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.