We believe reckless and negligent drivers need to be held accountable. And we believe that their victims deserve full and fair compensation for their injuries.

Car crashes happen way too often. In too many cases, these incidents are not actually “accidents.” They are the results of negligent, reckless acts by careless people. We believe these drivers need to be held accountable. We also believe that their victims deserve full and fair compensation for their injuries.

If you, a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker have been injured in an auto collision, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment for a free initial consultation right away.

We know meeting with a lawyer is hard. We're here to help.

Look, we know it's hard meeting with a lawyer. It's inconvenient. It's time consuming and there will likely be several follow-ups. And you're going to have to talk about some personal, potentially embarrassing things. But don't worry, whatever you tell us is held in the strictest confidence, and we don't judge. We're here to help you, to represent you and your interests, and to advocate on your behalf. If you've got a legal issue and need someone on your side, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

We want to be your family's lawyers!

Life is complicated and can sometimes be difficult. Say you own a business, maybe by yourself or maybe with a partner or two. There are contracts, governance issues, leases, employment issues, etc. that are all part of owning a business. And say you want to have a succession plan in place so that your children and grandchildren can be involved and take over the business someday. But maybe you've got a kid who has special needs or might be dealing with some circumstance that makes leaving them substantial property or money inappropriate. And say you want to make charitable giving part of your family's legacy as part of your estate plan. And say you and your partner live together and aren't married, but you own property together. And maybe you both have kids from previous relationships and you want to make sure your partner is taken care of, while simultaneously taking care of your children. All of those legal issues are related. And we can help. We have been representing and advising individuals and families in these situations for over 22 years. We want to be your family's lawyers. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can be of service.

Probate vs. Nonprobate Property

When planning your estate it is important to understand the difference between probate and nonprobate assets. Probate is the process through which a court determines how to distribute your property after you die. Some assets are distributed to heirs by the court (probate assets) and some assets bypass the court process and go directly to your beneficiaries (nonprobate assets).

The probate process includes filing a Will and appointing a Personal Representative, collecting assets, paying bills, filing taxes, distributing property to heirs, and filing a final account. This can be a costly and time-consuming process, which is why some people try to avoid probate by having only nonprobate assets.

Probate assets are any assets that are owned solely by the decedent. This can include the following:

* Real estate that is titled solely in the decedent's name or held as a tenant in common;
* Personal property, such as jewelry, furniture, and automobiles;
* Bank accounts that are solely in the decedent's name;
* An interest in a partnership, corporation, or limited liability company;
* Any life insurance policy or brokerage account that lists either the decedent or the estate as the beneficiary.

Nonprobate assets can include the following:

* Property that is held in joint tenancy or as tenants by the entirety;
* Bank or brokerage accounts held in joint tenancy or with payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) beneficiaries;
* Property held in a trust;
* Life insurance or brokerage accounts that list someone other than the decedent as the beneficiary;
* Retirement accounts.

When planning your estate, you need to take into account whether property is probate property or nonprobate property. Your Will does not control the distribution of nonprobate property. Check the ownership of your property and your accounts to make sure jointly owned property will be distributed the way you want it to. It is also important to review your beneficiary designations.

If you have questions about determining whether your property is being distributed the way that you want it to, contact us at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Updating Your Estate Plan When You Move to a New State

If you've recently moved to Washington or Idaho from another state, you may want to review your estate plan to make sure it complies with the law of your new state. If you've moved here from a place like California, Arizona, Nevada, or Florida, you'll be relieved to know that estate planning doesn't need to be as complicated as it was where you used to live. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can be of service to you, your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year from the Law Offices of P. Stephen Aita!

Put "Prepare an Estate Plan" on Your List of New Year's Resolutions!

Time to start thinking about those New Year's resolutions. Put "prepare an estate plan" on your list. Protect yourself and your family, make life easier for your loved ones if something happens to you, and maintain some control over how you want your affairs handled in the event of your death or disability. It's just good planning!

Do's and Don'ts Following an Auto Collision

Auto collisions are traumatic and usually leave victims with property damage, medical bills, lost wages, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.

What should you do after a collision? (1) Call the police; (2) take pictures of the scene of the collision, damage to the vehicles, and any visible injuries; (3) get the other driver's information - name, insurance info, driver's license info, license plate, etc.; (4) get information from any eye witnesses and make sure they stick around to take to the police offer; and (5) seek medical attention, even if you initially think your injuries are only minor.

