Estate Planning and Administration/Westbrook Law of Grand Rapids, Michigan

We are up to date on the changing legal landscape surrounding wills and trusts and can assist our clients to establish, amend, or administer their estate plans. Our emphasis is on crafting plain-language, easily understood estate and trust documents that work within the law to ensure our clients’ individual wishes are carried out.  We can also create health care and financial powers of attorney that are compliant and effective, providing peace of mind in case of disability. 

The reality is a trust can be a fantastic tool for the average person because it simplifies things in the event of your death. So a trust allows you the -grantor- to specify exactly how your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries when you die, and in the process can avoid probate and heartache.

A family trust is a trust established specifically for the benefit of members of a particular family. The purpose of creating a family trust is to protect and manage family assets for current and/or future generations.

We are here to guide you through whichever process is needed and understand there can be many emotions involved. As we work together you will have peace of mind that everything will be exactly how you deem it.

Collectors Still Pursuing Debt after Bankruptcy Discharge? It's Illegal./Westbrook Law of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Each year, hundreds of thousands of individuals with overwhelming debts file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in order to regain their financial freedom.  The usual goal of bankruptcy is to have one’s debts “discharged,” or declared legally unenforceable and effectively nullified.  This is intended to allow the debtor a “fresh start” to their financial affairs.

But a discharge of debts in bankruptcy does not always stop debt collectors, who may continue to contact the debtor by phone or letter, or even file legal proceedings, after a debt has been discharged.  These post-discharge collection attempts rob the debtor of the “fresh start” he or she fought for in bankruptcy, and are often unlawful, violating various state and federal laws designed to protect consumers from abusive debt collection tactics.

If you are still being chased by debt collectors to pay a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy, Westbrook Law PLLC may be able to make the collection efforts stop, punish the debt collectors for violating the law, and get monetary compensation for you.  Contact us for more information or a free consultation.

If you have not filed for bankruptcy but wonder if it may be right for you, contact us for a referral to a qualified bankruptcy law firm.

TJW

An Unwelcome Pokemon Go Terms of Service Surprise, and How to Opt Out/Westbrook Law of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Most mobile app users do not take the time to read the terms of service that typically accompany opening and using the app for the first time.  Doubtless, most of the 7.5-plus million people who have downloaded the Pokemon Go! smartphone app are typical in this sense.  Getting into the fine print, however, reveals a problem for users who agree to the terms: a forced arbitration clause which (1) eliminates the user’s ability to sue the game’s developer publicly in court, instead requiring private arbitration of any dispute; and (2) eliminates the user’s ability to participate in any class action.  This is of concern for any consumer product, but particularly in the case of an app which presents potential privacy and data security risks.  In short, frequently the only efficient way to hold a corporation accountable for breaches of privacy or data security is through a class action lawsuit.  This is because: (1) the investigative costs involved in this type of litigation are immense; (2) the harm to each individual affected user may be very small; and (3) the overall harm to all affected users may be many millions of dollars.

Forced arbitration has been a growing phenomenon in large corporations’ terms of service for decades.  From the consumer advocate’s perspective, these clauses and procedures are pernicious.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agrees, and after finding that such clauses in bank and financial institution contracts are unfair and unconscionable as a whole, has proposed a regulation outlawing forced arbitration clauses in consumer financial services contracts.  Of course, this regulation would not affect Niantic, the developer of Pokemon Go!, since its business is computer software and not financial services.

The silver lining is that the Pokemon Go! terms of service allows users to opt out of the forced arbitration clause, as long as they do so within 30 days of first agreeing to the terms of service.  All the user needs to do is email Niantic at termsofservice@nianticlabs.com and clearly state that the user is opting out of the arbitration clause in the terms of service.  Our recommendation is that all Pokemon Go! users preserve their legal rights in this way.

Debt Collection Lawsuits May Break the Law/Westbrook Law of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Huge numbers of lawsuits are filed by debt collectors and debt buyers in Michigan’s district courts every day.  Some of the larger debt buyers may file hundreds of lawsuits per year in a single district court.  These are relatively small-dollar cases, seeking anywhere from $100 up to $5,000 or more, typically on past due credit card accounts that have been written off and sold by the original creditor (in the case of a legitimate debt), to a debt buyer, and then possibly re-sold to a string of other debt buyers.

Many people who have been sued by debt collectors do not know what to do.  The debt may seem legitimate, or may even be legitimate.  Frequently these defendants simply do not contest the lawsuit, a default judgment is entered against them, and ultimately their bank accounts or wages are garnished to pay the debt collector.  The problem is that the plaintiff–the debt collector who filed the lawsuit–might have broken the law when it filed the lawsuit, or might not even have had the right to any payment at all.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., prohibits debt collectors from making false or misleading statements or using unfair methods to collect consumer debts.  This includes statements made and methods used in lawsuits to collect debts.  If the plaintiff claims amounts are owed that are not actually owed, that is unlawful under 15 U.S.C. § 1692e.  If the plaintiff has filed a time-barred claim–which is typically the case if no payments have been made on the debt in six or more years–that is also a violation.  Debt collectors’ legal complaints frequently contain deceptive and misleading statements that could give rise to defenses to the debt, as well as counterclaims for monetary damages.

The following common practices among debt buyers are all grounds for relief under the FDCPA:

  • Misrepresenting the original creditor to whom the debt was owed;
  • Seeking more money than what is actually owed;
  • Including non-recoverable fees and costs in the amount sought in the lawsuit;
  • Improperly including certain fees and costs in garnishments;
  • Misrepresenting that the complaint was prepared by an attorney of law firm, when in fact it was prepared by a non-lawyer;
  • Providing false or misleading contact information;
  • Including false, misleading or fabricated documentary evidence as support for the complaint.

Many consumers sued by buyers of old defaulted debt feel they cannot afford an attorney to defend their case.  This is not necessarily true, particularly when a consumer lawyer finds that there is a viable counterclaim against the debt collector under the FDCPA.  This is because, as a remedial consumer protection statute, the FDCPA provides for the payment of attorney fees by the debt collector if a violation is proven.

If you have been sued by a debt collector, contact us for a consultation free of charge.