Must I abide by an agreement made by attorney with the judge?

Q: I was named as a respondent in a court case. My attorney and petitioner’s attorney had a private meeting with the judge behind closed doors. My attorney agreed that I would consent to my mother’s bank records being disclosed for the past 17 years to petitioner. I held a power of attorney at the time but used it for only 11 years straight for only 4 transactions. Do I have to abide by an agreement made by my attorney with the judge and opposing counsel? I do not want to turn over any records as petitioner is mentally unstable. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Your attorney presumably represents your interests. An attorney should explain to his client any agreement the attorney enters which binds the client. It is basic Principal-Agent law. If your attorney did not obtain your consent to enter the agreement, you probably need to fire him and hire another attorney to enter his appearance and reject the agreement. Before you do, you should write your present attorney and tell him why you do not consent to the agreement and that his services are terminated. Before you do however, have an in depth discussion with your attorney about what he did. There was probably a good reason and he is acting in your best interests.

My father’s only asset was his home. Do we need an attorney?

Q: The attorney I contacts wants a $4k retainer, and frankly I don’t really want to lay out that kind of money if I can take matters into my own hands to settle the estate. (Carnegie, PA)

A: It sounds like since there is real estate in your father’s estate, it is necessary to open an estate. Without knowing more about the estate, it is impossible to opine whether the fee that was quoted is fair or not. You need to call several lawyers and get prices. You do not need to hire the lawyer who wrote the will. Estate work, if done the right way, is very tedious and time consuming. the more heirs and the more assets, the more time is involved for the attorney. It is not a form filling practice like many lay people think. I recommend that you hire a lawyer but interview several before you do.

How do I go about getting a co-owner’s name off our house?

Q: I bought a house with a friend back in 2004. We have since parted ways and the house is paid off. She left over 2 1/2 years ago and moved to another state and left me with all the taxes and upkeep of the house. I want to get her name off the house but do not know how to do that. We have no contact with each other. She has changed her phone number and I have no idea where she is living other than in Florida. I have been putting a lot of money into keeping the house and paying off the back taxes so would really like to just have my house in just my name. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: No matter how you are on the deed-as joint tenants or tenants in common-you are stuck unless you can get her to sign a new deed transferring ownership out of her name. I would try to locate her even if you need to hire a private investigator and see how much she wants. Perhaps she needs money and you can buy her out at a reasonable price. If she is unwilling, you can hire an attorney to commence a real estate partition action, which is expensive. However, if you start one, she may not have the money or want to spend the money to defend, and be more inclined to settle.

Should I file for full custody or file a petition to modify?

Q: 5 years-ago I was granted full custody of my two sons. 3 years ago, their father changed jobs and had more stability in his life so I thought 50/50 custody would be good for them. This change was not done through the courts, so the last custody agreement on file is still the one from years ago with me having full custody. I don’t believe 50/50 is working well anymore now that the boys are older, and I would like to have full custody. Their father does not take them to any medical appointments, does not attend their IEP meetings or parent teacher conferences, will not bring them to sport practices on his weeks, does not make sure they’re doing any of their homework, and they just don’t seem to be a priority in general at his house. They also don’t have a bedroom at his house, they sleep in the living room. I was not happy when I found that out, but the boys didn’t have a problem with it when they were younger, so I let it go. Now that they’re older, it’s not okay anymore. So, my question is, which paperwork do I need to file since the 50/50 was a verbal agreement between us for the last 3 years? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Even though the last order was full custody with you, the pattern over the years has transitioned to 50/50 status quo now. I believe you need to file for a modification. It sounds like you have great reasons, but the change may not happen right away, unless the father, and the sons, agree to it. It will be better for you if the change in custody does not involve a change in school district. I would consult with and hire a custody lawyer if you can.

Do officers have to tell you if you’re getting a ticket?

