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You can’t just keep someone’s property if they owe you money

Richard M.  Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Richard M. Alderman
Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. I recently asked my daughter to move out of my home. She owes me over $3,000 for money I loaned her while she lived with me. Now she is refusing to pay it back or make payments towards the debt. Her washer and dryer are still in my home. Can I just hold on to the appliances until she pays me at least part of what she owes me? Can I sell them if she still refuses to pay?
A. As a general rule, if someone owes you money you cannot just take, or hold, their property if they don’t pay you. To be able to use someone’s property as collateral for a loan, you need a special agreement, called a security agreement. In most cases, a security agreement is in writing. For example, when you purchase a car, you sign such an agreement that allows the lender to take your car in the event you do not pay. Because you have the property, however, the agreement may be oral, but your daughter must have agreed that you could keep or sell her appliances if she did not pay, at the time you made the loan. In my opinion, based on what you say you do have not right to keep the appliances or sell them if she does not pay.
Q. My husband does not have a will and has two kids by his first marriage. In the event that he passes would the house he owned prior to us getting married be left to me?
A. Without a will naming you as a beneficiary, the house ultimately will pass to his children. You will have the right to continue to live in the house, but the children will own it. If that is not the result he wants he must prepare a will.
Q. I am an hourly employee. I always put in eight hours a day and do my job well. Can I be fired for not working over-time?
A. Yes, you could be fired if you refused to work when your employer requested. Basically, an employer may set the hours employees work. An employer may require you to work more than forty hours a week. All that the law requires is that you be paid an overtime rate for any hours in excess of forty.
Q. Someone who owes me money just died. Am I out of luck? Do his children have to pay?
A. When someone dies, his or her children are not liable unless the child had agreed to pay the debt. You may not, however, be out of luck. After a person dies, his or her estate is responsible for the debts. You should file a claim with the executor or administrator of the estate. If there are any assets in the estate, they can be used to pay the money you are owed.
Q. I want to get a divorce. What do I have to prove to obtain a divorce? Does my spouse have to agree?
A. I assume you are referring to whether you must prove things like adultery, cruelty, or abandonment in order to get a divorce. In the past, some standard of “fault” such as these was required to obtain a divorce. Today, you may still obtain a divorce based on your fault, but it is no longer necessary. Texas is what is commonly called a “no-fault” divorce state. To obtain a divorce, all you must show is that the relationship can’t be fixed. The marriage has become “insupportable.” You may do this by simply showing that you do not get along and do not want to be married. Your spouse does not have to agree, and it is no longer necessary to prove either party did something wrong.
Q. I was laid-off right after my workday ended, and told not to come to work the next day. Doesn’t the law require I be given some prior notice?
A. Unless you have an employment contract, you are considered an employee “at will.” That means you may be laid-off or fired, or you may quit, at anytime, with no prior notice. I agree the right thing to do would be to give you prior notice, but the law does not require it.

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