We are a different kind of Estate Planning and Small Business law firm
It is not enough for a law firm to say they are different. They actually have to be different, to come from a totally different mindset, to have a totally different business model, and to have a totally different way of working with clients. We don’t just say we are different – we actually are.
The traditional experience, whether you are looking for estate planning or small business law, is to go to an attorney when you need something specific handled, like a will or a trust, or incorporation documents or a contract drafted. That attorney listens attentively, drafts whatever it is that you need, charges you for the document (and you may or may not have known the cost in advance), and then you go your merry way.
Maybe you will get a holiday card from your attorney (if you are lucky), but otherwise you don’t hear from them and they don’t hear from you. Of course, why would you call them? If you called them, that would start the billing meter running again.
Then, life happens, your circumstances change, the law changes, and your whatever-it-was legal document is no longer doing its job.
If it’s an estate plan, your estate is going to have to go through probate, despite your intentions otherwise, or your estate is now taxable, or your disabled beneficiary is now going to lose their ability to get the help they need. All sorts of things can happen that affect your estate plan.
If it’s a business matter, things happen even more rapidly and operating without the right legal advice can get you into a lot of trouble. The wipe-you-off-the-map kind of trouble.
You think you are protected because you went to see that lawyer whenever-it-was in the past, but really it’s a false sense of security.
Wouldn’t it be better to have an ongoing relationship with your lawyer, so when life happened and things changed, you could call and find out if those changes impact you? And wouldn’t it be better if your lawyer knew you well enough to know when changes in the law might impact you, and let you know about it?
Wouldn’t it be better if you had someone to call when a legal situation came up, and they could send you to the attorney they know and trust who handles that area of law if they couldn’t help you themselves? It would be like having a lawyer in the family. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Well, that is what we do and that is how we are different. Yes, we draft documents – but those documents are a by-product of our relationship with our clients. Really, we are trusted advisors and we are in it for the long-haul. We aren’t interested in drafting your documents and then hanging you out to dry. We want to be your lawyers for life.
Want to know what that looks like? For estate planning, look at our Personal Family Lawyer page and our Estate Planning Services page. For small business owners, look at our Creative Business Lawyer page and our Small Business Legal Services page.
Do you own a family-owned business? You have come to exactly the right place. We combine the best of our estate planning know-how with the best of our small business law know-how to make sure you are protected on both fronts.
If you think that sounds better than just having a document drafted and then being left to fend for yourself, give us a call.
With my years of experience as a Personal Family Lawyer®, I have seen plenty of families left to sort things out for themselves because their parents either failed to plan their estate or turned to the siren song of the new, “do-it-yourself” estate planning websites in a misguided effort to save money.
Whatever money “saved” in free online forms is frequently overshadowed by the problems caused to those left behind by an estate plan riddled with obvious mistakes or simple inefficiencies. Professional guidance really makes a difference with estate planning.
That sort of advice ensures that the following 10 common estate planning mistakes don’t add to your family’s sorrows after you are gone.
10 common estate planning mistakes
- Failure to leave any written documentation of your assets, including a list of your online accounts and passwords (click here to read more about digital estate planning).
- Failure to let family members know where to find important estate planning documents.
- Failure to name a guardian for minor children or choosing a guardian who lives far away without planning for temporary, local guardianship (solved with a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®—for a basic guide on how to get started, visit twincitieskidsprotectionplan.com).
- Failure to name specific recipients for your family heirlooms.
- Failure to designate beneficiaries for retirement and other financial accounts.
- Failure to name secondary beneficiaries.
- Failure to name alternative trustees or executors.
- Failure to properly fund or title assets to any trusts you have established.
- Failure to update your estate plan as life circumstances change.
- Failure to create an estate plan of any kind and instead leaving it to the court system to decide how your assets will be distributed.
All these mistakes can be easily avoided, but only with some forethought and action. Estate planning doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming, especially when you have the guidance you need, but handling an estate that hasn’t been given any forethought is difficult and overwhelming for those family members left behind, even for those estates that would be characterized as simple or small.
If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid common estate planning mistakes that could cost your heirs dearly, call our office today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge.
Give Your Family Business 4 Cornerstones That Will See It Endure Through the Generations.
If you’ve managed to make your family business work, you know that the relationship dynamics have their upsides and downsides. But do you know what unique pitfalls await you on the path ahead? Here’s what you can do to avoid the four big ones.
Separate family and business finances
Ours is a litigation-prone society.That means you will receive not only more complaints from individual customers, but they may sue you for all that you are worth, as well. For that reason, put protection of your personal assets on your priority list.
By forming a legal entity with liability protection, your business accounts are wholly kept apart from your family’s personal savings, often leaving creditors little room to move against them. Without this, the assets of every investor/owner will be at risk.
Get a business license
Whether required by the local, state, or federal government, the consequences of operating your business without a license can be devastating. Everything is on the table, from hefty fines up to and including a mandate to shut down. Depending on the type of license and the grantor organization in your community, you risk being barred from even seeking a license for a period of months or years.
Partly, the hefty consequences stem from the idea that you should know better. Indeed, the majority of city halls or county government offices can guide you through the process and inform you of precisely what sort of license you need to operate legally.
