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.

Discount on Estate Planning Legal Services for New Clients in November

November is a pretty big deal here at the Law Offices of P. Stephen Aita. This November marks 22 years of practicing law and 6 years since moving our office from Seattle here to Gig Harbor. So every November we offer you this: Any new client who hires us this month to represent them on their estate plan (Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc.) gets 50% knocked off their attorney's fees. Go tell your friends. And give us a call at 253.858.5434 to make an appointment to come see us.

Vote Gonzalez for Washington State Supreme Court

There is only one contested position on the ballot for the Washington State Supreme Court. It’s a complete no-brainer, but just in case: Steve González is the incumbent Supreme Court Justice; he's a fair and contemplative jurist and has been rated "exceptionally well qualified" by 11 bar associations. Nathan Choi is his opponent; he has never been a judge, has refused to cooperate with any judicial evaluation, and his campaign website includes links to YouTube videos ranting about "Deep State" conspiracy theories. Vote González.

Representing Personal Representatives of Decedents' Estates

Probate is the court-supervised process which involves collecting a decedent's assets, notifying creditors, paying debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. We work to guide Personal Representatives through the probate process and the administration of a decedent's estate.

If a friend or loved one has died and you've been named Personal Representative of the estate, 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.

Tips for Keeping Your Relationship with Your Estate Planning Lawyer Efficient and Productive

When you hire a lawyer to prepare your estate plan, both you and the lawyer should work at keeping your working relationship efficient and productive. Your lawyer should always clearly explain your options, estimate what the legal work will cost, and treat your decisions with respect. Here are some pointers for holding up your end of the deal.

BE HONEST AND FORTHCOMING. To get the best estate plan for you and your family, you’ll need to give your lawyer detailed information about your assets and finances—what you own, what it’s worth, how you hold title, and so on. But estate planning is all about your goals for your family—which means that you may also need to share some private or embarrassing information about family members. For example, what if you want to leave money to your children equally, but one of them is terrible with money, has an addiction problem, or is married to someone you don’t trust?

Your lawyer should have some good suggestions for ways to handle difficult family situations. Instead of leaving money outright to an irresponsible child, for example, you might want to set up a trust, with someone else to manage the money for that child’s benefit. A solution like that could save your family a lot of heartache down the road.

It’s unpleasant to air this kind of dirty laundry, but it’s imperative that you do so. Keep in mind that your lawyer has heard about all kinds of family dysfunction before and won’t be shocked by anything you have to say. And because of attorney-client confidentiality, your lawyer cannot disclose anything you say in the context of your professional relationship.

PAY BILLS PROMPTLY. Paying your lawyer on time sounds simple, but clients sometimes let lawyers’ bills slide. And you can’t expect a lawyer to keep working for you without getting paid. If you’re having trouble with a bill, talk to the lawyer and work out a plan for payments.

EDUCATE YOURSELF. Lawyers are good at lots of things, but they aren’t always good at explaining legal concepts in plain English—and you probably don’t want to pay them to educate you, anyway. So get a leg up on the whole estate planning process by learning the basics before you see a lawyer. If you’re an informed client, you’ll know what questions to ask and be more likely to understand the answers.

ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t be afraid to ask about anything you’re unsure of. But you can make things more efficient for both you and the lawyer if you collect a few questions and ask them together, during one phone call or visit. (If you’re paying hourly, this will also save you money.) Email is also a good way to organize your thoughts and questions. If you’re talking on the phone or in person, take notes on the lawyer’s answers—estate planning can be legally complicated and emotionally taxing, and (just as when you visit the doctor) it can be hard to remember everything you heard.

HELP OUT. Don’t pay a lawyer for routine tasks that don’t require legal skills. You can do a lot of work yourself. For example, you could gather documents the lawyer wants to see, such as deeds, divorce decrees, insurance policies, and retirement account statements. You could also make phone calls to track down information.

We have been representing estate planning clients for the past 22 years. If you have questions about how we can be of service to you and your family, give us a call at 253.858.5434. We proudly represent clients throughout Washington and Idaho and are available to meet in person, by phone, or via Skype or FaceTime.

When you've been injured in an auto collision, call a lawyer sooner rather than later.

