I was sitting at a sporting event recently, talking to a friend. Her teenage daughter who is about to graduate was there and somehow the topic turned to “What do you wish you knew when you were younger?” That led to us discussing legal advice people that call us wish they knew. Here is some legal advice for the Class of 2024 and everyone else too.

Never co-sign a loan for someone – If you do and they don’t pay, you are just as responsible for the loan as they are. In 23+ years of running this website, we’ve talked to hundreds of people who have done this and see it go sideways. A typical call is something like: “My boyfriend couldn’t get a car on his own so I co-signed for him, but the vehicle is in his name. We broke up and now he’s not making payments. The finance company is coming after me. What can I do?” The answer is to pay off the debt and go after the ex.

It’s not just romantic partners. We see this issue with parents and kids, other relatives, best buddies and even casual acquaintances. The people who co-sign are usually well intentioned, but as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Don’t drive a car you are not insured on or let someone use your car who isn’t insured on it – If you do this it could blow up your life financially. Basically you risk being on the hook for an uninsured accident. If that happens, the Secretary of State could suspend your license until you pay off the damages. That could be tens of thousands you owe out of pocket. In other words, if you are at a party and your friend is too drunk to drive, if you drive their car for them, you could be screwing yourself. Call an Uber or find someone sober who’s on the insurance to drive.

We see this happen a lot where a friend or relative borrows a car and they aren’t thinking anything bad could come of it. The reality is that if you borrow a car, it’s similar to buying a car and not getting insurance on it. And if you loan someone your car, you can be personally responsible potentially if they drive negligently.

Get a pre-nuptial agreement – Nobody thinks their marriage is going to end in divorce, and hopefully it won’t. Some people think a pre-nup isn’t romantic and is only for rich people. What it really is, is a contract to decide how things will get handled if the marriage goes sideways. It can save you both a lot of heartache and money if a divorce does happen. It’s much better to negotiate the terms of a divorce when you are loving each other than when you are hating each other.

Move over one lane or drastically slow down if you see an emergency vehicle on the side of the road – Those who fail to do this get what is called a Scott’s Law violation, named after an emergency responder who was killed on the side of the road. It requires you to move over a lane or slow down in these situations. Those who don’t risk a suspension of their license and a fine up to $10,000. Many people who get these tickets actually do so in a sting operation where there’s a second police car up the road waiting to pull you over.

Get a will and health care power of attorney done even if you have no kids or spouse – The power of attorney form is especially important. It dictates what will happen if you can’t make medical decisions on your own. And you can do the same with your finances. This isn’t for old people, it’s for everyone. You are one bad accident or illness away from needing it. Be prepared.

Don’t sign a birth certificate if you aren’t 100% sure you are the father and even then you might want a paternity test – If you do and later learn you aren’t the father, you likely will still be on the hook for child support payments.

It’s very hard to find a free lawyer, but there’s one tip for doing so – While there are great organizations in Illinois who provide free legal help, they seem to be hard to get. My advice is that if you can’t find a free lawyer is to Google, “What are the 20 biggest law firms in Chicago?” Most of them have a pro-bono department where newer attorneys will represent you for free under the supervision of more experienced attorneys.

Your cousin, friend, neighbor, etc. who is a lawyer probably isn’t right for you – When hiring a lawyer, think of hiring a doctor to do a surgery. You want to hire someone who makes that area of law their main practice focus. Too often, especially in personal injury cases, lawyers with no experience in a subject area take on a case they aren’t qualified for. You go to them because you know them. They should tell you that it’s not their area of expertise or that they’ll refer you to someone who is better suited to help you. We get a couple of calls a month from someone who got screwed over by someone they trusted and it’s usually because that lawyer thought they’d make an easy buck. Look out for yourself by getting an attorney in your corner that clearly knows what they are doing.

Get it in writing – It’s not that verbal contracts can’t be enforced. They can, but they are also open to interpretation. When you have a well written agreement, it takes away all of the ambiguity and spells out what to do if there is a problem. So if you lend your friend $5,000 and they don’t pay it back, a contract will prevent them from lying in court and saying it’s a gift. If the place you are buying a car from says they’ll give you free tune ups for a year, but it’s not in the contract, you don’t really have it. If you start a business with someone and they tell you that you will be a part owner, a contract proves it. Get agreements in writing. It’s the safest and smartest thing to do.

I hope these tips help. If you have any questions or need help finding a lawyer, contact us any time at 312-346-5320.