The Orlando Law Group

OLG in the News

The Orlando Law Group Named a 2017 Law Firm Honoree

Orlando, Florida, October 4, 2017 – On Tuesday, September 19, 2017, the Law Firm 500 Award committee announced the list of 2017 Honorees. Ranking The Orlando Law Group #105 on its 2nd Annual Law Firm 500 Honorees List. The published list recognizes law firms that have achieved significant growth in revenues. Each nominee was verified by the outside accounting firm, Kahuna Accounting, who reviewed over 10,000 firms. The award honorees are a beacon of light for the legal industry demonstrating innovation, operational excellence, and a commitment to client service.

“This is such an honor for our firm to receive,” commented OLG founder and managing partner Jennifer Englert. “Of course, we could not have achieved this truly remarkable accomplishment without our devoted team members, who work diligently to uphold our commitment to put our clients first.”

The 2017 Law Firm 500 Award Honorees list showcases the top two-hundred fastest growing law firms in the United States. Each ranking also includes the percentage of growth ranging from 25% to a staggering 5400% over 3 years – no small feat for any business.

The Law Firm 500 Conference & Awards Gala will be held October 19-21, 2017 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in FL. The Award Ceremony will begin with a powerful Keynote Presentation by pioneer entrepreneur, NY Times Best-Selling Author and investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, Daymond John. Daymond will be translating his $6 billion business success into success for law firms. Tickets to attend the conference and Gala are available at

“We look forward to joining our colleagues to celebrate at the upcoming conference, and to give a warm thank you to the entire OLG team,” said Englert.

We invite you to congratulate and follow the progress of our law firm, and industry peers for their dedication to success and innovation. The full list of Law Firm 500 Award Honorees can be found at Check us out

To find out more about The Orlando Law Group and all three of its offices visit


About The Orlando Law Group:
The Orlando Law Group (OLG) was founded by Attorney Jennifer Englert in 2009. Its diverse team of attorneys have a wide breadth of experience which allows them to protect their client’s rights through the evolution of their business, as well as personally while they progress through all stages of life. Over the years, they have created a stellar reputation in the community as professional legal experts who believe foremost that planning ahead is the best option for their clients, as their aim is to minimize the number of potential disputes and costs of litigation. The Orlando Law Group is more then a legal team, they’re your life-long partner who will work with you to build a relationship while creating solutions that work.

Lifestyle Magazine Highlights How The Orlando Law Group Raises the Bar in Central Florida

Jennifer Englert has grown The Orlando Law Group through the years to allow her team to provide legal assistance to residents of many Central Florida neighborhoods.

Eight years ago, Jennifer Englert and another attorney founded The Orlando Law Group in Avalon Park with a mission to be the area’s “neighborhood” attorneys. They balanced community involvement with providing legal services to families that desperately needed them.

The concept was well received, so they opened a Lake Nona office nearly six years ago and added a Dr. Phillips office about three years ago. With that growth came expanded practice areas, including business, bankruptcy and personal injury.

Englert shares more about The Orlando Law Group in her own words:

How does The Orlando Law Group raise the bar for clients?
We are a team of highly experienced and dedicated le- gal professionals, each with different areas of expertise. We work together to solve legal problems and provide preventative legal services to solve legal issues before they happen. One key aspect that differentiates us from many firms is the care and compassion we bring to each and every client. Many of our clients become personal friends, provide referrals or are people we’ve worked with side by side while serving within the community.

What is one thing that others don’t know about your business but should? 
We pride ourselves on being “Honest, Approachable Attorneys Who Care.” That is more than just a motto to us. At The Orlando Law Group, you can be sure that your attorney possesses both a sharp, experienced legal mind, and a friendly smile that will welcome and comfort you. What’s more, we are serious about preventative legal tactics, work- ing to solve issues for our clients before they blow up into legal messes. Simply put: we are here for you, and we have your back at all times!

How does The Orlando Law Group give back?
We all have charities we care about. We provided pro-bono legal and probate services for the families of Pulse victims and other services through legal aid. We help children by serving as members of Kiwanis, our local PTAs and by helping families with special needs children. We serve veterans by helping them obtain benefits. We are also involved in our local chambers of commerce and other business groups. Part of the reason we care so much is because we have a veteran on staff, many of us are parents, and a few of us have children with special needs. We draw upon our own struggles to aid others.

How have you evolved and diversified to ensure you truly are a full-service law firm?
Once we discovered how helpful it was to have various experts in several types of law on staff, we began to assemble a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise. We never wanted to send clients away to other firms or counsel, as working together provides better results in all legal matters. We realized how thankful clients were to have such a wealth of legal help close to home, so we strategically positioned our offices close enough to one another so that we can still work as a team and remain close to large neighbor- hoods around Central Florida.

Copyright © 2017, Lifestyle Magazine
CLICK HERE to download article in magazine format (PDF)

Three Reasons to Hire an Attorney


There are many factors you should consider before hiring a lawyer. The truth is that law is a complicated matter. Some legal matters such as fighting a speeding ticket do not necessarily require you to hire an attorney. However, if you are charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or other serious crimes, you should hire legal help as soon as possible. Legally binding contracts and agreements have a great deal of legal jargon that you might not understand. Hiring an attorney to assist you in these contracts can save you a lot of money and prevent future complications.

While legal situations vary from person to person, to follow are 3 reasons why you should seek legal representation:

  1. It can save you money. Fees vary from lawyer to lawyer, but most of the time attorneys will provide you with a free initial consultation. During the first meeting, you can evaluate the potential benefit of hiring a lawyer and further discuss what it will take to reach the goal of that particular challenge or project.
  2. A good attorney will negotiate your settlement. An experienced lawyer who truly comprehends the law and your situation can properly assess how the case might resolve at trial. However, sometimes attorneys can negotiate with the other party and come to a fair settlement and avoid it all together.
  3. Lawyers know the procedures. If you are not a lawyer, you will lack the knowledge necessary to properly fill out or file the court documents. Failing to do this or meet the required deadlines will put your case in jeopardy as it can either be delayed or completely dismissed.

While there are many “legal” tasks you can tackle on your own, it’s best to consult a professional in-order-to ensure you do not have to worry about unexpected issues later.

How to Manage Without a Formal Office


The new workplace isn’t really a place, it’s more a state of mind. You jump from meeting to meeting, talk over lunch, pitch over drinks, and create a “pop-up office” anywhere that has a place for your laptop or tablet, and of course Wi-Fi. For some who think smart logistically, you will manage to schedule full days to work solely at home, and other days where you move from meeting to meeting. Or, better yet, park yourself in a location, with coffee of course, and have your meetings come to you. We do suggest, however, that you purchase coffee or food, as those establishments have a business to run too.

If you want to succeed in this new frontier of business, being flexible in terms of time and space is vitally important. To follow are some key points that will help you steer in and around this territory:

Remain Charged
Is there an outlet you can plug into? Even if you’re at seventy percent – do it! The worst time to not have a fully-powered laptop is during a client meeting. And you can’t have your phone die when that unplanned conference call dial-in number gets texted to you. Whenever you have the chance to charge your devices, don’t miss it. You should also keep a portable charger in your bag for emergencies.

Do You Know the Hot Spots?
If you’ve already been practicing the impromptu office, you know the importance of free Wi-Fi and a calm place to work in-between meetings. Keep yourself organized by making a list of your favorite coffee shops, restaurants and hotel lobbies where you can tuck away in a corner and get 20-60 minutes of work done during downtime. This really helps when your local gathering place is too packed to be productive.

Create a Functional Work Bag
This is your office. You will want your laptop (or tablet), laptop plug, cell phone plug, headphones, toothpaste, toothbrush, lipstick (if it applies), cardigan (some places can be quite chilly), safety pin, hand cream, stain stick, Shout Wipes, breath mints, toothpicks, notebook, pen, pencil, mini deodorant — and that’s on a light day. Don’t go crazy, but just know that the day you don’t pack something is the day you will desperately need it.

Be Ready to Tackle AM and PM
There may be meeting-packed days that will go from scrambled eggs to cocktails, so you need to find outfits that can work all day long. If you’re a male, a solid suit. For women, this task is a bit more difficult. Great advice is that you can “always bet on black”. A little black dress lets you look professional during the day, and glamorous at night if you dress it up with sparkly jewelry.

Be Prepared to Pilot
Map out your day in advance. The worst feeling is to be crisscrossing town from one meeting to another, never knowing if you’ll make it on time. Having a solid plan of attack allows you to not get unnerved by those unexpected challenges and hurdles that tend to get thrown in your way. There are great apps to help with that. If you’re really organized, you will use the app as you actually plan the meetings so that it makes, even more, sense logistically.

These are just a few tips to help you be more prepared and less frazzled. As always, we’re here to help you navigate even the murkiest of waters so that you can focus on your business.

So, go forth business warriors! This is the way business moves. Find your best way to move along with it.

Are Your Board Meetings Effective?


How to make your board meeting more productive

Many board meetings are actually “bored” meetings. Leadership brings together their board members only to quickly present the material so they can get back to their “real” work. Without realizing it, you’re doing the company a disservice as the value of your board, if you have the right people, can be a tremendous source of insight and solid advice. The board’s job is to review the company’s financial performance and strategy and help provide counsel to the executive team. It’s up to you to manage them effectively.

Some boards are highly functional, many are not. Sometimes dysfunctional boards are a result of having investors who don’t really understand their role on the board or have the right skills or experiences to be helpful. Sometimes poorly run boards are a function of the executive team not knowing how to get the most out their boards.

To follow are some thoughts on how to make your interactions with your board more productive.

Communicate Frequently and Proactively

Do you wait until the actual meeting to correspond with the board? We advise that you send the board short, to the point, update emails at least monthly, especially if you meet quarterly or even less frequently. This keeps the board in-the-loop and does not give them the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about what is going on. Plus, you will be top-of-mind to people that matter and they will feel comfortable advocating on your behalf. Discussions Versus Presentations Many board meetings become really long slideshow presentations where management takes the board through pages and pages of financial results and plans. Send the presentation ahead of the meeting and instead use the time to have an open discussion on the key points.

Do you wait until the actual meeting to correspond with the board?

We advise that you send the board short, to the point, update emails at least monthly, especially if you meet quarterly or even less frequently. This keeps the board in-the-loop and does not give them the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about what is going on. Plus, you will be top-of-mind to people that matter and they will feel comfortable advocating on your behalf. Discussions Versus Presentations Many board meetings become really long slideshow presentations where management takes the board through pages and pages of financial results and plans. Send the presentation ahead of the meeting and instead use the time to have an open discussion on the key points. Your goal should be to have open dialogue with your board and take advantage of their expertise and experience.

Distribute Financial Information Prior to the Meeting

Financial information should be sent out 72 hours before a board meeting. If you send it out the night before, you’re practically guaranteed that it will not be read before that morning’s meeting. Remember, these are busy people too. Focus on Solving Strategic Issues Instead of wasting your time walking the board through financial information they should already be familiar with it. Spend your time walking through a few key decisions you’re trying to make and get their input on the topic. Set this expectation up front and your meeting will be more targeted towards results. Boards will only discuss the information you provide them and will mostly get off track if your agenda or your management style allows them to.

A Call Before the Meeting

If possible, have a quick call a day or two prior to the meeting with key members who will be reporting. This ensures you are up-to-date and onboard with what they will be presenting. This also helps you to create the agenda. Never be surprised at a board meeting. If you’re surprised at a board meeting it’s on you.

They Talk the Talk, Are They Walking the Walk?

Many things get decided at board meetings. If you took away actions — follow up. If a board member agreed to do something, hold them accountable. As with most meetings, much progress is squandered by lack of follow up. Lack of follow-up could put a real damper on progress and the board members who are living up to their promise on a particular task will become frustrated.

Meet in Person When Possible

There are times when you need to offer some board members the option to call-in to a meeting. That’s fine every now and then, but that usually results in people falling off the call, or becoming distracted. There is no way they’re as productive when it’s just voice. Also, having a well-functioning team with a high degree of trust in each other and confidence in each other’s opinions is critical to a successful board. And you simply can’t build relationships on the phone.

No Cell Phones Please

Help them be their best selves by banning electronic devices if you want a productive meeting. Schedule a 15-minute break in the middle of your meeting and inform people that there will be sufficient time to check in on their email during the break. Obviously, there are exceptions if they have something mission critical going on that might pull them away. But this should be the exception, not the rule.

Be Realistic With the Time Needed for a Meeting

If you’re trying to “get through your deck” and get back to work, then an hour is plenty. If you truly want input, discussions and relationships, schedule accordingly. Build Social Relationships Amongst Your Board Members We’re all so busy, but at least once or twice a year, schedule something that is purely social. We find it’s effective to hold a board meeting prior to the “social event” as they’re already together as a group.

Boards take work. But the best boards are super critical to your success and you get out of them what you put in.

If you have any questions about forming a board, or making the one you have even better, please feel free to schedule a consultation with one of the outstanding attorney’s at The Orlando Law Group PL.

State Orders Poinciana HOA to Throw Out Election – OLG Effects Positive Change Once Again

By Beth Kassab, The Orlando Sentinel

A state arbitrator on Friday sided with a homeowner who challenged the way Poinciana’s homeowners association, one of the largest in the state, held its election of board members.

The arbitrator threw out the Association of Poinciana Villages’ results from a February election and ordered the group to hold a new election in August for the sprawling community of 26,000 homes in Osceola and Polk counties.

In question was whether Avatar, Poinciana’s developer and still a significant landowner, could cast one vote for every house it says it could potentially one day build on land it owns that is still undeveloped.

As a result of that practice, Avatar has been able to elect its representatives to the HOA board and maintain control over the 44-year-old community of more than 50,000 people, including the collection of fees, argued homeowner Martin Negron, who filed the complaint against the association.

He claimed he lost the February election because Avatar improperly cast more votes than it should have by claiming it could build hundreds of homes on land that is covered by marsh and wetlands. The association is made up of nine villages, which all conduct elections.

The order said counting so many votes for construction that may not be approved by the local county government “improperly diluted the votes of other members of all the associations.”

“Avatar may not maintain control of the sub-associations and thereby the association in perpetuity by an imaginary regulatory scheme where maximum density is the only law applicable to building a home,” wrote Terri Leigh Jones, an arbitrator with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees HOA elections.

Jeffrey Smith, an attorney with the Orlando Law Group who represented Negron, said the order is a win for the little guy — the people who own homes in Poinciana.

“It gives much more power and sets a good precedent for the members so they can control the community in which they live and not leave it up to some large corporation,” he said. “At least it puts the members on a fairer playing field with the developer.”

Avatar must now provide proof that it’s able under local and state codes to build the number of homes it uses to determine the amount of votes it will cast, according to the order.

A spokeswoman for the association said officials are still reviewing the order and did not provide immediate comment.

A separate lawsuit filed by three homeowners is challenging the association in Polk Circuit Court, while homeowners in another Avatar community, Solivita, also are suing the developer.

Keith Laytham, a resident of Solivita and an advocate for residents throughout Poinciana, called the arbitrator’s ruling a win.

“Fasten your seat belt because we ain’t done yet,” he said.

Copyright © 2017, Orlando Sentinel
CLICK HERE to see article on the Orlando Sentinel 

What factors can disqualify me from obtaining a concealed carry license in Florida?

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The qualifications necessary for an individual to be able to obtain a concealed carry license in the state of Florida are found in Fla. Stat. 790.06. For purposes of obtaining a concealed carry license, Fla. Stat. 790.06 defines concealed firearms and/or weapons as handguns, electronic weapon or devise, tear gas gun, knife or billie club but, does not include machine guns. If you are successful, your concealed carry license will be valid throughout the state of Florida for a period of seven (7) years.

To qualify for a concealed weapons license in Florida the applicant must:

  1. Be a resident and citizen of the United States or a permanent resident alien of the United States;
  2. Be at least 21 years old or older;
  3. Not suffer from a physical infirmity which prevents the safe handling of a weapon or firearm;
  4. Not be a convicted felon; (unless your right to own and possess a firearm was restored by executive clemency);
  5. Have not been “committed” for drug abuse, found guilty of any drug crime or had an adjudication withheld for any drug crime, all within the last three (3) years from the date of your application;
  6. Not chronically and habitually use alcoholic beverages or other substances to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired. It shall be presumed that an applicant chronically and habitually uses alcoholic beverages or other substances to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired if the applicant has been convicted under s. 790.151 or has been deemed a habitual offender under s. 856.011(3), or has had two or more convictions under s. 316.193 or similar laws of any other state, within the 3-year period immediately preceding the date on which the application is submitted;
  7. Not been adjudicated an incapacitated person under Fla. Stat. 744.331 or, must have waited five (5) years after such determination of incapacity was removed by court order;
  8. Has not been committed to a mental institution under chapter 394, or similar laws of any other state. An applicant who has been granted relief from firearms disabilities pursuant to s. 790.065(2)(a)4.d. or pursuant to the law of the state in which the commitment occurred is deemed not to have been committed in a mental institution under this paragraph;
  9. Not had adjudication of guilt withheld or imposition of sentence suspended on any felony unless 3 years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been fulfilled, or expunction has occurred;
  10. Not had adjudication of guilt withheld or imposition of sentence suspended on any misdemeanor crime of domestic violence unless 3 years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been fulfilled, or the record has been expunged;
  11. Not been issued an injunction that is currently in force and effect and that restrains the applicant from committing acts of domestic violence or acts of repeat violence; and
  12. Not prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm by any other provision of Florida or federal law.

Even if you are not prohibited from the purchase and possession of a firearm under Florida or federal law, the following circumstances could still prevent you from qualifying for a concealed carry license in Florida: 

  1. If you have a “withheld adjudication” or “imposition of sentence suspended” on any felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence you must wait until three (3) years after all conditions set by the court have been completed. F. S. 790.06(k)
  2. Under Federal law, if you have an indictment or information pending against you, you cannot qualify for a concealed carry license until that case has been disposed of.
  3. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall deny a license if the applicant has been found guilty of, had adjudication of guilt withheld for, or had imposition of sentence suspended for one or more crimes of violence constituting a misdemeanor, unless 3 years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been fulfilled or the record has been sealed or expunged. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall revoke a license if the licensee has been found guilty of, had an adjudication of guilt withheld for, or had the imposition of sentence suspended for one or more crimes of violence within the preceding 3 years. The department shall, upon notification by a law enforcement agency, a court, or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and subsequent written verification, suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is arrested or formally charged with a crime that would disqualify such person from having a license under this section, until final disposition of the case. The department shall suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is issued an injunction that restrains the licensee or applicant from committing acts of domestic violence or acts of repeat violence. F. S. 790.06(3)

Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group

Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey lives in Oviedo with his family.

Concealed Carry and Florida Hurricane Evacuations

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Recently, as Hurricane Irma was closing in on Florida, Governor Scott issued a proclamation (not to be confused with “states of emergency” that are declared by local authorities under F. S. 870.044) and ordered the evacuation of certain areas of the state. As we are all now accustomed to scenes of rioting and looting during these types of emergencies; what can you do to protect yourself and your family if you do not have a concealed carry license during such an event and you are ordered to evacuate from one of the designated evacuation areas?
F. S. 790.01(3)(a) states that F. S. 790.01(1) (that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for a person to carry a concealed weapon without a concealed carry license) does not apply to a person who carries a concealed weapon, or a person who may lawfully possess a firearm and who carries a concealed firearm, on or about his or her person while in the act of evacuating during a mandatory evacuation order issued during a proclamation declared by the Governor (unless the proclamation specifically provides otherwise) pursuant to chapter 252 or a state of emergency declared by a local authority pursuant to chapter 870. As used in this subsection, the term “in the act of evacuating” means the immediate and urgent movement of a person away from the evacuation zone within 48 hours after a mandatory evacuation is ordered.

The 48 hours may be extended by an order issued by the Governor. Note the distinction between a “proclamation” and a “state of emergency” in that if the evacuation order is by proclamation of the governor, the lawful individual may be in possession of a firearm in a public place (unless provided otherwise specifically in the proclamation) as contrasted to a “state of emergency” under F. S. 870 that only permits the possession of a firearm by a lawful individual in a public place during the “first 48 hours” of the evacuation period whether you have a concealed carry permit or not.

Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group

Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey lives in Oviedo with his family.

What Should I Know if I Want to Sell My Personal Firearm to a Private Citizen?


When selling a firearm, there is a lot of regulation; however, most of it is designed for transactions between Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers (FFL) and private citizens. The good news is that when selling a firearm is conducted between two private citizens, the rules are simple and there is no wait time, but there are still a few legal requirements. In Florida, both persons (seller and buyer) would need to be residents of the State of Florida (or of the same state otherwise); be at least 18 years of age, and must not have any legal disabilities. For a complete list of legal disabilities, see the federal statute at 18 USC 922(g). This is true even for handguns, as opposed to the federal age requirement of 21 years of age for an individual to be able to purchase a handgun from an FFL dealer. The private seller is not required to ask if the buyer has any legal disabilities, but if the buyer tells you or you suspect the buyer may have a disability, you cannot legally sell to them. It would also be prudent to either copy or given technology today, take a picture of the person’s identification evidencing their Florida or same state residence in case any residency issues come up in the future.

What should I know if I want to sell to someone out of state? A private resident of Florida (or any state for that matter) may not legally purchase or sell any firearm directly from or to any private individual that is a resident of another state, period. However, there is a legal exception to get around this prohibition on private firearm sales to persons that are not residents of the same state as the seller.

Federally speaking, a firearm is not transferred until “delivery”. The steps that need to be taken to sell or purchase firearms from private individuals residing in different states are: 1) The firearm must be delivered and picked up at an FFL, for a small fee, in the buyer’s state. 2) The buyer will need to fill out the Form 4473 and obtain the criminal record check and approval in their resident state. 3) The sale must be lawful in the buyer’s resident state. With these steps, you will have a lawful delivery and sale according to federal regulations. Please note again that you cannot legally, directly deliver the firearm to the resident in the other state. Also, be wary of “strawman” transactions. It is a felony for a person to purchase a firearm for a non-resident or for someone with any legal disqualification. If you have reasonable cause to suspect the purchaser is a “strawman”, do not make the sale to that person. F.S. 790.065

What if I’m trying to sell a firearm to someone under the age of 18? Short answer, don’t do it. However, for those of you who enjoy tangling with the intricacies of the law, when the other party is under 18 years of age, it gets rather complicated. It is a felony to sell, give, or lend any person under 18 any weapon, UNLESS you receive prior written permission from one of the minor’s parents or legal guardians. Failure to obtain the parent’s or legal guardians prior written permission is a violation of F.S. 790.17 and a felony if the weapon is a firearm. Florida law forbids the possession of handguns, but not shotguns or rifles, for persons under the age of 18. (even though the Federal law requires you to be at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun from an FFL dealer.) There are a few exceptions to a minor’s legal use and possession of handguns, such as for target practice or handgun instruction courses. You will also still need prior written permission from the minor’s parent or legal guardian to engage in those activities as well. If the minor is 16 years or younger, it’s a felony for them to use the firearm, unless they are supervised by an adult legally permitted to have the firearm. If you were involved in their possession of a firearm, you could also be held civilly liable for damages caused by the minor. As earlier stated, this is a situation best entirely avoided.

Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group

Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey lives in Oviedo with his family.

The Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty Members


One of the most important choices a new military member can make upon enlistment is enrolling in the Montgomery GI Bill Educational Assistance Program. Active duty members who enroll and pay $100 per month for 12 months are then entitled to receive a monthly education benefit once they have completed a minimum service obligation of two years. Eligible Servicemembers may receive up to 36 months of education benefits. The monthly benefit paid to you is based on the type of training you take, the length of your service, your category, any college fund eligibility, and whether or not you contributed to the $600 buy-up program. You usually have 10 years to use your MGIB benefits, but the time limit can be fewer or more years depending on your particular situation. Some Servicemembers may contribute up to an additional $600 while on active duty to the GI Bill to receive increased monthly benefits of up to $5,400 in additional GI Bill benefits.

But keep in mind that even if you contribute the full $1200 – $1800 dollars to the GI Bill, in order to qualify to receive the benefits you must also have an honorable discharge; AND a high school diploma or GED or in some cases 12 hours of college credit; AND you must also meet the requirements of one of the categories below:


  • Entered active duty for the first time after June 30, 1985
  • Had military pay reduced by $100 a month for first 12 months
  • Continuously served for three years or two years, if that is what you first enlisted for or if you entered the Selected Reserve within a year of leaving active duty and served four years (the 2 by 4 program)


  • Entered active duty before January 1, 1977
  • Served at least one day between 10/19/84 and 6/30/85, and stayed on active duty through 6/30/88, (or through 6/30/87 if you entered the Selected Reserve within one year of leaving active duty and served four years)
  • On 12/31/89, you had entitlement left from Vietnam-era GI Bill


  • Not eligible for MGIB under Category I or II
  • On active duty on 9/30/90 AND separated involuntarily after 2/2/91
  • OR involuntarily separated on or after 11/30/93
  • OR voluntarily separated under either the Voluntary
  • Separation Incentive (VSI) or Special Separation
  • Benefit (SSB) program Before separation, you had military pay reduced by $1,200


  • On active duty on 10/9/96 AND you had money remaining in a VEAP account on that date AND you elected MGIB by 10/9/97
  • OR you entered full-time National Guard duty under title 32, USC, between 7/1/85, and 11/28/89, AND you elected MGIB during the period 10/9/96 – 7/08/97
  • Had military pay reduced by $100 a month for 12 months or made a $1,200 lump-sum contribution.

In the event you are discharged from the military under some other characterization other than an “Honorable” discharge, all is not lost. Often times many Servicemembers are able to have their discharge disposition upgraded to Honorable. In that instance, as long as the Servicemember otherwise qualifies, the MGIB benefits should then be available. Keep in mind though that to “otherwise qualify” means that you contributed at least $1200 dollars to the MGIB while on active duty and that the Servicemember served on active duty for at least two years AND has a high school diploma or GED or in some cases 12 hours of college credit; AND further qualifies under one of the four previously mentioned categories. Unfortunately, except for some very few rare exceptions, the MGIB is a use it or lose it benefit.

If the Servicemember contributes $1200 dollars and does not complete at least two years of active duty, you lose the benefit even with an Honorable Discharge. If you contribute $1200 dollars and serve two or more years and are discharged with a discharge code that is not “Honorable”, you will not qualify until you have upgraded your discharge disposition and keep in mind, the clock is ticking. If you are not able to successfully upgrade your discharge to Honorable within 10 years, there is a good possibility you will lose the MGIB benefits.

How to Get a Passport for a Minor Under 16


Obtaining a U.S. passport for your child will require slightly more work than it will take to get one for yourself. To start, both parents or guardians must be present when applying for the passport, except in certain circumstances that will be explained below. Every U.S. citizen needs a passport to enter and leave foreign countries, so even your infant will need to complete the following steps, which cannot be done by mail for first time applicants.

The first step is completing application form DS-11, which may be done either in writing or online. The requested personal information includes your child’s full name, date and place of birth, gender, phone number, travel plans and an emergency contact. Next, you must gather supporting documents to be presented at the time you submit the application at a passport office. You will be required to show: evidence of your child’s U.S. citizenship; proof of the parents’ or guardians’ relationship to the child; a photo ID of the parents/guardians or the child; a photocopy of identification documents; and one passport photo of your child.

Evidence of U.S. citizenship may be demonstrated by: a previously issued, undamaged passport; a certified birth certificate issued by the city, county or state; a consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth; a naturalization certificate; or a certificate of citizenship. To obtain certified copies, contact the registrar’s office of the state where your child was born, and be sure to get the “long form”. Evidence of parental relationship may be demonstrated by: the child’s U.S. birth certificate; foreign birth certificate; adoption decree; divorce/custody decree; or consular report of birth abroad of a U.S. citizen. The parent(s) or guardian(s) applying for the child’s passport must submit photo ID if the child does not have one, an undamaged passport or valid driver’s license will suffice.

If one parent/guardian is unable to appear, the DS-11 application must be accompanied by a signed, notarized form DS-3035: statement of consent from the non-applying parent/guardian. If one parent/guardian is absent and cannot be located, the applying parent must submit form DS-5525: statement of exigent/special family circumstances. The statement must explain in detail the non-applying parent/guardian’s unavailability and the recent efforts made by the applying parent to contact the unavailable party. The applying parent may also be required to provide evidence to document his/her claim of exigent or special circumstances. Evidence may be in the form of a custody order, incarceration order, or restraining order, for example. To protect against international parental child abduction, the Passport Agency processing the application may ask for additional details if the statement is determined to be insufficient.

If the minor has only one parent/guardian, evidence of sole authority to apply for the minor must be submitted with the application. Evidence may include: a U.S. or foreign birth certificate, consular report of birth abroad, or adoption decree, listing only the applying parent; a court order granting sole legal custody to the applying parent; a court order specifically permitting applying parent’s travel with the child; a judicial declaration of incompetence of the non-applying parent; or the death certificate of the non-applying parent.

If you are a parent or guardian and find yourself in need of obtaining a passport for your minor child, particularly if needed during the course of a divorce or paternity proceedings, please contact one our outstanding attorneys at The Orlando Law Group, P.L.

Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group

Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey lives in Oviedo with his family.



Most owners in Florida know that when they want to buy or sell their unit or house that they need to contact the community association, or its attorney, to get an estoppel letter.  Both the Florida Condominium Act and Florida Chapter 720 regarding homeowners associations specifically devote sections to estoppel letters a/k/a certificates of assessments. See 718.116(8) and 720.30851.

But what is an estoppel letter/certificate and why is it important to me? An estoppel certificate is a letter from the association that states any amounts due and owing for fees and/or assessments for a particular unit or house that is valid for 30 days from the date of the letter. The reason it is important is that once you purchase the property, you become liable for all past and present debts on that property. Although there is no statutory form of an estoppel letter, §720.30851 Fla. Stat. requires that the certificate be signed by an officer or authorized agent of the association stating all assessments and other moneys owed to the association by the parcel owner or mortgagee with respect to the parcel. However, it is good practice to include or request within the estopple letter/certificate: the name of the association; the name of the unit/parcel owner; description of the property; the total amount owed to the association; the date through which that total amount is owed; instructions on where to send the payment and signature of an officer of the association or authorized agent.

Upon request of the estoppel letter, the homeowners’ association may charge a reasonable fee for the preparation of the letter, however, an interesting caveat of §720.30851(3) Fla. Stat. states that if the certificate is requested in conjunction with the sale or mortgage of a parcel, but the closing does not occur and no later than 30 days after the closing date for which the certificate was sought the preparer receives a written request, accompanied by reasonable documentation, that the sale did not occur from a payor that is not the parcel owner, the fee shall be refunded to that payor within 30 days after receipt of the request. The refund is the obligation of the parcel owner, and the association may collect it from that owner in the same manner as an assessment as provided in this section. As with any legal transaction, knowledge is power. According to ( approximately 1,000 people move to Florida each day. Many of those people come from areas that do not have homeowners’ associations and new Florida residents are often surprised to learn that even though the homeowner may be up to date on their mortgage payments, that failure to pay homeowners’ fees and assessments can lead to foreclosure as well, regardless of your current mortgage status.

If you are considering purchasing property governed by a homeowners’ association or if you already own a home within a homeowners’ association and find yourself in need of legal advice regarding a dispute with the association, the knowledgeable attorneys at The Orlando Law Group, PL can help.

Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group

Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey is a graduate of Oviedo High School and lives in Oviedo with his family.

Five Ways to Build More Trust


Some years back UCLA did a survey of 1300 executives around the country and they asked for five traits that were keys to hiring and advancement for employees. All 1300 of them included INTEGRITY somewhere in the list.

Here’s the real kicker. 71% of them rated INTEGRITY NUMBER ONE! Being TRUSTWORTHY is an integral part of integrity. So, obviously, being trustworthy is a critical character trait if you want to move up the corporate ladder, keep your employees, or build your customer base.

Bob Burg will tell you that all things being equal people will do business with people they know, like, and TRUST.

The first law of the Boy Scout Law, which defines how a Boy Scout is supposed to live their life, is “A Scout is Trustworthy”. Here’s the explanation: “A Scout always tells the truth. He is honest and keeps his promises. People can depend on him.”

Our trustworthiness is also quite obviously a key to our relationships with others.

  • If your spouse or significant other can’t trust you, the relationship is destroyed.
  • If your friends can’t trust you and count on you, then they will simply no longer expect anything from you and eventually will simply stop being around you or having your around.
  • If your co-workers can’t trust you, then you will not be able to function as part of a team.
  • If your employees can’t trust you, they will become disengaged and productivity suffers; not to mention the bottom line.

We know this, yet somehow the focus on trust seems to be lost somewhere in the desire to “close the deal” or secure what we want. When we focus on trust, however, we find that acquiring those things and closing that deal becomes easier because of who we are and what we stand for.

When we are trustworthy, we are the go to person that everyone counts on to make it happen. That has value in so many ways, including financially.

Being trustworthy is the deal-maker…or the deal breaker.

Here are some ways you can build trust on a daily basis:

  • PRODUCE RESULTS – when you have a proven track record of accomplishing things people will trust you to meet the deadline or to accomplish the task or lead them.
  • GIVE YOUR WORD ONLY WHEN YOU MEAN IT – Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • KEEP YOUR WORD AT ALL COSTS – This is critical. When people know that you are going to do what you say you are going to do no matter what, then your trustworthiness grows and builds over time.
  • BE CONSISTENT – Consistency is a key to both trustworthiness and integrity. People need to know what they can count on.
  • RESPECT YOURSELF AND OTHERS – When you show respect for other people and respect yourself, then people will believe and trust that you are who you say you are and you will do what you say you are going to do.

Are you trusted? Who do you trust? Where can you deepen the levels of trust? What action will you take today to rebuild trust?

Added Bonus: CLICK HERE to receive Paul’s e-book Fifteen Innovative Ways to Show Employees You Care 

You will be asked for your name and email – no sales call unless you request it. 

Author: Paul Simkins

Paul Simkins is a Performance Management Trainer, Speaker, and Coach who helps organizations and individuals re-engage their employees, maximize productivity and experience optimal team cohesion. Paul is a second-generation native of Orlando and currently lives in Oviedo.

Learn more about Paul and his company Ah-Ha! Moments Learning, LLC by visiting:

Know Your Immigration Options


There are multiple occupations and opportunities for employment in the United States in several industries and categories that may qualify a person for a Visa in the U.S. including cultural exchange participants, agricultural workers, technology specialists, engineers, scientists, athletes and much more. All workers must obtain permission to work legally in the United States.

It is important you hire an attorney that understands the many different employment Visa opportunities, requirements, and conditions, including the authorized periods of stay.

Among the opportunities offered by the United States, an individual can apply for temporary (nonimmigrant) worker status, Permanent (Immigrant) Worker status, or Student and exchange visitors, who under certain circumstances may be allowed to work in the United States. You may also visit the United States for business purposes. Under this condition, you must obtain a Temporary Visitor for Business Visa, known as B-1 Visa. Unless you qualify for what is called a Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Visa Waiver Program was instituted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allowing persons of certain countries to travel to the United States without having to obtain a nonimmigrant Visa (for no more than 90 days).

Citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP, unless citizens of one of these countries are also a national of Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan.

Czech Republic
New Zealand
San Marino
South Korea
United Kingdom**

*Eligible Taiwan passport holders with an approved ESTA will be able to visit the United States without a visa starting from November 1, 2012.

**To be eligible to travel under the VWP, British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.

Now That You’re Elected to the Board, Are You Aware of the Reporting Statute?


Congratulations! You’ve succeeded in being elected as a member to the prestigious world of your Homeowner’s Association Board of Directors! But are you aware of the certification requirements of Fla. Stat. 720.3033 that could suspend or even end your newly “elected official” career before it’s even begun? As a newly elected Homeowner’s Association Board Member you are required to comply with the reporting requirements imposed by the Florida Legislature through the enactment of Florida Statute 720.3033 as amended on July 01, 2013 and that requires all HOA directors to verify that they are prepared and qualified to serve their respective association board in one of two ways.

The first option via §720.3033(1)(a) is that within 90 days after being elected or appointed to the board, each director shall certify in writing to the secretary of the association that he or she has read the association’s declaration of covenants, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and current written rules and policies; that he or she will work to uphold such documents and policies to the best of his or her ability; and that he or she will faithfully discharge his or her fiduciary responsibility to the association’s members.

The second option via §720.3033(1)(a) is that within 90 days after being elected or appointed to the board, in lieu of such written certification, the newly elected or appointed director may submit a certificate of having satisfactorily completed the educational curriculum administered by a division-approved education provider within 1 year before or 90 days after the date of election or appointment. Furthermore, according to §720.3033(1)(b), the written certification or educational certificate is valid for the uninterrupted tenure of the director on the board. It would behoove the newly elected or appointed board member to pay heed to this requirement because a director who does not timely file the written certification or educational certificate shall be suspended from the board until he or she complies with the requirement and the board may temporarily fill the vacancy during the period of suspension. However, as a side note, it would be prudent and diligent for the newly elected director to be familiar with and understand both their own associations governing documents and the Florida Statutes applicable to homeowner’s associations.

After you have complied with the reporting requirements of §720.3033, the association shall retain each director’s written certification or educational certificate for inspection by the members for 5 years after the director’s election. However, the failure to have the written certification or educational certificate on file does not affect the validity of any board action as provided in §720.3033(1)(c). It bears noting at this juncture that if for any reason you are removed from or surrender your position as a director prior to the termination of your elected term that you will have to re-certify upon being re-elected or appointed back on the board of directors in the same manner as your initial election or appointment.

If you have any questions about your homeowner’s association please feel free to schedule a consultation with one of the outstanding attorney’s at The Orlando Law Group PL.

Changes in Circumstances Could Modify Your Florida Child Support


You’ve gone through a divorce, which is never an easy thing for anyone. The emotional and time toll that these proceedings take on a person can be utterly exhausting. But once the judge bangs the final gavel, is there more to do, save fulfill your court-mandated obligations? Well, if children are involved, the answer to that is, quite possibly!

Child support determinations are not set in stone. There are factors which can lead to a case being reopened, and modification occurring as to exactly how much is owed. Modifications to an existing child support ruling are sought when a substantial change in circumstances occurs. This alteration will either increase or decrease the amount of child support which is paid or received by a party.

But what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances? The loss of a job, or a large promotion, is certainly the first which spring to mind. Any substantial increase or decrease in income could be seen by the court as cause to modify the existing ruling. However, it is more than just a change in either party’s income that merits such a modification. Rulings could be changed if expenses shift, such as an increase or decrease in the cost of daycare or health insurance for the child. Another example of an opportunity for child support modification comes when a child turns 18 and graduates from high school.

But, when it comes to divorced families, money is not the only factor that can be re-determined. Time sharing is also determined by the court, and can always be modified provided there be a substantial change in circumstance. The alleging party must prove that such a shift has occurred, and show the court that the requested change, whether it be for an increase or decrease of time, is in the best interest of the child.

Time and money are two factors that can prove daunting in the post-divorce landscape. If you are seeking to modify your existing child support or time management arrangement, it is important to have the input of an experienced and skilled attorney.

The Orlando Law Group specializes in family law, including modifications. Call us at 407.512.4394 to schedule a consultation today!

The Pros and Cons of Testamentary Trusts in Florida


A trust is a formal arrangement made with a trusted person, or trustee, which conveys property as directed by you. Trusts can be created during your lifetime, which is known as an inter vivos trust. But trusts can also be created upon your death. Such trusts are known as testamentary trusts, and as is the case with most everything in this world, there are positives and negatives that go along with it.

A testamentary trust is created through your Last Will and Testament. As the Will does not go into effect until the time of your death, the trust does also not exist until then. Generally, these trusts are created for young children, relatives with disabilities, and others who may be inheriting a large sum of money.

So, why should you create a testamentary trust?


Testamentary trusts, as an item in your will, fall under the jurisdiction and oversight of the judge and the court. This gives your trust several extra pairs of eyes that determine whether legal requirements have been met. Oversight also ensures that your trustee will cooperate accordingly, lest they violate a mandate of the court.

This is particularly helpful, as it ensures that your wishes will be followed to the letter and that your beneficiaries will not have to deal with any daunting issues brought about by mistakes in fulfilling legal requirements.


As this is an item in your Will, the trust is funded during probate, and thus falls under probate proceeding. During the probate proceedings, assets will be transferred to the trust by a probate lawyer. As it is passing through probate court, the trust will also be held to the Florida probate filing fee. Probate also takes time, with small estates lasting in probate court for over a week, while medium-sized to larger estates can take up to two months.

Also, the terms of your testamentary trust will be a matter of public record, so anyone can see what you’re looking to do with your money. This can be a con for anyone who values their privacy.

At the end of the day, whether a testamentary trust or an inter vivos trust is right for you is dependent upon your personal preference. Do you want to avoid probate? Do you think you’ll need court oversight? Is having your trust as a matter of public record problematic for you? Once you answer those questions, you’ll have a better understanding of what kind of trust you want, and how the process will work for you and your trustees.

The Orlando Law Group specializes in the creation of both inter vivos and testamentary trusts. Call us today at 407.512.4394 to schedule a consultation.

This Memorial Day, Honor Our Veterans


This Monday, Americans will honor the fallen soldiers of the United States Armed Forces on Memorial Day. Many see this holiday, and the weekend surrounding it as a time to take off from work, go to the beach and have bar-b-ques with friends and family. But Memorial Day is about so much more than that.

Memorial Day is a time to pay homage and show our respect to the brave men and women who have laid down their lives in the name of American freedom. Their selfless sacrifices afford us the ability to live free and happy lives. Our armed forces are to be commended, respected, and honored as the true heroes that they are.

This is one of the reasons that The Orlando Law Group takes cases of Veteran Law so seriously. When a soldier returns from combat injured or disabled, and unable to return to work, it is our duty as legal professionals to defend those rights. Many times, returning heroes of our military find their request for disability benefits denied by the Veterans Association.

It is our pledge to fight this legal battle and defend our soldiers with the same determination they used overseas to defend us.

