Truthfully, I want to write about divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning because we’re in a pandemic, and a lot of people are anxious and stressing out. They don’t understand what’s going on, no one really does. But, as a society, we like to have answers. As such, when you don’t have answers, you start to go crazy. And when all-of-a-sudden you take things away like not being able to go to restaurants or sporting events, that’s just like telling a teenager you can’t do something. When that happens, you tend to want to do it more.
So, I think the timing is good because people don’t know what’s going on, and there are a lot of them who are going to get divorced, file for bankruptcy, and unfortunately, pass away. As a result, I practice in all of those three areas. Accordingly, this book is for people who are struggling or going through any one of those specific areas. I don’t do personal injury. I don’t do anything criminal. I don’t do DUIs. I don’t do patent law. But, I do divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning, which are three very specific areas that so many people are experiencing.
That’s who this book is for. That’s why I am doing it. In my past, there have been at least three or four times when my life was turned upside down, 180 degrees. When you are upside down and can’t see straight, that’s when you become confused. You try to figure out what is happening. That’s where people are right now. I’ve been there – confused and feeling like I’m flat on my back. But I have gotten back up and standing on my two feet again. I understand now how to get through it.
For me, this pandemic, this period we are living through is an opportunity to calm down, sit back, and ride it out. I know that one day this will be over. We just don’t know when. There are so many unknowns. But, we have to have faith, as a society, that the right people are doing their best to get the vaccine circulated to everyone.
Let’s Talk A Little Bit More About The Areas Of The Law That You Practice. Why Are These Are Areas Important To You?
I practice Estate planning – wills and trusts, divorce and bankruptcy. Every one of these areas I have a personal connection with. Here are my reasons in order of what I learned in my own life.
When I was 12, my mother passed away in a plane crash. It was devastating, not just because my mother passed away, but because my mother and father divorced when I was two. My mother remarried after her divorce, and we moved to Australia. I went to school in Australia for about two years. We moved back to Canada, but my mom and stepdad divorced when I was eight. I lived with just my stepdad for a couple of years, and then, my mom came back into my life. I lived with her and her fiancé for about two years, from 10 to 12 years old.
Finally, I had my mom back in my life, only to lose her in a plane crash. Strangely, before my mom passed, she and her fiancé had been to an attorney to get a will drafted. She told me that if something happened to her, I would live with Michael, her fiancé, who was going to be her husband at the end of March 1977. My mom died March 4th, 1977. However, they never went back to the attorney to sign any documents.
So, when my mom passed away, my first father, who had always been in and out of my life, was there. We had a difficult relationship because there was always turmoil around his visits because he hated my stepdad but I really loved him. It was a typical dynamic in a blended family where the parents do not get along with any “new parent”. My first father and I did not always get along, so when he said, “What are we going to do with you now?” I answered, “I thought I was supposed to live with my mom’s fiancé, Mike?” My first father said, “No, he doesn’t want you.” I said, “No, you’re wrong because that’s what my mother told me.” Now, to be honest, I didn’t really like her fiancé either because he thought children should be seen and not heard. By contrast, when I lived with my stepfather, it was this amazing, wonderful childhood. He listened to me all the time. He was a wonderful man. He gave me so much security and love. Sadly, I went from that household into a household where although I loved my mom, she was great – but the man she was going to marry was a jerk. Still, I wanted to honor my mom because that’s what she told me. So, to have my first father say, “No, he doesn’t want you,” was hard to hear. Ultimately, he got that man on the phone so he could tell me himself. When I said to him, “I thought I was supposed to live with you?” – all I heard was, “No, because….”. I didn’t hear anything after “NO”
Afterward, when I gave my father the phone back and he hung it up, he asked me again, “Okay. So now, what are we going to do with you?” I replied with, “I want to live with my stepfather.” My first father hated my stepfather, so he told me that was never going to happen. At that point, my first father gave me couple of choices. Looking back, I don’t believe that a 12-year-old should make that kind of life decision but in my first father’s defense, he had never been a “hands on” parent and he had no other children. I believe he was doing the best he could have, given the situation. As parents we all make mistakes.
My choices were that I could live with him but he would have to have a nanny because he was working, I could go to a boarding school, or I could go live with this family that had two boys and a cabin on a lake. I had never met them. But, I didn’t want to live with my first father because we really didn’t get along, and I didn’t want to go to a boarding school. That sounded horrible. So, at 12, I chose the family that had two boys and a cabin on a lake.
