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Tips to BEST Put up a Legal Umbrella to Protect You and Your Interests

Posted by attorney John Phillips

There are 5 to 10 things every person can do to protect themselves from trouble down the road. Most people talk to a lawyer when it is simply too late. The attorney is cleaning up messes, which inevitably will take longer (and cost more) than if simple steps were taken to prevent the mess in the first place. Act now. Save money and stress. Resolve to make a few adjustments in 2012.

I. Get a Living Will / Medical Directive

It’s called many things- a living will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions or a medical directive. Each arrives at the same end- to have a document tell doctors and your family your wishes when you cannot.

Any one over 18 should have a living will or medical directive. They are fairly simple. Is it an uncomfortable topic, yes, but it is very important because when it is too late, well, it is too late. If you do not get the Medical Directive taken care of and have an incapacitating head injury or cannot communicate, your family will be spending thousands to have a guardianship to make even the most simple decisions for you.

It is simple- some want their life prolonged by any means necessary; some want medical treatments withheld, allowing for a natural death. Which are you? Who do you trust to enforce this decision? Who can hire a lawyer for you and make simple decisions while you are incapacitated? Those are the basic questions of a living will or medical directive. People simply need to have someone in charge to handle important decisions if you cannot.

Other topics to consider, in advance, are: Who is to make long-term decisions in case of dementia, unconsciousness or some sort of brain injury? What types of life-sustaining treatment do you want or do not want, such as artificial nutrition and hydration, surgical procedures, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and under what conditions. Who is to be the primary contact for extended family and in primary control of information and decision-making? Do you have organ donation preferences? Do you have pain control preferences? Who has control of financial assets and decisions during your lifetime, if you are unable to make those decisions?

We will happily prepare these for you for minimal cost. In January, we will be preparing these, for free, to all at an upcoming event. We always offer these, for free, to past or existing clients. Otherwise, cost is between $200-$500 and will save $1000’s down the road. For more information, email

II. Get a Last Will & Testament

A last will and testament is fundamental, even if your “estate" is small or you have very little.

A Will allows you to direct the distribution of assets, designate a guardian for any minor children, and appoint a representative who will manage and safeguard your property for your beneficiaries. Trusting the state or the laws of simple succession -the default rules for those without a will- to make these decisions is unwise. It can often lead to confusion, additional costs and stress in a time when grief is at its peak.

Again, an ounce of prevention on the front end will prevent much more time, money and stress on the back-end if an estate has to be probated, wishes are unknown and the like.

III. Review your Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Insurance

If you drive, you need uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage or UM / UIM (hereinafter called “UM). I cannot tell you how many times people tell me they have “full coverage," and I look at their policy and there is no UM. Even more often, the “full coverage" they think they have isn’t much over state minimum amounts.

What is UM/UIM? It is insurance that provides coverage for the insured who is hit by a motorist who does not have insurance, by a hit-and-run driver who remains unidentified, or when the person does not carry enough insurance to cover your losses.

For instance, Bob carries a minimum insurance policy of $10,000 and gets into an accident with Sally. It’s Bob’s fault. Sally breaks her leg in the collision and needs a $25,000 surgery. Sally can only recover $10,000 from Bob’s insurance and Bob doesn’t have any money in the bank. Sally has lost time from work, has pain and suffering and is $15,000 in the hole after surgery. UM/UIM makes up the difference.

We recommend carrying UM/UIM insurance of at least triple the household gross income. Anything less than $50,000 in this day and age is risky because of medical costs. A simple back surgery can cost $40,000 - $100,000 or more. I have had cases where a limb was lost or brain injuries occurred or family members died and there was only $10,000 to $25,000 in insurance and life is devastated. UM/UIM is in your control. It is also fairly inexpensive.

We will look at your policy for free and advise you what you need. Often for as little as $25-$50 per month, one can be covered and protect themselves against major losses. Email us a copy of your policy and we will advise you, for free, about whether you carry enough insurance-

IV. Review Your Homeowners / Renters Insurance

Homeowners and Renters Insurance are wise. There is a misconception that these only cover property damage or theft of property. Untrue. They also cover your personal liability if you injure someone or someone is injured on your property.

Generally, dog bites or home defects, injuries caused by roughhousing kids or tree limbs falling on things are also covered losses. Homeowners Insurance is required in most instances of homeownership and can be pricey, but renters insurance is often neglected despite being very cheap.

Policies are often $50-$200 per month. We are happy to advise you, for free on insurance issues-

V. Incorporate Your Business

If you have your own business, are self-employed or operate as an independent contractor, you should strongly consider incorporating that business to put up a wall between you and your business.

Running a sole proprietorship, where there is no formality, is simple, but it exposes you and your family to certain personal financial exposure. Creditors and people you may even accidentally wrong can come after you and your family’s assets- personally. A corporation puts up a barrier and creates a separate stand-alone entity out of the business such that if things turn bad, the business is exposed and not you. It costs less than $500 in most instances.

VI. Best Criminal Advice- Never Volunteer Information

It is hard to give “blanket" advice in the context of what to do when faced with criminal charges. However, in most situations, unless there is clear error or mistake that can be easily cleared up, when facing a criminal investigation or arrest, do not try to talk your way out of trouble. Politely, ask if you are being investigated, charged or arrested for a crime. If so, ask to speak to a lawyer immediately.

You may not be entitled, but that statement should be recorded, often on video or audio recordings and shows you as a prudent person desirous of protecting your rights. Remain silent. Do not consent to search of person or property and contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Obviously, these matters are determined by the nature of the crime, but all too often people try to outsmart the system and make matters worse. Everything you do or say is potential evidence against you.

Call a lawyer immediately. John’s 1-800 number rings to his cell phone night or evenings and he answers e-mail right away. He always finds time to answer quick questions to help people know what to do. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Email me 24/7-

VII. Never Ignore Legal Papers

This is fairly obvious, but do not ignore any legal papers or service of process. The service of legal papers means that someone is involving a Court of law or equity and you are required to respond to, or at least be aware of, a legal matter. The service of legal papers could simply be a subpoena, which is a legal paper requiring you to appear at a designated time and place, usually at a court reporter’s office, the court or an attorney's office to answer questions about a legal matter. Failure to respond can result in criminal and civil trouble, including fines and jail time. If it is a lawsuit, you could be defaulted and lose simply because you did not respond and lose vital rights, money or property. Say nothing, read and respond as requested and save everything,

Call a lawyer immediately. John’s 1-800 number rings to his cell phone night or evenings and he answers e-mail right away. He always finds time to answer quick questions to help people know what to do. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Email John anytime-

VIII. Research your lawyer

Lawyer and medical referrals are billion dollar businesses nationally. Law schools are churning out lawyers at a frightening pace and the competition has created a diluted pool of talent and far more aggression and “cut corners" than ever before. There are over 70 lawyer/doctor referral services in Florida, alone, because billing of PIP insurance benefits is huge business. Clinics are being raided daily and insurance carriers are filing fraud charges regularly.

Lawyer ratings services, such as Martindale, have been around since the 1800’s overseeing lawyers, with lawyers and judges rating other lawyers. There are others, but many have some advertising or referral motive. Look for experience and someone who you can have a personal relationship with. Avoid those that take on too much or fail to return calls. Some are just “ad campaigns" that feature lawyers that say the right things, but haven’t been to a court in years. Credentials matter. Returned calls matter more. Don’t settle for being treated like that.

Questions? Email John 24/7-

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