Common Questions  and Answers

GENERAL

 

Is the Law Office of Doug Peterson the right firm for me?

Choosing a law firm to handle your legal issue is an important decision.  If you are looking for a law firm to make available an army of associates and paralegals, the Law Office of Doug Peterson is not the right firm for you.  On the other hand, if you are looking for personal service from a capable attorney, and not continuously be passed off within a firm, the Law Office of Doug Peterson may just be the right fit for you.  Doug Peterson will put his work ethic to work for you and personally see your case through to resolution.  Doug Peterson got into the law business to help people, and providing the client with what they need and finishing the job is a great way to help people.

 

What types of cases does your law firm handle?

The Law Office of Doug Peterson is currently built to handle primarily Estate Planning, Wills and related documents, Tax, Small Business, and Contracts matters.  Though these are primary areas, there are many areas of the law that Doug Peterson may be able to help you with.  Schedule a free initial conversation with Doug Peterson to determine if your issue is a fit for the firm, and the firm a fit for you.

 

Do I need to come into your office and meet you in person to retain you, or to receive legal services?

The Law Office of Doug Peterson is built to be a remote law office.  This means Doug Peterson will come to you.  Whether it’s your house, office, or a local private meeting room, Doug Peterson will work with you to meet at the most convenient place for you.  If you are not comfortable with a face-to-face meeting, we can also coordinate a video conference over the web or a phone call.  If you are in need of legal services, you are likely under a great deal of stress.  The last thing we want to do is further complicate matters for you by making meetings inconvenient.

 

What are your business hours?

The benefit of having a non-traditional law office means that I will make myself available to you when you need me.  I learned long ago that the business day does not end at 5:00 pm, and find that many people find it more convenient to make time to meet with an attorney after they have completed their day’s work or activities.

 

Do you charge for consultations?

The initial consultation is free.  I want to meet with you to understand the problem and let us mutually determine if there is a fit with my services and your matter.  Please know that while the initial consultation is free, it does not signify that an attorney-client relationship has been formed.  At the end of each initial consultation, the Law Office of Doug Peterson will let you know if it will be accepting your case, and will follow up with a formal engagement letter, as appropriate, to establish the attorney-client relationship.  All consultations, regardless of further engagements, will be held confidential.

 

What is the cost of your services?

It depends.  Each case is going to be unique and may require more than one service or document.  The nature of the primary services the Law Office of Doug Peterson provides (See SERVICES) are more transactional in nature.  This means that I try to charge for the service, and provide you with an hourly rate that goes on and on.  By being transactional, I can keep my costs down for you, and am motivated to finish your case quickly, rather than let it linger and build up billable hours.  Based on the engagement, you can expect the fees for each service to be clearly spelled out in your engagement letter.

 

What is a contingency fee, and do you charge them?

Contingency fees are generally charged in personal injury cases.  In such cases, any fees paid to the lawyer are contingent on a settlement or being awarded a jury verdict.  The contingency is usually a per cent of the total award/settlement.  The benefit to you is that you do not pay any fees out-of-pocket, as all attorney fees are generated from the award/settlement.  Because the majority of services that the Law Office of Doug Peterson provides are transactional, they are accompanied by fixed pricing per service, and are not contingent.  However, if it is deemed that a contingency fee is more appropriate for your case, then that will be explicitly communicated to you and spelled out in the engagement letter.

 

What is a retainer, and do you charge them?

A retainer is a fee that the client pays up front to an attorney before the attorney has begun work for the client.  As work is performed, billings are applied first against any up front money paid to the attorney, and if there is money left over at the end of the representation, it is returned to the client.  Retainers are more appropriate for complex cases that will require hourly billing, negotiations, and court appearances, among other items because they provide the firm with cash flow for operating the firm while focusing on your case and not being able to take on as many other cases as they may otherwise.  The majority of the services provided by the Law Office of Doug Peterson will not require you pay a retainer.  However if a retainer is deemed appropriate, it will be discussed with you prior to the engagement and spelled out in the engagement letter.

 

What does it mean that money is held “in trust” by my attorney?

Money that you give to your lawyer prior to any fees being earned is still your money, even though it may be held by the lawyer.  Such money is held “in trust” in an escrow account that is kept separate from the law firm’s general operating funds.  It is the lawyer’s duty to provide clients an accounting of any money pre-paid, and charges applied against the funds, and a current balance.  At the end of the representation, after all billings have been posted, any remaining balance will be returned to you.

 

How can I expect to be kept informed of my case?

