Frequently Asked Questions

The Legal Plan

The LawyersDirect purpose is to protect members by providing quick and easy access to affordable lawyers.

No. You may change your initially referred lawyer for any reason, at any time, and make use of as many plan lawyers in the network as you like. Subject to availability.

No. A plan lawyer, after providing you with a free telephone consultation, may determine that your particular legal issue does not warrant any further action. If you disagree with the plan lawyer, feel free to call LawyersDirect Member Services for another lawyer referral for another legal opinion. You may do this as often as you like. In other cases, the lawyer you were referred to may simply be too busy to give your situation the proper attention it deserves. If this happens, you should call LawyersDirect Member Services for a new referral. Subject to availability.

Yes they can. Upon completion of a free telephone consultation, you and your lawyer may decide to proceed with further legal action in a particular matter. This could require a substantial amount of hours being spent on your case by your plan lawyer. If such a situation arises, your plan lawyer may ask for a retainer based on the estimated number of hours he or she thinks the case will take. As a plan member this retainer will be calculated using the rate of $125 per hour.

No. Our plan is a legal service plan that is not insurance.

No. LawyersDirect is a legal service plan and not a lawyer referral service.

No. There is no government or regulatory agency that has approved, guaranteed or passed on the merits of the plan. However, all plan lawyers are licensed in their respective states of practice. The LawyersDirect Legal Plan files an annual registration in the states that require such a filing.

Yes. If you are the business owner, your business needs are covered under the Supplemental Services and subject to availability.

No. The legal plan covers only civil legal issues.

That’s okay because pre-existing legal matters are not excluded. In fact, many people initially become members because they are facing a current legal need such as an impending probate case, divorce, bankruptcy, real estate transaction or civial lawsuit.

Often your plan lawyer will take your call directly if he or she is available. With today’s advanced technology, calls are often routed to your lawyer’s cell phone. So it doesn’t matter where he or she is that day, your call will likely reach your lawyer. In the event that you must leave a voicemail, you will normally get a return call within one business day.

Yes. All plan lawyers are licensed attorneys in the states in which they work.

Yes. LawyersDirect requires all plan lawyers to provide copies of their malpractice insurance policy annually.

We would be happy to discuss our membership fees at a personal membership meeting. Due to the nature and structure of our business, our board of directors has determined that membership fees are best discussed and reviewed at a personal membership meeting. There is no cost for this meeting and you are under no obligation in any way whatsoever.

No. Our sole focus is providing quick, easy and affordable access to lawyers and legal services. You never have to worry about LawyersDirect or any of our employees, representatives or plan lawyers trying to sell you anything.

Because we have so many lawyers involved… and you know how lawyers are. But as a member, it’s nice to have them on your team and working for you.

Wills, Trusts And Probate

Probate, as it relates to a deceased person’s estate, is the court-supervised process that oversees and controls the transfer and distribution of assets owned by a person at the time of death. The court ensures that debts, taxes, probate court costs, administration and attorney’s fees are paid before any remaining assets are distributed in accordance with your Last Will & Testament, or according to state law if you do not have a will.

With good advance legal planning and the development of the proper portfolio of legal documents probate can be avoided.

Normally, overall probate fees and costs can consume up to 5-10% of the total gross estate, with the variance often depending on the amount the estate has to pay for estate administration fees. Accordingly, if your probate estate is $300,000, your total costs could be as high as $15,000 – $30,000.

Usually, the estate is tied up in probate court for anywhere between a few months and a few years, with most estates averaging approximately a year in court.

A Last Will & Testament is a written declaration made by an individual (testator, if male/testatrix, if female) of his or her intentions for the disposition of assets, among other things, after death. While a will is an essential document, it should be viewed as merely one small part of the total picture.

Most of them do. Many people think that because they have prepared a will, their loved ones will not have to go to probate court. That is simply not true. Preparing a will is, in some ways, similar to preparing a summons to court, because the person you name as the Executor of your will must, in all probability, go to court to execute your will and fulfill his or her legal obligations – all while under the court’s watchful eye and approval.

It can be very expensive, it’s often very time consuming, the court and not the family is in total control of all the assets and virtually everything becomes a permanent public record on file at the probate court. Plus, as with any court proceeding, it is often very irritating and emotionally stressful.

Yes, sometimes it is a very good idea. If you don’t have someone you feel totally confident about and trust completely to handle your affairs, then you may want them subjected to the ever watchful eye of the probate court.

Although this process is usually time consuming and costly, it may be better than not having your desires and directions followed due to an incompetent, dishonest or untrustworthy individual handling your estate distribution without court supervision.

Also, if you have a lot of creditors or disputes, you may want to incur the extra time and expense of the probate court because, among other reasons, creditors usually have a shorter time period in which to make a claim against your estate.

