Social media can be an oversharer's dream, but they're a personal injury lawyer's nightmare.

Social media can be an oversharer’s dream, but they're a personal injury lawyer's nightmare. For personal injury claimants, one ill-advised status update can have a negative impact on their settlement or verdict.

Everything that’s posted on social media is considered public, and even the most well meaning remarks about a personal injury claim could potentially be used against a claimant by the defense. For this reason, we’ve assembled the following social media guidelines for clients currently involved in a personal injury claim.

(1) DO NOT DISCUSS YOUR CASE ONLINE. First off—regardless of what you plan on posting—it’s typically a good idea to ensure your personal social media accounts are set to private. This prevents outside parties from being able to easily comb through everything you publish online. However, no matter what your privacy settings, you should refrain from posting anything relating to your personal injury case. This includes meetings, doctor’s visits, and any interactions with your insurance company. Anything relating to your case is best kept off social media.

(2) DON'T POST UPDATES ON YOUR INJURIES, TREATMENTS, OR OVERALL PHYSICAL CONDITION. Despite often being the exact type of update you’d like to share with friends, publishing updates about your injuries and treatment can potentially damage your case. Updates can be taken out of context and occasionally viewed in a way that diminishes your potential settlement. As a result, publicly discussing any facet of your treatments isn’t worth the risk.

(3) DO NOT POST ANYTHING RELATING TO PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES (INCLUDING TRAVEL) WHILE YOUR CASE IS ONGOING. This should be a no brainer, but if you’re currently engaged in a claim or litigation surrounding a personal injury, posting pictures of a recent ski trip, camping trip, hike, or other strenuous activity can be hugely damaging to your case. Even if you’re dealing with chronic pain or still suffering from serious injuries, pictures of you engaging in seemingly “healthy” activities can induce skepticism and jeopardize your case.

(4) IF IN DOUBT, DON'T POST ANYTHING. You might be sensing a pattern here, but if you have the slightest inclination that a post could be damaging to your case, chances are you’re right. Erring on the side of caution is a good rule of thumb, and you’re not ever going to do harm to your case by simply staying silent online.

(5) ADVISE FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS TO EXERCISE GOOD JUDGMENT WITH THEIR POSTS. Unfortunately, not only are you responsible for your own posts, but you’re also responsible for the posts of any friends or family members who might tag you on their own social media accounts. Because of this, it’s prudent to caution them to refrain from tagging you in any posts that may have a negative impact on your case.

In some instances, if a confidential settlement is reached, it can be necessary to counsel family to adhere to the agreement and refrain from posting anything that could be considered in violation of your settlement. For a real-life example, look no further than the 2014 headline-grabbing case in Florida in which a man’s daughter cost him an $80,000 settlement after she publicly gloated on Facebook.

When it comes down to it, one careless update can have massive unintended consequences. Exercise good judgment, think before you share, and make sure you communicate the importance of wise social media usage to those around you. There’s no reason to let social media get in the way of resolving your personal injury claim.

If you've been injured in an auto collision or other incident and have questions, give us call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

It's easy for nonprofits to go astray in their formation, organization, and operation - getting the advice of an experienced lawyer helps!

Nonprofit organizations often bypass much-needed legal services because they're operating on a limited budget. But it's often cheaper to avoid problems than to fix them. While many tools are available to help form a nonprofit without a lawyer, every nonprofit is unique. It's all too easy to go astray, for example by:

(1) Forming the wrong type of business. You'll need to choose between forming a nonprofit corporation or some other association or legal entity. Each has advantages and disadvantages. If you form one that turns out not to fit your organization’s activities, you'll have to spend time and money fixing this. A brief consultation with a lawyer can help determine which to choose.

(2) Failing to follow applicable laws. Nonprofit organizations must abide by both state and federal laws, the applicable portions of which can be difficult to find, combine, and interpret. For example, nonprofits are required to be transparent with how they spend their funds, and implement strict financial record-keeping systems. A lawyer who understands the complexities can guide you.

(3) Not including proper language in internal documents. Nonprofit corporations must adopt bylaws and a conflict of interest policy, using specific language, in order to receive tax exemption from the IRS and have their articles of incorporation accepted by the state where they do business.

(4) Using the wrong type of contract or policies. Let's say the board of your nonprofit decides to require each member to spend ten hours a month fundraising. If that’s not stated in the board manual, there’s no way to hold board members to that promise. While sample policies for such purposes can be found online, a lawyer is in the best position to draft or review such a policy and make sure it complies with state law.

(5) Improper filings. A lot needs to be filed when you form a nonprofit organization; for example, with the state where your nonprofit will be operating, as well as with the IRS, for tax exemption. Mistakes can extend the time it takes to form your nonprofit and get it operational.

