Frequently Asked Questions
Jump to a section:Debt Collection Social Security Disability Wills, Estate Planning and Probate
What is your debt collection success rate?
Our most frequently asked question is "Will you be able to collect my money?" We believe that if anyone can collect on your account, we can. Because we are a law firm whose business is debt collecting, we collect more money, more often. Our state-of-the-art software and our highly trained collectors contribute to our success. One of the most important factors for a successful collection is the age of the delinquent account when we receive it. The success rate drops dramatically as the delinquent account ages. Don't delay in referring your delinquent accounts.
How soon can you collect for me?
Some cases are collected within the first 30 days. Often, the debtor pays immediately upon receiving a letter and/or a phone call from our law firm. However, if that is not successful, we generally recommend filing a lawsuit to collect your money. We have found that our successful recovery rate is the result of prompt court action if the letters and phone calls are unsuccessful.
Will you compromise my claim?
Only you can approve a compromise! We will do our best to get all of your money and we won't compromise your claim without your consent. If we receive a settlement offer, we will communicate it to you. Ultimately, any settlement or compromise will be your decision. We view our relationship as a partnership! Because we generally are on a contingent fee agreement, a compromise affects both of us.
Do you take payments?
We always demand full immediate payment. Very frequently the threat of litigation or the actual filing of proceedings with the court produces this result. However, in some circumstances, payments may be the only option. If it becomes apparent that a debtor can only make payments, we will discuss your options with you. It will be your decision to accept payments over time.
What will it cost me?
On a contingent fee arrangement you pay no fee unless we recover money for you. When the filing of a lawsuit is recommended, we normally request a cost deposit to cover the filing fee. We are pleased to put our time into collecting your claim. We request you show your confidence in your case by providing the filing fee. Indiana filing fees are modest. In 2015, filing fees were $81.00 base plus $13.00 Sheriff´s service (plus $10.00 for each additional defendant) in small claims court which covers claims with balances under $6,000.00. $141.00 base plus $13.00 Sheriff´s service (plus $10.00 for each additional defendant) is the filing fee in non-small claims matters. There is an additional cost of $10.00 for garnishing defendants wages. There may be charges for private process service ($20.00) or attaching a bank account ($5.00). We will not advance costs without your permission. (Fees subject to change)
How and when do I receive the money you collect for me?
All money collected is deposited in our trust account. After we are certain that the debtor's payment has cleared, your money is disbursed to you and our fee to us. We don't get paid on contingent fee cases until you receive your portion of the recovery. We usually disburse all cleared funds bi-weekly. We can remit to you bi-weekly or monthly.
What if you can't collect for me?
There are some cases which we cannot collect. Since debt collection is our business, cases are our inventory. If we are unable to collect within a reasonable amount of time and no judgment has been obtained in court we will discuss your options with you.
Who will answer my routine questions?
Attorneys, Scott Perry, Tom Knight, Ray Perry, Jana Lange, Office Manager, Angela Rose, and other legal assistants are available by phone (260-483-3110) to discuss your case. You are the client and we are here to help you. Every legal assistant has access to your claim. All have the knowledge to provide you with information on your case. You seldom have to wait for a return call. You can also send e-mail or regular mail.
What is the definition of disability?
A person is considered disabled if they will be unable to perform work for twelve consecutive months as a result of one or more physical and/or mental health difficulties. Individuals who are classified as blind also qualify.
What is the difference between Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
In order to be eligible under either program a person must be disabled. In addition, in order to be eligible for DIB a person must have worked and have sufficient earnings to establish a claim. As to SSI, in addition to being unable to work, a person must have very limited assets and income. But, no work history is required to be found disabled under SSI. SSI is geared towards low income individuals who have never worked or have a limited work history.
What does being found disabled entitle me to?
Monthly benefits and eligibility for Medicare if DIB is awarded and likely eligibility for Medicaid if SSI is awarded. Also, the children of individuals awarded DIB may be entitled to monthly benefits.
How long will the process take?