If you are a veteran who has been denied your right to disability pay by the VA, call The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394 and schedule a consultation.

To all of our friends and clients, have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. And to all of the veterans out there, from all of us at The Orlando Law Group, we thank you for your service and your bravery!

A Social Security Disability Denial is NOT the End


Social Security Disability benefits are a vital resource, yet most applicants are initially rejected. So, what does this mean? Should you just give up? Absolutely not! An initial denial is not the end of the road, it is the beginning of the process.

An application for Social Security Disability benefits should start with a conversation with an experienced attorney. They will be able to explain the filing process to you and gather any necessary documents/medical records that will be needed in filing your claim.

Applications should be started immediately after becoming disabled. You can apply either online or by scheduling an appointment with a Florida Social Security Administration representative. The claims representative assigned to you serves several functions. They answer any questions you may have, and also handle the paperwork needed to send to Disability Determination Services. The DDS makes the initial determination as to whether you meet the SSA’s requirements for being disabled, as well as the actual amount of benefits you could receive.

The first application can take up to six months. The examiner will comb through your relevant medical records and may also inquire as to your current condition. It is not uncommon at this stage to be asked to undertake a consultative medical examination or a questionnaire.

A second request for reconsideration will return your application to the examiner for a period of up to five months. The examiner will order any medical records and physician’s reports not included in the initial stage. Most requests for a second reconsideration are denied, and unfortunately, many people give up there. However, there is still hope.

At this stage, it is time to bring a legal expert into the fray, if you have not done so already. The third request for benefits is a hearing before an administrative law judge, which could take up to a year to happen. Your attorney will assemble a copy of your file and other medical records that have not been received by the Social Security Administration previously.

At this level, most claims are approved, but if not, there are additional appeal levels that can be taken.

If you are considering applying for Social Security Disability, or have been denied in the past, contact The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394 for a consultation.

What Should I Do After An Auto Accident


You’ve been in an automobile accident. Many emotions can run through your head during such a difficult moment. Shock, anxiety, even rage can occur following the sudden jarring impact of a vehicular collision. But your actions immediately following an accident can have a huge effect on what comes next, from a legal standpoint.

So, what are the Top 10 actions you should take following an automobile accident?

  1. Do Not Leave: Leaving the scene of an accident before it is appropriate can have a huge impact on both the case and your life. If you flee the scene, you could be charged as a hit-and-run driver, which carries serious criminal penalties. Remember to always stay at the scene until reports have been filed.
  2. Health Check: Before determining property damage, be sure to check on everyone involved in the accident. If someone has sustained an injury, be sure to call for medical help first and foremost. This will ensure that the injured party receives care as fast as possible. If anyone is complaining of back or neck pain or appears to be unconscious, do not move them until medical professionals arrive on the scene.
  3. Alert the Police: The police need to be involved in any accident in which significant property damage, injury, or death has occurred. Once they arrive, you should request a police report be filed. Take careful note of who the responding officers are. Write down their names and badge numbers.
  4. Get Information: Make sure you gather information from all drivers involved in the accident. Names, phone numbers, addresses, drivers’ license numbers, license plate numbers and insurance policy info are all important. Make sure you know the names and phone numbers of any passengers involved as well. When speaking with another driver involved in the accident it is important to maintain a level head. Always stay cooperative.
  5. Speak with Witnesses: Talk to anyone who witnessed the accident. Get their names, phone numbers, and addresses. There are many free-to-use smartphone apps for voice recording. Record statements from witnesses on the scene. This can be useful evidence later on.
  6. Take Photos: Make sure you take photos at the scene to showcase the damage. Another best practice tip would be to take photos of your car now so that in the event of an accident you have a before and after image.
  7. Be Honest with Your Insurance Company: Make sure you report the accident to your insurance provider right away and be truthful with them. If the insurer finds out that you’ve lied about something, they could deny your coverage.
  8. Keep Track of Medical Treatment: Make sure that you keep a running log of any doctors and specialists you see in regard to injuries sustained in your accident. Keep a record of all medications, procedures, and bills accrued through treatment of these injuries. Keep a record of how your injuries have impacted your daily life to prove Pain and Suffering in a future court case.
  9. Watch What You Say: Immediately following the accident, while emotions are high, never apologize or admit to any fault. Such statements could be considered an admission of legal liability. In the following weeks, it is best not to discuss the accident with anyone outside of the authorities, your insurance company, and your attorney. If the other party’s insurance company tries to contact you, do not speak with them. Politely direct them to your attorney to arrange an interview.
  10. Hire an Attorney: This is perhaps the single most important action you can take following an accident. An experienced attorney is vital to maximizing your recovery efforts if you’ve been injured, or to defend you if you are at fault. The counsel and efforts of an attorney will save you time and money as the case proceeds.

The attorneys of The Orlando Law Group specialize in personal injury cases. Seeking legal representation before medical treatment advances is essential to the process. If you’ve been in an accident, call The Orlando Law Group today at 407.512.4394 and book a consultation with a personal injury attorney.

Know The Law When Adopting a Child

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Adoption is a beautiful way to grow your family. Taking in a child in need, either domestically or abroad is one of the most noble and rewarding experiences a parent can undertake. The process for adoption can be long and arduous, and mistakes can cause major setbacks, up to and including having the adoption disrupted. The presence of an adoption attorney can help you avoid these potentially disastrous consequences and welcome your new addition in peace!

When choosing to adopt a child, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different types of adoptions available.

Domestic Child Adoption speaks of a scenario in which you and the child you wish to adopt are both residing within the United States. If the prospective parent and child reside within the same state, it is called domestic intrastate adoption. If they are in different states, it is known as domestic interstate adoption. Adoption specifics vary depending on the state or states involved and the level of cooperation from the birth parents. Domestic intrastate adoption is a far simpler process, as you only have to concern yourself with meeting the requirements of one state.

When you adopt a child from a country other than the one you reside in, that is called International Child Adoption. This process is subject to the laws and regulations of your state, the United States government, and the foreign government where the child is coming from. International Adoptions are also subject to the requirements of The Hague Convention, a treaty among member countries that sets internationally agreed-upon minimum procedures for all member country affiliated adoptions.

In both types of adoption, it is important to have a Home Study completed prior to taking custody. The Home Study is the require detailed evaluation of you, your spouse, your home and surrounding environment. This step is required for all domestic and international adoptions.

In addition to the choice between International and Domestic Adoptions, you will also be faced with several other decisions that must be made. For instance, are you using a licensed adoption agency or is this a private adoption? Will you work with a facilitator who coordinates the adoption, or through the Foster Care system? Will you have an open adoption, in which the identity of the birth parents is known, or a closed adoption where no information on the birth family is given? Understanding the importance and consequences of each choice is vital, and is yet another avenue where legal guidance comes into play.

Failure to understand the laws and rights of both the birth parents and the adopting family can cause a disruption to the process. If you are planning on adding to your family through adoption, it is important to seek legal aid before the process begins.

The attorneys of The Orlando Law Group are equipped with the knowledge and experience to aid in your quest to grow your family. Call us at 407.512.4394 and schedule a consultation today.

How Does Contempt Work in Family Cases?

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If you watch any court show, you’ve surely heard the word “contempt” tossed around. But do you know what it means? Contempt of Court is a provision that allows a judge to deincentivize and even punish individuals who are hindering the administration of justice. In cases of family law, contempt is particularly relevant. Often times, ex-spouses will violate or ignore court mandates such as child support payments, alimony, or visitation time due to spite against their former spouse. When such a situation occurs, a judge could find the offending party in contempt.

Contempt should be taken seriously. Potential consequences could range from fines to sanctions or evil incarceration.

There are two types of contempt, criminal and civil. In a case of criminal contempt, a “show cause” hearing must be held, in which the involved parties present sworn testimony and evidence in an attempt to show why one party should or should not be found in contempt. Criminal contempt can be both direct and indirect. A case of direct criminal contempt occurs when a party violates a court order in the presence of the court itself. For instance, if a Judge orders a party to stop bringing up irrelevant information, and the party willfully disobeys that order, they are in direct criminal contempt. Indirect criminal contempt occurs when a party fails to comply with a court order outside of the court. If the court orders one party to stop contacting the other, and they ignore this edict, they are in indirect criminal contempt.

Civil contempt is dependent upon a court ruling, stating that the offending party had the ability to comply, but refused to do so. Civil contempt courses also carry a “purge provision” in which a judge will lay out a particular action which, once undertaken, will eliminate the contempt. One example could be an ex-spouse who owes 6 months of back child support. Paying the back-owed amount could eliminate the contempt and any consequences that come with it.

If your former spouse has violated a court order, and is refusing to pay alimony, child support, or violates visitation rights, you may be able to petition the court to find them in civil contempt. The court could then fine or sanction your former spouse, or incarcerate them until he or she complies. A petition, however, does not automatically lead to a finding of civil contempt.

The presence of experienced legal counsel is vital to this process. A family law attorney comes to the table armed with the knowledge of court proceedings and knows how to properly bring the issue before a judge. There are many procedural rules that must be followed in cases of contempt, and evidence must be presented in a specific way.

The Orlando Law Group is experienced in such matters and will help you navigate the court’s contempt system to ensure that you receive the support you are legally entitled to. If you believe your ex-spouse might be in contempt, call The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394 to schedule a consultation.

Fighting a Traffic Violation in Florida


If you feel that you have been given an unjust violation, you can do more than just stew in anger over it. By pleading not guilty in traffic court, you can fight the violation and move to have the charges dropped. Once you receive a traffic violation, Florida courts give you 30 days to inform your county clerk of your intention to dispute the citation. Instructions regarding how you can fight the violation differ based on the county it was issued in. Normally, the ticket itself will have useful information printed on it, such as a phone number, address, and instructions as to how you can contact the court.

A traffic attorney can attend your court date with you, and aid in your position, seeking to prove that you did not violate a traffic law. Your attorney will work with you beforehand to gather evidence, witnesses, and explain all options to you as it pertains to the case. Florida courts will not appoint you an attorney in a traffic case. Those who do not hire an attorney will be representing themselves.

The day that you enter your plea is not necessarily the day that your trial will be held. You should always plan ahead for the potential of many trips to court before this matter is resolved. Once at trial, your attorney will be able to argue the law, call your witnesses, present evidence, and even question representatives from the police department. After both sides have presented their case, the judge will render judgment.

If you are found not guilty the issue is resolved. The ticket is dismissed, and you will not have to pay the fine. The violation will also vanish from your driving record. If you are found guilty, you will pay the fine and possibly any court fees associated with the case as well. A lawyer can usually negotiate penalties, and help to minimize your cost and repercussions.

Fighting a traffic violation can be a daunting process. If you walk in unprepared you might be setting yourself up for a costly failure which, in some cases, can lead to jail time. The Orlando Law Group will fight for your rights and your freedom. If you have a traffic violation you intend to fight, call us at 407.512.4394.

How is Paternity Determined in Florida?


When the mother and alleged father are in agreement as to the child’s parentage, they can sign what is known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form. When you sign this form, you are stating, under oath, that the man listed is the child’s legal father. Once signed, it takes 60 days for the acknowledgement to become final. After that initial period, neither parent can revoke it, unless they can present in court proof of fraud or extreme force used to get the signature.

When there is discrepancy or disagreement as to a child’s parentage, the mother or alleged father may petition the court to establish paternity. This process can be started by the mother, the man who has been identified as the father, the child through a legal representative, or the Florida Department of Child Services. Cases can be started before a child’s birth, but cannot be held until the child is born.

The court will order a genetic test to prove or disprove alleged paternity. Following the results of this examination, the judge may make orders as it pertains to child support, decision-making authority, parenting time, health insurance of the child, or payment of either party’s attorney fees and court costs.

If you are involved in a paternity dispute, the attorneys of The Orlando Law Group are here to help! Call us at 407.512.4394 to schedule a consultation!

Spring Clean Your Life!


If you’ve been drowning in debt, then it might be time to consider filing for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is the perfect way to get your financial life back on track, allowing you to erase your debt and repay your creditors. If you can prove that you are entitled to a declaration of bankruptcy, the court will grant you protection during your proceeding. The Orlando Law Group are specialists in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy and will walk you through every step of this important process. Divorce looms over unhappy marriages. It is that bridge many fear to walk over. Divorce is not the end of the world, though, and many couples find their lives to be improved by separating from a toxic situation. The divorce process can be tricky, though, and it’s always important to have a dedicated and experienced legal team on your side. The Orlando Law Group specializes in family law and would be proud to stand beside you.

Spring is also the perfect time to begin the process of starting your own business. Let your career bloom and grow beautifully by starting to move forward toward becoming your own boss. When creating a business, you first need to decide what type of company you’re looking for and then file all of the necessary paperwork to ensure that you’re set up and ready to begin raking in the cash. This is a complicated process, and one misfiled form could set you back in time and money. The Orlando Law Group has a vast array of business law services. For a full list, CLICK HERE.

Whether you’re attempting to sort out your personal or professional life, spring time represents the perfect season for your rebirth. Spring Clean your life with The Orlando Law Group! Call 407.512.4394 to schedule a consultation today!

Use Your Tax Return To Take Control of Your Debt


According to a study from, the most common form of debt comes from mortgages, at 44%. Unpaid credit card balances come next with 39%. Car loans make up 37%, and student loans round out the list with 21%. These numbers are absolutely staggering, and a large portion of that 80% will never live to see themselves debt free.

This year, rather than use your tax return on something frivolous, invest in fixing your finances. Bankruptcy is a powerful tool that aids those struggling and drowning in their debt, offering a fresh start and a chance to correct the mistakes of their past.

People who reside, own property, or have a place of business in the United States may file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7. Chapter 13 enables debtors with regular income to create a plan to repay all or part of their debts to creditors over a three-to-five-year period.

The Orlando Law Group specializes in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, and will help you navigate this process, and get your financial life back on track! To book a consultation, call us at 407.512.4394.

How Does Bankruptcy Affect Child Support Payments?


The BAPCPA recognizes child support payments as financial support that is intended to maintain human life. Therefore, such monetary arrangements are highly prioritized and protected by the court system.

If your ex-spouse files for bankruptcy it is not a reason to worry. Bankruptcy will not eliminate child support payments, nor can it change the monthly amount you’re owed. What it will do is eliminate certain low-priority debt which will make it easier for your ex to make domestic support payments, including child support.

The attorneys of The Orlando Law Group are experts in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, as well as Family Law. We stand at the ready to assist you through these processes and answer any and all questions you might have. Schedule a consultation today by calling 407.512.4394.

Adult Guardianship in Florida – What You Need to Know


This process consists of three steps.

1.       The court must determine the proposed ward’s mental incapacity.

2.       The guardian must be officially appointed for the purpose of carrying out the Ward’s personal and/or financial affairs.

3.       Accounting must be provided to the court regarding the Ward’s affairs.

Florida law accounts for both voluntary and involuntary guardianships. Voluntary guardianships occur when the ward is mentally competent, but incapable of managing his or her own estate. They voluntarily petition for the appointment of a guardian.

Involuntary Guardianship occurs when another individual files a petition in Probate court, stating that the proposed ward lacks the mental or physical capacity to manage their own person and/or property.

Subsequent to the appointment of a guardian, the ward may lose some or all of following rights:

          The right to Vote

          The right to marry

          The right to travel at will

          The right to seek or retain employment

          The right to have a driver’s license

There are several different forms of guardianship.

Guardianship of the Person:

          The Ward has little or no assets that require guardianship, but their ability to make decisions such as medical care, housing arrangements, and personal care are in question.

          Financial accountings are avoided; however, the court still requires an annual plan summarizing the previous year and detailing proposed care strategies for the following year.

Limited Guardianships and Guardianships of the Property

          The individual in question is capable of making personal decisions, but incapable of making financial decisions.

          Guardian oversees the proper management of assets and makes an annual accounting to the court.

          Also occurs if a minor is beneficiary of an estate and inherits money.

          Also applies to scenarios in which a lawsuit settlement is payable to someone under the age of 18.

          Permission from the court would be required before these funds can be used.

          The guardian is responsible for making annual accountings to the court.

Plenary Guardianship

          The ward is incapable of making BOTH financial and personal care decisions.

          Guardian will oversee all decision-making areas.

          Guardian will solicit the court for permission to spend assets for the benefit of the ward.

          Guardian is responsible for accounting the ward’s assets and care.

Guardian Advocacy

          A developmentally disabled child turns 18 and is viewed as an adult in the eyes of the law.

          Summary form of guardianship in which the ward’s prior condition and medical reports take the place of an incapacity determination.

          Guardian Ad Litem attorney is appointed to represent the ward and their rights in court.

          Guardian Ad Litem investigates what solutions would be in the best interest of the ward.

Guardianship can be a complicated and difficult process to navigate. The Orlando Law Group specializes in guardianship, and is ready to answer your questions. Call 407.512.4394 for more information, or to schedule a free consultation. 

Debunking the Myths of Probate


MYTH: The Probate Process Lasts for YEARS

Truth: The vast majority of estates actually pass through probate court quite quickly. There are some factors that could lead to an elongated process. Those include continued income generated by the estate (Like that of a celebrity), family fighting, or if the estate is massive in size.

MYTH: Avoiding Probate Saves Money on Taxes

Truth: Sorry, but no. Estate taxes are determined under the tax law, which exists separately from probate rules.

MYTH: Probate Will Eat Up Most of the Estate’s Funds

Truth: In most cases, probate costs less than five percent of the estate value. Even that is only the case when you’re actually required to go through for formal process. Not all estates are required to do it.

MYTH: All of an Estate’s Assets Pass Through Probate

Truth: Nope! Assets titled in your name are the only ones that will pass through probate. Any jointly titled assets will pass outside of probate to the surviving owner or owners. IRA’s, retirement plans, and life insurance plans will also pass outside of probate as per your designation of beneficiaries.

MYTH: My Information Will be Kept Confidential

Truth: Not true at all. Any information that passes through probate will be a matter of public record.

Probate is a highly detailed process, which most people do not have any in-depth knowledge of. For assistance in creating your Will, it is always best to seek the aid of an attorney. The Orlando Law Group stands at the ready to assist you through this process. Call 407.512.4394 to book a consultation today!

Employers Can Save Big on Insurance Costs for Older Employees


For Example : If the employer is paying $1,200/month for employee insurance – $14,400 per year.

Medicare Part B is: $121

Medicare Part D is: $32

Medicare Supplement is: $185

TOTAL COST: $338/month – $4,056 per year                   


This new plan is good with ALL doctors that accept Medicare in the United States. There are no copays, no deductibles, no referrals, and no medical payments for the employee. Coverage is 100%. Even with incidental costs for the employer, such as extra tax, bookkeeping, etc. the savings are still well over $8,000 per year

Therefore, employers should investigate this option with an insurance professional to help both themselves and their employees.

Mitchell Gordon has been a certified independent licensed insurance broker/agent for 17 years. He provides coverage for life policies to include Term, Whole, IUL, and Final Expense. He also provides coverage for various annuities and health policies such as Long Term Care, Dental, and Critical Illness. Mitchell specializes in Medicare/Medicaid education. He works with physicians and practice managers to help educate their patients about their health plans. Mitchell also gives seminars for churches, schools, and homeowner associations at no cost.

SEO is the Present and Future of Digital Marketing


The benefits of SEO are obvious. If you are an insurance broker in Orlando Florida, you want the influx of business brought upon by customers performing a google search for the services that you offer and in your area. Often times, when looking for services, consumers will perform an internet search to comb through vendors in their area before asking for referrals from friends.

Being listed at number one not only puts you in front of more potential clients and customers, but it instills a sense of quality in their minds. Google is a very well respected company, and when they list you as the number one authority in your field, it is a stamp of approval that goes a long way for consumers.

Your SEO score can be improved through content tweaks, as stated above. We live in the era of content, and when it comes to digital marketing, content is king.

  • To begin a successful SEO campaign, first you have to identify which key search terms you want to be ranked for. This is done through careful research. It’s important to target high volume terms that many people are searching for, that are also relevant to your industry. Google has a number of tools available to aid in this research, detailing the monthly numbers of searches for any key term you enter.
  • Once you have a plan of attack, adjust the content of your website so that it falls in line with your research findings. Consistently create new blogs and update your website’s information pages to include the key terms you want to be ranked for. Words, phrases, and relevant information need to be peppered throughout your pages, shining like a beacon on a VERY crowded street. When someone performs a search, Google’s bots crawl the web gathering information. Your content needs to stand out amongst the crowd.
  • These bots also check your site’s metadata, the descriptive information built into your pages. It is important to have your metadata and title tags optimized. A common mistake that many people make is having a title tag that states who they are, and not what they do. Google already knows who you are. What it’s looking for when compiling search engine results is what you do. A title tag that says “Johnson’s Dental Associates” isn’t going to do much for you. But if your title tag reads “24 Hour Emergency Dentist Surgeon Orlando FL” then you’re letting Google know what you do, and that information goes toward your SEO ranking.
  • The final and most important step of the SEO process is backlink generation. This is the most time consuming and difficult piece. Google needs to see relevant websites linking back to you. Typically, SEO specialist marketing firms will submit link bearing content to a variety of directories in an attempt to have links published on various sites. Many companies attempt to cheat the system by creating dummy websites featuring links back to their main site, to trick Google into increasing their ranking. This worked…for a time. But Google caught on and now tactics like this will actually hurt your SEO score. Backlink generation and the time it requires is one of the biggest reasons to bring on a marketing firm to handle your ongoing monthly SEO efforts.

SEO is not an overnight process. There is no guaranteed timeframe for first-page penetration, nor is getting onto the first page assured. Each case is different, and matters such as competition, key term search volume and more come into play. Typically, we estimate seeing a return on investment in SEO at around the six-month mark.

Because of this, many companies choose to subsidize their SEO efforts with Google Adwords, a service offered by Google in which you bid on key words and pay based on the number of clicks you receive. Adwords begins working immediately, giving the SEO time to gain momentum. Then, once the SEO is providing a return on investment, Adwords can be phased out.

SEO is the present and future of digital marketing. We live in a Google search society, and as such, our standing in the world of SEO becomes more important by the day. SEO is not something you take on for a short time and then abandon. It is a living breathing thing that must be nurtured on a consistent basis. It is time-consuming consuming, and at times frustrating. But it also can be lucrative, empowering, and rewarding in the long-run! 

Rogan Marketing and Communications is a Full-Service Marketing firm, specializing in website design and creation, collateral creation, video production, social media management, branding, and more. For more information, visit, or call 407.601.0845. 

Does Your Employee Handbook Negate Your At-Will Status?


Florida is an “at-will” state, meaning an employer has the right to terminate an employee without having to establish just cause, and without warning. The only employees who this would not apply to are those protected by a legal employment contract. A contract might provide a period of time in which an employee can only be terminated for limited reasons, as outlined. This can be a powerful bargaining tool when trying to woo a strong prospect with an offer of job security.

The wording of your employee handbook is so important, as one or two sentences could turn the document from an informative onboarding tool into a legal contract that ties the hands of an employer. Creating a contract through implication can occur with something as simple as stating that employment will be terminated if there is “good cause,” or making promises of job security for employees who do “good work”. One or two words of careless copy could land you in a mountain of legal trouble.  

When a probationary period is outlined in an employee handbook, it could create an implied contract. A court might interpret the transition from probationary employee to permanent employee to imply job security, and thus the permanent employee cannot be terminated at will.

It is also important to note your disciplinary policies. If you state that employees can only be fired for certain instances of outlined misconduct, and will undergo a series of warnings, write-ups, and documented coachings, a court could require you to live up to that. If an employee is released for a reason not outlined in the official policy, or if a step in procedure was skipped, that employee could sue you for breach of contract.

A simple fluffy statement like “hardworking employees will always have a job here,” can be seen by a court as a promise of job security. This would necessitate the presence of “good cause” for termination, effectively neutering your “at-will” rights from a legal standpoint.

When drafting an employee handbook, you should avoid any and all language that could be perceived as a promise of job security. Outline your rights as an at-will employer in the handbook, clearly stating that nothing found within is meant to be taken as a contract for employment. Finally, ensure that you are fully protected by requiring employees to sign an acknowledgement form, which states that they understand their employment is at-will and can be terminated at any time for any reason.

The Orlando Law Group stands at the ready to aid businesses in creating and reviewing business policies. If you are establishing a business, or simply looking to review your current employment policies, call The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394 for a consultation.

Protect Business Assets in Your Estate Plan


It is best practice for a business owner to outline their wishes in his or her Last Will and Testament. In this document, a business owner can divide their assets among beneficiaries, and name an executor to oversee the distribution of both personal and business assets. If your business happens to be a sole proprietorship, in which you are the only owner, the executor should also be given access to the business’s digital identity; namely email accounts, bank accounts, accounting information, and social media sites. As wills are a matter of public record, this information should not be included in the body of the document itself.

Power of Attorney should also be established in the estate plan, to ensure that should the owner ever become incapacitated for any reason, an individual is named who has the authority to handle the everyday affairs of the business. This ensures that all facets of a company continue to work in the absence of its owner, including asset management, paying bills, making payroll, and all other vital functions that will ensure the company’s survival in the interim.

A strong succession plan should also be included in any comprehensive estate plan for business owners. This plan should be written out formally and prepared years in advance. A succession plan lays out the transition of a business’s leadership following the exit of its owner, and a new owner is established to take the reins. This person can be a family member, long-time employee, or anyone the owner fully trusts with the continued future of their company. For more information on succession planning, check out our blog entry HERE.

If your business is a partnership, in which you and another person share ownership, it is vital to have a buy/sell agreement in place. This important document details how an owner’s stake in the company will be distributed upon his or her departure. Whether a business partner dies, retires, enters bankruptcy, or files for divorce, your business must be protected. For more information on Buy/Sell Agreements, check out our blog entry HERE.

A strong and complete estate plan is vital to ensure that your business will continue to grow and thrive without you, or that your loved ones will be taken care of following the disillusion of your business assets. The attorneys of The Orlando Law Group are at the ready to help you create a strong and comprehensive estate plan, to ensure that your wishes will be upheld. Call 407.512.4394 to schedule a consultation today! 

How to Choose the Best Executor for Your Estate


Trust is obviously a major factor in choosing an executor, and as such, many choose a family member of close friend. The most common choices in an executor often include spouses, children, or siblings. The key qualities needed to be an effective executor include honesty, communication, and organization.  The distribution of assets can become a nightmare if handled by someone with no organizational skills. It is also a good idea to name an alternate executor, in the event your first choice does not work out.

Generally, anyone can be an executor, with a few major exceptions which differ by state. Florida law states that an executor must be at least 18 years old, cannot be a felon, and must be mentally and physically capable of serving (not judged incapacitated by a court).  While it is usually best practice to name someone who lives close to you, Florida law does have requirements for naming out-of-state executors. Namely, the non-resident executor must be related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption.

If you do not have a friend or family member with these skills, then it might be time to look outside of your circle and hire a professional. Third party executors can include banks, attorneys, and trust companies, to name a few. The Orlando Law Group provides this service, acting on your behalf after the event of your death to ensure that the burden of handling your estate is undertaken by professionals. This also removes the burden from your family and friends during a difficult time.

For a consultation, call the experienced legal professionals of The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394. 

You May Not be Able to Predict the Future, But You Can Plan for It


Often of more concern than our inevitable, unknowable date of death are the circumstances surrounding how we will die. Death often comes swiftly and unexpectedly, but can also be lengthy, drawn out, and every aspect in between. Healthcare Directives will communicate your wishes to your family when you cannot communicate those wishes yourself due to incapacitation resulting from a medical condition or injury. For example, a Living Will takes the burden of “guilt” off of a family member tasked with making a determination to remove life support as that decision will no longer be theirs. The family member tasked with that responsibility will simply be carrying out the wishes of a loved one. The Healthcare Directives package at The Orlando Law Group consists of a Living Will (not to be confused with a Last Will and Testament), Durable Power of Attorney, Healthcare Surrogate Form, and lastly the HIPAA form. The other forms in our package will assist the caretaker in carrying on the financial and healthcare responsibilities of their sick or injured loved one during this time of need.

On a final note, (and I cannot stress this enough as every month I get at least one phone call from an individual crying on the other end of the line because a loved one has unexpectedly taken ill or has been seriously injured) in order to execute ANY legal document, the signer must have legal capacity. This means that the person must be competent, aware of what document it is they are signing, and understand the legal effect that document will have on that individual.

For a Will, the testator (person the Will is for) must have the ability to recognize the natural objects of one’s bounty, recognize the nature and extent of their estate, and understand that they are executing a document to plan the disposal of their estate after they die. The problem that occurs is, often times, when a person waits until they are in a critical position with their personal health or are the victim of a serious injury; they are on powerful sedatives, pain relievers or otherwise mentally compromised. In this state of mind, the injured or sick loved one does not have the capacity to sign a legal document and we are left to let the chips fall where they may.

One of the outstanding attorneys at The Orlando Law Group can help you avoid that inevitable situation, and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have about planning your estate.

Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group

Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey is a graduate of Oviedo High School and lives in Oviedo with his family.

Top 5 Signs That You Should Consider Divorce


1.       Your Needs Are Not Being Met:

We all have needs, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. Both partners must do their part and fulfill the needs of the other. When one-half of this equation drops off, the marriage becomes one-sided. No one should be forced to give their all and receive nothing back in return. If you feel unfulfilled in every aspect of your relationship, then you owe it to yourself to find happiness elsewhere, once a divorce has been finalized.

2.       Staying Together For The Kids:

The presence of children always hurts the divorce process, and in many cases, an abusive relationship will carry on for years because one or both parents do not wish to put their children through the stress. Often times, you’ll hear someone say, “we’re staying together until the kids are out of school,” and meanwhile they’re wasting away the best years of their lives.

Children are impressionable, and they see everything. Many of the values that a child carries into adulthood are learned from the examples set forth by their parents or guardians. Seeing an unhealthy relationship degenerate before their eyes will teach kids the wrong lessons about love. Seeing abuse on a daily basis normalizes that behavior, and they may adopt such a demeanor as they grow. Sometimes, it is healthier for children to experience the divorce process than it is to grow up in an unhappy home.

3.       Trust is Gone:

Trust is the most important element of a relationship. If you cannot trust your spouse, then every element of your marriage will be tainted. No one likes to worry about who their husband or wife might be speaking with, who they’re seeing, and what they’re hiding. Having to snoop around your significant other’s phone, drawers, or social media profiles is not something anyone should ever have to do.

Many times, repentance is possible, and through time and effort, the bond of trust can be mended. But, if you have been burned multiple times, ask yourself if you can ever truly trust this person again. If the answer is no, then it’s time the begin thinking about moving on.

4.       Abuse:

Abuse can come in many forms. Physical abuse is the most commonly known, but there are also mental, verbal, and emotional abuses, all of which are unacceptable in a relationship. By accepting abuse and continuing to give your spouse what they want, you are feeding into that behavior and reinforcing it. Abuse cannot be tolerated, and if you are being abused in any way, you owe it to yourself to get out of that relationship as fast as possible.

If you are a victim of physical abuse, consider calling the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

5.       Unfaithfulness:

Whether you’ve cheated or been cheated on, unfaithfulness is a huge sign that something in your relationship is broken. Many times, a partner can overlook unfaithfulness, but it often looms above the marriage like a dark cloud. If you are trying to forgive a cheating spouse, make sure that you have it in your heart to fully forgive them, or you will have a tainted relationship forever.

Also, if you are thinking about being unfaithful, that is another sign that something in the relationship is broken. Either attend counseling and try to cut off the issue before anything happens or consider filing for a divorce.

Divorce is not fun, but it can be manageable. The Orlando Law Group specializes in Family Law, and will stand beside you during this difficult time. But, before that’s possible, you must decide what’s best for you, and make this important decision. If any of these five examples of a broken relationship can be applied to yours, then it might be time to schedule a consultation.

Call 407.512.4394 to speak with an attorney today. 

CPA’s and Attorneys Partner to Aid Your Estate Plan


Your CPA can help you determine the value of your estate and figure out how to reduce the tax liability. For example, you can reduce the overall size of your estate by spending some of that hard-earned money beforehand. You probably have already chosen whom you want to leave your assets to after you die. If you can afford it, give some gifts now. Enjoy seeing the results and appreciation of your gifted assets.  Federal law lets you give $14,000.00 a year ($28,000.00 if you are married) to as many people as you wish tax-free.

You can also remove the value of your life insurance from your estate by transferring ownership of the policy to an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust.  This can reduce or even eliminate estate taxes, so more of your estate can go to your loved ones. The benefits will not be included in your estate as long as you live 3 years after the transfer of the existing policy.

You can also convert stocks and investment real estate into a Charitable Remainder Trust. This is beneficial as you get an immediate charitable income tax deduction and it removes their financial value from your estate.

There are many options when it comes to estate planning.  All of which your attorney and accountant can assist you with. The best benefit is peace of mind.

Wanda Schebel Headshot

Wanda Talley Schebel CPA, has been providing quality, personalized financial guidance to local individuals and businesses throughout Central Florida for over 25 Years. Her expertise ranges from basic tax management and accounting services to more in-depth financial planning for clients of all incomes. She has represented many clients before the IRS. Wanda has taught the IRS VITA classes and holds seminars on business management and budgeting. She is a licensed Certified Public Accountant in both Florida and Louisiana. 

Seek Out The Positive in 2017!


We meet with many clients during difficult periods in their lives. Whether you’re going through a divorce, facing criminal charges, being sued, or filing suit against someone else, remember that the bad stressful times are only for now. Every new tomorrow brings with it an opportunity for exciting fresh beginnings, and it’s often up to us as individuals to reach out and grab them!

And above all else, please be safe this New Year’s Eve. Make good decisions, drive carefully, and pay attention to those around you. Start 2017 off on a good foot, with a positive outlook in a safe environment.

From all of us here at the Orlando Law Group, have a safe and happy New Year. Seek out the positive in 2017!

Top Five Reasons To Hire An Attorney


1.       The Law is Complicated and Confusing – There is a reason why even seasoned lawyers do not represent themselves in court. When you are too close to a situation, you tend to think with your heart, and not your head. A trained, emotionally detached attorney with a strong understanding of the legal system is imperative to maintaining a cool head under pressure. Attorney’s also have knowledge of court deadlines and protocol which must be followed to the letter when filing legal documents. One late or incorrect filing could cause your entire case to crumble. Trust your attorney’s knowledge of the law. They went to four very long years of Law School to acquire it, and they know it inside and out. Foregoing the presence of a lawyer while reviewing contracts or starting a business can also lead to avoidable headaches.

2.       Attorneys Have Connections – Expert witnesses and private detectives often fill rolodexes on the desks of many lawyers. This network of contacts comes with years of experience that the average person does not have. The presence of such key professionals can help in challenging testimony or evidence by the opposing party.

3.       Experience in negotiating settlements and plea bargains – In cases of civil or criminal suits, sometimes it makes more sense to seek a settlement or plea bargain. Chances are, an experienced attorney will have seen cases similar to yours before and will be able to make a calculated guess as to how it might end at trial. These lawyers have experience in negotiating settlements and plea bargains for their clients, often saving them money and/or jail time.

4.       How Do You Plead? – We’ve all heard these words asked in courtroom shows, but your plea can be a make or break moment in your case. An attorney’s expertise and this matter is not just recommended, it is essential. Your lawyer will explain your options and help you avoid more severe penalties. Don’t gamble with your financial future and freedom!

5.       The Other Party Likely Has One – Non-attorneys representing themselves against an experienced attorney is akin to entering a boxing match with your hands tied behind your back. The playing field needs to be level. The attorneys representing your opposition will take full advantage of your lack of legal expertise to pull the rug out from under you.

Hiring a lawyer to defend you in your legal battles aids in your protection, and will benefit your case and your future at the same time!

The Orlando Law Group is ready to help defend your rights, and provide you the highest level of legal expertise and service available! Call 407.512.4394 today to schedule a consultation. 

Update Your Estate Plan After Major Life Events


1.       Marriage: Starting a life with your spouse brings with it many life-altering changes. But during this exciting time of wedding planning, honeymoon booking and even preparing for the eventual arrival of children, it’s vital that you don’t forget to keep your estate plan up to date. Doing so allows you to name your new spouse as an emergency contact or beneficiary for existing insurance benefits, and to ensure that he or she is taken care of in the event of your death.

2.       Divorce: Splitting up a marriage can be messy and costly. Updating your estate plan following the dissolution of a marriage is vital to ensure that your assets are split as per your wishes. Many people take their ex completely out of the equation, while some prefer to leave them something in their will. No matter what your decision may be, it is incredibly important to get your wishes on paper as soon as possible.

3.       Cash Infusion: If you receive a large salary increase at work or come into money through inheritance or chance, you’ll want to update your estate plan to accommodate a larger bank account.

4.       Having a Baby: Adding on to your family is a joyous occasion that calls for immediate alterations to your estate plan. Your new addition needs to become a beneficiary, and guardians must be named in your will. (This is also a great time to draft a will if you haven’t yet!) As you add on to your family over the years, you should continuously update your estate plan.

5.       A Death in The Family: If you outlive some of the people named in your estate plan, you will need to update once again. If your Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, or Executor passes away you will need to name new ones. Also, should a beneficiary die, their inheritance should be reallocated immediately to other living heirs.

6.       Sickness: If you are diagnosed with a chronic or fatal illness you should begin planning before your condition worsens. As per your estate plan, you can decide who will make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become physically unable. You can also use this opportunity to fill out a Do Not Resuscitate order if your state allows it.

7.       Changing Laws and Locations: Federal and state laws are constantly in flux and can impact your estate plan. Also, since different states have different laws, it is important to check with a legal professional once you move to a new area to see if any changes need to be made to your existing plan.

The Orlando Law Group stands at the ready to aid in crafting and maintaining viable estate plans. To speak with an attorney, call 407.512.4394.

Living Trust vs. Will: Know the Differences



What is a living trust? A trust is a formal agreement you make with a trusted person, or trustee, to convey property as directed by you. A living trust is a trust that you create during your lifetime. These documents are in effect regardless of whether or not they contain property until your death.

Perhaps the greatest asset to utilizing a living trust is the ability to avoid probate because they pass to beneficiaries under the terms of the trust and not a will. Probate is the court system in which a person’s affairs are wrapped up subsequent to their death. Probate is costly, lengthy, and unnecessary for most estates. By dividing your property in a living trust, you are able to avoid this process and future headache for your loved ones. Property can be distributed to beneficiaries after the death of the grantor without incurring any fees or court interference.

Another benefit of a living trust is that it remains private. The contents of a will become a public document. Many people choose this route to keep their affairs private.  Also, while wills can be challenged through lawsuits, it is infinitely more difficult to attack a living trust.

Unlike wills, however, a living trust requires the signature and stamp of a notary public. Also, while a will can appear in any format, property left through a living trust must be first transferred into the trust. For items such as real estate, which include title documents, retitling must occur so that the owner of the property is the trust.


You might be asking yourself why a will is even necessary? Make no mistake, they are vital.

First off, a will can pass on certain rights that a trust cannot. It is only in a will that you can name legal guardians for children, as well as someone to manage any properties left to or earned by minors.

A will also gives you the right to name an executor who will be in charge of wrapping up your estate after your death. That person communicates with the court, pays your bills, and eventually distributes any property that has to first pass through probate. Living trusts do not allow for an executor, and rather names a successor trustee who will solely manage the property left through that trust.

A will also gives you the ability to leave instructions regarding how you want your debts and taxes to be paid, as well as forgive any debts owed to you. Wills are far simpler to create and require only the presence of two witnesses who will not receive anything under the will.


Both a living trust and a will help the process of divvying up your estate, and can each accomplish different tasks to make the entire ordeal less harrowing for your beneficiaries. The presence of experienced and knowledgeable attorneys is vital to the process. The Orlando Law Group provides both trust and will creation services. Call 407.512.4394 for more information!

VIDEO BLOG – A Succession Plan Ensures the Future of Your Business


Planning for the future is an essential part of running your business, so why is there a risk of your business failing when you hand it off to the next generation?  It’s because the future doesn’t always go according to plan.  

Do you intend to transfer ownership to a family member?  Or would you rather sell your business to the remaining owners or an outside party?  A succession plan can help the transfer go smoothly.

“90% of US Firms are family-owned and 33% will make it to the next generation and 15% to the third. 71% have not completed succession plans.” says Jennifer Englert of The Orlando Law Group.

A written succession plan can benefit your business by providing mutually agreeable terms of sale, assuring employees and creditors of business continuity and reducing the potential for discord and litigation.

Protecting the rights of clients and dedicated to their success. The Orlando Law Group. We listen….we care…. we solve.

Veterans Can Trust in Skilled Attorneys to Resolve Disability Issues


A veteran law attorney understands the process of obtaining your disability benefits and can be a guiding light to help navigate through your options. To hire or retain an attorney to assist you through this difficult time you must first have received a denial from the VA’s office. It is usually best practice to start researching local attorneys before you file, as there is a strong chance your application will be denied. This will allow you to make a quick decision and “hit the ground running” once you are legally able to acquire representation.

An attorney will file your letter of disagreement for you once the claim has been denied. This ensures that all forms will be filled out properly. Lawyers can also request a review of your claim by either your regional VA office or the Board of Veterans Appeals. Another key service an attorney can provide in the field of veteran law is to challenge the disability rating given to you by the VA.

This service extends beyond your benefits. An attorney will continue to fight for the disability rights of your spouse and dependents as well.

Allied with a skilled attorney in the field of veteran law, you and your loved ones will rest easy knowing that your service will not go unrecognized. The Orlando Law Group takes great pride in working with disabled veterans to ensure that they are properly taken care of at the end of their military careers. For more information, please call The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394.

VIDEO BLOG – Traffic Penalties Can Have Damaging Repercussions To Your Life


Sometimes even the smallest crime or traffic violation can have damaging repercussions to your life. Penalties range from a year in jail, to probation, and fines up to one thousand dollars. 

If you are arrested, a lawyer may be able help to lessen the impact by keeping you out of jail until the case is resolved. 

