May 23, 2019

Wife, Mother, Attorney and…now, Author!

About a year ago, over the course of many months, in between taking care of my son and clients, I co-authored a book called “Tiger Tactics: Powerful Strategies for Winning Law Firms.”  Below is a sample.  Copies can be ordered on TigerTacticsBook.com.

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They say when you have a baby, you should sleep when the baby sleeps. I say work when the baby sleeps.

Thirteen months ago I had a baby. I did not have a maternity leave. I emailed clients within one hour of having a C-section. When you are a solo, there is no other choice.

My son’s name is Chase. I now think of my life in two parts: (1) Before Chase (aka BC) and (2) After Chase (aka AC). Before he was born, I worked all the time. And I mean All. The. Time. I loved it. I know, I am weird. But I wanted to be a lawyer all my life and I love what I do……all aspects of it, working in the business as well as working on the business. My husband didn’t love it. But he adjusted BC and understood why I didn’t have many friends or hobbies, because I was always working and that was my passion.

After Chase, things were immediately different. I now have this little human that depends on me 24/7 and is the cutest, most fun little guy in the world, so of course, spending time with him has become my first priority, and my work has naturally taken a close second place.

My number-one piece of advice to any lawyer who has children or wants to balance their work and life, even if they don’t have kids, is this: Make a schedule and stick to it.

Easy to say and hard to do, I know. It’s the nature of our profession and one of the top reasons why I love it. No day is the same. Mondays I might spend all morning in court and all afternoon in client meetings, and on Thursdays I might spend all day doing networking, going to Rotary meetings, and meeting new referral sources. But the longer you practice, the more you will notice a rhythm to your practice and your schedule, so you can make a rough schedule and try to stick to it. That goes for home too.

When you have small children, they rule your schedule, and you have to adapt to them. That’s where the rule “work when the baby sleeps” comes in. But as they grow and organically create their own routine, you can work your business and personal responsibilities, tasks, and events into and around their routine…

To continue reading, head over to www.TigerTacticsBook.com.

THIS WEEK: HUD Home-Buyer’s Seminar in West Haven

HUD Home-buyer’s Seminar at the West Haven Main Library, 300 Elm Street on Wednesday, September 12th from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm

Join in learning the ins and outs of buying a home. They will be covering topics such as housing rights, loans, home buying programs, and more!

Registration is required:
Please call (203) 937-4233

Death is Part of Life

No one likes to talk about it but death is inevitable for each and every one of us. We must accept it, and we should plan for it. Planning for it benefits our loved ones. It will actually help them grieve easier as it takes away the difficulties and mysteries around our final wishes and the processes and procedures needed to achieve them.

Because I am a lawyer, I know and understand how incredibly simple it is to make an Estate Plan. I wish I could impart that knowledge to everyone. But most folks are under the wrong impression. They think it’s a difficult, time consuming, expensive process. So, in this article I will show you exactly what you need, nothing more, and nothing less. As well as, how to achieve it quickly and inexpensively.

Let’s get started.

First you will need a basic Estate Plan, consisting of three (3) documents, as follows.

The first document operates only upon your death and is called your Last Will and Testament (or your “Will” for short). In Connecticut, this must be acknowledged and witnessed. (So, you can’t scribble on a napkin or write a letter to your kids…it needs to be official.) Your Will will set forth how you would like your assets distributed after you pass away. It will also name an Executor to administer your wishes and probate your Estate. Your Will may also contain a simple trust for any beneficiaries you name that are under the age a majority. Having this document witnessed assists in the future if anyone contests the Will. They could always testify as to your circumstances during the signing of the Will. Like if you were physically threatened and pressured to sign the Will.

The second and third documents that you need go hand-in-hand. They are a Power of Attorney and a Living Will (or Healthcare (or Advanced Care) Directive).

Let’ explore what each documents is and does and then discuss how they are similar and work together.

The Power of Attorney document sets forth the appointment of a person to act in your place and stead as if that person is you. The appointed person can make all legal decisions on your behalf that have to do with things such as insurance benefits, banking, and any other non-medical legal decision.

That is where the Living Will comes in. The Living Will sets forth the appointment of a person to make your medical decisions for you. The boiler plate language of the document states in no uncertain terms that your wishes are not to be kept alive on artificial means of life support. It also names a person to act as your Conservator, should the need for one arise. And lastly, it sets forth your wishes as to organ donation, should you pass away.

