Tackling Taxes in Westchester

Owning property in Westchester comes with a pretty steep price. The purchase price is just the beginning of sticker shock for most homeowners in the County but the escalating cost of property taxes adds to that ongoing burden. Grieving your taxes is the only way to possibly get some relief and initiating the process the correct way from the start increases your chances of winning a reduction.

That being said, the tax grievance landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years with Mamaroneck and Scarsdale undertaking revaluations and Yonkers, Greenburgh and Ossining undergoing the process as of this writing. The municipalities had a two-fold goal: level the property tax playing field, which had not been adjusted in decades, and reduce the number of tax grievance applications which had swamped the assessors’ offices for the past few years.

Westchester Tax GrievanceThe revaluations have resulted in a seismic shift with lower tax bills for some and shockingly higher assessments for others.  As a Westchester attorney who has practiced in tax grievances for more than a decade, my experience has shown me that many lower-to-mid-range homes ($400-650K) are now assessed just where they should be in the current housing market, while many mega mansions are over-assessed, depending on location. The reality is that other than the rare exception, your property’s assessed value is now closer to the realized market value, especially if your town has just undergone a revaluation.

Each year, your municipality is required to send you a Notice of Assessment when it publishes its tentative tax roll. That gives property owners a chance to determine if they want to challenge the assessment by filing a tax grievance. Deadlines for filing are all over the map, literally, and I refer you here to the New York State website to see when your municipal deadline occurs.

More to come as we get closer to the Village (February) and Town (June) deadlines next spring.

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Authors, beware of Amazon’s Copyright Grab!

My publisher recently received a notice from Amazon suggesting the idea of giving away copies of my two books, Amalfi Blue and Shrouded in Pompei.  Amazon’s angle was to increase sales and allow me to promote my books across social media platforms.  No purchase was necessary by the entrant and it’s not really clear who was paying for the cost of the prizes.  Certainly, I was not going to receive money if nothing was being sold.

OK, the free giveaway sounds good so far, right?  Wrong.  If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is!  Lucky for me, I happen to be a really good lawyer and cherish my creative copyrights because the red siren of doom sounded as soon as I read the fine print in Amazon’s Giveaway Services Agreement.

To the uninitiated laymen…you’re screwed if you use Amazon’s Giveaway…in my humble opinion.  Look at the Definitions section.  Amazon defines “Your Material” as “all Technology, Your Trademarks, Content, information, data, photographs, images, videos and other materials and items provided or made available by you or your Affiliates to Amazon or its Affiliates.”

CopyrightThen scroll up to Paragraph 5 and check what type of license you are granting to Amazon:

“You grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, perform, display, distribute, adapt, modify, excerpt, analyze, re-format, create derivative works of, and otherwise commercially or non-commercially exploit in any manner, any and all of Your Materials, and to sublicense the foregoing rights; provided that nothing in this Agreement will prevent or impair our right to use Your Materials without your consent to the extent that such use is allowable without a license from you or your Affiliates under applicable Law (e.g., fair use under United States copyright law, referential use under trademark law, or valid license from a third party).”

So why does this scream – “put on the brakes?”

  1. Royalty free – that means they don’t have to pay you to use your creative material or content.
  2. Create derivative works – that means they can make a movie or merchandise your characters when the book is a bestseller…again without paying you any royalties.
  3. Sublicense the foregoing rights – that means they can sell your rights, now their rights, to any third party

It amazes me how Amazon continually tries to exploit independent authors who have become the lifeblood of their Kindle revenue stream.  Writers, always, always read the fine print of any Terms & Conditions before signing up for anything that sounds just too good to be true.  You risk giving away your intellectual property rights for a free book giveaway!

Cross Border Estate Planning in Italy

I’ve previously discussed what to do with your Italian inheritance but let’s look at cross border estate planning when you are now the individual who owns property or a bank account in Italy.  What do you do when it comes to drafting your will and making sure your heirs get their assets, both in the United States and Italy, as easily and quickly as possible?

Italian InheritanceIn my years of international practice between the United States and Italy, there is one thing I have learned…Italy does not like the way we draft documents in the US.  Despite international treaties which afford apostilled, US-drafted documents recognition in Italy, they do things a bit differently across the Atlantic.

It is essential to work with an estate attorney who can assist you with drafting a will that can be used in both countries.  Key clauses would allow a will which is drafted and probated in New York, for example, to also be used in the succession process in Italy.

Working with a foreign legal consultant from Italy, we can include the exact phrases necessary to pass muster with Italian law; collate the requisite supporting documentation and obtain the apostilles to initiate probate in New York and succession in Italy with little fuss for most estates.

Believe it or not, as fussy as they are with their documents in Italy, it is not necessary for an attorney to undertake succession (probate) in Italy.  That fosters an environment of many individuals and online companies offering to undertake succession with very little knowledge or experience in international law.  It is much better to plan your estate carefully in the United States, with attorneys well-versed in the process in Italy and in the U.S., with the goal of also making the estate process much easier for your heirs in Italy.