Ask These 5 Questions When Choosing a RESPA Real Estate Attorney

“What the heck is RESPA?”

Many attorneys try to handle real estate matters in addition to their regular practice. Very few lawyers are aware of the complexities of the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA) enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD.)

RESPA statutes are consumer protection laws that impact virtually all single family to four family homes. RESPA compliance issues and the remedies available to borrowers who have been victimized by unscrupulous mortgage lenders, title companies and other real estate settlement providers are a real challenge. Even for full-time real estate attorneys, RESPA is a very complex statute. You must be careful and ask questions of the attorney you choose in order to make sure you get the proper legal protection that the RESPA statute i is designed to accomplish. Consumers and Businesses alike are protected when RESPA is in compliance.

Question #1

“What RESPA experience do you have?”

No doubt about it. Start with the big one. Real estate laws and regulations are complicated enough without adding RESPA to the equation. Have they prepared marketing agreements that comply? Have they attended RESPA specific training courses and seminars? Have they kept abreast of the most recent HUD guidelines and court cases nationally regarding RESPA? How many RESPA cases and clients have they handled? What types of RESPA cases did they handle? Were the issues similar to yours? What were their results? Don’t be shy!

Question # 2

“What type of reputation does the attorney have?”

This is a tough one to figure out – so do your homework! Is the attorney primarily a transaction attorney or a litigator skilled in courtroom procedures if necessary? Your attorney must have the communication skills necessary to work with the other attorney as well as you. The other attorney, if more knowledgeable on RESPA can run over you and your lawyer. Remember that many cases are won or lost on the attorney’s knowledge and high ethical standards. Check the local Bar association for background. Get references and check them out thoroughly.

Question # 3

“What type of resources does the attorney have?”

No attorney can do everything well. Make sure that your attorney has the resources available to work your case efficiently. Does the attorney have a well established network of experts and fellow attorneys who can network with to add value and expertise to your problem? Some attorneys try to do it all and act as a one man band. Your attorney’s ego should not be larger than your case. A good attorney quickly involves others with higher degrees of expertise in areas where it is needed to represent you properly. The experts they use are a reflection of your new attorney.

Question # 4

“What about communications and follow up?”

The hallmark of a good attorney is the degree of communication he has with his clients. If you have to ask “What’s going on with my case?” then you have a problem. You don’t want to have these types of issues after choosing an attorney. Be blunt and ask how often you will be contacted and updated. How will you be contacted? Will the attorney just send you a form letter or use personal communication and contact? How do you prefer to be contacted? E-mail, phone calls, letters? Ask for it. “Are you too busy to handle me? Are you going to push me to a lower level staffer or junior attorney?” Clear communication and updates can ensure success and results.

Question # 5

“How do they charge?”

Some attorneys charge a flat fee, some charge a contingency based upon results and some charge hourly rates. The type of problem or case generally dictates the type of charge. There is an old saying, “Speed, Efficiency and Price – pick TWO!” The cheapest attorney may not be the best and the most expensive attorney may not be the best either! Make sure that you are not penny wise and dollar foolish. You are choosing an attorney for results. Make sure that your attorney has the financial incentive to work your case efficiently and successfully.

Finding the Best Estate Planning Attorney for Your Family

Few things are more important to the success of your estate plan than the attorney you choose to design and draft it. Almost as important is the relationship that is formed between that attorney and other professional advisors who serve you in the areas of financial advice and accounting.

All successful estate planning is the result of several professions working together for the good of the client. However, professionals of one group sometimes have misconceptions of professionals belonging to other groups. For example, the financial advisor may see the estate planning attorney as little more than a document scrivener. But this is far from the truth.

Many attorneys who limit their practice to estate planning are values-based, relationship-driven, client-centered and counseling-oriented. And the good ones are willing to work together with other professionals on your behalf. They understand that thorough estate planning involves more than just legal advice. The key is to find those attorneys who meet this description.

So where do you find these rare creatures? How do you know if you’re dealing with the right kind of attorney? The right kind of attorney will have an orientation toward relationship-building and counseling rather than mere document preparation. The first thing he or she will offer is the ability to listen carefully to not only your goals – but also your hopes, dreams, and aspirations for yourself and your loved ones. The attorney will carry on a sensitive dialogue that will enable you to make clear your wishes to maintain control over your affairs, to be cared for properly in the event of a disability and to provide meaningfully for your loved ones after you are gone.

It’s About More Than Just Taxes

Any competent estate planning attorney can help you navigate the legal intricacies and tax laws that pertain to the passing of wealth. But the right kind of estate planning attorney will also be interested in your desire to pass along more than just money. He or she will ask about and explain how to accomplish such things as:

ofunding the education of offspring for several generations

omeeting philanthropic goals that will leave a legacy for your community

opreserving family history and stories that support the values you believe in

ocontinuing or divesting a family business

ocaring for a surviving spouse regardless of circumstances

oand much more.

