What should you look for when reviewing a contract?

Most business people enter into contracts on a regular basis. They sign property leases, vehicle and equipment leases, advertising agreements, copier and phone system leases, web site development and maintenance agreements, banking documents, service contracts, and numerous other contracts in the usual course of business. Some of those contracts are simple, easily understandable documents while others are all but incomprehensible. It is not uncommon for otherwise very careful people to glance over a contract and just sign it without really knowing what it obligates them or the other party to do.

In its most basic form, a contract is merely an agreement between two or more people to do or not do a particular thing. That sounds simple, but when those obligations are buried in the fine print in the middle of a lengthy document, it may not be so easy to understand exactly what the parties are agreeing to do or not do.

So, what should you look for when reviewing a contract? Here are a few suggestions:

1. NEGOTIATE THE TERMS. When presented with a contract, remember that this is a starting point. You can negotiate the terms of nearly every agreement. You want to make the deal happen, but so does the other person. Ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is they say no.

2. IDENTIFY THE PARTIES. Use the complete name of the business to avoid confusion and identify corporate officers as such. Determine the marital status of individuals if spouses will be required to join in execution of the document.

3. FILL IN ALL THE BLANKS. Complete all blanks on any preprinted form because items left blank can be filled in later by someone else. Be sure all changes or deletions are initialed.

4. DOUBLE CHECK THE TERMS. Double check the business terms of the contract (price, amount, duration, square footage, etc.) to determine whether it accurately reflects the agreement of the parties.

5. AUTOMATIC RENEWALS. Look for automatic renewals. Do you have to give notice if you do not want to renew? Are there penalties if notice is not timely given? Is renewal on the same terms as the original agreement? Are there price increases? Consider adding options to renew on favorable terms.

6. ALLOCATING RISK. Risk is typically borne by the party in the best position to prevent loss. However, there may be reasons for a different allocation. Check insurance requirements. Will you be able to obtain the required insurance within your budget?

7. INDEMNIFICATION PROVISIONS. Check hold harmless and indemnification provisions. When you agree to hold someone harmless you are agreeing to not hold them responsible for liability that may arise out of the transaction. When you indemnify someone, you are agreeing to protect them from liability or loss that may arise out of the transaction. If you must indemnify the other party, limit the indemnification as much as possible. Negotiate the same indemnification for yourself. For instance, if you, as a buyer, agree to indemnify the seller of a business for losses they may incur as a result of actions after the sale, then they should indemnify you for losses you may incur as a result of actions before the sale.

8. INCORPORATED DOCUMENTS. When another document is incorporated by reference, always read the incorporated document. Don’t assume you know what it contains.

9. EVENTS OF DEFAULT. Determine what acts constitute events of default and whether you are able to enter into and perform under the contract without causing a default. Also consider what should be included as events of default by the other party.

10. REMEDIEIS. Review remedies provisions. Determine the worst that can happen to you if you default. Explore ways to limit your liability. Also determine what types of remedies you need in the event of default by the other party.

11. TERMINATION. Review causes for termination. Consider including ways to terminate the contract if it is not working to your benefit.

12. DATES AND DEADLINES. Always keep a calendar of dates and deadlines for important events and anything required to be done by you or the other party.

13. WARRANTIES AND REPRESENTATIONS. Review and understand warranties and representations given by you and the other party. Don’t give any representation if you do not actually know that the representation is true or if the other party is in a better position to know the facts being represented. If you must give warranties, try to limit them as much as possible. For example, a warranty in a deed might say that you warrant title to the property. You can limit the warranty by saying that you warrant title to the property only during the period of time in which you owned the property. Remember that the other party is trying to do the same, so watch for disclaimers or limitations.

14. RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES. Carefully read the entire contract because rights and responsibilities are typically scattered throughout the agreement.

15. DISPUTE RESOLUTION. Determine how you want to deal with resolution of disputes. An arbitration or mediation requirement could ultimately save you lots of time and money. However, there are times when you may want to go to court to resolve the dispute. When appropriate, try to give yourself some flexibility.

If you are a small business owner and have questions about the contracts you enter into during the course of business, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

The Personal Representative's Tasks in Administering an Estate

Whenever a person dies, their estate needs to be collected, managed, and distributed. Estate administration involves gathering the assets of the estate, paying the decedent's debts, and distributing the assets that remain in the estate.

In recent years, state legislatures have attempted to reduce the complexity of estate administration. Currently, about 20 states have adopted some version of the Uniform Probate Code (UPC), which was designed to simplify the estate administration process and provide similarity among probate laws from state to state.

The first task in a probate proceeding is appointing a responsible party to manage the estate. This person is usually called the Personal Representative. In some states, this position is known as the "Executor." The PR may be an individual or a company, such as a bank. The PR may have been nominated by the decedent in their Will. If there was no Will, the court will usually appoint the surviving spouse or another family member.