(6) Not considering issues with nonprofit’s name and logo. You can start the research process as to whether another nonprofit is already using your chosen name or logo on your own. But if you discover that another nonprofit is using a similar name or logo, you'll probably want a lawyer to analyze whether you truly face trademark issues, so as to prevent a legal showdown and expensive rebranding.

We've been representing nonprofit organizations and churches for 23 years. If we can be of service to your organization, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today.

We have been representing and advising Trustees of Revocable Living Trusts since 1996.

Many people use Revocable Living Trusts as part of their estate plan because they can save time and money on the administrative end. While this is certainly true as a general rule, trust administration is not without its pitfalls.

Since 1996, we have helped trustees with trust administration from start to finish, and can provide as much – or as little – assistance as is required by the trustee. If you are a trustee administering a trust, you may be asking yourself some of the following questions:

* Who should I notify about the trust administration?
* Should I pay expenses with trust funds?
* How do I get a tax ID number for the trust and establish a bank account?
* How do I prepare an inventory of trust assets?
* Can I give items away?
* What should I do if someone else has possession of trust property?
* Do I need to account to beneficiaries for the income, expenses, gains, and losses incurred by the trust?
* To whom should distributions be made?
* When should distributions be made?
* How do I go about closing a trust?
* What steps can I take to ensure I will have no more liability after the trust is closed?

These are just a few of the many questions that are likely to arise in the typical trust administration context. So, although trust administration is normally done without court supervision, the advice of a lawyer who is experienced in trust and estate administration is strongly recommended.

Trustees owe fiduciary duties to trust beneficiaries, and ignorance of the law is no excuse for trustee misconduct or mismanagement. Because most trusts provide for payment of attorney fees directly from trust assets, there is really no reason for a trustee to attempt to “go it alone” when attempting to navigate the complex requirements of trust administration.

If you are a trustee and are looking for guidance with a trust administration matter, give us a call today at 253.858.5434 to schedule an initial consultation. We represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Estate Planning Considerations When Making Gifts to Children and Grandchildren

Many of our clients ask questions about how to make gifts to children and grandchildren, either during life or after death. There are lots of ways to do this, and a few ways NOT to do it, too. Here's the main thing to avoid: naming minor children directly as beneficiaries of retirement accounts, annuities, life insurance, or payable on death accounts. Naming a minor child directly means that unless the gift is worth less than $5,000, a guardian must be appointed by a court before that asset can be transferred to the child. A guardian is responsible for managing that asset until a child turns 18, and can also come with restrictive financial options and the requirement of annual reporting to the court. For both of these reasons, and also because it terminates at age 18, a guardianship is the least desirable way to leave money to young children. Here are some better ways to do it:

MAKE A CUSTODIAL GIFT. If you want to name a child as a beneficiary for an annuity or any account with a beneficiary designation, don't name that child directly. Instead, name that child's parent as custodian for that child to age 21, under your state's Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA): "Jane Doe, as custodian for Michelle Doe, to age 21, under the Washington Uniform Transfers to Minors Act." If you name a custodian for the minor, no guardian needs to be appointed by the court. You can choose any age between 18 and 21 for the custodianship to terminate for gifts made during your lifetime.

You can also leave money to minor children in a Will in this way, avoiding any need for a guardian or the establishment of a trust. The custodian can accept the money on behalf of the minor and open up a custodial account at a bank or brokerage company.

MAKE DIRECT PAYMENTS FOR MEDICAL OR EDUCATIONAL EXPENSES. Many people know about the $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion, which allows you to give each child or grandchild an annual gift of $14,000 free of gift tax. These annual gifts don't need to be reported on a gift tax return and do not use up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption, which is currently $11.4 million per person. But fewer people know about the "ed-med" exclusion, which says that direct payments to medical providers and educational institutions for tuition are also free of gift tax, as long as these payments are made directly to the provider or the school, and not given to a child or grandchild first. Tuition can be paid for primary, secondary, preparatory school, as well as colleges and universities.

CONTRIBUTE TO A 529 PLAN. If you would like to leave money for a child or grandchild to be used for college or graduate school, making a contribution to an existing 529 College Savings Account, or opening one up for a child or grandchild, is a great way to do this. A 529 plan, named for the section of the Internal Revenue Code that governs it, is a plan operated by a state or educational institution and provides tax advantages and incentives to make it easier for families to save for college. Contributions to 529 plans are not tax-deductible, but earnings from these plans are not subject to federal income tax when the money is withdrawn as long as it is used for qualified education-related expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, and room and board. That means that the money grows on a tax-free basis and is not taxed upon withdrawal either. Even better, if the child doesn't use up the entire account, the money can be used for other related family members (such as siblings) for their qualified educational expenses as well. Each state has one 529 Plan available (most run by large financial institutions), but there's no requirement that you participate in your state's plan. Some states provide a tax incentive for state residents to use their in-state plan.

