Our practice specializes in the typical legal issues that surface for many people at some point in their lives, from family law matters such as pre- and post-nuptial agreements, uncontested separation or divorce, and mediation, to matters surrounding caring for loved ones after you are gone, including setting up wills and trusts. We round out our practice with a focus on business law, as many of the same clients with family law and estate planning matters also need assistance in setting up and running their small businesses. Our attorneys can assist with drafting and reviewing contracts and also setting up corporations and other business entities. You’ll find answers to some common questions below.
It can be very intimidating to try and find a lawyer, let alone a good lawyer that is a great match for you. When you are in the midst of a difficult legal issue in your life, the last thing you want is the added stress of finding the right lawyer for you.
The first thing you should do is make sure that your legal issue is one that the lawyer you are considering meeting with specializes in. It will end up saving both you and the lawyer a lot of time and money if you hire the lawyer to do something he or she has expertise in. Next, call and make an appointment, otherwise known as a “consultation”. At this consultation, the lawyer will ask you a lot of questions about your legal issue. At this point an “attorney-client” relationship has formed and everything you say to the lawyer is required to be kept confidential. A lot of topics will be discussed during this initial appointment, such as the different legal options you may pursue, how long your issue will take to be resolved and how much it is likely to cost. As all legal matters are unique, it is really hard to gauge the cost or the time it will entail until you and the lawyer talk your matter through in detail. You are not required at this point to hire the lawyer, but if you feel that the lawyer is a good fit for you and your case, you may hire or “retain” the lawyer. You will likely be asked to produce a “retainer” fee. This retainer fee is essentially proof to the lawyer of your personal commitment to your case, and also guarantees you that the lawyer will set aside time to get your case going and file whatever needs to be filed.
The first time you meet with an attorney is often referred to as a “consultation”. At this initial meeting, or consultation, you will typically go to the attorney’s office to meet face-to-face to discuss your legal issue. This first meeting is very important, as it is your chance to determine whether or not you and the attorney are a good fit for each other. Many factors play into that determination: Does this attorney have enough experience handling my kind of case? Does this attorney have the time/capacity to effectively represent me? Do the attorney and I get along/are we a match personality wise? Do I get along well with the lawyer’s staff? Do they respect me and treat me well? Could I see myself working comfortably with the lawyer and office staff for what could be a length of time? All of these are really important questions to ask. It’s also important to know that coming in for a consultation does not commit you to a long-term relationship with a lawyer – it’s ok if you decide not to hire the lawyer, and it may also be the case that all of the legal advice you needed you received during that consultation.
Pick up the phone and call our Ashland office and schedule an appointment, or fill out the contact form on our website and we will call or email you to set up your appointment. We will first do a conflicts check to make sure we have not represented an adverse party to you (e.g. your spouse) previously. At your first appointment, or “consultation”, we will have you fill out a one-page new client information and fee agreement form and then you will see one of our attorneys. The two of you will discuss your case and both of you will determine if you are a good match as client and attorney. If you are, you will discuss exactly what Good, Bucy & Elson will do for you in your case, how much time it will take and how much it will cost, and what you need to do to get your case started and retain our firm. Typically we will ask for a “retainer,” which is a fee that you will pay to “retain” your lawyer. This will be used to get your case started and pay whatever filing fees may be required. We accept cash, checks and credit cards. Even though the office is in Ashland, we see clients from Medford, all around the Rogue Valley, and beyond.
Every family is different and has unique needs. Working with a qualified attorney for estate planning, real estate, and business transactions can mean the difference between a legal document that effectively carries out its intended action and a time-consuming situation that costs more to remedy than it would have to set up properly from the beginning. As your attorneys, it is our job to get to know you and ask the right questions so we can draft documents that fit your needs and perform as desired.
With many legal issues — getting divorced, drafting a will, etc. — of course you can try to handle it yourself. There are lots of resources that can assist you in these matters. If money is an issue and you have the time, this may be a good option for you. However, if you do have the means to hire a lawyer, it can save you lots of time and headache for even the “simplest” legal matter. We often receive calls from people who tried to do their own divorce and either couldn’t deal with the motherlode of paperwork involved or made it through the paperwork but did it incorrectly and are now suffering the consequences. Lawyers are here to make sense of the confusing maze of laws and processes that make up our legal system, and to help lead you through it in the most comfortable way possible. Again, sure you can do it yourself but, 9 times out of 10, a lawyer will do it better. Estate planning documents have a legally binding effect, similar to the way contracts work. Generic forms available online are unlikely to meet your specific needs, are often not completed properly, and almost always end in lengthy and expensive court proceedings to determine how to distribute your estate. An estate planning attorney can save your loved ones unnecessary stress and expense by ensuring that your documents are properly drafted.
If you and your spouse have no children, do not own property, have very few assets, agree on divorce and don’t want to spend a lot of money, you certainly can do a “do it yourself” divorce. There are many inexpensive forms available over the internet, and Jackson County Circuit offers some limited guidance on its website, along with packets of forms you can fill out for free. However, filling out the forms is time consuming and can be confusing and complicated as they are filled with legal jargon and references to laws and rules that you may not be able to easily access. Even in what seems like the simplest of divorces, hiring an attorney to file the paperwork and to answer the questions that always seem to inevitably arise can be a great investment. Even the simplest divorce can have long lasting consequences for the naive, so investing a little bit in the near term can benefit you greatly over time.