After being appointed, the PR is expected to inventory all of the decedent's assets. The PR must also inform the decedent's creditors that the decedent has died. If the decedent's probate assets are sufficient to pay the creditors, the PR will pay them from the estate. If the probate assets are insufficient, the PR may need to obtain court approval to determine which creditors should be paid.

If there are any assets left after the creditors have been paid, those assets are distributed according to the Will. If there is no Will, the decedent is said to have died "intestate." State laws vary as to how to distribute the assets of an intestate decedent.

The PR will also file any necessary tax returns. If the estate is owed any money, the PR may need to bring a lawsuit in order to collect it. If the Will is contested, or if there is any other dispute over how to distribute the estate assets, the PR may have to "defend" the Will in court.

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.

Our estate planning services are designed to offer you the peace of mind you deserve, no matter your age, the size of your estate, or the state of your health.

A lot of people think estate planning is something only the elderly or the wealthy need to think about. But if you have a family that depends on you, then the reality is that it’s never too early to put an estate plan in place. We’re here to help you make the right decisions for your estate and your family. Our estate planning services are designed to offer you the peace of mind you deserve, no matter your age, the size of your estate, or the state of your health.

Whether you need to create a Will, establish a Durable Power of Attorney, or set up a Trust, we’re here for you. Our goal is to help you protect you and your family’s future by planning out every detail of your estate.

Decisions regarding your estate shouldn’t be left up to just anyone. We'll work hard to make sure that your best interests are represented. We give personal attention on every matter to help ensure all of our clients’ wishes are met. Our estate planning services include:
* Long-term care provisions
* Drafting documents such as Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, Trusts, Living Wills, and more.
* Estate administration
* End-of-life arrangements

Call us today at 253.858.5434 for more information about our estate planning services or to schedule a consultation.

When do you need to hire a lawyer after you've been in an auto collision?

When do you need to hire a lawyer after you've been in an auto collision? No matter the property damage, severity of injury, or insurance situation, you should hire an experienced personal injury attorney. As soon as an insurance company is notified of a collision, they are figuring out how to pay as little as possible for your claim. They make a lot of money using this business practice. The only way for you to level the playing field is to hire a lawyer right away. If you hire the right lawyer, you can actually gain the upper hand. If you wait, you’re late. They have a head start and now you have to catch up.

You have a life and you need to live it. Maybe you have a job and/or a family to take care of, maybe you are a student with classes and tests. Everyone has responsibilities, so when you are injured by someone else’s driving, you shouldn’t have to take on the responsibility of handling that case on your own. Let a trained professional handle every aspect of your personal injury case. All you should be worried about is treating your injuries and handling your responsibilities. Let us handle everything else.

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 for a free initial consultation today.

What Start Ups Should Consider When Hiring a Lawyer

Hiring and working with a lawyer is often confusing and daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. But when you’re starting a business, it’s crucial. With the right expertise on your side, you can feel confident you’ve got your ducks in a row as you’re getting down to business.

When you're starting up a new business, what should you look for when hiring a lawyer? First and foremost, look for “fit” (i.e., someone you trust, get along with, enjoy working with, feel has an interest in you and what you’re working on, and can relate to you).

Just as important, you want someone that is competent, responsive, and experienced with the types of legal issues with which you will need help. The considerations that go into starting up a restaurant, say, can be very different from the considerations for starting up a software company.

Priorities that need to be addressed early on include:

* Establishing a business entity of some sort (LLC or corporation) to protect you personally from business liabilities.
* Establishing the ownership and equity rights of the company if there are multiple founders.
* Ensuring the business’s intellectual property is protected and owned by the company (especially if it is being developed by independent contractors).
* Making sure you are paying attention to the tax consequences of what you do, particularly when it comes to granting people equity.

We have nearly 22 years' experience representing people starting up new businesses. If we can be of service to you, your family, friends, or neighbors, give us a call at 253.858.5434 today.

When someone dies, there are many legal issues to handle regarding their estate. We're here to help.

Have you been named as the Executor of a family member's estate? Are you trying to sell property that you inherited from a parent or grandparent? Maybe there’s a family business that has lost its leader, the family patriarch? Whatever your family’s circumstance, you’re trying to figure out how to sort through an “estate,” which is a legal term for everything owned and owed by a deceased person. We’re here to help.

When someone you love dies, there are many legal issues to handle. If the deceased person owned real estate, stocks, bonds, or had a bank account or a vehicle, it is likely that probate proceedings will need to be started with the court so that someone can be appointed to handle his or her affairs. This is true whether the deceased person had a Will or not. Depending on the circumstances, the person who is in charge of the estate – called the “executor,” “administrator,” or “personal representative” – may be required to post a bond, publish legal notices in the paper, and file reports with the court after opening the estate.

