Organizing your Legal Life
Understanding the Basics
- Legal Education, Communication, Action and Maintenance.
- Learn how these can help you and your family save money.
- Learn about Wills, Living Wills and Power of Attorney matters.
- Find out how to organize your legal documents.
This presentation will provide you with information about how to take charge of your Legal Life and assist you as you pass through the Legal Life Cycles.
Frank D. Edens
Copyright 2007 – Legal Life, Inc.
A LegalLife™ Product
LegalLife™ is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice. Information provided by LegalLife™ is not a substitute for legal advice from an attorney of your choice.
About the Author
Frank D. Edens is an attorney who has practiced law since 1984 with the firm of Adams & Edens, Brandon, MS. In 1998, he co-founded U.S. Legal Forms, Inc. and USLegal, Inc. and has held the position of CEO of these companies since that time.
The USLegal Companies offer legal forms, information and access to legal services over the Internet. In 2004, he founded Legal Life, Inc. for the purpose of educating the public about legal matters using radio, live events, publications and by other means.
He has appeared as a guest on radio talk shows across the United States to discuss the LegalLife™ concept.
As CEO of US Legal, Inc., Legal Life, Inc. founder Frank D. Edens, came to realize that a huge lack of legal knowledge and understanding exists across the nation, even about common and routine legal matters across all income and social classes.
This void even exists in media. The public is sometimes misled about many legal matters in the news, a factor that feeds misinformation and lack of understanding.
Legal Life, Inc. was founded for the purpose of addressing this void through seminars, live events, personal appearances, online courses and products.
By working in partnership with various media outlets, as well as large and small companies, associations and churches, Legal Life, Inc. provides valuable information to the public about how to take control of their LegalLife™.
LegalLife™ promotes legal awareness to protect you and your family.
- Why Important
Millions of people spend thousands of needless dollars on attorney fees due solely to their failure to pay attention to their legal matters. Like preventive medicine, education before the legal matter arises is important and can save you thousands of dollars, as well as much heartache and stress.
Most people do not consider their legal life until it is either too late or they have a legal problem. However, your LegalLife™ should be considered along with your health and financial matters: Health – Financial – Legal. If you care about your family you will begin to address your legal life.
Laws govern virtually everything you do, say or own. Laws not only affect you, but they also affect your family. Every person in the United States will have a Parent or loved one die. Yes, even you are going to die.
Accidents, natural disasters, emergencies and death can happen to you at any time and most people are not prepared. The events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina underscored the difficulties that can arise when people lose all their important legal documents and their loved ones.
Education will also assist you in evaluating legal matters which are constantly in the media.
- LegalLife™ Checkup Quiz
Do you have a Will? Yes No
Do your Parents have a Will? Yes No
If married, does your Spouse have a Will? Yes No N/A
If you have minor children, please choose the correct answer.
- I have minor children and have appointed a Guardian for the children in case something happens to both parents.
- I have minor children but have not appointed a Guardian for the children in case something happens to me.
- I have no minor children.
If you own real estate, the following is true.
- You know how title to the property is held and who will receive the property at your death.
- You know how title is held but do not know what the ownership form means.
- You do not know how title is held.
Your important documents (property titles, deeds, Will, marriage license, etc.) are located where?
- Together in a secure location such as a safe deposit box or safe.
- In different locations.
- I do not know.
In an emergency such as a hurricane, you would be able to quickly locate and take with you your important legal papers. Yes No
You have written information and instructions to your heirs they can use to locate your property, assets and know your wishes? Yes No
- The first step to organize your Legal Life is education.
- A general understanding of common legal matters is essential and easy.
- Legal knowledge is not just for lawyers. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
- Education will also assist you in working with professional advisors you consult.
- Things all people need to have general knowledge about discussed in this presentation include:
- Will & Estates
- Living Wills –Health Care Documents
- Powers of Attorney
- Real Estate
- Landlord Tenant
- Life Documents Organizing
Education — Wills & Estates
- A Will determines who receives your property, who will manage your estate, who will be the trustee or guardian of your children and other wishes at your death.
- If you do not make a Will, the State determines who will receive your property, administer your state and care for your children.
- Administration refers to the process of opening an estate for a person who dies without a Will.
- A person who dies without a Will is called an intestate. If a Will was made, they are called a testate.
- Probate refers to process of implementing the Will instructions in Court.
- The person appointed by the Court to handle your estate and implement your wishes is generally the person you name to be your executor, executrix, or personal representative.
- Your spouse and/or adult children may be your Personal Representative to probate your Will. An alternate may also be appointed.
- To be valid, a Will must be witnessed and executed in a certain manner. In most States, two witnesses are required.
