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.
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.
While we all gripe about many of the unexpected changes to the way the online services we use regularly work, one feature recently introduced by Google is sure to be embraced by individuals and families—but what does it mean for business?
Google’s Inactive Account Manager and other services like it have understandably raised a great deal of concern over the security of the wide array of online services many businesses make daily use of.
What is the Inactive Account Manager?
What Google’s Inactive Account Manager does is to allow the user to choose whether or not they would like to see a person they choose to receive the data of Google’s services after a set duration of account inactivity, or simply delete the account’s contents.
This includes their activity in:
- Google Contacts
- Google Drive
- Google Plus
- Google Pages
- Google Photos
- Google Voice
This can pose serious risks if you, like many small business owners, utilize Google’s free tools as part of your daily operations. What if, three months after the death of a senior manager, you discover that the person he designated to receive control of his accounts has been doing who knows what with your sensitive business documents?
If you can afford it, Google Apps for Work provides a reliable fix. By creating work emails for your employees, those accounts and their contents remain in your control. That means you can deactivate the account as necessary.
Likewise, if you have a trusted manager or business partner, they can be allowed access to the essential files necessary to keep the business running if anything happens to you. Otherwise, consider turning to your Creative Business Lawyer™ for a discussion on the disposition of your digital assets—a now essential part of your business succession and estate planning process.
What about all the rest?
But what about other major Internet companies that hold most of your online data? That’s a good question, as each one has approached the problem differently. Here is a guide to their current policies:
Facebook approaches the subject a little differently. Rather than enabling the user to set an inactivity reminder, the burden rests on the family of the deceased to reach out and request that the account be either “memorialized” (allowing friends and family members to post on that person’s page with one of them appointed moderator) or simply to delete it outright.
Facebook states that no passwords will be disclosed, nor will an account be transferred to another. This is particularly important as Facebook pages for businesses rely on designating the individual’s personal accounts as administrator or author on the page. However, if the deceased is the sole administrator on the page, this can create significant problems for the business’s continued use of the page.
Twitter so far has stuck to a policy of not disclosing anything without a direct court order—not account data, not passwords or contents. A family member can, however, request that the account be deactivated by providing Twitter with a death certificate and notarized statement.
- Good news: this means that if the user’s personal account had the ability to publish from your business account, you need not worry much about an unauthorized family member of the deceased gaining access.
- Bad news: if you have only a single person handing your social media accounts, you had better make sure that they have the login info documented or that the account was created through a work email address, or else you may never regain access.
LinkedIn’s policy is little different from Twitter’s. The popular professional networking site refuses to disclose any information or transfer ownership without a direct court order, but family members can have an account deactivated if they provide the relevant information.
One feature that puts it a step ahead of Twitter, however, is that executors and the deceased’s employer can request that the account be removed from public view by reporting the death to LinkedIn. However, if the user was the only one with admin access to the company’s LinkedIn company page, you might be out of luck.
Yahoo allows family members access to the deceased’s account only if that request was explicitly made in the decedent’s estate plan. However, the account can be deactivated if the family supplies a death certificate.
Microsoft requires either the explicit permission of the account owner or a direct court order to grant access to or transfer ownership of an account. However, the account can be deactivated at the request of a family member. Similarly to Google Apps for Work, your business would ideally have all work related activity tied to company accounts (@yourbusiness.com rather than @outlook.com), which should enable you to choose what happens to the work account of the deceased.
What you can do
Ultimately, the most powerful thing your business can do is not rely on personal accounts for the essentials. Just as you should separate your private finances from your business’ finances to protect yourself, it is necessary to enforce a strict separation for your employee’s online business accounts from their online personal accounts—to say nothing of your own.
If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit during which we can look at the disposition of your digital assets if something happens to you. 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.
Call us today at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form.
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There may never be a perfect time to speak with the older members of your family about their estate plan, but a summer vacation is just about as good as it gets. Not only do you get the benefit of spending time with your loved ones, but you can finally settle a concern that you can be sure has been on their minds, as well.
Need a few pointers for how to break the ice? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered:
Broaching the Subject
Do not start off in a way that comes across as you wanting something from them. Even if they know the conversation is one worth having, this approach tends to raise the defenses–whether it be out of distaste at the thought of sharing the intimate details of their financial situation with their children, or a deeper, lurking fear of their mortality.
Here are two tried and true methods. It’s up to you to decide which better fits your loved one’s temperament.
Talk about your own situation
The simplest way to put someone at ease with talking about estate planning is to lead by example. Speak first about your own finances and, when the time is right, drop an offhand comment about how you have recently begun planning your own estate. This gives your loved one the opportunity to ask questions and and think through their own situation. This should prove an easy segue into discussing them. You may be surprised–they might even take the initiative!
Believe me, the number of big-name celebrities who leave their families the seeds of anger and disharmony is tragically large–see our many articles on the subject, here. Raising these kinds of stories will need some subtlety, especially if neither you nor they have ever been the sort to take interest in that kind of thing. If they perceive you as advancing an agenda, you’ve already lost. Instead, use one of these stories as above–transition into your own effort in estate planning and move onto theirs if they prove receptive.
Slow and Easy
Even when they know their financial lives are in dire need of outside intervention, most people are very hesitant to give up their financial independence. Rather than putting pressure on them, adopt a more reassuring tone. Offer your unconditional assistance and take the inroads as they come. Small things like using their online bank account and bill pay or organizing their tax information are perfect ways to offer to lend a hand.
