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How to Dress for a Court Hearing

Whether you are representing yourself or have an attorney, you need to look as professional as possible when you go to court. Now is the time to put aside your shorts, torn jeans, and see-through shirts. Instead, you need to imagine that you are going to church or to a job interview for an office position. Judges expect a conservative style of dress, and they may judge you negatively if you depart from their expectations.

Dressing Properly for Men

 Wear long pants and a shirt: If your pants have loopholes for a belt, then wear a leather belt. Make sure to tuck your shirt in, as you want to look neat and tidy.
• Your shirt should have a collar—not a T-shirt or tank top. Try to get a long-sleeve dress shirt that buttons up. If you don’t have a dress shirt, then you can wear a nice polo shirt, but make sure to wash it correctly so you look clean.
• You should wear a tie with your dress shirt. Aim for something neutral looking. A solid-colored or check-patterned tie is best. Avoid “fun” ties—ties that have Santa Claus, naked women, etc. If you have a sports coat to wear, then wear that as well.
• Avoid baggy pants, shorts, pants that hang down below your hips, and torn jeans.
 Find appropriate shoes: Wear dress shoes if you have them instead of sneakers. Always wear socks with your shoes. Make sure that your socks match the color of your pants or shoes. Try to avoid flashy colors, like red.
• Do not wear flip flops or sandals under any circumstances.
• If you don’t have dress shoes, try to borrow a pair that fit from someone. Otherwise, wear black sneakers which, from a distance, look like shoes.
 Trim facial hair: Comb your hair and trim back untidy beards or goatees. If you nick yourself while shaving, try to stop the bleeding before leaving for court. Don’t show up to court with pieces of tissue covering your face to stop the bleeding.
• Men should also aim for a conservative haircut. Wash out any dye if the dye is an unnatural color (for example, blue or green).
• If, for religious reasons, you have long hair or a beard, then that will be okay. You do not have to shave or get your hair cut. Nevertheless, you should appear as tidy as possible. Should your religion prohibit trimming beards, then you need to be aware that a judge might find an untrimmed beard odd.
 Aim for comfort: Whatever you choose to wear, you should make sure that you feel comfortable, especially if you are scheduled to testify at court. Judges will notice when someone is uncomfortable. You don’t want them to mistakenly attribute your discomfort to you lying.
 Be careful with brand names: In some areas of the country, certain brand names are associated with gang activity. This is not the impression you want to make on a judge.
 Discuss appropriate attire with your attorney: Wearing pants with a tucked-in shirt is generally sound advice, regardless of what type of court you appear in. However, your lawyer might recommend different clothes depending on the situation. You should talk to your attorney about what wardrobe would be appropriate given your situation. If you are being sued for alimony, you might want to show up to court wearing less professional clothes. Doing so can signal to the judge that you are hard-pressed for money and can’t afford to pay alimony to your ex-spouse.

Dressing Properly for Women

 Wear a skirt or slacks with a blouse: The skirt should not be too short. Ideally, it will fall at least two inches above the knee. Avoid mini-skirts or any skirt that is too tight. Your pants should also be full-length pants, not capris. Pair your skirt or slacks with a nice blouse or dress shirt. You may also wear a clean sweater. Instead of pants or a skirt, you might wear a dress. Make sure that the dress is not too revealing. No slits up the thigh. Make sure that the dress is not a shiny cocktail dress or anything provocative like that. If the dress shows off your arms or shoulders, you should pair it with a sweater or another shirt.
 Choose nice shoes: Don’t wear flip-flops or anything similar. Avoid sneakers. Instead, wear a nice pair of shoes. The shoes do not need to have a heel. If the shoes have a heel, make sure it is not too long.
 Check for fit: You want your clothes to fit you properly but not be too revealing. Depending on your wardrobe, this could be difficult. As a general rule of thumb, if you wore something out to a club or on dates, then it might not be appropriate for a court hearing. You do not want anything too provocative. Do not wear low-cut shirts or super-tight clothes. Watch out for plunging necklines on dresses. You’re not trying to date the judge.
 Style your hair appropriately: Avoid “messy” looking hair. Instead, aim to keep your hair out of your face. You can wear your hair in a neatly brushed ponytail or put your hair in a bun. Use clips and barrettes, if need be, to keep the hair out of your face. Needless to say, if you need to use barrettes or elastic for a ponytail, make sure that they are conservative.
 Keep makeup conservative: You do not need to wear makeup if you do not want to. Simply make sure to wash your face. If you choose to wear makeup, less is more. The same principle applies to nails. Try to avoid long acrylic nails or nails painted in flashy colors. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to think you are anything but a boring, upstanding member of society.

How to Check My Court Date

If you have an upcoming court date, a summons or notice to appear should arrive in the mail with the date of your appearance noted. If you lose the summons or notice, there are ways to find the date online or by phone. Failure to show up for a court date can result in the forfeiture of your case, fines or arrest, depending on the reason for your court hearing. The first thing you should do if you can’t remember your court date is contact your attorney. If you don’t have an attorney, or if your attorney isn’t responding to you, there are ways to find out that information yourself.