“Good legal advice is one of the greatest services a lawyer can provide. Not only can it save you money in the long run, while protecting your freedom, it can also save you from unpleasant difficulties later.” says Jennifer Englert of The Orlando Law Group.

Seeking legal counsel will help you to protect yourself and your future so that you can get past the mistake you made and move forward with your life. 

Protecting the rights of clients and dedicated to their success. The Orlando Law Group. We listen….we care…. we solve.

An Immigration Lawyer Can Help Make You a US Citizen


One of the most important steps you need to take in your quest for permanent residency is acquiring legal employment in the United States. An immigration lawyer can help you navigate the mountains of paperwork necessary to do so.

It’s not all paperwork, though. A good immigration lawyer will act as a teacher or guide, explaining all of your options. Whether its regarding citizenship through marriage, obtaining a job legally, or the costs associated with filing for a green card, your attorney will act as a wellspring of knowledge which will give you peace of mind in this important time in your life.

Permanent resident law is vital to your continued immigration efforts. There are certain laws you must abide by to receive a green card, or hold onto one that you already have. Knowledge of these laws are vital as deportation could occur should they be broken. An important duty of an immigration lawyer is to inform you of such laws.

The greatest benefit in hiring an immigration lawyer comes in the end result: US Citizenship! The attorneys of The Orlando Law Group stand at the ready, prepared to aid you in your important journey. We look forward to being the first to congratulate you as a citizen of the United States! Call us at 407.512.4394 and speak to an immigration attorney today!

“Why Should I Hire An Attorney For My Business?”


Here are just a few of the important services offered by a business law firm:

Entity Formation: The most important step in creating a new business is the actual legal creation of that business. Whether you’re starting a Limited Liability Company, a Corporation, or a non-profit organization, there are a number of legal hoops that could easily trip up a business owner who is not savvy in such matters. The presence of an attorney aids in this process by providing your business with an experienced guiding hand who will ensure that all paperwork is properly filled out, all steps are taken, and that all aspects of your entity are legally protected.

Business Strategy: Once you’re off the ground, an attorney can help with your company’s overall strategy, providing advice and support in regard to the creation and implementation of debt and/or equity financing strategies, organizational structure and risk management, joint ventures, licensing arrangements, tax planning and more! A lawyer is a close confidant who can approach the issues that affect your company with an outside perspective.

Contract Negotiation: In business, it is often said that “you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” An attorney can examine all contracts and agreements set before you, and represent your company during negotiations to ensure the best possible arrangement is agreed upon, with respect to your wishes. Having an experienced guiding legal hand at the wheel in the midst of a contract negotiation grants you an added advantage and a layer of protection as you work towards strengthening your business.

Succession Planning: An attorney is a vital asset during the creation of your company, and so too shall they be at the end of the road. When the time to retire finally arrives, a business law firm will ensure a smooth transitional period as you phase out of day-to-day operations and pass along those responsibilities to a worthy successor.

Listed here are just a few of the many important facets of business law which The Orlando Law Group specializes in. Other services include: entity advisory and guidance, mergers and acquisitions, buy/sell agreements, business sales, estate planning for business owners, and policy reviews.

If you are looking for a dedicated, knowledgeable, friendly legal team to guide and advise your business, call The Orlando Law Group today at 407.512.4394! 

Steps for Successful Business Succession Planning


1.       Choose a worthy successor: Do you plan on leaving your company in the hands of a family member? Perhaps a long-time staff member? Either way, choosing the person to fill your own shoes can be a daunting task. It’s best for the business itself, to choose someone based on merit alone. If your oldest child has the perfect skill set, that’s wonderful. But for the sake of the business, it’s best to stay objective and ensure that the choice you make is the most qualified. It is generally accepted best practice to begin planning for succession up to fifteen years before you intend on retiring. This gives you ample time to test the waters, find your successor, and groom them to take over. 

2.       Implement a Training Plan: What are the critical functions of your company? It’s best to formally lay these out and familiarize your successor with the vital role they will be playing. Teach them to see the company through your eyes, to view it in a different light. Give them opportunities to take charge, and let them develop a managerial style which they can implement once it’s their turn at bat.

3.       Stick to a Time Table: It’s important to create a detailed timeline in order acclimate your successor to their new role, and begin to phase yourself out. The transfer of responsibility should be gradual, and allow for your successor to acclimate slowly.

4.       Develop a Retirement Plan: You need to think about your retirement, and ensure that your transition out of the workforce and into a well-deserved life of relaxation will go off without a hitch. To this end, plan out your life post-career. Where will you go? What will you do? Will you begin another business venture, or just enjoy a leisurely retirement? As your successor takes on more responsibilities, take the opportunity to ponder these important questions.

5.       Install Your Successor: Before you walk out of your office door one final time, you must ensure that your successor has been fully installed with the tools he or she needs to achieve success. Be that guiding hand, but also know when it’s time to let go, and allow your successor to succeed or fail on their own.

As stated above, succession planning is a complicated process, and can be often times confusing and frustrating. The Orlando Law Group specializes in aiding our clients in not only starting their businesses but laying out a well thought out plan of succession. Call The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394 and schedule a consultation today! 

What Is A Buy/Sell Agreement?


Also known as a “business will” or even a “business pre-nup”, a buy/sell agreement defines what is and is not allowed to transpire should a business partner, through either voluntary or involuntary circumstances, give up their share of the company. Does a partner’s interest pass onto their spouse or heirs upon their death? In the event of a divorce, does a business owner’s former spouse have a claim on their share? To whom can a partner sell their ownership? These are some of the questions that a buy/sell agreement answers.

Eventualities covered under the umbrella of a buy/sell agreement can be tailored specifically to meet a business’s needs. Many agreements cover circumstances including death, disability, retirement, divorce, and voluntary or involuntary transfers including sales or bankruptcy. It addresses situations in which an owner might sell their interest by discussing how they can sell, when they can sell, who they can sell it to and how much can they sell it for? This protects the business against being sold to an unwanted entity.

Partners can also place in the agreement a clause in which a co-owner must offer to sell their interest back to their partner or partners before offering it to an outside party. The benefits of a buy/sell agreement are self-explanatory; ventures can fail, personal tragedies can occur, and partnerships can dissolve.

Buy/sell agreements should be an early staple of any new company that will be sharing ownership. It is strongly recommended to have an attorney draft the agreement close to the inception of a business. The Orlando Law group specializes in the creation and implementation of these vital agreements, and our team of dedicated experts will walk you through every step of the process to ensure that your business is protected.

For more information, call The Orlando Law Group at 407.512.4394. Be prepared. Think ahead. Defend your business against future threats before they materialize.

“How Should I Legally Structure My Business?”


The legal and financial ramifications of this decision are significant. Plus, you really can’t move forward and take important steps such as registering your name or getting your tax ID number until you’ve answered this critical question.

We must note that circumstances vary among individuals and individual businesses. Determining which of these structures is right for your business is dependent on the type of business you want to run, how many owners it has, and its financial situation. No one choice suits every business. Business owners must pick the structure that best meets their needs.

The most important factors for you to consider will include:

·        the potential risks and liabilities for your business;

·        the formalities and expenses involved in establishing and maintaining the various business structures;

·        your income tax situation; and

·        your investment needs.

Here is a brief explanation of the main options that are available:

·        Sole proprietorships are the simplest of the legal structures, but they also lack many of the legal and financial protections of other business forms. Sole proprietors have the advantage of being their own boss, but also shoulder the burden of being solely responsible for the business’s success or failure.
·        Partnerships are the simplest type of legal structure to form for businesses with two or more principals. The potential downside is that while partnerships have no formal paperwork requirements, they usually don’t protect partners from liability. Partnerships can be tricky if there is disagreement over work ethic, goals, or roles in business and leadership styles.
·        A limited liability company (LLC) is a business structure that has features similar to both corporations and partnerships. LLCs protect the owner(s) from certain liabilities, including business debts, while the legal structure allows for a flexible management arrangement.
·        Corporations are limited liability partnerships that are separate and distinct from their owners. In a corporate business structure, shareholders have the right to participate in profits, but are not held personally/financially liable for the company’s debts.

Still uncertain? No worries! Business structures can change over time. Often, businesses that start out as sole proprietorships or partnerships grow, shifting to LLCs and corporations. If your business needs and plans change, your business structure can most likely change with them. The Orlando Law Group has a team of knowledgeable dedicated attorneys on hand who can answer any questions regarding this important topic, and give you further in depth information. Call 407.512.4394 and let our team guide your process.  

Retirement Accounts and Divorce Who Gets Custody?


As with most financial accounts, retirement accounts afford the participant (person contributing to the account/account holder) the opportunity to place beneficiaries on the account in the event the participant becomes deceased prior to extinguishing the funds in the account. A common question often in the mind of the participant is, “What will happen to my retirement account if I get divorced?” In Florida, the income of the husband and wife is considered to be marital property, as well as the benefits received therefrom. Funding a retirement account using funds from your income (paycheck or individual deposit) could designate all, or at least a portion of your retirement account as marital property. The problem with dividing up a retirement account as part of a divorce proceeding is that both the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the IRS prohibit retirement plan participants from assigning their interests in their plan to anyone absent a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

QDRO is a court order that creates a right in the “alternate payee” (former spouse) to receive a portion of the benefits that would be payable to the participant (other former spouse) in accordance with that specific retirement plan’s rules. In reality the way this works is either by agreement between the parties or by order of the court, the alternate payee will be designated a portion of the other spouse’s retirement plan expressed either as a specific dollar amount or as a percentage of the marital portion of the account balance as of a valuation date. If the participant began contributing to the plan after the parties were married, the valuation date is usually the date of the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage or any other date as agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court. If the participant was contributing to the plan before the parties were married then the valuation of the account is usually determined as the value of the plan on the valuation date minus the value of the plan on the date of marriage. After the dollar amount or percentage is determined and final judgment has been entered by the court a proposed QDRO will need to be drafted. The first step in drafting a QDRO is for the attorney or draftsperson to contact the Plan Administrator (PA) for a sample QDRO specific to your plan. Depending on the response time from the PA your order could be draft in a little as a day or two or in as much as two to three weeks. After the proposed QDRO has been drafted the attorney will then send the proposed QDRO to the PA for review. This process usually takes about 30 days. Upon receipt from the PA that the proposed QDRO complies with the plan rules it is sent to a Judge for signature to become a valid and binding court order. The attorney will send the signed QDRO back to the PA who will then begin administering the plan according to the order.

QDRO’s are very specific in nature to each retirement plan and may vary greatly depending on the outcome of each individual divorce. If you think you may be involved in a divorce and would like some more in depth information about how your retirement account could be affected please contact one of our outstanding attorneys here at The Orlando Law Group PL at 407-512-4394. Offices Waterford Lakes, Lake Nona and Dr. Phillips.

Thinking of Starting an Online Business?


Your Business Plan:  What is a Business Plan and Why Is It Important?

A business plan has two main purposes—to outline your business goals and to define the strategy for achieving them. Business plans are traditionally used when companies seek investors or commercial lenders. The business planning process will help your online business define a strategic blueprint for the operation and success of your company.  A solid business plan will create your own unique identity and it will give you the confidence and documentation needed to get out there and pitch your idea, product or services to anyone.  Basically if you have an idea for a product or service and hope to get potential investors, lenders, donors or business partners on board, a business plan is a requirement.

Declare the Controlling State Law

If you don’t declare the controlling state law, then anyone who sues you can determine the state law that applies.  It is important to include somewhere in your online contracts or your website the controlling state of your business.  If a plaintiff can show good reason for suing you from a particular state undeclared, that state’s laws will apply. This means that you could be ordered to court on the other side of the country. Chances are it could also mean that you will be more likely to lose based on the standards of the other state’s court.  You may need legal help to create Online Terms and Conditions to declare the governing state.

Best Practices Suggest You Set Up a Separate Business Checking Account

In most states, including Florida, all business transactions are required to be made through a separate business account.  This is extremely advisable and a benefit to your company if you want to receive the greatest number of business deduction possibilities, as well as maintain corporate protection. Remember, always keep your business finances and your personal finances separate. You don’t want to face expensive fees and penalties.

Privacy Policy and the Legal Disclaimers You May Need on Your Website

Many online businesses collect information in some way.  If your intent is to grow your business by collecting information from your site’s visitors, you will need to protect yourself legally by establishing a Privacy Policy. This special policy sets forth what you will or will not do with information that you collect.  Once you publish your exclusive Privacy Policy online, the requirement you will need to maintain is to “follow it”.  Also and just as important, if you change your privacy policy you will need to notify the users.  This protects you and will allow the users to accept the changes. Seeking legal advice is highly recommended in drafting your special Privacy Terms.  There are Rules and regulations for conducting e-commerce that apply mainly to online retailers and other businesses who perform consumer transactions by collecting customer data. Important to remember, even if you do not sell anything online, laws covering digital rights and online advertising may still apply to you. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal agency regulating e-commerce activities, including use of commercial emails, online advertising and consumer privacy.

Other Protections You May Need

There are many other topics you may need to explore in securing a safe Online Business Experience. At The Orlando Law Group, our diverse team of attorneys have a wide breadth of experience with roots that run deep in the community where we live, work and play.  Our approach to serving clients is twofold.  We believe in preventative action and proactive engagement to provide exceptional legal representation.

  • Identity Theft – And as Business Owner Your Responsibilities
  • Privacy Rules for Financial Companies
  • Children’s Online Privacy
  • Computer and Information Security
  • Selling Internationally/Exporting
  • Using Consumer Credit Reports
  • Digital Rights and Copyright Laws



If an investigator finds that an employer is performing work that is outside the classification codes for which their policy covers, they can report it to the State. The Department of Financial Services has the power at that moment to issue a stop work order. In order to release the stop work order, the employer will have to pay at least $1000.00. At that point, the Department of Financial Services will require the employer to submit payroll records and they generally require records for the preceding two year period.

The Department of Financial Services calculates the premium that should have been paid based upon what they believe were the classifications that were not covered on the policy. The penalty can be two times the premium that should have been paid within the preceding two year period or $1000 whichever is greater.  Once the Department assesses their penalty, you have only 21 days within which to appeal it.

So, the Department could investigate an employer by looking at their website. If the website lists services that are not being covered under the policy, then they can send an investigator to confirm the employer’s activities.  Your website and Facebook page could also show pictures of events or activities performed by employees and may provide evidence of misrepresenting employee duties.  Often times, employers hire marketing companies to manage their website and Facebook page. These companies may use stock photos or captions that could incorrectly indicate the employer is engaged in services or activities that they are not.

If your business is issued a stop order, it is best to contact an attorney immediately. An attorney is able to gather all the required payroll records and make sure only those that truly represent payroll are submitted to the Department. The time deadlines are strict and failure to meet them can cause the business to pay penalties in excess of what they actually owe.  In addition, an attorney has the knowledge of the classifications codes and whether the codes being applied by the Department are accurate. 

Is It Possible to Collect Workers’ Comp and Unemployment Benefits at the Same Time?


Unfortunately, most workers are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits while they are getting temporary disability benefits under workers’ compensation. Florida workers’ compensation law doesn’t allow injured workers to collect unemployment compensation while simultaneously collecting temporary disability or permanent total disability benefits.

The exception occurs when workers who have been injured and then released by their doctors to perform light duty work. These types of workers may also receive unemployment in addition to workers’ comp benefits. Although in this situation both types of compensation can be collected, the disability benefits will be subtracted from the amount due under workers’ compensation. As a result, it’s not much of a “win” because one’s benefits will be reduced for any period of time that unemployment is also being collected.

If a work injury has left an employee with a permanent injury or disability, that worker will need to file for Social Security Disability since he or she will not be able to work again. Workers who need time off work to rest and recoup from an injury may be able to collect unemployment and Temporary Partial Disability benefits.

In order to understand these benefits, it is important to define what these different types of benefits really are.. Workers’ Comp benefits are available to injured workers when their employer carries workers’ compensation coverage. Unemployment benefits provide workers with some money once they lose their job. Additionally, unemployment benefits can be collected if an injured worker tries to return to his job but his employer no longer has work available. In order to receive unemployment benefits in this situation, the worker needs to be physically able and available to work.

Because trying to collect both types of benefits can be complex and each of them has their own rules and guidelines, you might want to speak with an attorney to help you navigate the complexities of benefits’ laws.

The Florida Supreme Court makes long awaited impactful decisions in Workers Compensation


So, these cases sat pending for 540 days and 735 days respectively since oral argument.  These two decisions have now turned back the clock on major provisions of the workers compensation law. In Castellanos, the Supreme Court declared the attorney provision of the statute unconstitutional. The statute had been changed in in 2003 such that an attorney representing an injured employee was strictly restrained to a formula fee based upon the value of the benefits secured. Prior to 2003, the statute allowed for a reasonable fee which would further allow for an attorney to receive their fee based upon the reasonable hours to secure the benefits. In coming to this ruling, the Court explained that the attorney’s fees in Florida Workers’ Compensation serve a dual purpose. First, the fees enable the injured worker who has not received benefits to obtain competent legal assistance. Secondly, the fees serve as a penalty to employers that are wrongfully denying benefits. As a result of the Castellanos decision, the attorney for the injured worker has the ability to show that a statutory or formula fee will result in an unreasonable fee and thereby assert a fee based upon the hourly basis.

The Court in Westphal declared the provision of the statute, 440.15 (2), as unconstitutional. This section limited the injured worker to 104 weeks of temporary total disability. The Court stated that this limitation deprived the injured worker of disability benefits under these circumstances for an indefinite amount of time which created a system of redress that no longer functioned as a reasonable alternative to tort litigation. Workers Compensation Insurance provides the Employer with immunity against a civil action. As such, the injured worker gives up the right to sue them in tort for exchange of workers compensation benefits. The Court found that the limitation to 104 weeks was no longer a reasonable exchange for giving up the rights.

To provide some history, Westphal involved a firefighter who had exhausted his 104 weeks of temporary benefits and sought Permanent Total Disability benefits. However, he still required additional surgeries and did not meet the pre-requisite for Permanent Disability Benefits because he had not reached Maximum Medical Improvement.  Thus, he fell into a gap period between exhausting the temporary benefits and being able to pursue permanent benefits.  The Supreme Court found this gap period violated access to courts and cut off their benefits at a critical time with no redress. In declaring it unconstitutional, the Court revived the 260 week limit on temporary total benefits that existed in the pre-1994 version of the statute.  


As a result of the Castellanos decision, we have seen an immediate spike in attorney representation for injured worker’s claims and the filing of claims. Moreover, there were awards of attorney’s fee to claimant’s attorneys going back several years which had just been sitting out there. There was no way to push the fee issue and the claimant’s attorneys were waiting until this decision in order to pursue an hourly based fee. We are seeing the filing of Verified Petitions for Fees to resolve those old fee awards on an hourly basis. While the starting point still remains the formula fee, there is no doubt that we will see more litigation as claimant’s attorneys will have an incentive to take more depositions and engage in more litigation in order to provide evidence that the statutory fee would produce an unreasonable result. We will see their willingness to litigate smaller issues as there is an incentive to do so.  

With Westphal, there is still some ambiguity as to the extent the limitation of 104 weeks applies. The Court’s decision rendered the statute unconstitutional only “as applied to Westphal and others similarly situated”.  Thus, the ability to secure the additional weeks may be dependent upon how similar the injured worker is to Wesphal.  In the pre-1994 statute, it provided 260 weeks for temporary total benefits and a separate 260 weeks for temporary partial benefits. As such, this decision could mean the injured worker is entitled to up to 260 weeks of temporary total and that includes the 104 weeks of temporary partial. Alternatively, the decision could mean the injured worker is entitled to up to 520 weeks of combined temporary total and temporary partial. Nonetheless, we can expect that there will be a push for injured workers to remain on a no work status for as long as a period of time as possible.

Because of Castellanos and Westphal, the exposure for claims has increased which means an increase in attorney representation and filing of claims. NCCI originally filed for a rate increase of 17.1% for workers compensation policies. However, they just filed on July 1, 2016 an amended rate and proposed 19.6% with an effective date of October 1, 2016. So it will now cost the employer more for policies and they will be faced with increased claim exposure.


It is critical for Employers and their Insurance Carriers to thoroughly and accurately evaluate their claims at every stage in order to provide the appropriate benefits and negate those areas for potential fee entitlement.  The medical experts selected to provide treatment will be critical to reigning in the claimant’s desire to remain out of work as long as possible. It will be necessary to make sure that the medical provider is applying objective criteria in determining work status and the placing of the worker at MMI. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to address issues and design an appropriate strategy to help Employers and their Insurance carriers through the process.

By Attorney Heather McLeod

What is Workers’ Compensation?


If you are hurt on the job, it’s important that you know what options are available to you to alleviate the anxiety of unpaid medical bills. While Workers’ Compensation won’t solve all of your problems, it should at least help with the financial burden the injury has created.

Workers’ Compensation in a Nutshell

What is workers compensationOften called “Workers’ Comp,” Workers’ compensation insurance is a type of insurance purchased by employers for the coverage of employment-related injuries and illnesses. It is a state-mandated program consisting of payments that are made to an employee who is injured or disabled in connection with work. It is required and varies slightly by state, as every individual state has its own workers’ compensation insurance program. In Florida, the Division of Workers’ Compensation site attempts to ensure that anyone interested or involved in the Florida workers’ compensation system has the tools and resources they need to participate. The site assists injured workers, employers, health care providers, and insurers in following the Florida Workers’ Compensation Rules and Laws.

In most situations, injured employees receive workers’ compensation insurance, no matter who was at fault for the injury. Because these workers’ comp benefits act as a type of insurance, they keep the employee from suing his or her employer for the injuries covered. It is designed to cover injuries that result from employees or employers carelessness.

Situations That Are Covered

It should be noted that workers’ compensation benefits DO NOT cover pain and suffering. Rather they cover tangible expenses including: medical care from the injury or illness, replacement income, costs for retraining, compensation for any permanent injuries, and benefits to survivors of workers who are killed on the job.

The range of injuries and situations covered is broad, but there are limits. Not ALL problems that occur in the workplace are covered. Coverage may be denied in situations involving: injuries caused by intoxication or drugs, self-inflicted injuries, injuries from a fight started by the employee, injuries resulting from horseplay or violation of company policy, felony-related injuries, injuries an employee suffers off the job, or injuries claimed after an employee is terminated or laid off.

Who Receives Worker’s Comp

Most types of employees are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. However, there are some exceptions. States commonly exclude some workers from coverage, such as: independent contractors, business owners, volunteers, employees of private homes, farmers and farmhands, maritime employees, railroad employees, and casual workers.

Dollars and Cents

As a general rule, an employee who is temporarily unable to work will usually receive temporary disability payments of two-thirds of the employee’s average wage, up to a fixed amount set by law. An employee who becomes permanently unable to do the work he or she was doing prior to the injury, or unable to work at all, may be eligible for long-term or lump-sum benefits for permanent disability. The workers’ compensation system also pays death benefits to surviving dependents of workers who pass away from work-related injuries. The eligibility for wage replacement begins immediately after a few days of work are missed because of a particular injury or illness.

If it is the best fit for your situation, Workers’ Comp can be a huge help during a very difficult circumstance.  You might need help navigating the legal end of it if you don’t understand the insurance company’s approval of the workers’ compensation claim or if you disagree with the doctor’s perception of your injury – for example, if you feel more ill or injured than the doctor thinks you are.

When should an estate plan be reviewed?


Estate Plan ReviewedAn estate plan is an important asset that should be updated as time goes on. Ideally, your estate plan should be reviewed annually or even quarterly, although it’s acceptable to update it at least every three to five years or when there is a life event, according to Fidelity.

What qualifies as a “life event?” Things like:

  • Marriage or divorce
  • The birth of a child or grandchild
  • A purchase of a home
  • Moving out-of-state
  • A death in the family
  • Career changes
  • When you receive an inheritance or significant asset
  • And more

There are all examples of life events that should make you pause and review your current estate plan.

Any large life changes will have a direct impact on your estate plan, and sometimes for reasons you may not even be aware of. When you have an important life event, it is best to consult with your estate planning attorney for the best plan of action.

Remember, life is dynamic. Things are constantly changing. If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan in a while, it might be time to seek counsel from your attorney to make it is up to date.

Guardian Advocacy: What Can It Do For You?


Guardian AdvocacyDevelopmental disabilities include cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, Prader-Willi Syndrome, or other conditions that that manifest before the age of 18 and that constitute a substantial handicap that can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely. The focus is on the decision-making ability of the person needing the Guardian.

How do YOU become a Guardian Advocate? First, you must be over the age of 18 and be a resident of the state of Florida. You must also submit to a level 2 background check under and provide a live fingerprint scan, and lastly, you MUST have an attorney if you are seeking to be the guardian of the property other than Social Security or other governmental benefits.

If you meet all the qualifications to become a Guardian Advocate, you can begin the process of becoming appointed as one. This process begins with a Petition that is filed with the Court along with the Oath of Guardian Advocate and a Designation and Acceptance of Resident Agent.

The next step will be to schedule a hearing with the Court. Upon successful completion of the documentation process, you should receive a letter or call from the Clerk of Court providing you with your case number, the name of your Judge, and the name of the attorney appointed to represent the person with the disability. (Tip: You will have to coordinate this hearing with the attorney appointed to represent the disabled person.) Prior to the hearing, you should draft a proposed order and Letters of Guardian Advocacy and bring them with you to the hearing.

After the hearing, but within 60 days of being appointed as the Guardian Advocate, you will need to submit what is called the Initial Plan. The Initial Plan provides information to the Court as to how you plan to care for the Ward. Additionally, within 90 days of the date of the anniversary of your appointment as a Guardian Advocate, each year you are required to file an Annual Plan.

If you are interested in becoming a Guardian Advocate or know someone who may need one, please contact our office at (407)-512-4394 and ask to speak to one of our knowledgeable and experienced Guardianship attorneys, Pamela Martini or Maytel Bonham. CLICK HERE to download our Guardian Advocacy Bootcamp Presentation.

Written by: Attorney’s Pamela G. Martini and MaytelMaytel Sorondo Bonham

When is the Right Time to Begin Estate Planning?


estate planningWhat exactly is estate planning? It is twofold: (1) it’s deciding what to do with your possessions after you are gone and (2) it’s making sure your health care wishes are carried out if you become incapacitated. While most people don’t want to think about death and what happens when they die, it is still a good idea to begin planning for a time when you will no longer be around.

There are a few reasons why this is a good thing for you to do while you are still living and in good health both mentally and physically.

First, planning how you divide up your assets before you pass on lets you decide what happens to your stuff instead of a relative, friend, or the courts. When a person dies without any type of will or trust set up, all of their financial assets and property are subject to the laws of the state. Simply put: you will have no control over who inherits what you once owned. Everything is left up to pre-determined laws that have been set up by the state.

Also, when you die, your friends and family will already have a tough time coping with your loss. Making it easy for them to handle your estate is a great gift to give them. Having everything planned will allow them time to grieve and reduce the stress of fairly dividing your assets.

Lastly, if your estate is subject to taxes, a proper plan can help reduce or even eliminate these taxes, allowing your family to keep most of your assets instead of handing them over to the government.

If you decide to move forward with an estate plan, you will include a few important documents to make sure that all your bases are covered. A typical estate plan should include:

  • a will that is the primary document regulating your wishes as regards inheritance and guardianship;
  • a trust that relates to protecting assets for the benefit of yourself and/or specific persons;
  • a living will (also called a healthcare directive and proxy) that specifies your intent as regards decisions on your physical well-being and end-of-life arrangements respectively;
  • a power of attorney that enables a trusted Agent to make financial decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated; and
  • for parents with minor children, a temporary guardianship document that names a trusted adult to care for minor children in the event of your incapacity.

A lawyer can help you clarify how to move forward with your estate plan and deal with any special circumstances you would like to consider.

Deciphering the Jargon: What is a Living Will?


Living Will
These are all terms we hear kicked around. We know that as responsible adults we should have these things. But, it can feel like a lot of jargon that is hard to decipher. What’s the difference between them anyway? And why not just put it off? The truth is, such documents are rarely urgent (until they are urgent!) and they are only needed when something awful happens. The result is that we often avoid tackling the whole mess.

But, it’s actually not a mess. It’s pretty straightforward if you understand the basics. Let’s start by defining a few terms. When you’re planning for what happens to your estate, it’s important to know the difference between the different legal documents that are available to you, so you can ensure everything goes according to your plan.

How is a living will different from your last will and testament? A last will specifies your last wishes and appoints someone to carry them out. It also transfers your assets to beneficiaries after your death. Finally, it names guardians for your minor children (if you have them).

A last will does not give directives about your health care or life support. That is where a living will comes into play. A living will, also known as an advance directive or a health care directive, spells out your decisions about life support and organ donation in advance. It also names someone to manage your healthcare. To avoid any conflict of interest, this person can be different than your power of attorney, who is named in another document to handle your financial and legal affairs.

A living will is a binding document to specify your medical wishes if you can’t communicate because of illness or injury. It addresses such questions as to whether you want life extending treatment while terminally ill or in a permanent coma.

Why have a living will? Two major reasons come to mind:

  • A living will spares your family the anguish of making life-support decisions without your input. It helps to avoid major arguments between family members at a vulnerable time.
  • A living will also gives you control of your healthcare by ensuring that your doctor understands your end-of-life wishes and treats you accordingly.

In order to proceed with a living will, we recommend that you meet with an attorney who can walk you through the important legal questions at hand. She can help you with the proper documentation for your state and help you think through potential scenarios that you might want to discuss with your physician and loved ones. There are numerous medical scenarios and procedures you or your loved ones could face. Through a living will, you can be clear about the specific medical treatments you do or do not wish to receive.

Many people think a living will is not something they need unless they reach senior citizen age. However, this could not be further from the truth. Life is unpredictable and often uncontrollable, giving every enough reason for adults of any age to invest in a living will in order to protect themselves when bad fortune arises.

Auto & Work Accident Whiplash Relief


If you have been in an auto accident recently, there are some important decisions you have to make. It’s crucial to make these decisions instantly and not delay. Individuals injured in car accidents will have only 14 days to seek initial treatment.

Summit Chiropractic exists to serve the health care needs of our patients with the highest level of care and concern. Using the leading edge of technology, we are focused on bringing you the most advanced “non-surgical” treatment for neck and back problems available.

How Chiropractic Relieves whiplash symptoms:

Driver Suffering From Whiplash

Chiropractic adjustments are a very effective form of treatment to relieve whiplash. A chiropractic adjustment is a gentle form of a motion to individual segments of the spine which effect the tissue in three ways.

  • Relieves nerve pressure affecting neck and shoulders.
  • Relieve muscle reflex pain and spasms.
  • Reduces disc pressure which is also a contributing factor in neck and shoulders pain.

What you can expect with chiropractic adjustments is decreased pain, decreased muscle spasms and increased mobility

Therapy to Relieve Whiplash Symptoms

Myofascial release is utilized to decrease the muscle spasms and pressure on the cervical nerves. Deep massage therapy is an alternate form of muscle work to effect the muscles related to the pain of whiplash injuries.

In addition, our treatment may also include therapy which delivers a form of cryotherapy into the muscle tissue. The physiologic effects of cryotherapy include immediate vasoconstriction with reflexive vasodilation, decreased local metabolism and enzymatic activity, and decreased oxygen demand. Cryotherapy decreases muscle activity and decreases spasticity and muscle guarding. It is commonly used to alleviate the pain, decrease muscle soreness, and aids in the relief of whiplash injuries.

Intersegmental traction is another means of inducing passive motion into your spine for the purpose of increasing mobility and stretching spinal joints. The discs of your spine have a poor blood supply. Misalignment of the spine prevents this exchange from occurring. Intersegmental traction helps restore proper motion. Patients lie supine on a table which has vibrating roller-type cams beneath its surface. These massaging rollers travel slowly up and down the spine. Most patients find this form of traction to be very relaxing and therapeutic.

Signs of Whiplash

Whether from an auto accident, sports injury or a slip and fall where there are a rapid flexion and extension of the head.

Several muscles around the neck and shoulders, ligaments and spinal discs get injured during the rapid motion.

  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Jaw Pain
  • Cervical Vertigo with dizziness or nausea
  • Arm and Leg numbness and tingling
  • Neck and Low Back Pain
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndromes
  • Shoulder and Arm Pain

Our entire staff is dedicated to helping you along your journey of discovering the path to the summit of your health and wellness through natural, non-surgical, drugless alternatives. If you are experiencing difficulty with your back or neck, please call us at (407) 203-6745 to schedule a no cost consultation with Dr. Jamee Fike and Dr. Warner and find out if this treatment option can help you live a normal life free from pain.

Whiplash Relief in Orlando FL Call: (407) 203-6745

Affordable neck and back pain relief available without the side effects of medicine.

Dr. Jamee Fike and Dr. Warner is expert at car accident injuries helping people with chronic back problems, neck aches, spine injuries, etc. so you can live life to the fullest, pain-free!

Auto accident injury and whiplash specialist in restoring health.

With our chiropractic procedures, we have helped 100’s of accident injury patients, bringing pain relief and helping them feel as good (and many times, better) than they did before their accident.

Importance of Immediate Care

What a lot of people don’t realize is that it can take multiple days, sometimes weeks before any whiplash symptoms occur.

The reason it can take a few days to feel the symptoms is because it can take time for the inflammation from the tears in the injured ligaments and muscles to build up and further aggravate you. When the delicate ligaments that support your neck are wounded, the muscles react by tightening to guard the injured area. This protects the damaged area from further injury.

A few weeks following this injury, the distressed tissue releases chemicals that attach little cells to the wounded area, called Fibroblasts and creating a scar-like material called fibrin. Fibrin then helps mend and rebuild the injury.

During these few weeks of repair, it is extremely important to maintain normal ranges of motion, as well as spinal alignment. If this is not done properly, the scar tissue will end up limiting the future mobility of the injured area and lead to spinal degeneration.

See how Dr. Jamee Fike and Dr. Daniel Warner can help you!

Whiplash Relief in Orlando FL Call: (407) 203-6745

Source: Summit ChiropracticWhiplash Pain Relief

You’ve been in a car accident. Now what?


Car Accident Phone Call

None of us wants to admit that we’ll take part in those statistics; but assuming that you will be in an accident at some point, do you know what to do? Let’s break it down into two categories: what you should do at the scene and what to do after the accident.

At the Scene

  • Stop. According to the Florida DMV, you must stop. And if anyone is hurt, you are required to get help. In addition, you should give your name, address, and vehicle registration number to others involved in the accident. If you leave the scene of an accident that involves injuries without providing your information your license may be revoked.
  • Don’t Block Traffic. If traffic is being blocked by your car you must move it. If you can’t move it yourself, you are required to get help or call a tow truck. Your car should never block traffic in any situation. Before you move the vehicles, you might want to use your phone to take photos, including the surrounding area, traffic signs, lane markings and the damage to vehicles involved. If there is any dispute about the accident, photos can provide a wealth of information and assistance in handling any claims following the suit.
  • Report it. According to Florida law, any car accident that involves injuries or property damage over $500 must be reported. In these situations, you should call the local police department, sheriff, or the Florida Highway Patrol. Some experts advise that you should call the police in any accident – even if the other person wants to keep it off the books or you think the damage is minor. Because you don’t know how things will actually turn out, a police report will provide an official record of the accident.

After the Accident

  • Call your insurance agent. People in the insurance industry say you should call your carrier regardless of the accident’s severity. If any payments have to be made to you or anyone else involved in the accident, the sooner your insurance company knows of the situation, the better.
  • Do not admit fault. Be honest with police about the facts but let them determine your level of liability. Most car accidents happen because one of the drivers was legally negligent. Negligence is when someone has a duty to act with reasonable care and fails to do so, causing harm to another person. A negligent person is required by law pay for the harm he causes to another person in proportion to his or her liability for the other person’s losses. If indeed you are the one charged in a traffic accident you will have the opportunity to explain what happened in court. At that point, the traffic court will decide what the penalty is.
  • Consider an attorney. If it is not a straightforward matter, an attorney might be helpful in getting to the bottom of the claim. Particularly if you are injured in the auto accident or the damage to your vehicle was extensive or if there is some question about fault. Of course, if you think you will need the help of a lawyer, make sure you document any medical expenses or other interactions that occur as a result of the accident.

Being in an accident is never convenient or easy. But, if you follow these simple procedures, the aftermath of your accident will be less frustrating and complicated.

So you’ve been arrested for DUI, what happens next?


DUI Blog OLGThe officer will likely walk up to your window, ask you for your license, insurance card, and vehicle registration. He or she may ask other questions to get you talking. The officer is looking for the “distinct odor of the impurities of alcohol.” When the officer asks you out of the vehicle, they will ask you to perform a sequence of Field Sobriety Exercises. These exercises include following a flashlight with your eyes, standing on one leg, and performing the “walk and turn” which is basically just walking heel toe down a straight line.

Once you have completed these exercises, the officer will make a determination as to whether or not to arrest you on suspicion of DUI. It is at this point, once you are under arrest, that you will be asked to submit to a breath, blood, and/or urine test. This test is what the officer’s use for confirmation of DUI in their minds. Understand, even if you blow UNDER .08, you can STILL be arrested for DUI. Even if you blow a 0.00, you can STILL be arrested for DUI.

So, should you submit to alcohol testing?
Florida Statute 316.1932 governs refusal to submit to alcohol testing. A refusal in Florida results in the automatic suspension of your driver’s license for a year. If you refuse a second time, it becomes an additional criminal offense along with the mandatory suspension of your driver’s license. Consenting to a breath test provides the officer further evidence to make the arrest for DUI and the State Attorney with additional evidence to use against you of impairment should you choose to take your case to trial. It is up to you to determine whether or not submitting to alcohol testing is in your best interest.

What happens if you weren’t driving?
What if instead of saying “I’m perfectly safe to drive” and driving home, you say “no way can I drive, I’m going to sleep it off in my car.” You may think by sleeping it off in your car, you are doing the responsible adult thing. However, you can still be arrested for DUI even if you are not physically driving your vehicle. Florida law provides that if you are in actual and physical control of your vehicle, you can be arrested. In layman’s terms, if you are in your car, with the keys, and have the ability to make it move, you can be arrested for DUI.

So you’ve been arrested for DUI, what happens next?
If you have been arrested for DUI, you will need to contact an attorney immediately to represent you. Following your arrest, an attorney can

  1. Guide you on how you can get a hardship license
  2. Advise you about penalties following a first and subsequent DUI
  3. Determine if any motions can be filed to help win your case

Please, contact us today for advise on how to best resolve your DUI or other criminal matters.

Samantha Headshot

Samantha Gordon, The Orlando Law Group, PL

You’ve Been Served! What is the first thing you should do if served with a summons and complaint in Florida?


summons or complaintFollowing the initial emotions, undoubtedly there will be a number of questions. What is the best approach? What are the first steps? What do the various legal terms even mean?

Let’s start by defining the terms. What is a summons? A summons is an official written order to appear before a court, judge or magistrate because you have been named as a party in a lawsuit. What is a complaint? A complaint is a pleading filed by a Plaintiff stating the claims they have against the Defendant as well as the action they would like the court to take. The plaintiff is the person who has filed a complaint/charges against the defendant for prosecution by the courts, while the defendant is the person who is refuting the charges and is seeking to prove his or her innocence.

As a defendant, it is important that you do not ignore the summons. The popular adage that “if you ignore it, it will go away,” does not apply in the legal system! Once you receive a summons and complaint, an action has already been filed in the court system. Pursuant to Florida law, you have 20 days to file a written response with the court. The court clock starts running the moment you receive the summons and complaint. If you do not file a response, the plaintiff will be able to file a motion and obtain a default judgment against you. A default means that you have no defenses to present in the case. Once a default is in place against you, you will be prevented from defending yourself at any later date, even if you have excellent defenses.

What should you do to respond to the summons? In short, contact your attorney immediately. BEFORE you file any kind of response.

Your written response will become a permanent record in the case. So, do not take it lightly! It should be crafted carefully so that you say exactly what you need to say – no more, no less. Some defenses that may be available to you are waived if you do not raise them in your initial response. Therefore, it is imperative that you and your attorney thoroughly examine the court documents for any defenses, defects or standing issues.

It is important that you are open and honest with your attorney concerning the case at hand. With her help, you can begin to piece together the facts of the case. Your attorney can help you collect any necessary paperwork and think through any witnesses to the incident that might be helpful and could testify.

In the meantime, do not contact the attorney for the plaintiff or the plaintiff or any member of his or her family. Do not contact the court, a judge or any other official of the court. It might also be wise to severely limit the circle of people you speak to about the case.

The truth is, the legal process is nuanced and complex. A good attorney can help you navigate these steps and the options at hand. Having a little help makes “being served” much less scary.


Know The Value of Your Intellectual Property


Intellectual Property sProtecting your business name, key phrases, symbols and products at the State level is affordable and helps prevent other entrepreneurs from monopolizing on your groundbreaking business concepts. At the Federal level, trademarking your logo will protect the image associated with the products and registering the mark and/or domain name with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an extra layer of protection that will identify your mark as a source of the product. While Federal protection is more of an investment, the registration does not expire if all filing requirements are satisfied.

Intellectual Property theft is a growing threat, especially in areas of digital technologies, and is costing U.S. businesses billions of dollars each year. Protecting your ideas, creative expressions and preventing product infringement should be high on the small business owner’s list of priorities. Many small businesses are targeted specifically due to their inability to respond legally.

Trademarking the standard characters of your business entity is fairly simple and the return on the investment is invaluable. As a business owner, you should consider your options to protect, manage and enforce your intellectual property rights in order to get the best possible commercial results from its ownership.

Jennifer Englert Headshot 2016

Jennifer Englert, The Orlando Law Group, PL

My Business was Sued! What Should I do?


Before you are Sued

suing my businessOften times, before being sued you will receive a demand letter. A demand letter is a formal notice demanding that the recipient performs an alleged legal obligation such as rectifying some identified problem, paying a sum of money or acting on a contractual commitment. Most demand letters will include a deadline for action. Demand letters are not actually lawsuits. At this stage, you should consult your lawyer in order to decide how to respond. At times, you may be able to show the writer that you did nothing wrong or you may be able to reach a settlement agreement. By taking these necessary measures, you could avoid being sued all together.