On a less positive, but equally important note, the right kind of attorney will ask about such things as:

othe complexities of the family relationships that may exist due to second marriage situations

othe special health needs of a grandchild

othe son or daughter-in-law who is not to be trusted

othe child or grandchild who is a spendthrift or suffers from substance abuse

Such in-depth counseling forms a strong foundation on which a long-term relationship is built. That relationship is important because an estate plan is not a transaction. Rather, it’s an ongoing process that should be reviewed from time to time throughout your life – and potentially survives through several generations. You may choose to involve your adult children in the planning process, and the right attorney will build a relationship with them as well.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

Another trait of the right kind of attorney is true commitment to the team approach in estate planning. A good estate planning attorney recognizes that every member of the planning team (including the investment advisor, the insurance professional and the CPA) is vital to the success of the plan. The right attorney will involve the other advisors in the long-term relationship you have to the degree that you are comfortable with that arrangement.

Legal documents are not enough. Even documents that have been drafted from in-depth counseling and are custom-designed to meet the unique needs of the client are not enough. Documents standing alone are like the proverbial automobile without fuel.

The documents’ instructions only apply to assets that are properly owned.

For example, a will only controls those things owned in the individual’s name–not jointly. The trust only controls those things owned by the trustee of the trust. An irrevocable life insurance trust works only if it is properly funded with a suitable insurance policy. Advanced entities require careful balancing of assets for maximum effectiveness. Accurate valuation of your business interests is imperative. New planning tools often require additional accounting and tax advice.

Financial and insurance advisors, as well as accountants, provide the fuel that is needed to help ensure that appropriate financial assets are allocated and funded correctly, offer necessary valuations and tax returns, and provide the means for proper balance within the plan. The estate planning attorney you work with should not only recognize these truths, but be cooperative and collegial with the other professionals that are providing these things.

Each member of the interdisciplinary team provides a cross-check for the other members. If there is disagreement among the professionals on a strategy or its implementation, it can be discussed and worked out between them as a team. After all, estate planning is both an art and a science. In this way, you are served with unanimous agreement among the professionals instead of getting contradicting advice from multiple sources. Mutual respect and clear protocols will characterize the interdisciplinary team that is working well together. Each team member will know exactly what is expected of him or her, and communication with each other and with you will be constant and clear.

As mentioned, the right kind of attorney will be focused on a long-term (even multi-generational) relationship you and your family. Therefore, the attorney will not have a transactional approach to the estate plan, but rather a process approach. An estate plan is never really done until the person doing the planning has passed away and every instruction for every beneficiary of every subsequent generation has been carried out. Those who speak of the plan in the past tense (“They did their estate plan…”) may have a shortsighted perspective.

A Strategic Process to Support the Relationships

The client-centered attorney will ensure that everything possible is done so that the plan is carried to fruition and your expectations are met.

There is nothing as constant as change. Your personal, family and financial situations change all the time. Kids get married and have children; there are divorces and remarriages; real estate and financial assets change value as the market goes up or down; a child marries someone you don’t approve of; a grandchild gets involved with drugs; you win the lottery; and so on.

In addition, laws (both tax and non-tax) change constantly. First we have an estate tax. Then we’re told the estate tax isn’t so bad. The estate tax is abolished. Oops, the estate tax is back! Assets in retirement accounts and trusts are protected from creditors and predators. But then a court in one state says that some protected assets may not be protected in certain circumstances. There’s no way that a will or a trust drafted 20 years ago (or even 5 years ago) is current with all those changes. So updating and maintenance of the plan are required in order for it to work.

The other thing that is constantly changing (or should be) is the growth and education of the attorney and every advisor working with you on your plan. Over time, new planning strategies are developed, new tools are discovered, and there are better ways to accomplish a goal. Of course, you will continue growing as well, and your goals for the plan could change.

The right estate planning attorney has systems in place to ensure he or she stays in touch with you, that the rest of the planning team knows of changes, and that there are methods to adjust the plan in light of those changes. As every member of the planning team focuses on the needs of the client, the process will run smoothly, and you will be more comfortable with the advice that is given and the decisions you make.
The attorney will also be aware that for a plan to work well, the people who will help in the future need to know what’s going on.

If the children will someday serve as trustees and personal representatives, the attorney might be involved in teaching those children what to do. If ongoing trusts have been established to protect those children and grandchildren, the other advisors should be available to continue serving as advisors to the subsequent generations instead of losing that expertise and familiarity. The client-centered interdisciplinary approach can make that happen.

Your Role in the Estate Planning Process

Your role in the process is an active role, not a passive one. You should avoid the attorney who is content with simply telling you what to do, and then throwing together some documents to accomplish it. That is the attorney’s plan – not yours.

In summary, if you’re working with the right estate planning attorney, you should plan on being involved in three distinct steps:

1. Develop a plan with counseling-oriented (rather than document-oriented) professionals.

2. Commit you and your family to an ongoing maintenance and education program.

3. Assure that your wisdom is passed along with your wealth.

As you consider those you love, and those material things that you’ll someday leave behind, only a properly designed and implemented estate plan can ensure that your goals for those loved ones are accomplished.

Many estate plans in America don’t work. They often consist of fill-in-the-blank documents, delivered in a one-time transaction, and never updated. If that’s all an attorney can offer, that’s not the right attorney for you. Choose an attorney that is counseling-oriented, values-based, and as strong on relationships as he or she is on the law.