I’m very happy with the decision I made because up until that point, in grade six I had been to 12 different schools. I started a whole new school, but that family and that life gave me stability and security. I was finally in one place for six years. The previous 12 years had been so chaotic and dysfunctional with periods of stability that would be yanked away. My life was up and down, divorces, and new schools. I was always the new kid in a school. But I think that actually helps me with clients because I’m able to relate to them. Clients are in a new situation that is typically emotional, so they are anxious. In the situations that I try to help clients, I need to find common ground with them. I must get to know who they are, what they are like and what their expectations are from me. When I was a new kid in all those different schools, that’s exactly what I had to do because I was trying to meet new friends. In my practice I am meeting new clients and occasionally they become friends as well.
So, why do I practice in these certain areas? As far as estate planning, I lost my mother. I knew that she said she was going to get a will, but she never signed the paperwork. She also told me that she had this life insurance policy that would take care of me if something happened. When I told my father that there was a life insurance policy to take care of me, he said that it went to her fiancé. He bought a Porsche and a condo. The money that was supposed to care for me didn’t because the paperwork was not signed!
At 12, I wasn’t thinking about becoming an attorney. But, when I became an attorney later in life, what helped me decide what practice to go into, my experiences in life had a lot to do with it. My first father helped pay for law school, but honestly, I never thought that I was going to practice. I thought I was going to go back to Canada to help work for my first father’s business. But, when he and I had another fight, I realized that I was going to have to practice law.
Looking back on my life and what I had been through when my mom died, I believe in making sure that people have their paperwork completed and updated whenever needed. All you have to do is put your wishes in writing and sign it. The courts will even lodge a holographic will. A holographic will in California means that you write a will in your own handwriting. You must date the document and there is NOT any witnesses. There must be some acknowledgment in the document that you intend this to be your last will and testament, you say what you want, identify the item, who it goes to, and you sign it. You must do it all in your own handwriting. It’s not typed nor computer-generated. If it is typed that makes it appear you were influenced. But if it is deemed a legitimate holographic will then the courts will probate it. That means your wishes are honored. To me, that is so important. It goes back to when I was 12. I tell people all the time that it doesn’t matter how much stuff you have because at the end of the day, it’s your stuff, and it should say who you want it to go to.
The second area of law that I practice is divorce. I practice this area because I lived through a divorce of my own and it is an emotional rollercoaster. I want to help others navigate the terrain. I share with clients what I realized and that is I tried to be what my husband wanted. He then tried to be what I wanted, but at the end of the day, neither one of us are bad people. We made it work for a time, but when it didn’t work anymore, it just didn’t work. When people no longer work as a couple that is when a divorce is needed. Rarely do two people wake up on the same day and say, “This isn’t working.” It’s usually one person that wants the divorce. If you think about it, it takes two people to get married, but it only takes one person to want a divorce. The other party usually feels like they just got sucker punched. A lot of times they don’t see it coming.
For most people, the difficulty comes when you break apart two people. But in reality you are not just breaking apart two people, you’re also breaking apart an entire family. When you get married, you create extended families on both sides, and that’s where I see the pain that nobody thinks about. When two people make the decision to divorce that is different. But when only one of the parties wants the divorce the other person still must agree with the divorce because California is a “no fault” state, which means people can get a divorce for no specific reason. The children are the innocent victims. But so are the sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Depending on how you handle your divorce, it’s how everyone else is going to handle it. In a divorce, the two people are only thinking about themselves, but when you have children, rarely do the children ask the parents to get a divorce. Sometimes, when the marriage is rocky, and the kids are older, they understand better why you’re getting a divorce.
When I have clients in a divorce, they usually say, “I don’t get why is this happening?” I get the tough job of telling people that sometimes we don’t ever know the answer to that question. We just have to accept it, and we have to know that we’re going to move forward. We have to let go and let our life change direction. We have to pick ourselves up because you can’t stay down for long. I truly believe that life is meant to knock you down because it’s in the getting up that you learn to be strong. I told my daughter the other day that I’ve learned in my own life that where we grow is in the hard times. When life is good, we’re just cruising. You’re coasting. Life’s good, and you don’t have to do anything. It’s when life gets hard that you have to figure it out. You have to figure out how you’re going to get through it. You have to figure out what you need to do and who can help you. So, we grow. We grow as human beings. We evolve.
In divorces, there are no winners. But, at the same time, you can come out on the other side as a winner of your own life. Initially when I tell my clients that they never believe me. I tell them, “There is life after divorce. You are going to find someone because I truly believe that as humans, we are meant to walk this path with a partner.” To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay. The reality is that it’s about enjoying life and creating memories with someone else. At the end of the day, all we have are the memories that we create, and it’s so much sweeter when someone else can say to you, “Hey, do you remember this?” And, you go “What about this?” That’s what families become. It’s a creation of memories that you all jointly share.
