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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.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Firing an At-Will Employee

When Is It OK to Fire an At-Will Employee?

The overwhelming majority of employees are considered to be at-will employees. If an employee works without a contract stating otherwise, that person’s employment is considered at- will for its duration. This means that the person serves at-will and either party may terminate the employment at any time. Even though an explanation is not always given as to why an employee is being fired, there are still some reasons for termination that are unacceptable in the eyes of the law. It is important to be aware of these instances to avoid the appearance of improper behavior and the potential for economic repercussions  as a result.

Termination is not the only action that may be actionable. Under specific circumstances, an employee is permitted to file a claim against an employer for any negative employment actions, including cutting back available hours, pay reductions, or demotions in title. Any negative employment action may give rise to a lawsuit if the employee can prove that the basis of the negative employment action is improper or discriminatory.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, genetic information, or age, if the employee is over the age of 40. Many states add additional protections including protection from discrimination against employees due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other restrictions against firing or other actions that negatively affect job status also exist. It is illegal to fire someone one, or otherwise negatively affect their employment, in retaliation for their filing of a legal claim, whether for discrimination, sexual harassment, or workers compensation. An employer also may not use a person’s ability to work as an incentive to force him or her to take a lie detector test. No individual can be legally fired for complaining about OSHA violations, for refusing to commit an illegal act, or for reporting an illegal act committed by a co-worker or employer (whistle blowing). If an employee exercises a legal right, like voting or taking family leave based on the Family Medical Leave Act, he or she cannot legally be fired for the lost time.

Terminating or otherwise negatively affecting an individual's employment because of any of the above-mentioned events is illegal. Employers should go out of their way not to fire employees contemporaneously with such events, even for other causes, since this may give the appearance of impropriety,and potentially provoke an expensive lawsuit.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Avoiding Common Mistakes in Estate Planning

Avoiding Common Mistakes in Estate Planning

Estate planning is designed to fulfill the wishes of a person after his or her death. Problems can easily arise, however, if the estate plan contains unanswered questions that can no longer be resolved after the person's demise. This can, and frequently does, lead to costly litigation counter-productive to the goals of the estate. It is important that will be written in language that is clear and that the document has been well proofread because something as simple as a misplaced comma can significantly alter its meaning.

Planning for every possible contingency is a significant part of estate planning. Tragic scenarios in which an estate planner’s loved ones predecease him or her, though uncomfortable, must be considered during the preparation of a will to avoid otherwise unforeseen conflicts. 

Even trained professionals can make significant mistakes if they are not well versed in estate planning. An attorney who practices general law, while perfectly capable of preparing simple wills, may not understand the intricacies of trusts and guardianships. A great many attorneys, not aware of the tax consequences of bequests involving IRAs, may leave heirs with unnecessary financial obligations. If an attorney is not knowledgeable enough to ask the proper questions, he or she will be unable to prepare an estate plan that functions efficiently and ensures the proper distribution of the estate's assets.

In spite of the wealth of an individual, the estate may be cash deficient if that wealth is tied up in assets at the time of the individual's death. Problems can also result if an estate planner has distributed assets into joint bank accounts or accounts with pay on death provisions. If the executor of the estate does not have access to funds to pay the estate's bills or taxes, the heirs of the estate may run into trouble.

Even if estate planning is handled well from a logistical point of view, lack of communication with loved ones can interfere with a will's desired execution. A tragedy that incapacitates the testator can occur suddenly, so it is imperative that a savvy estate planner confers with loved ones as soon as possible, making them aware of any future obligations, such as life insurance premiums that must be paid and informing them of the location of any probate documents and inventories of assets. Such conversations ensure that the individual's wishes will be carried out without complications or delay in the event of an unexpected incapacity.