After the initial consultation, the Law Office of Doug Peterson will propose an approach to your case for you, that contains various milestones, including an estimated ending point.  Once the attorney-client relationship is formed, we can communicate via the most convenient method for you.  This may include emails, phone calls, video calls, text messages, etc.  The Law Office of Doug Peterson will do its best to not only keep you informed of the progress of your case, but let you know of any unforeseen hurdles that may impede the timeline.

 

What can I expect from you?

As a client of the Law Office of Doug Peterson, you can expect a diligent, good faith approach to resolving your legal matters.  It is my duty to include you in every step of the engagement, and you have the final decision on how we move forward.  It is also my duty to guide you and counsel you on potential outcomes of your decisions, and present you with alternatives that you may wish to consider.  Though alternative approaches will be provided, again, the ultimate decision is yours.

 

I have a second issue that is come up since I hired your law firm.  Is Doug Peterson my attorney for this matter?

The attorney-client relationship will be established by the engagement letter which will explicitly state the nature and scope of the engagement.  If you encounter a legal issue that is outside of the scope described in the engagement letter, that does not mean that the Law Office of Doug Peterson cannot represent you, it just means the firm does not currently represent you in that particular matter.  If you encounter an additional issue, schedule a meeting to discuss your issue with Doug Peterson, and he will determine if a separate engagement is warranted.

 

What information do you need from me to get started?

Thank you for choosing the Law Office of Doug Peterson.  To get started, please email Doug at dougpetersonlaw@gmail.com or call him at 859-474-8709 to schedule an initial free consultation.  Depending on the services required, different information may be needed for the initial meeting, and Doug will guide you on what type of information he will need.

 

 

WILLS & ESTATE PLANNING

 

What is an Estate Plan?

Estate Planning is the process of accumulation, management, conservation, and transfer of wealth considering legal, tax, and personal objectives.  An effective Estate Plan will ensure that the intended beneficiary actually receives the transfer, while an efficient Estate Plan ensures that costs of transfer are minimized.  Common goals of an Estate Plan include fulfilling the client’s transfer wishes, minimizing transfer taxes and associated costs, maximizing net assets to heirs, providing liquidity at death to cover final medical, tax, and burial costs, and fulfilling a client’s healthcare wishes.

 

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process through which the decedent’s assets that are not automatically transferred to their heirs by contract or law are retitled in the name of the heirs.  The advantages of probate include protecting the decedent, that his wishes will, for the most part, be followed; protecting the Legatees & Heirs; providing a clear transfer of title as property is received from of creditor claims and other competing ownership interests; and protecting creditors by ensuring debts of the estate are paid before distributions are made to heirs or legatees. 

 

What happens if you die without a Will?

Dying without a Will is referred to as intestacy.  Intestacy is governed by state law.  In Kentucky, property is distributed “per stirpes,” which means that property will be distributed to descendants of the decedent in equal parts, and if descendants have predeceased the decedent, their descendants will represent them.  Surviving spouses also have rights separate from descendants.  Because everyone’s family dynamic is different, it may be best to consult an attorney or Estate Planner to fully understand how assets would be divided in intestacy versus under a Will.

 

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will, also referred to as an Advanced Medical Directive, is a legal document expressing an individual’s last wishes regarding sustainment of his or life under specific circumstances.  Such wishes likely include what kind of medical attention the principal would like to have in certain situations, or who the principal would like to make decisions in the case of incapacity.  In some cases a Living Will will include a Do Not Resuscitate Order which declares the principal’s wish to avoid having CPR performed in the event the heart stops beating.

 

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a stand-alone document that allows an agent to act for the principal and may include the power to appoint assets.  A Durable POA is a POA where the power granted to the agent remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated or disabled.  In any case, a POA ends at death of the principal, and during life, the principal can revoke the powers granted in a POA at any time.

 

 

TAX PLANNING

 

How do I know if I have to file a tax return?

Per IRS Publication 501 for 2020:  “If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, whether you must file a federal income tax return depends on your gross income, your filing status, your age, and whether you are a dependent.”  For details, see Tables 1 and 2 at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p501.pdf 

 

“Even if you don’t have to file, you should file a tax return if you can get money back.  For example, you should file if one of the following applies:  You had income tax withheld from your pay; you made estimated tax payments; you qualify for the earned income credit (See Pub. 596), additional tax credit (See instructions for Form 1040), the American opportunity education credit (See From 8863), the health coverage tax credit (see Form 8885), or credit for federal tax on fuels (See Form 4136).”

