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12 Steps to Legal Health

Medical health, financial health, and mental health – these are always the topic of conversation in magazines, newspapers, and online articles. As a result, Americans are always thinking about those three forms of health. But what about your legal health? Although it touches our lives every day, most Americans usually overlook their legal health and because most employers do not give “legal coverage,” most Americans are ill-prepared for the day they are confronted with an unexpected and costly legal matter. So it’s a new year and a perfect time to start on your way to being legally healthy in just 12 simple steps – one step for each month of the year. Each step is tied to a holiday or an event in each month to help you remember and make it easier for you to take the steps to legal health in a year!

January – Happy New Year
Step 1: Make a New Year’s Resolution to Find a Lawyer and Create a Legal Fund.

There are many reasons why you may need a lawyer, i.e., you are accused of a crime; going through bankruptcy/ a divorce; having landlord/ tenant problems; buying/ selling a home; adopting a child or seeking child support; preparing/ probating a will; starting/ suing a business; in an accident, injured at work or illegally terminated. The best time to seek a lawyer is before the legal problems arise, not after. A general practitioner who does more than one type of law is your best bet, especially since most legal problems do not require the expertise and cost of a specialist. If your problem does, the general practitioner you select should be able to recommend a specialist that can assist you. Start by asking others for recommendations, especially your lawyer friends – they tend to know other lawyers. No matter what tactics you use to find one, a face to face meeting, or at least a telephone conference, is highly recommended. And starting a legal fund, especially in these hard economic times, is as simple as $50-100 per month if you don’t know of any legal challenges coming up shortly. Think of it as your own legal insurance and double up per month if you foresee something coming down the pike. Remember, $2400 is a good upfront retainer, especially if your legal issue is not complicated…or a criminal one.

February – The Month of Love
Step 2: Visit or Re-visit Any Agreement/Document that Came from Unions of Love.

Valentine’s Day reminds us of love – both current and past loves. It’s the perfect time to review, prepare, or at the very least, assess whether you should enter into, revise, or extinguish an agreement that came from a union of love. What do I mean you ask? Think prenuptial or postnuptial agreements – do you want/ need one? Separation agreements, divorce decrees, alimony or palimony, child support documents – is it time to take your spouse back to court to update your monthly intake or output? Finally, February contains Super Bowl Sunday, which some suggest has the highest level of domestic abuse than any other day of the year. If you have been considering a restraining order, now might be a good time to assess whether you should get or renew one.

March – St. Patrick’s Day
Step 3: Protect Your Pot of Gold

As our world becomes more electronic and cashless, it is becoming increasingly harder for you to protect your identity, credit profile, and, believe it or not your cash in the bank. Review all bank and credit card statements to determine the procedures and your grace period in the event of a fraudulent transaction. Don’t lose out on $4500 from a scheme that charges your bank account for exorbitant gas card purchases simply because you didn’t catch the fraud within 60 days of the statement on which the fraudulent purchase appeared.

April – Uncle Sam Wants Your Money
Step 4: Get Your Tax Things in Order

April 15 – the dreaded tax day…especially if you are a small or medium business. Get your business in order before that day comes. Your write offs, proof of income, charitable contributions. The five top audit red flags are: not reporting all of your income, small business losses, charitable contributions deductions, home office deductions, and excessive write offs. Find out from your tax man your legal rights regarding taxes. The first thing every tax payer should know is that you are responsible for any misstatements on your taxes...even if it was prepared by someone else. Find out whether your tax preparer represents you if you are audited. Not only should you ask if the advisor represent you in the initial audit but also ask if the advisor is available to assist in your defense if you choose to have your case go to tax court. And as important as the first questions, is the representation included in your tax preparation fee. Let him/her point that out to you in your agreement.

May – Memorial Day
Step 5: Prepare Testamentary Instruments

Memorial Day reminds us of the fallen and reminds us of our own mortality. Time for you to get your will, revocable trust (living trust), living will, durable power of attorney, etc. If you have parents or loved ones, time to get their will probated. Many go years without changing over the property of the deceased into the name of the beneficiary. A good will or living trust can not only provide an orderly distribution of the decedent’s property, it can also serve to forego the probate process, which usually takes significant time and money. When someone dies without a will or owns property in his/her name, i.e. bank account, life insurance with no beneficiary, house, or car, family members cannot take legal possession of the property and cannot sell or transfer the property without a court order giving them permission to do so. Getting that permission is the probate process. While a will does not avoid probate, it does state specifically the decedent’s intent making the transition of property a smoother less harrowing process. Also a living will makes clear the medical intention of a relative thereby taking away unnecessary pressure from a relative that might need to make a difficult medical call, such as opting not to resuscitate, or “pulling the plug.” Power of attorney ends upon incapacity of the executor. However, a durable power of attorney gives someone the power to make decisions for an incapacitated family member.