5 Steps to Hiring a Brain Injury Attorney

One of the most important decisions a traumatic brain injury survivor must make following an accident is choosing the right attorney. Finding the best attorney for your case can be a daunting task, especially for someone with a brain injury.

Choosing an attorney should not be taken lightly in Wisconsin, because the law here makes it extremely difficult to fire your personal injury attorney and find a new attorney to take over your case. The following 5 simple steps will help you find the right Brain Injury Attorney for your case.

1. Identify the Type of Case You Have

Start by identifying your particular accident. If you were injured in an automobile crash, then you need an attorney handling auto accident claims. If, on the other hand, you were injured in a semi-truck crash, then you need an attorney that has successfully handled tractor-trailer accidents in the past. The Internet is a great resource to gather general information about your particular accident and finding an attorney with experience handling such a case. For example, conduct a web search for “(your state) Car Accident Attorney,” “(your state) Truck Accident Attorney,” etc.

2. Research Your Specific Type of Injury and Your Symptoms

You should also conduct research on your specific type of injury and symptoms. For example, you could conduct a web search for “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury,” “Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury,” “Severe Traumatic Brain Injury,” “Post-Traumatic Headache,” “Dizziness,” etc.

3. Search for Names of Potential Attorneys

Once you have identified what type of case and the type of injury you have, and have done some preliminary internet research, you can begin searching for attorneys that have experience in accident cases that result in injuries to the brain. Again you should turn to the Internet. The Yellow Pages may also be of benefit, however, because there is a limited amount of information that can fit on one page it is usually an inadequate resource. Television is even less helpful, because of the time limit on the ads and the insistence of some personal injury attorneys to run generic catch-all commercials promising a big settlement on all types of case and injuries. Search the web for an attorney with experience handling your particular type of accident and your particular type of injury, including your symptoms.

Once you have your list of possible attorneys, you should read their particular websites closely. Check out the organizations to which they belong. They should belong to organizations that advocate for victims that have survived traumatic brain injuries. Also, look for past settlements and jury verdicts concerning traumatic brain injury.

4. Call and Request Written Material From the Attorney

It is critical that you choose the right attorney from the outset. You can simply call the first attorney you see on TV and set up an appointment. However, this is not recommended as it is hard for you to determine whether this attorney is truly experienced with traumatic brain injury based simply upon a TV advertisement. Instead, call and ask the potential attorney to send you information this attorney uses to develop and document his client’s traumatic brain injury symptoms. If you request written material before meeting with the attorney, then you cannot be pressured into signing something you may later regret. You will be able to first read the attorney’s educational materials and then decide on your own time whether this attorney is right for your case.

If you do call an attorney for written materials and instead of politely sending you some free educational information, they attempt to get you into their office or offer to send someone out to your house or hospital room, then beware. Brain injury victims are usually quite vulnerable following an accident and they should never feel pressured into signing anything, including an attorney’s fee agreement.

If the attorney or law firm does not offer informative, written materials, or if they are pressuring you to come in and sign a retainer, then they may not be reputable.

Keep in mind that the ethics rules prevent attorneys from directly contacting you in person, by telephone, or by email, unless you contact them first. If an attorney solicits you without your request, then you should immediately report them to the Office of Lawyer Regulation (877) 315-6941.

5. Schedule an In-Person Appointment with the Attorney and Ask Questions

Once you have done the necessary background research, it’s time to set up a face-to-face meeting with the attorney. Make a list of questions and bring the list with you to the appointment. If the attorney is competent and experienced with traumatic brain injury, he/she will likely appreciate your persistence and answer your question much more directly.

Here are some suggested questions to ask:

Will you be the one handling my case from start to finish? (If the answer is “no,” immediately request to meet with the attorney that will be handling your case from beginning to end).

What is the process for handling my case? What steps will you go through?

When will my case be ready to be resolved? (If the attorney promises a quick settlement, they may be telling you what they think you want to hear as opposed to the actual truth).

How many active cases are you personally handling at the present time?

Have you ever represented people with traumatic brain injuries before? What were some of the results?

How do you obtain most of your brain injury cases? (Referrals from attorneys, other professionals and former clients is the right answer).

Have you attended or presented at any brain injury conferences or seminars?

Do you belong to any trial lawyer brain injury organizations?

Are you a member of any national brain injury associations?

Are you a member of your state’s Brain Injury Association?

What is your AVVO ranking? (A rank of 9+ is excellent).

Attorneys that devote a majority of their practice to the representation of traumatic brain injury survivors will not be learning on the job during your case. They will not have to learn new medicine for your case.

Instead, you can be comfortable with an attorney experienced in the representation of brain injury victims knowing they have worked with some of the best experts in the fields of medicine for brain injuries and an experienced brain injury attorney will not be intimidated when faced with brain injury medical experts that have been retained by the insurance companies to say that you did not sustain a life-changing injury. As a result, experienced traumatic brain injury attorneys are usually in a much better position to obtain the appropriate amount of damages for their clients with traumatic brain injuries because they have a better idea as to the amount a jury may award for this specific kind of injury.