Portland Legal Services - Joanne Reisman, Attorney at Law
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Why you need a lawyer to help you settle your Personal Injury Claim

In most accidents, like when you are rear ended, it is not going to be an argument about who is at fault.  The argument is going to be about the amount of damages.  Insurance companies have a deliberate and carefully orchestrated plan to minimize how much they will pay out and it starts with the adjuster from the insurance company for the other driver car calling you and saying she or he is so sorry to hear about your injuries and they will take care of you - all you need to do is give them a recorded statement and sign some documents so they can view your medical records.  This is a trap designed to carefully document your post accident progress in a way that most favors the adverse insurance company (for the other driver).  Their goal is to pay you as little as possible.  They play on your emotions so you think they are being helpful and you will cooperate with whatever they ask for.  They will act so nice and even start talking about paying you money - all so you won't hire your own attorney.

Every case they can lowball means more profits for their company.  They can then throw up statistics at attorneys like myself to tell us our future cases aren't worth anything.  In the early 1980's I used to get offers of $10,000 pretty regularly to settle soft tissue injury cases like yours.  Now 30 years later I am lucky if I can offers of more than $1,500 to $3,000 and the insurance companies will battle like crazy to avoid paying a dime more.  They will spend far more to avoid paying out a claim then the amount they are arguing about not paying.   It is no longer about the cost of settling the case or the fairness of the damages paid.  It is about lulling accident victims into taking law ball offers when they don't know any better and making cases that are handled by attorneys as difficult and unprofitable as possible so that future claims can be settled as cheaply as possible.

We PI lawyers fight vigorously to stop the trend of low ball offers, unfair tactics, and cost prohibitive legal maneuvers.   We are willing to take cases up on appeal when necessary to protect the legal rights of consumers like yourself.  We fight for new laws that protect your rights by hiring lobbyists and going head to head with the well paid insurance lobbies every legislative session.

So by hiring a PI lawyer, preferably on that is a member of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association (just ask), you will not only get a better settlement then you would on your own, even after paying a percentage as attorney fees, you will also stand up for your rights and the rights of other accident victims to get a fair and full settlement.

Understand that you have PIP coverage under your own Oregon insurance policy.  This is a mandatory no-fault additional coverage in all Oregon Auto Insurance policies.  What the other driver's insurance company does with yor claim doesn’t effect your right to this coverage nor will using it effect your insurance rates. This will pay for your medical treatment up to $15,000 and will pay for up to a year of treatment.  If you need to take time off of work, you may qualify for the lost wages that PIP will pay in addition to your medical bills.  (You need to be off work a certain amount of time to qualify.)   Your PI lawyer will see to it that you are able to take full advantage of your PIP coverage, so you can get the treatment you need and your lost wages while you recover.  You should not even consider settling your case until your injuries resolve.  You have up to two years before your case would need to be filed in the court so this is usually enough time to allow yourself to recover with time to spare that attempts can be made to settle the case.  Your chances of getting a fair settlement are much better if you first heal from your injuries and a demand package with complete information as to your treatment and medical bills is sent to the other driver's insurance company.  Your PI attorney will handle all of this for you.

As for car damages, if you have full coverage you can address the car repair or replacement by using your full coverage.  If you have a deductible you may need to pay it but it will be reimbursed later on.  If you don't have full coverage, a fairly new law (lobbied for by OTLA), now requires that the other driver's insurance company make you a fair offer immediately for the amount of your repairs or the replacement value of your car.  Your PI attorney can help you facilitate this.  Just don't be deceived that the other insurance companies willingness to settle your car damages is due to anything other then the fact that they are now obligated to do this under Oregon Law.  It is not a sign that your case will be settled easily without legal representation.  In fact, if they try to total your car they will still play all sorts of games trying to argue that your car isn't worth much. Your PI lawyer should be able to help you establish the fair market value of your car if it is totaled.

There are simply many advantages in hiring an experienced Personal Injury Lawyer as soon as you are able to contact one.  Most lawyer will talk to you about your case at no charge and will take your case on a contingency so there is no up front cost to you.  The professional experience they will bring to bare in handling your case against well funded insurance companies who will be doing everything they can to minimize your claim is invaluable.

Scam Calls and Emails - how to avoid being a Victim!!

