“If I file for bankruptcy, will I lose my car?”

No, you won’t lose your car. Well…you probably won’t lose your car. Like so many other things in life, it depends on your situation.

If you file a personal consumer bankruptcy petition – usually a chapter 7 or 13 – you keep your personal property, retirement plans and even equity in your home up to certain exemption limits. For most people I meet with, these exemption limits are high enough to cover all their furniture, coffeemakers, the 46″ Sony television, the Xbox 360 that stopped working last year, their 2001 Hyundai Accent with 147,000 miles, and their collection of grease stained NASCAR baseball caps.  Oh, and your $235,000 TIAA/CREF pension will be just fine too.

“But I’m still making payments on my 2011 Ford F-150. Don’t I have to give it back to the bank?”

If you’re current on your payments, and are able to keep making your payments, you’ll almost certainly be able to keep your car or truck. (There are some rare exceptions, but aren’t there always?)

“Wow! You really seem to know what you’re talking about! Can you help me?”

Thanks. Maybe I can help. Maybe not. So why not give me a call and find out? I don’t charge for initial bankruptcy consultations, so you don’t need to worry about giving me your last fifty bucks only to be told you need to get a job. We’ll sit down, go over your finances, and see what options we can come up with. Maybe bankruptcy will be the best course of action, or maybe we’ll figure out a plan for paying back your creditors. But either way, you’ll have finally done something about all those credit card statements you shoved in the junk drawer, hoping they’d somehow go away.

“But I don’t have enough money to pay a lawyer to represent me in a bankruptcy.”

You know, there are other lawyers in Lebanon that you might want to call. Just kidding. Look, filing a bankruptcy petition isn’t cheap. The filing fees that the court charges alone are over $300. But talk to me anyway. We can usually figure out a plan that doesn’t involve you painting my office or mowing my lawn.

Wills (or “So You’re Gonna Die”)

News Flash: Recent scientific testing has proven conclusively that you are going to die. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s just the way it is. You can exercise all day long and eat wheat bran until it’s coming out of your ears, but it’s still going to happen.

What can you do about it? Well, I have two suggestions. Info on one can be found here. My second suggestion is to write a will. Or more accurately, ask me to write one for you.

Should you try to write one without a lawyer? Yes! Because most people that do screw it up, and us lawyers ultimately make more money trying to straighten it out later. (That piece of sarcastic wisdom came from Professor Leslie MacRae, who taught Wills and Estates – also known as Stiffs and Gifts – at Dickinson School of Law.)

Okay. I don’t advocate trying to do-it-yourself when drafting a will. There is very good software available if you want to try, but there really is no substitute for sitting down with an experienced attorney and discussing your estate. I believe this so strongly that I’ll gladly review your homemade will for free or, if you like, give you a referral to another lawyer.

For what it’s worth, I’ll pass along one other will drafting philosophy I picked up from Professor MacRae (see Les, I was paying attention!): if you want something in your will, I’ll put it in. That may sound a bit simplistic or obvious, but it’s important. If you want to leave $5,000 to your dog, you can do that. I won’t impose my opinions on you. Oh, you’ll get to hear what I think, and we’ll discuss the possible ramifications of various courses of action. But in the end, we’ll go with what you want. Whether I like it or not.

Criminal Law

A women in my church once told me, “I just don’t see how a Christian can be a lawyer.”  Stunned by this rebuke, I asked “Would you prefer if all the lawyers were non-Christians?”

Defending the criminally accused is a necessary, and dare I say noble, endeavor that we must undertake if we value our freedom.  I’m not just talking in the kind of platitudes normally reserved for reenactors dressed as Thomas Jefferson.  Obviously, crime must be punished.  But it must be punished fairly and consistently.  Perhaps more importantly, determinations as to whether someone committed a crime must be fair, objective and impartial, and based solely on the facts of the case.  Without independent criminal defense attorneys, our entire judicial system, and even our very freedom, is at risk.  Hopefully you’ll never need the services of a criminal defense lawyer.  But if you are someday charged with a crime, you’ll have the right to get help from someone that understands the law.  And that, as they say, makes all the difference.

“A society should not be judged on how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals…” Fyodor Dostoevsky

Bankruptcy

Creed Bratton: Bankruptcy, Michael, is nature’s do-over. It’s a fresh start, it’s a clean slate.
Michael Scott: Like the Witness Protection Program!
Creed Bratton: Exactly!
Bankruptcy, discussed on “The Office”

That’s not exactly the way bankruptcy works, but it’s not too far off. As a society, we’ve sort of decided that people shouldn’t have to live indefinitely with crippling permanent debt. The bankruptcy laws were enacted to give those in that situation another chance. These laws have changed from time to time, and in 2005 the changes included significant reforms. But that’s where the “sort of” comes in. Bankruptcy provides significant financial relief for people in some circumstances, but may not be available to debtors in other circumstances.

Is bankruptcy right for you? Maybe. Maybe not. If you can pay your debts in a reasonable period of time and still live a reasonable lifestyle, you probably don’t need to consider bankruptcy. But if the collection agency phone calls are getting to be too much, and you don’t know how you’ll ever pay that stack of bills that just came in, it may be time to talk to a bankruptcy attorney. Give us a call. We offer free bankruptcy consultations where we’ll review your specific situation and discuss your options with you. Don’t just ignore your financial problem. Do something about it!

A Slightly Different Law Firm Website

The old website for my law firm was really boring. So are most other law firm websites. What was there? Well, a picture of me in front of law books wearing a suit. The address and phone number for the office. A list of practice areas. Yawn.

One day I decided that I hate my website, and all the other websites like it. So I made a new website. Oh sure, I’ve still got the standard picture of me and all the other stuff that screams out “Hey! I’m a lawyer!” But those things don’t really tell you anything about us. How do you get to know someone? Through conversation. And the Internet is supposed to be all about conversation these days. (It’s the ability to talk back that makes Myspace, Facebook, and all the other “Web 2.0″ sites popular, in my opinion.)

So I’m going to try posting some blogs from time to time, and I invite you to talk back.

(Update: as a lawyer in a litigious society, I should know better than most people that we need disclaimers. Lots and lots of disclaimers. Why? Well, every disclaimer you see means that there’s a lawyer somewhere writing disclaimers instead of competing with me for new clients. Also, lawyers are genetically hardwired with a need to write disclaimers. So here’s mine: this site contains my observations and opinions. It’s not legal advice for you in your specific situation. If you rely on something written here, you do so at your own risk. You got a problem with that? Sue me. Umm, on second thought, don’t.)