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McCloud Law Group Legal Blog

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Common Bankruptcy Terms

Common Bankruptcy Terms

 

Bankruptcy is designed to protect individuals, small businesses, and corporations from being overwhelmed by debt.  The process involves reorganization and restructuring of debt so that a significant portion of it is discharged ("forgiven"), and the remainder is repaid at a lower rate. Bankruptcy is designed to enable an individual or company to continue to function and prevent ongoing harassment from creditors. The two basic types of bankruptcy are liquidation and reorganization.

Discharge in Bankruptcy

There are several types of discharge in bankruptcy, but not all debts are able to be discharged.  A secured creditor may enforce a lien to recover property secured by a particular loan, such as an automobile or a house. If the debtor wants to retain such property, payments must be paid to these creditors. Also, while many debts can be discharged, and the debtor who declares bankruptcy can be protected from harassment by most creditors, there are other debts that are deemed to be  be non-dischargeable, including,  taxes, penalties, fines, college loans, and child support and alimony payments.

Types of Bankruptcy

The various types of bankruptcy are named for the chapters of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in which they are defined. . The two most common forms of bankruptcy filed in the U.S. are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, and bankruptcies under these chapters are typically filed by individuals or couples. On the other hand, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy is usually filed by businesses.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also referred to as a liquidation  because under this process the bankruptcy trustee can takes charge of, and sells, some of debtor's property to pay back a portion of the accumulated debt.  Chapter 7 bankruptcy is designed to relieve  the debtor of unsecured debts, such as credit card and medical bills. In order to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, however, the debtor must have little or no disposable income. This means that if you earn too much money, you cannot apply for this type of protection.  Chapter 7 bankruptcy, therefore, is usually helpful to low income debtors with few assets, and typically discharges debts within 3 to 5 months.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, unlike Chapter 7, is a form of reorganization of debt. This filing is  designed to assist debtors with regular income who can repay at least some portion of their debts through a structured repayment plan. While many debtors, because of their elevated income or asset level, find it necessary to file Chapter 13, there are also other advantages  such as the ability to catch up on delinquent mortgage payments. Debtors who file for Chapter 13 are permitted to keep all of their assets as long as they make structured payments to pay off their non-dischargeable debts.  Chapter 13 bankruptcy plans are usually completed within a period of 3 to 5 years.

Although the vast majority of debtors seeking individual relief from debt file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, there are a number of other types of filings used for various purposes. The most common of these is Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy is another type of bankruptcy reorganization available to individuals, corporations and partnerships. Where Chapter 13 bankruptcy limits the amount of debt that can discharged, chapter 11 does not. Therefore, Chapter 13 is typically used by businesses undergoing financial struggles and looking to reorganize. Because it is fairly cumbersome for individuals -- being both expensive and time-consuming -- Chapter 11 is generally only used by individuals with debt levels too high for Chapter 13 filing, or by individuals with extraordinarily high assets or complicated finances.

There are a number of other chapters of bankruptcy, such as those applying to family farms or fisheries, or designed to relieve municipalities or school districts of overwhelming debt, but these do not concern the typical individual. If you find yourself burdened with debt that cannot be repaid, you should consult a bankruptcy attorney promptly to discuss your best options.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top Ten Child Support Myths

Top Ten Child Support Myths

Child support disputes can bring out the worst in many parents, conjuring images of greedy ex-spouses and children who are used as pawns in games of parental posturing and revenge. While there may be a certain degree of truth to some of the stereotypes, there are many myths that are prevalent in the context of children and divorce.

Myth: Child support payments are based on the needs of the children.
Fact: Support payments are based on the parents’ ability to earn income and have no basis in the actual costs to raise a child.

Myth: Child support payments must be spent on the child.
Fact: No state requires child support recipients to account for expenditures or prove they were necessary to meet the child’s needs, or even whether they were spent on the children at all. In fact, many states view the purpose of child support as protecting the standard of living of the custodial parent.

Myth: I can move out of state to dodge my child support obligations.
Fact: Each state has its own child support enforcement agency and these agencies all work together. You cannot escape this obligation.

Myth: I can quit my job in order to avoid making child support payments.
Fact: The courts are permitted to “impute” income to a parent who intentionally quits a job, whether or not that parent is currently earning a paycheck. Obligations will continue to accrue and payments must be made.

Myth: I have lost my job and can’t make my child support payments, so I will be sent to jail.
Fact: You can only be incarcerated if you have the ability to pay but refuse to do so. If you have lost your income and do not have the ability to pay, you will not be criminally liable for non-payment.