Information you’ll need to find Your Court Date

First, you’ll need to know what court is involved. If your hearing is in a criminal matter, it will typically be held in a court of your county or municipality. Similarly, if you have a civil case that’s going to trial, it will also probably be in the county or municipality in which the incident occurred, where the parties live or where the businesses involved in the court hearing are located. If you have any documentation of the court case, the name of the court will be on those documents. Once you know the jurisdiction of the court, locate the specific number of your case by looking at any of the documents you’ve received, including police reports, court documentation, tickets or other official notices. The case number format varies among jurisdictions. If you cannot find your case number, you can look up the case by your name, but it may take longer to do so since your last name may not be unique in your jurisdiction. Your case number, however, will be yours and yours only in your particular location.

Check Online for Your Court Date

Many courts have their dockets online, and sometimes their calendars are also available. To find your court date, visit the court’s website and locate the docket search function, or even the court calendar. Dockets provide information about not only upcoming hearings but also the documents that have been filed in the case, including court orders. If you want to look at the documents, some courts require you to pay a fee per page, while others allow you to look for free.
Here are the things you may still need to do:
 Make nonexempt property available to the trustee: These are the assets you are not entitled to keep. If the trustee thinks they could be valuable, the trustee will take them, sell them, and divide the proceeds among your creditors.
 Handle any reaffirmed debts: If your bankruptcy plan included reaffirmation (agreeing to new terms on a debt, which will survive your bankruptcy filing), you will need to begin making payments after your 341 meeting. If you aren’t represented by a lawyer, you may have to attend a separate court hearing, at which the bankruptcy judge will review your reaffirmation agreement and decide whether to allow it.
 If you have debts that won’t be affected by your bankruptcy filing, such as back taxes or child support obligations, you should continue making payments on those debts.
 Wait for creditors to file challenges: Creditors have 60 days from your filing date to challenge a discharge of your debts.
 Attend a debtor education course: Like the credit counseling you had to complete before filing, debtor education (counseling to help you manage your personal finances, on topics such as budgeting, savings, and credit) is mandatory. After completing counseling, you must file a form with the bankruptcy court.
 Receive your bankruptcy discharge: The discharge generally takes place four to six months after filing. Once you receive your discharge, your case is considered closed. Every case is different. If you receive any discharge challenges, you may also need to attend additional meetings or hearings to provide your response to each challenge.

What to Avoid Before Filing

If you’re considering bankruptcy, there are many things that you may innocently or accidentally do with your finances, which could hurt your bankruptcy case, even if you don’t plan to file for many months. It’s usually best to talk to a lawyer when planning for bankruptcy, but even before you do so, take care to avoid the below financial transactions. This will ensure that your bankruptcy filing goes smoothly and will help to avoid challenges by creditors or the trustee. Many consumers think that transferring their assets to their mothers’ bank accounts, or putting them in their wife’s names, will protect them. But transferring assets out of your name won’t protect them from the reach of the bankruptcy court. And worse, such transfers could lead a bankruptcy court to find that you have committed fraud. This is true even if you transferred the property innocently, without any intention to conceal assets.
A few examples of transfers that might get you in trouble include:
 changing title to a child’s or spouse’s car which is in your name, into the name of your child or spouse
 changing the name on bank accounts, or eliminating your name from accounts which are held jointly with others
 eliminating your name as an owner on business ventures
 depositing funds or moving funds into bank accounts belonging to others, and
 deeding real property in your name to another person, even if it’s a legitimate transaction where real value is paid.
Many consumers move property or funds out of their name, for fear of losing them in bankruptcy. However, having assets does not mean that you cannot file a bankruptcy or that you will necessarily lose them. An attorney will be able to tell you the best way to deal with assets that you fear may be exposed when you file a bankruptcy.

Don’t Pay Creditors

Many consumers want to “do the right thing,” and pay certain creditors in full before filing for bankruptcy. For example, they may want to make sure mom’s loan gets paid, or that the people at Discover who have been very nice to them get paid in full. These transactions are prohibited. You certainly can pay your bills as you would in the normal course of business. If you incur $100 on American Express this month, you can pay it off next month, as you ordinarily would. However, you cannot make a payment out of the ordinary, to satisfy a creditor in full. These payments are called preferential transfers. They may even lead to “claw back” lawsuits, where the bankruptcy court representative (called the bankruptcy trustee) sues the entity or person that you paid, to get the money back. Unless you absolutely need to incur extra credit card debt for the necessities of life, such as gas, housing, or food, you should stop using your credit cards completely. You can continue to use debit cards which withdraw directly from your bank account.

Don’t Sue Anybody

Any legal claim that you have is an asset that can be taken by the bankruptcy court, even if the case is unresolved, or if the amount you may be entitled to is undetermined. In fact, even claims that you may have against others that have not been filed in court, is property of the bankruptcy estate. If you have a pending legal claim (whether it’s a lawsuit or not), talk to a lawyer before filing for bankruptcy.

