Monday, May 2, 2016

The Estate of Not Just Any Prince: Lessons for the Commoner

On April 21, 2016, the music legend responsible for teaching the world how to party like it was “1999” and the sound of “When Doves Cry,” passed away. We all say that “Nothing Compares 2 U” even if it is a “Manic Monday” because of him. This man changed music and for many, he made up part of the soundtrack of our lives. In amassing a huge fortune and all the worldly possessions that anyone could dream of, including a few that sound beyond belief, he seemed to have it all. All media accounts are that of a man who was very controlling and directed every minute of his never-ending performance. During his life he carried out acts of loving kindness and truly seemed intent on repairing the world the best he could, but in death he will leave strife and acrimony.
With all this “good” in mind I now review the death and inexcusable act that will be his short term legacy for his family: Prince left no Estate Plan for the courts or his family to follow. His family will now battle in court for years to come and a judge and lawyers that never knew him will decide what happens to a huge library of unreleased songs, wealth and possessions.
You need not be a pop icon to have a will and, in fact, every mom and pop should have one. When it comes down to it, if you are an adult it is part of your responsibility to assist the courts and your family in creating an estate plan.
Your estate plan, at a minimum, should include:
-       Will
o     This document says what happens to your money, property, belongings and children (if you have any)
o     This helps once you have passed
-       Power of Attorney, Health Care
o     This provides guidance on your healthcare wishes and who should speak on your behalf if you cannot speak for yourself.
-       Power of Attorney, General
o     If you could not act who could pay your bills? Run your business? Sell your stocks? Use your money to help the ones you love?
-       Burial instructions
This is not a fun topic to discuss, but I have helped many people create these documents. Allowing your loved ones to grieve when the time comes rather than fight each other in court while cursing you is important. Court can mostly be avoided if one has the proper documents to steer clear of probate. If important to you, public disclosure of your assets can also be avoided.

An estate plan can cost just a few hundred dollars and save your family thousands in litigation expenses. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Technology and the Community Law Office

On Friday I will be attending the annual American BarAssociation Technology Show. This is the international technology showcase for the legal industry and all the big players in the industry will be well represented. Why do I feel it is important to attend, and even more so, why do I feel it is important to share this with you?

Last month I was hired by a client to work on a case that had been in litigation for months. As is the norm, I called the attorney on the other side of the matter and informed him that I would be entering into the case. After the initial pleasantries, the attorney asked for my information and I gave him the basics (phone, address, spelled my name three times, and provided my email address). I then confirmed the information I had for him and asked for his email address. I was shocked when he told me that he refuses to use email and that if it were up to him the office would still use typewriters.

How could a lawyer in today’s world be such a Luddite (non-technology user)?

 The Rules of Professional Responsibility in Illinois states:
To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.
The above statement falls under the subheading of Maintaining Competence. So much of what I do is advise clients in their lives. Texting, email, Facebook, Instagram and other forms of social media are an integral part of people’s lives, central to who they are and how they interact with the world around them.

I want my office to always be about personal connections. I need to protect you not only in court but also from data loss and the interconnected world. I am now looking into other forms of communication like live interfaces with each client and the ability to do secure communication so that employers and email are not able to see our privileged communication.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Do you need an attorney for a real estate closing? Yes, you do, but the real question is what kind?

I get a few calls a week from people looking to buy a home and they “want an attorney”. But do they really? I always offer to meet and discuss representation but then I hear "I have a guy who will do it for $--- and if you won't beat that price, then there is no reason for us to talk."

I understand that some things can be bought like a meal at a fast food restaurant but that is not how I work. Here is what I have been told is the normal process for a low-cost closing attorney:
-     Initial contact with client                                  10 minutes
-     Review deadline dates                                      10 minutes
-     Send letter of introduction to seller                  10 minutes
-     Call with amount to bring to closing                10 minutes
-     Attend closing                                                  60-90 minutes
                                                                TOTAL: 1.5 – 2 hours

This works well for simple transactions and with very well-versed buyers. The problem is that a lot can happen in a real estate deal and often times the transactions can be more complicated than you realize. Lawyers who charge a fair price and offer in-depth service follow more of the process below:
-     Initial contact with client                                         10 minutes
-     Review contract and terms including dates,          45 minutes
      request additional time for attorney review and
-     Call client and set meeting to review terms           10 minutes
      of contract. Request that the inspection be
      sent over prior for review.
-     Meet with clients to go over terms of contract      60 minutes
      and confirm that they have full understanding.
      Talk about financing and the results from
       inspection. Explain the attorney
       review period and talk about changes and credits 
       they need. Talk about money needed at closing.
-     Draft attorney review letter and send to                30 minutes
       the seller.
-     Call client with the reply.                                        10 minutes
-     Call lender for status and confirm closing             15 minutes
       date. If  an extension is needed for the mortgage 
       contingency draft letter and send.
-     Review title and communicate any issues with     20 minutes
       the seller.
-     Days prior to closing notify client of amount to    10 minutes
       bring to closing
-      Attend closing and review all documents        60-90 minutes
       with client so that there is full understanding.
                                                                    TOTAL:  4.5 - 5 hours

At the end of the day the real question is What do you want when you buy your home?

