Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top 5 Things to Think About When Hiring Your Family Law Attorney

Hiring a Family Law Attorney

The emotional struggles one faces when dealing with a divorce, custody issue, or any other family-law related legal issue can seem overwhelming.  An attorney can help navigate the system with you and be your advocate when you are faced with important decisions.  While there will be many decisions you make along the way related to your or your children’s interests, who you choose to represent you through this process is one of the most important decisions you make.  Here are the top 5 things to think about when hiring your family law attorney:

What is the attorney’s reputation and experience? 

Do your homework.  Talk to past clients of this attorney (if you know any), talk to other attorneys who practice in the same community, and research online to find out what you can about this person.  What is important to know?  Find out whether this attorney is known for being responsive, attentive, organized, respected by peers, involved in the community, etc.  Is this attorney known as someone who works well with opposing counsel and tries to resolve cases outside of court or is this attorney known for leaving “scorched earth” behind when he/she is done with a case?  A good attorney can advocate your interests without being unreasonable or difficult.  The more “difficult” your attorney is, the higher your bill will likely be.

Can you afford this attorney? 

Ask what the attorney’s hourly rate is.  Ask whether the attorney charges any flat fees.  Ask what the retainer will be.  Read the attorney fee agreement carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions!  A family law attorney will not be able to tell you exactly how much you will spend on your case because there are too many unknowns – but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider your budget when deciding who to hire.  If the attorney you consult with has a higher rate than you think you can afford, ask if there are any other attorneys in their firm at a lower rate who could work on your case.  Finding the right fit financially is very important.

Does the attorney have support staff? 

An attorney with support staff to help with your case often means you are going to get better service.  Attorneys have several clients at one time and may be unavailable from time to time in trial, depositions, mediations, vacation, etc.  If an attorney has a legal assistant, paralegal, or other attorney helping him/her, this means your case will get the attention it needs even if your attorney is not always available.

Can you be open and honest with this attorney? 

While your attorney doesn’t need to be your new best friend, your attorney should be someone you feel comfortable being honest with.  You will be faced with many difficult decisions in this process and you want to be sure you are able to talk with your attorney openly and candidly.

Is this attorney real with you?

 A good attorney will give you an honest opinion of your case even if that includes an opinion you may not necessarily want to hear.  A good attorney will talk about the pros and cons of your position and help you weigh your risks.  If the attorney you meet with promises you everything you’re asking for – ask yourself whether this attorney is really right for you. 
Gevurtz Menashe has been practicing family law in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho for over years.  We represent clients with tenacity and compassion. To speak to an attorney, call 503-227-1515 or contact us online.
Paige A. De Muniz, Shareholder (Family Law)

Monday, April 13, 2015

How Much Does a Child Custody Case Cost?

Custody Battle Expenses are High

Custody battles are often one of the most expensive areas to litigate in Family Law, from both a financial and emotional aspect. Sometimes when emotions run high in a case, especially at the beginning, parents assume they must “battle it out.” Before deciding what’s best for you and your children, here are some options for you to consider:

Mediation Programs

In most cases, parents feel more satisfied when they can directly manage how custody and parenting time will affect them and their children. These days, the court system highly encourages parents to settle their custody and parenting time disputes in an out-of-court agreement, rather than battling it out in trial. This leaves the question” who will get custody” mostly up to the parents themselves with input from attorneys, counselors and mediators. Before you begin any mediation program, it’s important to know the process and requirements of the county you live in. For example, many counties require a parenting education program for any case involving children. Mediation regarding custody and parenting time is also typically required. Parents can also decide to attend mediation without filing anything with the court under either private mediation or the program hosted by the county. Mediation programs through the county are generally free or nominal cost, while private mediators can be costly, but sensitive to difficult and complex issues.