To avoid becoming a scam victim regard any call or email that asks any personal, business or financial  information including a request to verify information as a possible scam!

Any legitimate callers or emailers will be willing to assist you in verifying that their calls or emails are legitimate.  If they are pushy,  anxious, evasive, or demanding when you ask questions or don't want to help you verify their identity or business legitimacy - they are scammers!

Here are the steps you need to take right from the start. 

  1. Just don't respond to any emails that request personal or business info.  Legitimate businesses that need your info will have a phone number and a person you can contact.  Just don't respond to any requests for information by email ever.  It is far too easy for people running international scams to send you emails with fake looking business logos and even fake return addresses.  Also when you respond you signal that they have contacted a real person and you become a live fish on the hook for them to play with.  You may also encourage them to further use your email address for spam.  If you have to respond, do so only to request their contact information.  But if you can tell who the business is from the original email, go to the next steps and don't reply.
  2. When contacted by phone, do not start answering questions or giving out information or any type - you start asking questions.
  3. Ask the caller to give you their full name, the name of the company they work for, the location and name of the office they are calling from, a working number that you can all them back on, and any extension you need to dial to get them back on the line.  At this point most scammers will hang up but not always.
  4. Politely say you will call them back and hang up.
  5. Next use an independent means to verify the business and to verify that this call is legitimately related to a department in that business.  Don't call the number you were just given.  Instead use reliable independent sources of information you already have to contact the business.  Remember that most billing statements have names, addresses and contact numbers so check your old statements for this info.  If it's a bank, call your local branch.   Once you have a good reliable number then call this number and  ask to speak to the appropriate department depending on what the initial call was about.   Discuss with someone in that department the call you received, who it was from, and the information you were given and what the caller wanted from you.  Verify that the call and the request for information is for a legitimate reason related to the business.
  6. If the call is verified as legitimate - don't hang up and go back to calling the original caller.  Instead ask to be routed internally to the call center where the person you need to talk to is located.  Scammers can mimic legitimate calls and even give you correct information and ask questions that a real department employee would ask you.  The problem is that there could be both legitimate calls and scam calls going on at the same time and asking the same questions.  By asking to be routed internally from an office inside the correct business, you can be sure that you get to a legitimate department or call center and that you don't accidentally release info to a scammer the is convincingly mimicking a real call.
  7. If you don't have a number for the business from prior contact, then it may be necessary to research the business on the internet to get the proper contact number.  This will only work for well known major businesses like American Express, or Bank of America.  If it's a business you have never heard of before then even the website you find could be phoney.
  8. Still not sure?  Then don't cooperate and give out any information.  If there is truly a legitimate business need for you info you will probably get something mailed to you at an address that your previously gave to the legitimate business.
  9. Check for scam alerts.  Below you will find information how to contact either the Oregon Department of Justice of the Federal Trade Commission to find out if the type of contact you have just gotten is a known scam.  You can also try typing in the language from an email into your Google browser.  The more common scams tend to use the same language over and over again and you will probably get a web page where your language is being reported and discussed by other consumers that have already spotted the scam. 
  10. Don't get involved in scam baiting.  There are even some consumers that will not only report the scam but will play along with the scammer and update their reports for you to read on various web pages.  This is called scam baiting.  I don't recommend playing this game because some of these scammers are real pirates with real guns and real bullets.  They may be in some foreign country but they could have friends or relatives in the US and you could end up in a life threatening situation.  So you can Google scam baiting if you want to read more about it but stick to just reading about it.

Other steps you can take:

Contact the Oregon Department of Justice.  (DOJ) They should be able to tell you if the type of call you got is part of a scam they are already aware of.  Sometimes the scammer may already be under investigation.
If you have a question about a consumer-related issue or would like to file a complaint against a business please contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or complete an online Consumer Complaint Form anytime.
Some of the services and additional information on the DOJ website include:
Oregon Scam Alert Network   Here you can read about current scams and submit your email so you can be notified of scams alerts as they are released.  There are also links to other helpful pages:


Go to the  Federal Trade Commission website and read about the various consumer fraud and identity theft problems that this website discusses.  There is also advice on steps to take to protect yourself and what to do after you have become a victim to minimize your damages:


