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Foundational Legal Concepts to Know Before You Begin Estate Planning

A lot of people in Greensboro, North Carolina who visit an estate planning attorney for the first time have never talked to a lawyer before. They come into the first meeting without the years of education and experience their lawyer has, and can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with the terminology and concepts involved.

If you find yourself in a similar situation; don’t worry. Everyone has to face some kind of learning curve when they begin estate planning, but it’s not as bad as you might think. To help you get started on the right foot, here are some basic legal concepts you should be familiar with before you have your first meeting with your lawyer.

Legal Concept 1: Civil Law and Criminal Law

One of the most basic concepts that lawyers work with on a daily basis, but one that a lot of people in the general public are unaware of, is the essential difference between criminal and civil laws.

Criminal law involves two people: someone who has violated a criminal statute (a specific type of law made by a legislature), and the state. (“The state” means the police and the prosecutors.) Only the state can charge someone with a crime.  Someone who loses a criminal case can be fined, incarcerated, put on probation, or suffer other penalties.

In the vast majority of situations, estate planning does not involve criminal issues. Estate planning is civil law, meaning police and prosecutors are, usually, not involved. Creating an estate plan involves you and your attorney sitting down, talking, and making decisions about choices that only you can make.

Legal Concept 2: Lawsuits and Estate Planning

Unlike some other legal situations, most people who want to begin estate planning will not have to file any kind of lawsuit. Lawsuits are civil legal battles. When two or more people have a disagreement, either might file a lawsuit against the other. Lawsuits might involve injunctions, monetary damages, or other remedies, but do not involve jail or other criminal punishments. Most estate planning cases don’t involve lawsuits, though it possible.

Legal Concept 3: Court Action and Involvement

Much of estate planning takes place outside of a courtroom setting. In fact, most people who create an estate plan or visit an estate planning lawyer never have to set foot in a courthouse, much less have to go through a trial or court hearing. Though estate planning mostly involves civil law, it also involves choices that you can make without having to get a court’s permission. However, some estate planning issues and situations might involve lawsuits and court documents.

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