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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Family Businesses: Simple Steps to Avoid Common Pitfalls


Family Businesses: Simple Steps to Avoid Common Pitfalls

If you have a family business or are thinking about starting one, kudos to you! There are few better ways to create tradition, meaning and bonds within a family, and a family business can be a gratifying way by which to build wealth.

Family enterprises, however, can bring conflict, legal challenges and financial distress when simple preventative steps are not taken. A business law attorney can assist you with the following issues commonly faced by family businesses:

  • The absence of a succession plan. If the leader of a business dies, sells or becomes incapacitated, the business he or she leaves behind will appoint a leader, somehow, by necessity. The succession process at that point, however, will likely be complicated, and the result may not be optimal for the business or your family.
    Read more . . .


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Disinheritance

Disinheritance

Inheritance laws involve legal rights to property after a death and such laws differ from state-to-state.   Heirs usually consist of close family members and exclude estranged relatives.  Depending on the wording of a will, an individual can be intentionally, or even unintentionally, disinherited.

In most cases, spouses may not be legally disinherited.  Certain contracts, however, allow for a legitimate disinheritance, such as prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements.  These contracts are typically valid methods of disinheritance because the presumed-to-be inheriting spouse has agreed to the arrangement by signing the document.  

If there is no prenuptial arrangement, then the state’s elective share statute or “equitable distribution” laws protect the surviving spouse.  Pursuant to the elective share statute, he or she may collect a certain percentage of the estate. 

In states that follow “community property” or “common law” rules, however, the outcome may be different.   An attorney should be consulted for clarification of the differences in the law.  Divorces affect spousal inheritance rights.  Post-divorce, it is prudent to consult an attorney to draft a fresh will, in order to prevent confusion and unintentional dissemination of assets.

If the will is unambiguous, it is usually possible for a child to be disinherited.   It should be noted, however, that it is highly likely that close relatives will challenge or contest a will in which they have been disinherited.  Fighting such a lawsuit may put a great financial strain on the estate's assets.  Depending on how time-consuming and expensive it is to defend the will, less money may be available for distribution to the intended beneficiaries. 

There are ways to protect estate assets from such problems, for example through trusts.  It is essential for an individual to receive the counsel of a licensed lawyer in order to effectively protect his or her estate as inexpensively as possible.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Top 3 Real Estate Tips for Small Businesses


Top 3 Real Estate Tips for Small Businesses

The only real estate transaction most small businesses engage in is to enter into a lease for commercial space. Whether you are considering office, manufacturing or retail space, the following three tips will help you navigate the negotiation process so you can avoid costly mistakes.

 

“Base Rent” is Not the Only Rent You Will Pay

Most prospective tenants focus their negotiation efforts on the “base rent,” the fixed monthly amount you will pay under the lease agreement. You may have negotiated a terrific deal on the base rent, but the transaction may not be the best value once other charges are factored in. For example, many commercial lease agreements are “triple net,” meaning that the tenant must also pay for insurance, taxes and other operating expenses.
Read more . . .


Monday, January 8, 2018

Purchasing a Business: Asset vs. Share purchase.

Purchasing a Business: Should You Consider Buying Assets as Opposed to Shares?

Of the two common methods used when buying a business, the purchase of shares and the purchase of assets – the asset-purchase option is perhaps the least understood but in many cases the most advantageous. They offer the following benefits:  

 

  • In some states, the sale of all or most of a business’s assets requires the majority vote of the business’s shareholders, but the transaction is not subject to the appraisal rights of shareholders who did not vote in favor of the sale.
  • When buying a business’s assets, a buyer can elect to purchase only selected assets. In doing so, he or she avoids exposure to liabilities and minimizes risk.
  • When a buyer purchases a business’s assets he or she can allocate the purchase price among the assets to reflect the fair market value of each asset. This legal right offers two opportunities: 1) a step-up of the tax basis, 2) higher depreciation and amortization deductions, both of which lead to future tax savings.
  • The avoidance of double taxation in the event the target business is an S-corporation, LLC or partnership.

