If you're involved in a personal injury claim, you've probably heard the term "maximum medical improvement" or "MMI." What does that mean?

If you're involved in a personal injury claim following an auto collision, you might have heard your lawyer or the insurance company mention the phrase "maximum medical improvement" (or MMI) regarding your injuries and medical treatment. In the context of an injury-related insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit after a car crash, MMI means the claimant or plaintiff (that’s you) has recovered completely from their injuries, or the claimant or plaintiff's condition has become stable and there is a clear picture of their medical future: What kinds of ongoing medical care will be necessary? What will that care cost? What kinds of physical limitations or disabilities will be permanent? You get the idea.

You should never negotiate a settlement in a personal injury case until you have reached MMI, and at least have a well-defined understanding of the extent of your injuries and the future care you'll require. Under no circumstances should you sign any settlement agreement or sign a release of liability until you've reached this point.

The reason for this is simple. Once you settle, you’re agreeing to release the other driver from any further liability in connection with the underlying car accident. If your injuries turn out to be worse than you first thought, or complications arise, you can’t go back and demand more in the way of compensation. The case is over once you sign a settlement agreement and release, and the other driver is off the hook for any additional or unforeseen damages.

This doesn't mean that you can’t get the insurance claim or lawsuit started before you reach MMI. On the contrary, if you don't hear from them first (and you probably will), you or your lawyer should notify the car insurance company for the other driver (in addition to contacting your own car insurance company), and let them know that you intend to pursue a claim for your injuries.

It’s also important to attend every medical appointment you make, to cooperate with all your health care providers, and to do everything your doctors tell you to do in terms of follow-up care. That’s because as an insurance claimant or a personal injury plaintiff, you have a legal obligation to "mitigate your damages" -- which simply means you must take all reasonable steps to facilitate your recovery, and to avoid anything that might make your condition worse or prolong the need for ongoing treatment.

If you or a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in an auto collision and would like to talk to a lawyer, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment right away.

There are many ways lawyers help small businesses and their owners.

It's easy for small business owners to gloss over hiring a lawyer because other matters, such as marketing and operations, seem more pressing. A lot of legal issues may not be of immediate concern to small business owners who easily justify holding off on paying for these services. However, there are many ways that lawyers can help small businesses.

BUSINESS FORMATION. Some of the most important matters are handled at the beginning of the business. For example, a small business lawyer owner may want to structure his or her business in a way that limits personal liability. Lawyers can help with the process of incorporation so that new business owners are assured that their business starts on strong legal footing.

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE. Even if businesses use a lawyer to help incorporate the business, they may fail to maintain this status. A lawyer can advise clients to have annual shareholder, director, or partner meetings in order to maintain this status. Likewise, certain types of businesses must record minutes and elect officers according to their state’s requirements. Failing to take these steps can have disastrous consequences for the business. If sued, the business stands to have its corporate "veil" pierced and exposes corporate officers to personal liability.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. Before a business really launches, it must take steps to protect its intellectual property, if applicable. This includes the business name, logo, brand name and other aspects of the business that should be protected by copyright.

Businesses may have other intangible assets that should also be protected, including architectural blueprints, devices, creations and software. Certain business processes may also be eligible for patent protection. Lawyers can assist clients with acquiring the necessary copyright, patent, and trademark registrations that are necessary to protect this important aspect of their business.

PRIVACY POLICIES. Lawyers can also help businesses protect their patient, client, or customer information. A privacy policy is required in some states in which a business keeps personally identifiable information. A seemingly innocuous connection such as having a customer’s email address as part of a newsletter list may trigger such a requirement.

NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS. As the business begins to operate, business owners may enter into agreements with other parties. However, business owners will want to ensure that their ideas and trade secrets are protected. Lawyers can help draft nondisclosure agreements so that businesses can expand without having to worry about having their information stolen.

EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS. While many businesses start as a single-person operation, many small businesses owners quickly learn that they need some help for their business to thrive. Lawyers can assist their clients by helping to draft employment agreements, including nondisclosure agreements, employment contracts for a specific duration, and non-compete agreements. The last group mentioned often requires very specific catering to detail. Every state has specific rules regarding the duration of a non-compete agreement, the geographical proximity of such a contract, and the scope of the agreement.

SERVICE AGREEMENTS. As the business grows and becomes more successful, it may take in new clientele. To protect the business, a lawyer can draft agreements between the business and the client. By having the terms written upfront, disagreements and misunderstandings can be avoided.

