Working with a Lawyer
Ask about cost.
If your situation will require more work beyond the first consultation, remember to ask for the lawyer's fees in writing. You do not have to hire the lawyer after the initial consultation. Feel free to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable. You have hired a lawyer when you agree to allow that lawyer to do more work for you.
When you call the lawyer for an appointment, ask what papers you should bring to the first consultation. Be ready to give the lawyer all background information relating to the situation. You may also wish to prepare questions to ask the lawyer.
If you do hire a lawyer, don't make unnecessary phone calls to the lawyer. Most lawyers charge for the time spent on phone calls with clients. Keep a written list of all items you want to check with your lawyer and cover them in one phone call or ask them at your next scheduled appointment.
Know what you sign.
Before you sign a document, ask your lawyer to fully explain it.
File any material you received from your lawyer in one place. Your file is often the best way to answer your questions about the case. Don't hesitate to ask for copies of all letters and documents involving your case. You should keep the fee agreement in your file.
Attorneys' fees are based on several factors such as the complexity of the matter and the amount of time spent serving the client. There are, essentially six kinds of fees: first, there is the retainer fee; second, the contingency fee; third, a fixed fee; fourth, an hourly rate; and fifth, a fee set by the court and sixth, a fee set by statute.
A retainer is a down payment in advance. It may be charged by an attorney to handle a particular case, and will be applied as a credit on subsequent billings.
A contingency fee is frequently used in lawsuits involving money damages. The attorney agrees to accept a percentage of the award as a fee. An additional percentage may be charged if the case is retried or appealed to a higher court. If there is no award, the attorney receives no payment, but the client may be charged for such expenses as filing costs, investigations, and fees paid to witnesses. If the client wins, these charges are deducted from the award.
A fixed fee is a set amount charged for services such as drafting a simple will or handling an uncomplicated real estate transaction.
Most attorneys have established hourly or unit rates for their services. There are no uniform, profession-wide figures and rates may vary widely depending on factors such as the attorney's experience and reputation. In addition to the hourly or unit rate, the client will be charged for any direct, out-of-pocket expenses the attorney incurs.
A fee can be set by the court for such legal services as handling an estate. When reviewing the attorney's application for fees, the judge will consider the amount of work required, it's complexity, the skill required and the lawyer's usual rates.
The type of fee charged is usually controlled by the type of case. For example, in some divorce cases where both parties agree on matters of settlement, the attorney may be able to set a fixed fee. But when the parties do not agree, the attorney may only be able to indicate what the minimum will be, charging for additional time expended beyond the original estimate.
Here are some suggestions for reducing the cost of legal services:
(a) When meeting with an attorney regarding a problem, bring along any documents that might be pertinent. Also, prepare a written statement of the problem and the solution you desire.
(b) Discuss the fee with your lawyer during the initial meeting.
(c) Present all the information you have, even though some of it may seem unfavorable to your case.
(d) Instead of making frequent phone calls or visits, ask the attorney to inform you of developments as they arise.
(e) Finally, in evaluating the cost, remember that much of an attorney's professional services are rendered when the client is not present.
What Taxes Have To Be Paid When Someone Dies? (Revised March 2008)
There are three types of death taxes that could apply when someone dies. They are the federal estate tax, state estate taxes, and the federal generation-skipping tax. Regardless of whether there is a probate proceeding, the property owned or controlled by a decedent at the time of his or her death will likely be subject to these taxes. It is possible to reduce or eliminate these taxes, provided the proper steps are taken.
Estate taxes are generally based on the net value of all the decedent's property, including the proceeds of some insurance policies and one half of the value of jointly owned property, if such property was jointly owned with the spouse of the decedent. Any taxes owed are typically paid out of the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. The federal generation-skipping tax is a special federal tax that could apply if the decedent leaves property to grandchildren or persons of a younger age. This is one of the most complicated taxes, and it is beyond the scope of this summary. However, if you plan to gift or leave assets to grandchildren and/or great-grandchildren with a value that does not exceed $1,100,000 of total value, you will not need to be concerned with this tax.
The federal estate tax law is scheduled to be repealed in the year 2010. However, if Congress does not pass new legislation before 2011, the estate tax will be reinstated as the law existed before the legislation.
Congress is considering proposals to make the estate tax repeal permanent. The present federal law gives every person an exemption from the estate tax, which represents the amount of property that can be transferred to a person’s heirs at their death without triggering any tax liability. The amount of this exemption will increase during future years as follows:
- 2008, $2,000,000
- 2009, $3,500,000
- 2010, Estate Tax Repeal
- 2011, $1,000,000 (if Congress does not make repeal permanent or otherwise change the law)
A person may choose to use this exemption during their lifetime by making gifts. However, the maximum amount of exemption that can be used in this way during a person’s lifetime is a $1,000,000.
Missouri Statutes provide for an estate tax to be paid in the amount allowed by the IRS as a credit for payment of state taxes on the Federal Estate Tax return. However, because the IRS will no longer allow a state death tax credit for deaths occurring on or after January 1, 2005, no Missouri estate tax is imposed. Therefore, no estate tax return must be filed for deaths occurring on or after January 1, 2005.
Illinois formerly had a similar statute, but changed its estate tax system based on the Federal government’s phase out of the state death tax credit. The State of Illinois now employs a calculation based on the total estate of the decedent, and that tax is allowed as a deduction on the Federal return. As with many of the issues set forth here, this is a very complicated issue for which you should consult a practitioner with knowledge of the law.
There are several ways to save on federal and state estate taxes. For married persons, one of the most effective is to leave certain property to the spouse. Leaving property to charities is another.
Gifts made during life are subject to federal and state gift taxes if they exceed $12,000 per recipient in any one year. If a husband and wife join in making gifts, the gifts to any one recipient may be up to $24,000 without incurring any tax. There is no limit as to the number of recipients in a year, and in addition, these gifts do not count against the lifetime exemption explained above. However, gifts in excess of the above amounts are subject to federal gift tax, and will count against the lifetime exemption available on one's passing. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 does not repeal the gift tax. Thus, even if Congress chooses to repeal the estate tax, gifts in excess of annual exclusions and the $1,000,000 exemption could be subject to a gift tax. Estate tax laws and planning for them is an extremely complicated business, especially given that Congress and the states will likely change the rules again soon. The best way to avoid paying more than necessary is to seek the guidance of an attorney familiar with such matters.
Legal Services for the Poor
If you have a legal problem not related to a criminal charge, if you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, you may qualify for help from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Legal Services of Eastern Missouri is a private, not-for-profit organization which provides free legal representation in civil cases to low income people. To qualify, your income must not exceed an amount set by federal regulations. To find out if you qualify, and if your case is the kind of case that Legal Services could handle, you may call Legal Services of Eastern Missouri at 314/534-4200. If you live in outstate Missouri, you may call toll free at 800/444-0514.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri handles cases from the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the counties of St. Charles, Jefferson, Franklin, Warren and Washington. Although Legal Services of Eastern Missouri handles a wide range of civil cases, most of its case load is concentrated in the areas of consumer, employment, government benefits, family and housing law. Legal Services of Eastern Missouri does not handle criminal cases, personal injury cases, workers' compensation cases and family law cases which do not involve adult abuse or child abuse.
If your legal problem lies outside the service area covered by Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, there will be another legal service organization which covers your area. You may obtain the number for legal aid in your area by calling directory assistance. If you think you have a legal problem and think you may qualify for help from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, you should call Legal Services as soon as possible. Again, the telephone number is 314/534-4200 or you may make contact through their website.
Senior Citizens Handbook
The Missouri Bar's Senior Citizen's handbook may be downloaded here.