Document, document, document
Employing family members can pose unique challenges, particularly if you bring on those outside your immediate family—cousins, nieces, and nephews. Too often, owners of a small family business will slip into an informal relationship with his or her employees. By forgoing the documentation—employment agreements, contracts, etc.—the process of terminating a relative who has turned out to be a poor fit can be a challenging one.
Chart a course
You must have had some dream of where you would end up when you built your business from the ground up. Whether you aimed to sell the entire thing off and finish out your days sitting on a tropical beach or simply keeping at the job you love long after everyone else has lain down their burdens, it is vital for you and your family to have a succession plan in place well beforehand. Particularly as we never know what life will hand us, you must prepare your business for the eventuality that you will no longer be be there.
A clear gameplan to follow will save your family a great deal of added grief. Make sure you communicate the path you’ve charted to those family members who have taken on the greatest responsibilities in the business.
What you can do
If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit or LIFT Start Up Session. Normally, these sessions are $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will make your first session free!
Image Courtesy of Ambro| FreeDigitalPhotos.net
You need an agent. No matter the nature of your unique talent and whether or not you have a particularly telegenic personality, your agent will be there to protect your interests and desires even after you’ve passed.
What, did you think I meant the Hollywood type? Estate planning has its own agents—individuals designated by you to ensure that your estate is handled according to your wishes after you’ve gone or otherwise incapable of communicating them yourself.
The Four Agents Everybody needs:
This is the person responsible for the distribution of your assets and the fulfillment of your wishes as accords to your will. The choice of this person is entirely up to you—they can be a trusted member of the family, a close personal friend, or even a professional who has dedicated his or her career to ensuring that the will of the deceased be met.
Out of all that is yours, your children are the most precious. In the unfortunate event that both you and your spouse pass before your children step out into the world, having not designated a guardian leaves their fate up to the ruling of a judge who does not know them and is entirely unfamiliar with your particular familial relations.
Naming someone trusted to watch over them—providing both the upbringing you think is best and a secure handling of their finances. Many people do not realize that these roles can be divided and assigned separately, to multiple guardians. You want to know with absolute certainty that your children will have the opportunity to reach their full potential, so choose carefully (and, if possible, choose a backup in case your 1st choice is unable to serve).
Another essential component is providing for their care in the interim before they end up in the hands of their permanent guardian. If the guardian is distant or your legal documents cannot be found, the court may appoint a stranger to see to their care. That’s why I provide a Kids Protection Plan®, the most comprehensive way to protect your children’s future.
Attorney in Fact
No, this isn’t the same as your Attorney at Law. An attorney in fact is the person you designate in a Durable Power of Attorney to manage your financial affairs on your behalf. If you are still living but unable to make the decisions necessary to manage your financial affairs, it is important for you to have already designated a person to fill this role.
A Healthcare proxy is the person designated by you to manage your healthcare decisions in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. This is a key component of a solid Healthcare Directive, as you will want to be certain that your wishes are carried out in full. Particularly if your family members do not share your views on medical treatment, a person who can stand up to them on your behalf is essential.
How we can help
One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the protection of yourself and your family through thoughtful estate planning. Call our office today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form. to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.
Image Courtesy of Ambro | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
If you keep up with the news, there’s no doubt you have heard of the enormous losses suffered by a number of retail giants. Though it was by no means the first, the data breach at Minnesota’s own Target Corporation in 2013 not only exposed the company to huge fines, but shattered consumer trust at the height of the holiday season. More giants fell victim to similar attacks over the course of the year—with no end in sight.
Perhaps worst of all is that small businesses are not beneath the attention of these global cyber criminal networks. With a more limited budget for information security, most small businesses are at risk of one kind of attack or another. Currently, the average loss for companies with fewer than 100 employees exceeds $155,000 due to fraud, identity theft, and cybercrime, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
What Can You Do?
Maintaining a strong password policy is parallel to exercising daily—everyone knows they should, often they even want to, and yet does it always happen? Hardly. Just as regular exercise will keep your body healthy, enforcing a strict password policy presents a hardy bulwark against the most common basic avenues of attack likely to be used against your business.
So what can you do to accomplish this effectively? Think of requiring the recommended 12-character-long passwords for each of an employee’s online accounts as raising a hurdle for them to jump.
For the average person, it’s simply too high and they’ll just go around it, writing down their passwords and posting them on their walls for everyone to see—a real security risk in itself. On the other hand, lower it by reducing your policy to six-character, easy-to-remember words or numeric combinations makes the password so easily cracked that you had might as well invite the hackers in.
The answer? Password management utilities like KeePass or LastPass. Such programs require the user to enter and remember only one strong password that gives them access to their own highly-encrypted password database that stores and generates passwords for their various accounts. Like this, your passwords can be secure above and beyond the capabilities of even the most powerful supercomputer.
Additional security measures you can take are enforcing the expiration and renewal of passwords every 30-60 days and making sure to train employees on the proper use of the password manager.