COLLECTIONS. When customers don't pay their bills, small businesses and their cash flow system can become crippled. A lawyer can help in collecting past-due accounts. Even if a client decides that going to small claims court is faster and cheaper, a lawyer can walk the client through this process and provide advice about how to present evidence and support the case.

If you're a small business owner and need legal advice on any of these topics, give us a call at 253.858.5434. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

You've been appointed Personal Representative of a loved one's estate. What does that mean and what are your duties?

To be appointed the Personal Representative of someone’s estate can often be seen as an overwhelming obligation, especially if you know nothing about what the appointment entails. Yet, in reality it is really not all that difficult and it gives you the opportunity to honor the deceased person by ensuring that their wishes are carried out as reflected in their Will.

SO WHAT IS A PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE? A Personal Representative is an individual whom another has trusted upon their death to oversee their money and property. A PR is usually nominated in the Decedent’s Will and is the person, once appointed by a court, responsible to settle the Decedent's financial affairs and to distribute property in accordance with their Will or if there is no Will, then by right of representation under state law. The Personal Representative also has a duty to make sure that all of this is done in an efficient, economical, and timely manner.

WHAT ARE THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE'S DUTIES As the PR, the following are basic duties required by law:

* Accounting for and collecting the assets of the estate
* Overseeing the estate assets during the probate process
* Disbursing funds for bills or creditors of the estate and taxes
* Distribution to heirs or beneficiaries of the estate

Satisfying these duties and taking into account the statutory requisites and deadlines will help ensure you are managing the estate correctly. In essence, the PR is a manager who ensures that any outstanding and legally required debts are timely paid, who gathers all of the estate assets and distributes them in accordance with a Will, or if there is no Will, in accordance with state law.

COLLECT ALL DOCUMENTS. A Decedent’s Will should convey their wishes regarding how their property should be distributed. However, some property may pass outside the person’s estate and consequently may not be subject to their Will. The first step is to ascertain if the Decedent had other documents that legally control the distribution of their assets, such as specific beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and brokerage accounts. Consider the following documents which may assist estate administration:

* Safety deposit box keys and contract
* Trust documents
* Birth, marriage, death, and divorce documents
* Life insurance
* Bank statements, checks, account statements, stocks and bond certificates
* Retirement, 401k or pension statements
* Mortgage, titles, deeds, and leases
* Vehicle titles or loans
* Business documents, LLC, or corporation documents
* Health insurance policies
* Any unpaid bills or outstanding debts

Any of these documents can affect how the person’s estate is administered or in what way specific assets are to be managed. Of course, if you are not sure you should always obtain legal advice and direction from a lawyer who has experience in this area

KEEP GOOD RECORDS. First, do not take any action until you have been appointed by a court to act as the PR. Simply being named in a Will is not enough; there must be a court order and the Clerk of the Court must issue Letters of Administration (if the Decedent died without a Will) or Letters Testamentary (if the Decedent died with a Will) before you have the authority to take any action.

Once appointed, we recommend you set up an accounting system at the outset and ensure that all records of any financial transactions regarding the estate are presented and recorded. There are several software programs or you can simply use a check book. Whether on a computer or simply by paper and pen, you should maintain a detailed record of any bills you pay or any creditor’s claims that are received by the estate which you are legally obligated to pay. Not all claims are valid, and when in doubt, make sure you have the advice of an experienced lawyer.

In Washington and Idaho, a formal inventory is no longer required to be filed with the court, but any heir can request one. As a result, we recommend you prepare a written inventory of all the estate’s major assets including the liabilities of the estate that will need to be determined during the probate process. A detailed report listing every knife, fork, and spoon is not required, but at the very least some of the major assets should be covered.

Finally, you may be eligible for compensation while carrying out your duties as PR. This determination and the amount of compensation should be established before you begin. If in doubt, seek and obtain a court order with notice to all of the heirs to avoid any problems or misunderstandings later on. Also ensure you keep a detailed record of the time spent working on the administration of the estate.

PROTECT AGAINST LIABILITY. As the PR, you are accountable to the heirs or beneficiaries for any mismanagement of the assets of the estate. Circumstances in which a PR could be found liable include:

* Failing to use reasonable care in handling the assets and property of the estate
* Negligently or deliberately using funds from the estate
* Failure to abide by the Will or perform other deeds that breach your fiduciary duty
* Negligently or deliberately neglecting to perform tasks required of a PR

As the PR, you are responsible for handling the estate until it is completely distributed and the estate is formally closed. The terms of what is or isn’t allowed may be specified by the probate code or by the Decedent’s Will. To ensure you are properly managing the Decedent’s estate and fulfilling your duties as PR, you should always feel free to contact us.

HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR DUTIES AS PR IN WASHINGTON OR IDAHO? We can help navigate you through this process so that estate administration is straightforward, effective, and can be resolved promptly and appropriately. To learn more about the services we offer throughout all of Washington and Idaho, or to schedule a consultation, please call us at 253.858.5434.

Why should I hire an estate planning lawyer versus using forms I can find online?

When considering if you should hire an estate planning lawyer versus using forms you can find online, consider this: Estate planning is serious business. One wrong word or one missing signature can change the entire intent of a Will or Trust. Aside from this, the reasons listed below should be enough to convince you to go out and find and hire a lawyer to advise you and prepare your estate planning documents.

STATE LAWS GOVERN MOST ESTATE PLANNING TECHNIQUES. State laws are very specific about what can and can't be in a Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney; who can and can't serve as a Personal Representative, Trustee, health care surrogate, or attorney-in-fact; who can and can't be a witness to a Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney; and what formalities must be observed when signing a Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney.

BUYER BEWARE. The Latin phrase, “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” definitely applies to estate planning. If you think that you'll save a few dollars by using forms found on the internet or in a do-it-yourself book to prepare your estate planning documents, then your family will be in for a rude awakening when they learn that part or all of your Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney isn't legally valid or won't work as you had anticipated. Thousands of dollars will then be spent by your loved ones working with a lawyer after the fact to fix your mistakes.

WE CAN HELP SORT OUT COMPLEX FAMILY OR FINANCIAL SITUATIONS. Take a look at your life and your assets to see if you fit into one or more of the following categories:

* You're in a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) marriage
* You own one or more businesses
* You own real estate in more than one state
* You have a disabled family member
* You have minor children
* You have children with drug, alcohol, gambling, debt, or untrustworthy spouse problems
* You want to leave some or all of your estate to charity
* You have substantial assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs
* You were recently divorced
* You recently lost a spouse or other family member
* You have a taxable estate for federal and/or state estate tax purposes

If one or more of these situations apply to you, then you'll need the counseling and advice of an experienced estate planning lawyer to draft your estate planning documents. Otherwise, it may be a probate lawyer and your state's department of revenue and/or the IRS that will receive the largest chunk of your estate.

If we can be of service to you, your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Why it helps to hire a lawyer when you've been hurt in an auto collision.

If you've been hurt in an auto collision, hiring a lawyer can help in the following ways:

ABILITY TO ASSESS CLAIMS. At our law firm, we handle personal injury claims on a daily basis. We can assess a claim and inform the potential client whether or not the situation presents a viable claim. Additionally, we can recommend a course of legal action to pursue.

ABILITY TO HANDLE COMMUNICATIONS WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES. When you pay your bill, you have little interaction or issues with insurance companies. However, once you have been involved in a collision, your interests and the car insurance company’s interests may not align. If you have to make an uninsured motorist claim or otherwise seek recourse against your own insurance company, you may be confused about your rights. Likewise, you likely have little experience dealing with other people’s insurance companies. We are experienced with handling communications and negotiations with insurance companies.

We can handle communications with the insurance company and act as the liaison between you and the insurance company. This can help alleviate such stressful communications and remove you from the precarious position of potentially saying something that can harm your claim.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEDICAL NEEDS. After a collision, you may have been physically injured. You may have never had an injury of that nature before. We have seen a number of injuries and may be able to recommend medical providers that may give you more information or that may help your treatment.

Additionally, we can discuss the potential long-term effects that your injury may have on you and your family. This information is important to know when assessing a settlement offer.

LEGAL ADVICE. Having a lawyer means that you will have access to someone who is familiar with the law and who can advise you in ways that can prevent you from adversely affecting your claim. Handling a case on your own may result in you causing irreparable damage to your case. For example, you could miss a filing deadline that can permanently bar your case.

ABILITY TO ESTIMATE SETTLEMENT VALUE. Because we routinely deal with cases like yours, we will have a good idea about what a good settlement figure would be in your case. We can tell you if your idea is unrealistic or if you are failing to take certain expenses into account if you have received a settlement that does not represent the true value of your claim.

NEGOTIATIONS WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES. Once we estimate the potential value of a claim, we can negotiate with the insurance adjuster. Most laypeople are not seasoned negotiators. They may not know the techniques to get the insurance company to pay the maximum amount on a claim.