It can take one to four months, on average, for decisions to be made at the initial and reconsideration levels. If it is necessary to file a request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the wait for a hearing can be from nine months to up to fifteen months or more.
Why should I have an attorney help me with my disability claim?
An attorney can help take much of the stress and strain off individuals who are seeking Social Security disability benefits. The attorney will be able to deal directly with the Social Security Administration (SSA) as well as obtaining needed medical documentation and reports on behalf of the disabled individual. Statistics show using an attorney often times produces more favorable results for disability applicants.
What will it cost to have an attorney assist with my disability claim?
We are not entitled to a fee unless the claimant is found disabled and there are past due benefits. In most cases, but not all, attorneys charge the lesser of 25 percent of the past due benefits or the maximum allowed by law, currently $6000. Representatives cannot charge and collect a fee from a disabled applicant unless the Social Security Administration (SSA) has approved the fee. In addition, clients are responsible for reimbursing the firm the cost of medical reports and records.
What benefits does the Social Security Administration (SSA) make available to individuals who are disabled?
There are others, but there are two primary programs: Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI). DIB is sometimes referred to as Title II or T2 benefits. SSI is referred to by some as Title XVI or T16. In addition to being disabled, an individual must have sufficient wage credits or quarters of credit to qualify for a DIB claim. Although in some cases it is a bit more complicated, basically an individual needs to have worked five of the past ten years or, in other words, have earned twenty credits or quarters during the preceding forty quarters. These quarters are obtained by working and earning a minimum amount of money during each calendar quarter. Paying the Social Security tax, in part, is like paying the premium on a private insurance policy.
As to SSI, in addition to being disabled, an individual, including their immediate household, must have very limited assets and income. There are no work or quarters of coverage requirements as there is with DIB eligibility. A person need not have worked at all in order to be found eligible. In 2015 the maximum benefit amount for SSI claimants is $733 per month.
Besides those differences described above, there are other differences between the two programs, but the definition of disability is the same. In order to be disabled it must be demonstrated an individual suffers from a physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments, which has or will prevent that individual from working for twelve consecutive months or is expected to result in death.
There are other programs which may enable an individual to receive benefits if they are disabled. Among other things this includes possible benefits for disabled widows, disabled widowers, and disabled children. If you are disabled, but believe you are not eligible for either DIB, based on your own earnings, or SSI please feel free to contact our office for information concerning possible eligibility under other programs governed by the (SSA).
Who decides if I am disabled?
There are four administrative levels of decision making for disability claims. The first level is the initial level. The second level is reconsideration. At both of these levels decisions are normally made by individuals who work for state agencies. That is, they are employed by your state government. The Social Security Administration (SSA) contracts with state agencies to perform the functions of information gathering and decision making. The same decision maker does not make the decision at both the initial and the reconsideration levels on the same claim. If a Request for Reconsideration is denied, then a claimant may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ is a lawyer who is employed by the SSA for the purpose of deciding disability claims. At this level a hearing is usually involved. The claimant and their representative appear before the ALJ. During this hearing the claimant has an opportunity to explain to the ALJ why they believe they are disabled. Expert evidence in the form of vocational and/or medical testimony may also be obtained by the ALJ. Medical evidence and other written evidence is usually submitted to the ALJ by the claimant´s representative prior to any hearing date. The Appeals Council is the last level of the administrative decision making process. Claimants who are denied benefit eligibility by the ALJ may file a Request for Review with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council does not hold hearings although written evidence and argument may be submitted. The Appeals Council reviews the judge´s decision and the evidence in order to determine if the judge made any mistakes which require further review by the judge or reversal of the denial. Should the Appeals Council deny eligibility, it is possible in certain meritorious cases to pursue the claim further in Federal Court.
What if I've been denied Social Security Disability?
If I've already been denied Social Security Disability once or twice, will it do any good to take my claim to the next level? Maybe. Lets be realistic, not everyone who files a claim for disability benefits is in fact disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. If a person is not truly disabled, then probably it will not do any good to take the claim to the next level. However, while there are never any guarantees, for those who are truly disabled taking the claim to the next level may very well prove beneficial.
