Occasionally, life goes truly pear-shaped and you’re forced to enter the legal system.
Even if you’re not embroiled in a tawdry, tabloid-fodder divorce, there are still legal issues that everyone needs to address, without exception.
The problem? Or rather, one of many, if you’re having legal problems?
Lawyers are expensive.
Before I go any further:
- If you are having criminal court issues, get a lawyer. Get the best possible lawyer. Really. The cost does not compare to a lifetime in jail, or even 10 years. If you’re facing jail, get the best dang attorney you can find.
- I am not only not an attorney, but I’ve never even played one on TV. I have driven past a law school a couple of times, but never stopped in. I do know several attorney, carry the business cards of a couple and have a couple on my speed dial, just in case. If any of them thought I was giving legal advice, I’d be in trouble. To reiterate: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice.
- Don’t do a prenuptual agreement at home. A prenup will almost always be found unenforceable if both parties don’t have an attorney.
Where was I? Ah, yes. Lawyers are expensive, but there are ways to mitigate that.
First, if you are old, and a member of America’s oldest selling-the-contact-information-of-seniors-to-our-sponsors organization, AARP, you can take advantage of their Legal Services Network. It comes with a free legal consultation, which can take care of a lot of issues by itself. Beyond that, the LSN comes with pre-negotiated rates, like $80 for a simple will or $50 for a power of attorney. Call 866.687.2277 or search AARPLSN.com for a list of participating attorneys.
There a couple of things you can handle yourself.
Small claims court, also known as conciliation court. Typical cases in conciliation court include cases involving sums under $7500(varies by state) that involve unpaid debts or wages, claims by tenants to get a security deposit, claims by landlords for property damage, or claims about possession or ownership of property. Fees and procedures vary by state, but generally cost less than $100 to file. The procedures for your state can be found by googling “small claims court” and the name of your state.
Small worker’s compensation cases can be handled yourself, if they don’t involve a demotion or termination related to the injury.
Apartment and car leases are usually simple and straightforward. Read them carefully, but you probably won’t need a lawyer.
You can probably handle your own estate planning and will writing with some decent software. I love Quicken Willmaker. It walked me through a detailed will that takes care of my kids, and gave me advice on financing their futures in the horrible event that I am tragically killed before my wonderousness can fully permeate the world. It also contains forms for promissory notes, bills of sale, health care directives and more. If you have extensive property, I’d still seek an attorney’s advice, but I’d bring the Willmaker will with me to save some time and money.
Purchase agreements. A few years ago, I sold a truck to a friend and accepted payments. I made a promissory note and payment schedule. When he quit paying or calling me, that paperwork was enough to get the state to accept the repossession when I took the truck back.
A simple no-fault divorce is actually pretty painless, on the scale of divorce pain. Again, the procedures vary heavily by state.
Have you had to do any of your own legal work? How did it work out?