I want to pay the flat fee in installments, can I do that?
No. A flat fee is a one-time fee paid in advance. It allows for a client to control the end-cost of his or her case (because a flat fee applies until completion of your matter) and it is significantly lower than the end-cost based on hourly billing. The Law Firm assumes the risk of any unforeseen complications that may arise during a case which may significantly increase the work hours required until completion and, in consideration for such risk, has secured payment of the average time required for a case.
Is a retainer and hourly-rate billing better for me?
Contrary to a flat fee, a retainer is an advancement of a few hours of legal work, held in escrow, while the Law Firm bills hourly for all the time spent on a client’s behalf. Monthly invoices are issued, which are payable within a certain amount of days. An hourly-rate billing retainment allows the Client to request all sorts of legal services, even if these arise in the course of the initial case, while being charged for every single action the Attorneys will take (including documents review, drafting or reviewing emails, telephone communications etc.). The end-cost of an hourly-rate billing case is higher (oftentimes as high as three times the flat fee); hourly-rate billing is usually preferred by Institutions, Corporations or Trustees and Legal Guardians who require continuous legal services (which may vary during a case).
Why does your firm charge for consultation?
Even though most law firms provide initial free consultation, we believe that a potential client’s interests are only sufficiently established through paid consultation. Our experience has shown that during an initial consultation, a potential client will need to discuss the actual facts of his or her case. The New York Code of Attorneys Ethics and Professionalism mandates that an Attorney refrain from providing specific legal advice to non-clients. In addition, everything discussed during an initial consultation can only remain privileged information if an Attorney-Client relationship has been established. Our firm charges a one hour consultation fee for the purpose of establishing a limited retainment; this secures that the attorney can provide specific answers to a Client’s questions and help the Client make an informed decision as to whether to proceed further, while securing that anything discussed during the consultation cannot be discoverable (this is especially important in family law cases, such as for instance when a spouse contacts an attorney already consulted by the other spouse). It should also be noted that our firm has a policy of deducting the consultation fee from any subsequent retainer paid by the Client.
I only wish to apply for straightforward citizenship, not naturalization; do I have a choice?
Whether you qualify for straightforward citizenship or need to go down the longer path of naturalization is a determination that is made by our office upon being retained and reviewing your documents, as well as existing registrations of your Greek ancestors in Greece. The Greek Citizenship Code is very strict regarding the documentation required for a straightforward citizenship petition. If you are unable to provide such documentation or if such documentation does not exist, naturalization will be the only path available to you. Cases where the Greek ancestor has not been registered with the competent Greek authorities (because he or she left Greece as a baby) or such registration cannot be located and confirmed (because the records were destroyed during the war or for other reasons), cases where the Greek ancestor had a civil marriage or a religious marriage of a denomination other than Christian Orthodox and such marriage took place prior to the 1980s (when Greek law did not recognize such marriages) are some examples of cases that will only qualify for naturalization. You should remember that a successful naturalization case (although it will take longer to be completed) will lead to the exact same results as a straightforward citizenship case, should it be approved.
Why should I apply for naturalization when I identify myself as Greek/of Greek descent?
The term “naturalization”, when used for persons of Greek ancestry, is entirely different from naturalization as it applies to foreign citizens having lived in Greece for several years. Unfortunately, there is no available term in English to efficiently differentiate the two terms, which is why many of our clients are confused as to what exactly this term means. Being a person of Greek ancestry is a prerequisite to qualifying for naturalization (as part of a citizenship case) and in fact confirms (instead of negating) your Greek ancestry.
Can the Greek Government deny my naturalization petition?
Yes. This is one of the main differences between a straightforward citizenship application and a naturalization petition. However, there are several factors (most of which within an applicant’s control) that will greatly increase the chances of success in a naturalization case. Prior travels to Greece, basic knowledge of the Greek language (on a conversational level), actual ties to Greece (such as exiting relations with Greek relatives), basic knowledge of the Greek politics, culture and history, are all factors that affect a naturalization petition’s success.
PROPERTY RELATED MATTERS
I know my family owns a property; why should I authorize a title search?
t is a frequent misconception that having seen your property in Greece, having visited it in the past, or having knowledge that a relative actually acquired it at some given point in time, automatically secures your clear title. Ownership of real estate is not a static term. It exists until it is disputed or affected by events subsequent to its acquisition. Events such as the existence of debts of its owner, adjacent properties owners’ ambitions or sometimes property disputes, physical absence of the owner from the location of the property, are some examples of situations where a person may have “questionable” ownership. Before purchasing or accepting an inheritance or gift of real estate, it is important to ensure you are not walking into a nightmare of legal disputes or extreme financial liabilities. A title search is the only way of checking the legal status of real estate ownership and ensuring there are no liens or encumbrances recorded against the property, no pending or adjudicated third-party ownership claims and no legal defects that would affect your ownership title. It should be noted that a title search will only confirm the status of real estate up to the date it is performed. Having conducted a title search in the past only provides certainty for the status of ownership up to the date of said title search and not after.