Myth: My ex-spouse uses child support payments for shopping, dining and to support a lavish lifestyle; therefore, my support payment should be reduced.
Fact: So long as the custodial parent pays expenses to feed, clothe and house the minor children, which is the ultimate purpose of child support payments, whatever else she spends money on is generally not scrutinized.

Myth: My living expenses are high and I cannot afford the child support payments; therefore, my support payment should be reduced.
Fact: Generally, expenses must be necessary and extreme in order to be considered as a basis for child support calculations.

Myth: Child support payments are deductible on my income taxes.
Fact: Child support payments are not deductible to the paying parent; nor are they considered “income” to the receiving parent.

Myth: If I have children with a new partner, my child support payments will decrease.
Fact: The birth of a new child will not reduce your obligations to make child support payments to a prior spouse. New children may affect the existing child support order if you get another divorce and must pay child support for the second set of children.

Myth: My ex-spouse claims she can modify the child support order and take my house, bank account or other assets.
Fact: A future child support modification can only address the amount of child support payments going forward. Assets cannot be seized and typically are not considered in modifications.
 


Monday, May 23, 2016

Disaster DIY: Do It Yourself Business Law Edition

Disaster DIY: Business Law Edition

Have you ever watched the TV show Disaster DIY on HGTV? The premise of the show is that many people have no idea what they are doing when it comes to home remodeling, but they try the “do it yourself” (DIY) approach  anyway. The host of the show then comes in to save the day, repairing what the DIYers have messed up, and teaching them how to do perform certain tasks.

This show has many parallels to the world of business law. It is tempting to try and find a DIY solution to legal issues. Budgets are tight, and professional legal advice can seem like a luxury when you are first starting out or struggling to meet quarterly goals, so many businesses adopt a DIY solution when what they really need is a good lawyer.

The Internet also encourages many businesses to DIY their legal issues, whether its access to legal info or various forms. But the problem is that advice on the Internet is not always accurate, particularly since business law is different in every state.

After pursuing the DIY route and disaster ensues,  business owners are forced to call in the professionals to clean up the mess.  Unlike the TV show, where the show’s producers cover the DIYers costs, the costs of fixing a legal DIY disaster rest solely on the business or the business owner. It often costs businesses significantly more to rework a legal framework that wasn’t carefully thought through. There are two reasons for this. First, proactive legal help is always going to be more cost effective than legal triage; it’s infinitely more costly to actively fight a pending lawsuit than it does to carefully draft and implement needed policies. Second, the results that even the best attorney can salvage from an awful situation are not likely to be as as ideal or as cheap as it would have been to avoid the disaster altogether.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Worker's Comp vs. Personal Injury

Worker's Comp vs. Personal Injury


 

The primary difference between a workers' compensation claim and a personal injury claim is that a personal injury claim is based on fault, while a workers' compensation case is not. Any injury that occurs to an employee at his/her workplace is covered by workers' compensation, regardless of any negligence or lack of it.

In order to recover damages against another person in a vehicular accident or slip and fall, on the other hand, one must be able to prove some type of negligence on the part of the other person. In other words, the other party must be in some way to blame for the accident. Examples in the cases mentioned would be reckless or drunk driving or poor property maintenance resulting in a floor surface that is irregular or slippery.

In Workers' Compensation Cases, Fault-Finding Is Not Necessary

With very few exceptions, employees who are injured on the job are entitled to workers' compensation benefits regardless of fault. Employees need not prove any negligence on the part of their employers in order to file for and receive workers' compensation benefits. As a matter of fact, employees are eligible to receive workers' comp benefits even if the employee's own negligence resulted in the injuries.

Differences in Damages in Workers' Comp Cases and Other Personal Injury Cases

If it seems that the nature of workers' compensation, in which you can be reimbursed at times for your own clumsiness, is too good to be true, it is. This is because, while workers' comp will pay you compensation for your medical bills, any necessary vocational rehabilitation, lost earning capability or permanent impairment, it will not pay for your personal suffering.  The cap on workers' comp benefits, therefore, is much lower than the typical personal injury settlement once blame is assigned.

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you may be entitled to compensation for enduring pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life (hedonic damages), even damage to clothing or jewelry during the accident. In cases in which you can file for workers' comp, however, you have foregone the right to sue your employer or co-workers for negligence and also the right to collect damages for pain and suffering.

Are Any Workers Legally Permitted to Sue Their Employers?