Think Carefully Before Taking Actions That Would Result in Future Payments

Funds that are not actually in your possession, but which you expect to be get in the future, are part of your bankruptcy estate. If you are filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the bankruptcy trustee can take this money and use it to repay your unsecured creditors. Examples include agreeing to accept a future bonus at work, accepting an inheritance which will be paid in the future, or filing tax returns that entitle you to a refund. If you are expecting to receive any payments or money in the future, talk to a bankruptcy attorney.

Filing Bankruptcy Courts

If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, it is important to identify and locate the appropriate bankruptcy court. According to federal statute, you must file your bankruptcy case in the federal district in which you had your primary residence, had a principal place of business, or principal assets in Utah within the 180 days prior to filing.

Proof of Claim in Bankruptcy

A proof of claim is the paperwork that a creditor must file before getting paid in a bankruptcy case. Under the bankruptcy payment system, some debts—like income tax and domestic support obligations—have “priority” status and are paid before other claims. The proof of claim tells the bankruptcy trustee about the type of claim, as well as how much a creditor is owed, so the trustee can determine the amount to pay the creditor if anything. Read on to learn who can file a proof of claim, filing procedures, and how to object to a proof of claim.

Who Must File a Proof of Claim?

All creditors who wish to be paid out of bankruptcy funds must file a proof of claim. On December 1, 2017, the law was amended to make clear that in Chapters 7, 12 and 13 bankruptcy cases, a secured, unsecured, or equity secured creditor (with a few exceptions) must file a proof of claim to receive money from the bankruptcy estate. Of course, if funds aren’t available for distribution such as in a Chapter 7 “no-asset” case a creditor won’t be told to file a proof of claim. That status will change if the trustee finds undisclosed assets during the review period. Then the trustee will instruct creditors to file a proof of claim.

Secured Creditors and Liens

Like all creditors, a secured creditor such as a mortgage or vehicle lender must file a claim in order to receive money through the bankruptcy estate (with a few exceptions). However, even if the secured creditor doesn’t file a proof of claim, the creditor won’t lose its lien. This rule can be problematic for a debtor in a Chapter 12 or 13 cases. Why? When a lien is in place, the debtor can keep the property securing the debt only if the debtor remains current on the loan. If the debtor doesn’t pay as agreed, the creditor will be able to take back the property, sell it at auction, and use the funds to pay down the loan. As a practical matter, if a secured lender doesn’t file a proof of claim in a Chapter 12 or 13 case (and won’t receive monthly plan payments), a debtor who wants to keep the property securing the claim (such as a house or car) has a couple of options.
• Pay outside of the plan. The debtor can make the payments directly to the creditor (instead of through the plan). However, if the debtor arranged to make the payment directly, it likely won’t be possible. Most of the debtor’s funds go into the plan leaving nothing left for a hefty payment.
• File a proof of claim for the creditor. The debtor can file a proof of claim on behalf of the creditor. Doing so will allow the trustee to use bankruptcy plan payments to maintain the secured payment.

Bankruptcy Judges

Bankruptcy judges are appointed for 14-year terms by the Court of Appeals for the particular federal circuit in which the bankruptcy court resides. Thus, unlike federal district court and appellate judges, who are appointed for life, the term of a bankruptcy judge must be renewed every 14 years by the appellate court. It is quite possible for an appellate court not to renew a bankruptcy judge’s term if it is unhappy with his or her performance. Likewise, the bankruptcy judge can choose to decline a 14 year appointment.

System of Appeals

Although all initial bankruptcy matters are handled by a bankruptcy court, appeals of orders, decisions, and judgments are usually handled by district courts and, in some cases, by appellate courts. Some circuits have what is known as a bankruptcy appellate panel (BAP). BAPs have been convened in the First, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Circuits. The appellate panel consists of bankruptcy judges from the same circuit who hear bankruptcy appeals. Even in circuits which have a bankruptcy appellate panel, an appellant may choose to have his appeal heard by the local federal district court. The next level of appeal is the United States Court of Appeals for the particular circuit in which the bankruptcy court sits. The final level of appellate review is the Supreme Court of the United States.

Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure

The proceedings in bankruptcy courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. As the name suggests, these rules govern the procedural aspects of bankruptcy proceedings and trials, such as the time within which you must file your bankruptcy schedules. In large part, the bankruptcy rules of procedure mirror and incorporate the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern litigation in other federal courts. Thus, litigation in bankruptcy courts is very similar to litigation in federal district courts.

 

Legal Assistance

Individuals who are considering drafting a trust or a will may wish to consult with an estate planning lawyer. He or she can explain the advantages of using a trust as well as a will. He or she can make recommendations based on the specific considerations of the client. He or she may even recommend using both documents, such as by using a pour-over will that places any property owned at the time of the testator’s death into the trust.

 

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