Let’s take a look at an example of how, when and why these documents may be used. Say you are going to upstate Connecticut to camp in the Litchfield Hills but the closing on your house is the same weekend. Then you fall while hiking which puts you in a coma, that you stay in for seven months until your Healthcare Agent instructs the doctor to allow for comfort measures until you peacefully pass away in your sleep. Do you know when each document would come into play?

First, the person you appointed as your Power of Attorney could, in fact, attend your closing and sign the documents for you…as you. Then the person you appointed as a Health Care Representative could direct the doctors to keep you on life support because there was some brain activity. In the meantime, while you were in the coma, a conservator was appointed to you and that person took over paying your bills, securing medical insurance and placement in a long term care facility. Upon your passing, your Executor probated your estate and a guardian/trustee that you named in your Will took care of your children and made sure that he heath, maintenance and education was paid for through funds you left in a trust. Had you not had your simple Estate Plan, your entire life (and death) would have been left up to the Courts to decide how handle.

As you can see from that example, the few minutes it took you to create your Estate Plan, saved your loved ones time and energy because they didn’t have to think and make their own decisions about your life (and ultimately, your death), the documents took that struggle away from them and gave them guidance based on your very own wishes.

Putting such a plan in place is simple and easy with me. Contact me for a free phone or in-person consultation. Most work is done through email, and you would only need to visit my office once (or maybe twice) to finalize the process.

We offer discounts to married couples and payment plans if needed.

Contact us here to get started now.

25% Off Estate Planning / Reminders & Announcements

For the month of January 2017, all Estate Planning Packages are 25% off.  They include a Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney.  Also, we are announcing that we are moving from 74 Cherry Street to 50 Cherry Street, Milford, CT as of February 1, 2017, and we will be starting a new Blog/Vlog Series in February 2017 regarding the entire Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process!!

My Gift to You and Yours!

 

Everyone over the age of 18, especially parents of young children, need a simple Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney (these documents together are formally called an “Estate Plan”).

Estate Planning can be given as a gift to others and/or it makes a great New Year’s Resolution for yourself.

As a mother, and an attorney, the importance of planning for the future is at the top of my list!

Therefore, my gift to you this holiday season is 25% off all estate planning packages for the month of January 2017.  Please feel free to share this with your friends and family.

The process of making an Estate Plan is as easy as 1-2-3: First we talk, then I create the documents and lastly, you come in to visit me and sign them.

To arrange a free consultation in person or over the phone, call our office at 203-713-8877.

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday!

With much love & gratitude,
Theresa Rose DeGray
Attorney at Law

PS: Stay tuned for lots of exciting announcements, information, seminars, videos, blogs and much more in 2017!

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3 Essential Tips for Hiring the Best Probate Lawyer

Last week, I talked about some of the benefits of hiring a probate attorney. If you’re sold on the idea of hiring a probate attorney to help you through the Will or probate process, but you’re not sure how to go about hiring the best attorney, this post is for you! I’ve come up with some great tips to follow when hiring a probate lawyer that will ensure that you find the best probate lawyer for you.

  1. Ask the right questions. Once you have a few free consultations set up, you want to ask the right questions during these consultations, to make sure that you fully understand the attorney’s qualifications. Ask questions such as:
  2. Find lawyers that offer free consultations. If you’re like me, you don’t like making impulse buys. You want to do your research and figure out who the best attorney is for you. The good news is that you can actually do this! If you find lawyers that offer free consultations, you can meet with several lawyers before deciding which one you want to retain. At no cost to you, you can get your questions answered and get a feel for the lawyer you’re meeting with and decide if you want to retain that lawyer or not.
    • How long have you been a probate lawyer? You want to find a lawyer that has experience in the field so that you know he or she has worked with cases similar to yours. Experience can make a lawyer a valuable asset.
    • Do you have any client testimonials? Client testimonials, whether on file or on a website, can give you the information that you need from people who have been in your shoes. If you see reviews from many satisfied customers, the lawyer is probably effective and efficient.
    • What would you do in _____ situation? Test out a situation and see how the lawyer responds. Especially if there are uncommon aspects to your probate process or Will, see how the lawyer would handle that situation.
    • What do you charge? If the attorney beats around the bush or won’t give you a straight answer, they might have hidden fees. If a lawyer is upfront and honest about their fees, you can probably trust the quote that they give you.
  3. Check out the reputation. Client testimonials are great ways to get a feel for customer satisfaction, but they’re not the only way. Sometimes, lawyers will only show you the best reviews that they get, not necessarily the reviews that give the most accurate picture of customer satisfaction. For this reason, you should consider asking friends or coworkers for suggestions of probate lawyers that they have used in the past. This feedback will probably be honest and it will come from people that you can trust.