Yes, there are two categories of employees who are allowed to sue their employers when they are injured on the job: crewmembers of ships or boats and interstate railroad workers. Although these two classes of workers are not entitled to workers' comp, they are allowed to sue their employers under the Jones Act, for ship employees, or the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), for interstate railroad workers. It should be noted that workers on commuter trains may not qualify for FELA. Employees who work on ships or railroads should be sure to contact an attorney familiar with pertinent laws before filing for compensation.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Respondeat Superior and Vicarious Liability

 

Respondeat Superior and Vicarious Liability

The first question an attorney must ask when filing a lawsuit is who is responsible for the damages to his or her client. A lawyer must figure out who to name as a party in the lawsuit. This is incredibly important, because, if the wrong parties are named, the victim may be left with no way to recover for the injuries suffered. This would be a travesty of justice and is unacceptable.

It is prudent to name every party that might be responsible when filing a lawsuit. Only an attorney can make the determination as to who might be liable for an individual’s personal injuries. It is particularly important to make sure that the parties who are named are capable of contributing to the damages, either through wealth or insurance. For example, if a person who does not normally drive and has no insurance is borrowing a friend’s car, and causes a car accident, that person is likely to be unable to pay for the damage he or she caused. Similarly, if a person makes a mistake while working and causes personal injury, that individual may be the one who caused the injury, but the individual is not the only one who can be held accountable for the pain and suffering.

The legal doctrine of Respondeat Superior is Latin for “let the master answer.” It places vicarious liability on any third party that had the right, ability, or duty to control the individual who caused a personal injury. Respondeat Superior is one of the oldest traditions in the practice of law. It predates our Constitution and goes back to English Common Law. Without it, corporations and municipalities would have little reason to enforce standards of care among their employees. Employers would avoid liability for their employee’s negligence, but injured people would have no way to collect money damages for their pain and suffering. Respondeat Superior is an integral part of American jurisprudence. The most common uses of this doctrine are to hold employers liable for the actions or omissions of their employees, to hold owners of property liable for the negligence of those allowed to use that property, and to hold parents liable for their unsupervised children. 


Monday, April 18, 2016

What is "Goodwill" ?

WHAT IS "GOODWILL" ? 

 

Goodwill is an asset that is an intangible part of a business being purchased. In spite of its intangibility, goodwill may be worth more than concrete assets, such as property, buildings, machinery or inventory. Goodwill is the essence of the company's value to its customers, clients, and employees and, as such, is invaluable to any buyer. It is easier, as many people intending to purchase a business will tell you, to maintain goodwill than to establish it, since, among other things, goodwill takes time to build. Purchasing a business that already has established goodwill in the community can give the new owner a strong competitive edge. 

What Intangible Assets Compose Goodwill? 

Prospective buyers and sellers should be aware of the various aspects of goodwill. Not all will apply to every business, but aspects of goodwill include:

  • Brand name
  • Solid customer base
  • Good customer relations
  • Good employee relations
  • Patents or proprietary technology
  • General reputation
  • Future sales projection

 

Goodwill is a saleable asset, presumed to generate sales revenue and customer continuity. Having been established over years of honest and efficient behavior by the previous owner, it is transferable to the buyer, assuming the buyer maintains the pre-established excellent business practices.

 

 How Is Goodwill Established?

 

As mentioned, goodwill can only be established over a period of years during which it is nourished and maintained. In business, it is assumed that expenditures have been involved in creating and preserving goodwill. Steps taken to do this include: 

  • Healthy and continuous investment in promotion
  • Maintenance of necessary quantity of high quality customer supplies
  • Support of excellent relationships with both customers and suppliers
  • Maintenance of efficient and respectful management and employees relationships
  • Establishment and maintenance of corporate identity and image
  • Keeping up an appropriate location

How Is Goodwill Evaluated?

 There is no set price for goodwill, though it very definitely features in sales negotiations. Generally speaking, goodwill is reflected in the amount in excess of the firm's total value of assets and liabilities. In well-established businesses, goodwill may be reflected in a price several times higher than the firm's physical assets alone would be reasonably worth.

There are several complex methods by which business goodwill can be calculated so it is essential to have a highly competent business attorney involved in the negotiation process. 


Friday, April 8, 2016

Dual Citizenship

Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship, or dual nationality, means that a person is a citizen of two countries simultaneously. It is also possible to simultaneously be a citizen of three or more countries. Dual citizenship occurs when an individual becomes a citizen of another country, in addition to his or her birth country. Generally, countries define citizenship based upon one’s place of birth, descent, marriage or naturalization process.