SET UP TRUSTS FOR YOUR CHILDREN OR GRANDCHILDREN. UTMA accounts must terminate by age 21 or 25 at the latest. College savings plans are for college expenses. But what if you want to provide money for a wider set of uses, such as buying a house, traveling, or getting married? And what if you want to make sure that the money you are giving to your children or grandchildren is managed for them by an adult until they are 30 or 40 years old? For more flexibility, you will need to create trusts for children or grandchildren. A custom-drafted trust can be tailored for your specific objectives and can last as long as you want it to last. Such trusts can be part of your own estate plan, distributing assets to children or grandchildren upon your death, or they can be created as irrevocable gift trusts during your lifetime, and funded with gifts of cash or others assets, financed through the purchase of life insurance, funded with gift tax-free annual gifts, or even created by making a charitable gift and naming a child or grandchild as the income beneficiary during that trust's terms.

FUNDING A ROTH IRA. Most people know they can put money annually into a Roth IRA, but few are aware that a Roth IRA is also available to minors. In fact, both traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are available to children, as long as they have a paying job. Contributing to a child's retirement account can be an amazing gift because money invested early will have many years to grow tax-free before it needs to be withdrawn and because young adults are often not able to make retirement contributions when such contributions can be most beneficial (early) since that's also when they are starting both their careers and their families. If your child or grandchild is working weekends and summers and has income, a gift to them equal to their wages up to their annual contribution limit can be put into a Roth IRA in their name. That amount will grow and compound, tax-free, for decades.

Contributions to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible, but earnings are subject to tax upon liquidation of the account. Contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t tax-deductible, but earnings aren’t subject to tax upon liquidation. The Roth IRA is clearly the better choice for most children. Since children typically don’t earn enough to pay income tax, they don’t benefit from the tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. But they will benefit enormously from not having to pay tax on earnings when they liquidate their Roth IRA after they reach the age of 59 1/2.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE GENERATION SKIPPING TRANSFER TAX. Any gifts to grandchildren are also potentially subject to the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax (GST). This is a tax that is equal to the maximum estate tax rate (40%) and falls on gifts that are made to anyone one or more generations below the donor. There is a GST exemption equal to the federal estate tax exemption, currently $11.4 million per person, so most gifts made to grandchildren will be exempt for most people. However, the very wealthy need to work with an experienced estate planner before making any large gifts, either outright or in trust, to maximize the use of their GST exemptions and to avoid any inadvertent triggering of such a tax.

If you or anyone you know is interested in making gifts to children or grandchildren, feel free to get in touch with our office in Gig Harbor at 253.858.5434.

Questions to Ask When Deciding to Hire a Lawyer for Your Personal Injury Claim

"When should I hire a personal injury lawyer?" is a question many people ask. After you have been injured in an accident, such as a car crash, bike or motorcycle wreck, or any other type of mishap, you may wonder if or when you should consider hiring a lawyer. Your decision should be informed by the answers to several questions.

HOW SERIOUS IS YOUR INJURY? Not all injuries will require the use of a lawyer. If your injury is minor and you have the time to work on the legal and insurance claims on your own, it is possible for you to settle your own claim. It is important, however, that you consider seeking help from a lawyer for any injury that has pain that lasts for longer than a few days and that requires medical care. If your injury necessitated hospitalization, surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, chiropractic work, cosmetic surgery, or orthopedics, you likely need to have your case evaluated by a lawyer. When claims involve substantial past and future medical expenses, their value can be significantly increased when you have good legal representation.

WAS YOUR INJURY CAUSED BY SOMEONE ELSE? If you believe that your injury was caused by someone else’s negligence or that the death of your loved one resulted from another’s actions, it is very important to consult with a lawyer. Proving fault involves applying certain standards to the evidence. In order to strengthen your claim, it is important to consult a lawyer as soon as possible so that the important evidence can be gathered and preserved.

IS AN INSURANCE COMPANY CONTACTING YOU? Insurance companies employ adjusters and claims representatives in order to reduce their losses. They do so by minimizing the amounts that the companies pay out in injury claims. If you are contacted by an insurance company representative who asks you for recorded statements, medical records, your story, releases, and other information, you should tell them that you are contacting a lawyer. Insurance adjusters will often try to get you to make statements that are ultimately harmful to your claim, and you should never sign releases without a lawyer’s review. The releases insurance companies frequently ask for are blanket authorizations that allow them to dig through your entire medical history. The reason they want to do this is so they can blame your injury on a pre-existing incident. This can result in your claim’s value being substantially reduced.

