COMMON LEGAL QUESTIONS

Legal bankruptcy is the process by which individuals and businesses can repay some or all their debts under the protection of the Federal Bankruptcy Court. Declaring bankruptcy releases a debtor from certain debts and forbids collection agencies and creditors from communicating with him or her.

A bankruptcy attorney can help you determine which way you should file, inform you of any difficulties or risks involved in your case, prepare and file your paperwork, and represent you at your bankruptcy hearings.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also referred to as liquidation bankruptcy. Under Chapter 7, a debtor is enabled to sell some or all personal property in order to repay the debt. However, the debtor may keep certain assets which are protected, or “exempt” under North Carolina state law.

This is also referred to as “wage earner bankruptcy”. In order to file for Chapter 13, you must have a reliable source of income and a plan to repay your debts over the next 3-5 years.

Bankruptcy exemptions allow you to keep some of your property so that you can make a fresh start after repaying  your debts. Your exemptions will be determined by your assets at the time of filing. Generally, you will be able to keep a certain amount of equity in in your house and personal property, such as your car. All states allow you to keep household goods and clothing unless they are unusually valuable.

A secured debt is a debt which has a piece of property, like a house or car, serving as the collateral. If you fail to make payments, the creditor may reclaim the property. An unsecured debt does not have a specific, tangible property and thus cannot be liquidated. Examples of unsecured debts include student loans, credit card bills, utility bills, and medical bills.

To file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the fee is $335. For a Chapter 13 case, the fee is $310. The Bankruptcy Trustee may also charge you a fee of $10-$20 as well. Most courts will allow you to pay your bankruptcy fees in installments.

If you are filing for Chapter 7, you will usually need to pay all your attorney’s fees before your case is filed. If you are filing for Chapter 13, you can typically pay a portion of your fees up front and the remainder through payment installments after the case is filed.

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you must demonstrate that you are unable to perform work which you have previously performed. You must also prove that there is no work available which you could reasonably perform at your age and education level. Additionally, you need to have paid into Social Security through the past 10 years. Finally, you must prove that your disability has lasted or will last 12 months or more.

Supplemental Security Income refers to monthly benefits administered to people with limited income who are disabled, blind, or aged 65 or older. Blind and disabled children may also qualify for SSI (referred to as Juvenile SSI).

Social Security Disability benefits are contingent on whether the applicant has worked for more than 10 years and paid into Social Security while doing so. SSI benefits are not based on prior work experience. Most people who are eligible for SSI are also eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but not the other way around.

Hiring a Social Security Disability attorney significantly increases your chances of having your case approved. Your lawyer will present your case in its most favorable light and argue that your condition meets Social Security’s Medical Standards for Disability. Your lawyer can also gather and submit medical evidence that supports your case, draft a case brief for your judge, prepare you for your judge’s questions at your disability hearing, and craft sophisticated legal arguments to prove that Social Security has wrongly denied your case.

To be considered disabled, an individual must have a medical, psychological, or psychiatric impairment that has prevented him or her from performing Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) for at least 12 months.

North Carolina Social Security Disability applicants typically face a long, drawn-out process that can take up to 5 years or more. An initial disability application can be approved in as little as 130 days, but only a very small percentage of cases (about 35%) are approved on the first attempt. If you decide to appeal the decision, the Reconsideration process generally takes an additional 3 to 4 months. A final appeal to an Administrative Law Judge can take anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. 

Most people who apply for Social Security Disability benefits will be denied the first time they apply. Once your application has been denied, you should appeal the decision by submitting a Request for Reconsideration. If your application is denied once again, you may appeal a final time by requesting to appear in person before a judge. A Social Security lawyer can help you decide if a final appeal is a cost-effective solution for your situation.

When you or someone you know suffers harm due to another party’s carelessness or negligence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. A personal injury case can be either settled through a formal lawsuit or resolved through a negotiation settlement.

Personal injury cases can be extremely complex. A personal injury attorney can complete and file claims paperwork, negotiate with insurers and opposing counsel, and give you objective advice on whether or not you should accept a settlement offer.

To establish legal negligence, an attorney must prove four things: that the defendant had a legal responsibility to exercise care towards the victim; that said duty of care was breached; that the defendant’s actions caused the victim to suffer harm; and that the victim was caused damages that he or she is now entitled to.

The Statute of Limitations for personal injury is generally 2 years after the time of the injury. However, it can sometimes be longer for other crimes, such as sex crimes or libel. You should file a personal injury lawsuit as soon as possible before the Statute of Limitations expires.

First, remember that not all rude or offensive conduct will qualify as infliction of emotional distress.  To be considered emotional distress, conduct must be considered extreme, outrageous, intentional, and causing severe emotional trauma and/or bodily harm. If your situation meets these criteria, a personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed.

If someone you love has died due to another’s negligence or intent to cause harm, and you have suffered monetary injury as a result of the death, then you are entitled to sue for damages by filing a wrongful death claim.

A letter of protection is a document issued by a lawyer to your doctor or medical provider. It asks said party to hold your medical bills until your personal injury case has been resolved. Ideally, you will be able to use any compensation you win to pay your medical bills.

