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#141 Checking your legal health

mp3 # 141 Checklists for Legal Health (mp3 file)

Lawyers use checklists all the time in the preparation of their cases and to consult with clients. But clients can use checklists, too.

It's not a bad idea to prepare one whenever you sit down with your lawyer, to make sure that all your questions will be answered.

Another useful checklist is one that sets forth issues and questions you should be concerned about, as you approach significant events or milestones in your life.

Here are some checklists that have been prepared by a committee of the State Bar of California.

The checklists, which originally appeared in the preventive law reporter, include both legal and general, non- legal information about some of life's happy and not- so- happy events. The checklists were reprinted in the Los Angeles times in 1992.

The first checklist is for when you turn age 18:

- I have a duty to: register for the draft (males only) within 30 days or be imprisoned or fined, and pay taxes on the money I make, and serve on juries when I am called.

- As an adult I can: vote, make a will, apply for credit in my own name, buy real estate in my own name, get a job without a work permit, get married without my parents' consent, and get a driver's license without my parents' consent.

- Until I am 21, I cannot legally: buy, sell or consume alcoholic beverages; be in a car with liquor, even if the container is sealed, without a parent or guardian; work in a place that sells alcohol as its main business; or be in a bar unless I have legal business there.

The next checklist: we're getting married.

- We must obtain a marriage license.

- If one or both of us makes a last name change we should notify credit card companies, charge accounts, banks and other financial institutions, other organizations where we have investments, insurance companies, social security administration and employers.

- We should review the beneficiaries listed in our wills, life insurance policies, bank accounts, annuities, and pension plans. - we should review funds and possessions that now become our community property (things we own together), and separate property (things we own apart from one another).

- We should determine the best way (separately or together) to sign income tax returns (for tax savings), and leases (in terms of liability).

The next checklist: we're having a baby

- We can plan for our child's future by revising our wills, reconsidering the ways we hold title to bank accounts and other assets, and having a guardian in case the child is orphaned.

- To claim the child as a dependent for federal income tax purposes we should: call the nearest internal revenue service office to confirm that the child needs a social security card; and call the nearest social security office for application information.

- To obtain a social security card for the child, we need a copy of the baby's birth certificate; and recently dated identification for the child - such as an inoculation record.

The next checklist: we're buying a home. I may need to budget these costs:

- Appraisal, inspections, down payment, monthly mortgage payments, escrow service, loan application fee, title insurance, mortgage insurance, monthly utility bills, property taxes, maintenance costs, improvements, insurance costs, homeowner association fees (in some cases), and possible assessments (street lights, sewers).

I should consider these inspections:

- General structural inspec'tion, pest control (for termites and dry rot), asbestos, and soil stability (of, for example, hillside property).

The sellers "real estate transfer disclosure statement" should tell me about:

- Structural defects (roof, wiring, etc.), easements, zoning violations, noise problems, and other information I request in writing. (your real estate agent can provide more detailed information on thi s statement and other aspects of the transaction).

My offer (deposit receipt) on the house should cover all important terms:

- Complete description of the property, description of anything else (such as appliances or a swing set) included in the sale, exact purchase price, purchase price broken down into deposit, down payment, amount of loan, my rights if inspections uncover a problem, conditions under which I can cancel, and whether my deposit is returned if I cancel.

If I sign a deposit receipt before I get the disclosure statement, I can cancel:

- In three days if the statement was personally delivered, in five days from the postmark date if it was mailed.

I can shop for a loan at:

- Banks, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, credit unions, mortgage brokers, mortgage bankers.

Among other things, my loan may:

- Have a fixed or adjustable interest rate, be seller- financed, be assumed, be due in full when I sell.

I should consider the advantages and disadvantages of a standard down- payment, larger down payment and smaller monthly payments.

My taxes and heirs are affected by whether I own the house: - by myself, as community property with my spouse, as a joint tenant (with right of survival) with one or more people, or as a tenant- in- common with one or more people.