It is also important for you to understand that the reason adjusters contact you is because their company believes that you likely have a valid claim. They want to get the information that they need in order to help them with their goal of either minimizing your payout or denying it all together. This is true even when you are dealing with your own insurance company in a case involving an uninsured motorist. Don’t fall for their tricks and instead, consult with a lawyer.

IS THE INSURANCE COMPANY REFUSING TO PAY OR OFFERING AN UNREASONABLY LOW AMOUNT? Insurance companies will sometimes use dirty tactics to try to avoid paying the claims of injured people. These tactics may include unreasonable delays in your claims process, refusing to pay you even though liability is not in dispute, or making unreasonably low offers despite your extensive injuries. A lawyer understands these tactics. Insurance companies that engage in bad-faith negotiations may be liable to you for doing so. A lawyer may put an end to such tactics and seek the recovery that you should rightfully receive.

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THE LAW AND THE SETTLEMENT PROCESS? If you handle your own case, you will need to have a good understanding of the legal underpinnings of your claim as well as the settlement process. Receiving a fair amount in the settlement may involve savvy negotiation skills combined with knowledge of the law. Some injury cases are highly complex. For example, if you were injured by a defective product or by what you believe was medical negligence, you may need the help of experts in order to uncover the evidence that you will need to prove your claim. Auto collisions may require accident reconstruction, witness interviews, and a solid understanding of the mechanics of your injury. You’ll also need to be able to decipher your own medical records so that you can appropriately value your claim.

If you are not comfortable with doing these things, consulting with a lawyer is a good idea. A lawyer who is experienced with personal injury cases may be better-equipped to value your claim. Your case’s worth will include all of your economic and noneconomic losses. Insurance companies often do not volunteer offers that include money for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and others, on their own. A lawyer may be able to negotiate the recovery for both your economic losses as well as your more intangible ones.

IS THE INSURANCE COMPANY DISPUTING THE LIABILITY OF ITS INSURED? Even when a collision is clearly the fault of the other party, an insurance company may try to dispute liability. Often, a company will do this to try to make people believe that they don’t have valid claims or that their claim is worth far less than it is. If liability is being disputed, it is vital that you seek help from a lawyer. A lawyer may gather the evidence that you need to prove liability so that you can either settle or head to trial.

If you, a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in an auto collision or other mishap, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

We've been representing artists, authors, musicians, and songwriters for over 20 years. From contract review to litigation woes, it's good for artists to know when and why to consult a lawyer.

We've been representing artists, authors, musicians, and songwriters for over 20 years. We aren't here to just help these clients out of a jam - it’s good to have us on board as a counselor or trusted advisor. From trademark dilemmas to litigation woes, it’s important for artists to know when and why to consult a lawyer.

1. CONTRACT REVIEW. There are lots of different types of contracts an artist could come across. For instance, artists and musicians need a contract when they rent out studio space. Galleries often present contracts to artists participating in their shows. Art gallery contracts have some element of commission that needs to be laid out, as well as the safety of the art that is in their possession.

Artists often need help setting up a contract template they can modify. And if something unusual occurs, it’s helpful to have a lawyer that you can call. If you didn’t have a lawyer create a contract, it’s a good idea to have them review the contract. You don’t have to have a lawyer on retainer, but it’s nice to have someone you can call who can do a quick contract review. You don’t want to be searching for a lawyer for the first time when signing a contract with a gallery, museum, recording studio, publisher, buyer, etc.

2. INSURANCE. Insurance is a big issue. Artists need to have good insurance for when their art is being transported, if there’s a business interruption, and for their studio. Artists should have commercial general liability insurance - it protects them from legal action if there’s an accident in their place of business. Insurance is honestly not that expensive. Some artists starting out think they can’t afford it, but it can be as low as $300 per year. It really saves you if you have a catastrophic event, such as someone getting hurt in the studio or if a piece of work is stolen. Lawyers can review insurance policies - just like any other sort of contract - and make sure they’re acceptable.

3. TRADEMARK AND COPYRIGHT. Artists need help doing a trademark or copyright. They need that type of advice from a lawyer or they can find themselves in litigation. People will also take artists’ art, design, songs, or photos and post them on social media channels or web pages. It’s something that you need to monitor because you need to defend trademark or copyright or you can lose the right to assert it. It can be resolved with a demand letter for payment to the person who’s using your art inappropriately or illegally. You can also send a cease and desist letter to have your work removed.

We once had an artist client who had received a call that a commercial was being filmed in a private home in the Seattle area and one of her paintings was hanging on a wall in the house. The producer of the commercial needed a licensing agreement for the client's painting to be shown in the background of the commercial - that's where we came in.

