“Starting the new year off on the right foot (legally)”
January 3, 2012
This is the time of year when we begin cleaning out our closets and getting organized for the year to come. There’s also no better time to make sure all of your necessary legal documents are in order and make any changes necessary as well.
Below are some items to review and some helpful tips as well:
- Ensure your will, living will, and power of attorney are up to date and accurate.
In Pennsylvania, everything does not automatically pass to your spouse if you die without a will. Make sure you have made every effort to ensure that your property is divided up according to your exact wishes after your death. Even those with few assets should make out a will—you never know how much value something may have or how much family fighting can be avoided by simply planning ahead.
Ensure your power of attorney and living will are up to date as well. Although we don’t like to think of it, there may come a time when you are unable to make your own decisions and it may become necessary to have someone make those decisions in your place. Ensure that you have drafted a living will and then give a copy of it to the person who you appoint as your power of attorney. Again, a little planning goes a long way.
- Well before you start your home improvement plans for the spring, make sure you know your exact property lines and have a current survey of your property.
Many disputes can be avoided if you ensure your plans are not infringing on someone else’s property ownership rights. Make sure you obtain all necessary building permits from your municipality as well. If not, you may face fines or have to re-do the work to ensure it’s up to code.
- Take an objective look at your financial picture.
Have you over-extended yourself over the holidays? Need to get items paid off before they snowball? Talk to a financial planner if necessary. Contact credit card companies to find out if they can offer you a lower interest rate as long as you have a good payment history. If you have good credit and have some equity in your home and are planning on staying there for some time, it may be a good time to refinance. In the alternative, if the picture looks very bleak, you may want to talk to a bankruptcy attorney to find out if bankruptcy is a viable alternative for you. At the very least, if you are having difficulty with creditors, an attorney may be able to help you deal with some of the creditors’ attempts to collect the debt and ensure you are not being harassed.
- Objectively evaluate your mortgage in relation to where you stand financially.
If you are having difficulty making payments, you should contact your mortgage company as soon as possible. In addition, you may qualify for assistance, but you MUST act quickly. Many of the programs offering assistance require that you take action within a given time frame and you cannot be more than a certain number of days delinquent in your payments. Taking the time to truly determine whether or not you are able to keep your mortgage up to date may help you navigate through what could be a difficult year, financially.
- Ensure that all of your custody arrangements are in order for the upcoming year.
Now that the holidays are over, you will know for sure how likely family members are to cooperate with custody and visitation orders. If it’s necessary to change any of these orders, now is the time to do it. If it will be necessary to modify custody arrangements so that your child may attend a different school next year, you may want to begin investigating the steps you’ll need to take to legally make the change. Ideally, both parties will cooperate, but if there’s going to be a battle involved the sooner you find out, the better.
- April 15 will be here before you know it. Don’t wait until the last minute to get all of your tax information together and if you can, file early.
Employers are required to provide you with your W-2 by January 31, making filing early possible if you are organized enough and do your part. If you have a very complicated tax situation or know you’ll need help, ask a professional. The earlier you do it the better off you are—we all know how crazy the first weeks of April can be, so avoid the rush and get an early start.
If you need a referral for an attorney, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.