The Social Security Disability attorneys at Perry Law Office firmly believe it is vital for individuals who believe they are truly disabled to continue pursuing a claim. In Indiana, approximately 35 percent of DIB and SSI claims are paid at the initial level. Of those going to the reconsideration level, approximately six to seven percent are awarded benefits. It is at the Administrative Law Judge level a disabled individual stands the best chance, on a percentage basis, of obtaining their benefits. About 60 percent of individuals who have their claim decided by an Administrative Law Judge are awarded benefits. Again, while there are no guarantees, the chances of success increase when the services of an attorney are used.
Why obtain an attorney?
Claimants can and do represent themselves successfully in claims for disability benefits. This is less true at the Appeals Council (AC) level and in Federal Court. On the other hand, an attorney can increase the chance for success. Year after year it is getting harder to win a Social Security Claim, an attorney may help. An attorney can determine what evidence will help prove the claimant is disabled and obtain that evidence as well as presenting that evidence to the proper part of the Social Security Administration (SSA). An attorney can also help identify what medical issues exist and what issues have yet to be properly treated so that they can be established as a possible basis for a claim of disability. Attorneys also prepare their clients for hearings before Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) and represent their clients during those hearings. Among other things, this should involve making argument on behalf of the claimant and assisting in the presentation of evidence whether it is in the form of testimony or documentation. A claimant is not simply a bystander on the sidelines once they obtain an attorney to help with a disability claim, but using the services of an attorney can reduce the stress and strain of the decision making process. Attorneys help ensure important deadlines are not missed and the case is properly presented. Clients need not worry about performing these time-consuming tasks. The primary responsibility of the client is to obtain necessary medical care and to make the attorney aware of any health related developments such as a change in their condition, undergoing testing, seeing a new doctor, or medication changes. Use a local attorney that knows your medical providers and has an office you can drive to if needed.
If I want to obtain an attorney to help me with my claim, when should I make contact with the attorney?
Attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants do have different ideas on this point. The attorneys at Perry Law Office prefer to be contacted after the claim is initially denied. Certainly those who are denied at the next level (reconsideration level) are welcomed to contact us for assistance as well. This is because at every level of the decision making process after a denial there is a time limit of sixty (60) days, for requesting an appeal. Failing to file a timely appeal could result in the claimant forfeiting any eligibility for benefits to which they may be entitled under the current claim. At Perry Law Office we have several attorneys and staff members available to talk to you on the phone or in person.
What does it cost to obtain an attorney for help with my disability claim?
Answers among law firms can and do differ somewhat. Perry Law Office uses what is called the expedited fee agreement process. Most attorneys do use this process, or some form of it. This process involves the claimant and the attorney signing a fee agreement. The agreement will provide that if benefits are awarded, the attorney fee will equal the lesser of 25 percent of the past due benefits or the maximum allowed by law. The maximum currently allowed is $6000. No attorney fees are due or payable if the claimant does not receive disability benefits. The claimant is responsible for the cost of obtaining the medical documentation and reports. Win or lose, the medical documentation itself typically runs somewhere between two and four hundred dollars and the reports anyplace from zero to three hundred dollars depending on the physician. Perry Law Office can advance the monies used to obtain these items.
How long does it take to receive a decision?
It is not possible to answer this question with certainty. In some cases decisions are made relatively quickly and in others they take a very long time. On average, it takes one to four months to receive a decision at the initial level. It takes the same amount of time, approximately, for a decision to be made at the reconsideration level. After a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is filed, it can take anyplace from nine to fifteen months for a hearing to be scheduled. Thereafter, it may take several more months for a decision to be issued by the ALJ. It is not unusual for the Appeals Council (AC) to take one year or more to issue a decision after a request for review has been filed. In the vast majority of cases, your attorney does not have the ability to speed up the process. Do not be fooled by false promises. At Perry Law Office we will be honest with you about the time it takes to process your claim and your chances of winning your claim. Communication with our clients is our number one priority.