4. LITIGATION. Usually litigation surrounds someone not paying you. It doesn’t necessarily mean a lawsuit, but some artists don’t explore the alternatives. You can hire a lawyer and tell them the facts. They will spend an hour or two drafting a demand letter to the offending individual. It’s nice to have someone that you can go to because issues will arise.

5. DEFAMATION. Artists can be involved in defamation on social media. You have to be careful. Be aware anything can be posted about you and many things you post can be accessed by many people. If you have a bad transaction with a gallery, studio, or buyer, people can post about it on social media. These comments can be considered defamation. Artists can use a lawyer to draft a cease and desist letter - essentially saying stop doing what you're doing.

Don’t wait - these small measures and expenses can save you a lot of money and headaches down the road. If you or someone you know an artist, author, musician, or songwriter and needs legal advice, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see 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.

In most cases, probate isn't that bad. We've all heard horror stories, but really Washington and Idaho have some of the simplest probate systems in the country.

Probate is the legal process of settling the estate of someone who has died. In practice, this means that a person is appointed by the court (a “Personal Representative” or "PR") to step into the decedent’s shoes and wind up their affairs.

In most cases, probate isn't as bad as you've heard. While we’ve all heard probate "horror stories," the truth is that Washington and Idaho have some of the simplest probate systems in the country. Assuming your Will gives your PR all of the necessary powers, our system allows the PR to act with complete authority and without court intervention on nearly all matters, saving a significant amount of time and money. Furthermore, unlike some other states, attorneys fees are not based on a percentage of the value of the estate. This makes the probate procedure significantly less expensive than many other states, such as California, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, and Wyoming. Of course, there are those cases that include assets that are difficult to locate, family members that simply don’t trust each other, or heirs that contest the validity of the Will feeling that they were “cheated” out of their inheritance. In those cases, yes, probate can be a long and costly endeavor. However, that is a function of particular circumstances surrounding the family, and not an inefficiency of the probate process itself.

The length of time it takes to complete the probate process really depends on the assets and value of the estate, the work performed by the PR, the claims of creditors, and whether or not the Will is being contested. Certain timeframes may give you a better understanding of how long probate might last. For instance, creditors may submit claims for up to 4 months (if they are notified of the decedent’s death), and an estate tax return must be filed within 9 months of the decedent’s death (although this may be extended). Of course, if family members disagree, if the Will is contested, or the PR is not diligent in their duties, it takes a considerably longer time.
Who acts on behalf of the estate?

If you've been named as someone's Personal Representative, the first step is to hire a lawyer. Your lawyer is going to be your guide through this process, and you will need to feel at ease with them. The lawyer should be someone who is capable of handling the complex estate planning and tax issues that may arise during the course of settling the estate and can assist you with the implementation and funding of various trusts that need to be established. You are not required to hire the lawyer who drafted the Will and often times if the decedent had a poorly drafted document, a skilled lawyer may be able to mitigate its effects.

If you have questions about the probate process in Washington or Idaho, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can be of service.

6 Questions & Answers About Basic Estate Planning

Most people understand the necessity of having a Will. Even if you're young and just starting out, you have some assets, so it's important to have a Will. As you acquire more assets or start a family, the importance of having a Will grows.

Lawyers and financial planners recommend basic estate planning for everyone, but there are many misconceptions about how Wills and other estate planning documents work. Don't let unfamiliarity stop you from properly planning your estate. Here are some frequently asked questions—and their answers—to better acquaint you with the estate planning process.

Q: WHAT HAPPENS IF A PERSON DIES WITHOUT A WILL?

When a person dies without a Will, the person's assets are probated and distributed according to the laws of intestacy. In other words, the deceased person's assets will be distributed according to the laws of the state—not necessarily according to the deceased's wishes.

The laws of each state vary, but the money and other assets typically pass to the spouse first. For example, in Washington and Idaho (both community property states), all the property acquired during the marriage passes completely to the spouse. Any property acquired before the marriage or inherited is split between the spouse and any children.

If a person dies without a living spouse, the estate passes to the children, if any, equally. If there are no children and no spouse, then to grandchildren and other descendants. If there are no living descendants but living parents, the estate passes to the parents, and then to siblings and siblings' descendants. Generally, the state will attempt to find any living relatives and pass the estate to them.

In the event that there are absolutely no blood relatives (descendants, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or any of those people's descendants), the estate "escheats" (it goes to the state).

Q: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SOMEONE WHO HAS A WILL DIES?

The probate court supervises the distribution of the assets in accordance with the Will and the law.

Q: DOES A PERSON HAVE TO HAVE MINIMUM AMOUNT OF ASSETS TO WRITE A WILL?