Once a Formal Complaint Has Been Filed

If the matter is not resolved through a demand letter or settlement, you will receive a formal complaint. A formal complaint can be delivered by a sheriff, mailed to your company or given to whomever your company indicated as the “agent for service of process.” Accompanied with the complaint is a “summons.” A summons indicates that you have been sued, states the claims being made, tells you how long you have to respond, and identifies the appropriate court.

The following is a list of steps you should consider in response to the summons:

  • Call your lawyer. Speak with your lawyer before you attempt to contact parties or witnesses, solicit advice from any non-lawyers, or respond to the legal action. Be honest with your lawyer and collect all relevant documents.
  • Refrain from discussing the issue with anyone other than your lawyer. Do not speak with the opposing party under any circumstances, and do not provide a recorded statement without your attorney’s consent.
  • Review the Papers Promptly and Act Quickly. In most courts, you are only allotted 20 – 30 days to respond to a complaint. A hearing can sometimes be set within of 3 – 10 days. A lawyer will need the time to learn the facts and prepare a response. Putting it off or ignoring the complaint can be costly. Failure to file an answer to the lawsuit within the time allotted can lead to a default judgment against your business. A default judgment can award the plaintiff full damages sought in the complaint, and force you to make payments to satisfy the judgment promptly.
  • Notify your insurance company. Because defending lawsuit can be very expensive, it is important to verify your business and homeowner’s insurance. Check your current and older policies. Confirm that you are covered by the insurance of a trade association, your landlord, or policies brought by suppliers, vendors or others that may consider your company insured. Converse with your lawyer and insurance agent to find out what kind of insurance you possess so that you can obtain help to resolve your claim.

In our culture, it’s just a reality that every business owner has a high likelihood of being sued at some point. Taking these actions can help ease the tension of being sued and help you obtain the best result.


Should I hire an employee or an independent contractor?


Contractor or EmployeeHowever, in our increasingly mobile world, hiring isn’t just a matter of finding the right employee. Whether virtual or on-site, sometimes an independent contractor is a better fit for the job at hand.

What’s the difference? According to Bankrate’s site, the difference is based primarily on the degree of control and independence over the work.

“An employee typically performs duties dictated or controlled by others. In many cases, an employee is provided training [and necessary tools] to do the job. And an employee works for only one boss.

“An independent contractor, on the other hand, generally has several clients. A contractor has his or her own tools (and in the modern workforce, this means digital devices, not just hammers and wrenches) and sets his or her own hours. And a contractor invoices for the completed work.”

Hiring an independent contractor can be a good fit if the job at hand requires a specialized skill that the company lacks or the business owner doesn’t plan to specialize in. It can also be a good idea for a short term project or a busy season. If a small business needs to save on labor costs, this option can also be a good way to go. An employer doesn’t need to pay benefits for contractors. Additionally, companies can save on taxes because it’s not necessary to pay the employer portion of Social Security, Medicare or state unemployment.

However, it’s important to understand and abide by the classification difference. It’s never a good idea to hire a contractor just to avoid the tax implications when you actually need/want an employee. If your company improperly hires a contractor when it should hire an employee, it is the business that will bear any compliance burdens and potential punishments. The IRS can come after your company when it discovers the misclassification and collect unpaid employment taxes. If you hire an independent contractor, you will need to file a 1099 if you pay him or her more than $600/year.

When is it time to hire an employee instead of a contractor? According to Raymond Grainger’s article on Entrepreneur, “The decision to hire full-time employees doesn’t have anything to do with the size of the organization as much as its profit margins. If the billable time of current full-time employees is at or above 85 percent and the profit margins are at least 50 percent, those are good indicators that the company is ready to add another full-time employee. A company makes less of a profit margin on contractors, so it’s important to factor in their workload.”

By Grainger’s reasoning, if these numbers aren’t being reached, the company is better off keeping its costs variable (by using contractors) until the firm can reach these margins.

Sourcing quality talent through independent contractors can be a good strategy for business owners. It’s just important to understand the ways they are different from employees and to use each classification well. Whether you’re hiring an employee who is going to be with you as a long-term investment or you’re working with a specialized contractor, there’s great value in knowing where the best talent is and how to manage it.


Tips on Organizing Your C-File (VA Disability Claims)

VA Claims C File

One of the first steps you should take before you begin your appeal is to obtain and organize your C-file. For those of you that are new to the veteran’s claims process, a Claims File, or C-file, is the file that is supposed to contain all of your medical information from your first medical exam for enlistment at the MEPPS station, up to and including your last medical exam prior to discharge from the military, as well as any additional records that you have provided to the VA from private doctors.

It is of the utmost importance that you know what is and is not in your C-file prior to filing your appeal. The most common documents found in your C-file are your DD-214, previous applications for claims, denial letters, rating letters, code sheets, military service medical records, VA medical records, medical records from private doctors (if you provided them), C&P exam records (compensation and pension) as well as your military service records. This list is not all inclusive and some documents may or may not apply to you depending on where you are in the appeals process and whether or not this is your first appeal.

Your C-file is one of the most important files used to establish your medical claim for VA disabilities (Fully Developed Claim or FDC) because it is the only file the VA will look at in making determinations about your claim. As we are all way to familiar with the short comings of government bureaucracies, you will want to make sure the VA has all the information that you have in consideration of your claim. The only way to make sure is to request and receive a copy of your C-file and organize it; but beware: it will very likely come to you as if it spent some time on a black-jack table in Las Vegas!

Prior to receiving your C-file, make a list of the particular disability or disabilities you are claiming or disputing. After you have received your C-file you will notice all of the 500-5000 pages are in no particular order. First, make sure the records you received are YOURS! When I first requested my file, I received records for another service member with a similar name, but in a totally different branch of service! Second, you should number your pages 1- XXXXX, in the order that you received them. This will help you reference them to the VA representative, DRO (decision review officer), or to any of the Judges during any of the future hearings you will be attending as they will likely receive your file in the same order you received them.

After you have numbered your documents, separate them according to their classifications mentioned above, i.e. C&P exams, VA medical records, private doctor medical records, military service records and so on. After that is completed, take those records in their respective piles and place them in chronological order. Once you have all your piles separated by classification and in chronological order, you should then pick out each document evidencing any of your particular claims as to your specific disability and group together any duplicates and triplicates. For example, in a claim for hearing loss you will want to pick out all of your military medical records and private doctor records related to hearing tests, treatments, doctor visits, complaints, prescriptions, etc. Additionally, you will want to pull any documentation that could possibly link your hearing loss to your military service. For example, any records showing that your MOS (military occupational specialty) could have played a part in your loss of hearing, such as, infantry, machine gunner, artillery, aircraft repair or maintenance – basically any military occupation with an inherent environment that could contribute to hearing loss.

Once you have your C-file organized, NOW you can begin building your claim and find out what records are missing and get those records to the VA to be included in your file.

Jeff Smith HeadShot 2016

Jeffrey W. Smith The Orlando Law Group, P.L.

*This article is meant for educational and informational purposes only and not as legal advice. This article does not establish or imply an attorney client relationship between the author of this article and the reader. The author of this article is NOT representing you as your attorney. You are advised to contact an attorney for legal advice related to the specific facts of your case.

Benefits of Using Accounting Software for Your Business

Benefits of Using Accounting Software

In the accounting world, there are a lot of software choices that can make or break any business. Some software stands out from most choices, however. Good accounting software is highly beneficial to a business, and enables accountants to help the businesses they represent in a number of ways. There are a few programs offered by accounting solutions, each of which is affordable, easy to use, and allow for significant transparency in finances.


One of the most useful parts of some accounting programs is that each one is adaptable to the business using it. Often, accounting software is created with general usage in mind, so that they can be useful in some way to most kinds of business. However, this means that they will include many features that are entirely useless or unnecessary for the company they are bought for. More intuitive software, on the other hand, is built from different parts or modules. The result is an accounting program that is tailor-made for the company it is bought for and it is easily adaptable to changing marketplaces. This also means that companies only pay for what they will use, and they can end up paying less for it.

Efficient and Easy

Top accounting software is put together in a very simple way that is easy to learn and operate; It takes nearly no time to learn how to use this software. This saves businesses time that would otherwise have been spent by accountants needing to learn their new software, and money that would otherwise have been spent covering likely mistakes due to unfamiliarity. Accounting software also allows for very easy data storage, so day-to-day occurrences can be checked easily and quickly. Despite the simplicity of the programs, accountants are able to be highly efficient. The software is able to perform tasks such as predicting spending patterns based on invoices while remaining versatile, fast, and easy to use.


Possibly the most important factor of the program is that accounting software helps businesses in more ways than simple accounting. Some accounting software, being as unique as it is, is able to perform tasks that most other software can’t. For example, it is able to examine spending trends, commitments, and project budgets so that it can warn and advise project managers when they are approaching budget limits. It can file business taxes and generate financial reporting and data. This means you can manage financial operations anywhere on the globe. In essence, the software is its own manager, not entirely unlike having an extra accountant who can monitor entire projects with a guaranteed efficiency (and high work ethic).

From to The Small Business Blog

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Womens day

In a few days, the world will pause to celebrate women. On Tuesday, March 8, we will link arms with women around the globe to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
More than just a cliché of “you’ve come a long way, baby,” the day is part of a broader movement to celebrate the varied contributions of women to society. In the United States, the observance is part of Women’s History Month. Why an entire month dedicated to recognizing women? A visit to the official National Women’s History Project (NWHP), reveals that the observance arose out of a void. According to the NWHP site, “As recently as the 1970’s, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration for 1978.”

The festivities centered around March 8th, which had already been declared International Women’s Day.

The week-long observance eventually morphed in celebrations that lasted the whole month of March until finally in 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. Since that time, a special Presidential Proclamation is issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women.

Despite all the strides women have made both here in the U.S. and around the world, there is still much ground to be gained. In fact, according to the International Women’s Day site progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2015 that it would take until 2133 to achieve global gender parity. THAT’S 117 YEARS!

Why does it matter? We’d like to think that that it matters for many good reasons. Ultimately, gender issues should be rooted in the intrinsic worth and value of every individual. But, if that’s not enough to convince us, perhaps the bottom line will. The facts show that gender parity is linked to economic prosperity. It’s an economic imperative! Women’s advancement and leadership are central to business performance and economic prosperity. Numerous global studies on the impact of women in leadership reveal that profitability, ROI and innovation all increase when women are counted among senior leadership.

According to the movement for gender parity, there are three accelerators, working independently and together, that can change the trajectory of women’s advancement. They are as follows:

• Illuminate the path to leadership by making career opportunities more visible to women;

• Speed up culture change with progressive corporate policy, such as paternity leave and flexible working; and

• Build supportive environments and work to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias.

By marking an entire month and specifically one day, we celebrate the achievements of women while shining a light on the gender parity that still exists worldwide. Truth be told, celebrating the successes of women is especially near and dear to our hearts here at The Orlando Law Group. Our growing firm started with the vision of one woman and initially developed as an all-female legal team. While we have added men to the team over the years, we’re proud of our roots! Will you join us in pausing to highlight the women among us this month?

So, You Still Haven’t Filed? Tax Do’s and Don’ts for You and Your Small Business.

Taxes Bankruptcy

Tax time certainly isn’t the most exciting part of running your own small business. In fact, for most business owners, bookkeeping, in general, is a necessary evil. Keeping receipts, tracking expenses, and knowing tax law is probably NOT the thing that drives you.

But, it needs to be done. And it needs to be done well. If tax season is typically a stressor for you, a little planning and effort might help your tax return go smoothly – even this close to April 15th.  Here are a few tips for you to consider.

Don’t fail to file.
Find out exactly what paperwork you need to file for your specific type of business. Keep your receipts, invoices, bank statements and other documents organized in case you ever get audited. If you need to backtrack to find your documents and get caught up, do it now. Don’t wait another second!
Do keep simple records of earnings and expenditures. Bookkeeping can be a very basic system: money in and money out. You can keep a spreadsheet or even just a ledger book. However, we strongly recommend an online accounting software package such as QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Wave or Zoho.  With little to no investment, such a program can save you hours in time, and make your accountant’s life easier at year end. (Online reviews like this one will help you choose a software that works best for you.) No matter what method you use, you will need to break down how you spent and earned in order to get the information the IRS needs.
Don’t forget to claim for the costs incurred as a result of setting up your business, such as company formation costs or any equipment you may have purchased.
Do make sure you claim all the allowances you and your business are entitled to. These include everything from capital expenditures to claiming help with your business rates. If you are running a business from home, check into claiming expenses for a proportion of your home-related costs.
Don’t blend business and personal. Keep business expenses, income and accounts separate from all personal finances to avoid confusion.

Do consider hiring a good accountant. This might be our best piece of tax advice! A good accountant might become your most important advisor, and could even save you money in the long run. At this late date, you might be in a little bit of a crunch but consider these qualities in an accountant (as taken from the FedEx Small Business Center site):

  • Choose someone who is responsive and timely. A good indication of their responsiveness? How quickly they return your call or email. You want to be on their priority list, not their back burner.
  • Ask around for a personal referral. If a friend or family member endorses an accounting professional, odds are you’ll be in good hands.
  • Look for someone with experience in your industry. Many accountants specialize in a particular field. If you own a business, choose an accounting professional who understands your work.
  • Find one who’s right for you, personally. Like in picking a doctor or dentist, subjective preferences play a role. You’ll be forming a long-term relationship with this person, so if your communication skills clash, keep looking.
If tax time was a bit of a scramble for you this year, we’d encourage you to plan ahead and develop some good recordkeeping habits now in anticipation of next year. Stay up-to-date by reconciling bank accounts, updating your accounting system and maintaining your books so they’re current and accurate when you need them. Just 30 minutes a week can make all the difference when tax times rolls around next year.

How to Choose a Real Estate Attorney

PST 1452

So, you’ve done all the legwork, been to the bank, spent weeks and weeks doing the back-and-forth and now you are ready to plunk down on new home. Or maybe you’re starting a new enterprise and buying your first rental property. Perhaps you’re looking to start your own small business and have your eyes on a commercial property.

No matter the type of real estate transaction, the question is the same: Where do you go from here? How will you choose an attorney who can cut through the legal jargon and walk you through the closing process?

Hiring a real estate attorney is an important choice. A real estate transaction usually means that a significant amount of money is about to change hands. That can be a little nerve-racking for most people! The real estate attorney will take over after the selling price and terms have been established by the realtors and all involved parties have signed. She will evaluate the contract, negotiate any repairs based on the home inspection report, work together with the title company, and accompany you to the settlement.

If you already have a relationship with an attorney, you can always ask if he does real estate law as well. Many lawyers have a general law practice and can handle many different types of cases, including real estate law. However, you might not want to consider an out-of-town lawyer friend. A real estate transaction is not the same as drafting a will. A will can be drafted remotely while a real estate transaction is more location-specific. It often requires knowing what is considered reasonable and customary for a particular area. Someone local is an important asset.

If you don’t already know an attorney, you can Google local options, ask your real estate agent if she has a recommendation, or ask friends for referrals. In any of these scenarios, you can schedule a consultation with a few attorneys to help narrow your decision. During the appointment, your goal will be to get a sense for the attorney’s experience in handling real estate transactions. Has she successfully handled several other real estate closings? If he familiar with your particular type of transaction? Will she need to navigate any particular circumstances such as buying a property that is a short sale? It is important that you feel comfortable with her level of experience for your particular kind of real estate transaction.

During your meetings with each attorney, get a clear idea as to how much he charges and a good estimate of how much it will cost you to have him represent you. This should be clear regardless whether the attorney bills by the hour or charges a flat fee. Once you find an attorney who fits your real estate needs, hire him! As you move forward, be sure to provide your attorney with all documents related to your real estate transaction. As you do so, he will learn the ins-and-outs of your transaction and ask any necessary questions before a real estate closing occurs. If there are any problems or issues with your transaction, they can be dealt with proactively.


Why You Need a Real Estate Attorney When Buying a Home

Need A Real Estate Attorney

For most people, buying real estate is the biggest purchase they will ever make. Before committing yourself to a contract that will affect your life and your wallet for years to come, hire a real estate lawyer. Why – when so much is at stake – would you purchase a property without knowing whether your rights to use the property are in any way limited? Why would you rely on a generic contract that was not written for your specific set of circumstances? And why would you sign it without understanding what everything in it means?

A lawyer will request that all of the documents in the public records relating to the property be provided for her review so that she can fully inform you of matters that will affect your use of the property, such as easements and restrictive covenants, and will be sure that you understand any limitations or restrictions prior to purchase. A lawyer can also develop ways to resolve title issues, such as unpaid liens affecting the property, to keep the deal from falling apart or closing from being significantly delayed. A lawyer can review the survey and discuss any items of concern with you. Realtors and closing agents cannot do these things since they cannot lawfully give legal advice. Wouldn’t you like to know while you could still back out of the purchase that you wouldn’t be able to build that pool you promised your kids because there is a conservation easement that prohibits making improvements in that area of the property? What about learning prior to purchase that the condo you are about to purchase is on the side of the coastal construction line where construction was actually prohibited? Do you want to take the risk of having to evict tenants who decide not to leave after you buy the property? If these are things you would like to know about and be protected from prior to making one of the biggest investments of your life then hire a real estate attorney when you are thinking of purchasing.

And hire that attorney before you sign the contract for purchase. Lawyers are experts in negotiations and contracts. A lawyer can – and should – negotiate changes to the standard real estate contract in order to protect your specific interests far better than a generic form contract would protect them. For example, there are many things that can affect the property in a way that would make it undesirable to you personally but that do not make it unmarketable under a standard real estate contract, such as the conservation easement discussed above. Therefore, you as a purchaser would likely still have to go through with the purchase after discovering those undesirable items under a standard real estate contract. However, a lawyer will know to adjust the standard contract so that all information necessary for a fully informed purchase will be received while you are still able to walk away from the transaction without repercussions. A lawyer can also negotiate to have some or all of your lawyer’s fees paid by the seller when you get the lawyer involved prior to signing the real estate contract.


Kimberly Hosley Agee, The Orlando Law Group, P.L.

What should I do before buying a home in an HOA?

Real Estate Law

Beautiful houses. Well-manicured lawns. Good schools. Involved neighbors. These are a few of the perks that come with living in a community that has a Homeowner’s Association (HOA). An HOA is designed to protect the value of your home and maintain order in your community. For example, an HOA makes it tough for a guy like a cousin Eddie to park his dilapidated RV in front of your house during Christmas vacation.

Sounds perfect, right? Well, it might be. But, it’s also not for everyone. The very regulations that protect you, can also limit you or cause legal trouble for you. It’s important to make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to before you buy a home in an HOA. Most HOAs manage the common areas and amenities as well as all covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). There are three important documents for you to review before buying in an HOA: the CC&Rs, the homeowners association bylaws, and the HOA budget and financial statements. These, along with any HOA meeting minutes, will help you get a feel for exactly what you are agreeing to by joining the HOA.

Here are some things to consider about your potential HOA:

  • What are the membership dues? How likely are they to rise? When and how are they assessed? Do you need to factor a one-time capital contribution to your closing costs?
  • What do your dues cover? These vary greatly from community to community.
  • Does the HOA limit pet ownership? What about other animals like chickens?
  • How clear are the stipulations about the appearance of your home? For example, can you fence your backyard? Do you have to follow rules about lawn care? Can you paint your front door red? Where should you park your motorcycle?
  • Can you rent your residence to another party?
  • If you don’t meet HOA requirements and try to sneak a chicken coop on your property, can the HOA levy a fine? What is your recourse?
  • If you don’t (or can’t) pay your HOA dues or fines, what steps can the HOA take? Can they foreclose on your home?

CC&Rs and bylaws are extremely difficult to get around, so be sure to review these documents carefully before you buy a home. Be prepared for special assessments on community buildings, especially if they are older. If the roof needs to be replaced, the HOA might collect money from each homeowner to cover the cost.

Lastly, be aware that there have been charges of unscrupulous behavior against some HOAs. Check to see if there is any litigation pending against the HOA and take the time to check its financials as well as its recent assessments (for community fixes or upgrades).

Many people find the pros of an HOA outweigh the restrictions. Our recommendation is simply that you take the time to be sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to BEFORE you buy your home. A little work on the front end can save you legal hassles down the road.


Is a Franchise Right for Me?

Is a franchise right for me

More and more people are looking to set up their own business, especially with the economic uncertainty and lack of jobs on a global scale. But setting up a business from scratch is not for the fainthearted. One in three new businesses fail within the first three years, often leaving a trail of financial devastation in their wake – which is why so many who want to reap the benefits of running their own business opt for the tried and tested franchise route. Well-known business models and familiar household names ensure that the franchise option for new business start-ups is a long-established and accepted path. Starting a business under a well-known and proven brand stands a greater chance of succeeding, than starting up from scratch.

The real estate market however is still buoyant – certainly in the estate arena at least. But owning an estate agent franchise is by no means a quick path to riches, and if you choose this franchise option, you will need to be energetic, motivated, a great communicator and possess real commercial tenacity to make it work for you – A successful business in real estate is as much about being good with people as it is about being good at sales – and you have to love both!

These days you don’t even need a high street base. Running your business online is becoming increasingly more viable, and the internet has taken its place in our lives as the oracle of all things real-estate. You can have a virtual shop, you can exchange virtual money, you can talk via email, Skype or text, pay by PayPal, you can take credit card payments with your mobile and conference call prospective tenants and landlords as long as you have a computer, broadband and a web-cam! Paperwork is paperless and the whole way we run and operate business has changed beyond all recognition.

Running a business without doubt requires the same, if not more commitment as you would apply to a job as a simple employee, but the difference is that you can, within reason, choose your own hours to fit around other commitments such as family or other jobs for example.

The private estate industry is growing exponentially, with fewer and fewer people able to buy their own properties turning to the rental market, so if you are willing to get your hands dirty and muck in wherever your business needs it, you’re keen to try new approaches, and to take on new challenges and have a great attention to detail your business will do well.

Source from to The Small Business Blog

How to “Divorce” Your Partner the Appropriate Way

Partner Divorce

It is a well-known saying that a business partnership is a lot like a marriage. Unfortunately, just like marriages, partnerships can fail. In fact, some statistics say that 50% of both end in divorce.

When they do, it is best for everyone to make it as amicable as possible. Business partnerships end for a variety reasons: personality conflicts, different styles of doing business, financial difficulties, new goals or lifestyle changes for one of the partners. As long as you haven’t had a huge falling out, your exit strategy can ensure that your interests in the business are protected and that you leave with a favorable reputation.

As with any relationship, communication is the key at every step – including when you choose to end the partnership. Your business partner should not be surprised when you decide you want to move on. If they didn’t already know that your goals were shifting or that you were discontent, you start the proceedings at a disadvantage. Communicate along the way. And, when you do decide to tell them, don’t use email or a phone call to avoid the tough conversation. A sincere face-to-face interaction will be best.

As well, if you know you want to move on, don’t wait too long to start planning. Ending a business partnership is not an overnight process, so keep a time-line in mind as you determine what works best for you.

There are several options to consider for terminating the partnership. Start by having a brainstorm session with a few of your trusted advisers on all the options. Two things will help this brainstorm. First, review your owner’s agreement. Before you went into business, you should have prepared an agreement. Revisit the document in detail so you know if possible options are already outlined. Second, determine the value of your business and what the financial ramifications are of selling or leaving the business in general.

You could simply offer to sell your partner your half of the business. Or, you could offer to bring in a third party whom you could groom together and sell that third party your half of the venture. If your partner is not interested in moving on without you, then you may opt to close your business and support each other in your new pursuits. The process will go smoothest if you can come up with a win-win. Determine what would be a win for you, a win for your partner and a win for you both. As in any negotiation, you need the other side to have some wins. So when you are ready to present your ideas to your partner, go in with a plan that allows you to make some concessions

There are a few practical considerations that will help should things start to get sticky:

  • Obtain a personal attorney. You won’t be able to use the company attorney because it would be a conflict of interest. Find a new attorney who will work with you exclusively. Have them go through all the details with you and coach you on possible outcomes, and then keep the attorney in the loop at every step of the way so that she can continue to anticipate and coach.
  • Consider all paperwork that needs filing, as well as all accounts that need closed. Make sure that all debts are all paid off, settled, or transferred to the new owner. Follow-through on whatever you have agreed upon, taking care to meet every financial obligation and other milestones on time.
  • Finally, once everything is agreed upon, announce it to your staff. Help stem any gossip by setting the record straight by telling them that you and your partner have agreed to go separate ways and what the plan is going forward. If the business is going forward without you, the change in leadership can be scary for your staff, so this is a critical time to show your confidence.

How Your Business Could Benefit from Mobile Shredding Services

Benefits of Mobile Shredding

All businesses, whether large or small, will produce or possess sensitive information. This data must be kept confidential in order to protect the interests of an organization. If you do not dispose of this data in the right manner, it could compromise your company as well as your clients. It is important to get rid of any valuable documentation through a secure process.

There are a wide variety of mobile document shredding services available to consider, and with the efficient destruction of data in a timely fashion, your company will be in accordance with privacy legislation and your client information stays safe. Sensitive data could include letterheads, invoices, tax forms, contracts and bank statements. Hard copies of data, published by hospitals and law firms, for instance, deal with confidential data on a daily basis and to avoid fraudulent use, they must make sure to destroy this data in the right way.

Your business could benefit from mobile shredding services in the following ways:

  • Large amounts of data can be disposed of quickly and smoothly.
  • It is cost effective as you do not have to manage in-house data disposal.
  • It leads to less clutter and efficient business management.
  • A business manages to stay environment-friendly as all shredded documents will be recycled.
  • An organization can avoid identity theft and fraud.
  • Business processes become cleaner and easier to handle.
  • Data can be shredded onsite which is more convenient for the business or company.
  • Secure containers which ensure that all confidential documents remain safe from a breach of security.
  • You can witness the shredding process first hand.
  • Shredding of all kinds of material including computer disks, hard drives, paper, cassettes and more.
  • All shredding is managed and operated by experts.
  • A Certificate of Destruction will be provided on-the-spot.

Prioritize your business requirements and keep your data protected.

Source: to The Small Business Blog

New Year? Maybe it’s Time for a Check-Up

Time for a check up

With the start of a new year just behind us, many people have been taking the time to reflect on the past year and re-prioritize their objectives as they head into 2016. For many of us, we have a goal of kicking off the new year with renewed vigor and a clear mission. We make lists and think of personal habits and business changes we want to make.

But, it’s also important to make sure your own affairs are in order. One important item to add to your 2016 list should be getting an estate plan checkup.

Everyone has an estate, and every estate needs a plan. Whether you consider yourself rich or poor, when you die you will leave behind assets. Your estate might include cash and investments, real estate, tangible personal property, or even an interest in a business.

At its most basic level, an estate plan determines how your assets will be distributed to those you leave behind when you pass away. Because of the ever-changing nature of tax laws, financial markets and the economy, an estate plan checkup is an important activity to revisit. Even if you already have an estate plan, it is imperative that you revisit that plan in order to ensure that it remains relevant under your current family and financial circumstances.

Just like an annual visit to your physician, a periodic review of your estate plan can either reinforce the fact that all is well and in order, or it can uncover the need for additional attention to return your plan to a healthy state. Keeping a keen eye on your plan will go a long way in avoiding disputes between your loved ones, as well as managing the amount of your hard-earned dollars that must go to cover federal and state estate taxes.
No matter what your net worth, a basic estate plan should include a valid will, durable power-of-attorney, health care power-of-attorney, and a living will. Some situations might also make it desirable to use a trust or series of trusts to accomplish your goals.

An estate plan check-up involves a review of the terms of all of these documents, with a particular focus on determining whether the persons you named to act in your absence remain appropriate, and whether the plan for distribution of your assets is still what you desire.

In addition to the implementation or review of your documents, your estate plan check-up should look at related issues such as the desirability of life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance, as well as the ongoing impact of pre-nuptial agreements or any other documents that affect your assets.

Estate planning is not a static event that you grudgingly do once and then forget about it. On the contrary, estate planning is a continuing process, because life is a moving target that is full of constant change, so your estate plan needs to change as your life changes. A periodic checkup will insure that all is healthy as you move into the future.

The Legal Aspects of Setting up a New Business

The Legal Aspects of Setting up a New Business

Beginning a new business can be an exciting process, but the legal aspects of it can be quite intimidating. Often, asking business solicitors for advice and aid can be a good way to get everything in order. If you are wondering what sort of questions you should ask when getting law advice for your new business, consider the starting points below.

Commercial Property

Any business, even one that focuses mostly on online activities, needs a physical location to get started. The decisions about whether you want to buy or lease an office space and what sort of zoning permits you need are among the first and most significant legal questions you will face. Business solicitors can help provide advice on mortgages, lease extensions, the repurposing of property, and contract negotiations regarding commercial buildings.

Employment Law

How do you plan to handle the hiring process for your business? Even a start-up company that includes yourself and a few friends will need to expand the staff if it is successful. Any sort of hiring process requires you to know about human resources laws and regulations in your area, redundancy procedures, and contract law. There is a need to make sure that the hiring process is fair at all times, but also to ensure that you are protected from people who try to unfairly take advantage of the system.


Most businesses start up as a small group of individuals, but they can grow quickly. When that happens, it’s important to determine a hierarchy of authority and to think about how you want to handle present and future partnerships. You should seek out advice on what personal investments should be required from each partner, how profits and losses need to be allocated among the different people involved, and how much flexibility you want in terms of altering the partnership. Remember also that successful business people starting a new business can be an exciting process, but the legal aspects of it can be quite intimidating. Often, asking business solicitors for advice and aid can be a good way to get everything in order. If you are wondering what sort of questions you should ask when getting law advice for your new business, consider the starting points below.

Commercial Property

Any business, even one that focuses mostly on online activities, needs a physical location to get started. The decisions about whether you want to buy or lease an office space and what sort of zoning permits you need are among the first and most significant legal questions you will face. Business solicitors can help provide advice on mortgages, lease extensions, the repurposing of property, and contract negotiations regarding commercial buildings.

Employment Law

How do you plan to handle the hiring process for your business? Even a start-up company that includes yourself and a few friends will need to expand the staff if it is successful. Any sort of hiring process requires you to know about human resources laws and regulations in your area, redundancy procedures, and contract law. There is a need to make sure that the hiring process is fair at all times, but also to ensure that you are protected from people who try to unfairly take advantage of the system.


Most businesses start up as a small group of individuals, but they can grow quickly. When that happens, it’s important to determine a hierarchy of authority and to think about how you want to handle present and future partnerships. You should seek out advice on what personal investments should be required from each partner, how profits and losses need to be allocated among the different people involved, and how much flexibility you want in terms of altering the partnership. Remember also that successful businesspeople tend to get many exciting opportunities once they’ve established themselves. In case it’s time for someone to move on, advice on dissolving partnerships is also useful.

Protection from Crime

Business crime can take many forms, including embezzlement, security breaches, or even physically dangerous situations such as robberies or arson. Business solicitors can help provide you with advice on where your potential vulnerabilities as an organisation are and how you should go about protecting yourself. For example, if your business requires you to have a lot of cash on site, you need to make sure you invest more in security and look into the proper levels of insurance to protect not only your interests but also the interests of your clients and customers.

Having somebody who knows about the ins and outs of business law is an important step that you can take to protect your fledgling company from the perils that await many new businesses. There are many legal aspects to consider, and no matter how excited you are about the possibilities of your new company, it always helps to have somebody else give their advice and opinions.e tend to get many exciting opportunities once they’ve established themselves. In case it’s time for someone to move on, advice on dissolving partnerships is also useful.

Source: to The Small Business Blog

Business Takeover Disasters!

Business Takeovers

The process of taking over another company can be a very exciting time for you and your business, but it can very quickly turn into an unpleasant experience with serious lasting consequences. Here are some of the biggest mistakes made by companies during takeovers:

  • Inadequate due diligence – You need to have done extensive research into the finances, existing contracts and liabilities of the company you are buying in order to avoid lawsuits, extra expenditure or loss of sales.
  • Ignoring the culture of the target- If you underestimate the importance of culture then you are likely to experience some clashes, as no two companies will ever seamlessly fit together. To avoid misunderstandings and conflict from the beginning it is best if you set down a clear and consistent policy favoring the dominant culture.
  • Forgetting to keep customers informed – You will need to reassure customers that the takeover is in their best interests because your competitors will attempt to unsettle them during this period.
  • Failing to retain key employees – It is possible that competitors will also try to steal your best employees at this time by playing on insecurities they have about their own future within the company. You must reassure them and also be forthcoming about job cuts because an atmosphere of uncertainty will lead to false rumors spreading.
  • Overpaying for target – Do not get carried away and end up paying far above the market value of the target, especially in e-business where it can be easy to over-estimate the value of a company because of the amount of potential you believe to be there.
  • Bad leadership – Without a clear and powerful leader to drive the takeover forward it will stagnate. Make sure that if you are creating a combined managerial team from the two companies everybody is sure of their role.
  • Not understanding foreign markets – A cross-border merger can easily fail if you simply assume that things are the same in another country. Legislation or consumer attitudes towards products and advertising can be vastly different.
  • Poor IT integration – This process is never as simple as just swapping one IT system for another. In order for the transition to go smoothly it will require a lot of planning.
  • Failed brand consolidation – It will be important for you to have a clear idea of how you want to manage the new brands you acquire. Maintaining a brand can be expensive in marketing terms so you may wish to drop some entirely.
  • Mis-timing the takeover process – You will need to get the timescale just right in order to be successful. Rushing to completion could ultimately result in a poor merger with aspects overlooked, but going too slowly will only extend the period of upheaval further.

The best advice for completing a takeover successfully is to consider all the areas that could potentially go wrong and make sure you have a comprehensive action plan to guide the company through this period.

Source from to The Small Business Blog

Spreading Yuletide Cheer? An Employer’s Guide to Navigating the Holiday Season

Spreading Yuletide Cheer

As the year winds down, we find ourselves in the middle of another holiday season. For many Americans it is a time steeped in tradition and festivity. In addition to family celebrations and time with friends, December also brings many company activities. For example, many companies organize holiday parties, decorate their offices, host parties or even set-up secret gift exchanges among coworkers. Usually these events are organized with good intentions in hopes of fostering a fun work environment. In truth, such activities can be a huge “win” by offering opportunities to celebrate the successes of the year, building community within the workplace, and growing a strong reputation. Many employers, however, do not realize that there are also some potential risks involved with observing holiday festivities.

While you don’t have to cancel the holiday fun, there are several issues employers should proactively watch and plan for during this holiday season.

Party Planning. While holiday parties are festive (and should be), each one holds a minefield of potential embarrassment, regrettable behavior, and, in worst case scenarios, discrimination and harassment lawsuits. Employers can safeguard against these claims in many ways.  For example, it might be wise to send a memo to employees before the holidays reminding them that the company’s dress and behavior codes – and harassment policies – still apply to an off-site, after hours, company-sponsored event. Examples of bad party etiquette usually stem from too much free alcohol and include things like the odd lewd remark, an offensive joke or inappropriate touching. These can all lead to complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct.

It’s important to note that mandatory holiday parties are considered work, so you can be held responsible for any injuries at the party. Make sure your business insurance will cover any injuries sustained during holiday events. Employers should also be aware of the potential for accidents and liability and take reasonable steps to avoid them.

Additional Time Off. The holiday season can also upend issues related to time off.   As employees take extra time off to shop and prepare for the holidays, problems might arise from long lunches, leaving early, and arriving late. While there is no need to be a Scrooge, employers might want to take this opportunity to note the importance of timekeeping. Make sure everyone is treated equally and consistently to avoid any misunderstandings or possible discrimination.

As an employer, you might also find yourself dealing with issues of conflicting holiday requests from staff. Strive to balance holiday requests against the operational needs of your business. Staff will have to accept that they can’t all take the same time off!

Religious Sensitivity. There is no way around the fact that, for many, the holidays are rooted in religious traditions.  Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are all reasons to celebrate.  But, keep in mind that not everyone observes those traditions. For example, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in those celebrations. Employers would be wise to consider various options to minimize hard feelings.  Make sure that gift giving and holiday parties are voluntary in nature so that those who choose to abstain from celebrating for religious or cultural reasons are not made uncomfortable.  Also, employers should be conscious of religious symbols or phrases in the workplace.

Don’t let the worries of liabilities or risk keep you from enjoying the season! You can celebrate without overstepping the boundaries. By ensuring that some of these eventualities have been considered and prepared for, everyone can relax a bit as the year winds down.

Computer Monitoring Software in the Office

Computer Monitoring Software in the Office

There are many ways to improve productivity around the office, but a problem that has been growing over the years is what employees get up to on their computers as soon as the bosses back is turned. It may be that single employee who you have an inkling is spending too much time on Youtube, or you may think you have an issue with your entire workforce. Whatever reason there is, a lot of companies have turned to computer monitoring software for help.

Computer monitoring software does exactly what it says on the tin: it monitors all activity that happens on the machine it is installed on. And if necessary it can also do this in secret. The first thing that comes to mind for most people when discussing monitoring software is legality and morals. Is it legal to install this type of software on employee’s computers? Yes, although every countries laws differ, in the vast majority you can install monitoring software on any computer you own. This of course means that if you have a boss to answer to you should get their consent first. The morality of installing this type of software depends on the individual and the severity of the situation. In some countries you must inform your employee(s) that they are being monitored, in others it’s up to you, so check your local laws before starting.

So what about the software itself -how does it work and what exactly does it do? There are a few different types of monitoring software, all can be downloaded and installed very easily. The more computers you want to install it on the longer it will take, but it should only take a few minutes for each machine in the office. The two types mentioned here are computer monitoring software and office monitoring software, and what you want to achieve will determine which you’ll need to go for.

Computer monitoring software is (usually) used to monitor a single computer. Once installed on the computer it will monitor everything, including websites visited, applications used, document and file activity (that’s anything opened, saved, moved or deleted), anything typed and anything printed (features vary from developer to developer but this is a standard set of features). You can set the software to run in hidden mode, so that no sign of it will be seen in places like the start menu, task manager or program files directory, or in visible mode so that an icon in the tray will let the user know they are being monitored. Either way you’ll need a password to access the interface. To view the results you can either log in on the actual machine, or set the software to send the reports to you via email every X seconds/hours.

Computer monitoring software should be used if you’d like to monitor either a single or a few computers. The other option is office monitoring software, which works in the same way as computer monitoring software but has a few extra features. Be warned, office monitoring software can get expensive depending on the amount of machines you’d like it installed on, but it does have its advantages.

As well as the above features, office monitoring software can be installed on each machine and controlled and viewed from a single computer (yours, for example). From there you can monitor each computer in real time; seeing a mini screen for each computer you own. You can also control each computer from your own, which is helpful if an employee has a problem that they need your help with. The main difference between the two types is that having office monitoring software being controlled from one single computer makes it easy to manage the entire office, rather than logging into each computer to view the logs, or waiting for an email. Office monitoring software is recommended for an office that has 10 or more computers that need monitoring.

As you can see, each type of monitoring software has its merits. If you’d like to monitor a handful of computers at home or at the office (up to say 10), you should be using computer monitoring software, but if you have a large office where you feel that all round productivity could be improved choose office monitoring solutions.

Source from to The Small Business Blog

Staying Secure While Shopping in Your Jammies

shopping in jammies

While many people enjoyed the thrill of Black Friday and other holiday shopping steals this past weekend, more and more people are turning to online shopping for their gift-giving. And why not? You can shop, even at midnight, wearing your jammies! No waiting in lines or looking for an open register. You can comparison shop, find the perfect size, and make your purchases in minutes even if you are busy. Not to mention that many online retailers now offer free shipping deals.

But, what of the dangers? Between phishing sites (where thieves attempt to swindle you out of your sign-in credentials and financial info by pretending to be a real website), malware (malicious code aimed at compromising your privacy) and cyber attacks (when hackers infiltrate a company’s computer information systems), online shopping can feel a little too risky.

While those threats are very real, a few simple precautions will go a long way in protecting your privacy while you enjoy your online shopping.

First, use common sense. If a deal is just too good to be true, it probably is. While companies have some wiggle room to discount items and offer holiday bonuses, they still need to be profitable. They can’t afford to give their products or services away anymore than you can.

Second, start at trusted sites. Do most of your shopping with retailers you know and trust. If you’ve stumbled on a deal on a lesser-known site, check its credentials. PCWorld recommends that you “look for the lock.” According to their site, you should never buy anything online from a site that doesn’t have SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption installed. SSL encrypts data and breaks it up into small pieces so that the information cannot be read by anyone wanting to intercept it. You’ll know if the site has SSL because the URL for the order page for the site will start with HTTPS:// (instead of just HTTP://). An icon of a locked padlock will appear, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar. You can also check site reviews and look for signs of certification such as third-party seals of approval (like Truste).

Third, ignore pop-up ads and spam links. These are designed to lure you away from trusted sites. Along the same lines, be wary of online contests or giveaways that ask for your personal information. Never give more personal information than is absolutely necessary. Again, it is best to stick with retailers you know and trust.

Fourth, don’t do your shopping while you’re at Starbucks or some other public Wi-Fi. Using public Wi-Fi for online purchases puts your information at risk. Hackers can access information people use on public networks – including email and credit card information. For your safety, always use a password-protected network to make purchases and access bank information.

Lastly, only pay using credit cards. When it comes to online shopping, credit cards are a safer choice than debit cards. Credit cards tend to offer an extra layer of protection as they don’t directly remove funds from your own bank account. If your debit card gets compromised, the hacker has direct access to your checking account and can spend your money instantly. On the other hand, credit card companies will work with you to track down fraudulent charges and remove them from your account.

Despite some of the risks associated with online shopping, it can be a great way to find the prefect gifts for your family and friends. There’s no doubt that it’s here to stay. In fact, some view it as the future of conventional shopping. So, continue to enjoy getting your shopping done in your jammies. Just make sure you’re smart about it.