Can I work while my claim is pending or while I am drawing disability benefits?
There are a number of factors which can cause drastically different answers to this question. For this reason it is best to contact an attorney who practices Social Security Disability law or the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself for an answer to your specific question. In some situations there would be no harm at all in an individual working perhaps part-time while receiving disability benefits or trying to obtain disability benefits. In other situations, work could cause a disability claim to be denied. Work could also bring about the halt of disability benefit payments. In 2015 if you make more than $1,090 (non-blind) per month you are not eligible for Social Security benefits. That said, naturally individuals who are physically and mentally able to work full-time should continue doing so or re-enter the work force as opposed to seeking disability benefits.
Why do some people with medical problems receive their disability benefits and others with that same problem do not?
There are a number of factors used to decide if a person is disabled. Some of these factors are age, education, vocational training, and past work experience. In addition, a particular disease, ailment, or injury may cause different difficulties and degrees of severity for different people. That is, two people may have the exact same illness, but one may be disabled while the other is not. Oftentimes it is necessary for the Social Security Administration to determine an individual´s residual functional capacity. This can be thought of as deciding what an individual can no longer do because of their illness or injury and also deciding what an individual can still do despite their illness or injury.
Can drug and alcohol use or abuse impact the decision on my disability claim?
The short answer is: YES. If an individual would be able to work if alcohol and drug use/abuse were to stop, then that individual will not be found disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Another way to put it is that individuals who are unable to work due to drug and alcohol use/abuse are not entitled to disability benefits. On the other hand, alcohol and drug use/abuse do not necessarily prevent an individual from being found disabled. Individuals who use/abuse alcohol and drugs will be found disabled if they would remain disabled even if all use/abuse were to stop. The occasional social drink or glass of wine with a meal should not influence the decision on an individual´s disability claim in most cases.
Wills, Estate Planning and Probate
Do I really need a Will?
A Will is not mandatory, but if you don’t have a valid Will or Trust when you pass away, your wishes will not be considered let alone followed in choosing who manages your affairs or who gets your property. Instead, Indiana law sets forth how these things occur, with all of your property going to your immediate family which may be exactly what you want or exactly what you don’t want. Even if you do not think you want a Will, you should talk to us about what would happen to your property without one. Talk to one of our Fort Wayne Wills & Estate Lawyers for a free consultation.
I already have a Will, but can I make changes to it?
Yes, you can change your Will any time, as long as you are competent to do so. Specific procedures need to be followed so it is advisable to speak to one of our attorneys about what changes you want to make instead of trying to mark up your current Will.
What is probate? Should I try to avoid it?
Probate is not the frightening, terror-striking process it has a reputation of being. It simply means your Will is put on record with the court (if you have one), the court appoints someone to manage wrapping up your affairs, marshalling your assets, paying your debts, and distributing what is left to your heirs. In many cases the process is handled through an “unsupervised” estate where there is minimal court interaction and typically we can go to court for your personal representative to open and close the estate. Instead of it costing you tens of thousands of dollars as some salesperson would like you to think, the costs can really be fairly minimal.
Can I avoid probate with a trust?
Yes, if the idea of probate still horrifies you, in spite of our insistence that it is not that bad, we would be happy to discuss with you the option of putting all of your property into a trust so “probate” can be avoided. You may have other reasons for wanting a trust, too, which is why it is helpful to talk to us about your goals and wishes. Do not fall for the "avoid probate, get a living trust" sales pitch by attorneys and non-attorneys often seen in magazines targeting older persons. Contact a local attorney and find out what is best for you. If a living trust is best for you we will prepare one for you.
How much will my family have to pay in inheritance taxes?
