Susan Harville-Stein and I focus on estate issues and personal injury cases. We have opened many estates where there has been a will or no will left. We have opened and managed the entire estate administration process, including selling personal property and real property, or house or rental property, of the person who has died and distributing the proceeds to the next of kin or those specified in a will. We have assisted family members throughout Alabama, particularly in Jefferson County and Shelby County, in gaining conservatorships and guardianships over loved ones who can no longer manage their own affairs or be trusted to make their own decisions, and then helped them to manage the affairs of that loved one, particularly the business affairs. We have drafted many wills with particular attention to what Alabama law allows you to waive under existing law and helping to make the decision on whether making certain waivers in your will is in your best interest. We have worked with many children and incapacitated persons in Jefferson County, Alabama, representing their interests in wills being probated and trust matters. Our philosophy is if we are not the right attorneys to assist you with your matter, we strive to assist you in locating the attorney who can help you.
Susan and I began the practice together in 2003 in Birmingham, Alabama and Jefferson County and Shelby County. Susan's background includes being the first female investigator for the Sherriff's Department in Lawrence County, Alabama, and she has a Master's Degree in Social Work. Susan was accustomed to working with individuals with various mental health issues and generally serving the public as a social worker.
I have an MBA and 20 years experience in business and working for corporations in various management positions. We met in law school, and the partnership has been successful both professionally and personally. Together, we bring our clients a diverse background of experience in both human behavioral issues and business. As a result, we have evolved into attorneys who provide for end of life issues, and are sensitive to the needs of the family when those issues actually arrive. We pride ourselves on making sure children, the most vulnerable, are properly protected in legal proceedings involving estates and other issues. Alabama is Susan's home. Alabama has become my home. We are pleased to serve the needs of Jefferson County, Shelby County and all of Alabama.
Cases we have handled include a mom who called us because the father of her children, from whom she was divorced, had committed suicide. She lived with the children outside of Alabama, and the father died in Jefferson County, Alabama. For her children, we opened the estate of their father, who had left behind a defective will, and gathered up his financial accounts, sold some minor possessions, regained an auto from his brother who thought he was entitled to it "for sentimental reasons," sold the auto for the children's benefit, and worked tirelessly to sell a broken down piece of real property that was part of the estate. In the end, both children received just under $5,000 each from what was a very small estate with lots of problems. We were glad we could create these funds out of the mess their dad had left them, so that they may have something good, like the start of a college fund, come out of it.
Another case involved an estate with only the maternal side of the family heirs known, all out-of-state. The call came from out-of-state when a distant aunt of theirs had died in Jefferson County, Alabama. She left no will, as she did not sign it before she died. She had an old house in an area of lower value homes. She had old furnishings and some significant funds in a bank account. We served as the administrator of her estate and the attorney as permitted under Alabama law. We gathered all the assets. While we managed the estate, individuals broke into the house and ripped out all the copper plumbing, flooding the house. We filed the insurance claim, made the repairs, and the left-over insurance proceeds went into the estate. Under Alabama law, the maternal side gets half and the paternal side gets half. We knew nothing of the paternal side, and with just some information from a graveyard near where this person originally lived, we were able to hire a genealogist who found all the next-of-kin on the paternal side! The estate wound up having 29 heirs, and each got every penny of what they were entitled.
Our last case example involves a person who called us, when her son, age nine, was determined to be eligible for some insurance proceeds from his father who had died a few months earlier. She thought the case was only about setting up a conservatorship, so she could collect these funds, about $69,000, for her son. We began working on setting up the conservatorship. In the process, we asked the insurance company for a copy of the beneficiary designation, as mom had never married dad, and we might need it for evidence later showing dad held this child out as his son, if he in fact designated the relationship of "son" on the beneficiary form. Upon receiving the beneficiary form, we determined that another insurance policy for accidental death was out there. This one was for over $200,000, and nobody had bothered to tell our client it even existed! We then made a claim for that policy also. Later, when mom told us how dad had died, in an auto accident resulting in a fire that sadly burned him to death, we told her a wrongful death suit should be considered. We looked for pending suits in Alabama, and lo and behold, a law firm had filed a wrongful death suit in the matter, and no one had notified the child's mother, because the father's side did not recognize this child. We filed to have the child recognized, and in the end entered a settlement, where the child shared in one-half of $475,000 from the wrongful death suit! In the end, from what was to be a simple conservatorship for a $69,000 policy, the child received substantially more, we would like to think from our being attentive to the details of this case, and asking "one more question." While our client lived in Jefferson County, Alabama, Wilcox County was also involved, and it could have just as easily been Shelby County or Talladega County and we would have helped her just the same.
130 Inverness Plaza #382
Birmingham AL 35242
15 minutes free.
We will offer 15 minute free consultation. If clients mention Nolo, on hourly work we will offer a 10% discount.
Monday through Friday
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Simply put, in school I excelled in the area of probate law. It is closely related to business like situations and concepts. My professor was the County Administrator and gave those of us who wanted it a thorough education in wills and estates. It affords you the opportunity to help people make difficult decisions in a wide area of concerns to their benefit and the benefit of their heirs.