The above advantages are significant but must be balanced against potential disadvantages. These include:

  • Asset sales can be complex in that they typically require the consent of third parties regarding, for example, office space leasing, contract assignments and permit transfers. Since third parties may use the transaction to renegotiate contracts, delays and cost increases are often experienced.
  • When buying a business or a percentage of a business, it’s often not necessary to delineate exactly what you are buying. This isn’t usually the case when purchasing a portion of assets. Instead, the buyer will likely need to define the specific assets he or she wishes to acquire. If the buyer is acquiring a subsidiary or a division, he or she typically acquires the assets that are used exclusively or primarily by that business unit. However, “shared assets” can cause legal confusion, and it’s usually necessary to negotiate their cost and transfer and/or licensure.
  • If the target business is a C-corporation, it is subject to double taxation in the event of an asset sale.
  • If there are any disclosed or undisclosed liabilities that the buyer is not including in the purchase, there is a risk that the transaction will violate fraudulent conveyance laws on the part of the target business, which may ultimately impact the purchaser who might be compelled to reverse the transaction.

Perhaps it’s because of these serious disadvantages that less than a fifth of all acquisitions are structured as asset purchases. Nonetheless, it makes sense to consider all options when deciding how best to structure any acquisition. Please consult an experienced attorney to assist you with your due diligence before signing any purchase agreements or contracts.      


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Non-Compete Agreements

Non-Compete Agreements 

Courts typically disfavor “covenants not to compete” or “non-compete agreements.”  Therefore, the terms and provisions of these contracts must not be overly restrictive of the employee.  In order for a non-compete to be upheld, the document must “be reasonable in scope, geography, and time.”  It cannot last for years on end, or prevent the employee from working anywhere in the entire state. Likewise, an employer cannot prohibit an employee from working in a large variety of industries, especially if the restriction includes industries wholly unrelated to the employer’s line of work. 

Two other elements are analyzed by a court to determine the validity of a non-compete agreement:  (1) there must be mutual consideration between both the employer and employee at the moment the contract is signed and (2) the non-competition agreement must protect “a legitimate business interest of the employer.”  Preventing a former employee from working for an employer’s business rival, or preventing disclosure of trade secrets or personally identifiable information of important clientele, are typically considered justifiable business interests.

Non-compete agreements are generally implemented to protect a company’s most important assets:  its reputation and its confidential information.  However, the terms protecting these assets cannot be overly broad or vague.  Thus, in evaluating the “reasonableness” of a non-competition agreement, the court will conduct a “balancing test.”  This is a comparison of the employer’s need to protect its “business interests” with the “burden that enforcement of the agreement would place on the employee.” 

The validity of non-compete agreements is decided on a case-by-case basis. The court will consider circumstances such as the length of time certain information will be kept confidential, and the company’s reasons for limiting the employee's job search to a geographical area. If the court finds that the agreement serves a valid interest and does not exceed the range necessary to protect that interest, the entire agreement may be upheld. 

The court also has the option of doing away with overly intrusive terms in a non-compete, rather than invalidating the agreement entirely. In cases in which a non-compete is perceived by the court as punitive, unduly restricting an employee from obtaining employment, the agreement will not be upheld.  A licensed attorney who specializes in employment law will be able to gauge the likelihood that a particular non-compete agreement will be enforceable.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Oral Contracts & the Statute of Frauds

Oral Contracts & the Statute of Frauds

 

There is a widespread misconception that verbal contracts are unenforceable.  Nevertheless, a contract made orally with another party, without embodying the particular terms in a signed writing, can still be valid and binding. Even so, any disagreement concerning the deal may pose multiple problems for both parties.  In order for the court to give a verbal contract legal effect, the terms of the deal will have to be demonstrated. This could involve pricey litigation and an extensive discovery process.  Therefore, it is advisable to have an attorney draft any contractual agreement.

Moreover, according to the Statute of Frauds, there are certain contracts that must be in writing in order to be legally binding.  This may include contracts for the sale of land or real estate, surety agreements, in which one person guarantees to take over another's contractual obligations, and service agreements that take over one year to complete.  Other agreements that must be written to be legally binding may include agreements “made in the consideration of marriage,” or those made for the sale of goods valued at $500 or more. If the requirements for contractual validity are not met, either party runs the risk of the other party rescinding the contract by declaring it void.