LEGAL KNOWLEDGE. Not all cases are cut and dry. Some may involve multiple tortfeasors or raise questions of liability. We understand the laws in Washington and Idaho and can use this knowledge to consider strategies in settling your case. This knowledge may also assist us in knowing when a more extensive investigation is necessary. For example, we might need to hire private investigators or accident reconstruction experts.

LEGAL REPRESENTATION. The vast majority of personal injury cases settle well before trial. However, some insurance companies will proceed to trial in order to prevent claims of that nature from arising in the future or to avoid getting a reputation as a company that will resolve every claim through settlement. Therefore, it is important that you hire a lawyer who can provide you with competent legal representation in court.

COMPETE ON LEVEL GROUND. The insurance company that represents the defendant most definitely has a lawyer on retainer to act in the company’s interest. By trying to handle your claim yourself, you will likely be at a disadvantage. Having a lawyer ensures that you have an advocate who is vested in protecting your legal interests.

If you or a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in an auto collision, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can be of service.

Representing Clients in Commercial Real Estate Transactions

We provide services associated with commercial real estate transactions. Commercial real estate law may be complex, in that transactions are impacted by statutory limitations and requirements, contractual provisions, and often local or county restrictions or procedures as well. If you’re not familiar with the intricacies of commercial real estate law, it’s very easy to make a misstep or overlook a requirement. Fortunately, we are experienced in managing the complexities of commercial real estate transactions.

PURCHASE & SALE AGREEMENTS. The purchase and sale agreement forms the foundation of any real estate transaction. A well-constructed agreement that is clear and complete will allow the parties to avoid most questions and conflicts that might arise later in the transaction or after completion, whereas relying on a form agreement or attempting to adapt from a past transaction can leave gaps, create confusion, or even fail to fulfill legal requirements.

Each party to the transaction should be represented by their own lawyer so that the agreement can be fully negotiated and reviewed for the protection of both the buyer and the seller, reviewed on behalf of each party and thoroughly explained.

COMMERICAL REAL ESTATE CONTRACTS. There is a growing tendency toward self-help in the legal arena, particularly when it comes to matters like drafting contracts. Maybe you’ve purchased or sold commercial real estate before, and have a similar contract on hand. Or maybe you’ve found a place to download a template contract, or a service that will allow you to fill in certain details and will spit out a completed contract for a relatively low price. Unless you have extensive knowledge of the intricacies of real estate law, attempting to create a commercial real estate contract on your own is very risky. An experienced lawyer doesn’t just fill in the blanks–they anticipate issues you may not have considered, ask questions and advise you as to provisions that should be included in or removed from the lease and exactly what those provisions mean for you.

PARTNERSHIPS AND OPERATING AGREEMENTS. When you’re entering into a partnership to develop real estate or otherwise operating commercial real estate, it’s imperative that you consider and enter into an agreement with regard to every possible eventuality. But, every venture is different, and it can be difficult to account for all possible outcomes. We have the experience necessary to ensure that your partnership or operating agreement fully protects your interests, and that you understand your rights and obligations under the agreement before your project gets underway.

A commercial real estate transaction can be a minefield. Local, state, and federal laws may come into play, along with complex contractual terms and the need to provide for multiple possible contingencies. Anyone entering into a commercial transaction, whether that transaction involves the sale of real estate, the purchase of foreclosure properties, the transfer of a real estate portfolio, or some other aspect, should have an experienced lawyer on the team.

Don’t take chances with something as costly and significant as a commercial real estate transaction. We are here to offer you support and expertise, to ensure that your transaction proceeds as smoothly as possible, and that your interests are protected. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can work together to make your transaction a success!

Preparing an Estate Inventory and Appraisement

If you've been appointed Personal Representative of an estate, you will need to thoroughly understand the scope of the decedent’s assets and debts so that you can prepare for the administration of the estate and the distribution of assets. Afterwards, you will need to estimate the value of each asset and determine the way in which the asset is owned, which will affect the process of transferring it. Even if you have a general sense of the assets involved in an estate, you should take the time to investigate whether there may be additional assets of which you are unaware. You can look in safe deposit boxes or likely hiding places in the decedent’s home, consult their friends or family members, and review key documents in the decedent’s financial papers, such as bank statements, tax returns, and investment records.

Probate requires preparing a formal inventory. You should also maintain a worksheet that lists assets for your own reference, even assets that do not need to go through probate.