We applaud clients educating themselves on issues as it really helps them and us. Our word of caution in this "self-help" era has two main thoughts. One, if you are going to self-help and face anyone on the other side of the issue who has an attorney representing them, think again. That attorney will know the ins and outs, all the technical rules and they know the system in Jefferson County, Shelby County or one of the other counties in Alabama. They went to school for three years for law, they have probably handled hundreds of cases and see that court on a regular basis. You may be there for the first or second time, but they live there. If enough is at stake, and they are represented by an attorney, you should strongly consider the same. Second, anyone can read the law, but to apply the law to case facts and integrate it with the rules, case law, local practice, and practicality is a different matter. Often times we know what the law or statute says, but we also know how the case law has interpreted it. Again, if enough is at stake, self-representation can be a trap for the unwary. Yes, educate yourself, hire an attorney to guide you, and do some of the work yourself, particularly in an estate administration, but give careful consideration to completely going it alone.
We would review documents prepared by clients. However, we caution clients to consider that the preparation of the document is really the end result of a process of evaluating the situations, applying the law, and coming to a conclusion of what is called for, and properly memorializing the outcome in a document. Therefore, a review of the document may really be a need to review the case entirely. For example, someone may want a self-prepared will reviewed, but then be concerned about whether they have effectively disinherited a child, or whether they can even disinherit a child. We have seen many clients who think in Alabama they should leave a child "one dollar," to disinherit them, without realizing that that very act of leaving "one dollar," makes the child they are trying to disinherit a party to the administration of their estate until its very conclusion! If you really want it done right, and if it is worth doing right, you need to spend a little time, and perhaps a little more money than you thought, to make your best effort to get it right.
We think this can work, particularly in the case of estate administration or conservatorships. An attorney does not have to serve as the administrator, personal representative, or executor in Alabama. A family member can, if they reside in Alabama, and meet other conditions, which can even be different between say Jefferson County, a court of equity, and Shelby County. For example, Jefferson County has a general county administrator while Shelby County does not and may appoint an attorney in that role. The attorney can then serve as attorney to the estate and advise the administrator on how to proceed and what the relevant law is. The same goes for a conservatorship. The family member, if they meet certain requirements, can serve as the conservator and pay the attorney for advice on how to proceed and the filing on necessary documents with the court. While everyone should have the right to represent themselves, or what is known as "pro se," our concern is that attorneys know the law, the process and typical outcomes in cases in their area of practice in a way most pro se persons just cannot. We are willing to coach you, but only with you considering our concerns on such an approach, and of course, the smaller the matter, the less those concerns are. For example, everyone should be able to change their name legally on their own, but you just won't be able to probate an estate from start to end, without likely problems, without good counsel.
I worked in health care corporate management positions for nearly 20 years. A background in Finance and Business Administration allowed for a variety of significant business positions. Using this experience in the practice of law has been invaluable in evaluating the different business issues that are inherent in many legal matters. I have also used my Certified Management Accountant, or CMA designation and education in all these careers, but particularly in the practice of law. I served as the Chief Operations Officer of a 99 bed women's hospital and 140 bed acute care hospital. I also was the Associate Executive Director of Finance for a major HMO. Prior to that, I had gained valuable experience as a consultant in healthcare. I have resided in Alabama since 1996 and have worked in Jefferson County and Shelby County, Alabama.
I am a better attorney for my business experience and education. I have managed hospitals, financial departments, made significant business decisions, handled significant amounts of funds, been a public speaker, and generally, have a good, "bottom line" head for business. This insight is perfect for legal matters. In most cases, it is going to come down to a "monetary settlement," so you have to have an idea of how to do "cost benefit analysis," a business model perfect for legal application. It goes something like this, given the costs of litigation, the aggravation, the amount of time until you actually receive the funds, the chance of losing entirely and other factors, does settling this matter for the amount of money proposed make sense even if you are not completely satisfied? We go through that analysis with clients and potential clients all the time, and sometimes, the decision is to do nothing. Having started the practice of law in Alabama in my thirties, and now being in my forties, I can bring this experience and a maturity to these important client matters.
Many lawyers believe in litigating everything. I believe in making the best, first and second efforts at settlement. Settlement will usually save money and almost always save aggravation. Our system of justice is known as the "adversarial system," but we don't think it necessarily needs to be "adversarial" in conduct. Trying to see what the other side needs to get, what is fair in a particular situation, and what you are willing to give up, is a very beneficial process. Some questions will just plain need to be litigated, for various reasons, but early attempts at settling disputes are usually worthwhile. Sometimes the paperwork needs to be filed to protect your case, and to set the structure for negotiation or trial of the cause, but you should, in our opinion, always be open to fair settlement and be open to changing your outlook on what necessarily constitutes "fair" in any given situation.Personal interests:
We love the beaches of Alabama, Baldwin County, and other places. We worry about the BP oil spill on our beautiful coastline and the dolphins we have seen playing by the shore. I like music intended to create an upbeat and happy time, such as Jimmy Buffett. We like to travel, to be able to see what is happening in different cities across the South and other parts of the United States. We like plays and the arts. We have rescued several pets and love to spend time with them.
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