If I fail to pay the mortgage, the lender can foreclose and:

- Must notify me that my property will be sold, must give me a

Chance to make the missed payment, collect late fees and foreclosing costs from me.

The next checklist: i'm in debt.

- I can consider: getting professional assistance in budgeting and paying off bills, asking my creditors for more time to pay my bills, filing a chapter 13 debt repayment plan in bankruptcy court, or filing for bankruptcy if I can't find a way to pay my debts.

- I can repay part or all my debts through a chapter 13 plan if i: have a steady income, owe less than $350,000 in debts for which I put up security, and owe less than $100,000 in other debts.

- If I file for bankruptcy, I still have to pay any debt for which I put up security, debts to anyone I didn't list on the bankruptcy forms, most of my unpaid income taxes and penalties for the last three years, most student loans, child and spousal support, any money I owe from a drunk- driving lawsuit, the bill for any luxury item I bought shortly before filing, or all my debts if I hide or lie about my assets.

The next checklist: I plan to divorce:

- To file for dissolution (divorce) in California, i: must have lived in the state six months and in the county for three months, must file certain legal papers with the superior court, must have copies of the filed papers and a summons delivered to my spouse, or my spouse can ask for a hearing at which a judge decides any temporary child support or support disputes, must appear in court if my spouse contests the dissolution or files an answer to the papers I filed, and I must file a sworn statement with the court saying the marriage is ending because of irreconcilable differences if my spouse does not contest or answer.

- My spouse can contest the dissolution by objecting to my plan to: divide our property, handle child custody or arrange financial support, or to any other arrangement I propose.

- I can get "summary dissolution" without going to court if my spouse and i: have been married five years or less; have no children; do not own a home, other real estate or much other property; agree on all terms of the dissolution, and meet other conditions outlined in summary dissolution information, available from the clerk of the county superior court.

- According to California law, my spouse and i: must divide everything in or out of the state that either of us obtained during our marriage through labor or skill (known as community property), each keep whatever we owned before marriage (known as separate property), each keep whatever we received as gifts or inheritance during marriage (separate property), and divide in half community property and separate property debts as well.

- Decisions on how to divide community property can be made: by me and my spouse, with the help of a mediator, or by a judge if we cannot agree.

- Our child custody choices include: sole custody (one of us is primarily responsible for bringing up the children), joint physical custody (children live part- time with each of us), joint legal custody (together, we can make the important decisions about children), or both joint physical and legal custody.

- In terms of taxes, I cannot be taxed for child support money I receive; cannot deduct from taxable income child support money I pay; may be able to claim children as tax exemptions if I have custody; may qualify, with my spouse, for a special tax rate if we share custody equally or almost equally.

The last checklist: I want to stay legally healthy:

- I should take special care with documents by reading them carefully before I sign, asking for an explanation of anything I don't understand, keeping copies, putting all important agreements or contracts in writing, using certified mail for important documents so I can prove that I sent them, and keeping documents like wills up to date by reviewing them after a marriage, divorce, birth or death.

- I should use a bank safe deposit box to store documents that I rarely use, like adoption papers, automobile ownership certificate (pink slip), birth certificate, divorce papers, grant deed and policy of title insurance, life insurance policy, marriage license, naturalization papers, passport, stock certificates and will.

- I should keep for at least five years such papers as agreements, loan papers and similar documents, bank statements and canceled checks, copies of income tax returns, insurance policies, including auto, homeowners and public liability and real estate bills.

- In case of theft or fire, I should keep in a safe place a list of my personal property, including descriptions of the property identification numbers, receipts and photos.

- I should get and keep receipts for my rent payments, if I pay in cash, and for most purchases or payments.

- My legal health also will improve if I make a will if I am 18 years or older, make and keep notes on important conversations, especially if the talk is about money, agreements or property; open and read my mail regularly; pay attention to any legal notices or demands I receive, and get help for problems instead of ignoring them.

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