The Statute of Frauds not only aims to prevent deception or fraud; it requires precise terms to be set in writing for a contract to be valid. The Statute of Frauds typically requires the document to include a description of the “subject matter” of the agreement, the main stipulations to the deal, and the signatures of the parties.  Nevertheless, these requirements may vary with the sale of goods under the Uniform Commercial Code, where a signature by the “party to be charged” may be sufficient.  For a sale of goods, the terms typically should include the price and quantity of the goods. 

Sometimes, if the contract is unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds, it may be saved if one party suffered by relying on the contract and if the injured party can prove this reliance in court.  Likewise, an exception may exist if “specially manufactured goods” were provided under the contract or one party “partially performed” what was required by the agreement.  The outcome may also vary if two merchants were the contracting parties.  Seek advice from a licensed business law and contract attorney to evaluate agreements and determine whether they are legally enforceable. 


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How to Negotiate a Commercial Real Estate Lease

How to Negotiate a Commercial Real Estate Lease

There are number of considerations for business owners involved in negotiating a commercial lease, not the least of which is the fact that the main objective of landlords is to maximize profits. By understanding the following fundamental concepts, it is possible to make a good deal.

Market Conditions

First, understanding the market conditions for commercial properties is crucial. Generally, pricing is based on square footage, but there is a difference between "usable" square feet and "rentable" square feet.

Rentable square feet is the actual measurement of the space that is being leased. However, rates are typically quoted based on usable square feet which combines the space with a percentage of common areas such as lobbies, hallways, stairways and elevators.

In addition, commercial leases are considered "triple net." This means that tenants are also required to pay for taxes, insurance, and maintenance for a unit as well as a percentage of these costs for the common areas. By understanding these market conditions and the rate other businesses are paying for similar units, it is possible to negotiate the appropriate rate.

The Term

There are a number of factors involved with the term of a lease. For some businesses, such as retail stores or medical professionals, having a stable location is essential for attracting customers and patients, respectively. With this in mind, the term should be long enough to minimize rental increases, but sufficiently flexible to avoid getting locked in. This goal can be accomplished by negotiating terms of one or two years with renewal options.

Repairs, Maintenance, and Build-outs

It is also important for a commercial lease agreement to establish which party is responsible for paying  repair and maintenance costs of the space, building and grounds. In some cases the tenant pays for insurance, custodial services and security costs unless the landlord agrees to pay for a portion or all of these expenses. In addition, if new space is being leased, landlords will often agree to pay for the costs of "buildouts" to customize the space, or offer the tenant a rental abate instead.

Options and Incentives

By establishing a track record of making timely rental payments, it is often possible to renegotiate the lease to obtain more favorable terms. Although a lease may contain renewal options, it may not be necessary to exercise them automatically. At times, market conditions may change, in which case a new lease should be negotiated.

The Bottom Line

In the end, business owners face a number of challenges, and negotiating a commercial lease can have a significant impact on the company's long term success. For this reason, it is essential to engage the services of an experienced real estate attorney.

 


Friday, July 28, 2017

Enforcing a Child Support Order

Enforcing a Child Support Order

As many can attest, going through a divorce can be a difficult experience and the process can become contentious. Even after the spouses reach a settlement, conflict may continue to arise, particularly when a parent fails to make the required child support payments. In these cases, it may be necessary to take legal action to enforce the child support order.

Child Support at a Glance

While child support determinations may vary state to state, the courts generally consider a number of factors in reaching these decisions, including:

  • The child's standing of living while the parents were married

  • The income of each parent

  • Whether one parent is paying alimony to the other

  • The health, medical and educational expenses of the child

Child support orders specify the amount that is to be paid and usually require payments to be made on a monthly basis until the child becomes an adult.

Enforcing a Support Order

While both parents are responsible for the financial well-being of their children, the parent who has primary custody will typically be awarded child support. A parent who fails to comply with court ordered child support can be held accountable by the other parent. In order enforce the order, it is necessary to file an "Order to Show Cause" or a similar legal document with the court. This order must also be served on the non-paying parent.