How Knowing Basic Employment Law Can Help In The Workplace

Knowing Employment law basics

Knowing your rights at work is of great importance; it ensures that both parties, employers and employees, are adhering to current government laws. However, it can sometimes be tricky knowing how many hours (by law) you can work in a week? Or how many days holiday your employees are actually entitled to? Within each company this is normally covered by HR (human resources) or line managers. They are the ‘go to people’ for this legal information.

What are the basic rights in the workplace?

Your rights at work will always depend on two factors: your statutory rights and your contract of employment. It is always courteous to remind employees to read through their contract thoroughly before signing. It is advised to encourage employees to contact you if they are unsure of anything in the contract, whether this is a particular clause or perhaps phrasing that they might not fully understand. This creates good rapport between you and your future employee.

As a company it is your responsibility to provide the employee with a copy of their rights and contract of employment. They can then refer to this as and when needed.

Why should your company know the basic employment laws?

Knowing employment laws inside out ensures your company is aware of the rights and responsibilities as well as looking after employees in the best possible way. Employment law is a complex area and therefore requires knowledge, structure and revision; keeping up to date with new developments and policies. Laws change year on year so regular employment law training can be of great benefit to your organisation or business.

Keeping your company up to date with employment laws

Employment law training ensures HR practitioners/line managers gain, or update and review their employment law knowledge on a regular basis. New legislation is always being introduced so it is therefore good practice to be aware of these and enforce them in the workplace.

Staying up to date with employment laws will help you avoid any pitfalls as getting it wrong can be extremely costly. Protect your company and employees from today onwards with regular training and qualifications.

Source from to The Small Business Blog

From Pumpkin Pie to Humble Pie

Pumpkin Pie to Humble Pie

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

For most of us Thanksgiving conjures up all sorts emotions. For many of us, it’s a holiday – a little pause from the daily grind. The kids are off school. The banks are closed and the mail takes a break. Many offices and stores are even closed. Maybe for you it means a day of watching football games or the Macy’s day parade. It probably means gathering with family or friends to eat a great meal together. It might even mean reflecting on our great nation’s history and good fortune.

But, did you know that the idea of giving thanks is even bigger than all of that? The practice of gratitude actually makes for greater physical and psychological health. Recent studies are actually proving that gratitude is more than just the polite thing to do or a holiday to be celebrated once a year; in fact, the science is showing that gratitude is actually good for us all the time.

So, what do we mean when we talk about giving thanks? For what? To whom? The leading expert on gratitude is Dr. Robert Emmons. He’s been studying its effects for more than 10 years. He says that an attitude of gratitude begins by affirming that the world is full of good things, gifts, and benefits we’ve received. He clarifies that it’s not so much appreciating our own positive traits, but it involves what he calls a “humble dependence” on others. Which makes sense because, when you think about it, a lot of what we’re grateful is by the hand of others.

So what can an attitude of gratitude actually do for us? Some researchers list as many as 30 things. We’ll just whet your appetite with five.

  1. Increased well-being. Taking just five minutes a day to journal your gratitude can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent. According to some researchers, that’s the same impact as doubling your income!
  2. A stress buster. It’s no secret that stress is pretty bad for us. It’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer. It claims responsibility for up to 90 percent of all doctor visits. According to Emmons, gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress. Speaking of stress, writing thank you notes has been shown to ease stress, reduce depressive symptoms, and encourage people to be more mindful of what makes them happy.
  3. A better personality. Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality.
  4. A healthier heart. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that gratitude can even curb heart attacks. Studying people who had experienced one heart attack, the researchers found that those patients who saw benefits and gains from their heart attack, such as becoming more appreciative of life, experienced a lower risk of having another heart attack.
  5. Stronger relationships. Other studies have examined how gratitude can improve relationships. Where gratitude abounds, marriages are healthier and employees are happier and harder working.

Gratitude takes practice like any other skill. Thanksgiving Day is a good time to start, but if you want to reap all the benefits, we’d encourage you to keep practicing after that.

*Have we got you curious? For more information about the science of gratitude, you can visit your local library and check out Emmons’ book, Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

Steps To Patent Your Idea

Steps To Patent Your Idea

Coming up with a great invention idea is fantastic, however trying to figure out what next steps to take isn’t always easy! The United States Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t technically patent ideas, however it’s easy to get around this with the right application materials. Let’s look at how to patent your idea and get the invention process started!

Perform a Search

The first step any would-be inventor must take is ensuring their idea is original. While a Google search is helpful, your best proverbial bet is browsing the official U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website for ideas similar to yours. The office’s website provides plenty of information on this topic, including step-by-step instructions for performing a search. Information on how to determine if your invention is “patentable” is also available.

If you find an idea too similar to yours, don’t give up! Many inventors have this issue, and there’s nothing wrong with starting over–it just means your next big idea is on its way!

File a Provisional Patent

The best way to “patent an idea” is to file a provisional patent. Such a patent allows you to further develop your idea without worrying about another stealing it. A provisional patent also allows you to look for funding, and are less expensive than “regular” patents. You’ll have a year starting from the file date to work on your invention and can use the words “patent pending” to describe your idea.

File a Non-Provisional Patent

A U.S. non-provisional patent is a standard patent. The U.S. Patent Office recommends filing for this patent separately from your provisional patent rather than trying to “convert” one to the other. This provides you with more time and protection. Remember to mention your provisional patent in your application, which should include detailed explanations of your invention, how it functions, why it helps consumers, etc. Include drawings of your product–if you aren’t an artist, have a skilled (and trusted) friend or family member assist you. Fees and wait time vary according to year and how you choose to send your application. Electronic applications usually feature shorter wait times, and you’ll receive a digital certificate and customer number.

from to The Small Business Blog

When Custody Issues Threaten Your Holiday Traditions

When Custody Issues Threaten You Holiday Traditions

The holidays are often synonymous with the idea of traditions. Traditions are those little rituals that are passed down from generation to generation. For many people, traditions give a sense of unity, warmth and closeness. Oftentimes their consistency represents security.

That can be a little disconcerting if you’re in the midst of or have recently been through a family breakup. The traditions that you made the effort to cultivate in years past, might be turned upside down by the new realities of shared custody. For example, it may be that the children have always spent Christmas Eve with you at your parents’ house. Or maybe you always made cinnamon rolls on Thanksgiving while you all watched the Macy’s parade together. Perhaps the children have never been away from you on the holidays.

These rituals that once provided comfort can easily become a sticking point for divorced (or divorcing) parents. The reality is that your traditions will probably have to change in order to incorporate both parents and their extended families. Here are a few tips to make the coming months a little easier for everyone:

1. Don’t be afraid to start new traditions with your children based on your custody agreement. For example, if you don’t have custody of your children on Thanksgiving, create a new day-after-Thanksgiving meal, followed by a game night. Invite your family and make it into a fun event that your children will look forward to every year.

2. Take the time to explain some of the new plans to your children so that there are no surprises. Children are more adaptable than we often assume. Sure, they might miss some of the old traditions but they don’t need things to stay exactly the same. What really matters most is that they sense that they are loved and that they feel secure in the midst of this time of transition.

3. Be sure to review your custody order ahead of time. If you have a custody agreement, check it now. It is very common for holidays to be rotated annually. Be prepared to stick to the plan, right down to the drop off time and place. If your custody order is ambiguous or you can’t remember who had which holiday last year, communicate with the other parent and see if you can reach an agreement so there is no confusion on the actual holiday.

4. If you would like to request a change because of special circumstances, make your request early on. One of the keys to insuring that custody arrangements are tension-free is for parents to communicate with each other and plan the holiday well in advance.

5. Never put your children in the middle of any holiday disputes. If you and your ex cannot reach an agreement as to who will have the children on Christmas, don’t put the children in the awkward position of asking them where they want to be or letting them know how distraught you feel about the situation.

The best gift you might give your kids this holiday season, might just be the peace you convey and the tone you set during this time of turbulence and change in your family traditions.

How Should I Legally Structure My Startup Business?

How Should I Structure My Business

Along with the countless other things a start-up has to deal with when setting up a company, there is the major decision of how the company should trade legally. Establishing it correctly at the outset is crucial and could eliminate many issues along the way. It could also have profound implications for the financial future of a start-up and the company.
Essentially there are four types of business structure:-
• Sole trader
• Partnership
• Limited company
• Limited liability partnership

A sole trader is someone who conducts a business or trade and has made no arrangements to be any of the other three types of business format. There is no mandatory central registry of sole traders so your affairs are entirely private. All the profits are counted as personal taxable income, the business assets will be personal property and the amount of tax payable is the same whether or not money is drawn out of the business. The owner is personally liable for any business debts or any other legal claims that may arise, such as product liability.

A partnership is where two or more people agree to trade as a unit and are essentially “sole traders” who share the profits and losses. There is no mandatory central registry of partnership businesses so again affairs are entirely private. It is imperative for the partners to draw up a partnership agreement that governs the conduct between them and deals with matters such as sharing profits, responsibilities and terminating the arrangement. Each partner may find they are personally liable for the actions of the other partner.

A limited company is a legal creation which is established in law and governed by the Companies Acts.
The registration process for a limited company is called Company Formation. It is advisable to use a company formation agent or an accountant to ensure the company is set up correctly.
Limited companies are registered at Companies House where a live database of all UK limited companies is kept and they are a distinct and separate entity from their owners and the people who run it. It has its own status for taxation, financial and general legal purposes.

An off the shelf company is a limited company that has been pre-registered with a name and company number and can be used to trade immediately.
The crucial difference between a limited company and a sole trade / partnership is the protection from personal liability for business debts. Unless a personal guarantee is signed or there is fraudulent trade, a limited company is “limited” in the sense that its owners are not liable for its debts. Some people see a limited company as an insurance policy, especially for a new or a high risk business. Many people have lost their savings and other assets because they started up not “being limited”.
On the flip side, unlike a sole trader who can draw money out of the business without incurring a tax charge, a company director would have to be paid under PAYE (including benefits such as a car or healthcare) and the shareholders are rewarded by means of a dividend, subject to the regulations.

Below is a summary of the pros and cons that are typically cited when considering forming a limited company.
• Shares of the business can be given to others e.g. family or friends
• It may be easier to attract investors
• Obtaining bank loans may be easier
• There are no higher rate tax bands
• In the event of a partner leaving or dying it is easier to continue the business
• It is easier to sell the business
• There is a better public perception if a company is Limited
• It can assist in the protection of a name
• People have more confidence in the business if they can check your company on the public records at Companies House
• Subcontractors and agency workers may find it easier to obtain work using a limited company

• The preparation of annual accounts will probably cost more than a sole trader
• The public can check up on certain aspects of a business

A limited liability partnership
is hybrid of a partnership and a limited company. The LLP is registered at Companies House and is treated like a limited company in most respects but the profits are divided amongst the partners who pay tax on their own share at the rate appropriate to their circumstances. An LLP must have a minimum of two partners and one of the partners can be another limited company. It is a flexible creature but has not proved to be particular popular for small businesses.
As a general rule you should discuss your choice of business format with a qualified accountant prior to commencement – it will be money well spent. In most cases the limited company route is the safest option if one has any concerns whatsoever regarding a potential liability, but ultimately the consideration of risk is but one factor in a decision that may be based on many variables.
Whatever you choose we wish every success.

Source: from to The Small Business Blog

The Orlando Law Group Announces Opening of New Office in Waterford Lakes

Since its founding six years ago, OLG has grown to a team of seven attorneys and has become known for delivering results and advice in a professional, warm atmosphere that sets clients at ease. The growth that has come with that reputation was the impetuous for the opening of a new location.

“So much of the success that we have experienced has been a result of our commitment to put people first,” explained OLG founder Jennifer Englert. “This new office reflects that as it better meets the needs of our people – its location is more centrally located in East Orlando and it is a little larger to accommodate the growing needs of our client base.”

Located at 12301 Lake Underhill Road, the new location is conveniently situated near 408 and 417.

“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and becoming a part of a new community,” Englert said, reflecting the firm’s commitment to serving the communities in which its employees live and work. At their other locations, lawyers and staffers at OLG are frequently found donating their time and money to local causes. This new office will continue in that tradition.

“We are very pleased to welcome The Orlando Law Group to Waterford Lakes,” said Stephanie Larret, President of the East Orlando Chamber of Commerce. “I am truly grateful for the civic spirit and service they will bring to our community.”

The firm will host a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its new home on December 3 from 5:30 to 7:30. The community is invited to join in the celebration and meet the attorneys at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, #213 in Orlando. The festivities will include food from local vendors and raffles.

To find out more about The Orlando Law Group and all three of its offices visit


About The Orlando Law Group:
The Orlando Law Group (OLG) was founded by Attorney Jennifer Englert in 2009. Its diverse team of attorneys have a wide breadth of experience which allows them to protect their client’s rights through the evolution of their business, as well as personally while they progress through all stages of life. Over the years, they have created a stellar reputation in the community as professional legal experts who believe foremost that planning ahead is the best option for their clients, as their aim is to minimize the number of potential disputes and costs of litigation. The Orlando Law Group is more then a legal team, they’re your life-long partner who will work with you to build a relationship while creating solutions that work.

Tips to Keep Halloween Fun AND Safe

Five Homeowner Tips to Keep Halloween Fun AND Safe

Have you ever wondered why Halloween is such a widespread, holiday favorite? Free from a lot of the tradition and family expectation that accompanies other major holidays, it’s the one time of the year that seems to bring out the kid in all of us. From young to old, Halloween seems to appeal to everyone. It gives all of us an excuse to don a costume and have some fun. Don’t believe us? Just check out the I Love Halloween Facebook page, now boasting more than 2.25 million followers.

But for all of its spooky fun, Halloween also comes with its fair share of pitfalls. No one wants their Halloween festivities to be marred by an accident. Whether you are hosting a party for friends or leaving the light on for trick-or-treaters, it’s important to take a few precautions to insure that your home is safe for the influx of visitors. For example, if someone trips and falls on your dark sidewalk or brushes up against your candle-lit pumpkins, you could be held liable. But, we’ve got you covered! Here are five precautions you can take before those ghosts, ghouls, superheroes and princesses start knocking on your door.

  1. Clear your walkway. Make sure the path from your driveway or the sidewalk to the front door is free from obstruction. Most children are so excited that they aren’t paying careful attention. In addition to clearing a path, you can also help prevent trips and falls by repairing loose porch railings and uneven walkway stones. Also, check to ensure that your spooky decorations don’t obstruct the walkway.
  2. Clean up your yard. Take extra precautions to rake leaves, remove dead branches, trim overgrown landscaping and fill in large holes. Also, consider storing any gardening tools and hoses a safe distance from walkways. If you add spooky yard decorations like tombstones or inflatables, make sure these decorations are well-lit and easily seen.
  3. Keep your property well lit. If you have a long driveway or walkway, turn on your regular outdoor lights so trick-or-treaters can easily see the path to the door.
  4. Ditch the candles. Replace the candles in your pumpkins with LED tea lights and your luminaries with string of lights along your path. The US Fire Administration warns that open flames can catch costumes on fire, as well as decorations.
  5. Confine your pets. The constant stream of trick-or-treating excitement and commotion could stress your pet. Avoid a Halloween pet mishap by keeping them in a separate room, away from open doors and small children.

With these five precautions in place, you can enjoy a fun Halloween AND keep your neighborhood trick-or-treaters safe!

Planning for Small Business Success

Goal Success

Embarking on a new business venture or project can often be a difficult and stressful period for a business owner. This can often be made even worse due to a lack of sufficient planning to guide them through the turbulence. In my many years in business I’ve learnt than nothing is more important than planning for success (and failure, see this post here).

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from careful planning. Don’t think that just because you own a small business that you shouldn’t set aside time to plan. There are times when planning becomes essential, especially if you need to prove to a lender that your business makes financial sense from an investment point of view.

This brings us to the first aspect of successful planning which is writing specifically for the audience it was intended. If you are producing an internal plan just for yourself than it is fine to create something loose and informal because you will understand the intention. However, if your plan contains specific instructions for employees to follow then you will have to write in greater detail to avoid misunderstandings.

Don’t make assumptions when writing a plan. Instead, you should try to research things in as much detail as possible. This will involve developing a complete understanding of the marketplace in which your business operates and an in-depth knowledge of the competition.

It is essential that all of your sums add up. because anything that is incorrectly costed has potential to throw the rest of the plan completely off-track. Bad financial estimation is one of the main causes of planning failure.

When it comes to actually implementing a plan, make sure that there are specific dates for the completion of each section. This is important because it helps you to evaluate the success of the project at various different stages along the way. Remember that you are not bound in any way to the plan and if necessary you can then make changes as you go along and circumstances change.

When I talk about business planning, though, I don’t mean reams of paper that takes you hours to write; instead use good business planning software, or tools, to allow you to briefly and concisely put the necessary points down somewhere always accessible.

Source: from to The Small Business Blog

Celebrating October’s Best Hue

Celebrating Octobers Best Hue

October. The rest of the country might be sipping Pumpkin Spice Lattes and watching the colors change to oranges; but around here, it’s a time to THINK PINK! Pink ribbon, that is. 

According to the American Cancer Society, Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States (other than skin cancer). Nearly all of us know someone whose life has been turned upside down by a breast cancer diagnosis. The good news is that since the pink ribbon’s adoption a symbol for the breast cancer cause in 1992, awareness has skyrocketed and millions of women are surviving the disease.

What can you do to THINK PINK this October? We have two suggestions. 

First, be informed. Take the time to learn about breast cancer and early detection. The American Cancer Society website is a wellspring of information and has links so that you can consider volunteering and donating to the cause. As well, the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation has information about events specific to the Orlando area.

Second, let Breast Cancer Awareness Month serve as a reminder to all of us that sometimes bad things do happen. Despite our best efforts, sometimes the unthinkable diagnosis becomes a reality. When those moments do come, we can’t underscore enough how important it is to have an estate plan. Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s for those among us who have any assets at all. It’s our opportunity to make sure our finances continue to accomplish our goals even after we pass on. It’s also a gift to the family and friends we leave behind.

This first-hand testimony from the Forbes website continues to inspire us as we serve our clients and seek to insure a smooth transition for families who are grieving. The author outlines her personal story of handling her father’s estate after he died from colon cancer. She shares that “The most unexpected financial lesson my father taught me came after he passed away. I am the executor of his estate. My dad was always a planner, but the things he did to make this process easier are amazing. I feel compelled to share them with just about everyone I know.” (To read her full, inspiring story yourself, check it out at Reader Story: What My Father’s Death Taught Me about Estate Planning.)

We realize that estate planning is never an easy topic. For one thing, it’s personal. For another, it feels a little morbid. Conversations about the details surrounding death take a lot of courage. But, they can also help avoid surprises, lead to better financial planning and promote family harmony.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Divorce is not the most fun thing in the world.  There’s usually hurt and sometimes anger, which is to be expected.  The divorce process can either go easily with mutual respect, or it can create bitter feelings and hurt everyone who is involved. Divorce does not have to be, nor should it be a destructive process.   If it is, you can alienate the children.

During a divorce that involves child custody disputes, one or both parents can attempt to distance the child from the other parent. It can be a indirect attempt by a parent, such as making subtle negative comments about the other parent in front of the child. One parent will often criticize the other parent, trying to instill anger and extinguish the child’s bond with the other parent.

At times, one parent will inform the child about the divorce process and the struggle between both parents. One may roll her eyes at something the other parent said, or blame the other for not trying to make the marriage work. Children should not have to deal with these adult emotional topics or ever be forced to pick sides.   When parents invoke these emotions of resentment toward the other parent, it can have lasting effects on a child. The child may develop separation anxiety or use the same techniques for dealing with relationships as an adult.

Signs of Parental Alienation Syndrome
Not all children show the same signs of parent alienation; however, many children do develop some type of resentment, hostility or desire to stay away from the other parent. A young child may cling to one parent and avoid the other parent. An older child may develop sleep disorders or have anger issues.
Other signs of alienation syndrome include:

  • Having trouble forming close relationships
  • Feelings of vulnerability
  • Conflicts with authority
  • Withdrawing from social situations
  • Developing psychological dependency
  • The Difference Between Alienation and Preference

Though parental alienation syndrome does occur in some divorce cases, there’s a difference between a child feeling alienated from a parent and preferring to live with the other parent. Some children may feel closer to one parent because of similar interests or because that parent is the primary care provider in the home. Though children may have a parental preference, they still want to spend some time with the other parent.

Parental conflict takes its toll on the child, resulting in the child choosing one parent over the other just to end the conflict. When children are caught in the middle between conflicting parents, they may align with one to remove themselves from the situation, even if they have no problems with either parent. An alienated child aligns with a parent because of deliberate parental involvement.
Children sometimes suffer the most during the divorce, but parents can decrease their children’s anxiety and make the process easier for them. The children are losing a unified home and must deal with the stresses that come with having divorced parents. Understand the signs of parental alienation, and keep the children’s best interests in mind to avoid any further hurt that comes with the divorce.

Securing a Corporate Partnership for a Nonprofit

Securing a Corporate Partnership for a Nonprofit

Corporate scrutiny over the past few decades has shown us the rising importance of non-profit partnerships.  However, many non-profits fail to secure valuable corporate partnerships because they don’t frame it the right way. Here are some things a non-profit need to do to form a successful corporate partnership:

  • You want to be clear on the reason you want to partner with them. What’s your charity’s goal and how could corporate partnerships help you achieve it?
  • Let the corporation you are trying to partnership know what’s in it for them. That’s not to say that all corporations are self-centered and don’t care about helping children or funding autism research.  You just need to put it in terms of the benefits to them, rather than overwhelming them with another problem there is in the world.  Let the corporation know how they can be the solution to a problem, how they can be the hero.
  • Identify areas of your charitable work that companies are likely to find interesting. A homeless charity may have a project that enables people to learn new skills so they can gain employment. This is very likely to appeal to companies because they understand the value of employment and it could offer some interesting volunteering opportunities for their employees.
  • Show the corporation how working together will increase their customer community engagement. Only then will the company commit the time, creativity and resources required to raise your profile and scale your social impact.
  • Offer to help co-create branded content using different media, you can position the partnership as a way to ease this burden while enhancing the company’s reputation.

As with any relationship, once the benefit to the other party is clear they will more readily share their time, expertise and resources. Without such an approach, the best of intentions and heart-felt commitment can fall on deaf ears, leaving both parties and the community at large at a loss.

Do-It-Yourself Online Wills: Are They Really a Good Idea?

DIY Online Wills Are They Really a Good Idea

Online legal document services offer an enticing bargain. Most people realize that they need an estate plan to manage their affairs if something happens to them. And, let’s face it, estate planning attorneys are expensive.

That’s why many consumers are now questioning whether it’s possible to skip the attorney fees and use a low-cost website to prepare estate planning documents. The short answer is that, yes, it is possible. But, it’s not recommended. You could save a few bucks now, but end up creating an expensive and frustrating mess for your family.

Unfortunately, most people don’t realize what they are getting themselves into with an online document service. That’s because the online services have spent millions trying to create the impression that their services are similar to those of an attorney. They put lawyers in their commercials, hire celebrities to promote them, and even tout stories of people who have successfully used their documents.

But, all the marketing in the world can’t erase the simple truth. The online services aren’t law firms. They aren’t lawyers. They can’t give legal advice. Instead, they are “document assistants” – a term that states use to define service providers who type your information into generic form documents.

In other words, a document assistant is like a mindless typing zombie who enters your information into a form, whether or not it makes sense and whether or not it is a good idea. If you are stuck, they can’t help you. If you make a huge mistake, they can’t warn you.

It would be a crime for them to warn you. It doesn’t matter if the guy working on your documents is an estate planning genius. He’s simply not allowed to give legal advice. Think of it this way. A person needs a law license in order to give legal advice, just the same way that a doctor needs a license to write a prescription. Giving legal advice without a license is very much like selling drugs without a prescription. It’s a crime.

So, these companies design their generic forms so that, even without legal advice, it’s hard to make mistakes. That may seem like a good thing. But, it turns out that the best way to make sure that your documents don’t do anything wrong is to make sure they don’t do anything at all. They’re just do-nothing, one-size-fits-all generic documents.

That leads to the next problem with the online services. They can’t even promise you that the documents will work. Again, they can’t. They aren’t attorneys, which means they can’t promise a particular legal result.

Many clients are excited to learn that they can leave assets to a special needs child without jeopardizing government benefits; or, that they can protect a child’s inheritance from frivolous lawsuits, divorce or bankruptcy. A well-designed estate plan makes sure that your resources get where you want them and that they are used in the way you instruct. It’s about creating legally-enforceable provisions that do what you want done.

And, the online document services can’t promise any of that. They can’t promise you’ll achieve your goals. They can’t point out opportunities, and they can’t warn you about hidden hazards. Really, all they can do is save you a few bucks.

But, they play a clever price game, too. Most of the online services compare their prices to what an attorney would charge for similar documents. But, their comparisons are misleading in two ways. First, they compare the price they charge for a single document to the price that an attorney charges for an entire estate plan, which includes numerous documents.

More importantly, though, there is no way to compare the prices, because they aren’t even offering the same thing that you would get from an attorney. If a fast food restaurant told you that you could order their $1.79 “salad in a box” instead of paying twenty dollars for a fancy restaurant salad bar, you’d instantly recognize the faulty comparison. A wilted clump of lettuce in a plastic clamshell isn’t anything like an all-you-can-eat salad bar with every conceivable ingredient, made fresh and eaten in a nice environment with an attentive wait staff.

But, that’s because most people have experience with restaurants – both good and bad. They know how to judge quality, and they understand the “you get what you pay for” concept. But, when it comes to legal planning, most people don’t have the experience to know better. You only get to use an estate plan once. And, if you screw it up, you’ll never know. But, your family will know. If your estate plan doesn’t work properly, your family could end up paying the price and cleaning up the mess after you’re gone.
Your estate plan is the box that carries your entire life savings. It’s just not worth the risk of damaging your life’s work just to save a few bucks.

Getting a Divorce in Your 50’s or 60’s

Getting a Divorce in your 50s or 60s

Over the last two decades, the percentage of couples divorcing in their 50’s and 60’s has risen from three to almost thirty percent.  Sociologists have a term for people in their 50’s and 60’s who are divorcing.  They coined the term “gray divorce”.  Baby boomers are living longer and more of them are divorcing.  This impacts not only their retirement and income, but also other important areas of their life. If you’re over 50 and considering a divorce, keep these things in mind before you put yourself in a stressful and financial hardship.

The Children
It doesn’t matter how old they are, they can be grown adults, with families of their own; consider their feelings and emotion when you are contemplating a divorce. A divorce can damage your family’s harmony and create an unnecessary divide if it’s not handled carefully. The two of you may not be married anymore, but you will always be your children’s parents.

In long marriages, a spouse is entitled to permanent alimony. It’s not actually a permanent though.  Permanent alimony usually lasts until either spouse dies or the receiving spouse remarries. In some states, if the receiving spouse lives with someone else and has a supportive relationship, it can affect the alimony arrangement. The alimony payments also can be restructured after the supporting spouse retires and lives off a retirement fund.

Financial Assets
Couples who have been married for a while, have likely accumulated assets together.  It can be a home or retirement accounts or other investments, most people want to keep the home as part of the divorce settlement.  Keeping the house doesn’t always put you in a better position after the divorce. In most cases, a house continues to have unexpected expenses, which may or may not affect its future value. As for retirement, it’s possible to split one spouse’s retirement account or 401(k) through a domestic relations order.

Life and Health Insurance Policies
Some couples, during their marriage, purchase a life insurance policy, which goes to the supported spouse after the divorce. If the supporting spouse dies, the supported spouse gets the insurance payout. After a divorce, you may not want your ex-spouse being the beneficiary of your life insurance policy.  You may find yourself in a position to take out a new life insurance or health insurance policy.  Unfortunately, at a later stage in life, there may have pre-existing conditions that raise the costs of obtaining a new life insurance policy. Health insurance may also cost more after 50, so look into a replacement health insurance policy soon after the divorce.

Social Security Benefits
Social Security benefits can help the lesser-earning spouse after the divorce. In fact, the lesser earner can receive Social Security benefits based on the higher earner’s work record. However, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and the lesser earner must be 62 or older. Even if the higher-earning spouse has not applied for Social Security benefits, the lesser-earning spouse can collect the benefits if the couple has been divorced for a minimum of two years.

Digital Estate Planning

Digital Estate Planning

The two main classes of digital assets are 1) any online account that requires a username and password; or 2) any file stored in places including an individual’s computer, mobile phone, server, local DVD or CD-ROM, SD card or at online storage sites.

Online Accounts

If the client is the only person who has access to her online accounts, then what happens when she dies? Much of the concern involves the rights of the online company, which were granted when the individual initially accepted the account’s Terms of Service (TOS). Several issues to consider for online accounts requiring a username and password include the following:

  • The TOS Agreements of most popular online companies rarely, if ever, allow for the immediate or automatic transfer of the account to the personal representative.
  • Without access to a decedent’s bank and investment accounts, a trustee or executor will have difficulty obtaining necessary information for meeting the requirements of the underlying will and trust.
  • Without access to a decedent’s email, blog or website, the personal representative may not even be aware of certain ongoing obligations, especially with more transactions occurring online only.

Digital Files

Files on an individual’s computer are difficult Digital estate planning enough to find, depending on the individual’s levels of organization or disorganization. The personal representative’s job can become exponentially more difficult if the important data is stored offsite. Additionally, there are two main kinds of digital files to consider:
Client-Created Files – including scanned financial files, address books, and digital photos, but can also include valuable business documents or intellectual property.
Client-Purchased Files – including music, videos and e-books bought during the individual’s lifetime. In the typical TOS, the seller only grants the individual buyer a non-transferable license to use the work “for life.”

Steps You Can Take Now

Make a list of all digital assets. This should be a comprehensive list of all of your online accounts and data files, including email accounts, websites, hard-drives, important Word and Excel documents, online storage accounts, and social media accounts.
List wishes for each asset. For local hardware containing data files, this can include leaving the asset directly to a specified heir. For online accounts, this can include:

  • Shutting down the account
  • Doing nothing
  • Archiving contents on CD or DVD
  • Creating an auto-response on the account; and/or
  • Forwarding all messages to another place
  • Choose the person who will receive each asset
  • Provide access and control to the recipient

Can Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Florida?

Can Grandparents have Visitation Rights in Florida

A new law in Florida relating to members of the military states that if a parent is activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service on orders in excess of 90 days, the parent may designate a family member, a stepparent, or a relative of the child by marriage to engage in time-sharing on the parent’s behalf.

So if the parent in the military designates a grandparent to time-share in his or her stead, the court would enforce such a designation. The Florida Supreme Court has consistently held all statutes that have attempted to compel visitation or custody with a grandparent based solely on the best interest of the child standard to be unconstitutional.

Under current Florida law, a grandparent may file a petition and obtain visitation rights as to a grandchild when it is in the best interest of the child and one of three conditions have been met:

  • The parents’ marriage has been dissolved
  • A parent has deserted the child or
  • The child was born out of wedlock and the parents never marry

A court is allowed to consider a number of factors when it determines what is in the best interest of the child. None of these factors are decisive or irrefutable in and of themselves. A court will not likely make a decision regarding grandparent visitation based only on the presence or absence of one factor. The court will look at the presence or absence of all of the following factors before making a ruling:

  • The willingness of the grandparents to encourage a close relationship between the child and parents
  • The length and quality of the relationship between the grandparents and child before the divorce
  • If the child is old enough to express a preference, that preference will be considered
  • The mental and physical health of the child
  • The mental and physical health of the grandparents
  • Any other factors the judge wants to consider

What happens when one of the child’s natural parents remarries and the stepparent adopts the child? Florida will not automatically terminate any grandparent visitation rights just because a natural parent remarries and the child is subsequently adopted by the stepparent. However, a Florida court can still terminate the grandparents’ visitation rights if it believes that continued visitation with the grandparents is not in the child’s best interests. Before a court decides this, though, it must hold a hearing and allow the grandparents an opportunity to be heard.

A new law in Florida relating to members of the military states that if a parent is activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service on orders in excess of 90 days, the parent may designate a family member, a stepparent, or a relative of the child by marriage to engage in time-sharing on the parent’s behalf.

So if the parent in the military designates a grandparent to time-share in his or her stead, the court would enforce such a designation. The Florida Supreme Court has consistently held all statutes that have attempted to compel visitation or custody with a grandparent based solely on the best interest of the child standard to be unconstitutional.

Under current Florida law, a grandparent may file a petition and obtain visitation rights as to a grandchild when it is in the best interest of the child and one of three conditions have been met:

§  The parents’ marriage has been dissolved;

§  A parent has deserted the child; or

§  The child was born out of wedlock and the parents never marry.

A court is allowed to consider a number of factors when it determines what is in the best interest of the child. None of these factors are decisive or irrefutable in and of themselves. A court will not likely make a decision regarding grandparent visitation based only on the presence or absence of one factor. The court will look at the presence or absence of all of the following factors before making a ruling:

§  The willingness of the grandparents to encourage a close relationship between the child and parents

§  The length and quality of the relationship between the grandparents and child before the divorce

§  If the child is old enough to express a preference, that preference will be considered

§  The mental and physical health of the child

§  The mental and physical health of the grandparents

§  Any other factors the judge wants to consider

What happens when one of the child’s natural parents remarries and the stepparent adopts the child? Florida will not automatically terminate any grandparent visitation rights just because a natural parent remarries and the child is subsequently adopted by the stepparent. However, a Florida court can still terminate the grandparents’ visitation rights if it believes that continued visitation with the grandparents is not in the child’s best interests. Before a court decides this, though, it must hold a hearing and allow the grandparents an opportunity to be heard.


Why Family Members Fight Over Inheritance

Why Family Members Fight Over Inheritance

People who are normally kind and in tune with their emotions revert to fighting children, figuratively, sometimes literally, scratching, punching, and pulling each other’s hair. Even where there is no obvious conflict, it seems that nearly every family has some amount of tension permeating just beneath the surface as they address family inheritance issues.

Stories of families in conflict at the death of a loved one are regular fodder in the media. It is easy to mock them; they look ridiculous, and it all seems so petty. We wonder why people just can’t get along. But, after some study I have learned that what appears as greed and pettiness are really symptoms of survivors’ struggle to feel loved and important. The fight for money and things – Dad’s golf clubs, Mom’s necklace – is not about the object or the money itself, but about what they symbolize: importance, love, security, self-esteem, connectedness, and immortality.

The old saying that “money makes people do funny things” doesn’t do justice to the real problems and root causes of family conflict. Money is not the core reason that fami¬lies fight; money is how we keep score in the fight for the intangibles of love, approval, and primordial survival. Money and possessions also help allay the fears of those left behind. When families fight, greed is rarely the principal motive.

The feuding family members can always trace their problems back several years, if not all the way back to childhood. For some, the trouble starts with the involvement of non-family. It is clear that inheritance conflict doesn’t come out of the blue; it is a continuation of long-term relationship problems that resurface upon the illness or death of a loved one. And they aren’t just about money or greed; they are about more, much more. But what is it that so often drives people to wage war against their own flesh and blood over a loved one’s estate?

There are five basic reasons why families fight in matters of inheritance:

  1. Humans are genetically predisposed to competition and conflict.
  2. Our psychological sense of self is intertwined with the approval that an inheritance represents, especially when the decedent is a parent.
  3. We are genetically hardwired to be on the lookout for exclusion, sometimes finding it when it doesn’t exist.
  4. Families fight because the death of a loved one activates the death anxieties of those left behind.
  5. One or more members of a family has a partial or full-blown personality disorder that causes them to distort and escalate natural family rivalries into personal and legal battles.

These sources of family conflict are not mutually exclusive; in most cases, some combination of the five elements present themselves in a combustible cocktail of family rivalry and conflict.

A significant number of inheritance disputes also involve testators and beneficiaries who come from dysfunctional families, are mentally ill or addicted, or suffer from one or more of the four Cluster B personality disorders as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV): antisocial, borderline, histrionic, or narcissistic.

Despite the tensions and rivalries that naturally exist in all families, family conflict is not inevitable. As family coun¬selors we can help families overcome the natural tensions that tend to pull them apart in order to preserve their most valuable asset: family itself. We can counsel our clients on the pitfalls of various courses of action, dissuade them from provisions that are punitive, encourage them to mend fences while family members are still alive, and promote planning that leaves a legacy of love.

More than just scriveners, clients look to their estate plan¬ning counsel to advise them on what is fair and customary. We use our legal and personal skills to document their wishes while being sensitive to the needs of those left behind. Special care must be taken to not upset long-held roles when allocating personal and financial assets and in appointing fiduciaries. We can also protect our clients from predators from within the family and without who are most likely to manipulate and abuse. In short, we can make a difference. Our clients are also good teachers, instructing us on the importance of family, the transience of money and things, and the shortness of life.

Do You Have an Older 401(k) You Need to Incorporate Into Your Estate Plan?

Do You Have a 401k You Need to Incorporate Into Your Estate Plan

When you meet with your Estate Planning lawyer, initially, they may ask you some of these questions: “Do you own a home?” “Do you own a business?” “Are you married?” The fact gathering necessary in an initial interview does not always allow the sort of leisurely chat friends would have over coffee. It’s important for your lawyer to gather the basics in the initial meeting, if no open ended questions are asked then assets important to your situation can be overlooked.

For example, approximately 4.2 trillion dollars is held today in 401(k) and other defined contribution plans. For public sector employees, a defined contribution plan may include a 403(b) or 457(b) plan. The amount of assets held in defined contribution plans is projected to grow in the future given that in the private sector and possibly even the public sector, a regular pension or defined benefit is going the way of the Dodo bird. While going forward employers may still provide matching or non-matching contributions to an employee’s account, the trend is clear that fewer em­ployees and retirees in the future will be able to depend on a monthly pension check.

A 2009 study by human resources consulting firm Hewitt Old 401k Estate Planning Associates (now Aon Hewitt) concluded that 29 percent of former workers leave their 401(k) with a previous employer. This amounts to a huge sum of assets held by American workers that can be overlooked if you are asked only “do you currently have a retirement account?” The same study also stated that two-thirds of employers report that the company 401(k) plan is the primary retirement savings vehicle for employees. Clearly then gathering information regarding an old 401(k) plan is an important step in assessing your unique situation.

Determining the existence of an old 401(k) becomes even more important in the context of trust administration and probate. If you are a surviving spouse or beneficiary of someone who was not the plan participant, knowledge of the 401(k) can be even more diminished.

Your lawyer will need to ask you open ended questions about your history to discover unclaimed 401(k) assets. If your old employer no longer exists because of dissolution or merger, there are other ways your lawyer can use to find that information.

Up to date beneficiary designations are critical and you should review them at a minimum upon the major life events of birth, death, marriage, and divorce. Helping discover whether any 401(k) assets are unclaimed facilities a discussion about current assets and whether those beneficiary designations are also up to date.

Summer Plans for Divorced Parents

Summer Plans for Divorced Parents

It’s almost summer again, at least it’s starting to feel like it in Florida.  Kids look forward to summertime; having fun, outdoor activities and most importantly, no school. While all that usually comes with summer break for kids, depending on the circumstances, it can be a hard time for kids of divorced parents.

Typically, children are with one parent or the other for longer periods of time over the summer than during the school year. In summer time, regular schedules and habits change. It’s this change up in routine and scheduled parent time that can produces anxiety for children and concern for parents.

Below are some tips to help separated and divorced parents make a smooth transition from a school year schedule to summer vacation time and make it stress-free for everyone.

Discuss vacation plans early. Before you book the cruise or pay the deposit on summer camp for the kids, talk to your former spouse about plans to enroll children in summer programs or taking vacation trips. That way everyone can make plans and their schedule work time and also gives children a clear understanding of how their summer break will be spent. By taking care of this sooner rather than later, it allows time for parents to identify and resolve any schedule concerns that might arise in the planning process. Good advance planning will help reduce frustrations later. Be as flexible as

Communicate about schedule changes. Good communication is key in order to keep the peace and also respect as the foundation of a healthy post-divorce relationship. Clear communication about schedule changes minimizes surprises and ensures you know what’s happening in your children’s lives. If talking to your ex-spouse in person is too stressful, consider using email to stay up to date and also a shared online calendar. However, DO NOT use your child or children as messengers of schedule and vacation updates. Planning and scheduling are adult concerns, especially in co-parenting arrangements. Work to maintain a respectful tone in your communications, and use thoughtful negotiation to resolve any conflicts.

Be positive. Your children will remember the example of your attitude and mirror your behavior with your ex-spouse. Do your best, at all times, to never speak ill of your former spouse in front of your children and avoid asking them to take sides or favor one parent’s or home over the other. In order for your children to grow and thrive as adults, they should feel free to love both parents equally.  A child should never feel badly or confused about wanting to spend time with the other parent at any time of the year, vacations included.

Have fun.When you were a kid, I’m sure you looked forward to summer break, spending time with family, friends and unscheduled play time. By creating the space and opportunity for these types of situations, you’ll be positively creating those same types of memories for your own children. Spending summer vacation time with each parent, is simply part of the scheduling process that the adults must properly manage. What your children will remember is how they felt and what they experienced through their parents’ interactions with each other.

Though summer vacation may require additional planning and communication with your ex-spouse, it can also be a time that you create special memories that will last forever. Cooperating and be flexible with your former spouse for summer plans and remember to put the kids first.

Veterans Benefits Planning

Veterans Benefits Planning

As Veterans age, they must face many long-term care and elder law issues, such as finding ways to pay for home care, assisted living or nursing home care.  While Medicaid may pay for nursing home stays, it may not pay for assisted living or home care.  This is where the Veterans Administration Pension or also called the Aid & Attendance program can benefit a family.

Through proper planning, a family can bring upwards of $2,000 per month into the family of a married veteran, around $1,700 for a single veteran, and around $1100 for the surviving spouse of a veteran.  However, there are certain rules and hurdles to receiving the benefit.

