Frequently Asked Questions

How will I be billed?
It depends on the type of legal matter. We will discuss options that include a flat rate per transaction, hourly billing for time spent on the matter, or contingency fees where a percentage of a judgment is paid upon collection. Clients will always be responsible for any outside expense incurred for the purpose of their matter. You will incur NO FEES until you have met with an attorney, and fully discussed and signed an agreement outlining the terms of representation.

What is a Will?
A will is a written document that designates how property is to be distributed after a person’s death. In order for a will to be valid, certain legal formalities must be completed. A will can be the only document in an estate plan or it can be one that’s included along with others, such as a trust and powers of attorney. If you pass away without a will or your will is judged invalid due to improper drafting or execution, your assets will be distributed in accordance with the applicable probate code.

What is a Trust? 
There are different types of trusts, although the most common is the revocable living trust. A trust is created through a Trust Agreement that transfers ownership of your property to a trustee. Generally, the trustee is responsible for investing the trust’s assets, collecting the trust’s income, distributing funds to beneficiaries and performing other administrative duties. One of the main purposes of a trust is to allow the decedent’s estate to avoid administration in the probate court. However, there are certain disadvantages to avoiding the probate court that should be discussed before settling on a trust.

What is Civil Litigation? 
Civil litigation is a legal, non-criminal, dispute between two or more parties (criminal litigation is between an individual and the state’s attorney). The disagreement typically involves a plaintiff seeking damages from a defendant. These damages are usually in the form of financial compensation, but also can be in the form of requiring or prohibiting certain actions. The proper court in which to file your civil litigation case depends on the issues involved and location of the dispute.

What is an “Out-of-Court” Settlement? 
A “settlement”, as it is generally referred to, is an agreement between opposing parties that resolves a given matter in full instead of allowing a judge or jury to decide the matter. Such an agreement can be made before, during or after a lawsuit is decided. Generally, a settlement takes place prior to the expense of litigation or before the matter is presented to the court in trial. If used properly, settlement is a powerful and important tool for all lawyers and litigants. However, it is equally important that settlement is not relied upon for the purpose of avoiding litigation.

Why should I hire an attorney to buy or sell a home? 
During a real estate transaction your attorney will do all of the following (and more):

Draft and/or explain the contract. Contracts can be buyer or seller friendly. Certain language in the contract can be more beneficial to and protect a buyer or a seller. This language may not be included in a standard form contract obtained from a realtor. Merriman Law Office can draft a contract to suit your needs. Furthermore, before signing any contract, it is imperative that you know what you are signing. Merriman Law Office will properly explain each paragraph. For example, your contract may contain language that allows the buyer to potentially void the contract at no cost if problems arise later in the transaction.

Negotiate the contract on behalf of the buyer/seller. Merriman Law Office will handle all negotiation of the contract and you will have peace of mind knowing that your home purchase or sale is being negotiated with your best interests as the primary goal. In addition, you will be informed of the process as the negotiation progresses. No decisions will be made without first discussing the situation with you.

Review inspections, disclosures and adhere to deadlines. Every contract has specific deadlines regarding inspection of the property and revision of the contract. These deadlines must be strictly observed to protect your rights. For example, if you miss an inspection deadline, it is possible that you could be forced to purchase a home with mold damage.

For another example, imagine the home inspection shows problems with the existing water heater in a home you intend to purchase. Do you know if this should be repaired or replaced by the seller? Merriman Law Office would review your inspection, contact the opposing party and negotiate replacement of the water heater by the seller. As a result, you would save a substantial amount of money in not having to replace a damaged water heater, and you would also avoid dealing with potential damage to your home upon the malfunction of the old water heater. In this example, the money saved in not having to repair or replace an old water heater would substantially off-set the amount paid in attorney’s fees.

Review title insurance policy. This ensures that the seller has clear title to the home. In short, we will confirm that the seller owns the property and that it will be free and clear of any debt when transferred to you. In addition to outstanding mortgages, this will include any other debt incurred by the seller that has attached to the real estate (past due taxes, fees for maintenance, contractor’s liens, etc.) Such a review also brings to light any easements or mining rights that may have been granted years ago.

Review all closing statements and tax documents. A close review of a closing statement is important to determine exactly where your money is going. Most often, buyers and sellers of real estate have no idea how to read a closing statement, and they received a basic and rushed review of the document during closing. When individuals spend thousands of dollars to buy or sell a home, they often do not notice or challenge the several hundred dollars paid to various companies as part of the transaction. Often these charges are inflated or improperly entered due to common mistakes. If a mistake is discovered, it is usually an easy fix and, when you consider the money already saved on the water heater, you might entirely off-set the fees paid to your attorney.

Attend closing and make sure transaction takes place properly. Often, real estate closings are rushed and include a log-jam of paperwork, which can lead to errors in the documents. Such small errors often turn into time-consuming and expensive problems that must be fixed after the date of the closing. Proper oversight be Merriman Law Office both before and during the closing can help ensure that the date of the closing is the actual end to your transaction.

Review/draft the deed. How you will hold title to the property is very important for purposes of passing it to your heirs on upon your death and for protecting your home from creditors. A properly drafted deed will save time and money in the future when it comes to the administration of your estate.

How do I choose a lawyer? What can I expect? 
Prior to choosing an attorney, signing a fee agreement or providing a retainer, it is imperative that you meet with the prospective attorney and that you are fully comfortable with him or her. You should expect that the attorney will offer a free consultation in person, or at least a phone call at no charge, to discuss your matter. Once you have chosen your attorney, you should expect to sign an agreement outlining how you will be billed, and you should expect to pay the attorney a retainer fee before he or she will begin working on your matter. Take advantage of the free consultation with an attorney at Merriman Law Office by calling (248) 652-3600, or sending us an email.