No—a person can create a Will to dispose of assets worth $10 or $10 million. Of course, the distribution of those assets can have tax implications. For that reason, it is important that you understand how inheritance will be taxed as you make your estate planning decisions. You should consult a lawyer, especially for large or complicated estates.

Q: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A WILL AND A "LIVING WILL"?

The basic difference is that a Wil is used to dispose of assets after death. A "Living Will" (technically called a Directive to Physicians or a Health Care Directive) can be used to provide health care instructions in advance, such as whether or not life support is desired.

Q: WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS OF A WILL VERSUS A REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST?

A Will's main benefit is its simplicity. Anyone over 18 and with mental capacity can write a Will. The drawback is that your family members may have to wait months or even years until your property goes through the courts and is distributed.

A Revocable Living Trust, on the other hand, can be used to transfer property and assets to beneficiaries without going through the probate process. This can save years of time and thousands in fees. Also, it keeps your estate private, whereas a Will, once probated, becomes public record.

People often use a Will and a Revocable Living Trust together. A Will can be used in conjunction with a Revocable Living Trust to name guardians for minors and express final wishes not otherwise captured in a Revocable Living Trust.

Q: HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT'S BEST FOR ME?

Your estate planning needs depend on your individual circumstances. If you're unsure what you need to protect your family, consult a lawyer. The most important thing is that you don't neglect planning your estate. It's the best way to protect your loved ones and make sure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

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 proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

You've been injured in an auto collision that wasn't your fault. The other driver's insurance company is denying liability. What do you do next?

When you’re involved in a car crash, you can be confused and unsure of what to do next. If someone else caused the collision, it’s easy to assume you’ll file a claim with their insurance company and get your car repaired. If you’re injured, you’ll allow the other insurance company to handle your medical bills, everything will be cared for, and you’ll move on with your life the way you were meant to from the start. It’s a simple process in your mind, but it’s anything but simple in reality.

There is no right or wrong way to file a claim, and there is no guarantee the other insurance company is going to cover the issues you’re having. In some instances, the other driver and their insurance company might do something shocking and deny they had anything to do with the collision.

When the other side makes noises about denying liability for your injuries, the entire situation shifts out of your favor. Say you’ve called to report the collision to the at-fault driver's insurance company and now you’re waiting on them to get back to you about your claim. They’ve had plenty of time to go over the paperwork and get the information they need, but they haven’t gotten back to you. When you call to find out where you stand in terms of your claim, they tell you that they’ve decided they are not liable for the claim and won’t be paying anything to you or your family.

The first thing you should do is ask for proof. Why do they believe they owe you nothing? You want proof of their stance, and you want it immediately. They are required to provide you with the proof you need to find out whether or not they are liable. What they have that’s telling them they owe you nothing for the crash is not something they can keep private. You want to see their documentation of the incident, and they have no choice but to provide that for you. Once you have this information, you’re free to argue the point where it’s necessary.

The most common argument insurance companies use when denying claims is that there is no police report or the officers who responded did not state it was the fault of their client. They’ll argue that nothing in the police report supports this information, and they’ll say they are paying nothing as a result. Your job now is to find proof that the collision was caused by someone else. This could be done by hiring an attorney to take your case.

Before you do that you might consider calling your own insurance company. Most insurance companies will pay the repairs and bills for you and then fight the other insurance company for reimbursement. You’ll need to pay your own deductible, but it’s usually more cost-effective to do this than it is to go through with paying for expensive repairs on your own. Call your insurance company and ask them what they suggest you do.

If that doesn’t work, your next step is to contact a lawyer. This might not always be necessary, but it is if you have been injured and the medical bills are already beginning to accrue. If the other insurance company is denying your claim, you might need to go further to collect damages that will cover the cost of your repairs and your medical bills as a result of your injuries. A lawyer can look at all the evidence, recreate the scene, and determine who is at fault. This might include taking the other insurance company and the driver of the other car to court to have a judge and jury make the final ruling. Since most insurance companies are unwilling to go that far, they usually offer a settlement.

If the other insurance company is denying the liability from the crash their insured caused, you become easily frustrated. It happens more than you imagine, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling upset by this. If this has happened to you, a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

Hiring a Lawyer for Your Business Startup vs. Forming a Company with Forms You Can Find Online

We frequently get asked why someone should spend money on a lawyer to start up their small business rather than form their company with forms they found themselves online. The answer is simple. There are two main reasons to use a lawyer: a lawyer will help ensure that you pick the right entity for your situation and lawyer will draft (with your input) and explain all the documents necessary to get you company up and running.