The program benefits Veterans who need assistance with basic daily activities such as bathing, eating, or dressing.  To qualify for the benefit a veteran must have served 90 days of active duty, one day during a period of war, and then meet an income test and an asset test.  The periods of war that a veteran must have served one day during include World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf conflict.

The asset test for a veteran, or the surviving spouse of a veteran, is just a general guideline.  The general guidelines are that a married couple must have less than $80,000 in countable assets while a single veteran or surviving spouse of a veteran must have less than $40,000 in countable assets.  These figures  can be adjusted down for life expectancy.  If a veteran is over in assets, a VA accredited lawyer can counsel prospective clients on different legal strategies to help the veteran in qualifying.

The last hurdle to maximize the benefits for a veteran is the income test.  Basically, a veteran, or the surviving spouse of a veteran must have unreimbursed medical expenses that equal or exceed their income.  Unreimbursed medical expenses potentially include home care, assisted living in a protected environment, nursing home costs, prescription costs, and incontinence supplies.  Typically, if a veteran or surviving spouse is receiving home care, or residing in an assisted living or nursing home facility, they will qualify.

Buy-Sell Agreements for Doctors

Buy Sell Agreements For Doctors

A Buy-Sell agreement is pertinent to many different types of businesses. Today we will just talk specifically about doctors. Medical practices are different from other businesses, because there is usually a lot of income made, and it’s not a family business that you can pass on to your heirs, unless of course they become doctors as well.

Definition of a Buy-Sell Agreement – A buy-sell agreement is nothing more than an executed contract where all the owners agree as to how the practice will be valued at the time of one of the partner’s death or disability, and how the stock ownership will be purchased. Without such an agreement in place, an accident could bring a thriving business into the middle of a complicated legal proceeding.

Benefits of a Buy-Sell Agreement – Some physicians who see themselves as healthy and not susceptible to accidents also stand to benefit from such arrangements. Think of a younger and older doctor joining forces, the terms of how to purchase the other party’s interest out in case of a mishap can be negotiated from the beginning in fairest terms for both sides.

Just as in any type of business, it is essential that the practice carry on, even in the event of one or more of the partnering physicians not being able to practice medicine anymore. Any industry must have a continuous, orderly manner of conducting its practice. The medical one carries a burden that reaches beyond financial gains or losses. A patient wants to have the comfort of knowing that their physician’s office can easily and without hassle continue a treatment that needs to be followed closely.

A physician’s asset lies in his knowledge and experience. A doctor’s set of skills is hardly something that can be passed on to heirs. Because the sweat equity will have generated some income stream, it is only fair that a financial pay-out be agreed upon for the family members that would be left behind.

In the event of an incapacity or premature death of one of the key physicians, their early exit can force a practice to associate itself with unwanted seed capital. Having seen this happen on more than one occasion, I can tell you this is not a position you want to find yourself in. A Buy-Sell agreement would prevent finding yourself in such predicament.

The necessary components to a Buy-Sell Agreement – There are many workings within a successful implementation of a Buy-Sell agreement. The first one is to make sure to have it funded. This translates to having a reputable insurance policy in place. The premiums you end up paying to have this contract in place will well be worth its weight in gold. Not all Buy-Sell agreements are created equal. Some key clauses you want to ensure your attorney includes in it are: The cost of buying out the partner’s share in case of incapacity / death, a provision to buy out the ownership interest over time in the event of insufficient capital, the care of the family members left behind, and early buy-out options. These are just some of the issues you will want to address.

10 Tips For Nominating Your Child’s Guardian

Ten Tips For Nominating Your Childs Guardian

Parents do not like to think about needing a guardian for their children.  Unfortunately, we have no control over the time of our deaths but we do have control over whether we plan for them.

A very important part of your estate plan is the nomination of a guardian for your minor children. If, before your death, you do not choose the person or persons you believe would be suitable guardians of your children, then after your death the judge is left to guess who you would want to care for your children.

The nomination of a guardian is a straightforward aspect of any family’s estate plan and is best made in your Last Will and Testament. It can be as basic or detailed as you want.

Here are 10 Tips to consider when selecting a guardian to nominate for your children:

  1. Make a Long List of Potential Guardians. When trying to identify the right people to serve as guardian, make your initial list of potential guardians very broad. Consider all of your extended family members, as well as friends and neighbors.
  2. Make a List of Possible Guardian Characteristics. Make a list of all the possible characteristics that your child’s guardian might have, and then rank the importance of those characteristics to you in light of your personal beliefs and your child’s needs.
  3. Rank the People on List #1 Using the Characteristics on List #2. Analyze each of the potential guardians in light of the personal characteristics that you deem important. You might be surprised to learn that a close friend is actually better suited to raise your children than your sister is.
  4. Once You Have Narrowed Your Choices Down, Talk to Them. While your sister may truly love your children, talk to her about the responsibility it would involve and make sure that she would accept if the situation arose. If you are not 100% confident that she would, add another person to your list of nominees so there will be someone to take her place should she decline.
  5. Nominate Only One Person at a Time. While it might seem to make sense to nominate both your sister and her husband as your child’s guardian, consider naming them one at a time. This avoids issues in the event they are not able to agree on a decision relating to your child.
  6. Nominate More Than One Successive Guardian. Consider that your first choice for a guardian might not be able or willing to serve at the actual time a guardian is needed. Name as many successor guardians as you are comfortable with, who would serve in the order listed.
  7. If You Nominate “In-Laws,” Consider Potential Life Changes. If you should choose to nominate your sister first and her husband second, consider whether you would still want him to serve if he and your sister were separated or divorced at the time of your death and instruct accordingly.
  8. Do Not Let Disagreements Between You and Your Spouse Stop You from Nominating a Guardian. If you and your spouse disagree, you should respect the other’s opinion but each prepare your own nomination. Should you die simultaneously; the court will simply have to decide which nomination is in the child’s best interests. This is far better than the court having no indication of what either of you wanted. Moreover, if the person nominated by your spouse is unable or unwilling at the time to serve, then that person will not even be considered.
  9. Consider Naming A Guardian of the Person and A Guardian of the Estate. Duties over your children’s care and their financial resources can be split between two different people if you believe that is in your child’s best interests to do so.
  10. Make Sure Your Nomination is Legally Valid. Florida law requires that persons being nominated meet certain legal requirements. The law also requires that the nomination of an initial or successor guardian be made in writing and witnessed by at least 2 credible witnesses over the age of 18, neither of whom has been nominated as the guardian. The best place to make this nomination is in your Last Will and Testament with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

What Estate Planning Attorneys Really Do

What Estate Planning Attorenys Really Do

Do you think, “I don’t have an estate” when asked if you have done your estate planning?  It can be uncomfortable to talk about what you think estate planning is about — dying and the resultant loss of control. Or you may think that estate planning is just for the wealthy.

As uncomfortable as it may be,  it’s something we are all going to have to deal with at some time. Especially if we have heirs or a spouse that we will leave behind. You don’t have to be rich to plan for your belongings and money to go to whom you choose, when you pass. An experience Estate Planning attorney can help you protect your family and your money. They can also help you protect your life and your legacy.

As estate planning attorneys talking to other lawyers, we love to chat about the legal-technical aspects of what we do.  That’s good.  But it’s not so good when we use the legal-technical jargon to explain ourselves to a layperson.  Here’s what Estate Planning attorneys really do:

  • We make sure the right people care for our client when the client can’t do it.
  • We make sure the right people care for our client’s loved ones.
  • We make sure that our client’s legacies — monetary and moral — are passed along to the client’s loved ones.

Illegal Debt Collection Practices

Illegal Debt Collection Practices

It’s important to know what debt collection agencies can and cannot do. Knowledge is power, and that’s true for any situation. Not only can you use your knowledge of these laws to protect yourself from harassment, but if a collector violates one of these laws, you may be able to: use the violation to negotiate a better settlement, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protectin Bureau  or the Federal Trade Commission, or sue the collector.

The FDCPA (15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 to 1692p) requires that a collection agency make certain disclosures and prohibits the collector from engaging in many kinds of abusive or deceptive behavior. Here are some collection actions prohibited by the FDCPA.

Communications With Third Parties – A collection agency can’t contact third parties about your debt. There are a few exceptions to this general rule. Collectors are allowed to contact:

  • Your attorney. If the collector knows you are represented by an attorney, it must talk only to the attorney, not you, unless you give it permission to contact you or your attorney doesn’t respond to the agency’s communications.
  • A credit reporting agency
  • The original creditor
  • Collectors are also allowed to contact your spouse, your parents if you are a minor, and your codebtors. But they cannot make these contacts if you have sent a letter asking them to stop contacting you.

Communications With You – A debt collector’s first communication with you must tell you that they are attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained from you will be used for that purpose. In subsequent communications, the collector must tell you his or her and the collection agency’s name.
A collector cannot contact you:

  • At an unusual or inconvenient time or place—calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. are presumed to be inconvenient
  • Directly, if it knows or should have known that you have an attorney.
  • At work if it knows that your employer prohibits you from receiving collections calls at work.

Harassment or Abuse – In general, a collection agency cannot engage in conduct meant to harass, oppress, or abuse. Specifically, it cannot:

  • Use or threaten to use violence
  • Harm or threaten to harm you, another person, or your or another person’s reputation or property
  • Use obscene, profane, or abusive language
  • Publish your name as a person who doesn’t pay bills list your debt for sale to the public
  • Call you repeatedly
  • Place telephone calls to you without identifying the caller as a bill collector

It’s important to know what debt collection agencies can and cannot do. Knowledge is power, and that’s true for any situation. Not only can you use your knowledge of these laws to protect yourself from harassment, but if a collector violates one of these laws, you may be able to: use the violation to negotiate a better settlement, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protectin Bureau  or the Federal Trade Commission, or sue the collector.

The FDCPA (15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 to 1692p) requires that a collection agency make certain disclosures and prohibits the collector from engaging in many kinds of abusive or deceptive behavior. Here are some collection actions prohibited by the FDCPA.

Communications With Third Parties – A collection agency can’t contact third parties about your debt. There are a few exceptions to this general rule. Collectors are allowed to contact:

  •       Your attorney. If the collector knows you are represented by an attorney, it must talk only to the attorney, not you, unless you give it permission to contact you or your attorney doesn’t respond to the agency’s communications.
  •            A credit reporting agency
  •            The original creditor
  •       Collectors are also allowed to contact your spouse, your parents if you are a minor, and your codebtors. But they cannot make these contacts if you have sent a letter asking them to stop contacting you.

Communications With You – A debt collector’s first communication with you must tell you that they are attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained from you will be used for that purpose. In subsequent communications, the collector must tell you his or her and the collection agency’s name.

  A collector cannot contact you:

At an unusual or inconvenient time or place—calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. are presumed to be inconvenient

Directly, if it knows or should have known that you have an attorney.

  At work if it knows that your employer prohibits you from receiving collections calls at work.

H    Harassment or Abuse – In general, a collection agency cannot engage in conduct meant to harass, oppress, or abuse. Specifically, it cannot:

Use or threaten to use violence
Harm or threaten to harm you, another person, or your or another person’s reputation or property
Use obscene, profane, or abusive language
Publish your name as a person who doesn’t pay bills list your debt for sale to the public
Call you repeatedly
Place telephone calls to you without identifying the caller as a bill collector

Be Careful What You Post on Social Media During a Divorce

Be Careful What You Post on Social Media During a Divorce

You should be aware of the perils of using social media during a divorce or will be involved in a court case for custody, co-parenting and assets. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, personal blogs and tons more online sites are a part of pretty much everyone’s lives these days. All social media establishes a record of communication. Social media allows us to put details of our lives on display where others can see it, share it and comment on it.

Regardless of how casual or informal your social media posts may seem, these posts and comments can be obtained and used against you in divorce or custody proceedings. This applies to Facebook updates, tweets, photos and information posted through any other social media site. Also, your emails and text messages, ones to and about your ex-spouse, are now admissible as evidence in court.
You should count on the opposing counsel to be checking out your social networking sites and the activity you post there. Social Media sites have become important resources for guiding questions asked during divorce proceedings. Many attorneys also conduct a Google search of all parties.

You may think you have set your profile, message or post to private, but it still has the potential to spread to as large a community as you can imagine. One thing to consider when putting information on social networking sites is that you can’t remove it. The entry is permanent, even if you delete it.

Before you post to a social media site consider these points:

  • Evaluate your emotions before writing anything. If you’re frustrated or angry, don’t post any comments or pictures.Think about what you would want your children and family to have access to in the future.
  • Once you post, your privacy is breached and you can’t take it back.
  • Unfriend or block your soon to be ex-spouse and common friends to prevent damaging online communications.
  • Check and change your privacy settings. Remember, your ex-spouse’s legal team can find and view everything posted on social  media through research an discovery regardless of privacy settings. Every posting, even deleted ones, are permanent.
  • Assume your posts are also under review, hold back from online behaviors that may be viewed as unfitting during divorce proceedings: flirting via chats, active profile on dating sites, texting while driving, drinking around the kids or any pictures showing you in a negative light.

What are the Different Types of Student Visas?

What Are The Different Types of Student Visas

The United States offers many educational opportunities for citizens of other countries. Educational visas, also known as student visas, give non-immigrant students from other countries the ability to stay in the United States long enough to enroll in and finish an educational program. When the program is finished, the international student must return home.

The type of education sought in the United States determines the type of student visa required. There are three types of student visas: F-Type, M-Type, and J-Type. International students working on academics (high school and college, for example) must apply for an F-Type visa. Students who will attend vocational schools must complete the M-Type student visa. Finally, students participating in foreign exchange programs complete the J-Type student visa

Before applying for a student visa, an international student must first be accepted into an academic institution in the United States. They must go through the same application process as U.S. citizens.

After being accepted into a U.S. academic program, international students should immediately make an appointment with the consulate to attain a student visa. Quickly making the appointment gives students plenty of time to receive the visa before school starts. The meeting usually requires payment of a fee and a personal interview. Issues to discuss during the interview include whether or not the international student wants to work while residing in the United States and if the student plans to bring a spouse and children as well.

International students must submit several documents to the consulate. These documents include an F-1 or M-1 certificate of eligibility, an online non-immigrant visa electronic application, an international passport, a photograph, and receipts for all fees paid.

Several important factors weigh heavily in any application for a student visa. These include the applicant’s residency abroad, intention of returning to the resident country upon completing the curriculum, and sufficient financial support. Other documentation that may be required includes old transcripts, diplomas, and standardized test scores.

The law surrounding getting and keeping a student visa can be complicated. Tthe facts of each case are unique. If you need help with your Student Visa, give us a call and we can help you, at The Orlando Law Group.

More About Estate Planning for Blended Families

More About Estate Planning for Blended Families

Estate planning for blended families is complex and it requires a watchful eye and a delicate touch. Clients in blended families should understand that there are important additional issues unique to them that must be addressed, like how to properly provide for their spouse without accidentally disinheriting their own kids. If there are minor kids, planning for their custody adds further complexity.

A blended family can make estate planning more complicated. For example, you may want to leave different inheritances to biological children than you would to stepchildren, or to protect your biological family’s inheritance in the event your spouse remarries.

A solid estate plan can help you prepare for these or other scenarios. With so many kinds of blended families, it makes sense to put in place a plan that directs your assets to the people you choose, rather than possibly to someone you don’t know or don’t necessarily want as a recipient.

Understandably, many couples will be inclined to procrastinate, uneager to revisit past relationships. But reaching a successful outcome to their estate planning demands that they plan with an eye toward the past as well as toward the future. An experienced estate planning attorney can help facilitate those potentially painful conversations.

Potential pitfalls
Blended families without an estate plan may run the risk of scenarios like the following:

  • An ex-spouse inherits the former spouse’s bank accounts, home, or retirement assets, even though the former spouse has willed them to his children.
  • One child inherits the family home, even though the home was promised to another child.
  • A spouse dies before his new wife and leaves his estate to her; when she dies, she leaves the assets to her children, not to his.

Prenuptial agreements
A prenuptial agreement can be a good way for parents who are remarrying to specify which of their assets they’d like to earmark for their children. For example, a prenuptial agreement can help couples designate college savings they each have put aside for the children from their first marriage. A postnuptial agreement, signed after the couple has taken their vows, is less common but could work the same way.

What is My Filing Status: Divorced or Married?

What is my filing status

By law your filing status is determined as of the last day of the calendar year. You are considered unmarried for the whole year if, on the last day of the tax year, you are unmarried or legally separated from your spouse as determined by a divorce or separate maintenance decree.

So if your divorce became official in December, you can’t file as married even if you were for most of the calendar year.  Your filing status will be either single, or you can claim “head of household”.

Sometimes couples in the middle of a divorce may qualify for filing as single or head of household. In order to do so, you must meet the following criteria:

    • You have lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the tax year
    • You have paid over half the cost of maintaining your primary residence
    • You must be able to claim your child or children as your dependents according to the rules for children of divorced or  separated parents
    • You have to file a separate tax return from your spouse, even if you are still legally married

A child can only be claimed on one tax return – you can’t both claim the same kid as a dependent. This may present a problem if you are divorced or separated. You can claim your child as a dependent on your tax return if the divorce decree names you as the custodial parent.

If you have more than one child, you may choose to split the dependency of the kids up between the two parents, which is allowed even if both kids spend the same amount of time with each parent.

Child Support
Child support is always tax-neutral, meaning unlike alimony it doesn’t affect your taxes in any way. It is non-taxable income to the person receiving it and it is not tax-deductible by the person paying it. In some cases, you or your spouse may be paying both spousal and child support.

Itemized Deductions
For itemized deductions, such as charitable contributions, you would generally be able to claim the expenses you paid individually and half the expenses that were paid from a joint account while you were married.

Legal fees and expenses involving personal matters are normally not deductible, but you can deduct the portion of fees paid to divorce-industry professionals for tax advice or for help in getting spousal support. Additionally legal expenses related to the taxpayer’s business are usually deductible. If you own and operate a privately held business and incurred legal expenses related to that business during the divorce process, then those expenses may also be deductible.

If you divorce in the middle of a tax year, your judgment or settlement agreement should clearly define how income earned and expenses paid during the marriage are to be reported. This helps to ensure filing accuracy and avoid inconsistent returns. If for some reason the income earned and expenses paid during the marriage is not clearly detailed in the divorce agreement, you should consult with your former spouse when preparing your tax return to avoid IRS issues which will impact to both your return and that of your former spouse.

What is Lawful or Unlawful Language in Employee Handbooks?

What Is Lawful or Unlawful

Rules Regarding Confidentiality
Employees have a Section 7 right to discuss wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees and other nonemployees, including union representatives. The confidentiality provisions of employee handbooks can thus violate the law if not artfully prepared. Rules prohibiting the discussion of the “terms and conditions of employment” are not allowed, while rules that prohibit the disclosure of legitimately confidential employer information are acceptable.

The following is a sampling of the confidentiality rules deemed unlawful:

  • Do not discuss customer or employee information outside of work, including phone numbers and addresses. The prohibition of disclosing “employee information” was impermissible.
  • If something is not public information, you must not share it. Again, this prohibition is too broad and thus unlawful.
  • The following is a sampling of the confidentiality rules deemed lawful, as each did not reference employee information, were not overly broad, and did not contain language that would reasonably be construed to prohibit Section 7 communications:
  1. Unauthorized disclosure of “business secrets” or other confidential information.
  2. Do not disclose confidential financial data, or other nonpublic proprietary company information. Do not share confidential information regarding business partners, vendors or customers.

Rules Regarding Employee Conduct Toward the Company and Supervisors  
Employees have a Section 7 right to criticize or protest their employer’s labor policies or treatment of employees, both while at work and in the public forum. While rules banning “insubordination” are generally permissible, rules that amount to a blanket ban of “disrespectful,” “negative,” “inappropriate,” or “rude” conduct toward management might be unlawful, depending on the context. By contrast, the same language aimed at employees’ conduct toward co-workers, clients, or competitors is lawful because employers have a legitimate business interest in having employees act professionally and courteously toward non-management individuals, subject to certain caveats discussed below.

The following is a sampling of rules dealing with management deemed unlawful:

  • Be respectful to the company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors.The inclusion of “the company”   made this rule impermissible.
  • Refrain from any action that would harm persons or property or cause damage to the company’s reputation. The report maintained that this rule (and others like it) was unlawfully broad because it could be reasonably read to require employees to refrain from criticizing the employer in public.

By contrast, the following were lawful:

  •   No “rudeness or unprofessional behavior toward a customer, or anyone in contact” with the company. Again, this is acceptable because it did not mention “management” or “the company.”
  • Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervision, coworkers, customers, and vendors. Here, the emphasis of the rule is the performance of the employees, as opposed to the communicative components of employment. It was thus permissible.

Rules Regarding Employee Conduct Toward Fellow Employees
In addition to employees’ rights to discuss their terms and conditions of employment and/or criticize their employers’ labor practices, employees also have a right to argue and debate with each other about unions, management, and the like. Thus, when an employer bans all “negative” or “inappropriate” discussions among employees, without further clarification, such rules can be reasonably read to prohibit discussions and interactions that are protected.

The following is a sampling of unlawful “employee-employee” conduct rules:

  • Don’t pick fights online. Far too broad.
  • Show proper consideration for others’ privacy rights and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory, such as politics and religion. Discussion of unionization would likely be chilled by this rule because it can be an “inflammatory” topic.
  •   Do not send unwanted, offense, or inappropriate emails. This rule was too vague and overbroad.

By contrast, the following were lawful:

  • Do not make inappropriate gestures, including visual staring.
  • Threatening, intimidating, coercing, or otherwise interfering with the job performance of fellow employees or visitors. This simply requires that employees be respectful and cooperate with their co-workers.
  • No harassment of employees, patients, or facility visitors. Harassment is distinct from contentious communication.

Rules Regarding Use of Company Logos, Copyrights, and Trademarks
Though copyright holders have a right to protect their intellectual property, company rules cannot prohibit employees’ fair protected use of them. The easiest example of this is an employee’s right to use company logos on picket signs, leaflets, etc.

The following is a sampling of rules deemed unlawful because of over-breadth:

  • Do not use Company logos, trademarks, graphics, or advertising materials in social media
  • Company logos and trademarks may not be used without written consent.

By contrast, this rule was lawful as it simply requires employees to respect copyright laws:

  • Respect all copyright and other intellectual property laws. For the employer’s protection as well as your own, it is critical that you show proper respect for the laws governing copyrights, fair use of copyrighted material, owned by others, trademarks and other intellectual property, including the employer’s own copyrights, trademarks, and brands.

Living Together During A Divorce

Living Together During A Divorce

When a couple decides to divorce, sometimes one spouse moving out right away is not an option, for financial reasons, or to wait until the marital house sells.  Though this living arrangement certainly would not work in all relationships, it can if the terms of the divorce are amicable enough to last another few months under the same roof.If you are considering living with your soon-to-be ex-spouse during a divorce, here are a few ground rules for the potentially uncomfortable situation.

Talk About Your Budget
Since financial disagreements are one of the main reasons that people split up, be sure to handle this situation cautiously. Sit down with your ex to determine the financial obligations that you share. If both of you work and earn similar incomes, then consider dividing the financial burden equally. However, if one of you earns significantly more than the other one does, then you’ll need to negotiate. While preparing for divorce, create a manageable budget for the time that you’ll remain in the same residence.

Share Responsibilities Amicably
Once you and spouse have decided to dissolve your relationship, be sure to share household responsibilities while you are living in the same home. Allocate the chores fairly and plan a time to do them. Decide where each of you will sleep, and be considerate of each others’ personal space. In fact, try to think of your ex as a roommate. For instance, wash the dishes that you use, and don’t eat food that the other person purchased. Be mindful of the time that you spend in the bathroom and share the home’s common family areas.

Come up with a Parenting Plan
When you’re preparing for divorce, you’ll need to organize a parenting schedule. Decide which days each of you will have full responsibility of the kids. If you have an infant or a toddler, then you will need to decide who will take care of feedings, oversee baths and get up at night with the child. Be sure to share school drop offs and pick ups as well as the responsibility of transporting children to and from after school activities. A parenting schedule will help your children adjust to the separation, and it may make it easier for them to shift households once you and your ex no longer live together.

Have Separate Rooms
It can be easy to fall into old habits, but do not sleep together. The intimacy is likely to be confusing, and if one of you would like to reconcile the relationship, then your eventual permanent separation will be even more devastating.

Don’t Bring Home a Date
To make your living situation function more smoothly, do not bring a date home while you are living under the same roof with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Once you are divorced, it’s fine to date, but be considerate of your ex’s feelings.

When you carry out basic living considerations and exercise patience, you and your ex can continue living together while getting a divorce until your finances and emotions permit you to move on to the next phase of your life.

Funding Your Trust

Funding Your Trust

A clear plan for the transfer of assets is crucial to the success of any estate plan. But our best plans will fall far short of expectations if the trusts are never properly funded.

Here’s an analogy: If the trust is the car, the funding is the fuel. Without gas in the tank, that beautiful sedan with the precision engine is just metal on four wheels. It’s not going anywhere. The same holds true for an estate plan. Until it’s properly funded, the plan is just a plan – a plan that can’t be executed. Like the car with the needle on empty, it’s not going to take you anywhere.

With basic wills, most of the funding happens after death through the probate process. By contrast, a trust can – and really should – be funded while the trust maker is still alive. With proper trust funding, you can be assured that your designated assets will be governed by the terms of the trust agreement. Without it, assets not properly transferred to the trust will generally fall to probate.

Proper trust funding involves moving assets that are in your name and retitling or reassigning them to the trust. These assets fall under three main categories:

1.     Personal property and real property with title (home, car, boat, etc.)

2.     Non-titled property (computer, furniture, artwork, tools, etc.)

3.     Property that passes by beneficiary designation (life insurance, 401(k), etc.)

In certain instances such as incapacity, the General Durable Power of Attorney can be useful in funding a trust. This ancillary document allows the agent acting under Power of Attorney to transfer assets or update beneficiary designations. Additionally, where property remains in the individual’s name at the time of death, the Pour-Over Will can be a “last step” measure to redirect the assets into the established trust. These special instances, however, underscore the importance and the advantage of acting early to properly fund a trust. By doing so we greatly diminish the need for the Durable Power of Attorney and eliminate any need of the Pour-Over Will.

Moving On After Divorce

Moving On After a Divorce

The time right after a divorce can be tough. You are essentially starting a new chapter in your life.  Moving on after divorce can be adifficult concept for many people. It’s important to stay optimistic and keep good friends around you, a support system is crucial atthis place in your life.
Here are a few tips that will certainly allow you to get back to the normal, happy you:

Grieving is Important
After your divorce has been finalized, you may find yourself emotionally unprepared for the aftermath. If you haven’t given yourselftime to mourn the small things, it will be hard to move on.  You need to allow yourself time to grieve after a divorce. By recognizing that you have made the best decision for you and your family, however, you will ultimately be able to continue on with your lifewithout any baggage.

Be Upfront With Your Kids
You may understandably be anxious about divorce and how it will affect your children. In nearly all instances, it is best not to dance around the issue. Explaining the divorce to your kids openly and honestly will surely win you a tremendous amount of respect. When you let them know that you will remain an essential part of their daily lives, you will be decreasing their fears and allowing them to also move on.  By continuing to attend their football games, ballet recitals, and other important life milestones, you’ll be showing your children that they are still mean the most to you.

Keep an Eye on Your Finances
When moving on after divorce, you may find yourself at first struggling with finances. If you are a newly single mom or dad, sticking to a budget during the week will give you enough cash to relax a bit with the kids on the weekend.  In fact, there are a broad array of divorce support groups that will help you with your financial planning. While child support will often come into play, you should do whatever you can to put yourself on sound financial footing going forward after a divorce.

Date Responsibly
When starting over after divorce, you are going to want to have company. By reentering the dating game, you’ll be on the fast track to companionship.  Friendship itself can be exceedingly rewarding. Try to choose dating partners who will treat your kids with respect. While some potential matches may be put off by divorce and children, others will be perfectly thrilled to meet your kids.
In the end, you should plan your steps carefully when starting over after divorce. Through honesty, optimism, rigorous financial planning, and divorce support groups, you’ll feel refreshed and reinvigorated. Having accepted things as they are, you can begin constructing a wonderful new life.

7 Legal Documents You Need to Change After a Divorce

7 Legal Documents You Need to Change After a Divorce

If you’re recently divorced, you’ll need to change most of your legal documents. I know, paperwork is the last thing on your mind, but it will avoid frustrating situations down the road.

Here are seven legal documents you should change as soon as possible after your divorce papers are signed:

1. Powers of Attorney

Besides updating your will, you’ll also need to update your living will to give power of attorney to somebody other than your ex-spouse. If you’re incapacitated for any reason, whoever has medical power of attorney will be able to make healthcare decisions for you, which can have life-changing consequences.

2. Property Titles

You’ve probably already settled on who owns what, but you still need to finish updating legal documents like car and house titles to prove ownership. Whether you’re moving or staying, you’ll need your ex-spouse to sign the documents to renounce ownership.

3. Social Security and ID Cards

If you’ve finished changing your name after a divorce, it’s time to contact the Social Security Administration to update your government records. Failure to do so could make it more difficult to take out future lines of credit or receivebenefits after you retire. You’ll also need to update your driver’s license and other ID cards to reflect your new personal information.

4. Last Will and Testament

Most married couples leave their estates to each other and their children. Updating your will is inexpensive, fast, and easy compared to writing a new one, and you can remove an existing beneficiary and change the executor in the blink of an eye.

5. Beneficiaries

You’ll need to go through all of your financial accounts and change your beneficiaries. While you’ve likely already changed your bank accounts, you’ll still need to change your investment and retirement accounts. If you plan on changing your name after a divorce, update your accounts with your new personal information.

6. HIPPA Forms

HIPPA forms authorize the release of your medical information to select individuals, and if you received medical treatment while married, you likely designated your ex-spouse as your contact. You’ll need to contact each hospital and medical practice individually to change every HIPPA form you’ve ever signed.

7. Medical Authorization and Treatment Forms

These forms allow doctors to provide medical treatment to your underage children if they’re not accompanied by you or another legal guardian. You’ll want to update them to make sure babysitters, teachers, and other caretakers have the legal authority to seek medical treatment if necessary.

In addition, you’ll want to change your utility, television, Internet, and other personal accounts to give yourself sole ownership. If you’re moving out, you won’t want to pay your ex-spouse’s bills. Most of these accounts can be changed quickly with minimal paperwork.

Updating legal documents should only take a month or two after completing your divorce. This simple step will make your life much easier. The fewer loose ends you leave, the fewer headaches you’ll need to deal with in the future.

Trust Decanting: Power to Appoint in Further Trust

Ttrust Decanting Power to Appoint in Further Trust

Whenever an Independent Trustee may distribute assets to or for the benefit of a beneficiary, our Trustee may appoint the property subject to our Trustee’s power of distribution in trust for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries of any trust created under this instrument under the terms established by the Independent Trustee. Any trust established by the Independent Trustee and funded by the exercise of the power granted under this Section must meet these requirements:

  • The trust must not reduce any fixed income, annuity, or unitrust right provided by this trust instrument to any beneficiary.
  • The trust must provide for one or more of the beneficiaries of a trust created under this instrument.
  • The interests of remainder beneficiaries of the trust created under this instrument must not be accelerated under the terms of the new trust.

We request the Independent Trustee consider including a provision in the new trust that permits our Trustee to distribute as much of the trust principal to the beneficiary of the trust as an Independent Trustee advises so that the beneficiary’s estate can utilize the basis increase allowed under Internal Revenue Code Section 1014 after the beneficiary’s death without causing an increase in the federal estate tax.

An Independent Trustee may not use the powers granted under this Section to extend the term of the new trust beyond the period of perpetuities provided under the governing law of this instrument.

Any trust created under this provision must not contain any provision that, if applicable, would cause the trust to fail to qualify for the marital deduction or charitable deduction, fail to qualify any gift to the trust for any gift, estate, or generation-skipping transfer annual exclusion, or disqualify the trust as a qualified subchapter S corporation shareholder.

If any beneficiary holds a presently exercisable right to withdraw property from this trust, that right may not be defeated by the exercise of the Independent Trustee’s powers granted under this Section.

The Independent Trustee’s powers granted under this Section are not diminished by the revocability or subsequent irrevocability of the trust created under this trust.

Income Tax Reduction Trust

Income tax reduction trust

The Income Tax Reduction Trust is a type of trust specifically authorized by the Internal Revenue Code. These irrevocable trusts permit you to transfer ownership of assets to the trust in exchange for an income stream to the person or persons of your choice (typically you, your spouse or you and your spouse) for life or for a specified term of up to 20 years. With the most common type of Income Tax Reduction Trust, at the end of the term, the balance of the trust property (the “remainder interest”) is transferred to a specified charity or charities.

Income Tax Reduction Trust also reduce estate taxes because you are transferring ownership to the trust of assets that otherwise would be counted for estate tax purposes.

An Income Tax Reduction Trust can be set up as part of your revocable living trust planning, coming into existence at the time of your death, or as a stand-alone trust during your lifetime. At the time of creation of the this trust you or your estate will be entitled to a charitable deduction in the amount of the current value of the gift that will eventually go to charity. If the income recipient is someone other than you or your spouse there will be gift tax consequences to the transfer.

Income Tax Reduction Trusts are tax-exempt entities. In other words, when a Income Tax Reduction Trust sells an asset it pays no income tax on the gain in that asset. Therefore, after a sale the trust has more available to invest than if the asset were sold outside of the Income Tax Reduction Trust and subject to tax. Accordingly, Income Tax Reduction Trust are particularly suited for highly appreciated assets, such as real estate and stock in a closely held business, or assets subject to income tax such as qualified plans and IRAs.

While the Income Tax Reduction Trust does not pay tax on the sale of its assets, the tax is not avoided altogether. The payments to the income recipient will be subject to tax.

At the end of the term of an Income Tax Reduction Trust, the remainder interest passes to qualified charities as defined under the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, any charity that has received tax-exempt status through an IRS determination qualifies, but this is not always the case. It is also possible for you to name a private foundation established by you as the charitable beneficiary.

3 Ways to Have an Amicable Divorce


Divorce is not the most pleasant experience. It represents an end to something that was once, presumably happy, and the process can lead to hurt feelings. When there are children involved, they may feel isolated and confused.

There is often times heartbreak and there may be a lot of pain, but going through a divorce doesn’t need to be a battle or leave both parties feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

There are three divorce options in the State of Florida that are designed to make getting a divorce easier. Most importantly, having an amicable divorce can protect your children through an otherwise difficult time and save you time and money.

The three types of amicable divorce options are:

1. Divorce Through Mediation

Mediation helps each spouse to come up with their own unique resolutions rather than seeing what the court imposes. This type of divorce is a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to formal litigation, which costs a lot more money and can take a few months or more.
Divorce through mediation can assist with different kinds of disputes, such as child custody arrangements and co-parenting or dealing with dividing marital property. The benefits of mediation include:

  • A more time-efficient and cost-effective process than a traditional divorce
  • A less-expensive alternative to court trials and hearings
  • A confidential process with no public record of the mediation session

2. Uncontested Divorce

Terminating the marriage within days instead of weeks and months, is a benefit of an uncontested divorce. It costs much less than a contested divorce, and both parties can create agreements that work for their situations rather than leaving it up to the judge to decide. Both parties must agree with every issue of their marriage, such as custody and visitation, alimony and child support. The parties sign a Marital Settlement Agreement, which must then be approved by the court before it becomes part of the divorce decree.

Collaborative Divorce

Similar to the uncontested divorce, is the collaborative divorce. Both parties have to agree to the issues of their marriage and decide to bypass a typical litigation. This type of divorce places the children’s best interests first, and both spouses work together with their attorneys and a mediator to reach an agreement on all the issues related to the divorce. A collaborative divorce is obtained by the following steps:

  • Both spouses must agree to the collaboration before starting the legal portion of the process. Afterward, the parties establish a participation agreement, which outlines the commitments in the divorce.
  • The spouses and their attorneys sign a contract that commits to resolving the issues related to the termination of marriage without going to court. Everyone involved works together to arrive at a mutually acceptable settlement.
  • Both parties act in the best interests of the children to promote positive relationships with the divorcing spouses and to minimize any emotional effects.

If either spouse ignores the participation agreement and pursues outside legal representation or court, the collaborative attorney must end his or her representation of the client.

Charitable Planning

Charitable Planning

Estate planning increasingly includes some form of charitable giving. During the last three decades, wealth ballooned in the United States, but affluent clients tended to increase their charitable transfers more than their family inheritances. According to John Havens of the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy: “Reports from the IRS indicate that charitable giving increases at every level from the lowest level estate to the highest level.” He also notes: “When an estate’s value exceeds $20 million, the percentage going to charity virtually doubles and the percentage given to heirs goes down.”

A few statistics (with their sources) will highlight the depth of charitable involvement and its impact on estate planning:

  • 65% of American households give to charity.
  • Americans gave $298.3 billion to charities in 2011, a 3.9% increase over 2010.
  • 98% of high net worth households give to charity.
  • In 2010 there were 161,873 donor-advised funds that held $30 billion.

Not only are charitable transfers increasing, but also wealthier Americans are getting more involved in philanthropy themselves. According to a 2003 study, 83% of affluent Americans did volunteer work. The increased involvement of affluent Americans in charitable work also seems to be increasing their lifetime charitable gifting. Affluent Americans also are encouraging their heirs to become involved in charitable work.

These wealthy taxpayers are not just giving to charity. They are making sure that the gifts are handled in ways they approve. As a consequence of the scandals in numerous charities and the increasing “hands-on” management style of many donors, clients increasingly want to retain in themselves and/or their family the future direction of charitable transfers. Clients want to provide for charitable transfers that will leave a legacy for society and a legacy that will impact their heirs.

The common bond between today’s donor and the 20th century philanthropists is the desire to transmit family values and social responsibility to successive generations. This dual goal has resulted in not only a dramatic growth in charitable donations but also the development of “retained control” charitable-giving approaches.

Who Should Be Your Successor Trustee?

Who should be your successor trustee

If you have a revocable living trust, you probably named yourself as trustee so you can continue to manage your own financial affairs. But eventually someone will need to step in for you when you are no longer able to act due to incapacity or after your death. Because successor trustees have a lot of responsibility, they should be chosen carefully.

If you become incapacitated, your successor will step in and take full control of your finances for you—paying bills, making financial decisions, even selling or refinancing assets. Your successor will be able to do anything you could with your trust assets, as long as it does not conflict with the instructions in your trust document and does not breach fiduciary duty.

After you die, your successor acts just like an executor would—takes an inventory of your assets, pays your final bills, sells assets if necessary, has your final tax returns prepared, and distributes your assets according to the instructions in your trust.

Your successor trustee will be acting without court supervision, which is why your affairs can be handled privately and efficiently—and probably one of the reasons you have a living trust in the first place. But this also means it will be up to your successor to get things started and keep them moving along. It isn’t necessary for this person to know exactly what to do and when because your attorney, CPA, and other advisors can help guide him or her, but it is important that you name someone who is responsible and conscientious.

Successor trustees can be your adult children, other relatives, a trusted friend and or a corporate trustee (bank trust department or trust company). If you choose an individual, you should name more than one in case your first choice is unable to act. They should be people you know and trust, people whose judgment you respect and who will also respect your wishes.

When choosing a successor, keep in mind the type and amount of assets in your trust and the complexity of the provisions in your trust document. For example, if you plan to keep assets in your trust after you die for your beneficiaries, your successor would have more responsibilities for a longer period of time than if your assets will be distributed all at once.

Also, keep in mind the qualifications of your candidates. Consider personalities, financial or business experience, and time available due to their own family or career demands. Taking over as trustee for someone can take a substantial amount of time and requires a certain amount of business sense.

Be sure to ask the people you are considering if they would want this responsibility. Don’t put them on the spot and just assume they want to do this. Finally, trustees should be paid for this work; your trust document should provide for fair and reasonable compensation.

Businesses That Benefit From the LLC Structure

Businesses That Benefit From the LLC Structure

LLCs generally work best for:

  • Businesses with a limited number of owners, that are actively up and running. At about 35 owners of the business, at a maximum, the logistics of making collective business decisions are manageable.
  • New small businesses. Sometimes, new businesses want to pass early-year losses along to it’s owners to deduct against their other income, which may be a salary earned working for another company or income earned from investments.
  • People or business owners who have been considering forming an S corporation. S corporations provide limited liability protection to its owners and allow profits and losses to be taxed at individual shareholder rates, just like LLC’s. But these benefits come at a pretty high price: S corporations are significantly restrictive and a business can inadvertently lose its eligibility.
  • Existing partnerships. Only the LLC provides partnership-style pass-through tax treatment of business income while covering all of its owners, not just limited partners as in a limited partnership, from personal liability for business debts.
  • Businesses planning to hold property that will appreciate, as in real property. C corporations and their shareholders are subjected to a double taxation on appreciation when assets are sold or liquidate. Taxation occurs at both the corporate and individual level. S corporations that were originally organized as C corporations may also be subject to double tax on gains from appreciated assets. There can also be a penalty tax on passive income, which is money from rents, royalties, interest, or dividends, if it gets too high. Because the LLC is a true pass-through tax entity, it allows a business that holds appreciating assets to avoid double taxation.

How Do Parents Keep Control: Irrevocable Trusts?

How Do Parents Keep Control Irrevocable Trusts

Parents want to be in dictatorial control. However, trusts must be irrevocable for estate tax and asset protection planning purposes. Many people get turned off when the word “irrevocable” is raised. We must be able to assure them that they can “have their cake and eat it too.”

How Do Parents Keep Control Irrevocable TrustsMagic Formula. The goal of planning is to “own nothing and control everything.” The magic formula is “control.” “Own” looks and sounds like an English word, but it is not. It is a legally defined concept. By contrast, “control” is what it seems to be. To paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, (who was describing hard core pornography), you know it (control) when you see it.

Children’s Trust. So how do parents keep control? The first element in any planning is a children’s trust. We don’t want to deal directly with the children. Children may start off as nice people, but once the parents are in their 80s, the children will be convinced that they know more than their parents. So a properly structured children’s trust will give the parents continuing control.