Custody Evaluations

Sometimes when there is domestic violence, mental health issues, or addiction issues, it’s not always possible to settle custody and parenting time issues in mediation. When this happens, a party or the court can request a custody evaluation of the case. This special evaluation is typically performed by a social worker, psychologist or another expert who has been specifically trained to perform custody evaluations for families. The purpose of the evaluation is to give the court more information about the family’s situation, as well as give the court a recommendation about custody and parenting time specific to the case. These evaluations are quite comprehensive and time consuming—sometimes taking anywhere from 3 to 8 months to complete, depending on the situation.

Attorney fees and litigation costs

It costs money to handle custody disputes in court. There are court fees, attorney fees, and other costs. Because custody cases are unpredictable in terms of complications and length, most family law attorneys charge fees based on hourly rates. A custody and parenting time trial can last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days—in addition to the time it takes for the attorneys to prepare for trial. Beyond the attorney time, you may also need to prepare to pay fees for an expert witness (such as a custody evaluator or a psychologist).
Custody cases are complicated and it is important to try to find an experienced lawyer to help you with your case. During an initial consult, the family law lawyer will present you with some possible solutions and explain the custody laws in your state—along with the various factors a judge will consider when reviewing your case. If you are interested in talking to an attorney about how custody works in Oregon or Washington, give us a call anytime! Portland: 503-227-1515 or Vancouver: 360-823-0410.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How Will Taxes Affect My Estate Plan?

Tax season is here. Most people don’t realize how income taxes and estate taxes affect their estate planning and end up paying more than they should.

Developing a Tax Efficient Estate Plan

You have spent a career building your wealth to be where you are today.  As you craft your estate plan, many things must be considered.  One of the most critical factors in decisions regarding wealth distribution is tax impacts, specifically estate taxes and income taxes. With tax season here, a common question is: “how will taxes affect my estate plan?”  An estate planning attorney can answer this question for you and help you in developing an estate plan that is as tax efficient as possible. Most individuals neglect to realize how income taxes and estate taxes affect their estate planning and wind up paying the government more than they should.

What is Estate Tax?

The estate tax is a type of “death tax”, which is assessed on everything you own or have an interest in at the time of your death. This tax is imposed on both the federal and on the state level in Oregon and Washington and is paid directly out of your estate. The federal estate tax applies to gross estates in excess of $5.43 million. The Oregon estate tax applies to gross estates in excess of $1 million, and Washington’s estate tax applies to estates in excess of $2.012 million. The tax rate at the federal level is 40%! In Oregon the tax rate tops out at 16%, and in Washington the tax rate tops out at 20%. Your estate could potentially owe a substantial amount in taxes without proper planning.

Should you have an estate that is in the range of being subject to the federal or state level estate tax, it is critical that you consult with an estate planning attorney who can assist you in preparing a plan that includes strategies that will minimize estate tax liability.

Estate & Gift Taxes
Beneficiary Representation
Request a Consultation

Income Tax Planning

In addition to estate tax considerations, proper tax planning also includes efforts to reduce income tax burdens. Some techniques might involve shifting income from a taxpayer in a higher bracket to a taxpayer in a lower bracket, making proper beneficiary designations on your IRAs which will permit the beneficiary of the IRA to stretch out the distributions for the life of the beneficiary, deferring income for a period of time, or taking advantage of depreciation rules. If a taxpayer receives an asset as an inheritance, as opposed to receiving an asset as a gift during their lifetime, the later sale of that asset by the taxpayer will be treated in a much more tax favorable way. In today’s economic climate, it is important to weigh estate tax avoidance against gain that would be due on a taxpayer’s sale of a gifted asset, as opposed to an inherited asset. An estate planning attorney knowledgeable in taxation will be able to help you navigate the twists and turns of the tax code and determine which income tax reduction techniques will be most beneficial to you.

How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

Tax planning is not just for the wealthy. All families can benefit from the utilization of estate planning techniques designed to improve tax efficiency (and who doesn’t want to pay less in taxes?!). Gevurtz Menashe’s estate planning attorneys are well-versed in estate and income tax reduction strategies. If you would like to learn more about how taxes can affect your estate plan or how your estate plan can be more tax efficient, any one of our estate planning attorneys can assist you.