What shouldn't you do? (1) Admit fault, even if your first instinct is to apologize; (2) move your vehicle before the cops arrive (unless the law requires otherwise); (3) give a recorded statement to the other driver's insurance company; and (4) accept a settlement offer before you've hired a lawyer.

If you've been injured in an auto collision that was somebody else's fault, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to make an appointment for a free initial consultation right away.

Are you planning on starting up a new business after the 1st of the year? We can help!

Are you planning on starting up a new business after the 1st of the year? We can help! We've been representing small businesses and their owners, as well as nonprofit organizations and churches, for the past 22 years. We advise these clients on business formation, day-to-day legal and contract needs, and any related litigation. If you're thinking about starting a new business, either on your own or with a partner or two, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to find out how we can be of service.

Holiday Office Hours

Our office will be closing early this Wednesday, December 5th, for our office Christmas party. For our other holiday hours, we will be open on Christmas Eve, from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm. We will be closed on Christmas Day and back at it on Wednesday the 26th. We'll be open on New Years Eve from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and closed on New Years Day. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

One of a Personal Representative's most important jobs is paying the deceased person's final debts.

If you've been appointed Personal Representative of someone's estate, one of your most important jobs is to pay the legitimate debts of the deceased person and the estate, using estate assets.

BEFORE PROBATE IS STARTED. Who pays the bills before the court has officially appointed a Personal Representative, or if there won’t be a formal probate proceeding? When the bills start rolling in, some of them will need to be paid quickly, without waiting for the PR to open an estate bank account and start writing checks. In most situations, the people who will inherit the property in the estate should go ahead and pay these ongoing bills, such as utility bills, mortgage, house or car insurance, car payments, and real estate taxes. If these expenses aren’t paid, valuable property could be lost or damaged. If, however, the beneficiaries have already decided that they don’t want to keep certain property—for example, a house that’s worth less than the outstanding balance on the mortgage—then they would want to stop making mortgage payments. Paying the utility bills, however, would still be crucial; it would be difficult to sell a house that didn’t have lights or heat, and it might be damaged from break-ins or frozen pipes.

People who pay bills with their own money should keep careful records of all the expenses. Later, the PR can provide reimbursement from estate assets.

HANDLING BILLS DURING PROBATE. Creditors must submit formal claims. The PR has authority to allow or deny these claims as they come in, and pay the allowed claims using estate assets.

Once probate is started, the PR publishes notice of the proceeding in a local newspaper, and creditors have a certain amount of time to submit formal written claims. If they don’t submit a claim by the deadline, most creditors are out of luck. The federal government, however, isn’t bound by the time limit, nor is a secured creditor (like a mortgage company). If the PR rejects the claim, the creditor can appeal the decision.

If the estate doesn’t have a lot of liquid assets—cash or assets that can be easily converted to cash, such as securities—the PR may need to sell other assets to raise cash to pay bills. Be careful here; you have a legal duty to be fair to all beneficiaries. It wouldn’t be fair to sell some assets that were specifically left to certain beneficiaries and use the proceeds to pay bills, while giving other beneficiaries the assets they were specifically left. You’ll need to work out a system, with advice from your lawyer, to protect everyone’s interests as best you can.

IF THERE'S NOT ENOUGH MONEY TO PAY ALL THE DEBTS. If it appears that there are more debts than assets, you are dealing with what’s called an insolvent estate. Don’t pay any debts you don’t have to—state law will set out a priority list for you to follow. If you pay some low-priority creditors, you may find yourself personally liable for the amount you shouldn’t have paid out.

If you have questions about an estate or paying a deceased person's final bills, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

Three Reasons to Hire an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer to Prepare Your Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, etc.

If you thinking about whether you need to hire an estate planning lawyer, 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 three reasons listed below should be enough to convince you to hire an experienced lawyer to prepare your estate planning documents.

LAWYERS ARE NECESSARY SINCE STATE LAWS GOVERN ESTATE PLANS. 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, or attorney-in-fact; who can and can't be a witness to a Will, trust; and what formalities must be observed when signing a Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney.

For example, if you live in Florida, a Personal Representative must either be related to you by blood or marriage or, if not, then a resident of the state. Non-resident, non-relatives simply can't serve, and in fact, won't be allowed to serve, in Florida. Working with a qualified estate planning lawyer will help you to avoid this kind of simple and yet costly mistake.