FTC on
Under this topic you will find info on:
Limiting Unwanted Calls & Emails Some phone calls and emails are important, some can be annoying, and others are just plain illegal. Learn how to reduce the number of unwanted messages you get by phone and online.
Computer Security The internet offers access to a world of products and services, entertainment and information. At the same time, it creates opportunities for scammers, hackers, and identity thieves. Learn how to protect your computer, your information, and your online files.
Kids' Online Safety The opportunities kids have to socialize online come with benefits and risks. Adults can help reduce the risks by talking to kids about making safe and responsible decisions.
Protecting Your Identity Keeping your important papers secure, shredding documents with sensitive information before you put them in the trash, and limiting the personal information you carry with you are among the ways you can protect your identity. Find additional tips to reduce your risk of identity theft, including how and when to order your free credit report.
Repairing Identity TheftIf you suspect someone has stolen your identity, acting quickly to limit the damage is key. Take a deep breath, and then place a fraud alert on your credit file, order your credit reports, and call the FTC to report the crime.

Under this topic you will find info on:
  • Children’s Privacy The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids.  The COPPA Rule — with new provisions in effect on July 1, 2013 —  puts additional protections in place and streamlines other procedures that companies covered by the rule need to follow.   If you run a website designed for kids or have a website geared to a general audience but collect information from someone you know is under 13, you must comply with COPPA’s requirements.  Questions?  Send them to CoppaHotLine@ftc.gov.
  • Consumer Privacy Think your company doesn't make any privacy claims? Think again — and reread your privacy policy to make sure you're honoring the promises you've pledged. Consumers care about the privacy of their personal information and savvy businesses understand the importance of being clear about what you do with their data.
  • Credit Reporting Does your business use consumer reports or credit reports to evaluate customers’ creditworthiness?  Do you consult reports when evaluating applications for jobs, leases, or insurance?  Here's information about your responsibilities under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws when using, reporting, and disposing of information in those reports.
  • Data Security Many companies keep sensitive personal information about customers or employees in their files or on their network.  Having a sound security plan in place to collect only what you need, keep it safe, and dispose of it securely can help you meet your legal obligations to protect that sensitive data.  The FTC has free resources for businesses of any size.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires financial institutions – companies that offer consumers financial products or services like loans, financial or investment advice, or insurance – to explain their information-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard sensitive data.
  • Red Flags Rule The Red Flags Rule requires many businesses and organizations to implement a written Identity Theft Prevention Program designed to detect the warning signs  – or red flags – of identity theft in their day-to-day operations.
  • U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework provides a method for U.S. companies to transfer personal data outside the European Union in a way that's consistent with the EU Data Protection Directive.  To join the Safe Harbor, a company must self-certify to the Department of Commerce that it complies with EU standards.  The FTC enforces the promise that companies make when they certify that they participate in the Safe Harbor Framework.

Under this topic you will find information on:
  • Credit and Loans If you extend credit to consumers, are in the business of offering loans, or help companies that do, know your compliance responsibilities.  (Looking for information about credit reports or consumer reports?  Visit Credit Reporting.)
  • Debt If you market products or services promising to help consumers with their debts – or assist companies that do – are you up on the rules and laws that apply to your business?  (For resources related to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, visit Debt Collection.)
  • Debt Collection The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from abusive or harassing treatment by debt collectors and establishes guidelines for the industry.  Is your company complying with the law?
  • Mortgages The FTC enforces laws that protect consumers from deceptive mortgage practices by certain kinds of lenders.  The FTC also takes action when companies use illegal tactics directed to people facing foreclosure.  If your company is within the jurisdiction of the FTC, are you complying with the law?
  • Payments and Billing  Under the law, businesses must take steps to ensure that charges to customers' credit cards, debit cards, phone bills, and other accounts are authorized.  Those principles also apply to mobile payments.  Does your company process payments for others?  There are compliance standard

Under this topic you will find information on:
  • Shopping & Saving Realistic budgeting is the key to maintaining a financial safety net and spending wisely. Whether you’re shopping for things you buy routinely — or saving for that occasional big ticket item — planning is key. These shopping tips can help you save money on everyday purchases, as well as on some products and services you buy once in a while.
  • Buying & Owning a Car Having a car can be an expensive proposition. Read tips on buying vs. leasing, negotiating the best deal, financing, getting the most out of warranties and service contracts, using gas efficiently, and avoiding repossession.
  • Credit and Loans Decisions about credit and loans involve lots of factors, including how much money you need, what terms you’re offered, and who is behind the offer. If you are choosing a credit card or wondering whether offers of credit and loans are on the up and up, these tips can help.
  • Dealing with Debt Debt collection, debt management, debt relief, debt settlement... Debt is a four-letter word that’s the subject of some complex laws. Learn how to exercise your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — and how to recognize debt-related scams and frauds.
  • Resolving Consumer Problems Things don’t always go right. Sometimes you don’t get what you ordered; sometimes you get an item of the blue. What are your obligations? And by the way, are there advantages to using any particular method of payment in terms of consumer protections?