Death is a stressful, emotional time, and inheritances sometimes come with unexpected emotional baggage. Don’t worry – we can help when everyone is on the same page, or when there’s a fight about who should be in charge and who should get what.

Once the estate is open, the deceased person’s assets and property have to be collected, creditors have to be paid, and what’s left is given to the deceased person’s heirs or beneficiaries, depending on whether there was a Will. (When there’s a Will, that’s a “testate” estate. When there’s no Will, that’s an "intestate" estate.) Once all creditors have been paid, all of the deceased person’s assets have been transferred, and all required reports have been filed, the Personal Representative will need to file a "Declaration of Completion" to close the estate and be officially relieved from the fiduciary responsibilities associated with the position.

Though the probate process in Washington and Idaho is not as expensive as in some other states, it can still be confusing upon your first encounter. We know that stepping into the shoes of a deceased parent, grandparent, spouse, or friend to conclude their affairs can feel like an overwhelming burden. You want to do what’s right and respect your loved one’s wishes, but you just aren’t sure how to do it. That’s where we come in. Our mission is to provide skilled, responsive representation in estate cases. We take the burden off of your shoulders. We guide you through the court efficiently. We direct you through the maze of estate administration, explaining the “legalese” we encounter along the way. We make estate administration easy on you.

Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

Life changes - Your estate plan should be reviewed and updated with some frequency to ensure it reflects your current situation and wishes.

The only constant in life is that it is constantly changing. Relationships begin and end, children grow up and move on, and loved ones pass away. Due to the shifting nature of our lives, it only makes sense that your estate plan should be updated with some frequency to ensure that it reflects your current situation and wishes. We can help you review your estate plan and determine whether any changes need to be made.

We have been helping people plan for the future for nearly 22 years. Whether your estate plan is decades old or relatively new, we can guide you through each aspect to ensure that your wishes will be carried out how you see fit.

When should you consider updating your estate plan? The obvious answer is whenever you experience a substantial change in your life's circumstances, such as a death, divorce, or a remarriage that results in a blended family. However, even if nothing in your life has changed and you still wish for your assets to go to the beneficiaries named in your initial estate plan, it can still be valuable to look over your documents.

Changes in the law can impact your estate plan. Congress makes changes to the estate tax laws with some regularity and your beneficiaries may find themselves facing a more significant tax penalty than you had initially contemplated. Privacy laws are another area of concern and they may make it harder for your loved ones to learn of your medical status or to make medical decisions on your behalf. In addition, technology changes and a large portion of our lives now exist online; it is important to ensure that your loved ones have access to your passwords and digital accounts.

There is no hard and fast rule for how often you should review your estate plan. Obviously, anytime there is a divorce, remarriage, or a death in the family, it is wise to review and update your estate plan. Barring any substantial change in circumstances, we generally recommend that you review your estate plan and meet with a lawyer to go over any potential changes every three or four years. Even if we didn't initially prepare your estate plan, we are happy to look things over and to help you better effectuate your goals, if necessary.

It never hurts to have a qualified lawyer review your estate plan. There may be issues that come up that you had never considered. Contact us online or call 253.858.5434 to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation.

If you've been injured in an auto collision, stay off Facebook!

Social media has become a fundamental part of life. According to a recent study, over 60% of adults use some form of social media. Networking sites provide a space for people to share their experiences, post photos, and catch up with old friends. So what does this have to do with a personal injury case? More than you think.

When someone is pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, it’s usually because they’ve suffered an injury, such as broken bones, a traumatic brain injury, or chronic pain. These individuals deserve compensation for their medical expenses and their pain and suffering. And while it’s understandable that some may turn to social media when they’ve experienced a major life event, like an auto collision or injury, it’s important to know the consequences. Anything you post to social media could be used against you during your personal injury case. In order to avoid this, you’ve got to be careful and smart about what you choose to share. Your post may seem harmless, but it could be detrimental to your case.

Evidence is the key to any lawsuit and nothing provides more than social media. Insurance companies will comb through your social media sites to find ways to prove that your injuries are not as severe as you claim. When you’re seeking compensation for a personal injury, it’s the job of the insurance company to discredit you and minimize your injuries.

For example, if you were in an auto collision and are seeking compensation for limited mobility and chronic pain, a Facebook post of you playing softball with your friends would undoubtedly sink your claim. The best and simplest way to avoid this mistake is to avoid posting completely. Also, be sure to tell those close to you, including family and friends, not to post anything about you or your situation. Taking a break from social media may seem next to impossible, but it will be worth it in the long run.

