Time to call a lawyer

REAL-LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT REQUIRE LEGAL HELP

There are 1,268,011 active and resident lawyers in this country, with 9,587 practicing and living in South Carolina.

While that’s a sizable number, the Palmetto State ranks last in the number of lawyers per 10,000 residents — 20.08, according to the American Bar Association’s latest data from 2013. But that doesn’t mean the legal industry isn’t competitive. It certainly is, especially in the Hilton Head Island area.

Specialized legal fields come in as many varieties as there are letters in the alphabet, and then some: immigration, real estate, personal injury, criminal, bankruptcy, class action, labor and employment, zoning and planning, and a host of others.

While all legal cases are important to concerned parties, some legal services might be considered more urgent than others. A life-changing circumstance, for instance, can be blinding, confusing and scary. The numbing initial impact of such a situation can linger and alter your life irreversibly from that moment forward.

If such an event happens, you’ll need help in more ways than one, especially from a professional who can present a clear, concise action plan for you. You need to sit down sooner, not later, with a lawyer who specializes in a certain field of law. Initial consultations can begin to lift the fog of your circumstance.

Here are five real-life circumstances that can be helped by obtaining legal advice, plus another instance that most of us in the Lowcountry have experienced at some point:

Family Law and Order

Family law in Beaufort County covers a lot of legal ground, from divorce and child custody to child support and visitation rights, as well as adoption, a name change, guardianship, spousal support, palimony, domestic violence and property settlement.

Most family law cases in the area focus on divorce and its associated issues, especially if children are involved.

In South Carolina, the overall divorce rate (per 1,000 inhabitants) is about 8 percent for both men and women (34th in the nation), which is slightly less than the national rate. There are five grounds for divorce in the state: adultery, desertion of at least one year, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness or drug abuse, and living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year. The state does allow “no-fault divorce” with certain conditions, but there is no law for a legal separation, per se.

Divorce usually is very costly and emotionally draining.

Here Today, Here Tomorrow — Protect Your Assets

Of course you have a will, a living will and a power of attorney, have named all your beneficiaries and put a revocable living trust in place as part of your estate planning strategy. Now focus on asset protection.

There are no estate taxes in the state of South Carolina; the federal estate tax exemption (the amount an individual can leave to heirs without having to pay federal estate taxes) is $5.43 million this year.

That means most of us don’t need asset protection from estate taxes, but if you’re among the less than 1 percent who do, you’ll need to do some savvy trust tax planning.

The most common worry among individuals older than 65 is the potential cost of nursing home care. Your revocable living trust won’t help you here, because that asset stash is taken into account for Medicaid eligibility; only when your estate assets are depleted will Medicaid kick in with coverage for nursing home care. Setting up an irrevocable trust might entitle you to Medicaid coverage of nursing home care, but your estate assets would no longer be owned by you.

But, and it’s a big but, a revocable living trust does protect you from the probate process and its associated costs.

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Here are must-dos to protect your assets and limit liability:

  • Sign up for liability (“umbrella”) insurance above and beyond the standard auto/boat coverage, homeowners insurance, life insurance, etc.
  • Transfer assets to the “low-risk” spouse to protect against creditors.
  • Utilize qualified retirement plans like a 401k, pension, IRAs, etc.
  • Use “gift” transfers to children, grandchildren, etc.
  • Remove your name from asset ownership (but not its control) of cash and stocks by establishing a limited partnership or limited liability company to protect investment assets like cash and stocks.
  • Set up an asset protection trust.
  • Enroll in a college savings plan for your children.
  • Create an irrevocable living trust.

Closing Time in Real Estate

Beyond the teaming of a buyer, a seller and usually a lender at the conference table, each residential real estate transaction is different in its details — and its potential complications.

If you’re lucky, the transaction will follow the standard script and be over and done with in a few hours. Occasionally, a real estate transaction can blow up at closing, in addition to the snags that can occur before you even get to closing — with a mortgage, home inspection, property title, an undisclosed property defect or the fine print in the purchasing agreement.

South Carolina law requires that a fourth party be at the closing table also: a real estate lawyer.

Unlike a residential real estate deal, there are no consumer protection laws at play in a commercial real estate transaction, which are more complex than buying or selling a home. There’s much more money in the pot and there’s also liability at stake for both parties. Associated concerns like land use and zoning laws, environmental issues, deeds and titles, and leasing disputes also have to be addressed by a professional.

lawyer-img1Don’t! (One More for the Road)

We all know that drinking and driving is pretty stupid and potentially dangerous — both to you and to others. If you get arrested and charged with a DUI anywhere in South Carolina, good luck. You’ll need a lawyer and a swift kick from someone who loves you.

If you’re convicted, the legal fees, fines and penalties can be crushing, and jail time and license suspension are likely — and that’s if you consented to a field chemical test. If you didn’t comply, expect a hefty fine and automatic license suspension.

First-time offenders can expect 48 hours to 30 days in jail, community service, $400 to $1,000 in fines and penalties, and a six-month license revocation. If your blood-alcohol content is .10 percent or higher, the ante is raised. If it’s your second DUI, expect anywhere from five days to three years behind bars, $2,100 to $6,500 in fines and penalties and walking or hitching a ride for a year. If you’re convicted a third or fourth time ... you do not even want to think about the consequences.

By the way, it’s always illegal to drive while under the influence of a controlled substance (marijuana, cocaine, etc.), and state law prohibits pleading to a lesser offense for a DUI. Basically, you’re busted if convicted.

Bump and Smash

Recent news reports have shown that driving in Beaufort County is dangerous at certain local locations, sometimes with fatal results. Sometimes even a fender bender can cause whiplash, so you can only imagine what a full-blown smashup could do to your body or emotional state at the moment of impact and beyond.

Obviously, if you’re injured moderately or significantly, you should seek a lawyer’s advice. You may be entitled to damages, as well as payment for future medical bills, prescription costs and lost wages at work.

The state statute of limitations for personal injury cases requires that you file a lawsuit in the civil court system within three years after the date of the injury.

CONTACT AN EXPERT

Akins Law Firm, LLC
843-757-7574
www.daleakinslaw.com

Courtney A. Gibbes
843-384-0441
www.gibbeslaw.com

Janik L.L.P.
843-715-9311
www.janiklaw.com

Jolley Law Group
843-681-6500
www.jolleylawgroup.com

Kennedy & Blackshire, LLC
843-341-5555
www.kennedyblackshire.com

Novit & Scarmanich, P.A.
843-785-5850
www.ns-lawfirm.com

Peacock Law Group of the Lowcountry, LLC
843-706-7200
www.peacocklawgrouplc.com

Phipps & Brach, P.A.
843-689-6242
www.pbdivorcelaw.com

Law Office of Thomas Taylor, LLC
843-785-5050
www.thomastaylorlaw.com

Wiseman & Reilley
843-842-2750
www.janiklaw.com