REAL ESTATE, BANK ACCOUNTS, AND VEHICLES. With regard to real estate owned by the decedent, you will want to provide the address and a description of the property. For bank accounts, you will want to list the relevant bank holding the account, as well as the account number and the amount in the account at the time of the decedent’s death. If the decedent owned any vehicles, including not only cars but also boats and other vehicles, you should list the make, model, and year of the vehicle as well as its identification number.

STOCKS AND BONDS. Many people leave substantial amounts of securities to their loved ones. The inventory should include the number of shares of each type of stock, the name of the corporation, and the name of the exchange on which the stock is traded. Meanwhile, you should note the total gross amount of a bond, the name of the entity that issued it, the interest rate on the bond, and its maturity date.

LIFE INSURANCE AND RETIREMENT PLANS. For life insurance policies, you will want to list the company providing the policy, the policy number, the policyholder’s name, the type of coverage provided, and the primary and any alternate beneficiaries. You should record the amount in any retirement plan, as well as the account number and the company responsible for managing the account.

WAGES AND BUSINESS INTERESTS. You should estimate any unpaid wages, commissions, and other benefits of employment that the decedent may have been owed from their employer. If they owned a business, you will want to note the name of the business and the type of form that it took, such as a partnership, LLC, corporation, or sole proprietorship. For businesses operated with others, you will want to find more information about the ownership structure. If the decedent invested in a limited partnership, you should get a statement from the partnership on the value of the decedent’s investment.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. A decedent may have had intangible assets, such as a patent on an invention or a copyright on a book. You should make note of any patents, copyright registrations, or contracts with businesses regarding intellectual property.

DEBTS AND JUDGMENTS. If the decedent loaned money to someone else or won a judgment in court, their estate has the right to collect repayment on the loan or the proceeds of the judgment. You should keep track of any promissory notes or court documents indicating a verdict or settlement in the decedent’s favor.

If you're in charge of administering a loved one's estate and need help preparing the estate inventory, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help

Estate Planning For Families with Young Children

When you're busy raising young children, estate planning is probably not at the top of your priority list. But all families, especially those with young children, should have a basic estate plan in place. If something unfortunate were to happen, your family would be grateful that you took the time to put a plan together. Here are some things to keep in mind as you create an estate plan for your family:

1. CHOOSE GUARDIANS FOR YOUR CHILDREN. As a parent of a young child or children, the number one reason why you need an estate plan—primarily a Will—is to name who will take care of your kids if both you and the other parent pass away. If you don’t, the court will appoint a guardian. This person is usually a family member (or other capable friend), but which person? Instead of leaving it to the court to decide among family members, make the decision yourself.

If you are a single parent, it is even more important to have these decisions made as soon as possible and documented in a Will.

Many parents disagree about who they would like to raise their child. Maybe one parent thinks a grandparent would be perfect and the other parent disagrees. Or you might think of a perfect person, but they aren't ready for the responsibility. It’s better to figure all of that out now than to leave such an important decision up to a stranger.

Once you narrow down the choices, make sure to ask the potential guardian if they would be willing to take on the role.

2. MAKE YOUR WISHES KNOWN WITH A WILL AND A "LIVING WILL." A Will does more than appoint guardians for minor or dependent children. A Will also outlines exactly how you’d like to distribute your property. If you don’t have a Will, state law will decide, and it might not be to your liking.

In some states, property is split equally between a spouse and the children. If you have two children, your spouse would only receive one-third of the estate. They might need more than that to take care of everything. In this case, the portions left to the children would be difficult to access until they reached the age of majority.

Another basic estate planning document everyone needs is a "Living Will." This document lets you state your wishes for end-of-life medical care if you become incapacitated. This covers things like if you are in a coma, pain management, breathing resuscitation, and organ donation. Instead of leaving the responsibility of such a decision to a grieving loved one, specify your wishes now.

3. CONSIDER WHO WILL MANAGE YOUR CHILDREN'S FINANCES. When naming a guardian for your children, you’ll also want to consider who will manage the money and property for the children until they are reach the age of majority. This person can be the same person as the guardian, but it doesn’t have to be. If your sister is wonderful with your kids, but stinks at money management, that’s OK! You can appoint her as the guardian and appoint someone else as the trustee of your children’s money. If you don’t appoint a financial trustee, the courts will appoint a person on your behalf.

You might also want to consider establishing a trust to manage your children’s inheritance more effectively. This can reduce costs when settling an estate, and it’s easier to specify exactly how you’d like your assets distributed for your children.

