Misconceptions About Probate

Probate is the legal process of settling a person's estate once they die; paying creditors and transferring the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. If you've heard of probate, what you may have heard probably wasn't positive. There are many misconceptions about the process.

MISCONCEPTION #1: PROBATE SHOULD BE FEARED AND AVOIDED. It is true that, in some states, probate can be a difficult and expensive process. Fortunately, that's not the case in Washington or Idaho. Probate in Washington and Idaho is much easier than in other states, and often the appropriate process for administering an estate. It can be necessary and helpful in some situations, like where a Supplemental Needs Trust needs to be established for a disabled child who receives public benefits. Complicated estates with considerable assets are typically best handled via probate. If the estate needs creditor protection or there is dissension among the heirs and beneficiaries, the oversight of the court and probate law will minimize difficulty for the estate.

MISCONCEPTION #2: PROBATE IS ALWAYS A LONG, DRAWN-OUT PROCESS. Many people believe that probate is synonymous with lengthy court proceedings. This is usually not true. Depending on the language of the Will or if the court allows, the Personal Representative can serve with nonintervention powers, which means with legal authority to act without court oversight unless necessary.

Sometimes the length of probate depends on whether it is desirable to utilize the benefits of the creditor protection laws, which require the Personal Representative to notify reasonably ascertainable creditors of the impending probate proceedings, but restricts the amount of time they have to present their claims.

A typical probate in Washington or Idaho should last 6 to 9 months.

If you have questions about probate and 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. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

What does it mean when we say we practice in the area of "estate planning"?

What does it mean when we say we practice in the area of "estate planning"? This means we advise clients regarding the manner in which they wish to leave their property to their families, friends, or charities; estimating the tax consequences of implementing their goals and advising them regarding alternative methods by which those goals may be carried out; preparing documents necessary to implement their plans; and supervising execution of documents and implementation of their plans. This can include preparing Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Community Property Agreements, Health Care Powers of Attorney & "Living Wills," and other types of tools and techniques.

If you, a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker has questions about estate planning and would like to make an appointment, give us a call at 253.858.5434. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

If you've been injured in an auto collision that was someone else's fault, it's important that you seek legal advice sooner rather than later.

If you've been injured in an auto collision that was someone else's fault, it's important that you seek legal advice sooner rather than later. The at-fault driver's insurance will immediately start its investigation of the crash and your injuries and will begin preparing to find reasons to give you as little money as possible.

As personal injury lawyers, our job is to see that justice is done and you're compensated for your losses, including medical bills, lost wages, and property damage, as well as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. We will investigate your collision and your injuries, will deal with the insurance company on your behalf, and attempt to negotiate a fair and equitable settlement. If we can't reach a settlement with the insurance company, we will file a lawsuit and take your case to trial in front of a judge and jury.

Give us a call if you have questions about your auto collision case. Call 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment for a free initial consultation.

How do lawyers help small business owners?

If you're a small business owner, your lawyer is here to protect you by predicting future problems, and either steering you away from these situations or putting the necessary documents in place to protect you going forward.

PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENTS. Most partners forget that a simple handshake doesn’t cut it. At some point, you want to transfer everything that was scribbled down on that napkin into a more formal agreement. It could be called a Partnership Agreement or Operating Agreement (where you organize as a LLC). Whatever you want to call it or however you decide to organize, just know that having an agreement that reflects everyone’s rights and obligations is a must. Of course, you also want to plan ahead for when a partner leaves. Typically, your lawyer will include a break up provision in the Operating Agreement detailing the necessary asset or ownership split.

KEEPING TRACK OF ORGANIZATION DOCUMENTS AND PAYING ANNUAL FEES. This is probably the one thing you will profusely thank your lawyer for because keeping track of documents and annual fees is definitely a pain. Your lawyer can also act as your organization’s registered agent, and in the event that anything comes up (e.g., legal complaints or summons) that needs attention, you know that by having your lawyer as your registered agent, he or she will address the situation immediately. And in the event that you are still figuring out how your business is going to operate, your lawyer will advise you on which form of legal organization is best for your business based on your size, location, ownership, liability, tax, and financial concerns.

DRAFTING CONTRACTS. contracts are important! But it’s a good thing you thought about hiring a lawyer, because they are there to help you with any contract that might come up. Initially, this will include basic employment or freelancer contracts, as well as intellectual property agreements.

LITIGATION. This is probably the only time you will really want your lawyer to be a jerk. It’s because they know how to handle (read: get rid of) disgruntled customers, vendors, etc. Whether you are at fault or not, you probably want to avoid litigation at all costs and your lawyer will help with that. They will also advise you on whether settling is a good idea or not, and perhaps even be able to convince the other party to drop the lawsuit.

PROTECTING TRADE SECRETS OR CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION. Sometimes trade secrets or confidential information gets out and you may no longer have a business. That’s when a lawyer steps in and uses legal tools (aka the nasty letter) or an injunction to stop any further misuse. More importantly, in order to avoid confidential information getting out in the first place, your lawyer will draft a confidentiality agreement that will specifically prohibit misuse of confidential information.