- Certain family members or beneficiaries may not witness your Will in most States.
- You and all witnesses should be in the presence of each other at the time of execution.
- A notary may also be required if the Will is to be Self-Proved. Self-Proved means that the witnesses will not have to be located at your death. This is optional at the time you make your will.
- Your original Will should be kept in a safe place known to you and others.
- Failure to make a Will is unacceptable.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of case examples which illustrate the bad things that can happen when you fail to make a Will.
“Strangers get Estate” – Mr. Jones fails to make a Will. Upon his death, two half brothers he did not even know existed received part of his estate.
“Children go to Uncle” – Mr. and Mrs. Smith have two children, ages 5 and 7. A terrible accident occurs and both die. They had no Will. After three years of litigation between the two families about who will get custody of the children, the children go to the Father’s Brother.
“Former Spouse Receives Estates” – Mr. Jones made a Will leaving everything to his wife, Mrs. Jones. They divorce but Mr. Jones fails to change his Will. He dies and the ex-spouse received his estate.
- Education – Living Will & Health Care Decisions
A living will is a legal document which allows you to express in writing the kind of medical treatment you would authorize if you are not capable of making the decision, require life support to survive and are not likely to recover. It enables you to authorize or reject life support methods. A living will takes effect only when a patient is incapacitated and can no longer express his or her wishes.
A Living Will allows you to specify what action you desire to be taken in the event you are not able to make medical decisions and are not likely to recover.
The Living Will has different names in different States. Some States call it an Advanced Health Care Directive.
The Living Will may allow you to designate an agent as the person that will make important health care decisions for you.
A Living Will relieves other persons from having to make a difficult health care decision for you.
If you cannot make a medical treatment decision, a Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to appoint an agent to make the decisions for you.
Only one example is necessary.
The Terri Shiavo case sparked a national debate over legal issues related to health care and maintaining life by artificial means. Schiavo was 26 when she collapsed in her home and experienced respiratory and cardio arrest. She ended up in a persistent vegetative state for many years and a legal battle ensued between her husband and her parents over whether or not to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo had not articulated in writing her wishes regarding being kept alive through artificial means.
Look you may have told your Husband but it’s not in writing so you are in the same position as Terry.
Education – Power of Attorney
A power of Attorney allows you to appoint an agent to handle any of your legal, financial and other matters.
A power of attorney may include broad powers or be specific or limited to a particular matter.
May include property, finances, health care, as well as personal decision powers.
A Power of Attorney must be executed properly and may need to be notarized and/or witnessed.
State specific requirements and forms are generally required.
A Power of Attorney can be used to appoint an agent to make decisions for children.
Your agent may be your spouse and/or adult child or third party.
May be revoked at any time or automatically by the terms of the document.
Failure to make a power of attorney may require court action in many situations
A Conservatorship or Guardianship may be required if no Power of Attorney exists.
Making a Power of Attorney could save money for you and your family.
May need to be recorded in the Office of the County Recorder.
Power of Attorney
“Care of Parent Requires Court Action” – Your Mother becomes incompetent and is unable to pay her bills or otherwise care for her business. You do not have a power of attorney. Because she is incompetent, you cannot make a power of attorney now. You have to hire an attorney and go to Court to set up a conservatorship.
Education – Trusts
There are many types of trusts that can be created depending on your need.
Generally, making a trust is much more complicated than making a will and professional assistance is highly recommended.
A Living Trust is popular among some people and may be less complicated than other trusts. Commonly thought of as avoiding probate.
Trust provisions commonly in a Will are called testamentary trust provisions and are generally less complicated.
Trusts are generally used in connection with large estates or special situations. They can be effective to reduce estate taxes in large estates.
Life Insurance Trusts, Special Needs Trusts and Spendthrift Trusts are examples of some trust types.
Education – Real Estate
Real Estate law affects everyone who owns real property. Real Estate Law comes into play in many LegalLife™ matters such as property ownership, renting, neighbors, property covenants, taxes, etc.
Real Estate laws can be complicated and difficult to understand.
Basic real estate knowledge is needed if you own or acquire real estate to maintain your LegalLife™ in order.
Basic knowledge is not difficult to understand.
Buying a home is usually the largest purchase a person will make.
Transferring real estate is effectuated by the seller executing a deed to the buyer.
A deed generally contains the name of the seller and buyer, legal description of the property, as well as any reservation restrictions or conditions.
Deeds must be notarized and recorded to provide notice to the world that you own the property.
Recorded deeds are as valid as the original
Taxes must be paid or you can lose the property.
Form of ownership is the most important thing for you to understand to properly maintain your LegalLife™.
Form of ownership may include the following:
Tenants in Common
Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship
Understanding the type of ownership lets you know who will receive the property after your death or what you need to do to leave the property to who you desire.