More options for Oregon Debtors: Oregonians can now elect to use Federal Exemptions When Filing Bankruptcy

Some really good news for Oregon Debtors facing bankruptcy.  Governor Kitzhaber has signed SB396 into law and Oregon debtors now have the opportunity to elect federal exemptions or Oregon exemptions when filing bankruptcy.  SB396 reversed the 30 year ban on use of federal exemptions in Oregon bankruptcy cases.  The bill can be used in all bankruptcy cases filed after July 1, 2013. 

In addition, there has been added to the already existing Oregon exemptions a new exemption for Health Savings Accounts in an unlimited amount.

What does this mean for Oregon Debtors?  It means more ways to protect your property and assets that youare allowed to retain when filing bankruptcy.  For example the Oregon exemption for an automobile is $3,000.00.  But if you elect to use the Federal Exemption you would be able to exempt a car worth $3,675.    The real benefit of using the Federal Exemptions is that you can borrow the unused portion of the Federal Homestead exemption up to $11,500 for an individual can be used instead to increase another Federal Exemption amount.

So you could exempt a car worth up to $15,175 by adding the $11,500 to the existing car exemption of $3,675.00  Or maybe you have some property that doesn't fit into a specific category.   Combining the wild car exemption of $1,225 with the transferable amount of $11,500 gives you an exemption of $12,725 to apply to any property you want to keep.   (This amount doubles for a married couple for an amount of $25,450.00)
 
Whether you use the Oregon Exemptions or the Federal Exemptions is something you will need to discuss with your bankruptcy attorney as part of your pre-filing bankruptcy strategy.  But this gives you a lot more options.   So if you considered filing bankruptcy in the past but were told you would lose certain property which kept you from filing, you might want to talk to a bankruptcy attorney again and see if the outcome will be more favorable given the change in Oregon's exemption laws.

Here is a list of the various Federal Exemptions that  can now be used by Oregonians filing bankruptcy if they chose to elect:

11 U.S.C. (Title 11 of the United States Code) Section 522(d)
Homestead:
522(d)(1), (5) - Real property, including mobile homes and co-ops, or burial plots up to $22,975. Unused portion of homestead, up to $11,500 may be used for other property.
Personal Property:
522(d)(2) - Motor vehicle up to $3,675.
522(d)(3) - Animals, crops, clothing, appliances and furnishings, books, household goods, and musical instruments up to $575 per item, and up to $12,250 total.
522(d)(4) - Jewelry up to $1,550.
522(d)(9) - Health aids.
522(d)(11)(B) - Wrongful death recovery for person you depended upon.
522(d)(11)(D) - Personal injury recovery up to $22,975 except for pain and suffering or for pecuniary loss.
522(d)(11)(E) - Lost earnings payments.
Pensions:
522(b)(3)(C) - Tax exempt retirement accounts (including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, profit-sharing and money purchase plans, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and defined benefit plans). (Fully exempt.)
522(b)(3)(C)(n) - IRAS and Roth IRAs to $1,245,475.
Public Benefits:
522(d)(10)(A) - Public assistance, Social Security, Veteran’s benefits, Unemployment Compensation.
522(d)(11)(A) - Crime victim’s compensation.
Tools of Trade:
522(d)(6) - Implements, books and tools of trade, up to $2,300.
Alimony and Child Support:
522(d)(10)(D) - Alimony and child support needed for support.
Insurance:
522(d)(7) - Unmatured life insurance policy except credit insurance.
522(d)(8) - Life insurance policy with loan value up to $12,250.
522(d)(10)( C ) - Disability, unemployment or illness benefits.
522(d)(11)( C ) - Life insurance payments for a person you depended on, which you need for support.
Wildcard:
522(d)(5) - $1,225 of any property, and unused portion of homestead up to $11,500.