Well, it’s a good start. It is an important document. However, it is usually not enough. Maybe you could benefit by establishing a trust. Or maybe you need to implement some other advance legal strategy and portfolio of legal documents for quick, simple and inexpensive estate settlement. For most people a durable medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney and maybe even a Living Will are also important.

And remember, your will often forces your loved ones to end up in probate court after your death. For many people, that is exactly the thing they want to avoid.

Really, it just postpones it. When one joint owner dies, ownership will transfer to the other without probate as long as the joint ownership was a survivorship-type ownership. But when the second owner dies, or if both should die at the same time, the assets must then be probated before distribution.

And, the risks of adding someone other than your spouse as a joint owner of your assets are serious. You lose control when you do this. What if your new joint owner becomes involved in a lawsuit due to an auto accident, divorce, business or creditor problem. You could end up losing the equity in your asset.

Plus, possible gift tax issues become a concern. For example, when you make one of your children a joint owner of your home, the IRS considers that a gift of half the home for gift tax purposes.

The only thing worse than making someone other than your spouse the joint owner of any of your assets, such as your home, is putting the whole thing into their name. The IRS considers this a gift of the entire value of the asset for gift tax calculations, and it exposes the entire asset to the possible legal and creditor problems of the other person.

Although joint ownership and naming beneficiaries can be used where appropriate to avoid probate, these arrangements must be used carefully because they can have many negative consequences. It can be very dangerous to add parties other than your spouse as a joint owner to any of your property. The possible negative consequences include: losing control over your property, increased tax liability, inadvertently making your property available to creditors of the other party, and inadvertently disinheriting other persons whom you may want to share in this property at your death. Because there are so many negative consequences to such an action, seldom should a non-spouse be added as a joint owner.

In addition, if you are in a second marriage and have children from your first marriage to whom you wish to leave property upon your death, this seriously complicates the matter. If you name your new spouse as a joint owner of any asset, that asset goes to him or her upon your death.

Some property may pass to others on your death without being transferred by a will or a trust. Any property that is owned jointly with survivorship rights passes automatically to the joint owner. This can include real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and other property. Some property may be paid directly to a named beneficiary. This includes life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, 401(k)s, certain bank or brokerage accounts that have named beneficiaries, and certain types of deeds and titles. There can be advantages to simply naming a beneficiary for certain types of property, whether or not you have a will or a trust. For example, if you are married, it may be preferable to name a spouse as the beneficiary of an IRA or 401K account for income tax purposes.

If a husband and wife own everything jointly with survivorship rights and they have identical wills, when the first spouse dies the surviving spouse will become the sole owner of everything held jointly, without the need for reviewing the will or going through probate. However, when the second spouse dies, then the assets will pass through probate and be distributed in accordance with the will of the second spouse. If there is no will, then the assets will pass according to the laws of your state.

It is at the death of the second spouse that things often become complicated and expensive to administer.

The popularity of living trusts has soared in recent years as more and more people discover its unique features and benefits. For many families that simply want to avoid probate court at the time of death or disability, there are other effective and less complicated methods. However, because a trust is a legal document that is used to secure legal rights under law, only a lawyer who routinely practices trust and estate law can answer that question, and only after a thorough review of your personal situation.

A trust is a legal document that, like a will, contains your instructions for what you want to have happen to your assets when you die (or become incapacitated). But, unlike a will, a properly structured and funded trust avoids probate. This eliminates all court involvement and control and allows your family to remain in control of your assets, while keeping everything private and confidential. And, if your estate is large enough that estate taxes are an issue, certain types of trusts may even reduce or eliminate those taxes.

Often attorneys or CPA’s will tell clients that their estate is too small for a trust. Normally, what they mean is that it is too small to owe federal estate taxes – which certain types of properly structured trusts often can reduce or eliminate.

However, many estates that are too small to owe federal estate taxes are large enough or complicated enough to need a trust or other estate settlement strategy in order to reduce or eliminate the estate resolution costs and problems such as the probate court process.

Of course, only an experienced attorney who regularly practices probate and trust law, and is intimately familiar with the size and structure of your overall estate, can properly advise you.

In any event, more and more people now are handling their estate resolution issues together today instead of leaving those issues for their family to handle tomorrow alone. And for some, a trust is the cornerstone of their plan.

No. You remain in full and complete control. As Trustee of your trust, you can do anything you could do before you had the trust. You even file your tax returns exactly the same way you did before. Nothing changes except the title to your assets.

No. You file your tax returns exactly the same way as you did before. Only after your death will a separate tax return sometimes need to be filed for the portion of the trust that was yours alone, and then only under certain circumstances.

No. Your LawyersDirect plan lawyer will handle all of the paperwork and guide you through the entire process. Normally, these transfers are fully completed in a couple of weeks.