A foreign citizen does not lose his or her citizenship when becoming a naturalized United States citizen. Nevertheless, some countries do not recognize dual citizenship, so it is important to consider the factors carefully before applying for citizenship in the U.S. or abroad.

Dual citizenship can also occur by automatic operation of laws for some individuals, such as a child born abroad to parents who are U.S. citizens, or a child born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents.

An individual who is automatically granted citizenship in another country does not risk losing his or her U.S. citizenship. On the other hand, a U.S. citizen who applies for and is granted foreign citizenship may lose his or her U.S. citizenship, provided the application was made voluntarily and with the intent to relinquish United States citizenship. Such intent can be shown by the person’s conduct or statements.

Each country has its own laws regarding dual citizenship. The United States recognizes dual citizenship, and does not require an individual to choose one citizenship over another. However, the U.S. government does not endorse dual citizenship as a matter of policy because of the problems it can cause.

Dual citizens owe allegiance to both countries and are required to abide by the laws of both countries. For example, citizenship often comes with legal obligations relating to taxes, military service and travel restrictions. There could be a conflict between the laws governing the two countries, which may cause problems for the dual national. In addition, dual citizenship may limit the U.S. government’s efforts to assist U.S. citizens abroad, because the country where the dual citizen is located generally has a stronger claim to that individual’s allegiance. Dual nationality also has its advantages. For example, dual citizenship affords an individual with a greater degree of flexibility in choosing where to live and work.

U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a United States passport to enter and leave the U.S. Dual citizens may also be required by the foreign country to use that country’s passport when entering and leaving that country.

Most countries permit their nationals to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship. Americans can renounce their United States citizenship at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad; and information on giving up foreign citizenship is available from that country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S.

If you are in a dual citizenship situation, or are contemplating such a move, it is important to discuss your intentions and goals with an attorney who is knowledgeable in this particular aspect of immigration law to help weigh the pros and cons and avoid the pitfalls that may accompany dual citizenship.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Tax Basis and Estate Planning

TAX BASIS AND ESTATE PLANNING 

 

A tax basis is essentially the purchase price of a piece of property. Whenever that property is sold, the seller must pay taxes on the difference between the sale price and the original purchase price. This concept applies to all property, including stocks, bonds, vehicles, mechanical equipment, and real estate. If debts are assumed along with the purchase price, the principal amount of the debt will be included in the basis. The basis can be adjusted downwards when a person deducts depreciation costs on his or her income tax returns, and may be increased for capital investments towards improving the property that are not deducted for income tax purposes. Selling a property that has been held for a long time can carry a serious tax burden because of inflation, particularly when real estate prices have increased.

When an individual receives property as an inheritance, the tax basis is reset to whatever the fair market value is at the time of the transfer of title. This means that the heir would pay significantly less taxes if that property is sold by the beneficiary than if the original owner were to sell it and devise the money to his beneficiaries. Most simple wills provide that all of a testator’s assets are placed into a residual estate to be divided equally among the heirs. This means that an executor must liquidate the assets of the estate and divide the proceeds among the heirs. However, because there is no transfer of title before the property is sold, the heirs are stuck with the grantor’s basis and they lose an opportunity for a sizeable tax break.

A person planning his or her estate may also reset the basis in his or her property by giving it as a gift directly to his or her heirs or by gifting the property to an inter vivos trust. These actions can have their own tax related consequences, or create other unintended problems for the beneficiaries. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the most efficient way to pass your assets on to your heirs.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Factors Determining Fault in a Traffic Accident

Factors Determining Fault in a Traffic Accident 

 

When the courts are asked to determine liability in a personal injury case involving a traffic accident, one of the first things a jury is asked to consider is who is at fault for the accident. There are several factors that are taken into consideration when making that determination.

First and foremost, if any of the drivers involved in the accident were guilty of any traffic violation related to the accident, there is a good chance that the court will assign fault the driver guilty of the infraction. Common traffic violations related to traffic accidents include running red lights or stop signs, speeding, making improper turns, and texting while driving. Similarly, if any of the drivers is guilty of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he or she is likely to be found at fault for the accident.

A police officer’s account of the accident is also important in determining which party is at fault. The police officer will interview witnesses, including the parties to the accident, and weigh conflicting stories to determine what actually happened to cause the accident. Tire marks on the road and the positioning of vehicles can help an officer come to a conclusion. Sometimes, video footage exists to eliminate any doubt as to what happened, either from someone’s dash cam or from a security camera. Police officers have experience and training to help them recreate accident scenes from the evidence available, but their reports are not perfect.