Tips regarding Oregon's Minimum Liability Insurance Coverage

Oregon driver's insurance policies must offer a minimum of:
Bodily injury and property damage liability​
$25,000 per person;  $50,000 per crash for bodily injury to others; and
$20,000 per crash for damage to others property​
State law also requires every motor vehicle liability policy to provide:
Personal injury protection (for reasonable and necessary medical, dental and other expenses
incurred up to 1 year after the crash)​ $15,000 per person.  (Coverage for lost wages up to $3,000 a month for up to one year is also part of PIP and is in addition to the medical coverage.)
And the policy must include Uninsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage of​
$25,000 per person; $50,000 per crash   
http://www.oregon.gov/odot/dmv/pages/driverid/insurance.aspx

What this means is that if you hit someone, your insurance will pay at most $25,000 maximum to each person injured and no more than $50,000 maximum for the total paid for all injuries.  So if you have more than one person with more than $25,000 of injuries, your insurance company won't pay more than the maximum and you may be liable for any judgment in excess of the maximum coverage.  This could mean that you may lose your house if you have equity above the current exemption amounts of $40,000 per person and $50,000 per married couple.  Scary isn't it?   

If you own property that has value, like a nice house with equity or a car worth more than $3,000, it would be wise to talk to an attorney and see how much exposure you have and find out how much more insurance you need to buy to protect yourself.

Now let's look at the protection you have for yourself under your policy.  Your UM/UIM will pay you if you are injured by another driver up to $25,000 per person  in your car, and up to $50,000 total per accident.  Not very much if you are seriously injured by a driver with little or no insurance.  One night in the hospital could chew up $25,000.00. 

What often surprises people is that if a driver hits you, and has insurance, let's say the minimum required, $25k per person and $50k per accident, you might think that your own policy will then kick in and boost this to more, adding on your own $25k/$50k UM/UIM coverage.  But it doesn't.  The game is rigged by the insurance rules and underwriters.  Currently the two policy amounts won't be combined.  You only get your UM/UIM if it exceeds the amount of the other driver's coverage and only get the excess.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to buy higher um/uim coverage if your insurance company offers it and you can afford it.   This may mean buying an umbrella policy.

In Oregon you will also have a minimum of $15,000  in PIP to cover medical expenses.  If you have other medical insurance this is probably sufficient.   Just be careful if you ever need to use your PIP that you
don't use it all up immeidately for something like chiropractic care, and then find out you need other treatments that your HMO won't cover, like massages.   Talk to your personal injury attorney as to  ways to monitor and allocate the PIP usaage so you get the maximum benifit.

Oregon's 2012 November Election - a word to my Oregon Friends on local candidates who deserve your support:

As an attorney and a member of the pro-consumer pro-Plaintiff group, OTLA (Oregon Trial Lawyers Association) I want to give you some information on Oregon candidates that both OTLA and I support because we believe they will best protect the average citizen, their rights, and needed legislative reforms that further protect individual rights. 

Kate Brown is the incumbent Secretary of State, who is running for reelection. Before she was elected to be the Secretary of State, she was the leader of the Democrats in the Oregon Senate where her training and back ground as a lawyer made her very effective in understanding and guiding legislative initiatives. The Secretary of State runs the Audit Division, the Corporations Division and the Elections Division. During her tenure, the Audit Division has identified millions of dollars in savings for the State, and has also identified programs that work well. As head of the Elections Division she has protected Oregon's unique vote by mail process. In Oregon, we have one of the highest voter participation rates in the nation, and our system is uniquely free of fraud. She is a firm advocate of individual freedoms and rights and very proficient at her job. We are concerned that her opponent does not have the experience nor the grounded views of protecting individual rights that the job requires. We need to keep her here.

Brad Avakian is running for reelection as the Labor Commissioner. He is a Democrat and was a plaintiff's lawyer before he was Labor Commissioner. The Labor Commissioner enforces Oregon's employment laws. Avakian has strengthened enforcement of Oregon's Labor laws, and he has strengthened Oregon's apprenticeship programs. He is fully committed to protecting Oregon jobs and Oregon workers. We are concerned that his opponent will undermine the enforcement of Oregon's laws that protect workers. This is a non-partisan position so the candidates political party associations are not going to be listed. However it is important for you to know that he values keeping and maintaining protections for our workers.

