When it comes down to it, common sense in our society is nearly gone. Today we have lawyers and courts to tell us what is right and what is wrong even if what a normal person would consider wrong is considered right and what is right is considered wrong. It's a sad state of affairs which means you have to work overtime to protect yourself in a manner that the powers that be understand. This means you need to cover your ass legally in any situation that could even possibly arise. Before a handshake would suffice, these days it won't. Here's how to legally take care of yourself:
- Get everything in writing. Memory doesn't count and heresay doesn't count either, legally speaking. If it isn't written down, it didn't happen. This means everything from saving receipts to writing up sales agreements when you sell your junker car, to documenting instances of domestic violence. Any negative incident, any transaction, needs to be documented.
- Obviously if you buy or sell a house you will get the transaction written out in triplicate (a simple mortgage can entail a three inch stack of paperwork, doublesided!). The same goes if you rent a place to live in or if you rent your place to a tenant. I am working with a client now who fell for a sob story and let a young woman and her children move in to his empty duplex after she promised to pay in week or so. Over a month has gone by and apparently this woman knows the system because she refuses to leave (which is legal) so he has to go through a complex eviction process (which is lengthy and spendy).
- Have a Will and keep it updated. Probate is lengthy and expensive and relatives can fight like hyenas over the most minuscule things when the person who was holding the family together dies. Make your death easier on everyone by having a valid, recently updated Will.
- Never loan people money. Never borrow money. This includes making loans to friends/family, borrowing money from friends/family, co-signing loans for others, or borrowing from credit cards or a lender for anything except for a home. Once you get entangled with money, you may need a lawyer or financial expert to get you out of it, therefore, don't put yourself in such a situation to begin with!
- Keep your documentation up to date. Never let your driver's license, passport, or concealed carry license expire--people get tickets, fines, and even denied entry into their own country when this happens.
- Any time you drive a vehicle ensure #1 you are licensed to drive, #2 the car is registered to you or you have written permission from the owner to drive the car, and #3 you have valid car insurance. Not having in place even one of these items can cause you a bundle of legal trouble.
- Pick a good spouse. This is kind of a crap shoot because while most people are decent human beings, others can be closet sociopaths and can make your life hell. Should you not pick the best spouse and your married life implodes, again, get everything in writing and follow legal orders to the letter. Parenting plans, marriage dissolution papers, valid pre-nups...you'd be surprised at how many people are dragged through the legal system for years because of a marriage that falls apart. The financial costs can also be staggering.
- Stay away from situations that could cause you legal problems. If I'm at a nightclub and people start fighting, I'm out of there. I also stay away from people I know are trouble makers, drug dealers, et al. You are only as good as the people you hang around with and if the people you hang around with are perpetually going to court for domestic violence, DUIs, assault, or worse, stay as far away from them as possible as no good can come from this. If you do happen to get a ticket, pay it immediately. If you have a warrant, clear it up immediate even if it means some time at the local jail. You never want the legal system hanging over your head.
- Have a medical power of attorney, legal power of attorney (if necessary), and Living Will. These documents will protect you when you are unable to protect yourself. Note that anyone you elect to have power of attorney for you should be someone you could trust with your life.
- Have plenty of insurance, you never know when the worst is going to happen. Car insurance, house insurance, life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance...insurance makes the world go round these days and at the minimum it will keep you from going bankrupt if something horrible happens.
- Ensure that your legal, financial, and medical records are both accurate and kept private. It's amazing how one little incorrection in an important record can have a (very negative) ripple affect in your life. You also want these records kept private--they are no one else's business but yours.
- Keep your personal information private. I was listening to a talk radio show and the guest speaker was saying how people will post their driver's licenses online just to show how funny their picture looks. The picture may be funny but what an identity thief can do with the information on the license (full name, address, birth date, and occasionally social security number) is not so funny.
- Shred everything. Unless the information on a piece of paper is advertising or the like, it gets shredded in my office. This goes for papers in my home as well. I never want my personal information waiting in the garbage can for an identity thief to pick up and use to steal my identity and I certainly wouldn't want to compromise my client's information either. Get a quality cross-cut shredder and use it religiously.
- If you are ever picked up for questioning by the police, and you are asked to provide anything but the most basic information, ask for a lawyer and QUIT TALKING. People seem to forget the "everything you say can and will be used against you" part of the Miranda Rights and even if you haven't been arrested and Mirandized, what you say still can be used against you. If in doubt, ask for a lawyer.
- Protect your stuff. This means having insurance (either homeowner's or renter's insurance), securing your stuff (with a good home security system), and making your stuff easy to identify should it be stolen (keep documentation for expensive items, engrave identifying marks on lower cost items and install RFID chips on very expensive items).
- Be careful what you say, write, text, email, or post to your website. If I had a quarter for every time people incriminated themselves with what they emailed to their enemies, what they texted about others, the nude pictures that they posted online, etc. I would be wealthy. Everything you send into the public domain becomes totally out of your control and can show up years later in a court case against YOU so be careful!
- Be aware of the trail you leave. Many criminals are either found, tripped up, or convicted because of the paper trail they leave. They didn't stop to think that every cell phone call is recorded in detail, that the things they buy with their customer loyalty card at the supermarket can be traced, that every time they use their credit/debit card they leave a record, that their cell phone pings local towers whether the phone is in use or not, that every item they looked up online was duly recorded on their hard drive, and that their EZPass for toll roads creates a perfect time stamp of their every movement.
- Know that more and more government systems are able to be cross-referenced. If you cheat on your taxes, the IRS can use your bank records to figure this out. If you are in this country illegally and apply for an ITIN number, the Department of Homeland Security will be able to compare records and figure this out. Note that FUSION Centers were created just to collate all of your info to make sure it jives.
- Keep control of yourself at all times. Committing assault, stalking, embezzlement, et al. are clear signs of a weak person. You must be strong enough to control your actions at all times no matter how hard others are trying to push your buttons or how tempting a situation is that you KNOW can not turn out well. Rise above the situation and let things pass. Never let yourself react in a way that will create legal problems for you far into your future. Note that when defending yourself in a life or death situation, control goes out the window and your one goal is to survive the situation and sort the legal mess out later.
- Don't become a target. While this will never happen to most people, some people become targets for whatever reason. Live a low profile life, be congenial and likable but not to open with personal information, don't make enemies if at all possible, and if your work/personal life makes you a target take precautions to protect yourself. Take care when you travel to foreign countries. There are plenty of people in prisons who have been framed or set up. There are tourists who were obliviously obvious targets and are now waiting for someone to pay their ransom. There are people with a lot of money and much less common sense who set themselves up for burglary, robbery, and other schemes meant to separate them from their cash.
The bottom line is that you, as stated in previous posts, are responsible for you. It is a legal jungle out there so take common sense precautions to help yourself out.