If you are the sole owner or own as a tenant in common with others, your Will generally controls who will receive your interest in the property.
If you own the property with others as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, your co-owners will automatically receive your interest in the property at your death.
If your state is a community property state, state law, as well as the wording of the deed controls who receives the property.
Language examples of types of ownerships may include the following:
To “John Smith and Mary Smith, as tenants in
common and not as joint tenants with rights of Survivorship.”
To “John Smith”
To “John Smith and Mary Smith, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship and not as tenants in common.”
To “John Smith and Mary Smith, as community property”
Due to local custom or practice, such as placing all property to spouses in joint tenants with rights of survivorship, as well as failure of the professional to always explain this issue, many times your desired or intended property ownership is overlooked.
When the wrong form of ownership is used, the person who may receive the property at your death may not be the person you intended to receive the property.
The most common situations where unintended consequences occur involve partnerships, mixed families and multiple marriages.
“Minor Children Own Home” – Husband and Wife own their home as tenants in common. They have two minor children. Husband dies without a Will. His share of the home goes to his Wife and minor children requiring Court guardianship action.
Education – Landlord Tenant
What percentage of families owns their home in the United States? 70%
What percentage of families rent? 30%
Landlord Tenant disputes are second only to divorce.
Understanding basic landlord tenant law will help reduce
A verbal lease of Real Estate is valid? True or False.
The Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (ULTA) was designed to protect tenants and has been enacted in virtually all states.
The ULTA contains answers to resolve many landlord tenant disputes and questions.
The lease agreement can also be used to resolve disputes and answer questions.
Examples of common landlord tenant questions or disputes include the following:
- Termination Rights of Landlords
- Termination Rights of Tenants
- Maintenance and Condition of Premises
- Security Deposits
- Peaceful Enjoyment
- Liability for Unpaid Rent
“Landlord Delays Return of Deposit” – After the lease ends, the Landlord waits 6 months to return a portion of the tenants security deposit.
After education it’s time to talk.
Discuss your desires with your spouse, family, and where applicable your Children.
Your goal should consist of the following.
- Determine where important documents are located and organize.
- Review documents for potential issues.
- Determine if family documents are in place that may affect you.
- Make important legal documents that you have not made.
- Determine last wishes.
Important legal documents may include:
- Last Will and Testament
- Living Will (advanced health care direction)
- Power of Attorney
- Information Form
- Instruction Letter
You should also complete a financial statement and monthly budget to assist you organize. These will assist in your planning and provide information to your heirs if something happens to you.
Documents to locate and organize include the following:
- Birth certificate
- Marriage License
- Military Discharge
- Vehicle Titles
- Divorce Papers
- Contracts or Agreements
- Insurance Policies
- Last Will
- Power of Attorney
- Children’s Documents
- Certificate of Deposit
Get advice from your professional advisors, such as your accountant, attorney, or financial advisor if you desire.
Make your final decisions of how you desire to act.
Now it’s time to take action
Organize your important documents and locate them in a safe place
Make the important legal documents that you have not already made.
Seek professional assistance where needed. If you have a taxable estate or special needs child., etc .
Make changes to existing legal documents as needed to meet your desires.
Taking action will help resolve potential legal issues in the future and save you and your family money.
You’re organized so celebrate! Now it’s time to maintain your Legal Life.
Maintenance is just as important as taking action.
As time passes and you go through the stages of life, new legal matters will arise. We call this the LegalLife Cycle™.
Existing legal documents may need to be changed based on a change in circumstances.
New documents may need to be made.
New legal matters will need to be resolved.
Things that could happen during the LegalLife Cycle™ that could trigger the need for maintenance include:
- Birth of child
- Death of child, spouse, or other beneficiaries in your will.
- Purchase of home
- Death of parent
- Change in financial condition
- Loss of employment
- Physical condition
- Formation of business
- Sell of business
- Acquisition of assets
- Sell of assets
- Change of desires or goals or attitudes
40 die rich, 70 die poor
Understanding your LegalLife Cycle™ and paying attention to maintenance needs will:
- Save you money
- Protect you
- Protect your family
- Reduce stress
- Avoid unintended consequences
.Learning to recognize and identify the things that trigger the need for maintenance and understanding the action to take, requires that you expand your LegalLife™ education.
Many resources are available to assist you maintain your Legal Life. Some include:
- Professional Advice
- Self – Help Research
VII. LegalLife™ Checklist
LegalLife™ Understanding the Basics
Self Help Research and Reading
Make Important Documents
Existing Document Changes
Change of Circumstances
Change of desire
New legal matters
VIII. Start the Process Today!
Last Will Worksheet