When you've been injured in an automobile collision, call a lawyer sooner rather than later. We'll deal with the insurance companies for you, gather your medical records, analyze your claim, and present a settlement proposal to the insurance company on your behalf. We have represented injured people and their survivors for over 20 years. 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 right away.

When it comes to getting legal advice for your small business, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Among the countless worries for entrepreneurs who are starting or are already running a small business is the question of whether they need a lawyer. The perception is that lawyers charge high rates and many small businesses don't have much, if any, extra capital with which to pay lawyers. As a result, most small business owners only hire a lawyer when confronted with a serious legal problem (e.g., you're getting sued). However, legal help is a cost of doing business that often saves you money and helps your business in the long run.

While you certainly don't need a lawyer for every step of running your business, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure. There are times when a business faces issues that are too complex, too time consuming, or fraught with liability issues to handle on your own. At that point, the wisest move is to hire a lawyer. A few examples include:

* Creating a partnership agreement, limited liability company (LLC) operating agreement, or shareholders' agreement;
* Creating contracts for use with customers or clients;
* Creating a buy-sell agreement with partners;
* Updating any partnership, LLC, or shareholders' agreements under which you are currently operating;
* Former, current, or prospective employees suing on the grounds of discrimination in hiring, firing, or hostile work environment;
* Local, state, or federal government entities filing complaints or investigating your business for violation of any laws;
* You want to make a "special allocation" of profits and losses or you want to contribute appreciated property to your partnership or LLC agreement;

* An environmental issue arises and your business is involved (even if your business didn't cause the environmental problem, you may be penalized);
* Negotiating for the sale or your company or for the acquisition of another company or its assets.

While you certainly need to hire a lawyer for the serious issues above, your emphasis should be placed on preventing such occurrences in the first place. Prevention does not necessarily involve hiring a lawyer, though consulting with one wouldn't hurt. By the time you or your business is sued, the preventable damage has been done and the only question that remains is how much you'll be paying in attorney's fees, court fees, and damages.

For example, by the time a prospective employee files a lawsuit claiming discrimination based in part upon questions posed at the job interview, all you can do is hire a lawyer to defend the lawsuit. If, on the other hand, you had done your own research on anti-discrimination laws, or you had consulted a lawyer beforehand, you would have known not to inquire as to whether the applicant was pregnant or planned on becoming pregnant. The small effort at the beginning of the process would save you an enormous headache later.

To prevent unnecessary legal costs at the inception of your business as well as tremendous costs after a lawsuit has been filed, you might consider a consultation arrangement with a lawyer. Such an arrangement would entail you doing most of the legwork of research and the attorney providing legal review or guidance. For example, you might use self help and online sources to create a contract with a vendor and ask a lawyer to simply review and offer suggestions. Or from the previous example, you might research types of questions to ask during an interview and then send the list to a lawyer for their approval. This way, you prevent the potential headache later and the cost to you is minimal because you've already done most of the work and the lawyer simply reviews the document.

You obviously won't need a lawyer for each and every legal issue that comes up in your business. But when you do, it's good to know where to find the right one. And--more to the point--you may not know you need legal help until it's too late, as lawyers can help you stay in compliance with the law and spot developing legal issues early. Get ahead of the curve by finding an experienced lawyer to advise you on your small business's legal needs.

We have been representing small businesses and their owners for 22 years. We represent 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 see how we can be of service.

What is a probate lawyer?

At one point or another, we all hear about probate lawyers. If you’re like most people you don’t pay attention until one day you’re faced with the inevitable – you need one. So what specifically is a probate lawyer?

A probate lawyer manages the filing of a deceased individual's Will. Sometimes there are disputes that arise from the disposition of property. Basically, a probate lawyer is an estate or a trust lawyer.

Far too many people do not think about finding a probate lawyer until someone has died. When this happens, then there is a sense of urgency to hire a lawyer, therefore not allowing a lot of time to shop around for the lawyer who will best represent your interests.

This area of law can be simple and straightforward or it can be confusing and convoluted. All this depends on the degree of estate planning by the deceased while they were living.

Before going any further, this is a good time to stress the importance of having a Will and making sure you have completed as much as possible to ensure that your family members are not going to experience any added emotional distress after you die. It isn’t something we like to do, but in reality it truly can be the best thing you can do for your loved ones while you are alive.

