Whitney Hughes, Director of the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, frequently appears on the “Legal Briefs” segment of Pittsburgh Today Live on KDKA-TV. Following is a transcript from a KDKA appearance.
To Make Life Easier
Do's and Don'ts
Most attorneys have several things they’d like you to do to make their life, and yours a lot easier. We always say a little pre-planning goes a long way and can help you avoid sticky situations in the future.
On the other hand, they also have a list of things that clients do that will make them cringe as soon as they hear it.
Below are 5 Do’s – things most attorneys encourage their clients to do, and 5 Don’ts – bad ideas no matter what the situation. Pay Attention!
Make out a will
It seems we can’t say this enough, and it’s such a simple thing to do. Make a list of your assets and who you want to have them when you pass away. Take this list to an attorney and have them do their job. You will have to pay for this, but it will end up saving you money in the long run. Attorneys know how to create an estate plan for you to both make sure your wishes are carried out and make sure your finances are protected as well.
Draft a Living Will and Power of Attorney
Again – it’s like we say this in our sleep. In the event you are not able to communicate, SOMEONE needs to know what your wishes are with respect to the medical treatment you receive, and who will be making those decisions on your behalf. Folks – the FORMS ARE FREE! Contact the Allegheny County Bar Association and we will give you copies of the forms and the instructions for how to fill them out. Again- IT’S FREE! Why are you NOT doing this?
Write things down
So many times we hear from people who think they had some kind of “contract” or “agreement” for someone to do something. Whether it’s buying a car, promising to pay back money that was borrowed, or doing work on someone’s house- you MUST get these things in writing. You do not want to be in a situation where the contract/agreement is broken and you are left with just a “his word vs. yours” case. Yes, it will take extra time, but again, it’s worth it in the long run and helps clear up potential misunderstandings/conflicts in the future.
Read what you sign
It seems like common sense, but so many people tell us that they signed ”something” and have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what it was. Chances are this was a document that sets out some type of contractual obligation on your part – that means something you have to do or there is going to be trouble. Whether it’s a promise to pay a certain amount by a certain time, a promise to return property in a certain condition, or a promise that the things you are saying on an application are 100% true – you must READ what you’re signing. If you are given the chance to do so and you don’t – you will not be able to say you didn’t know.
Be PRO-active rather than RE-active
You will be much better served by planning things out. Obviously things happen and you can’t plan for everything, but many times you can. If you have had an ongoing divorce/custody battle and you are thinking about moving out of state and buying property there – don’t just do it and then figure you’ll “deal with it later”. Do it now. Speak with an attorney about modifying a custody order or about what happens if you acquire property while you’re still married. If you know a business partner is taking action to harm your business, talk to an attorney about how to protect your assets before it’s too late and the money/assets are gone. It’s like the commercial says, “Don’t Wait! Act Today!”
Don't co-mingle money/assets without a plan
We hear this all the time. Your “friend” needs a car but she doesn’t have the greatest credit. Or she doesn’t have a valid license. Or she’s going through a divorce. For whatever reason, she needs you to help her. It may be that she needs to put the car in your name, or that she needs you to help her with the financing. Please pay attention here…
THIS IS A BAD IDEA! At the very least, if things go as you are hoping they will, at the end of this you will need to have property transferred from one person’s name into another’s. Guess what- YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THAT OR HIRE AN ATTORNEY TO DO IT!
And usually things don’t go well. She will stop paying. Or there will be some horrible accident with a car that is in your name. Or there will be an angry ex who shows up at your door thinking he has the right to half of her new car.
This also applies to roommates or domestic partners as well – set things out in writing, well before the paint is dry in your new house. List who is going to be responsible for what and make sure BOTH names are on any type of lease or deed.
Don't talk to people once you have an attorney helping you or decided you need legal help
So many times we have to tell people that they should not make any statements to anyone because they may come back to haunt you. Whether it’s a statement you’re planning on making to an investigating officer, or a statement to an insurance company representative after an accident. Don’t just start talking. What you’ve heard on TV is true- what you say can and will be used against you. Your mother told you- silence is golden.
Don't keep doing the same thing and expect different results
If you have had your license suspended -don’t continue to drive. You will be picked up and charged again. You cannot then do the same thing again and then expect someone at some point to help you get your license back because you need it to work. If you truly need help restoring a license, talk to an attorney and find out what your options are BEFORE you get in the car. If you are continually having trouble making support payments and falling behind, talk to an attorney about having an order modified BEFORE you get the second, or third contempt notice. Situations like these where you exhibit some pattern of poor judgment/bad behavior will be much more difficult (costly) for an attorney to assist you with.
Don't become a conspiracy theorist
Not everyone is out to get you. You are not always getting “the runaround” because everyone is “in cahoots”. If you can’t find an attorney to take your case it may just be a bad case. People may not want you as an employee, not for a discriminatory reason, but because you are not a good employee. Many times if you are working with a certain agency and several employees there are giving you the same answer it’s because that IS the answer- not because they are blackballing you. Most attorneys will tell you that the strength of any case is what you can prove – not just what you think is happening.
Don't assume there's money coming your way
This is where the media has done the legal profession a distinct disservice. So many times we hear stories in the news about people that have suffered a minor injury and reaped some large reward. Sometimes we hear of some long lost relative passing away only to leave a fourth cousin millions. These are the exception- not the rule. Chances are the insect you found in your cereal will not allow you to sue for six-figures because you were emotionally traumatized. You may get an apology letter and a coupon for a new box of cereal. Aunt Nellie probably will not have millions stashed in a box on the shelf. If you contest the will you may find that you have spent a great deal of money to get your share of a house that is worth less than is owed on it and may be a nightmare to sell. If you talk to an attorney about your situation and they tell you it’s not worth their time – it may not be. Don’t assume that there IS a case there- but they’re just not enough of a fighter. It may just not be worth the fight.
The Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service can help you find an attorney equipped to handle this specific type of case. To speak with an attorney or for more information, call 412-261-5555 or click here.