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posted: 4/12/2013 3:47 AM

Homeowner growls over neighbor's barking pets

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Homeowners who live next to loud dogs or other noisy animals have several options to seek some peace and quiet.

Q. We have a new neighbor who has three dogs that bark incessantly, both during the day and at night. We asked the owner to try to keep them quiet, but he just shrugged and said: "All dogs bark. That's just what they do." What are our options here? We can't even sleep at night because of the noise!

A. Because your neighbor won't help to keep the dogs quiet, it's time for you to do a little research and then contact local animal-control authorities, the city attorney, the police or sheriff's department, or maybe even a judge or other representative at the local small claims court.

Most cities, counties and even some states have laws that require dog owners to keep their canines reasonably quiet. In Oregon, for example, a constantly barking dog can be declared a "public nuisance," even if it isn't violent. Massachusetts' state law has a mechanism that allows an aggrieved homeowner to file a formal complaint with locally elected officials, who then can fine the dog's owner or even force the pooch to be given away. And in Pennsylvania, an owner who won't get his dog to shut up can be fined or jailed.

Mary Randolph, an attorney and frequent contributor to legal-advice website, suggests that you go online or visit a local law library to check the local ordinances and state statutes that are applicable to barking or vicious dogs in your particular area. Use search terms such as "noise," "dogs," "animals" and "nuisance."

I doubt that you'd want to see the owner be forced to give away the dogs, or have them sent to the local dog pound or euthanized. But knowing your rights in this situation will give you a lot more clout if you wisely decide to talk with the neighbor one last time about curbing the constant barking before taking more aggressive steps to solve the problem.

Q. We recently applied for our first mortgage since 1999, and the lender insisted that both my wife and I supply a photocopy of both the front and back of our driver's license as part of the application process. We never had to do this before, and it seems like it's an invasion of our privacy. What gives?

A. The requirement is a byproduct of the federal Patriot Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast. The law requires all lenders to collect a loan applicant's name, address, date of birth and other identifying information to help weed out potential terrorists, prevent mortgage fraud and help the government fight the funding of terrorist activities and money laundering.

Although lenders have no choice but to collect such information, they technically don't have to do so by photocopying the borrower's driver's license or state-issued identification card -- it's just the easiest way to do it. Loan applicants also must provide a secondary piece of personal ID, such as an original Social Security card or an up-to-date passport.

Q. I know that I can contribute to my individual retirement account by April 15 of this year and still deduct the amount on the 2012 income-tax return that I am beginning to complete now. My question is, Can I also form the type of basic living trust that you often recommend by April 15 and claim the tax savings on my 2012 return, too?

A. You can create an inexpensive living trust anytime you want, but I'm afraid that you are operating under a common misconception -- a fallacy that's often promulgated by unscrupulous fly-by-night operators of "living trust mills" who promise big tax savings that such trusts cannot provide.

There are two primary, and very legitimate, reasons to create an inexpensive trust. The first is to let your heirs inherit your home and other property after you die without forcing them to suffer through the long and costly probate process that a simple will demands. The second is to keep your final wishes and assets private, because a trust, unlike a will, is a personal document that does not have to be opened for public inspection by the court for any busybody to view.

While those two key benefits are important for most of us, forming a living trust won't cut your own tax bill and usually won't reduce your heir's taxes unless you're a multimillionaire who needs to create a special "AB" trust to reduce or eliminate levies on the inheritance.

The rules for rich folks (currently defined as having more than $10 million in assets) to establish an AB Trust are complicated. But if you have that kind of dough, spend some of it for professional tax- and estate-planning advice.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: There are about 3 million real estate licensees in the U.S., according to regulators at the National Association of Real Estate License Law Officials, but only 2 million of them make at least one sale a year, and barely 1 million are members of the National Association of Realtors and thus pledge to adhere to NAR's strict code of ethics.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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