I have a foreign Will that governs my estate distribution in the event of my death. Does that suffice for my Greek assets?
The truth is it may or it may not. This is actually a very complex matter that cannot be answered without careful consideration and review of your Estate assets, the text of your existing Will and your personal circumstances (such as, for instance, who your closest family relatives are). Determining how to properly distribute one’s assets worldwide is a matter that is dependent upon so many factors, it actually led to the creation of a separate practice area of law, called “Estate Planning”. It requires examination of the laws governing Estates and inheritance of any country or State that would have jurisdiction over your Estate, effective resolution of any conflict of such laws and consultation with the client to obtain a clear understanding of his or her intentions regarding their Estate. The execution of separate Wills regulating assets in specific countries may often be a wiser choice, as long as it is secured that each Will remains in effect independently and complies with the laws of the State where it was drafted and signed.
I have always paid my property taxes in Greece, is my property title secure?
Paying your taxes is only one of the obligations that owners of real estate have. A separate obligation is tax filing; this pertains to real estate tax filings as well as income tax filings (which may be required, under Greek Tax laws, for some foreign residents owning real estate in Greece). Accurate tax filing is another issue we often encounter when dealing with our clients’ property matters. This is especially important for people that acquired real estate a long time ago, pursuant to a Deed that contained a description of their property that does not match its current status. For instance, it was common in older Deeds describing a property by use of estimates regarding its size and boundaries that have long since ceased to exist (partly because the adjacent owners have changed and partly because the broader area may have been included in residential planning that has lead to a change of its actual size and description). Updating a property’s actual description by obtaining recent surveys (and subsequently correcting the property information declared on your taxes) is extremely important, not only for securing a smooth and hassle-free transfer of your ownership but also for ensuring you are not paying more in taxes than you actually should.
I was married in Greece but got divorced abroad. Now I am getting remarried, is there anything I should worry about?
Unfortunately, yes. This is an issue our office encounters often, both in family law cases as well as citizenship case. Just because you got legally divorced in another jurisdiction, does not automatically mean your marriage ended everywhere in the world. In fact, Greece will not automatically enforce divorces issued outside the European Union. A divorce issued in countries such as the United States, Australia or South Africa will in fact not be recognized in Greece, unless a Greek Court says it will. Greek Law requires that the foreign divorce be submitted to the competent Greek Courts, checked by the Greek judge to ensure it was issued in compliance with the laws of the State where the divorce petition was filed and that due process was kept, and then recognized as enforceable by the Greek Court (which will issue a Greek judgment mirroring the foreign divorce). This Greek judgment must then become final and irrevocable, before it can be recorded with the competent Registry where your family registration exists (then and ONLY then, are you considered divorced in Greece). This can be extremely significant in cases of inheritance rights (which could be raised by a spouse you have long since been divorced from and which may be deprived from your actual current spouse), but also in cases of citizenship rights (when such rights are claimed by children or grandchildren from subsequent marriages). Maintaining a fully updated personal or family registration share in Greece can affect the rights or obligations of your relatives and create unnecessary obstacles to future efforts in claiming their rights.
I am married but we are lately not getting along well, can I take my minor child and return to my country of origin?
Not before consulting with a family law attorney. Removing your child from the country of his or her habitual residence, without clear and express consent of both parents, can expose you to both civil and criminal liability for international child abduction. Even if you have been awarded sole physical custody pursuant to a temporary court order, you should still not change your child’s habitual residence without first consulting your lawyer, as this may be considered to interfere with the other parent’s visitation and communication rights and still expose you to liability for child abduction.
Me and my spouse have agreed that divorce is the only solution for our marriage issues, can your firm represent us both?
Yes. In cases of consensual (uncontested) divorces, the spouses can agree to be represented by the same lawyer, as long as they have reached a mutual agreement on all matters that need to be resolved (such as financial arrangements, child custody and visitation, child support etc.). It should also be noted that a divorce can now be secured without going to Court, but instead declaring your intention to a Notary in Greece and having your lawyer prepare and file all necessary documentation.