Normally, you and your spouse are Co-Trustees, so either can act and have instant control if one becomes incapacitated or dies. If something happens to both of you, or if you are the only Trustee, the Successor Trustee you named in your trust document will immediately step in and be in control of everything, not the probate court.

At your physical or mental incapacity, your Successor Trustee immediately steps in and takes over for you by managing and administering your financial affairs. When you recover, you automatically resume control.

Upon your death, your Successor Trustee pays your debts and distributes your assets according to your wishes.

Successor Trustees can be any adult individual or a Corporate Trustee, such as a bank. Normally, people name their most responsible child as their Successor Trustee to take over when the Trustee (you) and the Co-Trustee (your spouse) are both incapacitated or gone.

Most people also name a Second Successor Trustee just in case the First Successor Trustee is unable to serve for some reason.

If you do not have an individual capable of handling the duties of a Successor Trustee, you may want to consider the Corporate Trustee option.

Absolutely. In fact, only a lawyer can even determine whether or not you should have a trust. While many people do benefit from having a trust as the cornerstone of their program, not everyone needs one. But, if you do need a trust, it should be prepared by a lawyer who regularly practices trust law, and only after he or she has a complete understanding of your personal situation.

It is illegal for anyone other than a lawyer to prepare legal documents such as a trust for you, or even to advise you that you should have a trust. And, quite frankly, it’s stupid for you to try to do something this complex yourself if you’re not a trained lawyer.

No. A Living Will is a document that lets others know how you feel about being put on life support when in a clearly terminal condition.

A Living Trust is a document that holds your assets and allows those assets to be properly managed and administered according to your wishes upon your incapacity or death.

No. Trusts have been used for hundreds of years, especially by the very wealthy because they had astute advisors and attorneys. However, in today’s information age, technology and knowledge have made trusts available to anyone with assets they want to protect. Consequently, it is becoming common for families that have accumulated assets to protect those assets by establishing a family trust.

It will take a little time and work on your part, along with your LawyersDirect plan lawyer. But, it will be a whole lot less than the time involved if you leave everything to your loved ones to handle after you are gone.

There will be meetings with your plan lawyer, some telephone consultations as things progress, and you’ll be asked a lot of questions. With the help of your plan lawyer, you’ll need to make a lot of decisions. Numerous legal documents will be prepared that you’ll need to sign and your plan lawyer will notarize. Then, of couse, follow-up tasks will need to be completed.

The first few weeks are the most labor-intensive, but within 60-90 days everything should be fully completed and implemented.

Then you and your family will have the peace of mind that comes with having everything brought together into one package and handled ahead of time.

Most of the costs involved are included in your LawyersDirect Legal Plan membership fee. However, normally there are nominal third-party filing fees for each deed to be processed and recorded at the courthouse (out-of-state property may incur minimal third-party legal fees as well as third-party processing and filing fees).

We would be happy to discuss our membership fees at a personal membership meeting. Due to the nature and structure of our business, our board of directors has determined that membership fees are best discussed and reviewed at a personal membership meeting. There is no cost for this meeting and you are under no obligation in any way whatsoever.

Legal fees are usually over 50% less than the routine and normal probate legal fees customarily charged. These reduced probate legal fees are available to any LawyersDirect member who is named as an executor, executrix, administrator or beneficiary of a recently deceased non-member’s estate. And remember, there are no probate fees whatsoever for our members own estates.

No. Our sole focus is providing quick, easy and affordable access to lawyers and legal services. You never have to worry about LawyersDirect or any of our employees, representatives or plan lawyers trying to sell you anything.

Other Legal Services And Matters

The terms of a seperation agreement vary, but the following items are usually addressed:
• Custody of children
• Visitation schedule
• Child support
• Allimony or spousal support
• Children’s expenses; eg. medical, dental, educational and recreational expenses
• Property and debt division
• Insurance; eg. medical, dental and life insurance
• Income taxes

As a general rule, any adult who is determined a “fit parent” may adopt a child. However, some states have special requirements for adoptive parents. Accordingly, researching your state-specific laws relating to adoption is important.

Many states have laws that provide a method for grandparents of divorced or deceased parents to get visitation rights. Grandparents may intervene in the parents’ divorce case at any time, even after the divorce has been granted, and petition the court to award them a visitation schedule with their grandchildren.

Not likely. There is no statatory provision for grandparents to get visitation rights to their grandchildren when the children’s parents are still married.

The visitation order ceases to exist and you lose your visitation rights, unless your son is deceased. If your son is deceased, you may be able to maintain your court ordered visitation schedule.

A guardianship is an involuntary trust relationship in which one party, called a guardian, acts for an individual, called a ward. The law regards the ward as incapable of managing his or her person and/or affairs.

A guardian is any adult person, association or corporation appointed by the probate court to assume responsibility for the care and management of the person, the estate, or both, of an incompetent person or minor child. A corporation can only be the guardian of the estate and not of the person.

