When people in the Colorado Springs or Centennial area first talk to an estate planning lawyer, it’s often the first time they’ve ever sat down to talk to an attorney. For a lot of these people, many of the legal concepts that attorneys take for granted are often new information. Many people, for example, have never participated in a lawsuit, much less been charged with a crime or faced any other kind of legal situation.
If you find yourself in a similar position and are struggling to put together the legal ideas that your attorney is talking about, here are some basic issues you should understand. Having a better understanding of these foundational concepts can give you a much easier time as you participate in the estate planning process.
The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law
One of the most basic, and important, legal concepts you need to understand is the difference between civil and criminal law. Put broadly, criminal law involves a government accusing someone of having done wrong, while civil law involves private citizens accusing one another of having done something to cause damage.
In a criminal case, a state, local, or federal prosecutor will accuse someone of committing a crime by filing criminal charges. Only prosecutors can file criminal charges, and when they do, the person accused has a variety of rights that take effect. If someone loses a criminal case, that person can have to go to jail, have to pay a fine, be placed on probation, or suffer a variety of potential punishments.
Civil cases are different. In a civil case, it’s not the state accusing someone of committing a crime, but a person asking a court to award money, or other remedies, because that person believes someone else has caused him or her to suffer a loss. Civil cases, for example, commonly include breaches of contract, personal injuries, or medical malpractice.
Estate planning is considered a part of civil law. In almost every estate planning case, criminal issues are not present.
Lawsuits and Estate Planning
Even though we can view civil law as that area of the law that involves lawsuits, this isn’t always the case. In many areas of civil law, the process isn’t so much focused on lawsuits as much as it is focused on creating tools that allow people to live their lives more easily.
Estate planning is one such area of civil law. In most situations, estate planning is about making decisions that will affect your life now and in the future. As long as everything goes right, there is rarely any reason to file a lawsuit in the estate planning process.
For more information on Estate Planning, be sure to attend one of our Estate Planning Workshops in June!