When an accident is the result of a rear end collision or a left hand turn, the officer is usually quick to assign blame to the car in the rear or the car turning left. The rule of thumb while driving is that the driver making a turn must wait for oncoming traffic to pass before turning. A driver must always cede the right of way to the traffic in front.

The role that the determination of fault plays depends largely on the laws of the state in which the accident occurs. Some states follow a doctrine of contributory negligence while some have a more lenient policy of comparative negligence. States that use contributory negligence may preclude a plaintiff from collecting any damages if his or her own negligence contributed to the accident at all. States that use a model of comparative negligence will reduce a jury’s award by the percentage of fault found to be the plaintiff’s. If a plaintiff has more than 50 percent fault, he or she cannot recover anything.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Common Frivolous Suits against Small Businesses

Frivolous lawsuits are an all-too-common problem for small businesses. This is because, under current laws, there is almost no risk to trial attorneys or their clients for bringing even absurd cases to court. While large companies routinely retain attorneys and have the financial means to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits, small businesses may be left out in the cold if served with an unwarranted lawsuit. Regardless of whether there is any validity to the plaintiff's claim, the small business owners will have to hire attorneys and will typically incur legal fees even if they win the case.

 

Disturbing Statistics about Frivolous Lawsuits against Small Businesses

There are two common types of frivolous lawsuits small business owners have to deal with: product or professional liability and personal injury. According to a recent survey, such unnecessary lawsuits cause financial, not to mention emotional, damage throughout the country. Some of the alarming statistics concerning small business owners in the U.S. are:

  • Over 50 percent of all civil lawsuits target small businesses annually
  • 75 percent fear being targeted by a frivolous lawsuit
  • 90 percent settle frivolous lawsuits simply to avoid higher court costs
  • Owners pay $20 million out of their own pockets to pay tort liability costs
  • U.S. tort costs have increased more than the gross domestic product since 1950
  • On average, those earning $1 million per year spend $20,000 of it on such lawsuits

How Can Small Business Owners Protect Themselves from Frivolous Lawsuits?

The best way for small business owners to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits is to consult with an experienced, reputable business attorney to help them evaluate possible areas of vulnerability in their company. The attorney should assess their potential exposure in terms of:

  • Employment law, including harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination
  • Intellectual property (IP), protecting them from unintentional theft of IP
  • Contracts management
  • Electronically stored information (ESI)
  • Fraud, establishing internal controls to prevent employee fraud

 

Beyond retaining helpful legal counsel to protect their businesses, small owners must, of course, ensure that they are taking proper precautions in terms of quality control of their own products, services, plant maintenance and staff behavior.

Insurance against Frivolous Lawsuits

If small business owners want optimal protection against frivolous lawsuits, they should look into the possibility of purchasing property or liability insurance for their company. After having an attorney examine their business practices to ensure that they are taking all possible precautions against being sued, they may want to consider buying an insurance policy their lawyer deems appropriate.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Valuating Your Small Business

Valuating Your Small Business
 


Whether you are an owner considering whether or not you should sell your small business or an individual thinking about buying a business that is on the market, it is important to determine how much the business is worth.  This can be a daunting task.  Every business is different and for that reason no single method can be used in every case. Below are the most common methods used to determine the approximate value of a small business.

The assets a business holds can be used to determine its approximate value.  Generally, a business is worth at least as much as its holdings, so looking to tangible and intangible assets can provide a baseline amount.  If you choose to use this method, the business’ balance sheet should provide all of the information you need.  This method may be too simple to be used for all businesses, especially those that are doing well and generating a lot of profits.

Another way to determine a business’ worth is to look at its revenue.  Of course, revenue is not profit a business makes.  When using this method, a multiplier is applied to the revenue amount to determine the business value.  The multiplier used is dependent upon the industry in which the business is operating.  Another method is to apply a multiplier to the business’ earnings or profits, instead of total revenue.  This is usually a more accurate way of determining what the business value actually is.

When using these methods, it is important to understand that the market is constantly fluctuating.  The value of assets can go up or down depending on the day, and revenue and earnings can change drastically from year to year.  Also, when trying to determine what a business is worth, you might consider what the business may be worth if it had better management or more optimal business execution.  The current managers may not be taking advantage of various opportunities to make the business more profitable. 

Before entering into any purchase or sale agreements, it’s essential that you consult a qualified business law attorney and a business appraiser who can assist in the valuation of a small business and help you understand whether it makes sense to proceed with the transaction.


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