Q&A with legal experts

By on July 20, 2012

ILLINOIS—Illinois Law Now is an ongoing series of short answers to common legal questions distributed monthly by the Illinois State Bar Association and Illinois Press Association.

Question: My neighbor recently burned a worn American flag.
Isn’t that unlawful?
Answer: According to federal law, incinerating a worn-out flag is the proper way to retire it and show honor and respect for your country. Some communities, like Chicago, host an annual flag-burning ceremony and burn thousands of used-up flags at one time.

Question: I offer unpaid internships at my company. Should I ask each intern to sign a contract?
Answer: Because of the jobs crisis, more people are willing to work for free as a way to gain experience. To help prevent a lawsuit, we suggest you have your attorney create a contract, which clearly spells out certain terms. These may include the fact that the intern will not receive wages or the guarantee of a paying job if there is an opening.

Question: What options are
available to me if I cannot
repay my student loan?
Answer: A student loan lender usually requires the borrower to start repaying the loan within several months to a year, even if the student did not graduate. If you cannot begin repaying the loan within the time frame stipulated in your loan contract, you should contact your lender for a deferment or forbearance agreement. Under some instances, like a medical condition, you may qualify to have the entire loan cancelled. You may also want to check out a relatively new federal program, the Income Based Repayment plan, which can make it easier for borrowers to meet monthly debt payments even if they are earning low wages or having problems finding a job.
Failure to repay a student loan can result in stiff penalties including a steep fine, seizure of assets, a lawsuit, and a drop in your credit score.

Question: I am a senior and am embarrassed to admit that I was the victim of a financial scam. Should I go after my predators?
Answer: Americans over age 60 lost at least $2.9 billion in 2010 to financial exploitation such as home repair scams and insurance swindles. Victims of these types of crimes, whose numbers have increased as the economy struggles, are often reluctant to fight back. Abusers know this and often take advantage. Talk to a trusted advisor, such as your lawyer, to help you identify your options.

Question: I have been selected as a juror for a trial. Will I be able
to question the witnesses?
Answer: Yes. Under a new rule adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court, jurors will be permitted to submit written questions for witnesses for the court to consider. The new rule went into effect on July 1, 2012. Proponents of the new law say it will help jurors better understand the case and stay engaged in the proceedings.

Question: Under what
circumstances can my health care provider disclose confidential health information?
Answer: Your health care provider has the right to disclose your confidential information for treatment, payment, and health care operations, such as quality assessment and improvement activities. For other health care disclosure information, check out the Illinois State Bar Association’s free brochure on its Website at http://bit.ly/LNi333.

Question: My ex-husband has not been making timely child care
payments. How can I ensure that he follows the terms of the
divorce decree?
Answer: If one of the parties does not adhere to the terms of judgment, the other person may have to go back to court and ask that the non-compliant party be held in contempt of court. If held in contempt, he or she may be required to: a) do what he or she failed to do, or b) pay for the attorney’s fees for the other person, and/or c) pay a fine or be imprisoned.

Question: Can I lose my home if
I file for personal bankruptcy?
Answer: The answer to that question depends on many factors, such as the equity in your home and whether you are seriously delinquent in your mortgage payments at the time you file bankruptcy. You should consult an experienced bankruptcy attorney to answer this question based on your circumstances. However, in most bankruptcy cases, individuals do not lose their homes in the bankruptcy. In general, a debtor has a greater ability to protect assets in Chapter 13 than in Chapter 7.

Question: If I use alternative
dispute resolution (ADR), such as
a mediator to resolve my dispute, do I still need an attorney?
Answer: Mediators and arbitrators do not provide legal advice and do not act as a lawyer for any party. A party to any method of ADR should consider retaining the services of a lawyer in order to obtain the necessary legal advice to understand the full nature, scope and potential consequences of the dispute in which they are involved.
A lawyer can also assist a party to a dispute in choosing the most appropriate ADR method.
A lawyer will understand the procedure and preparation necessary to mediate or arbitrate a dispute, and can guide and represent you through any method of ADR.

Question: I understand the
importance of using an attorney to BUY a home, but do I really need one when I SELL my home?
Answer: When and how you sell your home may be the largest and most important investment decision of your life. Working with a knowledgeable real estate attorney will help ensure that you protect your investment and ensure that the process of selling your home goes smoothly.
For example, did you know that every sale of a home must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service and may be subject to a capital gains tax? However, if you have owned and occupied your principal residence for more than two years you may not have to pay this tax. An experienced real estate attorney can help you understand tax problems that may occur if your home is sold at the wrong time. They will also make sure you understand all legal aspects of the sale.

Question: What is the best way
to find a qualified lawyer to
handle my case?
Answer: The most common way to find an attorney is through word of mouth. Talk to your friends and business associates, and ask them for referrals.

Another way is through the Illinois Lawyer Referral Service operated by the Illinois State Bar Association for the convenience of the public. The telephone number is (877) 290-7802, or you can visit their website at www.illinoislawyerfinder.com. Some local city or county bar associations also operate their own lawyer referral systems.

For more information about Illinois law, visit www.illinoislawyerfinder.com. If you have a legal question, send it to illinoislawcolumn@isba.org.