Thursday, July 19, 2007

Visit my old Blog for more information This was a great blog until it decided not to allow me to post anymore. Please visit it for many other posts that contain lots of interesting family law information.

I found the divorce forms -- now what?

After locating forms, you need to fill them out. The clerks at the courthouse and the Judge do NOT do this. Why should you hire an attorney? Because we know what paragraphs to select. The clerks cannot fill out the forms because they are NOT attorneys and it is illegal for them to give legal advice.

Basic divorce paperwork

There are some documents that EVERY divorce needs in the State of Texas: 1. Original Petition for Divorce (usually just called the Petition). 2. Either a WAIVER OF SERVICE or proof of service on the other spouse. 3. A Final Decree of Divorce. YOU (or your attorney) need to prepare these documents. They do NOT pass them out at the courthouse. They do not "magically" appear.

Am I divorced after 60 days?

Many people coming to the Houston Volunteer Lawyers booth have heard that if they file a divorce that they are "magically" divorced after 60 days. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! After a divorce has been on file at the courthouse for 60 days, one of the parties needs to come to court and stand in front of the Judge. Under oath, the person reads a statement to verify everything in their petition and decree. Then the Judge reviews the paperwork and either approves or disapproves the divorce. The divorce is NOT final for 30 days. Therefore, you should not marry for 30 days AFTER the Judge signs the final decree of divorce.

Am I divorced after 60 days?

Many people coming to the Houston Volunteer Lawyers booth have heard that if they file a divorce that they are "magically" divorced after 60 days. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! After a divorce has been on file at the courthouse for 60 days, one of the parties needs to come to court and stand in front of the Judge. Under oath, the person reads a statement to verify everything in their petition and decree. Then the Judge reviews the paperwork and either approves or disapproves the divorce. The divorce is NOT final for 30 days. Therefore, you should not marry for 30 days AFTER the Judge signs the final decree of divorce.

Do It Yourself Kits on-line

I have been filling in at the Houston Volunteer Lawyer booth in the basement of the Family Law Center for the past two weeks while their normal attorney is on vacation. I've seen horrible kits purchased on-line from $30 - over $400. DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY! These kits are from New York, California and Washington. Even the legal site entitled something like "Texas divorce law" is from New York! I strongly urge you to hire a professional to help you. PLEASE DON'T USE A NOTARY OR PARALEGAL. There are apparently several notaries doing legal forms for people. I don't know who these people are but what they are doing is illegal in the State of Texas. It is called barrarity and it is a criminal offense. When caught, they are actively prosecuted. Why? Because they are doing things wrong and basically stealing people's hard earned money. A notary can be a high school drop-out. There is NO training of any kind for a notary. I've had so many people crying at the booth when they learn they have wasted time and money. When my plumbing breaks, I hire a plumber. It's funny that everyone can find the money when their toilet backs up! However, many people say they don't have money for an attorney.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