Two Types Of Trustees. There are two types of trustees. The first is the one whose judgment you respect. But that one will serve after the parents are gone. While the parents are alive, they want the trustee who – when the parents say “jump” – will ask “how high?” It is often the clients’ own parents. It might and can be a child; the child will be motivated to obey the parent for fear of getting disinherited.

Trustee Removal Power. The parents must maintain the right to remove the trustee and name a new one. Rev. Rul. 95-58 provides that such a power does not result in estate tax inclusion if the new trustee is not “related or subordinate” as defined in IRC §672(c).

State Law. Section 411 of the Uniform Trust Code al¬lows the settlor and all beneficiaries to petition the court to modify an irrevocable trust. Clients do not want to go to court. Nor do they want to rely on getting cooperation from their children. However, again, children may coop¬erate if they know that the alternative is disinheritance. Also, California has gone beyond the Uniform Trust Code: the settlor and all beneficiaries can modify an irrevocable trust without going to court.

Protectors. The broadest method to allow the parents to change an irrevocable trust is to name one or more protectors. Only a few states have codified provisions regard¬ing Protectors, e.g., NRS 163.5547. Protector powers are limited only by your imagination, but generally include the power to change the allocations among the children and to change the manner of distribution. We tell clients to not tell someone named as a Protector until they need that person to act. Then they should float a trial balloon: “What would you think if I wanted to allocate 70% of the children’s trust to my daughter Sally, and only 30% to my son Jimmy?” Depending upon the response, the parents will know whether to inform the respondent of his or her capacity as a Protector (or to move on to the next named Protector).

Single Member LLCs. Clients love the idea that they can continue to make 100% of the investment decisions. The single member LLC – with the irrevocable trust as the member and the parents as the non-member managers – is a terrific structure to provide both flexibility and control. Also, this makes it easier for the trustee, who may not want to be involved in picking stocks and bonds.

Miscellaneous. There are many structures that can help the parents keep control, both while they are alive, and even after they are dead. Be prepared to discuss (i) private trust companies; (ii) grantor trust flip switches; (iii) powers of appointment; (iv) decanting powers; (v) trustee’s powers to terminate the trust and change it due to changes in the
law; (vi) distribution advisors; (vii) selling assets from one trust to another; (viii) T-CLATs; (ix) charitable foundations; and (x) extended distribution clauses.

Conclusion. As estate planners we must make our clients comfortable. There are many ways to do so and you should keep all of these tools at your fingertips.

Lien Property Disputes

Lien Property Disputes

One huge reason homeowners are unable to buy and sell property are title defects which cause fights over lien priority. An experienced lawyer can help you work through lien priority disputes through quiet title actions, negotiations, or litigation.

Income Taxes: When you forget to pay your taxes, an IRS tax lien arises automatically. This lien stays until it is paid or until the tax assessment expires, which is 10 years. The tax lien lacks priority against listed classes of creditors until the Notice of Federal Tax Lien is filed. Holders of security interests, mechanic’s lien and judgment lien creditors have priority over federal tax liens if they are filed first.

State Taxes: State Tax Liens must be filed before IRS tax liens to have priority, even if the state lien arose automatically because the state taxes were unpaid.

IRS Tax Liens Eliminated:

  1. Certificate of Release where the tax is fully paid or compromised.
  2. Certificate of Discharge which only affects the specific property listed and does not affect taxpayer’s other   property.
  3. Certificate of Subordination where the IRS can subordinate its lien in specific property if the IRS is paid the value of its interest or the IRS believes it will realize more money by issuing the subordination.
  4. Withdraw of the IRS lien can be due to a prematurely filed lien or a lien in violation of IRS procedures or where the taxpayer has entered into an installment agreement where the agreement provides for the withdraw of the lien.

Lis Pendens: The purpose of recording this document is to give claimants constructive notice of a potential lien. The filing of a lis pendens does not perfect a lien. Once determined by a court, the filing may result in a perfected lien.
A document that shows the transfer of a deed of trust from one person or entity to another is an assignment. Some common assignment errors are:

  • Data Errors: Recording an incorrect book or page, or leaving blank the name of the assignee. You cannot fill in the blanks after the document has already been signed and notarized. Missing chain of assignment.
  • Not Recording Assignments: Recording assignments is not required by law, but it does cause title issues. Spend the money and record your assignment.
  • Not Having Uniformity in Recording: With more than 3,600 recording districts in the United States, you need to know the county recording requirements before creating a template. Many have different recording requirements, regulating font size, margins and signatures.
  • MERS: Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems no longer commences legal actions in its name. As a result assignments must be prepared. There is a backlog. There are times when the MERS number is not on the assignment when it is recorded or the wrong number is attached to the loan or MERS forgot to deactivate the number after it has been assigned.
  • Release Not Timely: Once the loan is paid off, a release is required to be recorded.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Younger People

Social Security Disability Benefits for Younger People

Most people do not realize how common disability is, or how likely it is that they will become disabled at some point during their working career. In fact, studies show that one in three 20-year-old workers will become disabled at some point before they reach their full retirement age. For those workers who do become disabled, Social Security disability benefits may be available. Unfortunately, however, many people do not understand how the get the benefits they deserve.

Social Security disability benefits are reserved for more serious disabilities. For example, if you catch a virus and are out of work for a week, you are not eligible for benefits. However, for those who suffer a medical condition that is expected to keep them out of work for one year or result in death, Social Security disability benefits are available.

Not only must you have a qualifying disability, but you must also meet rigid earnings requirements. These requirements employ two tests, the “recent work” test and the “duration of work” test, to determine whether your employment history entitles you to benefits. If the tests reveal that you have not worked close enough to your disability date, or long enough before you became disabled, you will not qualify. For example, if you become disabled at age 44, you will not receive disability benefits unless you have worked for 5.5 years.

If you are applying for Social Security Disability benefits in Florida, or have been denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), please contact The Orlando Law Group at 407-512-4394. A Social Security attorney will review your claim and determine whether you are eligible for benefits and/or an appeal.

When Should You Tell Your Children about Their Inheritance?

When Should You Tell Your Children About Their Inheritance

Not many parents like to talk to their children about their wealth. How much money people have is usually considered a private matter, something it’s not polite to talk about. But not talking to your children about how much they may inherit can leave them unprepared to handle even a modest amount.

This is becoming especially important because children of baby boomers are due to inherit more wealth than ever before. It has been estimated that baby boomers will inherit $12 trillion from their parents, and they will leave an additional $30 trillion to their own children over the next 30 to 40 years.

Many who have substantial wealth are concerned that letting their children know how much they have will take away any motivation for the children to be productive and involved citizens. If a child knows he is going to inherit millions some day, he might just be a beach bum on Maui and wait for Mom and Dad to die. Wealthy parents often want their children to learn how to live in the world as “normal” people, to be productive and successful in their own right, and may be reluctant to let their children know how wealthy they are so their children don’t start to think they are better than others.

Even those who are not as wealthy may not want to let their children know how much they have. They may be concerned that all of their savings will be needed for retirement, medical expenses and end-of-life expenses. If that turns out to be the case, their kids would not receive an inheritance they may have been counting on.

But not knowing what they may inherit leaves children in the dark and can actually hinder their ability to handle money wisely. Those who inherit a substantial amount may be unprepared for what to do with that much money. Many find they suddenly feel separated from their friends, isolated, even confused about how to handle relationships; some will be wasteful and lazy. Those who inherit even a modest amount are likely to be just as irresponsible; stories of inheritances being squandered on an expensive sports car, lavish vacations and fast living are all too common.

Experts agree that it is important to talk to your children about money and wealth, at least in generalities. You don’t need to show them bank and financial statements. Instead of concentrating on money and material things, you can talk to them about your values, the opportunities money can provide and what you want to accomplish with it. Most parents want their children to think about others, and many want to encourage entrepreneurship. Some give their children a small amount of money at a young age, and teach them how to save and invest, give a certain amount to charity, and spend wisely.

But the most effective way to teach your children about your views on money and your values is to be an example and model. Let them see you using your money in ways that reinforce your values toward it. Many parents show how they value family relationships by spending their money on family vacations or buying a second home where the entire family can gather for summers and holidays. If your children see you being charitable and helping others, chances are they will become charitable, too. If they see you comparison shopping and looking for value, they will likely not be wasteful with their own money…or with yours when they inherit it.

Estate Planning When You are Single

Estate Planning When You Are Single

These days, more people are living single than ever before. In 1970, just about one- third of Americans 15 and older were single, according to U.S. census data. Today, that number’s closer to 50 percent.

Whether never married, divorced or widowed, singles need to pay just as much attention to their estate planning as married folks, as highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Single people face unique estate planning issues that require advanced planning, time and the help of an experienced professional.

Some of the most complicated estate planning issues for singles include:

Heirs: When married people die without a will, their assets typically pass to their spouse. But what about single people? Assets are usually distributed along bloodlines, so children (if any), followed by parents, siblings or other relatives, would be the default heirs. If a single person has no living relatives, his or her assets might wind up with the state.

To ensure their assets wind up with the relatives, loved ones and charitable organizations that they’d prefer, single people should create a will and/or an irrevocable trust that specifically states how they’d like their assets to be distributed.

Decision makers: A health event or other incident could leave any of us incapacitated. For single people, it’s important to designate a trusted loved one or friend to manage assets and health care decisions in case of an emergency. Without proper directives, those decisions could fall to distant relatives or state-appointed strangers.

Single people should sign a general power of attorney, an advance health care directive, and a HIPAA authorization allowing a loved one of choice to make financial and medical decisions on their behalf.

Beneficiaries: Certain accounts, like retirement plans, require account holders to designate a beneficiary when they enroll. That beneficiary designation is typically upheld when the account holder dies, even if he or she gave the account to someone else in a will.

Previously married or widowed singles should reevaluate all of their beneficiary designations to ensure accounts won’t be given to former spouses if that’s against their wishes.

Those are just a few of the ways estate planning can be complicated for singles. It’s wise for single people to contact an estate planning professional as soon as possible, in order to make sure all their bases are covered and their assets are distributed according to their wishes.

Holidays after Divorce

Holidays after Divorce

We are now in the holiday season. Think of that Norman Rockwell perfect Christmas, family and friends getting together. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. That is the ideal. What is the reality? Actually, the holidays are very stressful times. I have found over the years that many people will come to me to file for divorce after the Christmas holidays. People have these unrealistic expectations that are rarely met by the holidays.

The holidays are a stressful time for in-tact marriages, and it is even more stressful for people who are already divorced. Fights are common over who has Christmas Eve, and who has Christmas Day. How is Thanksgiving handled?

What about New Years? How is the Christmas vacation divided? These are issues that lawyers often deal with in their practices. There are often last minute phone calls where someone has failed to produce the children for the holiday.

Some suggestions for handling the holidays after a divorce, when it comes to who has the children are:

  • In an in-tact marriage, there are issues as to whether you spend the holiday with one set of relatives or the other, and you often alternate them.
  • After a divorce, if the tradition was one where Christmas Eve was with one family, and Christmas Day with the other family, then follow that tradition.
  • If there was no tradition, then typically a schedule will be one where one parent has the children on Christmas Eve one year until perhaps noon on Christmas Day, and then it is rotated.
  • Thanksgiving is handled with some people alternating just the day, and others alternating the entire Thanksgiving holiday weekend from perhaps Wednesday after school until Sunday evening.
  • Christmas breaks are often divided with one parent having the children from the day after school lets out until noon on Christmas Day in even years, and from noon on Christmas Day until the day school begins in odd years. There are many, many ways to handle these holidays. If people communicate well, then a simple arrangement will work. Where people have a failure to communicate and cannot agree on anything, then every detail must be spelled out. Holidays become more complicated and stressful. Even though you thought you got rid of those pesky in-laws, guess what? Divorces don’t end these relationships.

Estate Planning for Blending Families

Estate Planning for Blended Families

Divorced, remarried or widowed? Your estate plan needs extra attention.

Chances are, you or someone you know is part of a blended family. Once uncommon, fully 42 percent of adults now have some kind of step-relationship, according to Pew Research. That’s 95.5 million people. For the millions of divorced, widowed, and remarried Americans out there, estate planning is extra tricky. In a blended family situation, there are more opportunities to get it wrong, and the stakes—ensuring your assets are distributed to a current spouse and not an ex, or that your children and stepchildren are treated according to your wishes—are often higher.

Additionally, spouses—current, former or both—may not see eye-to-eye on key decisions. Who takes care of the kids if one parent dies—the surviving spouse or the natural parent? Which assets belong to which spouse?

Working through these details can not only avoid future estate planning hassles but also help maintain healthy relationships between all parties involved.

To get started, work through these questions:

  • What do you want to happen when you die?
  • Who do you want to make decisions for you, if you can’t make them for yourself?
  • Who will provide for your kids?
  • Who will take over as guardian for any minors when you die—the surviving spouse or the natural parent? Do the kids get a say?
  • What are you going to do for your surviving spouse?
  • How do you want to provide for them?
  • Do you want to give them broad decision-making authority or would you rather limit it?
  • Do you and your present and/or former spouse have shared objectives?
  • Will you need two separate attorneys to handle your plans?
  • How open are you willing to be in the planning conversation with a past and/or present spouse and an attorney?
  • Do you live in a separate or community property state? (In a community property state, both spouses are typically considered equal owners of all marital property. In a separate property state, if your name appears on an asset—say a home mortgage—you are considered the owner, though your spouse has the right to claim a fair and equitable portion of those assets.)

When you sit down to think about these matters, keep in mind any wealth or age disparities between yourself and any future or former spouses. If remarrying, do you need a prenuptial agreement? If there’s a big age difference, who’s more likely to die first?

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to see happen, it’s important to work with a lawyer to formalize and structure your plans. Free online services are not sophisticated enough to deal with the complexities of blended family estate planning, Additionally, it’s important to work with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and has worked with blended families before.

A good, foundational estate plan can be costly, but it’s a bargain when you consider the benefits. Planning not only gives you peace of mind about what will happen to your assets when you’re gone but also allows you to preserve the peace with loved ones now.

Lawyers Have to be Mindful When Computing in the Cloud

Lawyers Have to Be Mindful When Computing in the Cloud

Lawyers can use “cloud computing” to provide software and store records but must take reasonable steps to ensure than information remains confidential, according to a suggested Bar ethics opinion. As the proposed opinion notes:

“Because cloud computing involves the use of a third party as a provider of services and involves the storage and use of data at a remote location that is also used by others outside an individual law firm, the use of cloud computing raises ethics concerns of confidentiality, competence, and proper supervision of nonlawyers.”

Cloud computing gives lawyers the ability to access records from laptops, tablets, and smartphones and also protects records from being lost if a law office is damaged by a hurricane or fire. But because the records and software are stored by a third party at a remote location, lawyers must work to see that the information and client confidences are protected.

Several other states, the proposed opinion says, have found that the use of cloud computing is ethically acceptable as long as precautions are taken. The opinion notes, for example, that the Iowa Bar described the goal as: “Lawyers must be able to access the lawyer’s own information without limit, others should not be able to access the information, but lawyers must be able to provide limited access to third parties to specific information, yet must be able to restrict their access to only that information.” New York listed three obligations for attorneys: Ensuring that the provider can preserve confidentiality and security, including informing the lawyer if there is a subpoena seeking information in those records; reviewing the provider’s security procedures; and using available technology to protect “against reasonably foreseeable” attempts to infiltrate the offsite records.

Cloud computing involves use of an outside service provider which provides computing software and data storage from a remote location that the lawyer accesses over the Internet via a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, or via an “app” on smart phones and tablets. The lawyer’s files are stored at the service provider’s remote server(s). The lawyer can thus access the lawyer’s files from any computer or smart device and can share files with others.

Software is purchased, maintained, and updated by the service provider. Many lawyers and others are computing “in the cloud” because of convenience and potential cost savings.

The main concern regarding cloud computing relates to confidentiality. Lawyers have an obligation to maintain as confidential all information that relates to a client’s representation, regardless of the source.

Rule 4¬1.6, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. A lawyer may not voluntarily disclose any information relating to a client’s representation without either application of an exception to the confidentiality rule or the client’s informed consent. Id. A lawyer has the obligation to ensure that confidentiality of information is maintained by nonlawyers under the lawyer’s supervision, including nonlawyers that are third parties used by the lawyer in the provision of legal services.

How is Child Support Calculated in Florida?

How is Child Support Calculated in Florida

The amount of child support that the one parent pays to the other parent is determined by the Florida Child Support Guidelines. There is a formula that is used to calculate the amount of child support to be paid by both the parents.

The children have the right to be supported by both parents. It is important that the proper numbers are input so that the correct child support amount is put into the order.

Child support is a legal duty paid by both parents. The child support is not for the personal use of the receiving parent. It is the children’s money and is to be used for their use only. Parents do not have the right to waive child support, it is for the children.

When calculating the proper child support amounts there are a number of factors to consider that affects the child support that is actually ordered by the court. Those include:

  • The amount of overnights that each parent has the children.
  • The financial needs of the children.
  • Day care expenses.
  • Medical and dental insurance.
  • Uninsured medical payments.
  • The income of both parents.

One of the main issues to consider in regards to child support is the amount of overnights that the non-custodial parent has the children in his or her custody. If the non-custodial parent has forty percent or more of the overnights during the course of the year, which is over 146 overnights, then the guidelines are calculated differently and a reduction of the non-custodial parents obligation.

Same-Sex Couples and Estate Planning: What All Couples Need to Know


The Supreme Court recently refused to hear appeals from states whose same-sex marriage bans had been struck down by the U.S. Circuit Courts. As a result, same-sex marriage is now legal in several states where it had previously been banned, either by state statute or by state constitutional amendment. (There are some exceptions. Idaho, for example, has a last-minute appeal pending.)

When it comes to estate planning, what does this mean? Essentially, same-sex couples now have legal rights they previously lacked, and in some cases, they’ll need to take steps to properly leverage those rights.

Here are just a few examples:

  • States that impose a state estate tax must now extend the state marital deduction to same-sex spouses.
  • Same-sex married couples must now be allowed to file joint state income tax returns.
  • States will have to extend survivorship rights to same-sex spouses when it comes to retirement plans, life insurance policies, financial accounts and other forms of property.
  • If one spouse becomes disabled, the remaining spouse will be recognized as the disabled person’s preferred medical decision maker. Similarly, if one spouse dies without an estate plan in place, default laws of descent and distribution—that is, the rules that govern which parties make decisions and ultimately receive the deceased’s property—must now account for a same-gendered spouse. However, without an enforceable estate plan in place, the estate will often end up in the probate court. Court fights may ensue, especially in families where the surviving same-sex spouse is estranged from his or her other family members.

Proactive estate planning is essential for all couples, and same-sex spouses are no exception. For any couples who have benefited from the recent news from the Supreme Court, it’s a good idea to meet with a local estate planner to learn about new benefits and potential challenges.

Avoiding the New Income Taxes: Trusts and Estates

Avoiding the New Income Taxes Trusts and Estates

The Importance of Trust and Estate Taxes Today

The trust is recognized as a separate taxable entity for federal income tax purposes and is governed by rules similar to that of individuals. It is an arrangement whereby a trustee is appointed to manage property for the benefit of beneficiaries. The estate or trust must file a return on Form 1041 if it has gross income of $600 or more. An estate or trust is generally regarded as a conduit with respect to its income and is allowed a deduction for the portion of income that is currently distributable or distributed to the beneficiaries. The income allocated to a beneficiary is taxed in the beneficiary’s hands and retains the same character that it had in the estate or trust.

The New Tax Law’s Impact on Trusts and Estates Income Taxes

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”) raised tax rates on individuals, estates and trusts. The maximum bracket increased from 35% to 39.6%. The capital gains bracket increased from 15% to 20%. For individuals, the maximum brackets are effective once taxable income exceeds $400,000 for an individual, and $450,000 for taxpayers married filing jointly. The threshold for head of household is $425,000 and for married couples filing separately $225,000.30.

The income tax rates for trusts and estates are extremely condensed. Once the estate or trust has taxable income in excess of $11,950 the maximum brackets of 39.6% for ordinary income and 20% for long-term capital gains applies. In addition, the 2010 health care law ushered in a complex new Medicare contribution tax of 3.8% on Net Investment Income (“NII”) in excess of certain thresholds.

Planning Options to Consider

Avoid condensed trust and estate brackets, utilize the beneficiary’s lower tax brackets and avoid the 3.8% surtax. By utilizing the beneficiary’s income tax brackets there may be an opportunity to not only avoid the 3.8% surtax, but to take advantage of the beneficiary’s lower tax brackets.

The key to achieving these results is to effectively utilize the special deduction available to estates and trusts for distributions to the beneficiary. Due to the fact that the estate and trust operate as a conduit, by distributing the income, including NII, to the lower bracket beneficiary substantial tax savings may result.

There are many unique aspects of trust and estate income taxation which will help lower the respective income taxes. Executors and trustees must adhere to fiduciary standards and owe duties of care and loyalty to all beneficiaries and participants in the estate and trust. Therefore, fiduciaries must be knowledgeable about the individual beneficiary circumstances as well as the overall structure of the entity. Drafting for suitable discretion will help the fiduciary better manage these considerations. Fiduciaries must carefully document the factors which they are considering and make their decisions accordingly.

Some Things You Need to Know About the FLLC

Some Things You Need toKnow About the FLLC

One popular yet confusing estate planning tool is the Family Limited Liability Company (“FLLC”). FLLCs are frequently created as part of an estate planning strategy used to facilitate gift giving to a person’s children and grandchildren. FLLCs are also used to shield assets from creditors.

As the name implies, a FLLC is a type of business. When used as an estate planning tool, a FLLC is a company owned by several family members. Members jointly own any assets transferred to the FLLC. In order to create a FLLC, family members must enter into a written agreement that outlines its terms and conditions.
A FLLC has various non-tax benefits. Through a FLLC, a family can consolidate family assets into one bundle which can more efficiently be managed, controlled, and passed on from generation to generation. Assets transferred through a FLLC can also be easily transferred and gifted, because ownership interests in the FLLC – known as “membership interests” – rather than individual assets are transferred to beneficiaries. If it is important that certain assets be kept in the family, an FLLC can help maintain this family ownership by providing family members with right of first refusal before an asset is traded or sold outside the family.

Importantly, not all members of a FLLC need to be afforded decision-making privileges. The decision-makers are managing members, while the non-decision-makers are simply members. The members, often children and grandchildren, do not have an automatic right to contribute to the management of the FLLC. Conversely, managing members exercise shared control over the FLLC. Managing members may manage the assets in the FLLC in any way they see fit, they may buy, sell, trade, and otherwise operate FLLC assets without the consent of the non-managing members.

Filing a Notice of Disagreement for Your Veterans Benefits

Filing a Notice of Disagreement for Your Veterans Benefits

The disability compensation program administered by the Veterans Benefits Administration provides monthly benefits in recognition of disabilities, diseases or injuries that occurred or were aggravated by active duty. There are a number of disability benefits available to veterans.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have greatly increased the amount of veterans filing disability claims. As the number of claims has increased, so have the wrongful denials and the backlog of claims requests.
When a Veteran files a claim for disability compensation and other veterans benefits, and is denied those benefits by the VA, the Veteran’s typically files a Notice of Disagreement or NOD.

You should file for a Decision Review Officer Hearing when filing your Notice of Disagreement. The purpose of the NOD is for a Veteran tell the VA that they disagrees with the Ratings Decision on the Veteran’s claim for disability benefits or other compensation. The Notice of Disagreement must be in terms which can be reasonably construed as disagreement with that determination and a desire for appellate review.

There is no official NOD form. Generally, the NOD can be a written statement on VA Form 21-4138, the Statement in Support of Claim.

Three specific pieces of information need to be in a Notice of Disagreement. They are:

  1. You need to let the VA know that you disagree with the decision of the VA Regional Office.
  2. You need to state that you intends to appeal the decision.
  3. The date of the decision that you disagree with.

Also, if you can specifically identify what part or parts of the Ratings Decision you disagree with and why you disagree, that will certainly help. A well written NOD can affect the outcome of the Decision Review Officer Conference.

You have one year from the date of the VA’s notice of its decision to file your NOD with the VA regional office. If you miss this deadline, you can only reopen your claim based on new and material evidence or establishing that the VA denial was the product of clear and unmistakable error, which is very difficult to prove.

Once the DRO has made a decision or has received your request for BVA consideration, the VA will issue a Statement of the Case. This document will explain the VA’s decision in detail.

If you have questions with your Veterans Beneffits please contact us, and let us help you.

Your Charitable Donations and the IRS

Your Charitable Donations and the IRS

Many people choose to lower their tax bill my making charitable contributions. There are certain steps that a person can take to be sure that their contributions are reflected on their tax returns.

First and foremost, be sure that you are contributing to a qualified organization. Keep in mind that ‘donations’ to individuals or certain political organizations are not charitable. If you are unsure of whether an organization is qualified, check IRS Publication 526.

If you receive any benefit for your donation, the value of that benefit does not count towards your deduction amount. This is because you received something in return for your money. For example, if you donate $100 to a charity and receive something valued at $50 in return, you can only deduct $50 as a charitable deduction. The fair market value of an item is the amount that you could reasonably sell it for on the open market.

If you wish to donate and deduct a purely monetary gift – such as one made through cash, check, or other monetary instrument – you will need a record of the transaction in order to deduct it. A bank record or a written letter or receipt from the organization with the details of the gift generally suffices. If you prove the gift through a letter, be sure the letter contains the name of the organization, the amount of the contribution, and the date. Taxpayers must itemize any deductions for charitable contributions on IRS Form 1040.

Do You Need to Audit Your Buy-Sell Agreement?

Do You Need to Audit Your Buy Sell Agreement

Your business is most likely a major asset and source of income to you and your family. However, it is probably not properly protected from life events of the co-owners.

Most business owners would be shocked to discover what happens to their business when “life happens” to one of the business co-owners. Many businesses have failed and many business owners have lost their business because the failure to have a comprehensive and updated Contingency Plan.

Can you afford to lose one of your major assets and significant source of income?

A Contingency Plan is what you would want to happen if something happens to one of the business’ co-owners. Most business owners would be shocked to discover what would actually happen.

Can you specifically say you would be comfortable explaining what would happen under the following circumstances?

You head into work just like any other day. Upon arriving, you hear the news that one of the co-owners:

  • Died
  • Had an accident/illness and is now in the hospital disabled and can no longer work
  • Spouse has filed for divorce
  • Is being sued personally
  • Is filing for bankruptcy
  • Quits
  • Needs to be fired
  • Just wants out of the business
  • Is ready to retire
  • Loses his/her professional license
  • Is using his/her equity in the company as collateral for financing a speculative investment
  • Doesn’t agree with you on the direction of the company and there is a deadlock
  • Wants to give his/her equity in the company to his/her son, the couch-potato
  • Has been approached by a major competitor who wants to buy out his/her shares in the company

One of the first thoughts you may have is “What does this mean to me and the business?” The answer to that question will depend greatly on your Contingency Plan. What is a Contingency Plan? It may be your documented “Plan B,” your “Business Owners Pre-Nup,” your “Back-Up Plan,” your “Pull Here in Case of Fire,” in other words, your Buy/Sell Agreement.

If you do not have a buy/sell agreement or if you have one and it doesn’t work, the results could be catastrophic. You could find yourself with a new partner, such as:

  • Your former partner’s spouse
  • Your former partner’s ex-spouse
  • A court appointed conservator
  • Your former partner’s children
  • A creditor of your former partner
  • A bankruptcy court trustee
  • A bank
  • One of your competitors
  • Some third party investor

Most of the people named in the above list won’t care about your company. They only care about maximizing their bottom-line. Usually they will do this by attempting to force the business to dissolve and liquidate its assets or by forcing you into buying out their interest at an inflated price.

Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween Safety Tips

Safety Tips for Motorists

  • All motorists need to be especially alert and cautious when driving on Halloween because of the high number of pedestrians walking the streets.
  • Watch for children darting out from between parked cars.
  • Watch for children walking on roadways, medians and curbs.
  • Enter and exit driveways and alleys carefully.
  • At twilight and later in the evening, watch for children in dark clothing.
  • Never use your cell phone while driving.
  • Discourage teens from driving on Halloween. There are too many hazards and distractions for inexperienced drivers.


All children under the age of 12 should be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult. Before trick-or-treating, parents should:

  • Instruct your children to travel only in familiar, well-lit areas and avoid trick-or-treating alone.
  • Tell your children not to eat any treats until they return home.
  • Teach your children to never enter a stranger’s home.
  • Agree on a specific time for your children to come home.
  • Give your children flashlights with fresh batteries to help them see and for others to see them.
  • Make sure your child or a responsible adult with them carries a cell phone for quick communication.
  • Review all appropriate pedestrian and traffic safety rules with your children.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street and use established crosswalks whenever possible.
  • Walk, do not run, from house to house.
  • Do not cross yards and lawns where unseen objects or the uneven terrain can present tripping hazards and never walk near lit candles or luminaries.
  • Walk on sidewalks, not in the street. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the far edge of the road facing traffic.

Children will be anxious to stuff themselves with treats, but parents need to take these necessary precautions first:

  • Insist that treats be brought home for inspection before anything is eaten, then examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before your children eat them.
  • Give children an early meal before going out to prevent them from filling up on
  • Halloween treats or eating anything before you can inspect it.
  • Only let your children eat factory-wrapped treats. Avoid homemade treats unless you know the cook well.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

5 Things You Need to Know About Inherited Retirement Accounts

5 Things You Need to Know About Inherited Retirement Accounts

Will my beneficiaries owe taxes on the retirement accounts I pass down to them?

Probably. Assets like life insurance, real estate, vehicles and non-retirement investment accounts are not counted as income when they’re inherited. Retirement accounts, however? They’re “income in respect of a decedent,” and any amounts withdrawn from non-Roth accounts are subject to income tax at the beneficiary’s ordinary income tax rate.

Are all retirement accounts treated the same way?

No. Beneficiaries who are left employer-sponsored plans, like 401(k)s and pensions, are often subject to more limitations and requirements than those who inherit IRAs.
Often, the employer-sponsored plan will require account withdrawal within five years of the account owner’s death, even if the beneficiary doesn’t need or want to withdraw money from the account. All withdrawals by the beneficiary are subject to income tax.

IRAs, by contrast, can almost always be stretched out over the life expectancy of the beneficiary, allowing continued tax-deferred growth in the account and reducing the beneficiary’s immediate tax liability. (Note that many employer-sponsored plans require the balance to be distributed to an inherited IRA when the account owner dies, effectively extending the “stretch out” treatment to those accounts.)

Who should I designate as my beneficiary?

Many people name their spouse as their primary beneficiary and then designate their children or other individuals as contingent beneficiaries. While this approach will usually avoid probate proceedings, it doesn’t provide any level of preservation or protection for the inherited accounts. It’s also essential to make sure that the beneficiary designations match the individual’s broader estate planning objectives.
The smarter approach? Often, it makes more sense to leave the retirement account to a carefully designed trust, which can provide ongoing benefits to spouses, children and other beneficiaries. Holding the account in a trust also provides protection against beneficiaries’ creditors.

Why should I use a trust? Is it risky?

In most cases, passing a retirement account to beneficiaries via a trust provides an increased level of protection and flexibility. A trust that is specifically designed to receive retirement account balances allows the account to continue growing, on a tax-deferred basis, for as long as possible. It also protects the inherited balance from the beneficiary’s creditors and allows for distribution in accordance with the deceased account holder’s wishes.

However, due to the income tax treatment of inherited retirement accounts, retirement trusts must be carefully drafted. If set up incorrectly, a trust could require the entire inherited account balance to be paid out within five years of the account owner’s death. In that case, long-term, tax-deferred growth of the funds would be lost, and beneficiaries would be faced with a substantial (and unexpected) income tax bill.
Additionally, the funds would be subject to the claims of any of the beneficiaries’ bankruptcy or judgment creditors.

How do I get started?

Your estate planning attorney can review your retirement plan’s documentation and work with you to make sure the account is distributed in a way that’s consistent with your overall estate planning objectives. A good attorney can also help ensure that beneficiary designation forms are written correctly and, if needed, help to properly set up a retirement trust.

What are the Key Elements of a Business Contract?

What are the Key Elements of a Business Contract

Business contracts are comprised of several key elements. These elements are included to make sure that all of the contents of the contract are legally binding. The key business contract elements also help to prevent misunderstandings that could occur if they were omitted. The key elements of a business contact are:

The parties. The contract must clearly and specifically identify the parties to the agreement. If one of the parties is a corporation
or other business entity, that must be so stated. The roles of the parties must also be specified, indicating who is the seller and who is the buyer. One party is usually the business that is paying for a product or service. An owner or manager typically includes her name in the payee spot. The other party is the service company or supplier. Each party must be giving something of value in return for receiving something of value, which is legally known as mutual consideration.

The agreement. Legally called the consideration, the agreement could be only a sentence or two in length. It includes a general statement of what the service or product provider is expected to do for the buyer. The agreement also indicates whether other parties are expected to complete part of the work.

Terms. More detailed information about the deal is included in the terms section of the business contract. This section spells out exactly what services or products are expected from the company doing the work. The terms section also includes the price, details of the payment, the length of the contract and when the services or products will be delivered. Some business contracts also include special terms, such as whether the contract can be canceled for any particular reason. For example, contracts that violate public policy or are not signed voluntarily are voidable, according to “Reference for Business” online. Special terms of a business contract also can indicate whether the buying party may transfer the contract to someone else.

The date. The date usually appears in at least two areas: within the contract where both parties entered their names or business names and next to each parties’ signatures. A date also might appear at the top of the contract, indicating when the contract was created. Businesses or lawyers who create business contracts usually include the date the transaction takes place at the top of the contract.

Signatures. The business contract must be signed by both parties. This indicates that the buyer accepts the payment conditions and the seller agrees to complete the work. The parties must document their consent to the terms and clauses of the contract by means of a signature. In the case of a business entity, this often requires the placement of the entity’s official seal on the contract. This is all referred to legally as the contract execution. Sometimes the contract execution will also be witnessed as indicated by the seal of a third-party notary.

Is a Holiday Time Sharing Agreement Required?

Is a Holiday Time Sharing Agreement Required

The holidays are quickly approaching, and for some families, that means pulling out the Parenting Plan. Holiday time sharing schedules in family law vary from case to case, but generally there is a premise that parents should have equal time sharing during the holidays. The major holidays that are almost always addressed in a parenting plan are summer vacation, Spring Break, Thanksgiving, Christmas and or Chanukah and the parents and children’s birthdays. Other holidays such as Halloween, the 4th of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day Weekends also need to be addressed.

A recent case from the Second District Court of Appeals addressed whether it is mandatory to include holiday time sharing in parenting plans that are court ordered. In Mills v. Mills, the trial court did not order holiday time sharing when it entered a parenting plan for the parties. The appellate court found that to be clear error. The appellate court stated, “where visitation is ordered, the non-custodial parent’s right to the child on rotating holidays has become so routine and necessary that to deny it requires factual findings justifying that decision.” The trial court found that the parties have a very contentious parenting relationship. The appellate court found that, given this contentious relationship, it would be particularly imperative for the trial court to recommend a holiday time sharing schedule. The appellate court overturned the trial court’s parenting plan and directed the trial court to enter a plan that has a holiday time sharing schedule. They reasoned that the parents were not capable of working out a holiday schedule amongst themselves because of their prior relationship problems.

Most parenting plans have the parties rotate the entire holiday each year. On occasion, some parents prefer to split the holiday equally every year, which would require an exchange of the children during the middle of the holiday.

Here are some tips to minimize holiday time sharing issues:

  • Make sure to review the date and time of exchange for time sharing. Letting your child(ren) know several weeks in advance, may help the transition be smootehr. Perhaps, send the other parent a friendly confirmation of the exchange.
  • For some parents, this time of year is filled with fear or suspicions of child abduction. If this is the case, please contact your attorney to discuss your well-reasoned concerns. It might be time to modify your parenting plan or move forward to keep your child in the country or state.
  • Many parents are also faced with crying child(ren) who do not want to go with the noncustodial parent. Legally, you must follow court orders, but it might be time to talk with your child as to why. You might have to discuss with your attorney about what you can do for the future.
  • Sometimes your child(ren) are going out of state to visit the other parent. Should this happen to you, make sure you have a copy of the itinerary, contact numbers, and address of where they will stay.
  • If you know that the other parent have family visiting from out of town but the child(ren) are supposed to be returned by 6:00 p.m., it doesn’t hurt to let them stay an extra hour or two. This might be the only time of year your child(ren) gets to see their other side of the family.

Do You Need a Buy-Sell Agreement?

Do You Need a Buy Sell Agreement

As a business owner, you should know about buy-sell agreements. A closely held or family business could face a lot of financial and tax problems on an owner’s death, incapacitation, divorce, bankruptcy, sale or retirement, without one.

The cost of a buy-sell is very small compared to its benefits. A buy-sell agreement can ward off bickering by family members, co-owners and spouses, keep the business afloat so its goodwill and customer base remain intact, and avoid liquidity problems that often arise on these major events.

A buy-sell agreement makes sense for any business entity, including corporations, partnerships, LLCs and even proprietorships
. How much you need a buy-sell depends on how many owners there are and who else might be waiting in the wings with a financial stake in the business.

Cross Purchase vs. Redemption. One type of agreement is a cross-purchase: If you or Joe dies, becomes disabled, goes bankrupt, etc., the other can buy his share. With a redemption style agreement, the business itself would make the purchase so the owners don’t individually go out of pocket.

The price might be fixed, determined by appraisal or formula. The price might be paid in cash or installments over time. There can be different terms for different events, one price and terms for retirement, one for disability, and one for death.

Insurance features obviously in many buy-sell agreements. You don’t have to use insurance, but it can ensure there’s cash available when the time comes. For example, whether you or your partner dies first, a life insurance policy on each of you can fund the buyout so your business stays afloat and so spouses and heirs are bought out as agreed.

You may find it difficult to face these issues and to make some of the myriad decisions. But just about any buy-sell agreement is better than none. Besides, one of the beauties of the process is that buy-sell agreements are reciprocal. No one knows for sure if you or Joe will be the first to go by death, disability, or retirement. That reciprocal nature makes negotiating and agreeing on these issues easier than you might think.

Having a business or tax lawyer to help you in buy-sell agreements to help you choose the right type and draft it. But these agreements can be surprisingly simple and may cost as little as a few thousand dollars. Whatever you spend on a buy-sell, it will be worth it for what you can save.

Some Common Misconceptions about Living Trusts

Some Common Misconceptions about Living Trusts

People often hear things about living trusts from friends, family members and the media, and just assume they are true without taking the time to check them out. Here are some common misconceptions—and the facts:

  • A living trust is expensive. A well-drafted living trust will have a higher initial cost than a will. But when comparing costs the true cost of a will should include the costs of probate when you die, the costs of a conservatorship if you become incapacitated and the costs of a guardianship if you leave assets to a minor child. There may be some costs associated with transferring your assets to your trust when you set it up, but there are frequently similar costs associated with properly titling assets when a will is used as the primary estate planning document. Properly titling assets is essential to either a well-drafted living trust plan or a well-drafted will centered estate plan. When you compare the total costs of both plans, the living trust centered plan will frequently be less.
  • Trusts are for wealthy people and I don’t own that much. Trusts have been around for hundreds of years, but because they were used mostly by the wealthy who needed special tax planning, it’s easy to see how trusts got that reputation. In recent years, however, the benefits of a revocable living trust for all size estates have become more known and desired. Generally speaking, costs for probate and court conservatorships/guardianships (which a living trust can avoid) take a higher percentage from smaller estates, which can least afford it, than from larger ones. In addition to the cost savings, most people choose a living trust because they want to spare their loved ones the hassle of dealing with the courts.
  • Most people end up going through probate anyway so a living trust is a waste of money.If your living trust is properly prepared and assets are properly titled, your assets will not go through probate. There are only three reasons why your assets would go through probate: 1) you didn’t transfer all of your assets into it; 2) your trust is not properly written (you need the services of an experienced attorney to do that); 3) you do not have a revocable living trust. (A trust that is part of your will is not a living trust and will not avoid probate; it can only go into effect after your will is probated.)
  • I would have to give up control over my assets. If you are your own trustee, as most people choose to be, you will be able to do anything with your assets that you could do before they were in the trust: buy/sell, change your trust or even cancel your trust. If you name someone else to be your trustee, you (and, generally, your beneficiaries later on) can replace the trustee if you are not satisfied. Trustees must follow the instructions in the trust or they can be held legally liable. You decide when your loved ones will receive their inheritances; your trustee can make periodic distributions, but assets that remain in your trust are protected from irresponsible spending, creditors, even divorce proceedings. Bottom line: a living trust lets you keep full control over your assets while you are living, if you become incapacitated and after you die.
  • I would have to pay trustee fees. As long as you are your own trustee, you do not pay any management fees. Successor trustees are entitled to receive a fee, but family members often do not take one. If you choose a professional trustee, they will only charge a fee when they start to act for you; usually it is a small percentage of the trust assets and, given all the services they provide, most people find the fee to be reasonable.
  • I’d have to have a separate tax ID number and file a separate tax return. While you are living, you continue to use your own social security number and file your normal tax return. (The IRS considers a living trust to be a non-event because it can be canceled at any time.) Only if your trust will continue after you die will it then need a separate tax ID number and tax return.

3 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore: Spotting Elder Abuse

3 Signs You Shouldnt Ignore Spotting Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, elder abuse in elder care facilities and nursing homes is very real, and not uncommon. Those who have a family member or loved one in an elder care facility or nursing home need to be aware of any warning signs of abuse.