Q: My roommate and I got pulled over a few weeks ago in a routine DUI checkpoint. He told her that she had to get the tint removed from her vehicle and said, “make sure you’re always wearing your seatbelt.” Then today she got 3 tickets in the mail, one for the tint and one for each of us not having seatbelts on, even though I had mine on. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: They need not tell you. They can just take your information and send you a Notice of Summary Hearing in the mail along with the citation. Plead not guilty and request a hearing. If your friend has the tint removed by the time of the hearing, the officer may withdraw that citation . As to the seat belts violations, if you come across as polite and good people at the hearing, the judge may let you go with a warning. You can hire a lawyer and it will go easier.

How can a biological mother get custody back?

Q: I brought my daughter home with me the day she left the hospital. She is not biologically mine. We did go to court and I was granted sole full custody with the biological mom in court consenting. She willingly gave custody to me. My daughter is about to be 4 and all the sudden the biological mom has decided she wants to be her mom! I need help asap! (Carrick, PA)

A: Her parental rights were not terminated, otherwise she would have no chance. She will need to file a motion for custody and start the long process of getting back in her child’s life. If she is sincere and has overcome the impediments that prevented her initially from being a parent, she has a chance of gradually and slowly establishing time with the child. Fortunately for you, you have established legal standing to stay in this child’s life for the foreseeable future. I would consult with a child custody lawyer.

Can she resign as POA for someone in skilled nursing with dementia?

Q: My mother became POA of a neighbor as someone was taking advantage of the neighbor and my mother felt empathetic for this woman who was her friend. The woman has since had a change in her health and is now living in a skilled nursing facility with dementia. My mother has fallen ill herself now and is unable to serve this woman as POA and she would like to remove herself from POA. Is this possible? (Pleasant Hills, PA)

A: Yes, of course. Most Power of Attorney documents contain language that state that the within power of attorney can be revoked in writing. It would be prudent for her to write a letter in which she states that she can no longer serve as Agent for her friend. The letter should be served on her friend, the facility in which she resides and any other medical provider who may have relied on the document in the past.

Business lawyer payment

Q: I don’t need a lawyer but can you buy into a lawyer so if something does come up like I guess just make monthly payments just in case there is a problem? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Yes, attorneys will always welcome payment. It can be considered a retainer to be applied to future services. It is more common when larger businesses, corporations or municipalities are clients. Given the fact that you don’t need a lawyer now, I would not advise just finding a lawyer to pay just out of expectation that a legal need may arise. The lawyer you pay now may not be suitable for your future legal needs and generally it is best to hold onto to your money.

Can she go to jail for using son’s social security number?

Q: She used her son’s social security number to get her utilities turned on and to get rebates. We reported her to the gas and light company and are waiting for information. Can she get arrested? Can she go to jail? (Pitcairn, PA)

A: She has committed the crime of Fraud and maybe Theft of Services. Whether you will have the joy of seeing her lose her housing, yes, but going to jail, probably not, she will probably get probation, especially if she has no criminal history.

I want to sue 2 real estate agents who brought me an “ideal tenant.”

Both agents (my agent and tenant’s agent) knew that a tenant was being evicted from another condo in my building because they had placed him in it a few months before. He was locked out of that unit by the Sheriff and did $26,000 damage to it; and was then moved into my place within a few days, with the help of these two agents and a rental application full of lies. Tenant has not paid me rent for 5 months and I am suffering a loss of $100 per day in lost rent and legal fees, with no end in sight to evict him. He has 9 people residing unlawfully in my unit and his wife just filed for bankruptcy. I am a senior, doing part time work, and this property is for rental income I rely on. I cannot afford to litigate, so looking for a contingency arrangement. I am a CA licensed attorney I can draft much of the pleadings and otherwise assist. (Robinson, Twp.)

A: What a nightmare. I think you will find an attorney if the attorney can confirm the realtors and their employers have liability instead of hoping to collect from the deadbeat tenants. This type of case would be really be bad publicity for the realtors, especially if they are agents or brokers of a company. The contract you signed with them would need to be closely reviewed. Keep contacting attorneys until you find one. It sounds like these agents have liability based on what you say, but an attorney would need to review the entire case. An eviction should have been filed already.