Finding the right probate lawyer can be a difficult process, but it doesn’t have to be! If you follow these tips, you will be able to find the right lawyer for you! To set up your FREE consultation with me, click here!

Why Hire a Probate Lawyer?

One question that you might have as you create your last Will or sift through the Will of a loved one is – do I really need a lawyer to help me with this? Legally speaking, you do not NEED to hire a lawyer to assist you in creating a Will or probating a Will. However, having an experienced and dedicated probate lawyer working with you on these tasks has many benefits. Understanding these benefits will help you decide if you want to hire a probate lawyer or not.

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Benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to help you draft your Will

If you are considering hiring a lawyer to help you draft your Will, consider these benefits:

  • Lawyers know more than you do: Would you think to include a clause saying that it is ok for your family to use informal probate in your Will? Would you remember to write in your Will that the probate bond can be waived? There are a million little things to include in your Will that you are probably not aware of. Because probate lawyers are experienced with the law and have experience drafting Wills, they will know exactly what to include or leave out in your Will.
  • Make it easy for your family: One benefit of hiring a lawyer to help draft your Will is that this will make your Will as specific and easy-to-follow as possible. When you pass on, this will make the process of probating your Will as simple as possible for your family and the executor.
  • Get your questions answered: It’s natural to be confused about the process of writing your Will. In addition, drafting your Will can be an overwhelming process. To make this process as easy as possible, it’s best to have a lawyer who is experienced and who can guide you through the process. Having someone that you can go to with questions at any time is a valuable benefit of hiring a probate lawyer.

Benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to help with the probate process

There are several benefits to hiring a probate lawyer to help you through the probate process, including:

  • Filing paperwork: Your probate lawyer can help you file the probate petition and other paperwork. During this difficult time, having assistance with the paperwork can be a big help.
  • Help for the executor: The executor has a huge job in executing the demands of the deceased’s Will. Even executors with the best intentions can make mistakes or become stressed by the process. A probate attorney can keep the executor on track and work with him or her to ensure that the Will is executed properly. This means that all parties (creditors, heirs, beneficiaries, executor, etc.) can be happy when the estate is settled.
  • Professional resource: Again, a probate attorney can help you through this process due to his or her knowledge and experience. If you need questions answered, guidance, or peace of mind, you can get it from a probate attorney.

There are many benefits to hiring a probate attorney. For more information about what I can offer you, contact my office today!

Formal Probate vs. Informal Probate

There are two major kinds of probate – formal probate and informal probate. These types of probate are similar but they have a few distinct differences that should be noted. If you are trying to split up the assets of a deceased loved one, and you and your family are considering using the informal probate process as opposed to the formal one, there are some things that you should know.

Probate vs. Informal Probate

Probate, as I’ve mentioned, occurs when an executor files a probate petition with the court and handles the affairs of the deceased according to his or her Will. Informal probate is similar to probate, but it differs in that it can be done without the supervision of the court.

When to use Informal Probate

If you and your family are considering using informal probate, there are some things that you should consider. Informal probate works best in situations where the assets amount to $50,000 or more. All parties (creditors, heirs, executor, etc.) must agree to the informal probate process, and it must be stated in the Will of the deceased that informal probate can be used. If at any time a party in the proceedings decides that he or she wants to switch to formal probate, he or she can file a petition with the court to allow for formal administration. If you decide to use informal probate, you do not have to hire an attorney, but it is still advised that you do so. At any point during the informal probate process, you can hire an accountant, a tax preparer, or a probate lawyer to assist you in understanding the finances and law involved with the estate.

Deciding to use informal probate will depend on your individual situation. If the Will that is left behind by the deceased is a complex document with room for interpretation and questions, you might want the court to give guidance where there are questions. In this case, you should use probate. On the other hand, if the deceased’s Will is clear and straightforward, you might not need the help of the court. In this case, using informal probate can help to make the probate process faster.

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Formal probate and informal probate are similar, but depending on your personal situation, one might be more effective than the other. If you are trying to determine which form of probate will be more useful for you and your family, it is in your best interest to contact a probate lawyer. He or she can consider your individual circumstances and make an informed suggestion based on it. A probate lawyer, like me,  can also answer your questions and make this process run smoother in general. Contact me here.