WITHOUT A LAWYER, THE BUYER MUST BEWARE. The Latin phrase, "caveat emptor," or “buyer beware,” certainly applies to estate planning. If you think that you'll be saving 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 an estate planning attorney after the fact to fix your mistakes.

LAWYERS 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 second (or later) 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 addiction, gambling, or financial problems
* You don't have any children
* 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 create your estate plan. 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 you have questions about how 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 serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer When You've Been Injured in an Auto Collision

An auto collision is a terrifying experience, even if it is only a minor fender-bender. The only thing on your mind is your safety, the safety of your passengers, and the condition of your vehicle. Unfortunately, insurance issues, medical issues, and at-fault drivers can cause a small wreck to become a major hassle and require months of litigation. If you feel like another driver or party has wronged you in some way after being involved in a collision, you might need to hire a lawyer.

* PROVIDE YOUR LAWYER WITH ANY AND ALL INFORMATION YOU HAVE. When you go to your initial visit with your lawyer, bring your auto insurance policy, medical insurance policy, any medical records or hospital bills that resulted from the crash, pictures of the vehicle after the wreck, a copy of the police report, and any contact information you may have collected from the other parties involved. All of this information will help your lawyer build your case in a timely manner and get your benefits to you quicker.

* DON'T EXPECT A QUICK SETTLEMENT. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your auto collision, it could take months or even years before you receive any compensation. While your lawyer should maintain communication with you throughout this process, understand that taking someone to court over a wreck is a lengthy process.

* DO YOUR PART. Your lawyer is only one member of the team. Maintain all appointments to meet with your lawyer, keep all of your documents organized, and answer any letters or phone calls you receive from your lawyer’s office. If you are required to appear in court at some point in the process, follow your lawyer’s instructions, appear presentable, and be respectful to the judge and jury.

If you or a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in an auto collision that was someone else's fault, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up a free initial consultation right away.

Preparing a Buy-Sell Agreement for Your Small or Family-Owned Business

For business owners, a buy-sell agreement governs the situation where one partner leaves the business. These agreements permit you to plan for the death, disability, or other departure of your partners. Especially in closely-held corporations or family businesses, discussing and planning for these contentious business succession issues early creates certainty during challenging times--such as the untimely death of a partner. A well-crafted buy-sell agreement can serve the interests of both remaining and departing partners: remaining partners retain control and departing partners can sell what might have been an unmarketable asset. We have experience drafting buy-sell agreements and working with closely-held or family corporations.

If you do decide to implement a buy-sell agreement, here are a few of the decisions you and your partners will need to make.

TRIGGERING EVENTS. You will need to define when the agreement is triggered. Examples of triggering events might include: death or disability of a partner, voluntary or involuntary departure of a partner, bankruptcy, divorce (usually in the case of a family business), or retirement.

MANDATORY VS. OPTIONAL. A mandatory buy-sell agreement will require the business or your partners to purchase your share; an optional buy-sell agreement will commonly give a ‘right of first refusal’ to your partners, the business or third-parties (such as surviving spouses to buy the shares).

INSURED BUY-SELL AGREEMENT. If you decide to go with a mandatory buy-sell agreement (or in some cases, an optional one), you may also want to consider setting up life insurance policies for the partners, naming either the remaining partners or the business (depending on the agreement’s structure) as beneficiaries to finance the acquisition.

WHO. A buy-sell agreement will obligate your partners to buy your stake (cross-purchase agreement), the business itself (redemption agreement), or a hybrid. We can help you determine which of these options makes the most sense for your situation, but if you do go with a cross-purchase agreement, you’ll want to define which partners have the right to purchase in what amounts, as it could shift control of the business.

HOW PRICE IS DETERMINED. In the agreement, you’ll want to set a methodology to determine price. A word to the wise--a prefixed price is almost never a good idea. We can advise you on the different options, so you can determine one that is sensible for your business and plans.

Because buy-sell agreements often need to be executed during difficult times, we might recommend including a provision that would retain the services of a corporate trustee should the triggering events occur.

Drafting a buy-sell agreement with an experienced lawyer early pays dividends, and will allow your business to run smoothly and with certainty if a partner departs. If you have questions about preparing a buy-sell agreement for your small business, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can be of service. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.