  1. One of the most common signs of elder abuse is decubitus ulcers, or “bedsores.” Unless a physician has indicated that bedsores are unavoidable, a person who enters an elder care facility or nursing home without bedsores should not develop them during their stay. Bedsores are very painful and, when left untreated, can cause serious infection and death.
  2. Another sign of elder abuse is unexplained injuries. Common injuries such as skin tears, bruises, and fractured bones may be caused by inadequate care. These injuries often occur when an elderly person is carelessly transported to and from his or her bed. Many of these injuries are entirely avoidable with proper staffing.
  3. Beyond physical abuse, elder citizens may also suffer mental abuse at elder care facilities and nursing homes. Mental abuse occurs when facility employees speak to patients in a way that is belittling, derogatory, intimidating, or disrespectful. Although mental abuse does not leave any physical marks, it may cause senior citizens to become inexplicably withdrawn from activities they normally enjoy, or become unusually depressed.

It is important to be alert for any indication that something may be wrong. Many senior citizens unfortunately suffer in silence, because they cannot communicate their situation to their loved ones. Pay close attention for markings of physical abuse, and also unexplained changes in mood or behavior. If you sense that something is wrong, communicate your concerns with a manager of the elder care facility or nursing home.

Relocation in Family Law Cases

Relocation in Family Law Cases

In Florida, a custodial parent who wants to move with the child more than 50 miles away, for any period longer than 60 days, must notify the other parent before moving. If the noncustodial parent agrees to the move, the parents must file a written agreement with the court. If the parents can’t agree, the judge will hold a hearing and decide whether to allow the move. If the court views the move as negatively impacting the children or their relationship with the other parent, the judge may not approve the relocation.

If both parents agree to the move, they may file a written agreement with the court that includes the noncustodial parent’s consent to the move, any proposal to modify the visitation schedule, and any arrangements the parents have made for transportation in order to effect the visitation. The court will also require that the move be approved by anyone else with visitation rights (such as a grandparent).

The relocating parent may want to offer longer periods of visitation be given to the other parent. This could be extended time during spring or summer breaks and will be seen in a favorable light by the family court judge.
Even if the parents agree on everything, the court must approve the relocation proposal before the custodial parent may move.

If the noncustodial parent doesn’t agree to the move, the custodial parent must file a petition for relocation with the court. The petition must include:

  • The physical location, mailing address, and telephone number of the new home (if known)
  • The date of the proposed move
  • The specific reasons for the move (a parent who is moving to accept a job offer that has been put in writing must include a copy of the offer with the petition)
  • A proposal for parenting and visitation schedules after the move, along with transportation arrangements, and
  • A notice telling the other parent how to object to the petition and the consequences of failing to do so

If the noncustodial parent fails to respond to the petition, the judge will presume the move is in the child’s best interests and will allow it, absent good cause to do otherwise. If the noncustodial parent responds, the court will hold a hearing or trial to decide the issue.

Family court judges in Florida always rule in favor of what is in the children’s best interests. If moving away from friends and family will be a traumatic experience for them, the court may not allow the move. Parents who want to relocate and obtain the court’s permission have to make a compelling case to convince the judge that relocating will have a positive effect on the family. Some factors that the judge will consider are:

  • The child’s relationship with the parent who wants to move, the other parent, siblings, and other people who are important to the child
  • How the move will impact the child’s mental, physical and emotional development, taking into consideration the child’s age and any special needs the child has
  • If the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent can be preserved by making alternate arrangements for visitation
  • The preference of the child, if appropriate
  • How the relocation will enhance both the lives of the parent and child
  • The reasons for relocation, such as better educational or employment opportunities
  • The reasons why the noncustodial parent objects to the relocation
  • Any history of domestic abuse

A parent who wants to move in order to deprive the noncustodial parent of visitation rights or to get revenge on the ex-spouse will not fare well in court, nor will a noncustodial parent who objects to the move but has failed to meet other parental obligations, like paying child support or have failed to exercise existing visitation rights.

Drafting a Standard Contract Form Favoring Your Business

Drafting a Contract Form Favoring Your Business

Your company should have a standard form contract that you use when dealing with customers or clients. Every contract can be tailored to be more favorable to one side or the other. You can start with your form of contract, and your clients can agree and sign or request changes be made. Working with a lawyer who is experienced with the right wording to use, can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Some key items to come up with your form of contract are:

  • Get sample contracts of what other people do in the industry, you don’t need to re-invent a contract.
  • Make sure you have an experienced business lawyer doing the drafting, one that already has good forms to start with.
  • Make sure you make it look like a standard form pre-printed contract with typeface and font size.
  • Don’t make it so ridiculously long that the other side will throw up their hands when they see it.
  • Make sure you have clearly spelled out pricing, when payment is due, and what penalties or interest is owed if payment isn’t made.
  • Try to limit warranties when possible, about products and services.
  • Include limitations on your liability if the product or service doesn’t meet expectations.
  • Include a “force majeure” clause relieving you from breach if unforeseen events occur.
  • Include a clause on how disputes will be resolved. Our preference is for confidential binding arbitration in front of one arbitrator.

You Don’t Have to Treat Your Children Equally in Your Estate Planning

You Dont Have to Treat Your Children Equally in Your Estate Planning

Most parents want to treat their children fairly in their estate planning, and many assume that means having their children inherit equally. But fair does not necessarily mean equal. There may be special circumstances to consider before you divide the family pie into equal parts. For example:

  • You may want to leave more to your son who struggles to support his family on a modest teacher’s salary than to your daughter who is a successful professional, married well and has chosen not to have children.
  • You may want to compensate a child who has given up part of his/her own life to care for you.
  • You may have a much younger child who will need care longer than your older children.
  • You may have a special needs child who will need care for his/her lifetime.
  • You may have one child who has joined the family business and other children who have not. Instead of making them all equal owners in the business, you may want to leave the business to the one who has shown an interest and compensate the others with other assets and/or life insurance.

Distribution of Their Inheritances May Also Vary
Not only do you need to decide how much each should receive, but also when they will receive it—and that can be different for each one, too. You can distribute their inheritances in one lump sum or in installments, or you can keep an inheritance in a trust. Consider how much the inheritance is, their ages and family situation, how they have handled their own money, and how much they need your money. For example:

  • If your children are already older and they have shown some responsibility with their own money, then you may be fine with them inheriting a lump sum.
  • If you have an adult child who is struggling to buy a home, then you may want to provide a distribution immediately upon your death and distribute the rest later.
  • If your children are younger adults, you may want them to inherit in installments to give them several chances to become responsible with money.

Benefits of Keeping Inheritances in a Trust
These days, many parents do not distribute inheritances at all and decide to keep the money in a trust for their children. Your trustee can make periodic distributions based on guidelines you provide, but assets that stay in the trust are protected from irresponsible spending, creditors (bankruptcy and divorce), and predators (those with undue influence on your child). Circumstances that might warrant this:

  • You have a child who is irresponsible with money or has dependency issues.
  • You are concerned that a current or future marriage might end in divorce, and you do not want the ex-spouse to receive part of the inheritance in the divorce settlement.
  • Your child is easily influenced by others who may encourage irresponsible spending.
  • You are concerned the inheritance may be exposed to possible future lawsuits or creditors.

Benefits of Making Some Distributions Now
If you can afford it, you may want to consider giving your children some of their inheritance now, while you are living. Of course, you first need to make sure you have enough to provide for you and your spouse if you are married.

But if your spouse is much younger (for example, if this is a second marriage), your children may never see their inheritances if they have to wait for the surviving spouse to die.

The benefit to you is that you will be able to see the results of your gifts—seeing your children buy a home, start a business or be able to stay at home and raise your grandchildren; or seeing your grandchildren go to college—and know this may not have happened without your help. Also, any gifts you make now will reduce the amount of estate taxes that may be due at your death.

Should They Inherit Everything You Own?
Most parents want to leave their children enough that they can do anything they want, but not so much that they will do nothing at all. You don’t have to leave everything to your children. If you have sizeable assets, you can set up trusts for your grandchildren and future generations. You can also make contributions to charitable, educational and religious organizations.

How to Be a Good Client

How to Be a Good Law Client

Hiring an attorney can be a little scary. If you are like most people, you don’t have much experience with lawyers and legal issues. Sometimes we need them though. Meeting with lawyers to find out which one is best for you can be intimidating.

Working with an attorney is a genuine relationship, requiring mutual trust, understanding and cooperation. While plenty of people have tried to define what makes a good lawyer, few have taken the time to try to define what makes a good client.

Here are a few things you can do to be a good client:

Maintain Reasonable Expectations: Remember that your lawyer can only operate within the law in your State, and is constrained by that law and the Court in which you find yourself. Also, always keep in mind that each case is fact specific. Let your attorney help set your expectations based on their knowledge and experience, and trust them when they give you the range of possible resolutions.

Always Be Honest: Your attorney will be able to most effectively protect you if you tell the truth. Don’t withhold information from your attorney and don’t try to strategically keep secrets from him. When in doubt, always err on the side of telling your attorney something rather than keeping it to yourself. If your attorney knows all of the relevant facts, they can prepare for and address them. It’s best not to surprise them the day of court.

Be flexible: People don’t being wrong, and many clients want a judge or jury to tell them they were right all along. But, nobody can predict what the court will decide in any given case. Two different judges can hear the exact same evidence and come up with different results. In court, you take your chances, and you never know for certain what will happen.

Always have open lines of communication: When it comes to the facts of your situation, your attorney only knows what you tell him or her. Make sure that you’re communicating regularly and keeping your attorney apprised of any incidents or exchanges that might be relevant to your case. Sticking your head in the sand will only hurt your case and make it harder for your attorney to protect you.

Be Organized: Keep emails, invoices, and all other documents that are be related to your case. Make sure to send updated copies to your attorney as well. The Court appreciates when there is documentary evidence to support your position and it makes you attorney’s presentation more compelling.

What is Naturalization?

What is Naturalization

Naturalization is the legal process through which a foreign citizen or national can become a U.S. citizen. Naturalization is the only way to become a U.S. citizen if you were not born a U.S. citizen or did not acquire citizenship immediately after birth.

In order to be naturalized, an applicant must first be qualified to apply for citizenship. Then, he or she must complete an application, attend an interview, and pass an English and a civics test. Upon successful completion of these steps, the applicant takes an oath of loyalty, and becomes a citizen. These legal requirements help the immigration service ensure that only those people who are sincere in their desire to become Americans become naturalized.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that applicants for naturalization must be:

  • At least eighteen years old.
  • A lawful permanent resident of the United States.
  • Resident and physically present in the United States for at least five years at the time of application.
  • Of good moral character.
  • An attachment to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
  • A favorable disposition toward the U.S.
  • An ability to read, write, and speak English.

The residency requirement has some exceptions for time outside the country that your attorney can explain in detail.

The naturalization process can take an average of six months from the time you apply. To ensure that your application is not returned to you before it is fully evaluated, be sure all of the information requested is included with you application. You will also need current photographs taken, have your fingerprints taken, be interviewed and take the Oath of Allegiance.

As a naturalized citizen you are given certain privileges, such as the rights to:

  • Register and vote;
  • Hold a U.S. passport
  • Serve on a jury

Successfully naturalizing in the United States requires a thorough understanding of the steps involved, and careful preparation at each stage. If you or a loved one are considering becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney.

Mediation in Divorce

Mediation in Divorce

Mediation is the process where the mediator helps parties to achieve an agreement. The parties meet with the mediator, with or without their attorneys. Usually, the parties separate into two rooms, called a “caucus”, so that they can discuss the issues more comfortably. The mediator will go back and forth between rooms to communicate any offers or possibilities of agreement.

The role of the mediator is to help the parties; in communication, problem solving, offering solutions, identifying needs, making decisions, and evaluating choices. The mediator is a disinterested unbiased non-judgmental skilled person who offers the parties an opportunity to make their own agreements in a comfortable atmosphere by meaningful respectful discussions regarding the challenges the parties are facing. The mediator is not there to give legal advice. Even legally trained mediators, who also practice family law, cannot give legal advice. Before signing any agreement made through mediation each party will have the opportunity to discuss their case with a lawyer privately. The mediator does not make a decision on behalf of the parties or decide who is telling a lie or telling the truth. Mediation is not a substitute for therapy or other professional care and advice.

Mediation sessions usually take two to six hours, when attorneys are present, because the attorney’s and the parties usually try to wrap things up in one meeting. Sometimes mediation takes several sessions. Private mediation usually takes several sessions of approximately one to two hours. Though that may seem like a long time, mediation is substantially less costly, less time consuming, and less stressful as compared to litigation. In mediation, the parties can make agreements and decisions that the Court cannot because courts are limited to the law from statutes and prior case law. In court, you are limited by the time allowed and by the decision. In mediation, you have more flexibility and time for specificity. In court, you never know what the result will be. Mediation is also helpful to see things from the other side’s point of view. By seeing things from a different light, solutions may present themselves.

Divorce involves highly personal issues, the resolution of which is likely to be frustrated by arguments, hurt feelings, and lengthy, expensive litigation. Even if a resolution is ultimately reached, the conflict, the time, and the expense involved may not be in the best interests of the parents and are almost certainly not in the best interests of any children involved.

Those who resolve their divorce, alimony, child support, child custody, and other family law matters through mediation can achieve the following:

  • Avoiding emotionally-charged confrontations
  • Finding solutions that are fair to both parents and in the best interests and welfare of their children
  • Remaining more satisfied with the arrangements reached by working together, than those that might be imposed by a judge

What is Cram Down in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

What is Cram Down in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

A Cram Down in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to reduce the principal balance of a debt to the value of the property it is secured by. You may be able to save your car, investment real estate, or certain other properties, by taking advantage of a Chapter 13 Cram Down.

You are allowed to cram down certain secured debts. A debt is considered secured when your lender has a security interest in your property and can repossess it if you fail to make your loan payments. The most common examples of a secured debt are your mortgage and car loan. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can cram down your car loan, investment property mortgages, or other personal property (besides real estate) loans such as household goods and furnishings. You can’t cram down a mortgage on your principal place of residence.

Cramming down your loans through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy may also allow you to reduce your interest rate and stretch your payments out over a longer term in order to lower your monthly obligations. The interest rate paid to secured creditors through your plan is determined by the bankruptcy court and will usually be lower than your note rate. In addition, since Chapter 13 plans last three to five years, you may be able to stretch out the payment period for the crammed down loan, resulting in lower monthly payments than if you were paying the loan outside the bankruptcy.

Congress has placed certain restrictions on when you can use a cram down to prevent people from cramming down their recent purchases. These restrictions depend on what kind of property is securing the debt you wish to cram down.

910-Day Rule – If you want to cram down your car loan, you must have purchased the car at least 910 days prior to the bankruptcy, that’s about 2 and a half years. This prevents people from buying a new car and cramming down the loan right soon after driving it off the lot.

One-Year Rule – This rule is similar to the 910-day rule for cars but it applies to all other personal property. It is usually relevant if you are trying to cram down loans on your household goods and requires that the goods be purchased at least one year prior to the bankruptcy before a cram down is allowed.

Investment Property Mortgages – Most courts require that loans that are crammed down be paid off within the three to five year length of your Chapter 13 plan. This creates a practical problem for most people who want to cram down their investment property mortgages because they do not have the means to pay off a mortgage (even a crammed down one) in this short of a time period.

Have You Been Postponing Your Estate Planning?

Have You Been Postponing Your Estate Planning

Unfortunately, a lot of people haven’t participated in any meaningful estate planning. Most will readily admit it is something they need to do, but they keep putting it off. Why? Here are some of the more common reasons why we procrastinate about estate planning—and some information that just might get you moving.

  • It’s expensive. Granted, a lot of people don’t have extra money lying around these days. But not doing anything can end up costing your loved ones much more than it would cost you to plan now. If you own assets in your name and you become incapacitated due to illness or injury, you (your assets and your care) will likely be placed in a court guardianship. This is not free. All costs (attorney fees, accounting fees, court costs, etc.) will be paid from your assets, and your family will probably have to ask the court for an allowance if they need money for living expenses.

This process does not replace probate when you die; your family will have to go through the court system again, and that means more expenses and less for your family. Your assets will be distributed according to your state’s laws, which probably won’t be what you would have wanted.

Estate planning does not have to be expensive. Find a reasonable attorney who can help you get started with some basic documents. Upgrade to a living trust later if you can’t afford it now. You may even be able to pay the attorney over time.

  • I don’t own enough. Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. In fact, costs for a court guardianship and probate usually take a higher percentage from smaller estates (which can least afford it) than from larger ones. Whatever you do own, you probably would rather see it go to your loved ones than to courts and attorneys.
  • I’m not old enough. Estate planning is not just for “old people.” For some reason, young people think they are going to live forever. The reality is that any of us, at any age, can become incapacitated or die due to an illness, injury, accident or random act of violence. Almost every day we read about someone whose life was cut short or changed dramatically in an instant.
  • It’s confusing; I don’t know what to do. Uncertainty and indecision can be paralyzing. Attorneys are called “counselors at law” for a reason. An experienced estate planning attorney knows what other families have been through, knows what has worked well and what hasn’t. He or she can also help you understand the process and make challenging decisions easier.

Why do we need to do estate planning? To make sure our assets will go to the people we want to have them with the least amount of delay, hassle and expense; to keep our families from having to deal with the courts if we become incapacitated and when we die; to let our families know that we care about them, that we want to provide for them and protect them. Yes, we do it for those we love. But we get a huge benefit, too—and that’s peace of mind.

Cash Balance Plans for Closely Held Businesses

Cash Balances Plans for Closely Held Businesses

Investing for retirement can be problematic for professionals in partnerships or other types of closely held firms. These individuals tend to spend their early careers focused on building their business. By the time they are ready to start saving money for retirement, standard retirement saving vehicles such as 401(k) plans can shelter only a small portion of their income. The rest is subject to taxes, often in the highest brackets.

Cash balance plans can help. A type of defined benefit retirement plan, cash balance plans have much higher annual contribution
limits than 401(k)s—nearly 10 times higher for older individuals, enabling participants to build substantial tax-deferred accounts. If individuals earn enough to take advantage of these contributions, they can accumulate secure retirement portfolios much more quickly than with traditional retirement plans. For this reason, the plans tend to be most popular with firms of relatively highly paid professionals, such as law firms, accounting firms, and medical and dental practices—although any type of business may find them attractive.

To get the most out of cash balance plans, firms need to make well-informed decisions about their plans’ terms and investment strategy, which can have a big impact on a plan’s relative success. Too often, firms make these decisions without a full analysis of their ramifications.

The chief attraction of cash balance plans is clear: greater potential for building tax-deferred wealth. By sheltering income from taxes when it is earned and allowing the invested assets to compound without taxes, these plans allow participants’ wealth to grow at a faster rate. If income taxes rise in the near future, as many expect, this tax-deferral feature may become even more attractive. One other attraction of cash balance plans has nothing to do with investment potential. It is the fact that a firm’s defined benefit plan is protected from the firm’s creditors. In today’s litigious world, a cash balance plan is one way to protect partners’ assets.

Cash balance plans are especially popular with professional practices, whether in the fields of law, accounting, medicine, or dentistry. But any closely held business may find the plans appealing, assuming the firm has:

  • A 401(k) and/or profit-sharing plan in place. Closely held firms should take full advantage of their ability to create 401(k) plans and/or profit-sharing plans before creating cash balance plans. Although their annual contribution limits are smaller, these types of plans are relatively simple and inexpensive to create.
  • Partners with substantial discretionary income to save. Cash balance plans, for the most part, are most effective when partners can take full advantage of their maximum contribution limits.
  • Relatively steady cash flow. Once created, cash balance plans require annual contributions, regardless of the company’s fortunes. Unlike 401(k) plans, contributions cannot be suspended in tough times. Therefore, anyone considering a cash balance plan should be relatively confident that there will be sufficient income to support the plan on an ongoing basis.

Workers Compensation Requirements in Florida

Workers Compensation Requirements in Florida

Workers’ compensation is a major expense for most Florida businesses. It is important for employers to understand their duties and responsibilities under Florida law. When workers’ compensation insurance is purchased as required by Florida law, business owners are protected from being sued, except for under special circumstances, when an employee gets hurt or ill at the workplace, Under workers’ compensation, when an employee gets hurt on the job, the insurance company will pay all medical bills and partial wage replacement for the employee.

All businesses in Florida, with 4 or more employees, full-time or part-time, must have workers’ compensation insurance. Corporate officers count as employees unless the officer has been issued an exemption.

All construction industry businesses must have Workers’ Compensation, unless the business owners have exemptions and there are no employees. The owner is included unless they specifically file for an exemption.

Florida State and local governments are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.

Farmers who have more than five regular employees and/or twelve or more additional workers for seasonal agricultural labor lasting thirty (30) days or more are also required to carry workers’ compensation coverage.

The rule used to be that only the owners of a business can file for exemption, which means they don’t need to pay for Workers’ Compensation coverage, because they wouldn’t sue themselves. Florida Statutes have been amended to include Limited Liability Company (LLC) members as employees. LLC members will be included on their Workers’ Compensation insurance policy; however, they may elect to be exempt by filing a Notice of Election to Be Exempt with the Division of Workers’ Compensation.

Florida State and local governments are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.

Farmers who have more than five regular employees and/or twelve or more additional workers for seasonal agricultural labor lasting thirty (30) days or more are also required to carry workers’ compensation coverage.

What are Some Common Types of Fraud?

What are Some Common Types of Fraud

Nobody likes being tricked, mislead or ripped off. In fact, it’s illegal. It’s fraud, and that’s a crime.

Here are some common types of fraud you’re apt to encounter on any given day and ways to avoid them:

  • Website Misdirection. Buying online can be dangerous, even from trusted retailers. It’s not that those companies are bad,
    but sophisticated hackers have found ways to mimic these companies’ checkout pages so when you go to pay for your purchase, you’re unknowingly giving your credit card information to someone else. Whenever you reach a checkout page, make sure to check the website URL at the top of your web browser. Make sure it matches that of the original site and doesn’t contain an odd country extension.
  • Bad Checks. This is a simple and easy fraud. Someone pays you with a check when there’s actually little or no money in the account. To protect yourself, never take a check that doesn’t include an address and confirm both the name and address against the buyer’s driver’s license.
  • Phony Internet Sellers. While surfing the Net, you’re liable to run across items (often name brand watches, jewelry or electronics) being offered at ridiculously low prices. Many of these sellers are phony; they’ll take your money, but never deliver the item. Always check user reviews and ratings before buying online.
  • Identity Theft. The fastest-growing type of fraud in the world is identity theft. It occurs when the fraudster uses your credit card or bank account information to buy items and then charge them to you. The simplest way to protect yourself is to destroy by shredding, receipts, bank card statements, credit card statements before throwing them in the trash.
  • Charities Fraud. Americans enjoy giving to worthy causes, which is something con artists will take advantage of. Especially around the holidays, you may get emails or phone solicitations asking you to donate to charities. Some may be legitimate, others are not. If you want to give to a charity, never respond to a solicitation. Choose the charity for yourself and donate to them directly.
  • Debt Elimination. Many Americans are in debt. If you are in serious debt, you may be tempted by ads by companies that promise to negotiate with banks and credit card companies on your behalf so you can zero your debt for just pennies on the dollar. Many of these scams ask for partial payment up front – often $1,500 to $2,000 – as well as all your credit card information. This service is not real. They will take your money and all your credit card information, which the scammers are now free to use.

In the broadest sense, a fraud is a deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual. The specific legal definition varies. Fraud is both a criminal offense and is also the basis for civil liability. Many hoaxes are fraudulent, although those not made for personal gain are not technically frauds. Defrauding people of money is the most common type of fraud and the type most frequently prosecuted. Contact a lawyer if you feel that you have been the victim of fraud.

Asset Protection for Business Owners

Asset Protection for Business Owners

As a business owner, do you devote alot of time and energy “working in” your business to improve business operations and profitability, but neglect to “work on” your business by not addressing certain asset protection issues?

Business owners, particularly those owning their business in corporate form, should consider the following:

  • How to own C corporation or S corporation stock to minimize exposure to creditors, an outside asset protection issue.
  • Whether to implement several basic business agreements designed to protect and even enhance business value from the inside of the corporation.

A business owner who owns S corporation or C corporation stock should consider the asset protection benefits of converting or merging the corporation to a new Limited Liability Company. There are several limited liability organizations that can protect business assets from the personal liabilities of the owner. Limited partnerships, or limited liability limited partnerships, are treated as partnerships for federal tax purposes and therefore cannot own S corporation stock, but an LLC electing to be taxed as a corporation can.

The asset protection benefit of an LLC is a judicial remedy, called a charging order, that protects the owner’s interest in the LLC from their personal liabilities. If a creditor obtains a charging order, the creditor is limited to the rights of an assignee of a membership interest in the LLC. If a distribution is made from the LLC, what the creditor receives will be proportionate. The creditor doesn’t have any voting rights though, so they can’t force a distribution, liquidate the LLC, or otherwise manage the business.

Among the basic business agreements or legal documents that should be considered by business owners to protect business value include a Non-Compete and Confidentiality Agreement, Buy-Sell Agreement, and perhaps even a Deferred Compensation or Bonus Plan for key employees.

Few events can sap the value of a small business like a key employee or associate leaving the business and starting a similar enterprise, especially if the employee departs with trade secrets, confidential information or even customer lists. As a business owner, you should require your employees to sign Non-Compete and Confidentiality Agreements to prevent this from occurring. If the terms of such an agreement are considered reasonable, the agreement should be enforceable.

A Buy-Sell Agreement is another key document that if properly structured, funded, and updated will protect the value of both the existing and remaining business owner’s interest in the business. The Buy-Sell Agreement accompanied with proper planning will provide the existing owner a fair value for their ownership interest and provide the remaining owner a means to purchase the existing owner’s interest without depleting the business of cash flow and its value.

A Buy-Sell Agreement is designed to establish a predetermined and agreed-upon business value, at the occurrence of events such as the death, disability, voluntary or involuntary termination, or retirement of a shareholder or partner.

Planning needs to be done to ensure there are sufficient funds available to implement the buy-sell provisions when triggered. Funding at an owner’s death with life insurance may be the easy part. More problematic may be how to buy-out a departing owner’s interest in the event of disability, retirement or voluntary termination, especially if a portion of the business’ cash flow must be devoted to that purpose. Further, once in place a Buy-Sell Agreement should periodically be updated to reflect changes in the business value and the owners’ objectives.

Finally, business owners should consider putting into place a deferred compensation or bonus plan designed to reward key employees who meet certain performance targets. A properly planned deferred compensation or bonus arrangement can serve two purposes which will work toward protecting the value of the business. The plan should be designed so that employees are rewarded for achieving benchmarks that not only protect but increase the business value.

Filing Your Initial Social Security Disability Claim

Filing Your Initial Social Security Disability Claim

The initial stage of the Social Security Disability process involves the initial filing of your Social Security Disability application and the Social Security Administration’s review of your initial claim. In this stage of the process you will be filling out your application and providing the SSA with the documentation necessary to process your claim for Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security office will then send your file to be reviewed for approval or denial based on the information provided in your application.

A Social Security disability initial claim can be initiated by calling the Social Security Administration ‘s toll free number, in person at your local Social Security Administration ‘s office, or online. You can file your claim over the phone and have the paperwork mailed to your home, or schedule an appointment at your local Social Security Administration office and file your claim in person.

To file online, you must be 18 years or older and have worked and paid Social Security taxes long enough and recently enough to qualify. The main advantage to filing online is you can start your disability claim immediately, and you don’t have to wait for an appointment at your local Social Security office. However, you can’t ask any questions you might have regarding the Social Security disability initial claim process. You also will not receive protective filing status. The protective filing date is the date you first contact the Social Security Administration office about filing for benefits. It can be used to establish an earlier application date than when your actual signed application is received.

After your initial claim is made, it gets forwarded to a disability examiner at Disability Determination Services. The disability examiner will request your medical records. You need to list all of your medical information with doctors’ telephone numbers and correct addresses. Your Social Security disability initial claim is approved or denied based on your medical records. You can submit your own copies of your medical records along with your application. The examiner may make their decision without receiving all of your records from outside sources, if they find that the records you sent them with your Social Security disability initial claim are sufficient enough to make a decision. The disability examiner makes their decision, which is overseen by their supervisor, along with medical and psychological consultants. It is possible the examiner may request that you receive an additional medical exam paid for by the Social Security Administration. You will receive notification in the mail, after an approval or denial is made regarding your claim.

If you are denied benefits, contact a Social Security lawyer to help you with the next step, which is to request a Reconsideration.

How Can a Lawyer Help With My Child’s IEP?

How Can a Lawyer Help With MY Childs IEP

For students with disabilities, the traditional classroom setting doesn’t always work. To address this reality, the federal government established the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures that disabled students have access to special educational programs tailored to their needs. Students in Florida, who qualify as a child with disabilities, after review by the school or school district, under IDEA, are entitled to have an Individualized Education Program completed. The IEP is then reviewed, and followed by the school.

To qualify for special education services, a student must have a disability that presents unreasonable challenges at school. To avoid
situations where too many children in need of special education are disqualified, the law provides a broad definition of disability. Though not an exhaustive list, children with disabilities such as autism, ADHD, emotional and cognitive disorders, hearing and speech impairments, and learning disabilities are eligible for special education services.

An IEP for a child with disabilities is mandated by Federal and Florida law to be put in place in every school district in the State of Florida. The overall purpose of the IEP is to meet the Special Needs of the child with disabilities.

Unfortunately, many schools and school districts fail to implement the IEP, fail to follow the IEP, or fail to address or provide for certain educational needs of the child within the IEP. Under any of these circumstances, it is helpful to have a Florida Special Education lawyer to represent the interests of your child before the school and school board. Sometimes, the attorney files an Administrative Action in a Due Process Hearing. In other instances, the issues are worked out more informally.

In a Due Process Hearing, you and the school district present written evidence about the disputed issue and have witnesses testify before a hearing officer. If you do not agree with the outcome of the hearing, you can appeal the decision all the way to state or federal court.

Usually, disputed issues revolve around parts of the IEP that that cannot be agree upon. If the school district has violated a legal rule, such as failing to hold an IEP meeting, conduct an evaluation, meet a time limit or implement the

IEP, you must file a complaint. IEP due process disputes are usually centered around disagreements over the following:

  • A Child’s Evaluation
  • A Child’s Eligibility
  • A Child’s Placement
  • The Methodology Used to Assess a Child
  • Related Services like Aides and Specialists
  • Changes to a Child’s IEP program
  • Suspension or Expulsion of a Child

Filing a request for a hearing should be a last resort. Working in collaboration with your school district is always the best option. You can consult a Special Education attorney to advise you of your best course of action, for you and your child.

Drafting a Commercial Lease Agreement

Drafting a Commercial Lease Agreement

These critical and essential elements must be contained in a written commercial lease agreement:

Parties – Correctly defining the parties involved in clear and concise detail is extremely important, especially in a commercial lease situation. Your attorney must understand the business structure of the entities involved and comprehend what practical consequences and tax implications there are, if any.

Premises – The description of the leased premises must be clear. If the premises contain multiple tenants, the distinction between where one tenant’s property ends and where the other’s begins must be carefully delineated in order to avoid potential disputes. The square footage should also be listed in the written lease agreement.

Term of Rent – The lease agreement should include renewal options. Rent for a renewed lease in a commercial setting can be calculated by using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), fair market value, or a fixed percentage increase. In order to avoid disputes between tenant and landlord, using the CPI or a fixed percentage increase may be better than using the fair market value. The CPI and fixed percentage increase provides certainty whereas fair market value at the time the lease is set to expire leaves more uncertainty to the parties involved. Furthermore, when determining fair market value, the parties will need to hire an appraiser and if they’re unable to accept the appraisal, this may lead to arbitration or potential litigation. The parties should take a balanced approach and determine a method of rent renewal that’s both reasonable and provides a degree of certainty certainty without the need for additional cost or time commitments.

Expenses – Expenses refer to the cost of utilities, maintenance charges, common charges, cost of landscaping, cost of the parking lot, etc. Of course, landlords will seek to pass the costs associated with operation of the property to the tenant, while the tenant will seek to eliminate these costs as to not affect their bottom line. An effective attorney will be clear and concise in drafting the commercial lease agreement being sure not to leave anything out that would lead to future disputes regarding payment of expenses.

Use – The purpose of a “use clause” in a commercial lease agreement is to set forth the conduct a tenant may engage in on the premises. Naturally, the tenant will seek to expand the scope of the use clause, giving them maximum flexibility for engaging in their business operations. Conversely, the landlord will seek to limit the tenant’s permitted uses so as to control how such use will affect the premises and the other commercial tenants. Depending on the type of businesses involved, certain environmental and land use laws may be triggered by virtue of the tenant’s operations. Your attorney will be able to ascertain any environmental and land use laws that pertain to the subject property beforehand. They will then property draft the lease agreement to avoid governmental and regulatory complications.

Condition of the Premises – The landlord will want to transfer the property in it’s current state “as is” while the tenant will seek to be released from liability for conditions on the premises that existed prior to the tenancy. A well crafted compromise can be integrated into the lease agreement, giving the tenant reasonable time to report non-working conditions to the landlord and to avoid future disputes or possible litigation.

Alterations – It goes without saying that the tenant will want to alter the premises to accommodate their business needs, while the landlord will seek to limit such alternations in order to avoid changes to building structure and systems. The landlord will also desire certainty as to who is responsible for removing the alterations and if the landlord is entitled to keep the alterations if it were to suit the needs of a subsequent tenant. A well-drafted clause pertaining to alterations in the lease agreement should address these concerns.

Contempt of Court in Family Cases

Contempt of Court in Family Cases

Contempt orders can be obtained when your ex-spouse is not following the time sharing plan you set. It is imperative that you take this legal action if you want to ensure that your rights are protected in the event that your ex stops paying child support or alimony. Without a court order, enforcement mechanisms such as wage garnishment, driver’s license suspension, IRS tax return interception and incarceration are all unavailable.
Violating the residential time in a parenting plan or residential schedule could result in contempt of court in Florida if:

  • One parent refuses to allow visitation stated in the parenting plan.
  • One parent will not return the child to the other at the end of visitation.
  • One parent fails to make reasonable efforts to require a child to visit the other parent at the times stated in the parenting plan.

Contempt can happen by action, such as violating a restraining order; or by failure to act, such as not paying ordered child support or spousal maintenance. You can also use contempt to force the other party to deliver property to you, if a court order required the delivery. You can also use contempt to enforce temporary orders and restraining orders.

The Florida Statutes concerning relocation are strictly construed and a parent who relocates without written agreement or court order subjects themselves to harsh penalties, including an order directing the immediate return of the minor child. If you are considering relocating with a minor child, it is best that you contact a family law attorney to discuss the legal requirements for relocation well ahead of the date you intend to move.

The goal in a contempt action is to have the party follow the court order in the future. The court can order different remedies to achieve this, such as:

  • Order the person in contempt to get counseling
  • Order the person in contempt to complete a parenting class
  • Order the person in contempt to look for work a certain number of hours a week
  • Order future hearings to check whether the person in contempt is now obeying the order

For violation of a parenting plan, the court can also:

  • Order that one parent get more make-up residential time with the children;
  • Award attorneys fees;
  • Order a civil penalty;
  • Order greater penalties for the second contempt violation in three years

If the judge believes the person in contempt probably won’t be able to obey the order in the future, the court may tell the person to file a motion to modify the court order so that they do not keep violating it.

Can Property Owners be Sued for Inadequate Security?

Can Property Owners be Sued for Inadequate Security

Did you know that property owners are lawfully required to provide guests with adequate security? Or that a lack of proper security that leads to an injury or assault can lead to a premises liability lawsuit? Property owners must maintain a reasonably safe environment for visitors, which includes keeping those on their premises protected from harm from outsiders. If anyone is physically harmed or sexually assaulted while on your property, you could be liable for their injuries due to lack of security, inadequate security, improper security, or negligent security. They can sue you for compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, or emotional trauma.

Negligent or inadequate security is often to blame for the preventable assault, rape, or homicide of an innocent crime victim.
Businesses whose negligence in failing to provide adequate security placed a tenant or customer at greater risk of being victimized by the criminal acts of a third party. Instances of improper security premises liability can take place in motels, hotels, apartment buildings, parking garages, parking ramps, shops, office buildings, banks, ATM machines, and even homes. Any victim is justified in asking whether the crime could have been prevented by better security measures. If there is sufficient evidence that needed security was lacking, inadequate or negligently performed, the culpable parties can and should be held liable for the victim’s damages.

Property owners of public properties such as apartment buildings, shopping malls, hotels and parking garages are expected to provide adequate security measures to protect the safety of people who come onto those properties. These security measures may range from sturdy locks and adequate lighting to security guards and video cameras. The adequate or proper level of security depends on the nature of the property as well as its location. For example, if property owners who are aware of incidents of crime in their neighborhoods, they may be expected to take stronger measures than owners who may not be in a known high crime area.

Unfortunately some property owners focus more on concerns about cost than on ways to maximize their visitors’ safety, or simply neglect to take appropriate safety measures. In such cases, the victims of crime who suffer injuries on someone else’s property may sue the property owner or manager. The victims will have to demonstrate that inadequate security measures contributed to the creation of an environment that made the crimes easier to commit. As in other personal injury cases, victims may receive compensation for their pain and suffering, as well as for medical bills, lost wages and other related expenses.

What are the 4 Types of Adoption in Florida?

What are the 4 Types of Adoption in Florida

An adoption establishes a legal parent-child relationship between the adoptee and the adoptive parents. This legal relationship is identical to the legal biological parent-child relationship. Florida law authorizes adoptions for all persons, minors and adults. Any individual or couple considering adoption should be aware that some adoptions develop complications and they should fully educate themselves on the potential problems and pitfalls. Florida’s current adoption law balances the interests of all parties, the biological parents, the adoptee and the adoptive parents. However, the biological parent’s rights are primary until that parent voluntarily surrenders their rights or fails to act to protect their rights under Florida Law. Four types of adoptions exist in Florida:

  1. The entity adoption – an agency or intermediary facilitated adoption
  2. The step-parent adoption
  3. The close relative adoption
  4. The adult adoption

A court presiding over any Florida Adoption must receive proof that facts exist to terminate the biological relationship forever. A biological parent may properly execute a consent for adoption and surrender his/her rights to their child. Alternatively, a court must hear proof that the parent has abused, abandoned or neglected the child or otherwise failed to protect their parental rights under Florida law. The adult adoption is an exception to this rule. The consent of the biological and legal parents are not required to complete such an adoption, however, the petitioner must provide notice to the biological or legal parents. A consent for adoption is only valid and legal if the specific requirements of Florida Law have been followed. An attorney can help you get all of the paperwork properly filled out and turned in timely. After a court issues a judgment terminating the biological parent-child relationship, the time frame for completing the adoption differs. In the case of an entity adoption, the adoptive parents are not eligible to finalize their adoption until 30 days after the judgment terminating parental rights or 90 days after placement of the child in their home, whichever situation is later. In the step-parent, close relative and adult adoption, the adoptive parents are eligible to immediately finalize their adoption. Also, in stepparent and close relative adoptions, the adopting parents have the option of proceeding in a unified legal process in which the order finalizing the adoption also simultaneously terminates parental rights. A unified proceeding is typical for adult adoptions.

When pursuing the entity adoption, prospective adoptive parents must decide whether to pursue their adoption through an agency or an attorney, known as an intermediary. Step-parent adoptions are common when one biological parent is willing to give up their parental rights to that step-parent. After adoption, the step-parent has all rights and responsibilities of the biological parent. In step-parent adoptions, as with all other adoptions, if the child is twelve years of age or older, he or she must give their consent to the adoption and must be interviewed prior to signing the consent.

Drug-Free Workplace Policy and Procedure Development

Drug Free Workplace Policy and Procedure

Implementing an effective Drug Free Workplace program takes thoughtful consideration of what you are trying to accomplish, how you want to accomplish it, how much it will cost and how much it will save you company money. The first step is to develop a comprehensive policy. Establishing a comprehensive drug-free workplace program may be the best means of preventing, detecting, and dealing with substance abusers.

Your policy should include the company’s philosophy about alcohol and other drug use and abuse, the business reasons you are instituting a Drug Free Work Place program, your commitment to providing a safe workplace, a clear statement of what is prohibited behavior, definition of terms, the consequences of violating the policy, the state and federal regulations that impact your company and your employees, the elements of your program, fitness for duty issues, and the procedures for implementing and maintaining the program.

This should be your company’s policy, and it should be tied to other policies and programs, like time and attendance, health care coverage, disciplinary procedures, or family medical leave. In developing a policy and procedure that works best for your company, you will need to make numerous decisions. These decisions need to be made before you attempt to implement the program. Senior leadership and upper and middle managers need to be consulted and a consensus reached. You will have a more successful program if you have everyone on board.

The three most important things about your Drug Free Work Place policy are:

  1. It must be written.
  2. It must be communicated to employees.
  3. It must be followed consistently.

Your company should have a written policy that clearly states what is expected of employees and the consequences of policy violations. There need to be training for management personnel and others responsible for identifying and dealing with suspected substance abusers. You may also want to consider pre-employment testing to prevent the hiring of workers who use illegal drugs; and reasonable suspicion, post-accident and follow-up testing available as other options to consider. A lawyer can help you clearly and effectively plan your Drug Free Workplace Policy.

How to Transfer Your Family Business

How to Transfer Your Family Business

Family members start a major portion of new businesses launched in the U.S. every year. Owning a family business can be a very rewarding and prosperous venture. For family business owners, estate planning is crucial to the success of the business. If you have not already drafted an estate plan that includes the succession of your business, begin today. Early planning allows you to slowly implement the plan, which increases its chances of success. You will also ensure that your family’s main source of income is protected.

You will need to consider how you would like to transfer your business. Three common options are:

1. Sell Your Business Outright

One way to transfer your family business to your children is through selling them your interest, outright. This is a good option for those who need income from the business, such as retirees. Importantly, if you decide to sell your business, you must sell it at its fair market value. If you fail to do so, you may trigger gift taxes.

2. Use a Buy-Sell Agreement

Buy-sell agreements are ideal for those business owners who have selected the person they would like to transfer the business to, but who are not quite ready to hand over the reins. In a buy-sell agreement, a business owner can specify that, after a triggering event, the designated successor will be required to purchase his or her interest in the business. Comm