June – Summer, Summer, Summertime
Step 6: Children and the Law

Summertime means hanging out because kids are off from school. Educate yourself and your children about their legal rights. If arrested, do not divulge any information without parent present. Ask for phone call. Don’t talk back to police. If stopped don’t give permission to search car or allow them to come in house unless there is an emergency. Find out whether there are neighborhood curfews or laws against loitering. Also means some parents opt for teenage baby sitters or leaving a younger child with an older sibling. Research whether your child sitter has insurance or certain safety mechanisms in place. If child working as baby sitter, find out what the risks are. Leaving kids alone – what age.

July – Fourth of July
Step 7: Come Up to Speed on Neighborhood Regulations and Ordinances

Fourth of July or Independence Day means fireworks, cookouts, barbeques, and pool parties. Find out if your neighborhood has ordinances regarding noise, fire works, and pool liability and maintenance. Check to make sure your pool is in compliance with those ordinances and that you are not breaking any capacity, parking, and alcohol ordinances.

August – Back to School
Step 8: Educate Yourself on School Rules and Regulations

Back to school means not just buying new cloths. Schools are full of legal pitfalls for parents that can lead to serious consequences for them and their children. Be sure to get and read the school’s handbook, which usually outlines the things mentioned below. Find out about special education rights and needs, including how many children should be in your child’s class, how to opt out of special education classes, and what is your child’s IEP. Also, find out what the school policy is on searching children, confiscating personal belongings, the scope of authority for fighting, i.e. if child fights 20 blocks from school, does the school still have jurisdiction. What is t he school’s policy of “touching”? Is it a no touch policy. Finally, find whether real police officers are employed by the school. In such instances, it may be easier for a simple school fight to become disorderly conduct for which your child could be arrested not just suspended.

September – Labor Day
Step 9: Educate Yourself on the Rules and Regulations at Your Place of Employment

Especially in this time of economic uncertainty, Labor Day should be used not to party but to find out more about the policies at your place of employment, particularly the hiring and firing policies. Review your employment agreement if you have one to determine if you are an at will employee. Review also your job handbooks to determine what your office policy concerning media usage policies, i.e., using the internet and e-mail; review benefits laws; review rules on sexual harassment; media usage policies, FMLA; termination policy.

October - Halloween
Step 10: Lawsuit-Proof Your Property

Homeowner responsibilities and liabilities. Lawsuit-proof your property. Review insurance policy to determine when and why they wont honor that policy so you can make sure those things don’t exist in your house, i.e. smoke detectors, railings on steps, sidewalk pavement, dogs biting neighbors and postman. Also, be sure that the policy pays out enough to cover your entire mortgage in the case of total loss. Renter’s insurance if you don’t have a house. Landlord and tenants have responsibilities. What to do with your dog when visitors are present.

November - Thanksgiving
Step 11: Is Your Trip Fully Covered?

Review travel insurance on credit cards, car insurance policy, etc. What is the latest TSA advisory? Are they allowed to strip search me? This is to determine what you are entitled to legally if something happens away from home. Call your insurance carrier to determine the level of your coverage, i.e. do you get rental if car stolen in another city. Do you even have coverage for tow truck if car breaks down. Travel insurance, find out which credit card gives you free coverage and the scope of the coverage. How much time do you have to report something to have coverage.

December – Happy Holidays
Step 12: Tis the Season for Giving: Learn All the Parameters of Giving a Gift.

Charities research to make sure that they are legal entities for which you can write off your donations. If feeding people, make sure you are legally covered. There are certain rules against giving food from your house to the homeless. Be sure that if you intend to do that you have researched whether there are restrictions to doing so. Be sure if you are giving company gifts that the gift fall within the IRS guidelines for gift giving and can be properly written off as gifts.

written by Roxan A. Kerr

Do's and Don'ts when arrested or charged with a crime

If arrested and in custody:


  • Remain Calm and Non-Threatening
  • Ask Police if You Must Do What You are Being Asked To Do (If You Don’t Have to Do It then Don’t Do it!)
  • Give Name and Address if Asked by the Police
  • Respectfully Demand for an Attorney to be Present before Answering Any Questions
  • Respectfully Demand for your Parents to be Present if you are a Minor
  • Ask Why You Were Arrested
  • Ask for Medical Attention if Injured and Take Pictures of Injury
  • Write down, as Soon as Possible, Everything that Happened During Your Arrest to Refresh Your Memory at a Later Date


  • Do Not Resist or Fight Police
  • Do Not Consent to a Search of Anything Belonging to You
  • Do Not Answer any Questions (except Name and Address)
  • Do Not Agree to or Participate in a Line-Up
  • Do Not Offer Information to the Police
  • Do Not Let Anyone Listen to Your Telephone Conversation with Your Lawyer
  • Do Not Sign Anything
  • Do Not Try to Represent Yourself



  • Get an Attorney


  • Do Not Resist Arrest or Run Away from Police
  • Do Not Turn Yourself In Without an Attorney
  • Don’t Tell Anyone Anything Except Your Attorney
  • Don’t Get Others Involved

written by Roxan A. Kerr