If you've been injured in an auto collision and have questions about your injury claim, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

Representing Small Business Clients to Help Collect Delinquent Accounts

If you're a small business owner and you have good customers who've encountered financial difficulties or client invoices that are substantially delinquent, unpaid accounts can damage your cash flow and your bottom line. Bills that go unpaid due to customers who simply ignore invoices are unfortunate, common occurrences in every business’s accounts receivable department, but how do you know when it is time to take legal action to recoup your losses? Contact us when you come to any of these points in your collection attempts:

IS THE DEBT LARGE ENOUGH?
While you can legally sue for most amounts, the actual amount owed should be worth the time and cost of hiring a lawyer. The debt should be a significant enough amount to make a difference in your account receivable totals. Suing a client for a $100 invoice is better left to small claims court, and is likely not cost-effective nor worth the legal battle.

HAVE YOU MADE REQUESTS AND BEEN IGNORED?
Have you already tried to collect the unpaid amount by sending past due invoices and demand letters? If you have made an effort to collect and are either being ignored by the customer or the client makes arrangements, but never pays, you should consider proceeding with a lawsuit. Your lawyer can take control of all unpaid accounts and the collections process through the legal system. This will alleviate stress on your bookkeeping team and allow them to focus on the customers that pay on time and in full.

DO YOU HAVE MULTIPLE ACCOUNTS IN COLLECTION?
While it is not required to have multiple delinquent accounts in order to hire a lawyer, having many unpaid accounts could be a sign of trouble. When the amount of past due invoices piles up, we recommend that you hire a lawyer to not only manage collection of these debts, but to correct possible problems.

If you have contracts with your unpaying clients, have a lawyer review these contracts to verify you are not inadvertently creating payment issues with your terms. Hiring a lawyer to manage unpaid accounts can allow your staff the time and resources to examine current processes and make changes where necessary.

If proceeding with a lawsuit for debt recovery, it is essential that you hire a lawyer experienced in debt collection. There are complex procedures and privacy laws surrounding debt collection. A lawyer experienced in this area is accustomed to navigating the legal system and understands the best way to recoup your funds from delinquent clients.

If your small business is overwhelmed by high outstanding client balances, or multiple customers who refuse to pay invoices on time or at all, we can help. Contact us at 253.858.5434 to learn more about your options.

Using the Probate Process to Transfer Assets to Heirs & Beneficiaries

When someone dies leaving real estate or other assets behind, a probate will probably be necessary to transfer those assets to their heirs and beneficiaries. Probate is the process of appointing someone to administer the estate (called the Personal Representative, formerly called an Executor or an Administrator), give notice to all interested parties, creditors, and the taxing authorities, inventorying the assets, paying creditors and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries.

If a loved one has passed away and you have questions about the probate process, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to learn how we can help.

Availability for Meetings in Boise, ID, July 9 & 10

Idaho Folks - Steve will be in Boise July 8-13 and has time to meet with clients and potential new clients on Monday the 9th and Tuesday the 10th. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 or send an email to steve@aitalaw.com if you or someone you know wants to set up an appointment.

Basic Estate Plans

Most basic estate plans will consist of a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Health Care Power of Attorney, and Community Property Survivorship Agreement, and a Directive to Physicians (commonly called a "Living Will"). If you have children and/or own a house, you should have an estate plan in place. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Contract Review

Contracts are necessary in business. Since contracts can be lengthy, many people skim over paragraphs and don’t actually know what they are signing. Having a qualified lawyer review your contract may save you from a legal mess down the road. Here are a few reasons why it’s important to review contracts:

* You need to know exactly what you and the other party are signing. Terms and conditions must be clear, leaving no doubt as to what is expected between the parties.

* No one wants to get in trouble, especially with the law. Review the contract, make sure all aspects are legal, and protect yourself. You do not want to be the victim of a scam.

* By having your contract reviewed now, you may save yourself legal problems down the line. If there is a disagreement, you have solid documentation to protect yourself.

If you're a small business owner and need help reviewing the contracts that are part of the day-to-day running of your business, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Hiring a Lawyer to Advise You During the Estate Administration Process

Probate isn't as bad as people think, but you should still hire a lawyer to help guide you through it. Following the advice of an experienced lawyer will make the estate administration process much easier. If a friend or family member has died and you've been named Personal Representative of the estate (formerly called the Executor), give us a call at 253.858.5434 to make an appointment today.

Estate Planning for Blended Families

When it comes to estate planning for a blended family, the concept of "yours, mine and ours" can complicate the process to the point that family dynamics become strained. Blended families present special challenges in estate planning. You and your spouse may have children from previous relationships, as well as children together. You each may have property and other assets you've brought to the relationship. If you're like most people, you want to provide for your spouse's needs, while ensuring that your property (or much of it) ultimately will go to your children.

Providing for everyone you love can get tricky. You need an estate plan that fits you and your situation. Without one, you have no way of making sure that what you want to happen will actually happen. Relying on your spouse and children to "work it out" is not a plan. The good news is that you're not in this alone. We can help.

We have over 20 years' experience representing families and advising them on their estate plans. If we can be of service to your family, 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.