The final area I practice is bankruptcy. Before we filed for divorce we were having financial difficulties because we lost our business. When you are having marital difficulties many times it is due to financial difficulties too. Sometimes filing for a bankruptcy can save your marriage. It is something to consider. I don’t think people get married to get divorced one day. But along they way “something” happens.
Generally what leads people to need to file for a bankruptcy falls into 4 major areas – medical debt, divorce, loss of a business or loss of a job. What I am able to share with clients is that I remember the stress and anxiety before we filed for bankruptcy in 1995. The last thing I wanted to do was file for bankruptcy. I had a spreadsheet like many of my clients for our bills that showed the balance, the due date, the minimum payment and the interest rate. Like many people I was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and going deeper and deeper into debt. I used to think that people who filed for bankruptcy were criminals. I never wanted to be like them. I wanted to pay my bills so when we filed for a bankruptcy I felt like a criminal. I was devastated.
You do crazy things because you don’t want to be one of “those people”. “Only bad people file bankruptcy and take advantage of the system” is a common perception. Then, we ended up having to file bankruptcy in September 1995. It devastated me. I was in tears at the 341 creditors meeting. Back then, creditors actually showed up. I had to raise my right hand, swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
It was humiliating to swear to tell the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth because in my heart, I knew I am a truthful person. It was hard but filing for the bankruptcy was actually very “freeing”. So many of my clients after the 341 creditors exam will tell me “I should have done this sooner”.
The reason I like helping people now with bankruptcy is that I can tell them my story. When I first became an attorney, I put on my website that I also filed for bankruptcy. My daughter was 19 at the time, and she said, “I can’t believe you put that on your website. Why would you tell people that?” Even she had the same attitude about what a bankruptcy is. She thought it was for “bad people”. I told her, “No sweetheart. I want people to know that I understand how they feel. I know exactly what it feels like.”
In my consultations, by the time people finally call me and set up an appointment, they are ready to hear what their solutions might be. They are devastated. They are embarrassed. The last thing they want to do is sit with me and discuss their financial situation. But I tell my clients that I think I am a nice person and it makes me sad when people don’t want to be there and talk to me! When I tell them that, I usually get a smile or chuckle from them and that’s my goal – to lighten the mood. I want to break the ice and tell them that they are not bad people.
I’m thankful that President Trump gave me a reason to use his name in my consultation. I tell people that the bankruptcy laws exist to help individuals and corporations. There are Chapters 7, 13, 11, and 12. Chapter 12 is for commercial fishermen and family farmers. Chapter 11 is a corporate reorganization, which is what President Trump utilized when he filed bankruptcy at least four times for his own corporations. So, if our President can take advantage of the laws that exist to help individuals and corporations file a bankruptcy, then why can’t you? It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat, my clients typically will say, “Oh yeah” and it makes them feel better.
Chapter 7 and 13 are for individuals. Chapter 13 is a payment plan, and chapter 7 is a complete discharge of your debt, which chapter you file depends on what chapter you qualify for. Bankruptcy laws are there for individuals and corporations to try and help you get through a tough time. Filing a bankruptcy is like a reset. It gives you a new lease on life. Many people try debt consolidation as a way to avoid filing a bankruptcy. But they are not told that whatever amount of debt that is forgiven is taxed by the IRS. When I tell clients this piece of information they are shocked and some are even angry.
There are many questions about filing a bankruptcy – “Can I keep my house?”, “Do I qualify”, “Will everyone know?” When you have questions you should find out the answers and what the options are for your personal situation. You need to get answers before any creditors sue you! Many attorneys offer free consultations. You should feel comfortable with whatever attorney you choose to use.
The three areas I practice are highly emotional. But I share my own experiences with clients because I think it helps. We should look at tough times, and trust me, I know it’s hard to look at the tough times when you’re in the middle of it and appreciate the hard times because when we look back those times help us grow. That’s what I think this pandemic is. This pandemic is nothing more than a period of time that we should be learning, growing, and developing. I love that I am seeing families get closer. I like seeing them do more dinners together, go on bike-rides together, and figuring out things to do together when everything is closed. It’s good to do things that make you be a family. That’s the part you can see the benefits out of what we are all going through since March 2020.
I think of life this way. It’s like a long string that each of us have from birth that we just post pictures, which are your memories, along the string. Our path is never a straight line. It has curves and bends but the memories are formed along the way. That’s just what part of the journey is about.
For more information on Practicing Divorce, Bankruptcy & Estate Planning, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling 209-717-6150 today.