Residents of Indiana used to have to pay inheritance tax, but the tax was abolished in 2013 for individuals who passed away in 2013 or thereafter. (If the individual died in 2012 or earlier, the estate tax was still in effect then, and you should contact us to discuss what tax rate and exemptions apply for that situation). As of January 1, 2015, the federal estate tax exemption was $5.43 million. So unless you have an estate worth more than $5.43 million or have property in another state with estate tax, your estate is not taxable. However, estate taxes seem to be used often as a political football at both the state and federal level, so there is the chance it could always change in the future. So stay tuned.
Who will pay the bills I leave behind?
Your estate is liable for your debts. That may mean your heirs get less after the bills are paid than before, but your heirs generally are not personally liable for your debts, especially if you are insolvent (the fancy legal word for broke). There may be exceptions to this, however, so if you are concerned about this or if you are an heir who is being asked to pay a bill left by your loved one who passed away, contact us to discuss your rights and responsibilities in these situations.
What happens if there is no Will or Trust when someone dies?
The person’s family or friends have to contact an attorney, get paperwork started to open an estate, and the court names someone to be the Personal Representative. The Personal Representative starts the process of figuring out the financial picture of the person who passed, including all assets and debts, which may be a lot of work because folks who don’t do estate plans are sometimes not that organized. Heirs may need to be identified and located, also. Once everything is collected together, the bills are paid and what’s left goes to the heirs (depending on a variety of factors) according to the Indiana intestate succession statute. This Indiana Law provides who will get your estate if you have no will or trust. Even if one of the heirs is a drug addict who will use up the money in a matter of days. Even if one of the heirs is an ungrateful brat who never helped dear old Mom or Dad out with their needs in their old age. Even if the deceased talked every day about how they would want a large portion of their estate to go to their favorite church or charity. Even if the deceased was unmarried, had no children, and the only heir is an elderly parent in a nursing home on Medicaid who won’t get to enjoy the money. There are lots of other negative things we could throw out here to scare you, like how the court will pick the guardians for minor children based on who seems to be the best fit for the moment instead of the person you think most closely shares your parenting style and beliefs. The law takes none of those preferences or concerns into consideration when there is no Will. A Will is the most valid way you can express your wishes to the court. That’s why we say it is really important to have a Will. And having a Will drawn up sin’t nearly as complicated or expensive as you may think, so call us today to set up an appointment.
What is a personal representative?
That is the person you choose in your Will or the court chooses when you don’t have a Will to serve as the manager of your estate. We used to call this the executor or administrator.
How long does it take to go through probate?
It depends on a lot of factors, but generally about four months probably is the shortest time frame possible. Some estates can go on for a few years if there is a more complicated situation like an ongoing business with lots of loose ends, real estate that just won’t sell quickly because it’s unique, or litigation like a Will contest, etc. But Indiana law requires the personal representative to do their best to get things wrapped up within a year so that naturally is our goal when possible.
What type of property is probated?
Anything can be probated. It may be easier to list the type of property that does not have to be probated: anything in a valid trust; life insurance with a named beneficiary; retirement accounts such as 401k, IRA, etc, with a named beneficiary; and bank accounts, vehicles, and real estate jointly titled with another individual who survives the deceased.
Do I need a Power of Attorney?
Yes, we think it’s a good idea for all adults to have a POA. Why? Because a POA sin’t just for your old age. A larger percentage of adults than you may think become incapacitated at an early age. If that happens and there is no POA named, the court will have to name a guardian to handle your financial affairs. It is rather inexpensive to have a POA drawn up, but it is expensive to have a guardianship and so much more work for your loved ones.
Do I need a Health Care Power of Attorney?
Yes, if you want to have a little more control over who makes medical decisions for you if you can’t make those decisions yourself. Naming a Health Care Power of Attorney (POA) means your doctor or other medical provider will try to seek out the person you name for those decisions instead of relying on the choices of whichever relative happens to be at your bedside at the moment.
Who becomes guardian of my children if I pass away?
That choice can be up to you if you have a valid Will and name your choice. We also recommend you name a second choice. Without a valid Will, friends and family can volunteer to be named as guardian and the court gets to choose. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the people around you. The ideal situation is you have a valid Will naming the people you think will raise your kids the way you want them to be raised.