In addition to communicating logistical information, it is also essential to schedule a personal conversation with loved ones that makes clear any sentimental bequests or large gifts that require explanation. This avoids the shock or discomfort that may arise after one's death during which a well-thought-out decision is questioned as impulsive or irrational. Such direct communication of one's plans avoids unnecessary envy, arguments or rivalry among family and friends.

Consulting with attorneys who specialize in estate planning is the cornerstone of creating a plan to ensure that one's desires are carried out and that all the bases are covered. Estate planning attorneys serve as invaluable repositories of all information necessary to strategizing a plan that not only meets one's personal needs and desires, but is legally binding.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Five Common Reasons a Will Might Be Invalid

Five Common Reasons a Will Might Be Invalid

There are several reasons that a will may prove invalid. It is important for testators to be aware of these pitfalls in order to avoid them.

Improper Execution

The requirements vary from state to state, but most states require a valid will to be witnessed by two people not named in the will. Some jurisdictions require the document to be notarized as well. Although these restrictions may be relaxed if the will is holographic (handwritten), it is best to satisfy these requirements to ensure that the testamentary document will be honored by the probate court.

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

Anyone over the age of 18 is presumed to understand what a will is. At the end of life, individuals are often not in the best state of mind. If court finds that an individual is suffering from dementia, is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or is incapable of understanding the document being executed for some other reason, the court may invalidate the will on the grounds that the individual does  not have testamentary capacity.

Replacement by a Later Will

Whenever an individual writes a new will, it invalidates all wills made previously. This means that a will might be believed to be valid for months until a more recently executed document surfaces. The newest will always takes precedence, controlling how assets should be distributed.

Lack of Required Content

Every will is required to contain certain provisions to carry out its purpose. These provisions, ensure that the testator understands the reason for executing the document.  Although these provisions vary from state to  state, some are common to all jurisdictions. It should be clear that the document is intended to be a will. The document  should demonstrate an individual’s wishes in regard to what should happen to his or her property after death. A proper will should also include a provision to appoint an executor to act as an agent for the estate and enforce the terms of the will. If the document  lacks any of these provisions, the will may be declared invalid. 

Undue influence or fraud

A will that was executed under undue influence, coercion or fraud will be invalidated by a court. If a will has been presented to a testator for a signature as if it were any other document, like a power of attorney or a business contract, the court will find that the will was fraudulently obtained and will not honor it. If an individual providing end of life care with exclusive access to the testator threatens to stop care unless a will is modified, that modification is considered to be the result of undue influence and the court will not accept it.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Overview of Non-Immigrant Visas

An Overview of Non-Immigrant Visas

Below is a list of all the various types of non-immigrant visas and brief qualifications of each:

H-1B: Temporary professional workers for a specialty occupation                with at least a 4 year bachelor’s degree. Maximum stay of 6              years, but can lead to permanent residency.

H-2B: Seasonal workers permitted to enter the country for a short              time to fill a need when American labor is unavailable.

H-4: Spouses and children of H-1B and H-2B immigrants are                      permitted to enter the country under an H-4 visa but are not allowed to work.

K-1: For the fiancé[e] of a U.S. citizen where the marriage will occur within 90 days.

K-3: For the spouse of a U.S. citizen while the application for a green card is pending.

L-1A/B: An international company with an existing presence in the United States may transfer a foreign employee to               a local office with one of these visas. The L-1A is for executives, and the L-1B is for individuals with                                 specialized knowledge.  Spouse and children of employee may enter the U.S. on an L-2 but may not work.

O-1: Limited to individuals with extraordinary ability in arts, science, education, business, or athletics, with a record            of great achievement and indisputably at the top of their field.

O-2: Assistants to O-1 visa holders in artistic or athletic events.

O-3: For the spouses and children of an O-1 or O-2 visa holder.

R-1: Religious workers entering the country on a temporary basis

R-2: For spouses and children of those entering the country with an R-1 visa.

TN-1/2: For Canadian (TN-1) and Mexican (TN-2) nationals to work in specific occupations. These visas have strict                     educational requirements. The spouses and dependents of these individuals must apply for TD visas to                       enter the country.