The court will then hold a hearing and the non-paying parent will need to explain why the payments have not been made. In some cases, there may be legitimate reasons, such as a sudden loss of income or an illness or other emergency. If the order was violated without cause, however, the court will move to enforce the order. In these situations, the court has a number of options, such as ordering payments to be automatically deducted from the non-paying parent's paycheck.

If the parent is a repeat offender, the court can also garnish his or her wages, place a lien on real property or even seize bank accounts. A more drastic step, the court may find the non-paying parent to be in contempt of court which could result in a prison sentence and fines. However, courts are generally not inclined to go this far since the parent will then be unable to earn income to comply with the child support order.

In the end, divorcing spouses have a duty to support their children, regardless of the circumstances of the divorce. If you need help enforcing a child support order, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.

 


Monday, May 8, 2017

Do I Need An Attorney If I Am Buying A Home ?

Do I need an attorney if I am buying a home?

Buying a home can be an exciting experience, but the process can be complicated. While some homebuyers may think hiring an attorney will be too expensive, not having proper legal representation can be even more costly. Although real estate agents typically bring buyers and sellers together, a highly skilled attorney can perform critical due diligence, anticipate problems, and be your advocate at the closing table.

It's often been said that real estate is all about the price and "location, location, location," but there are a number of factors to consider such as purchase and sales contracts, home inspections, title issues as well as arranging for financing. An experienced real estate attorney who knows the local housing market can help a buyer navigate these issues and protect his or her investment.

Once a buyer selects a home, it is crucial to have an attorney review or prepare a contract of sale. In short, a contract must adhere to all state and local laws, address issues about the use of the property, and specify the rights and obligations of each party. In some states, the buyer and seller have a limited time to review the contract before it becomes legally binding.

In addition to price and location, it is essential for the structure of the dwelling and its heating, cooling and electrical systems to be in good condition. An attorney can coordinate a home inspection to ensure that any defects are repaired prior to the closing or arrange to have the seller reimburse the borrower from the proceeds of the sale.

In some cases, an attorney can also perform a title search to verify that property is being sold free of any liens, judgments or other encumbrances. If outstanding items need to be paid before the deal closes, there can be costly delays, especially for buyers who are simultaneously selling an existing home. Lastly, after the closing, the deed must be filed in the county in which the property is located, which can easily be handled by an attorney.

Ultimately an attorney can protect a homebuyer's interests, anticipate and resolve problems and help to avoid conflicts. Because buying a home is the largest financial transaction that many individuals will ever undertake, the role of an attorney cannot be underestimated.


Friday, October 28, 2016

The Parol Evidence Rule

 

The Parol Evidence Rule

 One of the purposes behind memorializing an agreement in a written document is to ensure that the parties to the contract do not recant what they originally agreed upon.  Often, parties may dispute contractual terms if contracts are not working out in their favor or are resulting in negative or unanticipated consequences.

When a document is drafted by an attorney, parties usually feel more confident and secure about the transaction. A legal document will help prevent any future deviations from its original intent because all aspects of the matter have been stipulated in the final written document.   

If there is any disagreement regarding the written contract, the court’s consideration of evidence is limited.  For example, the courts may look into the prior deals between the parties and check out industry practices as a means of comparison.  However, it is typically prohibited to admit evidence of prior agreements or negotiations of the parties on the same contractual matter at issue.

The court may also inquire as to whether the agreement is partially or completely integrated. A fully integrated document is one intended by the parties to represent all of the terms to the exclusion of any prior writings or oral agreements.  If the agreement is fully integrated, then all other information will likely be excluded. On the other hand, if the document is only partially integrated, the court may take note of circumstantial evidence if such evidence does not contradict the agreement. 

“Parol evidence” is generally oral evidence.  It is beneficial and may be admitted under certain circumstances after the parties agree to a final written agreement.  For example, if the parties to the contract made a mistake, such as omitting or mistakenly listing a term, parol evidence may be considered.  In that case, the option of bringing in subsequent agreements in limited circumstances may be available.  

Parol evidence also comes into play when the writing of the document is unclear or if there is a dispute as to the meaning of certain terms within the contract.  Finally, new evidence is admissible if there is illegality or fraud relating to the contract.  Conferring with a contract attorney will help to clarify how parol evidence rule may affect current and future dealings.


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