4. CHOOSE A PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR YOUR ESTATE. You’ll also want to specify who will perform the mechanics of winding down your estate. This person, called a Personal Representative, will help distribute the property according to your Will, close down bank accounts, pay down debts, sell property if needed and so on. Once again, if you don’t appoint this person, the courts will decide for you.

5. NAME THE RIGHT BENEFICIARIES. Beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts take precedence over what’s listed in a Will. So if you’d like your assets to go to your spouse or to your children, you’ll want to make sure you name the right beneficiaries.

Know that you shouldn’t list your minor children directly as contingent beneficiaries as they can’t own property directly until the age of majority. You’ll want to the name the trust that will hold the assets for them until they’re older.

6. APPOINT SOMEONE TO MAKE FINANCIAL AND HEALTH DECISIONS IF YOU CAN'T. Estate planning isn’t just thinking about what to do when you die. It’s also important to have documents in place that help loved ones know what to do if you become unable to make your decisions yourself. A durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney appoint a person to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. These duties including doing simple things like paying your bills to making sure your wishes are carried out according to your Living Will if necessary.

7. GET LIFE INSURANCE. One crucial part of protecting your family after you’re gone is to make sure that they will have enough money to pay the bills after you’re gone. If you have dependent children, you need life insurance. Term life insurance is often inexpensive for young parents. You’ll want enough to cover any debts and funeral costs. Also consider how much money is needed for a transition period, living expenses, and future large costs like college.

8. REVIEW AND UPDATE YOUR ESTATE PLAN PERIODICALLY. Just as your family changes over time, so should your estate plan. Federal and state laws might change. You might expand your family, get divorced, get married, or a guardian or executor might pass away. Check in on your Will every few years to make sure it still reflects your wishes.

If you have estate planning questions, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

When should you hire a lawyer to represent you in your personal injury claim?

If you've been in an auto collision, you may need to hire a lawyer to represent you because you suffered serious injuries, or the legal rules implicated by your personal injury claim are highly complex. Sometimes, the insurance company refuses to settle in good faith. If any of the following apply to you, you should contact an experienced lawyer right away.

(1) YOU SUFFERED LONG-TERM OR PERMANENT INJURIES. If you sustained serious injuries in a collision that will require long-term care or left you with permanent disabilities, you should hire a lawyer immediately. An experienced lawyer can calculate how much your injuries are worth. Moreover, figuring out how your injuries will impact your earning capacity over time can be difficult and generally requires expert assistance. To get the most out of your personal injury claim or lawsuit, you need a lawyer who can pursue all available forms of compensation for your injuries and other losses.

(2) YOU SUFFERED SEVERE INJURIES. The amount of compensation you ultimately receive for your injuries largely depends on how severe your injuries are. Insurance companies measure the severity of your injuries by the type of injuries you sustained, the amount of your medical bills you incurred, and the length of your recovery time. As the amount of your potential compensation increases, the more likely you are to reach the limits of the at-fault party’s insurance policy. If this is the case, the insurance company may only be able to pay you a fraction of what you deserve. In these types of cases, you should hire a lawyer to make sure you receive the total amount of compensation to which you are entitled.

(3) THERE ARE MULTIPLE PARTIES INVOLVED OR LIABILITY IS NOT CLEAR. If you were involved in a collision where multiple parties may be liable for your injuries, you should contact a lawyer. When multiple drivers are involved in a collision, dealing with insurance companies can be very complicated. Because several people may have been injured, there may not be as much settlement money to go around. You could also be the subject of insurance claims from the other parties, ultimately having your settlement offer decreased or reduced to nothing because of your proportional fault for the accident.

You should always contact a lawyer if you have been injured in a collision and may be partially at-fault for the crash. A lawyer can help protect you against counterclaims and cross-claims by the other parties who were involved in the accident.

(4) THE INSURANCE COMPANY REFUSES TO PAY OR ENGAGES IN BAD FAITH TACTICS. Sometimes, insurance companies simply refuse to make a fair settlement offer or refuse to make any offer at all. If you are unable to secure a fair settlement offer from the at-fault party’s insurance company on your own, or negotiations with the insurance company have broken down, you should contact a lawyer right away.

There is also a chance that the insurance company is engaged in bad faith insurance tactics. In that case, you will need assistance from a lawyer who has experience litigating bad faith insurance claims.

If any of these situations apply to you or a member of your family, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can help.