A-1/2/3: For diplomats, government officials, their families and attendants.

B-1: For individuals entering the United States who are briefly visiting for business purposes.

B-2: For individuals briefly visiting the United States for pleasure -- also called tourist visas.

C: For travelers passing through the United States who don’t intend to enter the United States.

F-1: For individuals engaged in a full course of study at a U.S. institution -- also called student visas. Individuals are             not permitted to work when in the country on this visa. Spouses and children of F-1 visa recipients must apply           for F-2 visas to enter the country.

J-1: For individuals participating in visitor exchange programs. Spouses and children of recipients must apply for J-2          visas to enter the country.

Q-1: Participants in international cultural exchange programs apply for this visa.

T: A person who has been a victim of human trafficking who cooperates with law enforcement in the investigation         and prosecution of human trafficking is eligible for this visa.

U: This visa is for victims of criminal activities who seek police protection from a qualifying crime.


Friday, January 8, 2016

You've Completed Your Healthcare Directives - Now What ?

You’ve Completed Your Healthcare Directives – Now What?

Healthcare directives can be vitally important, as recent cases, like that of Terry Schiavo, clearly brought to light. These important documents can mean the difference between your health care wishes being carried out or family members fighting over whether a loved one should be placed in a nursing home or removed from life support. Healthcare directives usually include both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will, or a form which is a combination of the two. In a healthcare power of attorney, an individual authorizes another individual to make healthcare decisions for him or her if the individual becomes unable to do so. A living will expresses an individual’s preferences about life support.

Once you have executed your healthcare directives, you may be uncertain as to what to do with them. First, you should make copies of the documents and inform others of their existence. In addition to your health care agent, persons you should consider notifying of the directives include family members and your health care providers.  Ideally, the originals should be kept in a place that is both safe and easily accessible.

You may wish to consider using a secure registry service to store your healthcare directives. Such services allow you to access healthcare directives any time and in any location with access to the Internet.  Some also allow the documents to be accessed via an automated fax-back service. In addition to providing the healthcare directives, many registries also allow caregivers to access information like emergency contacts, allergies, and other pertinent medical information.

You should review your healthcare directives regularly.  As individuals get older, their preferences about health care and life support change, and it’s important that your directives reflect your current health care wishes.   Of course, life changing events such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a loved one typically require changes in those documents to ensure that the people named in them are still those you wish to make decisions on your behalf.  

Moving to another state? Many states provide that healthcare directives prepared in another state are valid, but you should consult an attorney to make sure your wishes will be carried out in the manner you desire.

Establishing your healthcare directives can spare your family a great deal of anguish if they need to make decisions at a time that is already very emotionally-charged. By keeping the documents in a secure place, providing copies to loved ones, and reviewing them regularly, you can be more certain that your healthcare wishes will be carried out.
 


Monday, December 28, 2015

Overview of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA")

An Overview of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that allows employees to take significant time off from work to take care of a loved one with an illness, medical problem or condition. The law does not require an employer to pay the employee for the time missed, but allows the employer to substitute accrued paid vacation/sick time for unpaid leave taken during the FMLA, meaning that the employee’s leave cannot be extended beyond the statutory period by using his or her vacation time. The FMLA prohibits employers from enforcing any negative consequences against the employee for exercising his or her rights under the FMLA. These would include termination, cutting back on hours, reducing pay, or diminishing the employee’s title or responsibilities.

The FMLA applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. To qualify, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year and must have worked at least 1250 hours in that year. The law allows the employee to take up to 12 non-consecutive weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a spouse, parent or child who has a serious medical condition. There is special consideration given to family members caring for ill military service members. The parents, spouses, and children of these individuals are permitted to take up to 26 weeks off each year to care for their loved one. 

