems have been disinfecting drinking water by adding chlorine.

Chlorine itself is a cheap and effective killer of bacteria and viruses which would otherwise find their way into our drinking water, which makes it one of the biggest public health breakthroughs of the 20th century.  It does, however, have a drawback- as chlorine disinfects, it breaks down as it comes into contact with other compounds in the water.

Things you can’t pronounce may still be bad for you:

The results of this breakdown are carcinogenic trihalomethanes (or “THMs”) and haloacetic acids (“HAA5”).  People exposed to high concentrations over long periods of time have an increased risk of cancer and liver, kidney, and nerve damage.  This danger has led the EPA to use its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to set “maximum contaminant levels” (commonly referred to as “MCLs”) for these compounds.

Rural water systems are more likely to have these issues with the Ohio EPA:

In Ohio, many rural water systems exceed their MCLs for these compounds and end up getting hit with EPA findings and orders to lower their levels.  Why rural systems?  Because the water has fewer end users and travels longer distances, the chlorine stays in the pipe longer and has more time to break down.

In response, rural systems tend to do at least one of four things- they 1. flush (dump water out at an end point to increase the volume of water moving through the system in order to get fresher water faster), 2. they aerate (which removes the THMs), 3. they treat with activated carbon (which removes both THMs and HAA5s), 4. they change their input system (e.g. the amount of chlorine used or location of its addition or the treatment method itself).

If you are a customer or operator of a rural water system, then at some point you are going to hear about chlorine disinfection byproducts.  It may not be as exciting or newsworthy as lead in Flint, Michigan’s water supply (by the way Flint also exceeded safe THM levels) but it’s certainly an ongoing challenge for water distribution systems in rural Ohio.

But hey- good news- at least you don’t have cholera.  So there’s that.

For some good summary guidance on the subject, the EPA’s fact sheet is below:

-Posted by CCI

NOT IN MY FRONT YARD: Private Developer’s Agreements Struck Down As Unconstitutional In Ohio’s 11th District

What Is A Private Developer’s Agreement?

Picture this:  you and your spouse just bought a home on 5 acres in a serene country setting on the far fringes of the city.  After a few months, a private developer buys 80 acres of farmland a half mile down the road from your new house.  The developer puts in water and sewer lines that run past your house to serve the McMansions that will soon house a few hundred of your new neighbors.  A few months later, you get a notice from the county health department ordering you to connect to the new sewer line and pay the developer $20,000 for “your share” of the construction costs.  If you don’t want sewer service then you are on the wrong end of a private developer’s agreement.

Is That Legal?

Sounds illegal right?  Not necessarily.  The longstanding rule in Ohio allows any person who builds a water or sewer utility line to recoup a pro-rated share of their costs from any adjacent property owners along the route that make use of the new line.  In the case of a water line, an adjacent property owner can choose not to connect.  However, in the case of a sewer line, connection is mandatory for public health reasons.

Enacted in 1972, ORC 307.73 allows county commissioners to authorize anyone to build such a line, then mandate reimbursement.  This arrangement has long been common practice in Ohio, and private developers have been keen on cashing in on this arrangement to help subsidize private development.  In the case of a sanitary sewer line, those along the project route must connect for public health reasons.

Under the statute, the developer need only give “constructive” notice to adjacent property owners by filing their approved resolution with the county auditor.  Under this arrangement, it is very unlikely that any affected property owner receive actual notification of a looming project which may affect your substantive legal rights and your wallet.

Recent Ohio Case Overturns Private Developer’s Ability To Obtain Reimbursement

On June 30th, 2016, Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals struck down the law on due process grounds as an unconstitutional taking of private property in Bacak v. Trumbull Cty. Bd. Of Commr’s., 2016-Ohio-4737.  The court reasoned that the law failed to give property owners adequate notice and meaningful opportunity to be heard for a multitude of reasons.  The statute leaves no time limit for the filing of constructive notice, no notice or oversight of costs, no ability to object, and no judicial review.  The court also cited the multitude of notice rules that counties must follow when constructing the same type of projects which did not apply to private developers.

TBD on what the future holds for this statute, but it is very likely that at this very moment there are hundreds of these developer’s agreements in place which may put the developer at risk of paying for substantially more of their project than they initially anticipated.  This case will almost undoubtedly be appealed and watched very closely by private citizens, public utilities, county officials, and construction interests throughout the State of Ohio.

The Ohio Supreme Court will likely have to settle the issue once and for all.  The only other time they looked at the statute was in DeMoise v. Dowell, where the Court questioned the constitutionality of the statute on due process grounds, but did not strike it down.  DeMoise, 10 Ohio St.3d 92 (1984).  Until the issue is settled, future construction under this type of agreement should proceed with extreme caution.

Text to the opinion of the appellate court’s decision can be found at the following link:

-Posted by CCI

Henry County Regional Water & Sewer Recovers Over $200,000 in Water Tower Settlement

Henry County Regional Water & Sewer District recently recovered over $200,000 to resolve a contractual dispute with a construction company.  Spitler Huffman, LLP’s Christopher Frasor represented the District in the dispute.