Representing Clients in the Restaurant, Bar, and Hospitality Industries

We represent numerous restaurants and bars and have been deeply involved in the challenges of the restaurant, liquor, and hospitality industries from a business and legal perspective. The owners of restaurants, bars, clubs, and catering companies have unique challenges. Many are family-owned businesses that have the complexity of a much larger enterprise. Many are owned by restaurant-savvy individuals who are not experienced in the legal and regulatory world. And with ever-shrinking margins, many simply cannot afford expensive lawyers to help them.

If you are contemplating starting or buying a business in the bar or restaurant industry, or if you are an established business who just wants a lawyer to advise you regarding your legal issues, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Duties of the Personal Representative (Executor) of an Estate

If you've been named Personal Representative of someone's estate (formerly called the Executor or Executrix), your duties will include:

* LOCATING AND SAFEGUARDING THE PROBATE ASSETS. These assets are property that have no other way of passing to a living individual. Life insurance and certain retirement accounts with beneficiary designations pass directly to beneficiaries by operation of law, so they would not be included in the probate estate.

* OBTAINING DATE OF DEATH VALUES FOR THE ESTATE'S ASSETS. This might include ordering appraisals of things like real estate and business interests.

* OBTAINING DATE OF DEATH VALUES FOR NONPROBATE ASSETS. If it appears that the estate will owe estate taxes, values for these assets must be set as well. As of 2019, only gross estates with values of more than $11.4 million are subject to federal estate taxes and only those with gross values of more than $2,193 million are subject to Washington State inheritance tax. The gross taxable estate is the total value of all the decedent owns, both probate assets and property that passes directly to a living beneficiary.

* IDENTIFYING CREDITORS AND PAYING DEBTS. This typically includes running a newspaper notice to alert all companies and individuals to whom the decedent might owe money that a probate is pending and they can then make claims to the estate for what they're owed. The Personal Representative should also send written notices directly to all creditors they can identify and locate.

* PREPARING AND FILING TAX RETURNS. This will include the decedent's final personal income tax returns for the last year of their life, if applicable. If the estate is significantly large, the PR will also prepare the estate tax returns.

* PAYING THE ONGOING EXPENSES OF ADMINISTERING THE ESTATE. The decedent's debts, taxes, and the operating expenses of the estate must be paid before probate closes. This might require that your personal representative sell or liquidate assets to raise the cash.

* DISTRIBUTE THE BALANCE OF THE ESTATE TO THE BENEFICIARIES. This typically requires preparing an inventory and an accounting and obtaining receipts to the be filed with the court.

As you can see, serving as a Personal Representative can be a big responsibility and is often a time-consuming burden. If you've been named as PR of someone's estate and have questions or need legal representation, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today.

Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Care Powers of Attorney for Your Kids Away at College

College is a time of great change for both parents and their kids. Kids are dealing with being on their own for the first time and parents may be on their own for the first time in a long while now that the kids are off to school.

Because people are so intimately involved with raising their children, it’s tempting to see them as just that—children. But in the eyes of the law, the apron strings get cut the minute they turn 18. Once they cross that threshold into adulthood, they are no longer under your agency when it comes to matters both big and small, particularly issues related to emergency health care. That’s why an open understanding with your child is key. You’ve got to communicate to them why you and they need to sign certain key documents together

There are three forms that parents and college students need to fill out. (Don’t worry if your student is already on campus and you haven’t filled these out yet. Just put it on your to-do list and get it done as soon as you can.)

(1) HIPAA AUTHORIZATION. Ever tried to get an update about a loved one in the hospital over the phone when there’s been a sudden medical issue? If so, you know it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get the info you need if you’re not authorized. That’s because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

What you need to cut through the red tape is a HIPAA Authorization. This document lets a patient (your college student) designate certain family members, friends, and others that they want to be apprised of their medical info during treatment. Obviously, your student should fill this out before they need it during a medical emergency. The HIPAA Authorization becomes extremely important if your child is living away at school and gets involved in an accident or has a medical emergency, because you’re not getting any info over the phone even though you’re their parent—unless you fill out this form.

(2) HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY. A health care power of attorney is a legal document that names you as the parent as an “agent” for your college student. What this means is that if your child becomes medically incapacitated in some way, you have the ability to make informed medical decisions on their behalf. This document can name you as the sole point of contact and decision-maker as you decide the best course of action with the doctors.

(3) DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY. A medical power of attorney is strictly for health care choices should your son or daughter become incapacitated. A general durable power of attorney, however, covers financial decisions. This document allows a person (in this case, your college student) to give authority to another person (the parents) to make financial and legal decisions and to make financial transactions on their behalf. Those transactions can include managing bank accounts, paying bills, filing taxes, applying for government benefits and dealing with a landlord.