Felonies are the most serious crimes, punishable by more a year or more in State or Federal prison. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, burglary, and illegal drug trafficking.

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, typically punishable by less than a year in county jail. Common misdemeanors include shoplifting, drunk driving, and assault.

Infractions are still less serious violations, which typically subject an individual to a monetary fine. The most common infractions are traffic tickets.

Absolutely. Even if you intend to plead guilty, a lawyer may be able to negotiate a lesser charge or a lighter sentence. No matter which way you would like to plead, do not ever admit guilt until you have discussed all your options with your lawyer.

A plea bargain is when a defendant agrees to plead guilty in order to receive a reduced sentence or lesser charge.

If you have not yet been convicted or accepted a plea bargain, there may still be time to remedy the situation and prove your innocence. You should consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

If you were ordered to be present in court on a specific date, you must be present, or a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If you are ever stopped by police for even a minor traffic violation, you will be taken to jail. You will also face additional consequences, which will depend on the nature of your alleged crime and the situation.

No. If you refuse a breath test, you will most likely face serious consequences.  Driving is legally considered a privilege, not a right, and states can legally revoke your driver’s license or jail you if you refuse to submit to a BAC test. Note that refusing a breath test will not save you from a DUI or DWI conviction, because prosecutors can still base the charge on other evidence, such as officer observations and witness testimony.

Resisting arrest can include actions such as running and hiding from an officer, acting violently towards or threatening an officer, or acting in any way that hinders an arrest (even if unintentional).

No. As explained to you by the Miranda Warning that will be read to you at your arrest, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. You have nothing to lose by exercising those rights, and much to lose by speaking to an officer. As you have no doubt heard many times on television, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.

A divorce lawyer can help explain the various grounds for divorce, offer objective legal advice on child support and custody issues, serve as a go-between for you and your spouse, assist you with property division, and help you with many other legal aspects of your divorce.

A separation agreement details almost anything that both parties can agree to, such as how much child support will be paid, who the children will live with, how the property will be divided, and who will be responsible for which debts.

In most cases, a divorce can be filed after the parties have lived separately for 1 year or more.

Alimony refers to payment for the support and maintenance of a spouse, either in a lump sum or on a continuing basis. A divorce lawyer can help you find out if you are entitled to alimony.

To change your name back to the name you had prior to your marriage, you must complete the Application/Notice of Resumption of Prior Name Form (AOC SP 600), which can be obtained at the N.C. Clerk of Superior Court’s office.

No. Only nine states are community property states, and North Carolina is not one of them. In a community property state, spouses can sign an agreement that designates specific assets as community property. Examples include income earned by either spouse and debts incurred during the marriage.

Equitable distribution is when a court divides a couple’s property as evenly as possible. North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. The court will only step in to divide property if a couple is unable to resolve its property disputes on its own.

Simply being unable or unwilling to pay your child support will not relieve you from your responsibility. However, if a disability or other circumstance is preventing you from working, the court may modify the amount you have to pay.

If you are not in communication with your ex-spouse, first confirm that the payment is not simply late because it is still being processed by the Centralized Collection Unit. Once you are sure that your child’s parent is no longer paying his or her child support, you should file a child support action against him or her.

To become a lawyer in North Carolina, an individual must receive a bachelor’s degree or higher at an accredited undergraduate university in any subject; pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test); attend an American Bar Association and NC State Bar-approved law school; pass the N.C. State Bar exam, pass the MPRE (Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam); and finally, take the Oath of Office in the presence of a judge or notary.

If you are a low income earner, you may be able to find aid at a legal aid society, enlist the help of a student at a local law school, or seek free legal advice from a local law school clinic. If the stakes of your case are fairly low, you may also be able to represent yourself at small claims court. However, you should always speak to an attorney before you assume that you cannot afford your legal fees. Oftentimes, legal fees are not actually as high as you fear they will be, and many lawyers will agree to work on a contingency basis. Since our office offers a free consultation, you have nothing to lose by investigating your options.

Contingency means that your lawyer will not be paid any attorney’s fees unless you win the case. This is possible because if you win, the law firm will take a portion of the money awarded to you. When an attorney agrees to worn on a contingency basis, he or she is usually very sure that the judge or jury will take your side.

A good traffic lawyer can often reduce or even dismiss a traffic ticket. If the arresting officer made errors on your ticket, it can usually be dismissed fairly easily. If no mistakes have been made, but you still have a good driving record, your lawyer may still be able to reduce the fine.

Remember that the process of getting your traffic ticket dismissed begins the moment you see the blue lights in your mirror. Behave as politely, respectfully, and unremarkably to the arresting officer as possible in order to help yourself later on.

A living will is not the document which leaves property to your loved ones, names an executor, and names a guardian for your children. That document is called a last will and testament. A living will is a document that describes the type of healthcare you would like to receive if you are incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself.

A durable power of attorney is a legal document that gives an individual the power to act in your place if you ever become too mentally or physically incapacitated to make decisions for yourself. The healthcare power of attorney is a document which designates someone to be your representative in the event that you are unable to make or communicate decisions about your healthcare.

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