The most common use of the law is to allow an employee to take time off work after a child is born, even though most would not call pregnancy a “serious medical condition.” This is commonly referred to as maternity leave. Although it is not customarily exercised, fathers have an equal right to take time off to bond with their children after birth. The FMLA also allows new parents to take time off work immediately after an adoption. Some people use the Family Medical Leave Act to care for family members dealing with mental health issues, including dementia, addiction, or schizophrenia. The law covers any medical condition which require an overnight stay in the hospital, chronic conditions that require treatment at least twice a year, and conditions that incapacitate the affected person for more than three consecutive days. 


Friday, December 18, 2015

Common Tax Deductions for Small Business

Common Tax Deductions for Small Businesses

Automobile deductions: Whether an individual uses a personal vehicle for his or her own business or company owns a vehicle, the depreciation of value and costs associated with that vehicle may be deducted from the company’s income at year's end. A taxpayer must keep track of all of these expenses and document them by maintaining receipts and records of expenditures in order to claim the deduction. Alternatively, a business may declare standard deductions for the vehicle based on the mileage of the vehicle. In 2015, this standard deduction is 57.5 cents for every business mile driven. If a vehicle is driven for both business and personal use, the IRS will require a taxpayer to identify the percentage of use dedicated to business.

Capital expenses: Also called startup costs, the IRS allows a business to deduct up to $5,000from its income in its first year of expenses for expenditures made before the doors of the business opened. Any capital expenses remaining after the first $5,000may be deducted in equal increments over the next 15 years.

Legal and professional fees: Fees paid to professionals like lawyers, accountants, and consultants, may be deducted from a company’s income each year. If the benefit of a professional’s advice is spread out over a number of years, the tax deduction must also be spread equally over the same period. The cost of books or tuition for classes to help avoid legal or professional costs may also be deducted.

Bad debt: A business may deduct the losses suffered as a result of a customer who fails to make payment for goods sold. However, a business that deals in providing a service may not deduct the time devoted to a client or customer who does not pay. A service business may deduct expenses made in an attempt to help that customer or client.

Business entertaining:The cost of meals or entertainment purchased for business purposes must be documented by receipts in order to maintain the right to deduct the cost from income for tax purposes. Only 50percent of the total cost of entertainment expenses may be deducted.

Interest: If a business operates on a business loan or a line of credit, the interest on that loan may be deducted from income for tax purposes.

Normal business expenses: The cost of advertising, new equipment, depreciation of existing equipment, moving expenses, business cards, office supplies, travel expenses, coffee and beverages, software, casualty and theft losses, postage, business association dues, and all other business expenses can be deducted.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

From Filing to Completion: The Anatomy of a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

From Filing to Completion: The Anatomy of a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

The process of filing a bankruptcy petition can be confusing for a layperson to understand.  There are time limits and deadlines to keep in mind and all filings must be made in accordance with court rules. 

Before any filing occurs, the Courts require a petitioner to complete a Court approved credit counseling course.  The course is easy to complete and is often available online or over the telephone.  The cost is about $25.00.  The certificate of completion must be attached to every Bankruptcy Petition filed.

To file a claim it is helpful to have an attorney.  Attorneys are familiar with the paperwork and terminology involved and can help a Petitioner understand his or her rights.  An attorney will file the petition electronically, and the Automatic Stay, which prohibits collection efforts on a debt that is in Bankruptcy, will go into effect.

At this point, a number will be assigned to the case along with a Bankruptcy Trustee.  The Trustee’s job is to administer the case and to look for and liquidate any unprotected property in order to pay back creditors.

Within two weeks of filing, the trustee will formally request financial documents from the petitioner including pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, and more.  The request will come through the mail and it is important to respond to the request quickly.

Ten days after the Bankruptcy Petition is filed, a Master List must be filed with the court including the names and addresses of all creditors included in the Bankruptcy.  Within days, another filing, called Statements and Schedules, must be submitted to the Court.  An error in either of these filings could compromise the Bankruptcy.

