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How to Anticipate and Avoid Life’s Legal Problems

How to Anticipate and Avoid Life’s Legal Problems
By: Sherri K. DeWitt, Esquire
DeWitt Law Firm, P.A.

Before I went to Law School I had a career teaching at the University level. It was relatively calm, secure, and structured. You would think that would be comforting. However, it was not. I always wondered what would happen if I had to deal with some real life problems, outside of the Ivory Tower. In my bones I knew that someday I would have to face the practicalities and legalities of life’s problems to come.

The certainty that one day I would have to face these problems and the fear that I would be unequipped to do so led me to leave my secure world to attend Law School. I never thought that I would end up practicing law. Rather, I went to Law School to prepare myself for life’s legal problems, which I felt were somehow inevitable. Little did I know that I would have to face my first legal situation long before I was prepared to do so. In preparing to attend Cornell Law School, I had to rent the house we owned in Binghamton, NY and rent a home in Ithaca, NY. I went to numerous office supply stores and pieced together lease provisions and prepared my own lease, which I presented to the first potential tenant. It makes me cringe now to think what that lease looked liked. Now you know that when I say spend the money to have an attorney prepare your leases and legal documents for you, I speak from personal experience. To make matters worse, I soon discovered that our potential tenant had just filed bankruptcy. Of course, the potential candidate failed to disclose this to me, and I found out only through word of mouth sources. This was another valuable legal lesson I learned long before attending law school. I also learned from a practical standpoint the trials and tribulations of being a landlord. On the other side, in Ithaca NY, it wasn’t easy being a tenant either. Was I responsible for fixing the stove or was that the landlord’s responsibility? Hence I became sensitized to the delicate balance the law must achieve between protecting the rights of often conflicting positions.

Well, you might say the law got the better of me, and I did end up practicing law. I also obtained an education that has prepared me to deal with, anticipate, and avoid life’s legal problem. You, however, do not have to have a law degree to anticipate and avoid some of these problems. At each stage of life there are different legal situations that may confront us. As the young adult we may be confronted with a landlord/tenant situation, like I was. Before getting married we should all consider prenuptial agreements and what will happen to us if the marriage does not work. If you don’t have a prenuptial agreement then maybe a post nuptial agreement is a good idea. Forming a business relationship also entails anticipating potential conflict. If we anticipate this conflict we can prepare ourselves to avoid it. For instance, all corporations that involve more than one individual should have shareholders agreements or buy-sell agreements so that procedures are put into place if one shareholder wants out, dies, becomes disabled, or cannot otherwise participate in the business venture.

If we think things through carefully, we can anticipate potential future areas of conflict. We can structure our business and legal dealings to minimize the possibility of such conflict. Although it helps, you don’t have to be a lawyer to anticipate future problems. If you think about these problems, their solutions, and then seek legal advice to help you formalize agreements and dealings, it will be much easier to survive the legal pitfalls that you will inevitably face. Don’t be afraid to face the conflict head on. If you bury your head in the sand and ignore your problems, in all likelihood they will not go away, but get worse. Take responsibility for the fact that like it or not, our relationships and dealing are governed by legal concepts. Use those legal concepts to help you achieve your goals, do not be frightened by them, avoid them, try to get around them, or deprive yourself of the benefits they can afford if used properly.