When and Why You Need a Legal Check-Up

Consumer protection

When and Why You Need a Legal Check-Up - squareYou’d never know it from movies and TV, but lawyers do more than just defend and prosecute criminals in court. In fact, of the top seven most common reasons Americans see lawyers, five have to do with events that most of us will encounter in our lifetimes. Protect yourself and your family, and seek legal advice when you find yourself in the following situations:

Common Life Events

Coming of age. Every adult should have a current will. Have one drawn up, even if you think you have too little property to bother. Wills are not just about doling out your money after your death, but  settling your accounts and dealing with your possessions. Don’t stick it in a drawer and forget about it, either. Your will should change as you encounter major life events, like the ones listed below.

Other important estate planning documents you might consider getting include a living will, a durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney.

Marriage or divorce. You don’t need a lawyer to get married, but get one if you want a prenuptial agreement. Each partner should have separate legal representation for this. Likewise, you don’t need a lawyer to get divorced – you can represent yourself in a Pro Se divorce – but if you and your spouse have children or shared assets, you should get an attorney to advise you and, in some cases, to fight for you.

In both cases, you should update your will. (If you get married and don’t change your will, your spouse will automatically get a portion of your estate anyway upon your death. This may not be what you want, however, so make changes to your will with advice from your lawyer.)

Buying or selling a house. Some states require the presence of a real estate attorney at the closing of the sale. If you’re in a state that doesn’t, consider using the help of an attorney. A house is the largest purchase most people make in their lifetime, so it makes sense to get the most help you can. You should also hire a lawyer if the bank forecloses on your house.

Birth or adoption of a child. Choose a guardian for your child should you and your partner both die before your child comes of age, and add this information to your will. If you adopt a child, you should have a lawyer by your side to help you navigate through the paperwork.

Death of a family member. If this family member is named in your will, update it to reflect your new life circumstances. You might want advice from a lawyer if you are named the executor of a will, particularly if the deceased had a lot of property.

Major Financial Events

Unplanned income. Talk to a lawyer if you find yourself the recipient of a large sum of money, whether from an inheritance, a settlement, the lottery, or something similar. A knowledgeable lawyer can minimize your tax burden.

Opening, buying, or selling a company. Some things you can easily handle on your own when selling or starting a business. Others you need a lawyer for, such as filing patents, setting up a corporation with shareholders, or handling litigation. Your attorney can advise you on legal issues on the federal, state, and local level.

Bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy is a huge decision and will generally show up on your credit report for 10 years. Sometimes, though, it’s the only option. Consult a lawyer before filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Major Health Events

Severe illness. If your documents are in order (i.e. living will and medical power of attorney, as stated above), it will be easier on yourself and your family if you ever find yourself unable to make decisions about your own healthcare. In cases where you do not have such documents, and you cannot speak for yourself, the court will appoint someone (usually a close family member). Don’t let the court make such a large decision for you – get your documents in order first.

Disability. If you become disabled, it’s smart to hire an attorney to help you file for Social Security benefits.

An Ounce of Prevention

In criminal law, a lawyer helps get you out of trouble. The rest of the time, a lawyer keeps you from getting in trouble in the first place. Even in cases where you can DIY, it’s smart to get advice from a professional.