Don’t overstep your bounds
If they start having a hard time meeting your eyes and begin responding with little more than “yes,” “no,” and “maybe,” you might have crossed a line that they were not yet ready to cross. Talking about such personal matters candidly is hard for everyone, and especially so between parent and child. It can be easy to just take a step back, change the subject, and save it for another time, but it can be difficult to say just how many more chances you both will get.
Make sure you get at least one essential before ending the conversation: the location of their important documents, should it be needed. Emphasize that your intent is not to control them, but to leave you and your siblings an easier way forward when that time comes.
What you can do
Sometimes initiating a conversation with parents about estate planning can be easier with the help of a Personal Family Lawyer®. We can help with a Family Wealth Planning Session. 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 designing an estate plan that fits the needs of you and your family.
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Every entrepreneur who’s worth his salt already knows that shielding your personal assets from your business liabilities by way of a Corporation or a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is absolutely essential, but take care not to overlook the dangers you can remain exposed to! As powerful as incorporation can be, there remain a number of pitfalls that will leave your personal assets wholly exposed.
Indeed, Nellie Alkap of Entrepreneur.com recently covered the subject in detail. Alkap pointed out six all too common mistakes befall entrepreneurs:
Relying on a personal loan to fund a startup
Hard as it can be to find investors, it is far from uncommon for entrepreneurs to self-finance. Drawing from their personal funds, they loan the money on the assumption that they’ll have it all come back to them as soon as things are up and operational. Sometimes, they are right.Others, they could not be more wrong. If you plan to give it your best shot, simply know this: you may lose everything you put down and walk away with nothing. If you risk it, do everything possible to mitigate that risk.
Signing a contract in your own name
When it comes to legal documents, the minutiae is key. If you work out a deal with a client or a vendor, be absolutely sure that your signature includes the name of your business and your position in it. This will firmly ground the contract as being one between two businesses, rather than you specifically.
Paying for business expenses with a personal credit card
You will be held personally responsible for any debt incurred on your personal accounts, even if the expenses were business related.Maintaining a clear separation is essential.
Violating the law
It should come as no surprise that all protections afforded you by incorporation are void if you conduct your business in an illegal manner. This includes deliberate misrepresentation of yourself and your business on a loan or credit application.
Incurring a malpractice or negligence claim
If your occupation is one subject to professional liability legislation—doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.—an accusation of malpractice or negligence can be devastating. Professional liability insurance is absolutely vital to protect you against such claims and, hopefully, fight back against them.
Failing to keep your corporation or LLC in compliance
Some business owners mistakenly think that the establishment of their corporation, once complete, requires no further action on their part. They could not be more wrong. Depending on the state in which you have chosen to incorporate, a varying amount of maintenance is required, without which you risk the loss of your personal liability protection.
This is why our office offers a regularly updating program to our business clients. With all the hard work you put into it, your business will grow and so, too, will your need to fully insulate your own assets from an unexpected pitfall. We can monitor your business proactively, ensuring that all aspects keep up with compliance to maintain that impenetrable wall between your personal assets and your business assets.
To learn more about maintaining your business compliance, contact us at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our online contact form to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit. We take care of the legalities so you can focus on doing what you do best: building a firm financial future for you and your family.
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It doesn’t matter if you only just finished your business’s ribbon-cutting or have decades of experience under your belt, the complexity of the legal system practically ensures that some business will blunder into legal hot water. Have you taken the steps necessary to ensure that it not be yours?
My years as a small business attorney have handed me countless cases of well-meaning business owners that made genuine mistakes, giving me first-hand experience in not only cleaning up the mess after the fact, but how to ward against it, too. With that in mind, here are the four most common legal mistakes that even the most seasoned entrepreneur might fall victim to:
Mixing Oil and Water
Okay, the analogy isn’t perfect–your business and personal finances do mix extremely easily. In fact, many small business owners get their start and achieve all of their early growth with personal and business assets not just intermingled, but practically indistinguishable. But the consequences of this can be dire.
Particularly as the business gets its footing, it is essential to form a legal business entity—a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Corporation, for example—that will guard your personal assets from any lawsuit against your business. An LLC is especially well-suited to many small businesses for the relative simplicity of its operations compared to the various corporate entities.
If you plan to pass ownership on to your children or business partners at some point, a business that is organized as an LLC or a corporation is easier to transfer and is more attractive to potential buyers.
Leaving Staff Agreements Unwritten
All business matters are best kept fully documented, but one aspect that entrepreneurs routinely overlook is agreements with staff, whether they be employees or independent contractors. Those agreements accomplish several goals at once: the nature of the relationship is identified and detailed, they know what you expect from them, and they know what they can expect from you.
Failing to Comply
Unfortunately, the multi-tiered nature of American government means the average business owner will be confronted by up to three sources of regulation: federal, state, and municipal governments. Even if you make a good faith effort to comply with one set, violating another can cause big problems, especially when it comes to business licenses.
Operating without a license for your particular type of business risks more than simply losing your good standing in the community—hefty fines and even outright dissolution of your business entity, leaving you personally liable!
Forgetting to Exit Plan
Many entrepreneurs want to see their business carry on after they are gone. Without the proper preparations, your business will die with you, or dissolve upon your retirement. Often, business owners rely on a business transition plan—if you plan to sell your business—or a business succession plan—if you would prefer to pass it on to the next generation.
Having a business attorney who understands the individual needs and unique circumstances of your company is key to helping your business thrive and prosper. If you are interested in learning more about legal protection strategies for your business and how we work with you as a partner in protecting your company, 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. I look forward to hearing from you.
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