Affordable Legal Services for Christmas

Gift Certificates for Legal Services?

This may sound like a crazy idea at Christmas but we all know people (all year long) that could use a half hour with an attorney to gain peace of mind and a path forward in their lives. This may be a compassionate gift for someone in need and could at least start the process without a heavy handed “intervention.”

It has been documented, and we see this in practice, that people wait until after the holidays to make big personal decisions like bankruptcy, separation and divorce as well as whether or not to sue over a business deal.  It is also true that when the Christmas bills come in January, the financial situation of a family becomes apparent.

Legal Services as a Christmas Gift

Legal Services in an Hour or Less Can Provide a Lot of Information

Typical uses for such pre-paid services are bankruptcy, collection defense, foreclosure defense, garnishments, family law matters including anti-harassment orders and changes in child custody and support and even small business matters like lease defaults, creditor liens and contract disputes. A short visit with an experienced attorney on any of these issues will cost between $125.00 and $250.00 and provide a lot of information that will help the client understand their current problem and make a plan to resolve matters.

Prepaid Legal Services for Christmas, What You Need to Know

There are some issues for attorneys in providing such “prepaid legal services” but these are not unusual.  Whenever someone other than the client  pays for legal services the confidential attorney-client relationship is created with the client, not the person who pays.  This means that the person who pays for the services may not be able to monitor how the services are used directly. A person receiving such a gift however, may be more likely to use it if it is confidential.

While prepaid legal services may not be a suitable gift to find under the tree, it may be a welcome and compassionate alternative.

Contact Steven Schneider at: (509) 838-4458 to discuss the particular legal situation of the person you have in mind to receive such a gift.  He can give you an overview of solutions and costs that can help with your loved one’s legal problem.


Bankruptcy – Can I keep My Personal Property?

can I keep my personal property during bankruptcy

Keeping Personal Property When Filing Bankruptcy

You might have seen the classic Steve Martin movie The Jerk. Martin’s  character and his girlfriend have become incredibly rich but are about to lose everything. Martin says “We might lose all our stuff but we’ll still have each other. “  She says “But I want the stuff!”

Fortunately, state and federal law allow debtors to keep significant personal property (a lot of stuff) when a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed. After a home, the biggest purchases for most people are their motor vehicles.  Most people buy vehicles with loans and vehicles depreciate significantly as soon as they are driven off the lot. This means there is usually very little equity in a vehicle because the bank has a lien for the money owed.  Federal exemptions currently allow a debtor to keep up to $3,670.00 in equity in one vehicle.

Personal Property You Can Keep

Similarly, Federal exemptions allow debtors to keep the following:

  • $12,250.00 in household furnishings, household goods, wearing apparel, appliances, books, animals, crops, or musical instruments
  • $1,550.00 in jewelry, any other property valued up to $1,225.00
  • $11,500.00 of any unused homestead exemptions
  • $2,300.00 in value in any implements, professional books, or tools, of the trade.

Note that the value of all such items is liquidation, depreciated, yard sale value.  In other words, no matter how much you value that classic Chevy you always wanted to restore but never did, it’s just junk to the Trustee.  That’s good for you in bankruptcy.

The same is true with your priceless Hot Wheels, Star Wars, and Cabbage Patch Kids collections.  The value is only what you can dump it for today, not what you paid for it or would like to sell it for.  Your granddad’s civil war rifle however, may be worth much more than you realize.

Social security benefits, IRA’s, 401k’s and pension benefits are also exempt. 

Dogs are considered property in the State of Washington, while cats are not.  Cats must have lobbied for that rule.  In any case, your highly trained hunting dog, or your prize winning show cat or stud horse may very well be valuable non-exempt property

Household goods are specifically itemized in the Bankruptcy Code to include:

“clothing, furniture, appliances, 1 radio, 1 television, 1 VCR, linens, china, crockery, kitchenware, educational materials and educational equipment primarily for the use of minor dependent children of the debtor, medical equipment and supplies, furniture exclusively for the use of minor children, or elderly or disabled dependents of the debtor,  personal effects (including the toys and hobby equipment of minor dependent children and wedding rings) of the debtor and the dependents of the debtor and 1 personal computer and related equipment. “

Some of the terms are outdated, such as the VCR, but you get the idea.  Congress decided that these items were part of the minimal American Dream; wedding rings, toys and furniture for children and television.  Anything beyond these items would have to fall under another exemption.

Household Goods You Can’t Keep During Bankruptcy

Back to Congress.  The Bankruptcy Code does not consider the following as Household Goods:

“works of art (unless by or of the debtor, or any relative of the debtor), electronic entertainment equipment with a fair market value of more than $650 in the aggregate (except 1 television, 1 radio, and 1 VCR),  items acquired as antiques with a fair market value of more than $650 in the aggregate,  jewelry with a fair market value of more than $650 in the aggregate (except wedding rings); and a computer (except as otherwise provided for in this section), motor vehicle (including a tractor or lawn tractor), boat, or a motorized recreational device, conveyance, vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft.”

In some situations, a debtor can convert non-exempt property to exempt property before filing bankruptcy.  For example, non-exempt cash can be used to purchase exempt household goods.  There are many more specific exemptions and the debtor may also be required to use state exemptions instead of federal or choose between state and federal. Some of the exemptions are doubled for a married couple, others are not.

Don’t Try To Answer These Bankruptcy Questions Alone

A debtor needs an experienced bankruptcy attorney to help sort through these rules and preserve as much property as possible under the circumstances.

A half an hour free consultation with an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy will give you a much better idea of how much stuff you can keep and how to move forward with your life after bankruptcy relief.