When someone who isn’t trained in the law goes to an online website, they may choose to set up a limited liability company thinking that is the best entity structure for their company and disregard forming a corporation. However, if that same person had gone to an experienced lawyer, they may have been led through a series of questions, like those we ask our clients, to determine whether an LLC is correct. A lawyer may discover that for one reason or another, a corporation is best. Or a lawyer may discover that an LLC is correct and be able to guide clients through the choice of whether to make it member-managed or manager-managed.

In addition to helping a client choose the best business entity, a lawyer will help a client prepare the documents necessary to run the business including paperwork through the state, federal, and possibly city level. For instance, when our clients walk out the door after we set up their business, we try to ensure that all their documents are done (unless it is something that they personally have to do and we cannot as their counsel) and that they understand exactly what is in them. The last thing we want is someone to leave unsure of what their bylaws or operating agreement says. If you get a document from an website, you don’t know if the provisions in it are what you need (for instance, the last thing you want is an "Uh-oh, I don’t have any provisions for when my partner gets divorced and now the business is facing failure because of it). In addition, you may not understand all the provisions in it (for instance, you don't want an "Uh-oh, I didn’t realize that the way that clause was worded, a personal bankruptcy means a lot of problems"). When you hire a lawyer, they will probably ask you lots of questions to see what you need in your documents and then explain them to you.

Filing online is quick and it is easy. However, if you don’t know what you are doing, it could end up costing you down the road. Hiring a lawyer gives you the peace of mind knowing that someone who knows the ins and outs of forming a business is taking care of you and ensuring that you know what you are doing and why.

If you are starting a new business or buying new investment property, 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.

The Personal Representative of an Estate's main duty is to settle and distribute the estate as quickly and efficiently as possible by adhereing to the directions in the Will and/or state probate laws.

A Personal Representative (or "PR," formerly called an Executor) of an estate is an individual or institution designated to administer the estate of someone who has died. As a fiduciary, a PR must settle and distribute the estate of the decedent as quickly and efficiently as possible by adhering to the directions outlined in the decedent’s Will and/or the probate laws of the state where the estate is being administered.

The primary duty is to protect the estate in a manner consistent with the decedent’s wishes. Although this may appear relatively simple, it is important that the PR understand the responsibilities associated with the position. As a word of caution, failure to adhere to these duties and responsibilities can result in the filing of lawsuits against the PR for breach of fiduciary duty.

Generally speaking, a PR is responsible for collecting the assets of the estate, protecting the estate property, preparing an inventory of the property, paying various estate expenses, paying valid claims (including debts and taxes) against the estate, representing the estate in claims against others, and eventually distributing the estate property to the beneficiaries. In the event the decedent passed away with a Will, the Will may often impose additional duties on the PR.

OPENING THE ESTATE. Initially, the PR must open the estate by filing the Petition for Probate. This requires presenting certain paperwork to the applicable Court. Generally, an estimate as to the date of death value of probate assets and debts must be provided. Once the estate is opened, the PR will often obtain the necessary Letters Testamentary (if there was a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there wasn't a Will), which provide the PR with the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

IDENTIFY ASSETS OF THE ESTATE. Thereafter, it is important to identify and collect the assets of the estate. This includes any property of value owned by the deceased at death. For example, assets of the estate generally include real estate, business interests, checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts, and any unpaid amounts due the deceased such as interest and dividends. Although often overlooked, to properly value the assets of the estate, an underlying responsibility of the PR is to have the assets professionally appraised. This course of action is not only essential when it is difficult to determine the value of an asset but it becomes necessary when certain assets require an appraisal by a qualified appraiser. Typically, within a certain time frame of the appointment of the PR, an Inventory must be prepared that lists the assets held by the decedent, both individually and jointly, and provide the date of death value of such assets.

OPENING THE ESTATEACCOUNT. Once the estate is properly opened, a Federal Tax ID Number should be obtained for the estate. The PR will need to present this separate Tax ID Number to a bank to open a new bank account (typically checking account) in the name of the estate. Thereafter, the PR will transfer the funds from the accounts in the decedent’s name at death to the new account in the name of the estate. Expenses, taxes, debts, and other fees in connection with the administration of the estate will be paid from this new account. Eventually, any remaining funds will be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate along with any other remaining assets.

NOTICE TO CREDITORS. As part of the administrative duties, the PR must give notice of the decedent’s death to known creditors and potential creditors. Creditors generally have a prescribed time (four months in Washington and Idaho) in which to file claims against the decedent’s estate. Upon the expiration of this period, the PR must pay all legitimate claims against the estate. Failure to file a claim against the estate within the prescribed time frame forever bars future claims of more creditors. It should be emphasized that prior to payment, the PR should consider the validity of all claims against the estate.