Simply defined, probate is the process that occurs after an individual dies that involves distributing assets and taking care of any debts. This is a process that happens regardless of whether or not there is a Will.

Probate attorneys can help you create a Will so that your family members can have some security in the event of your death. They also can assist with trust planning (including living trusts) as well as powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney. In addition, a probate lawyer can help a person with asset protection and, of course, the preparing and filing of all documents required by a probate court.

There are other matters that probate lawyers deal, with such as income tax issues, requesting court permission for various actions as required, and retitling the decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries.

Some people question if they really need a lawyer to do all this and there is no for sure answer because ultimately the choice is up each individual. Legally a lawyer does not have to write a Will or handle an estate. This can be done on your own but it is not advisable because failure to execute administer the estate properly may end up in a personal liability lawsuit after all is done. Challenges to a Will can and do occur on a regular basis and when this happens it becomes necessary to have a good lawyer who is fully equipped to handle the case.

Making sure that everything is taken care of before passing on is crucial. An experienced lawyer will know everything that needs to be done in order to probate an estate in a timely manner.

Remember, having a Will may ultimately be the best gift you can give to your loved ones. 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.

Legal Writing Tip #847 (file this under "Words Matter")

Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations of Latin phrases used to clarify writing. They’re similar – but not identical – and getting them wrong can change the meaning of your document. Here’s a rundown.

An abbreviation for “id est,” i.e. is used to restate in different words what you’ve just said, i.e., to offer more information or be more explicit:

* A gratuity is already included in the bill, i.e., no tips are necessary.

* We offer new renters the standard discount, i.e., one month free.

* I like to play board games, i.e., Monopoly and Scrabble. (Note: using i.e. implies that those are the only board games you enjoy.)

An abbreviation for “exempli gratia,” e.g. is used to provide an example. Importantly, what follows e.g. is not a finite list but rather just a few examples from a longer list:

* Be sure to eat enough foods with protein, e.g., nuts, beans, and cheese.

* She was the star of many 6th grade activities (e.g., chess, soccer, and choir).

* I like to play board games, e.g., Monopoly and Scrabble. (Note: using e.g. implies you’re listing just a couple of the board games you like.)

Regarding mechanics, sometimes you’ll see these abbreviations in italics but that’s not required. What is required is a period after each letter, and the abbreviations are usually followed by a comma. Essentially, i.e. and e.g. are to be treated like the phrases they represent so use the same punctuation you otherwise would (e.g., you can use them in parenthesis, after a comma, a semicolon, or even a dash if you want emphasis).

Of course, whenever possible, it’s preferable to use English instead of Latin and full words (“in other words” or “for example”) instead of abbreviations. But i.e. and e.g. are certainly acceptable, especially when space is at a premium.

To our lawyer colleagues, please stop using i.e. when you mean e.g., because now you've just changed the meaning of the Order you asked the Judge to sign and we're going to have to come back to Court to clarify.

Powers of Attorney for Minor Children's Health Care

What happens to your kids if you become incapacitated, either because of illness, injury, or age and the other parent is unavailable to make decisions for them? Washington law now allows parents of minor children to prepare a Power of Attorney for Children's Health Care, appointing someone you know and trust to make the child's health care decisions in the event you are unable to do so yourself and the other parent is either dead, also incapacitated, or otherwise unavailable. You can also use this document to nominate a guardian for your child is one is necessary.

If you would like to learn more about preparing a Power of Attorney for Children's Health Care, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment today.

Attorneys Against Hunger Fundraiser - Benefitting the Idaho Foodbank

Idaho Folks - The Idaho State Bar is asking you to participate in the 2018 Attorneys Against Hunger fundraiser benefitting the Idaho Foodbank.

The Idaho Foodbank fills a vital role in Idaho by providing food assistance to the 221,800 Idahoans who are food insecure. 13.2% of Idaho's residents are food insecure and 16.7% of Idaho's children are food insecure - that's 72,840 children.

On Wednesday, October 17, please go to Boise Brewing (521 W. Broad Street in Boise) from 5:00-7:00 to help benefit this great cause. Boise Brewing will be donating 10% of its sales to the Idaho Foodbank. In addition, food will be provided by Goodwood BBQ for a suggested $20 donation.