If you have questions about preparing legal documents for your adult children who are off to school, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can help.

All Clients Want a "Good Lawyer" and All Lawyers Want "Good Clients"

If you've been hurt in an auto collision, you want to make sure you end up with a "good" lawyer for you and your case. And that expectation can work both ways. Every lawyer wants a "good client." But what is a "good client," and how much of being a "good client" is actually within the client's control?

In a nutshell, a good client does whatever is necessary in order to ensure that the case goes as smoothly as possible, and that the best outcome (a fair personal injury settlement, or a win in court) can be reached. That means:

1. RESPOND TO YOUR LAWYER. Clients get pretty upset when their lawyer doesn’t return phone calls. Lawyers feel the same way. If you don’t return your lawyer’s phone calls, emails, or letters promptly, you're not just wasting your lawyer's time, you could also be hurting your case.

2. ATTEND ALL OF YOUR MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS. Your health care provider will note any appointment that you miss, and, if you miss too many, the insurance adjuster (or the jury) is going to assume that you must not have been hurt as badly as you claim. This will cost you and your lawyer money. Be sure to keep all of your appointments.

3. COOPERATE IN THE DISCOVERY PROCESS. If you end up filing a lawsuit, the defendant will send your lawyer written questions called interrogatories, as well as document requests. Your lawyer will send these on to you. You will need to promptly answer the interrogatories and provide your lawyer with the requested documents, or your case could be dismissed. Help your lawyer, and help yourself. Respond to all discovery as quickly as you can.

Practice for your deposition. Your deposition is a very important step in your case. Your lawyer is there to help you prepare, to offer guidance during the proceedings, and even step in if the other side is taking a questionable approach. Follow your lawyer's advice and recommendations.

4. DON'T (ALWAYS) BLAME YOUR LAWYER. Clients who are annoyed that their case isn’t going well will often turn on their lawyer and say that it must be the lawyer’s fault.

Some things are indeed a lawyer’s fault, and any client needs to be attuned to that. But some problems that arise in personal injury cases are the client’s fault, and other obstacles are no one’s fault. Some personal injury cases just aren’t that strong (meaning there's little or no chance of reaching a favorable outcome). Don’t blame the messenger if your lawyer brings bad news. It's not going to help your case.

We have a long history of representing injured people and their survivors. If you, a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in an account collision, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

Hiring a Lawyer for Your Business Startup

As a small business owner there can be an overwhelming amount of legalities, regulations, and compliance standards that can get in your way of doing business. One of the best things you can do to mitigate any legal problems is hire a lawyer for a business startup. That’s why we desire to be your partner in understanding and breaking down these barriers, so you can focus on the success of your business.

Business law encompasses all the laws that dictate how you form and run your business. This includes laws that govern how you start or buy a business, how you manage a business, and how you exit a business, whether you close or sell. Because business laws establish all the rules a business should follow, it is important that you are informed and in compliance with new and existing laws on a state and federal level, as well as administrative regulations. When you have a lawyer for a business startup, you can be sure that your business is set up the right way.

We offer a complete business boutique experience beginning with a consultation that concerns the start-up and formation of a business through operations, maintenance, and compliance. We continue to support our clients as processes arise such as the growth and sale of the business.

If you're a small business owner and have questions about how we can be of service, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Tips for Avoiding Family Fights During Administration of a Loved One's Estate

When you've been named Personal Representative of a loved one's estate, you can’t control family fights over inheritance, or insulate yourself from potential blowback from unhappy family members. What you can do is communicate early and often. Here are some tips:

TELL EVERYONE THE RULES. Let family members know that there are going to be some decisions that require collaboration. They will have the opportunity to provide input at that time. But there are also going to be decisions that you as Personal Representative will have to make on your own, and you’ll keep them informed of those, too.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you know from the outset that family dynamics could complicate probate, consider bringing in an objective third party to help mediate. It doesn’t have to be a lawyer, just someone who can remain neutral and help resolve family fights over inheritance with patience and detachment.

DON'T ALLOW THE PROCESS TO CONSUME YOU. Probably the most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself through this difficult and emotional process. Set parameters around the time that you'll focus on probate issues, and then respect those boundaries so you can also keep up with the rest of your life.

At the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. Remember, the most valuable part of any inheritance is the family bond that a beloved parent leaves behind.

If you're experiencing family disputes over an estate or if you have questions about the probate process in general, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can be of service. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.