ON-SITE. Lawyers can help you during conferences or other marketing events that require media release waivers, liability waivers, contests, etc. Remember the pages of waivers you signed before attending that last conference? Yeah, a fancy pants lawyer wrote those!

You may not have the budget to keep a lawyer on retainer to consult every time you need to make a decision, but small business owners often forget to consider the legal implications of their decisions. We're here to help. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today.

What's wrong with free or cheap Do-It-Yourself online legal forms?

Yeah, you can get free or cheap legal forms online. But should you? We've litigated cases where people have used Do It Yourself legal documents to draft a trust agreement, a commercial lease, and a business purchase & sale agreement, none of which turned out like the parties had hoped, mainly because the online forms were outdated, insufficiently executed, or failed to include material terms, wound up costing thousands of dollars more (or in one case, tens of thousands more) to fix the problems the DIY documents caused than if they had been done right in the first place.

What it comes down to is that every person is unique and every situation is different; there's no one-size-fits-all legal document. Sure, lawyers start out using a form as a template, but again, every client and circumstance is unique and therefore requires a unique legal solution.

If you need help drafting legal documents that fit your specific situation and are more likely to be enforceable in court, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment. We proudly serve clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

Clear & Effective Legal Writing - You should be able to understand what your lawyer is saying and what you are signing!

Look, we recognize that as a profession, when we write, lawyers have a bad reputation for being overly technical, verbose, and confusing. Here at the Law Offices of P. Stephen Aita, we don't believe that's the right approach to legal writing. Writing in plain English and legal writing have the same goal: communicating complex ideas in an understandable and manageable form. As Justice Thomas once said, the “beauty is not to write a five cent idea in a ten dollar sentence” but rather “to put a ten dollar idea in a five cent sentence.”

We do our best to write contracts, letters, Wills, and pleadings with minimal legalese. We believe in the revolutionary idea that our clients should actually understand what we're saying and what they're signing. We actually had the brother of a friend call this week just so we could interpret and explain for him the things his lawyer in California was writing to him!

If you want to hire a lawyer whose priority is making sure you understand what's going on with your own legal matter, 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.

Office Closed for Thanksgiving

Needless to say, our office will be closed November 23-26 to celebrate Thanksgiving. We'll be back at it on Monday the 27th. Everyone have a great holiday weekend!

What do we do when we represent the Personal Representative of an Estate?

If you've been named Executor in someone's Will, it's a good idea to hire a lawyer to represent you and the estate. Initially, the lawyer files the Will and the probate petition with the Court to appoint someone as the Executor (now called the "Personal Representative" or "PR"). The lawyer's job is also to handle all other required proceedings in court. For example, the lawyer may file or defend a Will contest to decide who becomes PR. The lawyer deals with creditors’ claims and also gives notice to creditors, and heirs, beneficiaries, and other people who are entitled to receive notice of the probate.

After all the various administrative tasks have been completed, the lawyer prepares and files either a Declaration of Completion or a Petition for Final Distribution. Both of these documents report to the Court what the PR has done during their term of administration. The final probate pleadings account to the heirs for the assets and money that have come into the personal representative’s hands.

The lawyer may further deal with the lawyer handling an ancillary probate if any property is owned in another state. Non-probate issues can also arise which require legal attention, like getting, receiving, or obtaining payment of life insurance and dealing with things like payment of annuities.

One of the purposes of lawyer is to advise the PR regarding his or her legal duties and make sure those duties are carried out. A PR is a fiduciary to the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate. This means that the PR has a duty of care to those people and is required to set aside his or her personal interests in favor of the beneficiaries.

One primary task that must be done is preparing and filing a full and final account of what the PR has done during their term as PR. This includes information about bank accounts and deposits, amounts received, bills paid, dispositions of stocks and bonds including gains and losses on sales, sales of securities and receipts of dividends or losses on the sales. Accountings can become quite complicated. If nothing else, most PRs eventually use a lawyer to perform the accounting function at least.

Often, in more complicated estates, an accounting firm that is familiar with court accounting requirements is hired to do the actual accounting. The lawyer receives and reviews the accounting and drafts a petition for final distribution and accounting. This way, the heirs are informed regarding what went on in the estate, and how much each is entitled to.

Probating an estate can be difficult and complicated. If a friend or loved one has passed away and named you as their Executor, we can help make the probate administration process as painless for you as possible. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment to see how we can help.

Collaborating with an Estate Planning Lawyer in the United Kingdom

We recently got to collaborate on an estate plan with a lawyer in the UK. Our client is an immigrant and now a U.S. citizen, but still owns her family's house in Scotland. It was interesting to see how the laws of Wills and inheritance in the U.S. and the UK are so closely related yet different - where Washington law has clearly descended from English and Spanish law yet has evolved with the times, the law in Scotland is much the same as it was 300 years ago.

