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This guide will explain the 5 most important things you can do to make yourself safe from legal risks. We explain what each item is, why you need to worry about it, and what you need to do to in order to take that worry away.
Some of these items are already covered in great detail elsewhere on our website. In that case, we will provide a link to another legal guide or blog post we wrote. Read those for more detail.
In our years of experience, these are the 5 most important steps you can take to keep you out of legal trouble and out of the lawyer’s office!
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us by email and we will be happy to answer. This guide was written by Tucker Clagett, an attorney at Southern Maryland Law - Andrews, Bongar, Gormley & Clagett.
Our Best Advice: This guide contains general information about Maryland law as a helpful resource for the public. Simply reading this guide does not create an attorney-client relationship with our law firm.
Reading this guide is no substitute for hiring an attorney. If you have any serious legal issue, you should get personal advice from an attorney who understands the unique facts of your situation.
We hope you will choose us to handle your Maryland legal case. If not, at least talk to another attorney who knows what they are doing. That is the best advice we can ever give you.
As most people know, your credit score is an important indicator of your financial health. You should invest some time and effort in protecting it.
How can you protect your credit report if you don’t even know what’s on it?
Get it & review it annually
While there are no shortage of third party companies that claim to track your credit, they are not particularly accurate and they bombard you with upsells.
By federal law, you can receive one copy of your credit report free every year. This is from the official government run website. It is accurate.
Get it. See what is on it. Is there anything unusual? You should take action to correct it now.
Make sure nobody is trying to steal your identity. (And if your identity is stolen, read our blog post here explaining everything you should do now.)
Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report. This is the government sponsored central site for requesting your credit report. You will have to provide some personal details to prove it is really you. Then you get to see your full credit report.
To further protect your credit, consider a credit freeze. This will make it harder for an identity thief to take out debt in your name.
For all the details on freezing your credit, see our article How to Freeze Your Credit.
I froze my own credit in late 2017 after the big Equifax hack. As I did it, I kept a step by step running list of what I did, so I could turn it into this blog post. My checklist makes the process easy by walking you through it.
If your credit is frozen, and you are staying on top of it at least once a year, your credit is as protected as it possibly can be.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front – nobody like thinking about death. We get that. But if you are going to protect your family, you have to be ready for a time when you are not here anymore. It is only practical.
We can at least make it easy by telling you exactly what you need to do.
There are some basic legal documents that almost everyone needs. They are:
- A will
- A financial power of attorney
- An advanced medical directive (aka health care power of attorney)
- A letter to your loved ones (to go with your will)
Yes. You probably do need a will.
And if you are like most people – you are probably putting it off.
We devoted one of our Free Legal Guides to explaining wills. Click here to read it and discover everything you need to know about wills in Maryland. We explain every decision you have to make before you make your will. After reading it, you should be able to easily tackle this neglected task.
Financial Power of Attorney
If you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs, how will your loved ones get access to your finances? How will your bills get paid?
Are they going to have an easy time getting this access? Or are you making them jump through hoops?
If you have the need, you should consider getting a financial power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives a person legal authority to act for another person.
If you give someone else power of attorney, they “stand in your shoes” from a legal and financial perspective. If done right, they can manage all of your affairs when you are unable to do so yourself.
Maryland has a specific power of attorney form approved by the legislature. If you use this statutory form, a bank cannot refuse to honor it.
However, the Maryland statutory power of attorney form is not simple. It is long and complex. You will have to make a lot of key legal decisions when you execute it.
Because of that, we don’t recommend you just do a Google search and start typing. This is a major decision as you give a significant amount of your legal authority to someone else. That should not be done lightly.
And keep in mind you won’t be able to speak up and clarify anything if there are questions! If your power of attorney is active, that means you are incapacitated!
We wrote a very detailed blog post about durable powers of attorney you should read here. It explains everything you need to know, and all the decisions you need to make.
We recommend anyone considering a power of attorney get some good legal advice before executing one.
