Mark your calendars now for Saturday, April 5, for a no-cost, half-day seminar on a variety of everyday legal topics that is open to the public.The 10th annual People’s Law School is taught by local judges and lawyers, and sponsored by the Tarrant County Bar Association and its foundation.Last year, I caught up with this community event late and the column didn’t run until the day of the event. The bar association said it was overrun with walk-ins attending the classes and they ran out of chairs and materials. Readers I heard from found it very worthwhile — one even canceled his golf game to go and said he would do it again.While walk-ins are welcome, the bar association asks that attendees register if possible by printing out a brochure posted on its website, www.tarrantbar.org and either faxing or mailing your class requests. You may also call the office at 817-338-4092 to register.“We think the People’s Law School is a great community outreach,” said Trisha Graham, executive director of the association. “We hope to educate the community so when they do seek an attorney they know what questions to ask.”The school has expanded to 12 sessions this year at the Texas A&M School of Law in Fort Worth. Attendees can pick three of the 50-minute sessions. The most popular deal with wills, estate planning and probate, Graham said.The session on wills will be taught this year by Mansfield attorney Karen Schroeder, covering simple estate planning.“I try to make everything easier so people don’t get overwhelmed and do nothing,” she said. In addition to a discussion of how to create a simple handwritten will that is recognized by the state of Texas, Schroeder emphasizes filling out financial and medical powers of attorney for others to step in if you are incapacitated.“People have no idea what happens when they become incapacitated or have a disability where they cannot communicate,” she said. “Even if it’s your spouse, if they haven’t filled out the forms, setting up a guardianship is your only option, and it’s an expensive option.”The durable power of attorney form was changed in Texas in the last legislative session; a new form took effect in January. Older versions are still authentic, but the new form may make it easier to deal with certain third parties, such as banks. One of the biggest changes in the new form is that the signer must initial any of the 14 powers that he or she does not want the chosen agent to have. Previously, the signer simply had to cross out the individual powers they didn’t want to give.Forms for power of attorney authority can be found online. The Texas Directive to Physicians and Texas Medical Power of Attorney can be found by searching for the forms by name at the Texas Department of Aging and Disability website at www.dads.state.tx.us. The new durable power of attorney form can be found at www.TexasProbate.com. A seminar on oil and gas legal issues has been brought back after a break of several years, Graham said.“There are some new issues in this area that people are interested in knowing more about,” she said. “For one, some smaller oil companies are trying to buy up some of the leases around here. We will talk about some of the things to be aware of and beware of.”Another area being featured this year that has experienced major changes is small claims, which will be taught by James Foley, a Fort Worth attorney specializing in consumer debt and fair credit reporting cases.In August, small claims courts were merged with the justice of the peace courts and a host of new rules overseeing small claims cases were created to give judges more leeway. Both actions were the result of a state law passed in 2011 to reorganize the court system.Foley said his session will include what types of cases to take to small claims court and a discussion of such areas as the statute of limitations and damage calculations.“I plan to stress damage calculations and the realities of collectability,” he said. “What kind of assets, income and insurance does the person you’re suing have? Your case may not be worth going after.”Foley also said he will advise seminar attendees to make sure to bring live witnesses to the trial, instead of relying on affidavits.“Not only does the defense need to be able to cross-examine, but now judges can ask questions, too,” he said.On the whole, Foley said the new rules are favorable to consumers, except in cases against third-party debt collectors, an area which has gotten more difficult under the new rules. The bar association offers two other community services to the public including Legal Line, a free call-in service from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Callers can receive free legal advice by calling 817-335-1239. The association also has a lawyer referral service that offers the public 30 minutes of consultation for just $20. The referral service can be reached at 817-336-4101, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m., or by emailing email@example.com.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net