And this is also a good opportunity for us to remind you that people who own real estate in more than one country - or even more than one state - have special estate planning needs. We can help with that. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to make an appointment.

Representing People Who've Been Injured in Auto Collisions

We have a long history of representing people who have been injured in auto collisions. We believe that people who have been hurt in auto collisions have a right to compensation for their injuries. If you or a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in a car crash because of someone else's negligence, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to make an appointment for a free initial consultation.

Looking to buy or open a new bar or restaurant? We can help with your legal needs.

We handle all of the legal needs for clients in the hospitality industry. We understand the nuances of starting a restaurant or bar. We start with business plan review and drafting subscription agreements to help you raise money, we then move on to forming a company and drafting partnership agreements to seal the deal, and then we review and negotiate a solid lease so you can get your place up and running. We will also make sure that all of your licensing is in order prior to opening for business. Additionally, you must make sure that your licenses, once obtained, are up to date, remain in good standing, and have been amended if necessary. We can assist you in obtaining a liquor license, health department permit, and any other permits or licenses issued by the Washington State Liquor & Cannabis Board, Department of Revenue, your county Health Department, or other county or city licensing agencies. We will make sure that you are protected and we will give you the best chance to open and run a successful bar or restaurant.

Once your company has been formed, perhaps the most crucial document in your company must be drafted. For corporations, this is the “shareholder agreement” and for LLCs it's the “operating agreement.” These documents are the agreement between you and your partners and will govern your rights and responsibilities as you move forward with your business. No matter who you go into business with, whether it’s your best friend, spouse, or coworker, it is absolutely imperative that you take the time to have a lawyer draw up this agreement. We will ensure that the agreement will address specific issues relevant to the bar and restaurant industry so that in the event that an issue arises, you can turn to the agreement for direct answers.

And then during the course of your business, you will be required to sign a variety of contracts and may wish to draw up your own. We have experience reviewing, negotiating, and drafting all types of contracts including chef and general manager employment agreements, vendor contracts, and anything else that you may want to memorialize in a contract.

If you're a bar or restaurant owner, or are looking to open a new place or buy an existing one, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help you.

What is probate?

Probate is essentially the legal method in which someone, often called the “Executor” or "Personal Representative," is appointed to deal with the courts, taxing authorities, property and stock brokers, banks and other creditors, appraisers, and lawyers. The Personal Representative’s job is to dispose of the estate in a manner that best fulfills the testator’s intent: paying the testator’s taxes and lawful debts, making certain that bequests are paid, disposing of real or personal property, establishing trust funds for specific purposes, and preserving the estate’s value to the greatest possible degree.

The Personal Representative is tasked with probating a Will in accordance with the testator's wishes and design, notifying all applicable parties of the estate distribution, determining the assets of the estate, and distributing the estate in accordance with the wishes of the testator and all applicable law. If no Will is available, then the Personal Representative is tasked with handling the affairs of the estate in accordance with state laws of intestacy.

We are available to assist you in the event that you need assistance through the difficult tasks inherent in the probate administration process. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can help.

Discount on Estate Planning Legal Services During November

November is a pretty big deal around here. This November marks 21 years of practicing law and 5 years since moving our office to Gig Harbor! To commemorate, if you retain us for estate planning services during the month of November, we'll knock 50% off your legal fees. Give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment.

Estate Planning File Reviews at the End of October and April Every Year

Well it took all day, but guess what we spent the day doing yesterday? At the end of October and April every year, we review our estate planning files and send review letters to clients. We review these files so that we can alert clients as to changes in state or federal laws which could affect them and indicate a need to update their estate plans. We recommend that clients regularly examine their estate plans and suggest such review be made at least once every 3-4 years, and more often if there have been major changes in family size, relationships, or assets.

If you would like a copy of our checklist of things that might warrant a change in your estate plan or if you think your estate plan should be reviewed or changed in any way, call us at 253.858.5434 for an appointment so that we can meet to discuss your needs and help revise your estate plan to fit your current needs.

Estate Planning for the Specific Needs of Licensed Professionals

Licensed professionals can have specific needs regarding their estate plans. For our clients who are lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, architects, engineers, financial planners, etc., we often include provisions in their Will or Trust for the appointment of a "Special Administrator" or "Professional Advisor" with knowledge of the client's profession who can help protect the interests of their clients and to wind down or close their practice, including selling of the practice, collecting accounts receivable, paying expenses relating to the practice, reconciling trust accounts, refunding any unused trust account balances owing to the professional's clients, employing another professional to review their client's files, complete unfinished work, notifying their clients of the professional's death and assisting them in finding other lawyers, dentists, accountants, etc., and providing their malpractice carrier and any professional regulatory body with the name of the person who will be responsible for the long-term storage of and access to the professional's closed files. These provisions often work hand-in-hand with the client's business succession planning for their practices.

If you (or a friend, family member, or neighbor) are a lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant, architect, engineer, financial planner, or other licensed professional and you have questions about we can meet your practice's and your specific circumstances' estate planning or business succession planning needs, 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.