Allegheny County Bar Association Releases Legal Tips For the New Year

Pittsburgh PennsylvaniaJanuary 6, 2009.  The Allegheny County Bar Association today released some tips pertaining to important legal documents and issues that should be reviewed as the new year begins. According to Whitney Hughes, the bar association’s Director of Lawyer Referral Service, “As people think about projects and resolutions for the new year, it is also a good time to ensure that all of your necessary legal documents are in order and to make any necessary changes.”

  • Ensure that 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 every effort to ensure that your property is divided up following your death according to your exact wishes. 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.

    Although we do not like to think of it, there may come a time when we are unable to make our own decisions and it may become necessary to have someone make those decisions for you. Ensure that you have drafted a Living Will and then give a copy of it to the person whom you appoint your Power of Attorney. Again, a little planning goes a long way.

  • 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.

  • 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. Ensure 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. Talking to your neighbors prior to beginning your project can prevent a lot of problems.

  • Take an objective look at your financial picture.
  • Have you over-extended yourself during 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 their attempts to collect the debt and ensure you are not being harassed.

  • 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 will need to take to legally make the change. Ideally, both parties will cooperate, but if there is going to be a conflict, the sooner you find out, the better.

  • April 15th will be here before you know it. Do not 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 31st, making filing early possible if you are organized 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. We all know how crazy the first weeks of April can be, so avoid the rush and get an early start.

To speak with an attorney practicing in the field you need, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (412) 261-5555.

Chartered in 1870 and headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh, The Allegheny County Bar Association is a professional organization with more than 6,600 member attorneys, judges, magisterial district judges, legal administrators and paralegals.