An Estate Plan addresses not only the transfer of wealth at death, but also important end-of-life decisions. A well-written Estate Plan can also avoid Probate and provide tax planning. There are four main documents that make up an Estate Plan: the Will, Trust (for those who need it), Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, and Advance Directive for health care. Having a customized and current Estate Plan in place today means important decisions can be made before stressful events take place, offering peace of mind and confidence in knowing your legal affairs are in order.
Everyone needs some type of an Estate Plan. Often, a Trust-centered plan is most appropriate. However, in certain situations, a Will-centered Estate Plan may be sufficient. It is important to have a well-thought-out Estate Plan regardless of your worth, as Estate Plans address so much more than the distribution of assets. A well-crafted Estate Plan ensures not only the distribution of your assets at death, but also the care you will receive in the event you become unable to care for yourself, financially or personally.
Just as with your investments, your Estate Plan should be reviewed annually. Family structures and finances change and adjustments to your Estate Plan may be needed to reflect these life changes. Your Estate Plan will only perform as intended if it is kept up to date.
A Will is a legal instrument that permits a person to make decisions on how one’s estate is managed and distributed after death. If there is no Will, state laws dictate how the estate is distributed. It is important to note that having a Will does not avoid Probate; however, it does ensure that assets are distributed to those you choose at the end of the Probate process.
A common belief amongst young people is that they do not need a will because, well, they are young and wills are for people who are old and going to die. The truth is that it is not fun to think about creating a will and can be very hard to even get around to setting up an appointment to make a will because, let’s face it, who wants to think about making a will and dying? The reality, however, is that especially if you have young children, it is so important that you have a will because without one your children may be left in a terrible lurch if there is no clear indication who you would like to take care of them if you are gone. Creating a will is one of the most responsible and important acts you can do as a parent.
Trusts are helpful estate planning instruments for many reasons. First and foremost, they can avoid Probate, a court-overseen procedure for administering and distributing a deceased person’s estate. Trusts can also help avoid estate taxes, which in Oregon, are triggered by an estate over $1,000,000. One of the more important features of a Trust is its flexibility in how your assets can be distributed at your death. Bequests are typically given outright; however, there are times when that is not the best way to leave someone money. Trusts provide maximum flexibility in the distribution of assets, much more so than a basic Will. Parents of blended families can also benefit from the distribution flexibility that Trusts offer. The best way to determine if you need a Trust is to meet with us. We know what questions to ask to help you determine the type of Estate Plan ideally suited to meet your needs.
There are many different types of Trusts, some revocable (can be changed over time) and some irrevocable (no changes can be made once executed). One of the simplest ways to avoid Probate is through a revocable Trust (also called a living Trust or an intervivos Trust). A Trust is a legal arrangement in which a Trustee holds legal title to property for a beneficiary. There are three main “players” in a Trust: Settlor, Trustee, and Beneficiary. The Settlor is typically the only person who can make changes to the Trust document. In a conventional living Trust, the Settlor, Beneficiary, and Trustee are initially the same person. It is only when the Settlor becomes unable to handle their own financial affairs that a successor Trustee (chosen by the Settlor) takes over management of the Trust. The Trust assets are to be used first and foremost for the benefit of the Settlor, with the remainder beneficiaries receiving an interest in the Trust only after the Settlor’s death (the same way that a person’s estate passes to their beneficiaries under a Will).
Durable Power of Attorney for finances (DPA) names the person responsible for managing your finances in the event you are unable to manage them yourself. Even in a Trust-centered Estate Plan, the DPA plays an important role, governing the assets held outside the Trust. In the event of your incapacitation, your successor Trustee will take over and manage your Trust assets while your agent under the DPA will manage all non-Trust assets.
This important document combines a Power of Attorney for healthcare and a living Will, or directive to physicians, into one document. This process allows you to name an agent to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are unable to make them on your own. When choosing your agent, be sure it is someone who will be able to make the decisions you want made. For instance, if you feel strongly that in the event you are in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state, you would not want to be kept alive, make sure your agent will be able (morally and emotionally) to direct your healthcare provider to withdraw life-sustaining treatment and let you go.
Probate is the legal process by which a decedent’s assets are distributed under court supervision. Probates are triggered by the decedent’s worth at the time of their death. If the decedent has a valid Will, the assets are distributed according to the terms of that document at the end of Probate. If there is no Will (died intestate), state statutes dictate how the assets are distributed. Probates are overseen by the court and can take as much as 8-12 months or even more to complete. No assets may be distributed before the end of Probate, when the judge signs an order authorizing distribution of the estate’s assets.
One of the simplest ways to avoid Probate is through the creation of a Trust. When a Trust is drafted, the Trust becomes the legal owner of the decedent’s assets. When the decedent passes away, he or she does so holding title to little or no assets in their name. Because the decedent’s estate is worth less than the amount required to trigger a Probate, assets are transferred through the Trust without the need for court hearings
Robert W. Good, Attorney at Law
Scott C. Bucy, Attorney at Law
Rheanna Wohosky, Paralegal
Jo Hanna Dorris, Legal Assistant