A true story from this week: a man called and told me that he and his wife bought a condo 3 years ago and lived there quite happily. The plan from the start was to move out and rent the unit for income when they were ready to start a family. The couple placed an ad and found a renter, but someone from the condo told them they could not rent the unit out and that rule was in the condo documents. Although the realtor knew renting the unit out later was their desire and there were other renters in the building, that restriction was never raised by the low-cost attorney that the couple used. Now their income dream is crumbling and they will have to sell the condo.

The process of buying a home may be handled by a transactional attorney, but it is your home and greatest investment and should be treated as more than just a simple transaction. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Have you ever heard a commercial offering free credit reports?

Most of the commercials for free credit reports actually do provide the opportunity to get a free credit report, but there is a monthly charge for credit checks and monitoring or other services that can cost you a substantial sum of money each year.  The good news, though, is that about 10 years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted a law that requires each of the credit bureaus to provide you a free credit report on an annual basis.  The free credit report is available by calling 877-322-8228, by completing a form available here and mailing in the request, or by going to the website

Recently, I saw a statistic that over 35% of the American population has incorrect information appearing on their credit report.  You might be surprised to learn that credit reporting is not just for car loans and mortgages, but it is also used by companies for making decisions regarding approvals of cell phone plans, job opportunities, and even interest rates you would get for a savings account. Additionally, incorrect information can affect your ability to open credit cards, cause reductions in credit limits, and lessen options such as miles and rewards available to you.

The three credit bureaus all have most of the same information but some companies only report to one agency due to the cost of reporting to all three.  For example, in the past ComEd only reported to one bureau and the information was often incorrect. Therefore, it’s important to check all three and look for differences.

Each year you should print your credit reports and review it for any inaccuracies. You will notice the name of the creditor may be different from the name that you know.  If there is a tradename sometimes it is listed.  Other information to take note of includes the address of the creditor, your high balance, the balance available, your current balance, and your payment history. Your current balance may be from a few months prior to the date you request the credit report, so if that number is not accurate to the penny it should not worry you. However, if you see late payments that are incorrect or items you do not know about then you should take action.

Each issue has a different path for resolution. The different credit bureaus’ websites list the way to disputes the findings and information listed. For example, if a missed payment or late payment is noted incorrectly on the credit report, you should contact the specific company directly and discuss your issues. That company will be the one who can rectify the situation.

You may also see that something like a student loan is listed for five or even six times. Loans are often sold and serviced by different companies, perhaps without your knowledge. If you see balances on these items or late listings it may be of concern to you.
If you see credit lines that you know you did not open, that is a definite cause for concern and when the real problems begin. The first step is to contact the company by the phone number listed within the credit report. Inform them that the credit line was opened without your permission and appears on your credit report. Compile as much information as you can and take that information to the police. Once the police create a report, provide that report number to the credit agencies.

If you encounter serious problems with your credit report and you need the assistance of an attorney, I am here to help.

Friday, November 27, 2015

What to do at the First Meeting with an attorney.

At the meeting:
1.       Having a friend at the meeting may make you comfortable but the meeting may not be confidential then so choose wisely.
2.       Be yourself.
3.       Be organized when you first meet with the lawyer.
4.       Tell the story, but only provide a summary.
a.       This meeting is not the time to share every minor detail. If the attorney wants more information, he/she will ask.
b.       Try to have a written summary or outline of your problem.
5.       Take notes!
a.       Quite often people leave the initial consultation and realize later they felt overwhelmed by the experience. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll remember everything that was discussed without writing it down!
6.       Ask the questions you prepared and speak up if you don’t understand.
a.       Has the attorney had experience with this type of problem before? How recently? How often? What was involved?
b.       What percentage of the attorney’s practice is devoted to this kind of problem?
c.       Will the specific person you’re meeting with actually be working on your case? In what way? Will any other persons be doing work on your case? What will they do? How will it affect the fee or relations with the lead attorney?
d.       Will the attorney talk to you in plain English when you do not understand "legalese"?
e.       Will the attorney provide you with copies of all documents and letters received or written in your case? Will that be treated as an out-of-pocket expense or will you be expected to pay for such expenses in advance? Will the attorney allow you access to your case file at his/her office?
f.       Will the attorney keep you informed about all developments in your case? For important things, will the attorney allow you to make the final decision?
g.       Will the attorney send monthly billing statements?
h.       What kind of continuing legal education classes has the attorney attended and how recently? (One way to judge a lawyer's competence is by the amount of time they devote to keeping up with changes in the law through continuing legal education.)
7.       Set expectations as to what you want out of your representation.
8.       Be honest as to what you can afford. MOST lawyers want to help people and some are willing to work with you on payment arrangements.

Making a Decision:
1.    When you hire a lawyer, the lawyer will be working for you. He/she should be genuinely interested in your problem and in giving you the best possible advice.
2.    The lawyer may not be able to accomplish everything you desire because of the facts or the law that apply in your case. Many times a good lawyer will advise you to avoid court action.
3.    A lawyer should be able to explain, in terms you can understand, what he/she hopes to accomplish for you and how he/she plans to do it.
4.    Think about how the lawyer responded to your questions, his/her experience, and whether you will be able to work with the lawyer.
5.    If you are satisfied with the interview, tell the lawyer everything about your problem, including facts that may be unfavorable or embarrassing to you. Unless you are completely candid, the lawyer will be unable to advise you properly and help fully.

Strict rules prohibit the lawyer from repeating to anyone what you say, unless you admit any ongoing or planned criminal activity.