The court appoints the guardian. However, a minor over age 14, or the parents by Last Will & Testament, may suggest a guardian for a minor. Additionally, an adult, while competent, may appoint a guardian to serve in the event of incapacity, such as in the event of an accident or serious illness.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, sometimes called a straight bankruptcy, is a liquidation proceeding. The debtor turns over all non-exempt property to the bankruptcy trustee who then converts it to cash for distribution to the creditors. The debtor receives a discharge of all dischargable debts, usually within 4 months.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as a reorganization bankruptcy, is filed by individuals who want to pay off their debts over a period of three to five years. This type of bankruptcy appeals to individuals who have non-exempt property that they want to keep. It is also the only option now available to individuals who have steady and predictable income which is sufficient to pay their reasonable expenses with some amount left over to pay off their debts.

Yes, they will! By law, all actions against a debtor must cease once bankruptcy documents are filed. Creditors cannot initiate or continue any lawsuits, wage garnishees, or even telephone calls demanding payments. However, secured creditors, such as banks holding a lien on a car, will get the stay lifted if you cannot make payments.

Bankruptcy filings are public records. However, under normal circumstances, no one will know you filed for bankruptcy. The credit bureaus will record your filing and it will remain on your credit record for 10 years.

Yes! A number of banks now offer “secured” credit cards where a debtor puts up a certain amount of money (as little as $200) in an account at the bank to guarantee payment. Usually the credit limit is equal to the security given and is increased as the debtor proves his or her ability to pay the debt. Two years after a discharge, most debtors are eligible for mortgage loans on terms as good as those of others with the same financial profile who have not filed a bankruptcy. The size of your down payment and the stability of your income will be much more important than the fact you filed for bankruptcy in the past.

Ultimately, every legal issue can end up in court. Therefore, the term general litigation refers to litigation and all other aspects of law which may or may not be litigious in nature such as wills, estate law, incorporating a business, drafting a contract, real estate transactions, disputes with administrative bodies and more. Typically however, litigation is what happens when things go wrong and it ends up in court.

Essentially, it involves: 1) Plaintiff sues by filing a Complaint; 2) Defendent files an Answer and/or brings a countersuit or drags another party in (amongst other actions); 3) Parties commence discovery; 4) Sometimes mediation or alternative dispute resolution occurs; 5) Trial; 6) Appeals.

Real property is generally defined as land and the things permanently attached to the land. Things that are permanently attached to the land, also referred to as improvements, include homes, garages and buildings. Substances that are beneath the land (such as gas, oil, minerals) are also considered permanently attached. Other items which can be attached to the land, such as mobile homes and tool sheds, are not considered to be real property.

A mortgage is an interest in land which provides security for the performance of a duty or payment of a debt. Some states apply the common law rule that the conveyance of real property is void and is defensible should the “owner” fail to make the payment. Many states recognize a mortgage as a mere lien (without conveying an interest in the land other than security or lien) and some states have adopted hybrid approaches.

A quitclaim deed transfers or “releases” to the transferee whatever present right or interest the grantor has in the described property. Unlike a grant deed, a quitclaim deed carries with it no express or implied covenants. Thus, if the grantor holds no interest in the property, a quitclaim deed conveys nothing.

When you purchase real property, you will receive a written document (called “the deed”) which transfers the ownership (title) of the property to you as the purchaser. The deed gives you formal title in exchange usually for a specified amount of money. The conveyance of real property is not complete until the deed is delivered to you or your authorized agent.

When you get the deed, you should record it with the county recorder in the county where the property is located. The purpose of recording the deed is to give “notice to the world” that you now have an ownership interest in that particular piece of real property.

Recording also tracks the chronological chain of title. Anyone who wants to know who owns a piece of real property can check the records of the county recorder for the county where the property is located. Before you purchase real property, you can follow the chain of sales and transfers of the property – from the original grant of the land all the way to the current owner. When title insurance is purchased, the title insurer checks the change of title to determine whether any defects occurred in prior conveyances and transfers – defects may then be pointed out and excluded from coverage. As a purchaser of property, you want to check that every time in the past, when the property was transferred, the grantor had clear title to the property and the previous purchasers obtained clear title. If someone in the past got less than “the whole bundle of sticks” you will not get clear title.

States and localities and the federal government have the right of “eminent domain”, which means they can condemn and force the sale of private property for public purposes. For example, the government could condemn a block of homes because they need the property to build an interstate highway. An individual’s rights are subordinate to the government. When private property is taken by the government, the owner is entitled to receive just compensation for his property.

It depends on the type fo case. Most cases have a “statute of limitations” which means that you only have a certain amount of time in which to file a claim. Your suit must begin before the statute period ends in order to preserve your legal rights.

A body of rights, obligations and remedies that is applied by courts in civil proceedings to provide relief for persons who have suffered harm from the wrongful acts of others.

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