2007 Pro Bono and Legal Services Award -- Frank J. Scurlock Award Lan T. Nguyen received the 2007 Frank J. Scurlock Award. She was recommended for the award by the Houston Bar Assocation's Executive Director, Kay Sim. I've known Lan for many years and I can't say enough good things about her. She is an outstanding attorney. She is an extremely hard worker. She does many pro bono cases through Houston Volunteer Lawyers and other Houston area charities. In one case, I represented a Vietnamese grandmother though Houston Volunteer Lawyers Progam, when I asked for an interpreter -- I was referred to Lan. Unfortunately, she was already one of the attorneys on the case! It was a very complex and difficult case, but even though Lan was a strong advocate for her client, she was a person that was pleasant to deal with and to easily respect. Her word is like gold! When the situation gets stressful, she is able to maintain her cool and her sense of humor. Congratulations to Lan T. Nguyen for her work in the Houston community and the Houston Vietnamese community! She is inspiring! She is an outstanding person!
Texas Bar Jounal - July, 2007 On page 589 I'm listed under TEXAS MEDIATOR CREDENTIALY ASSOCIATION -- Announces Credential Holders for 2007 --under CANDIDATES FOR CREDENTIALED MEDIATOR. I'm excited because I don't recognize any other Harris County attorney that does exclusively family law on the page. I went to South Texas Law School with M. S. Frost Haenchen and Fred A. Simpson. I don't think that either of these guys do any family law. There might be some other family law attorneys but none from Harris County. I joined in 2006 because I wanted to commit to doing family law mediations seriously and I wanted to be part of an outstanding mediation group. ADR is celebrating its 20th anniversary of the Texas ADR Act -- Alternative Dispute Resolution.
WHY YOU SHOULD CALL ME -- If you have a legal question -- email or call me. I offer a free 10 minute consultation. Why? Because most people are scared because they do not understand or know Texas law. Why? Because I believe that knowledge is power. Why do I contineu to do this after so many years? I do a huge referral business -- I'm up to 3 generations in some families! Why? Because if I help you now, you will refer everyone you know to me in the future! Why? Because I receive referrals from opposing parties because I was fair and reasonable. I always attempt to treat everyone I talk to with respect and in a civil tone. Why? Because my clients come back to me when they need to modify their legal documents. Why? Because I'm a strong advocate for all children! Why? Because I try to talk to plain English and I don't sugar-coat reality. Why? Because I tell you the pros and cons of your case. Why? Because I treat you like I expect to be treated by any attorney I'd consider hiring. Why? Because if I don't think I'm the right attorney for you, I will send you to an attorney that I know and trust that is reasonably priced.
ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS I HAVE & YOU SHOULD TOO Here are the estate planning documents that I have and I think every Texan should have: 1. Medical Power of Attorney for Health Care with the required disclosure statement. 2. Statutory Advance Medical Directive -- common known as a "LIVING WILL" I named mine -- Directive to Physician and to My Family and Friends 3. Declaration of Guardian in the Event of Later Incapacity or Need of Guardian -- no one thinks they will ever need this document -- but it can save you and your family much heartache if you do it! 4. Delcaration for Mental Health Treatment -- this document is fairly new in the State of Texas and since I have a limited medical knowledge I'm not real comfortable with it -- but I think it is a good document and one that execute after talking to an attorney that understands all the ins and outs of this document. 5. Appointment of Agent to Control Dispositon of Remains -- you absolutely need this if you are not married -- I strongly urge everyone to designate someone to be responsible for the funeral and/or memorial service. 6. Texas Dept. of Health Standard Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resusitate Order 7,. A Texas Will 8. Maybe -- Statutory Durable Power of Attorney -- a very powerful document in Texas -- BEWARE! There are many choices in this document and it MUST be done properly after talking to a knowledgeable attorney. I strongly urge everyone to review their estate planning documents every 5 years! I'm obsessive and I do it annually. I like the following estate planning attorneys because they are reasonable and they are all able to speak in plain English: 1. Kevin Alter 2. Keith Lynch 3. Patricia Bushman If you want to hire me to be your advocate, I charge $150 per hour to meet with you and then meet with any attorney you hire to make sure they do everything right! If you need a care manager, I personally recommend, BARBARA BOWER of Caremanagers, Inc. in Houston, Texas. She has been acting as an advocate for many, many years and my family uses her. I strongly urge you to hire an advocate when dealing with your elderly family members. She has saved me from pulling out all of my hair! She is appointed by many courts to represent people that have no family. She has been a life-saver for me! Why do I discount my rates? Because I've represented many of my parents friends in their legal problems and I think it's important for older folks not to be taken advantage of! My own father got "scammed" by a "nice young man from Florida" who was day-trading and lost over $250,000 of money within 90 days! Thank God, I was keeping track of his bank accounts and I happened to be eating lunch with my Dad one day when the "nice young man" called to see who my Dad was feeling that day! PS -- I hope this "nice young man" roasts in hell and suffers 10 times the losses he incurred for my Dad!