About a month and a half after the Bankruptcy filing, the Trustee will hold a meeting of creditors for which the Petitioner’s attendance is mandatory.  The meeting gives the Trustee and creditors an opportunity to ask questions about the documents filed with the Court.  If there are errors in the filed papers, they may be corrected at the meeting.  The meeting should not take more than 15 minutes, but can take a significant amount of time to begin.  At this point a Petitioner must take a second credit-counseling course.

If any creditors have a legal argument to prevent a debt included in the bankruptcy from being discharged, that creditor must file a lawsuit within 14 weeks of the filing.  If no objections are filed, the Court will usually issue a discharge within 4 to 6 months of the initial filing.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Cycling Risks & Injuries

Each year, thousands of Americans take to the roads on bicycles. This mode of transportation is touted as being more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly than motor vehicles but when it comes to safety, cycling can come with a much greater risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 39,000 individuals were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2012. That same year, 724 cyclists lost their lives following accidents on the roads.

In addition to the dangers of moving vehicles, cyclists often suffer injury from being “doored”; this occurs when a driver, or passenger, of a stopped vehicle, suddenly opens the door into a cyclist’s path of travel. Injury can also occur from street defects, such as large pot holes or uneven manhole covers that can cause the cyclist to lose control. If you’ve suffered an injury while riding your bike, it’s important that you consult a personal injury attorney who has experience representing cyclists. Unlike other accidents, cycling accidents have a number of unique considerations; these include:

Insurance Coverage May Be Different for Cycling Accidents
Many attorneys have litigated car accident cases and may assume that the insurance process works the same way for cycling incidents, but this is rarely the case. In fact, many states have unique rules regarding the minimum coverage and payouts when a cyclist collides with a motor vehicle, even when the driver of the vehicle isn’t found to have been negligent.

The Laws of the Road Differ for Cyclists
In determining fault, your attorney must understand the roles and duties of all parties involved. When it comes to cycling accidents, few are intimately familiar with the laws that apply to cyclists but such knowledge is imperative for case success.

The Injuries Are Different
Injuries sustained when riding a bike are vastly different from those sustained when driving, or riding in, a car.An attorney who has represented injured cyclists will likely have a much better idea of how much money will be required for immediate and long-term treatment.

As experienced personal injury attorneys, our firm can help you through the complex litigation process following  a cycling injury and help you receive the compensation you need to recover, and get back on that bike as soon as possible.

 


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mediation & Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

Mediation & Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

My spouse and I would like to pursue an amicable divorce, and would like to stay out of court if at all possible. Are there alternative methods to divorce resolution?

With the dawning of no-fault divorce in New York, couples looking for a more amicable, less-stressful dissolution experience may be able to achieve such results through the use of alternative dispute resolution. Namely, mediation and collaborative divorce models have proven wildly successful in New York and elsewhere, allowing families the opportunity to transition their family dynamics with dignity and grace, as opposed to name-calling and vitriol.

Collaborative divorce

As the name suggests, a collaborative divorce is one in which all parties agree to forgo litigation (i.e., court intervention) in lieu of working together to arrive at a practicable solution. Issues ranging from spousal support to child visitation are negotiated in a non-adversarial environment, and parties are encouraged to work together – as opposed to in opposition – to arrive at a settlement agreement that meets the needs of the family as a whole. Collaborative divorce relies on the mutual agreement by both spouses to engage in full disclosure during all negotiations, as well as treat all parties involved with respect.

Mediation

As a component of the traditional divorce model, mediation is often used when parties are stuck on a particular issue, and is designed to avoid the costs and time investment of full-blown litigation. In lieu of the formal adversarial process, parties are seated at a table before a neutral third party. This third party will then work with both sides to determine the most important factors at play, as well as offer solutions for both parties to consider. If, at the conclusion of the session, an agreement cannot be reached, parties will be scheduled for a full hearing before a New York judge.


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