TAX RETURNS. The PR is responsible for preparing and filing all applicable income tax returns on behalf of the decedent for the period of time the decedent was alive and on behalf of the decedent’s estate. It is important to remember that death terminates the decedent’s tax year and thereafter the decedent’s estate is a separate taxpayer. The PR is also responsible for paying all applicable state and federal estate taxes.

DISTRIBUTION OF ASSETS AND CLOSING THE ESTATE. Once all of the assets are collected and the claims are satisfied, the PR must distribute the assets consistent with the terms of the Will or the state’s probate laws. When the court approves the final account and the assets have been distributed, the estate is considered closed. At this point, the responsibilities of the Personal Representative end.

If you have questions regarding the estate administration process, please contact us 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.

Estate Planning to Care for Loved Ones with Dementia

As people live longer lives, they also live healthier ones, for the most part. But with advancing ages comes increased risk of some serious illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease. About half those who live past age 85 will have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. More than 5 million Americans currently suffer from dementia, and that number is projected to increase to more than 7 million by 2025, unless major medical breakthroughs help alleviate the suffering.

People with dementia eventually lose memory, cognitive ability, and language. If you or someone in your family is concerned about the prospect of impairment, you should know that it’s very important to get legal documents in place before dementia makes it impossible for you to understand the issues and make informed decisions. You can’t make a legally valid Will, Power of Attorney, or other legal document unless you are of what’s commonly called "sound mind"—that is, you must understand your family circumstances, act of your own free will, and understand the consequences of your choices.
Here are the key documents to move forward with.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR FINANCES. This document lets you choose someone to have control over your financial affairs if it’s ever necessary. You can give the person—who’s called your agent or your attorney-in-fact—authority immediately, or structure the document so that the authority kicks in only if someday a doctor certifies that it’s needed. Many people choose to make the power effective immediately, trusting that the person they’ve chosen won’t act unless it’s necessary.

Having a financial durable power of attorney (DPOA) in place can be a huge help to your family. For example, if you’re in the hospital, your agent could pay bills for you from your checking account. But the biggest benefit is if there is a long period of incapacity, as there often is with dementia. (People with Alzheimer’s disease live an average of 8 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.)

Without a DPOA, no one—not even your spouse, or the Executor you’ve appointed in your Will—would have authority to take care of necessary financial tasks, such as paying bills, managing retirement accounts, or selling assets. Family members would have to go to court, produce evidence that you cannot manage your affairs, and ask that the court appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your money. Going forward, the conservator would be subject to court oversight. The whole process is expensive, intrusive, and time-consuming.

HEALTH CARE POWERS OF ATTORNEY. Your health care power of attorney is the next most important document to create when you’re planning for the possibility of dementia. In these documents, you name someone to make health care decisions for you if you can’t. These documents can give enormous relief to the family members who must make difficult decisions about your care when you are unable to do so. If they have clear direction from you, it will make their lives far easier at a difficult time.

DIRECTIVES TO PHYSICIANS, ALSO CALLED A "LIVING WILL." Here, you express your wishes for end-of-life care. Living wills typically cover pain relief and medical treatments such as surgery, resuscitation, ventilators, and feeding tubes. You can go into as much (or as little) detail as you wish. For example, you might simply say that you want everything necessary to relieve pain (palliative care or comfort care) but that in certain circumstances you don’t want to receive extraordinary measures such as CPR.

WILLS, TRUST, AND BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS. Once you’ve taken care of the documents that give someone authority if you’re ever incapacitated, the next step is to take care of leaving your assets to the people or organizations you want to inherit them.

Wills. - It’s a good idea for everyone to have a simple Will, which leaves your assets to the beneficiaries of your choice. In your Will, you also name your executor (personal representative), the person who will carry out your wishes after your death.

Beneficiary designations. - For a lot of people, significant assets pass not through a Will, but under beneficiary designations you make in other documents. For example, if you enrolled in a retirement savings plan where you work or bought life insurance, you probably named a beneficiary on a form provided by the plan administrator or the insurance company. It’s also common to name transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiaries for bank accounts, to register vehicles in transfer-on-death form (in states that allow this), or name a beneficiary for a savings bond. It’s a good idea to review those designations and think about any changes you might want to make.

Living Trusts. - A Revocable Living Trust, like a Will, lets you leave your assets to whomever you choose. One of he advantage of a Trust is that after your death, your beneficiaries don’t have to conduct a probate court proceeding before wrapping up your affairs. A Trust can also help with planning for dementia, because your successor trustee (the person you name to take over the trust after your death) can take control of trust assets if you become incapacitated. The trustee’s authority extends only to assets held in the name of the trust, however.

If you have questions about any of these documents, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can be of service.

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.