 

What is the difference between the Standard Deduction and Itemized expenses?

The federal government allows for an adjustment to income to account for various expenses that occur during the year.  Taxpayers have a choice of using either the sum of these allowed expenses, in the form of itemized deductions, or a standard deduction.  For most taxpayers, the standard deduction is going to be more beneficial in that is a larger deduction than the sum of itemizations.  The Standard Deduction was increased significantly through the Tax & Jobs Act of 2017.  The Standard Deduction varies by filing status; for 2020, the deductions were:  Single or Married filing Separately - $12,400; Married Filing Joint or Qualified Widow(er) - $24,800; Head of Household - $18,650.  There are additional deductions allowed if you and/or your spouse were born before January 2, 1956 and/or Blind.

 

What is the difference between a Tax Credit and a Tax Deduction?

A tax deduction is an adjustment to your income that will lower your taxable income.  Taxable income is the figure that the tax rate will be applied against to calculate your tax liability.  A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax liability.  Tax credits can be either refundable or non-refundable.  This means that if a credit switches your position from owing to receiving a refund, or would increase the amount of your refund, a refundable credit will be fully applied and refunded to you, but a non-refundable credit will not.  For example, if a $2,000 refund is calculated for you, and you qualify for a refundable credit of $500, you will receive a refund of $2,500.  But if that credit is non-refundable, you will only receive the $2,000.

 

I received money from the economic stimulus as a result of the Covid-19 shut-down.  Is this money taxable?

Generally speaking, all stimulus money is tax-free.  An exception may apply if your current year income raises above the threshold for qualifying for the stimulus money.  In such cases, you may be required to pay back all or a portion of the stimulus benefit received.  You should consult a CPA or tax attorney to understand your particular situation.

 

I received extra unemployment income during the last year.  Is this money taxable?

Unemployment income is always taxable.  For 2020, the federal government exempted the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received from tax.  While many states followed the federal government, Kentucky did not, and the entire amount of unemployment received in 2020 was considered taxable.  At present, there is no indication there will be a tax-break on unemployment income received in 2021, so you should expect any unemployment benefits received in 2021 to be fully taxable.  There are ways you can prepare for this tax liability, even if you continue to be unemployed.  You can contact your state office and request taxes be withheld.  You can set-aside 25% - 30% to account for a tax liability.  In any case, you should contact a CPA or tax attorney to determine what is best for your personal situation.

 

 

OTHER LEGAL SERVICES

 

What is Estate Tax and when does it apply?

The Federal Estate Tax is a tax on estates whose value exceeds $11.7 million (for 2021, up from $11.58 million for 2020).  Only the amount that exceeds the threshold is subject to the tax.  The tax is applied to the Fair Market Value of the estate’s assets, not what the decedent originally paid for the assets.  Kentucky does not apply an estate tax, but instead applies an Inheritance Tax.  Kentucky’s Inheritance Tax is a progressive tax with different rates for different classes of recipients.  KRS 140.070 provides the current rates and thresholds.  It may be to your benefit to consult an attorney or CPA to better understand what taxes, and what rates, may apply to you.

 

What is the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a complete liquidation of your assets to pay off any debts due to creditors.  Debtors receive a complete discharge of their debt in exchange for forfeiting their assets.  Chapter 13 is a re-organization of debt that allows the debtor to retain their assets, if they choose, and generally requires a payment plan to settle all or a portion of their outstanding debt.

 

I am forming a small business.  What is the best type of entity for me?

Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, LLC, Corporation.  Which is right for me?  There are many variables that factor into the choice of entity.  Such variables include the number of owners/partners, how the organization will be operated, the end-goal of the organization, the desired level of liability protection for the owners, and how profits are to be distributed and who is to be taxed.  In addition to formation, there are on-going requirements that vary by each type of entity.  Contact the Law Office of Doug Peterson for a free initial consultation on forming or re-organizing your new business.

 

What types of Contract services does the Law Office of Doug Peterson provide?

Contract services vary from drafting to reviewing and negotiating and simply explaining your rights to you under a current proposed agreement.  Doug Peterson can draft initial agreements or amendments for any of your contractual needs, whether it is a simple services agreement, a landlord-tenant agreement, or even a pre-marital or separation agreement.  The Law Office of Doug Peterson will also undertake enforcement of current contracts you are bound to to ensure you are receiving the full benefit or compensation you are entitled to.  Contact the Law Office of Doug Peterson to see how Doug can help you with your specific contract needs.