Dick Baldwin is running for the Supreme Court. Dick has been a trial judge, Director of Litigation for Legal Aid, and a plaintiff's lawyer. He believes strongly in the rule of law. He believes that our system of justice should be open to everyone, and should protect everyone, not just the rich and powerful. He is experienced, fair and very smart. His opponent, Nena Cook, has not dedicated her career as a Plaintiff’s advocate and has limited volunteer experience as a Judge. She may be a contender for a future position after she has some more experience at the trial court level as a Judge. But for this election, here and now, Dick Baldwin is the best choice
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Jim Egan is running for a seat on the Court of Appeals. Jim is a Republican who is dedicated to the same principles that OTLA supports, having championed the rights of workers when he was in private practice as a lawyer. He is also a Captain in the Marine Reserves, and served in Iraq and an experienced trial judge. He is fully committed to the principles of fairness and justice for all, regardless of the wealth and power.

Joanne Reisman
Attorney at Law

Auto Insurance - Important to Know!

Let's talk about Auto insurance and three of the most important things to know:


1.  Don't drive without insurance, even if you are a good driver: If you get into an accident and don't have insurance, and the accident wasn't your fault, an attorney would have a very hard time representing you to help you recover for your damages because Oregon law prevents uninsured driver's from recovering pain and suffering damages. (There is an exception if you were insured and the insurance has just recently  lapsed.)  Without the extra funds that come from the pain and suffering portion of your damages, there is little an attorney can do to help you collect the money needed to fully compensate you for your medical bills, lost wages and car damages because there is no extra money from which the attorney can get paid to do this work.   Also, you won't get any money for the suffering you went through. So bottom line, don't drive without insurance because even if you avoid causing any accidents, you could still be in big trouble if someone hits you and you are the one that needs help getting your damages paid.

Whether or not you the accident was your fault, under Oregon Law you will be subject to having your driver's license suspended for one year.  You may be able to qualify for a special work driving permit before your one year suspension is over, but you will have to show proof of insurance to get that permit.
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2.  Every Oregon Insurance policy includes PIP (Personal Injury Protection) which means you get up to $15,000 of your related medical bills paid the first year, no matter who is at fault, and you get 70% of your lost wages reimbursed up to $3,000.00 per month.  So you don't need to panic and settle your case because you are worried about the fact that you can't work or that you didn't have medical insurance.  PIP will help you with this giving you time to talk to an attorney and get your case evaluated.

3. Make sure you raise your Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage.  Under Oregon Law all policies have basic coverage of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident.  This means if you are in an accident that is not your fault and the other driver has no insurance then you can get up to $25,000.00 for your injuries from the UM (Uninsured Motorists) portion of your policy.  But $25,000.00 can't even begin to help you if you are seriously injured.   It will be exhausted with just a few days of hospitalization.  This is the one area of insurance that actually protects you and your loved ones but it is so often ignored, and it is usually very inexpensive to increase the coverage.

UM also becomes UIM (Under-Insured Motorists) if you are hit by a driver with less insurance coverage then what you have.  Keep in mind that many other driver's only have the minimum insurance, $25,000 to pay you if they injure your.  It would be wise to get as much UIM coverage as you can afford.  UIM only works to the extent that you buy coverage greater than what the other driver has.  The amount of your policy is not added to the amount of the other driver's, rather the amount of the other driver's is subtracted from your UIM and you get the difference.  So if you have $50,000.00 of UIM coverage and the other driver has only $25,000.00, you could get an additional $25,000.00 from your policy for a total of $50,000.00 (but you would not get $75,000.00).  This is another reason to aim for the highest coverage you can afford, ideally a million dollars worth of additional coverage.  It may sound like a lot but it is relatively cheap, especially if you have a good driving record.

Keep in mind that UM/UIM insurance does not cover your car.  You must also carry full coverage insurance if you want your property damage covered as well!

Estate Planning isn't just about writing a Will

Estate planning doesn't just mean doing a will. It means learning how property transfers with or without a will and making sure you have set up your financial affairs so that your property goes to the people or charities that are important to you.
There can also be some tax planning involved. Most people don't have to worry about Federal Estate Tax anymore since you don't pay taxes unless you have an estate over 5 million dollars. However Oregon still begins to charge estate taxes on estates of 1 million dollars or more. While that might sound like a lot for most of us, it can be reached when you add in any life insurance payable on your life to the equation when you die.