Advanced Medical Directive (aka Medical Power of Attorney)
This is a completely different kind of power of attorney. Maryland law provides for a special document to give someone the legal authority to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
This includes the power to pull the plug on you! There is nothing more heavy and serious than a medical power of attorney.
Like any other power of attorney, these are serious legal documents that give away a significant amount of legal authority. You have to get these items properly drafted before they are needed. The whole purpose is to be there when you cannot speak for yourself.
We wrote a detailed blog post further explaining Advance Medical Directives you should read here.
You don’t get a second chance at these documents, and you don’t get a chance to clarify any ambiguity. Let a lawyer do this, and get the advice that a computer program cannot give you.
A Last Letter to Your Family
This is a great thing you can do to make life easy on your family after you pass away. it is not a legally binding document. It just makes their life easy! We suggest everyone write a simple letter that explains where everything is – bank accounts, financial documents, etc.
We provide a detailed outline of what you should put in such a letter here. Read that blog post and feel free to copy and paste it into your own letter.
We strongly recommend everyone set aside some time every year to conduct a review of your legal and financial situation. Things change. Your life has probably changed a lot since the last time you reviewed your will, your finances, and your legal protections.
We know everyone is busy. But this is important.
To make it easy, we created a step by step guide to performing this annual review. Click that link to read our blog post which walks you through this process step by step. This way you know what to do, you don’t have to figure it out on your own, and you won’t miss anything!
We cannot necessarily make this task simple. But we can make it a LOT easier by guiding you through the process.
You need a safe place to store your most important legal documents. Even in our increasingly digital world, you need some things in hard copy form.
Nobody plans for a fire or a flood. Those two things can destroy important documents and cost you hours and days of your life getting new ones.
We wrote a separate blog post describing the types of documents you need to protect, how long to protect them, and where you should store them. Click that link to read the details.
No, this is not flashy or interesting. But it is important!
Insurance is a pain. It is expensive. It is confusing. And it is something you hope you won’t even need.
But you do need it. Here’s why:
We refer to insurance as a “necessary evil.” Insurance companies love to take your money. But they hate to pay out when you need it! That makes them evil, no matter what the highly paid celebrity tells you on the commercial.
But, in our modern society, they are also necessary. You simply cannot exist in our risky modern world without proper insurance.
We wrote an entire blog post on this subject where we break down the types of insurance you need and the level of coverage you should get. Click that link to read all about it. We even tell you about a few types of insurance that you do NOT need. Don’t let some insurance salesman decide what you need! Know your options before you go insurance shopping.
We have to be honest. We lawyers make a lot of money from people who get themselves in difficult situations. In fact, lawyers only exist to solve problems. No problems = no lawyers.
The truth is, many of these difficult situations are avoidable – IF you get some good legal advice BEFORE things get screwed up.
Do you have a situation brewing that might lead to legal troubles? If so, it would be a very good investment to pay a lawyer a little bit of $ now, instead of paying a lot of $ later.
We call this “preventative legal medicine.” Just like that regular visit to your doctor to catch things early and ward off the big health issues, you should make time to meet with a lawyer to review any pending legal matters that might become problems.
Good advice is relatively cheap. Litigation is expensive.
If you have a legal issue and need some advice, contact us for a consultation. We do charge $100 for a live consultation with an attorney on most general civil matters (Note we offer free consultations on personal injury, bankruptcy, workers’ compensation & criminal cases). In a most cases, that is money well spent.
Like getting free legal advice? Well, we like giving it!
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This is the same email newsletter we send to each and every one of our current and former clients. We wouldn’t waste their time with junk, so you know we won’t waste your time either.
The blog posts linked above are exactly the type of things we put in our emails. Explore our blog full of useful legal advice here. We want to give you good legal advice that protects you and your family in this legally complicated world.
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Get More Free Legal Advice!
Like free legal advice? We have a LOT more of it available right here on our website. Click this link to discover all of the free legal advice we offer in blogs, videos, newsletters, social media, etc. We think you should always know your options, be informed, and protect yourself when facing any legal issue. Use this website as a community resource. It is part of how we give back to our community!