When is it time to hire an attorney…and when can you navigate a situation yourself? If you’re asking yourself this question, remember the old adage “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Scheduling an initial consultation with an attorney can help you make an informed decision about whether you need legal representation. In the following scenarios, it’s always best to secure legal advice to protect your future and ensure your wishes are carried out successfully.
Five times to seek legal advice instead of going it alone
1) You want to pass assets to the next generation.
If, after your death, you would like to make bequests to your children, other family members or nonprofits you will need to devise an estate plan, most likely in the form of a will. There are many websites that tout “do-it-yourself” estate plans, but attorneys who review these documents often find that “fixing” them is more complicated than simply starting over. Although these websites may seem like they offer bargains, the adage of “you do get what you pay for” rings true.
If you want to be sure your intentions will be carried out after your death, then you should consult with an estate planning attorney. An attorney will advise you about relevant considerations, which may include how to avoid excessive tax; how to effectively “write someone out” of a will; or how to express your wishes regarding the future care of your children. The attorney will then draft whatever documents will ensure that your wishes are satisfied. In addition to a will, you may also benefit from other testamentary documents such as trusts, living wills, powers of attorney or conservatorship designations.
2) You are starting a business or a nonprofit.
Starting a business or nonprofit can be an exciting and challenging experience. An attorney will help you select and form the right kind of business entity, apply for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS if the entity is a nonprofit, and establish reporting and recording practices that comply with state and federal laws. If your business or nonprofit will have employees, then your attorney will also provide guidance on how to comply with the myriad of employment laws during the hiring process and thereafter.
It is crucial to the success of any business or nonprofit to comply with applicable laws right from the start. An attorney will help so that you can focus on the business of growing your flourishing company or nonprofit.
3) You are going to buy or sell real estate.
Connecticut law requires an attorney to be involved in any real estate transaction that requires title insurance. In addition, most lenders require an attorney to conduct the closing as a condition for obtaining a loan when purchasing property.
Even if these requirements were not in place, buyers and sellers of real estate should seek legal representation given the value of the transaction and the potential for problems. Issues relating to financing, municipal regulatory compliance, the condition of the property, or title arise in many real estate transactions. The purchase of a home or other property often represents the most significant investment that a family or individual will make. Ensuring that the transaction goes smoothly is well worth the relatively nominal cost of hiring an attorney.
4) You are going to sign an employment or severance agreement.
Employment and severance contracts directly impact your career and your income. While many members of previous generations worked for just one firm throughout their careers, today’s culture has drastically changed. It is not unusual for today’s worker to change employers every few years.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of today’s employment and severance contracts is the “noncompetition” clause that limits an employee’s ability to serve in a similar role with another employer. These clauses vary greatly in specificity, duration, and geography. Often, the contracts as presented include dubious terms that may be legally unenforceable. A qualified attorney can help you understand how employment and severance contracts may affect you during the term of your employment and thereafter, should you change employers.
5) Your property or your business are subject to an enforcement action by an administrative agency such as the Zoning Board, the Department of Labor or the Health Department.
State and local boards, and administrative agencies often have wide latitude to make impactful decisions, and you should not underestimate the importance of presenting your best possible case or defense before the agency or board. It is common for businesses or individuals to handle matters without an attorney, only seeking legal counsel if they find it necessary to challenge an unfavorable outcome. By the time they seek review of the original decision, however, it is often too late. Courts and boards of appeal typically give great deference to prior decisions of agencies and boards.
Courts must generally affirm the board or agency’s decision if the evidence submitted to the administrative tribunal would reasonably support the conclusion reached in the administrative process. With such a limited standard for appeal is extremely difficult to overturn the decision of an administrative board at the very end of the process. The better strategy is to use an attorney to approach the board or agency with your best case at the beginning of the process when the information you submit will have the most significant impact.
There are many other situations in which legal advice is essential to a good outcome. Read on for the top five times it’s critical to hire an attorney. Do you have a matter that may require the help of an attorney? Give Cacace, Tusch & Santagata a call to schedule a consultation.