Firewall and Antivirus
While the free versions may be sufficient for the average home user, your business should make use of an enterprise-level firewall and antivirus setup. Whatever the price of the initial installation and setup, the protection they offer against losing far more is invaluable. For this, it can be wise to seek out and build a relationship with a professional IT service.
Additionally, this kind of firewall can filter out Internet traffic that is not work-related. While blocking Facebook is inadvisable (it leaves employees disgruntled and they can typically just turn to their phones instead), other content may be entirely inappropriate for the workplace and be a source of malware and viruses.
One added bonus: you can block out advertisements! While you can do this from your Internet browser already (AdBlock for Chrome and Firefox), enforcing it company-wide protects against malware and reduces bandwidth consumption. Once you’ve seen the internet sans ads, you may never go back.
First and foremost, maintain a strict separation of your personal banking and credit accounts from your business accounts. It insulates both accounts from one another (so long as you practice good password policy—above), whether the attacker is a cybercriminal or a litigious party.
Likewise, hand out company credit cards sparingly and, whenever possible, pay your bills online. If you must send snail mail, trust only a secure mailbox for sending and receiving and make liberal use of an enterprise-grade document shredder. Of course, you should still regularly monitor your bank accounts for suspicious activity—most banks now offer easy-to-use secure, read-only account access over the Internet.
If the above sounds like paranoia, just remember that companies remain as tight-lipped about their digital security (or failure thereof) as possible. That we are treated with the news of retailer after retailer being victim to such attacks should indicates that the cybercriminals cast a broad net. You don’t want to rely on luck for slipping by.
Your employees may not fully grasp the risks present in the digital age, particularly given the constant arms race between hackers and security. Training that both fosters a desire to stay secure and teaches the knowledge necessary to do so is important for employees new and old alike.
Verify that your existing insurance covers you against the losses or liability suits caused by cybercrime and, if not, make it a priority. Remember, taking the security steps outlined above may afford you a reduced rate.
How we can help
A comprehensive asset protection plan for both your business and personal assets is a must for any business owner. If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit. Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.
Images Courtesy of chanpipat, jscreationzs, digitalart | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The passing of beloved comedian Robin Williams shocked the world, but the latest tragedy that has followed in its wake was all too predictable. Mr. Williams left behind three children from two different marriages, Zak, Zelda, and Cody, from his first two marriages and left a widow, his third wife Susan. That such a complicated familial situation has now inspired a good of drama shouldn’t surprise anyone.
That his death has inspired disharmony is made all the more tragic by the fact that there were steps Williams and his family might have taken to avoid such disagreement after his passing. What did they miss?
Stolen Goods or Bequeathed Property?
As recently documented in the Huffington Post, the personal affairs of renowned actor and comedian Robin Williams now serve as focal point for the bitterness that has erupted. His widow, Susan, now asserts in court that certain items from the couple’s Tiburan, California home are now missing—and his children, she says, deserve the blame.
His children do not dispute that they took the items, but counter that the actor granted each piece of memorabilia and various awards to them by way of trusts set up in their names, along with a number of additional personal items.
Susan’s argument is that the time she and Williams shared together at their home in Tiburon gives her exclusive right to the items of that residence. His children, she says, were clearly meant to receive the family’s alternate home in Napa, along with its contents.
The Court Battle
Judging by the way the two sides’ attorneys characterized the case in their first day in court, they each hold a very different perception of not only the final wishes of Mr. Williams, but even the nature of their disagreement in the first place. The lawyer of Susan Williams asserted that his client’s presence in court is merely as a widow seeking much needed legal clarification on the specifics of her late husband’s will. The attorney for the children, on the other hand, explained that his clients had been accused by Mrs. Williams of stealing things that belonged to her.
The process ahead for the probate court is to first examine both the will Williams left behind and the documents that established the trusts for the children. In so doing, they will be able to work out the rightful ownership of each item. Depending on the wording of the documents, this process might drag out for weeks. Without a specific inventory of items and a clearly designated inheritor, or even a broader instruction—that the items in one house belong to Susan and the items in the other to the children, for example—the analysis of Mr. Williams’ wishes at the time he signed the documents involved will become far more difficult.
As the property involved is entirely located in California, as are the inheritors, the matter falls under the state’s jurisdiction—California’s trust and estate law will govern how the legal issue is is to be resolved.
What you should know
As in our many previous articles about the estates of celebrities, the conflict that has arisen from the untimely death of Mr. Williams should serve as lesson to us all that our final wishes must be as specific and detailed as possible. None of us wish for our passing to generate family in-fighting and inflict excessive costs upon our loved ones, even (or maybe even especially) if the state is of a relatively small value.
As seen in the case of Robin Williams, blended families are particularly susceptible to this kind of conflict. Who receives what must be made absolutely explicit, and an experienced estate planning attorney can work with you to not only ensure that all the bases are covered, but also put together legally-binding instructions that would allow for more complexity—deciding whether your assets pass to your children immediately or only after they turn 18, for example.
I made this video a while back describing a good strategy for blended families, that allows a new spouse to be taken care of, but also takes care of the kids from the previous relationships. This kind of planning could have prevented the kind of conflict that is happening in the Williams’ family right now.
The best way to learn about protecting your family is to talk with us about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Please, call us today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.