Can I represent myself?
ANSWER: You can, but you shouldn’t. Acting as your own counsel is certainly not advisable. Qualified legal representation brings knowledge, skills, and experience to the table. Many cases require specialized knowledge about issues with which a lay person may not be familiar. For example, in an automobile accident case, signing a release for your Property Damage claim could result in you not being able to go forward with your Bodily Injury claim. Before you even fill out an insurance form (or file a complaint) you should talk to a lawyer first.
SHOULD I WAIT TO SEE HOW THE CASE IS GOING BEFORE I DECIDE TO HIRE A LAWYER?
ANSWER: No. When you hesitate in making an insurance claim, you risk losing valuable documentation, missing important time deadlines, and letting evidence go stale. By waiting, you can short change yourself and damage your chances for recovery. Consulting with legal counsel immediately allows you to consider every possible option of a case.
DO I HAVE TO TELL MY ATTORNEY EVERYTHING?
ANSWER: Yes. If you fail to communicate with your attorney, you are risking the outcome of your case. Your attorney must be prepared for every issue that could arise during your case. Because your attorney is bound by law to hold the information you discuss in strict confidence, you need not worry about the information falling into the wrong hands or it being used against you.
What is involved in preserving evidence and keeping a record?
ANSWER: If you have been in an accident, someone has already started a record of the events. There was a police report, hospital records and Physician notes. Being evaluated by a Physician following an accident will insure a preliminary diagnosis and perhaps minimize the discomfort that may follow 24 to 48 hours later. Be very aware of every ache and pain - from tingling fingers, dizziness, headaches, etc. all of which may be symptoms of a serious injury. Communicating these concerns, no matter how small you feel they may be, helps maintain a record of events. Keep receipts of everything. Keep a diary that outlines what days you missed work or time spent on medical treatments. Keeping a record of the harm you suffered will be of great assistance in recovering damages in your case.
Preserving evidence is critical to your case. Immediately photograph and have someone take physical custody of whatever was involved in causing your injury. It should be locked up in a storage area you control.
Should I take photographs?
ANSWER: Yes. Even if the police have taken photographs, please make sure you have good photographs of your damaged property before it is repaired.
How should I photograph my injuries?
ANSWER: Thoroughly and ASAP. Your injuries should be documented as early as possible after an accident has occurred. Taking photos over a period of time shows the progression of treatment, medical equipment necessary, and the healing of scars and bruises. In the case of severe injuries (burns, etc.) a videotape can capture the pain and discomfort associated with the injuries. If you are in the hospital, it is important that photographs to be taken of you in your disabled condition in the hospital or during physical therapy. If your injuries require a cast, brace, traction or other device, save them. Also keep any blood stained or ripped clothing. Do not throw anything away. Be certain to take these items to your attorney after you are no longer using them. They can be important pieces of physical evidence to be used at trial, if one becomes necessary.
Should I give a statement to my insurance company?
ANSWER: Not until you’ve consulted with your attorney. You should not talk to ANYONE until you talk to an attorney first. You may be required to talk to your insurance company, however, you should get approval from your attorney before doing so. Your own auto or health insurance company may seek to obtain harmful information from you that may be used against you. The at-fault driver’s insurance company may try to mislead you by getting you to make a statement without your attorney present and/or record conversations with you without your permission and may use unfavorable statements you make against you.
How will my medical bills and expenses be paid?
ANSWER: It depends. If you have medical payments coverage, your automobile insurance company should pay your hospital and doctor’s bills up to the limits of coverage under your automobile insurance policy. You should deliver to your attorney the declarations sheet and the actual policy of your automobile insurance company. If you have health insurance coverage, your providers may bill your insurance for companies, however, your auto and health insurers may have a contractual provision that you have to reimburse them to the extent you receive money from the at-fault driver.
What else can I do to document my claim?
ANSWER: Keep a diary of events and complaints. Please keep a daily or weekly diary of the events of your case and any complaints that you have because of your injuries. The primary purpose of the diary is for you to communicate directly to your lawyer. For example, an activity that you were able to perform before the accident that you either can no longer do or can only perform with difficulty, should be written in your diary.
If the child for which I have been paying child support elects to live with me, can I stop paying child support?
ANSWER: Technically, no. You are required to continue paying support to the custodial parent until such time as your child support obligation is terminated pursuant to an order of the Court. However, depending upon the specific facts of your case, there is a high probability that a court would terminate your child support obligation if custody of the child is changed to you.
THE NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT AND I REACHED A VERBAL AGREEMENT THAT HE/SHE WOULD PAY ME MORE CHILD SUPPORT. IS IT NECESSARY FOR ME TO FILE ANY ACTION WITH THE COURT WITH RESPECT TO THE INCREASE?
ANSWER: Yes, absolutely. Until the court modifies the original order on child support, the non-custodial parent is not obligated to pay the increased amount, and if he/she fails to pay that support, you would have no remedy under the original order to enforce payment.