Friday, July 6, 2007

LIVING TRUST SCAMS IN THE STATE OF TEXAS: Living Trust Scams versus the truth in the State of Texas -- I often talk to people that say "I have a living trust so I'm not worried." When I try to determine what they have done, they have no idea. They think a "LIVING TRUST" solves all of their problems. WRONG!!!!! I'm no expert on estate planning. However, the July, 2007 Texas Bar Journal had an interesting article designed for clients. I'm summarizing the article: 1. Sales people target people over 50 and try to selling them living trusts. So you need to ask yourself -- Do you understand what a living trust means in the State of Texas? 2. You need to carefully consider if this is the best idea for you. 3. Do not fall victim to "act now" or high pressure sales pitches. 4. Talk to your children, your best friend, your minister, your doctor, your accountant, CPA, estate planning attorney, banker or financial advisor (in other words -- people you know and trust!!) before setting up a living trust. 5. Many salesman make false, incomplete or incompetent statements regarding the laws of the State of Texas. 6. Consider going to an estate planning attorney or elder care attorney and paying for an hour of their time before making your final decision. Most charge under $300 for an hour consultation. I personally highly recommend Kevin Alter, Patricia Bushman or Keith Lynch all of Houston, Texas. They will be honest with you and they are all able to speak to you in plain English! If you are still scared, I charge $150 per hour to go with you to any probate or estate planning attorney, and be your advocate on YOUR behalf. 7. Many salesman claim that you will save money on taxes. This is misleading. Most Texans will not have a death tax! If your estate is taxable, a will can accomplishy the exact same tax savings as a trust for less money. 8. If anyone tells you that a living trust will help you qualify for public assistance benefits they are not telling the truth. 9. If anyone tells you that a living trust will help you avoid a contested will again they are not telling the truth. (Hint: a trust and a will are separate legal concepts in Texas and do 2 completely different things!!) 10. A living trust will NOT help you avoid your creditors! 11. A living trust may or may not avoid the expense of a guardianship. The State of Texas also offers a power of attorney that might work. However, you need to talk to a competent attorney to know what document is right for your particular situation. 12. Many salesman claim that attorneys will take 3-10% to probate your estate. This is a false claim. If you doubt my last comment, then you need to talk to 2 or 3 attorneys and see what they charge. (For 3 competent attorneys that I personally trust - call Kevin Alter, Patricia Bushman or Keith Lynch). 13. If a salesman claim that probate in the State of Texas takes years -- they don't know what they are talking about. If your will is written according to Texas laws, probate in Texas is cheap and easily -- unlike many other states. 14. If a salesman claims that probate is time intensive and costs a lot of money -- they don't understand Texas laws! 15. If a salesman claims that everyone should have a living trust -- they don't know Texas law! 16. If a salesman claims the only way to avoid probate is to have a living trust --they don't understand or know Texas law! In summary, it is your money so be slow in spending it. Don't rush! If you must take the decision immediately, then don't! Be suspicious! Recognize that many "smooth talking, sincere salesmen" are hoping to retire off the money they make from you! Con-artists make a good living on people's fears. Don't waste your hard earned money! This is YOUR money -- you need to take your time and think about what you want to do! If you want to meet with me, I charge $150 per hour to be your advocate and argue with you about all the possible implications of this "great opportunity". If you think you've been a victim of a con artist, a livng trust salesperson or an unethical attorney, please call the State Bar of Texas and report them. I will give you 3 personal examples: 1. My looked at my mother's will and it had typos in it -- it was horribly drafted by a very expensive "Galleria" attorney (it cost her over $5,000). I took her to Kevin Alter who wrote a very short will for her for under $500. When I asked Kevin why it was so "basic" he said that her estate was under the State of Texas non-taxable estate and there was no need for her to have a "fancy" will. I thought about it & realized he was right! (As an attorney, I admit that I like things to be long, detailed and drawn out!) 2. If I die tomorrow, my children do not have to probate my estate. Even though I have a will, I've purposely left all of my assets in accounts with "rights of survivorship". Therefore, my utilities and credit cards will not be paid and my kids inherit directly from me. However, I review my documents on an annual basis to make sure that my personal situation has not changed. I have purposely designed my estate to be "broke" when I die so that no creditor can collect. If I win the lottery tomorrow, I will definately talk to an estate attorney before collecting my lottery winnings and I will revise my will to include trusts to go where I want the money to go. 3. My father has advanced Alzheimer's disease. I never had him declared imcompetent. As he was getting ill, we moved everything into a family trust. Even though he has a will, his children and grand-children will receive whatever is left in his estate at his death, as HE WANTED IT! The probate of his estate, at his death, will be easy and inexpensive. Now that he is mentally incompetent (and 5 years later) I would have made some changes to what we did; however, overall the documents we did will ultimately accomplish what he wanted. After he was mentally incompetent, he apologized to me for some of the decisions(he wanted me to be sole executor of the estate) he made -- but it was too late to revise the documents. Looking back, he could have accomplished what he ultimately wanted easier and cheaper. Unfortunately, we cannot change the documents now. Of course, he never thought he'd live this long and end up incompetent. He thought he'd just die quickly and easily.