That's right, if you buy life insurance on your life the full amount is includable in your estate for estate tax assessment purposes. So if two spouses both have large life insurance policies, a home with a lot of equity, retirement and investment accounts, it is possible to pass the 1 million mark on paper and incur taxes when the second spouse dies. (There is no tax for property passed from one spouse to another).

There are some easy fixes particularly for married couples that can avoid a lot of estate taxes.   I like to add a disclaimer trust into my Wills for married couples where the possibility of estate tax is uncertain.  It is inexpensive to add this provision and the provision allows people to make an elections after the first spouse dies if they see the need to do some post-mortem planning to avoid estate taxes. The election puts some of the first spouses property into a trust where it can still be used to support the second spouse with some limitations, but the passage into the trust allows the first spouses exemptions from estate tax to apply to that property which would have been lost if the property went directly to the second spouse before passing to the children.  Clients with this clause to need some instruction on how to maintain the title of their properties so that it is possible to make the election but it isn't too difficult once you understand some basic concepts.

For more information on Wills and Estate Planning please be sure to check my Articles and Links page.

Bankruptcy and Tax Refunds

As 2011 draws to a close some of you are still stunned by the lack of recovery of our economy.  Maybe you finally found a new job but it's for lower pay or less hours.  You remain buried in debt.  This might be a good time to consider getting rid of the debt that piled up during a long period of unemployment or during an extended illness or other calamity that put you behind. 

There are limits to the amount of income you can earn and still completely discharge your debt in a chapter 7 bankruptcy so filing when your income is still relatively low may be your best chance to wipe out debt for a fresh start.   If you wait until your income improves and still can't pay your debt you might be limited to a chapter 13 bankruptcy plan which will require you to make payments towards your debt for up to 5 years.  By using a chapter 7 bankruptcy now to get rid of all your debt, you will be debt free and able to move on in your life rebuilding your credit to again plan for your future retirement and other future needs.

First you are going to want to collect any 2011 tax refunds due to you since unlike wages owed to you where 75% of the back wages are exempt, tax refunds don't get that same favorable treatment in bankruptcy and up to 100% of the tax refund due to you can be collected by a bankruptcy trustee and used to pay your creditors.  With some simple advanced planning you can file for your refund as soon as you get your W-2s from your employers and your tax refund will be on it's way.  Once you receive the refund you can use the funds to pay for your bankruptcy and spend any additional money on necessities for you and your family.  

You can consult with an attorney now about whether bankruptcy is a good option for you.  I offer a free preliminary phone consultation and more intensive office screening at a low cost.  It is important to talk to an attorney before you spend your tax refund just to certain you don't inadvertently spend it in a way that the bankruptcy trustee will object to or that you buy some other asset that is not exempt and can be taken from you.  

As a general rule you can spend your refund on reasonable expenses for food, clothing, shelter and medical expenses as well as attorney fees related to your bankruptcy.  It is still a good idea to get legal advice first.   Talking to a lawyer about bankruptcy does not commit you to filing a bankruptcy.  It is only a preliminary step to explore solutions to your debt situation.  In the course of talking to you I might be able to suggest other non-bankruptcy solutions.

For more free information on Bankruptcy please use the tool bar and click on "Articles and Links"

Joanne Reisman
Attorney at Law

Portland Legal Services here to help!


Wishing everyone a problem free holiday season, but if there are legal problems in your life, don't let the worry ruin precious time with friends and family.  Please contact me for a free e-mail or phone evaluation. 

The best way to reach me is by e-mail at JoanneReisman@PortlandLegalServices.com.  If you prefer to call, please call 503-222-7401 and leave a voice mail message with your phone number and name so I can call you back.  Please understand that I do not often answer this phone number directly, but frequently check for voice mail messages and try to return calls on the same day, if you call during the week.

I can very often offer free helpful suggestions or point out misconceptions in the law that will reduce your worry and stress significantly.   I am of course here to help you further with legal services if the problem merits my intervention.

Again, my wished for a safe and happy holiday season to all!

Joanne Reisman
Attorney at Law
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