CAN I REDUCE MY CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENT WHEN THE OLDEST CHILD GRADUATES WITHOUT FILING A CASE?
ANSWER: No. Only a court can modify your child support obligation. While a Court would likely reduce your obligation when a child graduates, you must ask the Court to lower the obligation. Of course, if the other parent consents, this may be done by agreement.
How long is a will valid?
ANSWER: The mere passage of time has no effect on the validity of the will. Since a will does not take effect until you pass away, you may make changes to your will at any time without notice or approval from the beneficiaries, but the changes must be executed with the same formalities as the will itself. You should review your will every two to three years, and at major life changes, such as marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or a substantial increase in assets.
Who should prepare a will?
ANSWER: Your lawyer. Drafting a will involves making decisions requiring professional judgment, which can be obtained only by years of training, experience, and study. Only a practicing lawyer can avoid the innumerable pitfalls and advise the course best suited for each situation to ensure that your wishes are respected. You should avoid using do-it-yourself kits or Internet templates, as they may create many problems.
What is a living will?
ANSWER: In the event of a life threatening situation, whereby your sole means of survival depends on a life support machine, the Living Will grants a specific individual (to be named by you) the authority to decide whether to sustain your life with aid of the life support equipment or to disconnect the machine.
What is the difference between a Durable Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?
ANSWER: A Durable Power of Attorney grants a specific individual (to be named by you) the authority to handle your affairs when you are medically unable to do so.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care grants a specific individual (to be named by you) the authority to make healthcare and/or medical treatment decisions, when you are medically unable to do so.
What is the relationship between a Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will?
ANSWER: Generally, if you have a health care power of attorney, your living will does not apply as long as your agent is available to deal with the subject of life-sustaining or death-delaying procedures on your behalf. If your agent is not available, then your living will can specify your decision regarding the procedures.
Does HIPAA apply to my agent?
ANSWER: The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) strictly limits access to your private medical records. This Act protects your private medical records and history from disclosure to third parties except upon your request or as necessary to treat you. A well-drafted health care power of attorney will allow your agent access to your private medical records so that he or she will have the information necessary to make an informed decision.
What is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order?
ANSWER: Living wills and health care powers of attorney are separate from a DNR order. A DNR Order tells medical professionals not to perform CPR. This means that doctors, nurses and emergency medical personnel will not attempt emergency CPR if the patient's breathing or heartbeat stops.
DNR orders may be written for patients in a hospital or nursing home, or for patients at home. Hospital DNR orders tell the medical staff not to revive the patient if cardiac arrest occurs. If the patient is in a nursing home or at home, a DNR order tells the staff and emergency medical personnel not to perform emergency resuscitation and not to transfer the patient to a hospital for CPR. A DNR order is only a decision about CPR and does not relate to any other treatment.
What are the Requirements for a Valid Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will?
ANSWER: The health care power of attorney and living will must be in writing and signed in the presence of two or more witnesses who are at least 18 years of age and who also must sign. There are additional signing requirements if you are in a hospital or skilled nursing facility.
No health care provider may act as your agent if he or she is directly involved in your health care. "Health care provider" means an attending doctor or other person who is licensed to provide health care. It does not mean a family member who is caring for you.
The health care power of attorney and living will do not need to be notarized to be valid.
What are the duties of my agent?
ANSWER: Your agent is not allowed to make healthcare decisions that are different from or contrary to your wishes. However, because the agent will speak on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself, it is very important that you choose an agent who knows what your decisions would be in certain situations.
The health care power of attorney can give your agent the power to consent or refuse all types of medical care and treatments. These include decisions on medication, surgery, or life-sustaining or death-delaying treatment. You may also authorize your agent to examine and consent to disclosure of your medical records and provide for choices for your health care based on your religious beliefs.
Your agent can decide whether to admit you to or discharge you from a hospital or nursing home and can authorize contracts for all types of health care services.
You may give your agent the power to make post-death decisions including the right to authorize an autopsy or consent to anatomical gifts. You may also specify your wishes regarding burial or cremation.
What are the duties of health care providers such as doctors and hospitals?
ANSWER: Once given a copy of your health care directive, if the health care provider believes that you are unable to understand the general nature of the health care procedure that the provider deems necessary, then the provider should consult with the agent named in your power of attorney or follow the treatment wishes you expressed in your living will. The provider must comply with the treatment decision made by your agent or as otherwise expressed in your health care directive to the same extent as if made by you at the time of the treatment decision.
Why do I need a lawyer to create these documents?
ANSWER: You don’t (but you should have a lawyer create the documents anyway). Georgia law provides standard forms for living wills and health care powers of attorney and you do not have to have a lawyer prepare them for you. Many hospitals and health care providers have educational materials and standard forms available. However, many of the provisions are technical and can be somewhat confusing. A lawyer can assist you with an explanation of the terms and requirements of the documents to ensure your wishes are reflected.