Information on Probate Bonds

Taking on the role of the executor during the probating of a loved one’s Will can be a big job. As the executor, you are responsible for putting the deceased’s affairs in order and distributing property and assets to the rightful inheritors. In last week’s post, I talked about fiduciary duty – the requirement for being an executor that states that you will be fair and honest in your role as executor. Unfortunately, sometimes executors make mistakes or even purposefully tamper with the distribution of property and assets. For this reason, executors generally have to pay a probate bond in order to protect both creditors and heirs from accidental or purposeful negligence on the part of the executor.

We all know what a regular bail bond is. If someone is arrested for a crime, depending on the severity of this crime, they can post bail and be released from jail until their court date. A bond is paid when the accused gives money to the court as a condition of his or her return. For example, if bail is set at 10,000, the accused will have to give the court $10,000 in order to be released. If he or she does not return for trial, he or she forfeits the money given as the bond. The concept behind a probate bond is similar. In order to ensure that the executor does not take money that was supposed to be given to heirs or creditors for him or herself, a Judge will oftentimes order a probate bond to be paid by the executor as an act of good faith. If the executor is in charge of a $20,000 estate, he or she will have to pay a bond of $20,000. The executor will get this money back if and when the property and assets are distributed properly. If they are not, the heirs and creditors get to keep the probate bond.

Problems with Probate Bonds

While protecting the creditors and heirs and ensuring that they get what they are entitled to is a good thing, sometimes obtaining money for a probate bond can be difficult. An executor raising money for a probate bond will in many cases have to essentially take out a loan to pay for the bond. This is tricky because the executor can be denied the loan, the loan can take a long time to obtain, and the executor oftentimes has to add more money to the bond if years go by and the estate is not settled. This can put a lot of pressure on the executor.

Waiving the Probate Bond

Because there are so many potential problems with probate bonds, many attorneys will waive the bond requirement when they draft Wills. Another way that the bond can be waived is if all of the heirs agree to have this done. For example, if “Ben”, the executor of his mother’s Will is an heir to the Will along with his two brothers, all three brothers can agree to trust that Ben will fulfill his duties as executor and they can waive the probate bond.

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In theory, probate bonds are useful, as they protect the interests of the heirs and creditors while a Will is probated. However, in practice, the money for probate bonds can be difficult to raise, and if the executor is a loved one, the bond is oftentimes unnecessary. For more information about probate bonds, contact me here.

The Role of the Executor

Being named as the executor of someone’s Will is an honor. The deceased clearly trusted you with a very important task – taking care of his or her affairs once he or she could not, and ensuring that all debts are paid off and the remaining assets and property are given to the rightful heirs. This is a big responsibility and it can seem, at times, like an overwhelming job. If you have been named executor of a loved one’s Will, there are some things you need to know about this responsibility.

Do I Qualify as an Executor?

Because an executor has to deal with laws and finances that are oftentimes complex, you might think that only an expert in these fields would qualify as an executor, but this is not necessarily the case. Anyone can be an executor so long as they fulfill what is called fiduciary duty. Fiduciary duty refers to the duty to act honestly and with good faith in order to represent someone else. This means that you must be an honest and impartial person in order to be an executor. If you feel that you have these characteristics, you can be an executor.

What Does the Executor Do?

An executor has many jobs including:

  • Paying debts. The executor will have to notify creditors of probate proceedings and pay off any debts that the deceased has.
  • Paying taxes. Similarly, the executor is in charge of filing the final income tax return on behalf of the deceased. This income tax return should be filed for the start of the tax year up to the time of death.
  • Identifying the deceased (or decedent’s) property and assets.
  • Managing the decedent’s assets and property until the inheritors can take them. This duty could include deciding to sell securities or real estate or deciding to hold onto them.
  • Supervising the decedent’s property as it is distributed to the inheritors. The executor has to make sure that the property and assets are distributed to the right people according to the decedent’s Will.
  • Establishing a bank account for the estate. This account will be used to store money owed to the decedent.
  • If necessary, filing the Will in probate court.
  • Determining the necessity of proceedings in probate court.
  • Taking care of general details. This might include dealing with notifying credit card companies and banks/federal agencies of death.

As you can see, fulfilling the role of executor is no small task. If you think that you are up to the challenge, you will have many responsibilities. At times, this role can be confusing and overwhelming. If you ever feel like this is the case, you can contact a probate lawyer such as myself for guidance. I can give you the answers that you need and walk you through this experience. Even if you are not ready to retain my services, I offer free consultations, so we can meet together and discuss your situation at no cost to you. If this sounds like a good option to you, contact my office today!

This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.