Mr. Frasor presented the check to the Board at the District’s regular meeting on May 3rd, 2017.  As part of the settlement, the District also is entitled to retain roughly $180,000 in funds that were initially earmarked for the project.

A link to the Northwest Signal’s blurb on the matter can be found here:

-Posted By CCI

Mega Mistakes: Lawsuits Against the Ohio Lottery Commission

Big Ticket Items:

If you are like roughly 50% of the rest of Americans, then “winning the lottery” is a cornerstone of your retirement strategy.  Of the $70 billion or so worth of tickets sold in 2016 (Americans spend more on lotto tickets every year than the individual GDPs of 118 countries), $2.7 billion is spent by Ohioans.  That’s a lot of scratch-offs.  And yes, you read that right, Americans spend more on the lottery than MOST countries produce.

Who Gets a Share in the Office Pool?

With so much money flying around, it seems like there would be a lot of litigation involving lottery claims.  Well- there is.  Sort of.  Most lawsuits seem to involve office pools with a set of facts similar to the following:

Jim, Bob, and Jane all work at Company X.  The three have been in an office lotto pool for years.  One day, Jim finds out he bought the winning ticket, but only Jim and Jane chipped in money that day since Bob was out sick. Jim and Jane claim the prize and leave Bob out of it.  Bob sues Jim and Jane on the grounds that he should be entitled to a share of the award.

Under Ohio law, these kinds of suits can be brought in your local county court and the judge or jury can decide who the rightful prize-winner/s are based on past conduct, written agreements or records, etc.   Yes- this does happen, and people sue each other over it:

Suing the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC)

However, it is exceedingly rare for lottery players to sue the Ohio Lottery Commission, but it does happen.  In fact, since 1975, only 88 lawsuits have been brought against the OLC, and many of those suits were unrelated to gaming.  These suits must be brought in the Ohio Court of Claims, a special court set up specifically to handle claims against Ohio’s State agencies.

Here is a list of the more interesting cases from the last twenty years or so:

Demetriades v. OLC, 2017-00705

Plaintiff purchased ticket and wins $500, then promptly loses ticket.  In an incredible example of selectively optimistic memory, plaintiff remembers that prize was worth $500,000 and sues the OLC.  OLC is able to recreate records of ticket and proves that it was only worth $500.  Plaintiff still able to purchase 500 items from the Dollar Tree.

Estate of Keefe v. OLC, 2017-10035

Plaintiff wins 5 million dollar jackpot.  Clerical error on OLC’s claim form states that the prize was 6 million dollars.  Plaintiff paid 5 million, sues OLC for an additional 1 million on theory that claim form signed by OLC employee amounted to a contract.  Result?  OLC wins, contract forms at time of purchase of ticket and ticket holder is only entitled to the actual prize amount certified by the director of the OLC.  Winner died during the case, apparently heartbroken for only having 5 million dollars instead of 6 million.

Maffett v. OLC, 2004-09967; Freiling, et al v. OLC, 2003-11275; Constani et al v. OLC, 2003-11615

These three cases were filed shortly after a widespread ticket misprint made apparent winners in the amounts of $2,500, $50,000, and $2,000,000 respectively.

All three ticket buyers were denied their claims and offered a refund of their ticket price.  All three sued and lost for the same reason- misprinted tickets are invalid under Ohio law.  Not to worry, the OLC refunded the price of the ticket.  No word on whether any of them spent it on another ticket.

Dabaja v. OLC, et al., 2012-08567

Four people all claimed to have purchased a 2 million dollar winning ticket and submitted claim forms.  Plaintiff sues the OLC and his co-claimants, who happen to be his ex-wife and two of his family members, to be declared the winner (like Highlander, he believed there could be only one).

Other claimants fail to answer the lawsuit and Plaintiff settles the case and goes home with his lump sum payment (about $700,000).  Unclear if Thanksgiving was awkward at the Dabaja household.

Palmer et al., v. OLC, 2002-0778; ORC 3770.07(D)

Creditors had a court-ordered structured settlement agreement with a lotto winner which paid the creditors a percent of lottery annuity payments.   The OLC was aware of the structured settlement between the winner and the creditors.  Lotto winner defaulted on her payments to creditors and creditors sue OLC for failing to make payments directly to the creditors.

The result was judgment for the OLC- the rights of a prize winner are NOT assignable, garnishable, or attachable, unless by a court order for payment of child support or to an estate.  Because- it says so right in the statute.  A court can otherwise determine the rightful prize winner/s (for example, multiple claimants in an office pool), but courts are not entitled to assign a winner’s rights to anyone else once the winner is determined.  The creditors in this case happened to be lawyers, so of course no real harm was done.

Final Thoughts

What’s the lesson here?  There isn’t one, but as a legal concept “the lottery” is an interesting foray into contract formation.  Just remember- if you’re in an office pool, keep a record of your agreement and participants, and don’t tell off your boss before you get your prize money in hand. Also- think about hiring an accountant and a lawyer before you run off and buy that gold-plated jet ski.  Good luck!

-Posted By CCI