Why Your Company Needs an Employee Email Policy

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

Whether your company is large or small, if you have a business with employees then you should have an email policy that has been clearly communicated to everyone in the company.  Even if a company does not routinely monitor employee emails, an employer’s right to access employee emails needs to be protected.

For example, if a company is sued by an employee for sexual harassment, sex discrimination or another other violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, the company’s attorney will want to have access to employee emails to properly investigate the claim.  Your email policy should state that the company has the right to check employee email that is either received or sent using company computers or other communications equipment.

In the absence of a company email policy, an employee may have the right to refuse to provide access to his or her emails.  The employee could even bring a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. 

A comprehensive corporate email policy should address employees’ use of the firm’s email system and an employer’s right to monitor email. It should also provide guidance on the proper conduct employees must observe when sending email on corporate computers.

If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us at 303-255-3588 today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.  Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.

No More Reasons for Delay in Implementing These 5 Estate Planning Essentials

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

Last year’s uncertainty about the future of the estate and gift tax caused many people to put their estate planning on hold.  Now that the clouds have lifted and Congress has given us clarity, there is simply no reason for anyone to delay in implementing these five estate planning essentials:

Will.  How would you feel if a stranger came to your house and just started giving all your stuff away?  Without a will, that is basically what will happen.  Without a will, it will be a judge instead of you deciding on the people who will benefit from your estate.  A will is also the only legal instrument you can use to name a legal guardian for your minor children.

Advance Medical Directive.  Also known as a health care proxy or durable power of attorney for healthcare, this document provides the legal right for the person of your choice (your representative) to make healthcare decisions for you in case you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions for yourself.

Living Will.  This goes hand-in-hand with an advance medical directive, and is a legal way for you to express which medical treatments you do or do not want.

Power of Attorney.  This covers the financial management bases by giving a person you choose the legal power to handle your finances should you not be able to do so.  Powers of attorney can become effective immediately or through a triggering event like a sudden illness or incapacity.

Trust.  Trusts are used to transfer your assets without the need for an expensive, unnecessary and totally public Court process, and there are a wide variety of trust strategies that a Personal Family Lawyer® can tailor to meet the individual needs of you and your family. 

If you’re ready to do the right thing for your family by creating an estate plan, call our office at 303-255-3588 today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.

Top 5 Estate Planning Tips for the Newly Divorced

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

Tip #1: Update your will immediately.

This may not be top-of-mind, but updating your will is extremely important if you are going through a divorce.  Having your assets go to your ex can be like adding insult to injury…and can tie up your estate for years to come. 

Tip #2: Update your life insurance policy and retirement beneficiaries.

Actor Dennis Hopper was in the middle of a highly contentious divorce when he died.  Since he didn’t change his life insurance policy beneficiaries, his ex received the proceeds.  Be sure to name new beneficiaries on your life insurance and retirement accounts so your ex doesn’t inherit your assets.

Tip #3: Do not wait until the divorce is final.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to wait until your divorce is final to update your estate planning documents.  If your divorce is likely to drag on for months or even years, you can still protect your assets from your ex by updating your estate plan.

Tip #4: Revisit your choice of executor and trustee.

While your ex may become the legal guardian of any minor children if you die, he or she should not necessarily be named as executor of your will or the trustee of your children’s inheritance. 

Tip #5: Update your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

If you do not want your ex making decisions about your health care, you will need to update your durable power of attorney for health care as well as your living will.  This also applies to any other advance directives that name your ex as a decision maker.

If you’d like to learn more about estate planning and asset protection, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 303-255-3588 today and mention this article.

What Small Business Owners Need to Know About the Home Office Tax Deduction

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

It used to be that claiming a home office as a tax reduction was viewed as a sure trigger for an IRS audit. Today, it is estimated that 26 million Americans have home offices; however, only 15% claim home office deductions. Tax advisors now recommend that those who qualify for a home office deduction take it, saying that the deduction no longer sets off alarms for Uncle Sam.

To qualify for a deduction, a home office must be used regularly and exclusively for work. A table with a laptop in your bedroom would not qualify. Although your workspace does not need to take up an entire room, it does need to have clearly defined boundaries.

If you are someone who performs work at other locations – say, a house painter or a maid service – you can still claim a home office deduction if you use an exclusive space in your home for administrative duties, like bookkeeping and invoicing. However, if you regularly bring work home from your office in another location, you can only claim a deduction if you work at home for the convenience of your employer.

There are two types of expenses you can claim for a home office deduction: direct and indirect. Direct expenses allow you to write off all of the costs of your home office, including computer equipment, office supplies, furniture and a phone used only for business purposes.

Indirect expenses include items like mortgage payments, property insurance, utility bills, a home alarm system and Internet service, which are prorated according to the actual square footage of your office. For example, if your home office is in a 300 sq. ft. room and the entire square footage of your home is 3,000 sq. ft., you would be able to deduct 10% of these indirect expenses.

For the 2012 tax year, you will still need to fill out a Form 8829 for your home office deduction. However, the IRS just announced that for 2013 and beyond, it is simplifying the process considerably by allowing home business owners to claim $5 per square foot of a home office, with a maximum allowable write-off of $1,500.  If you choose this option, you will not be able to depreciate the part of your home that is used for business.

If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us at 303-255-3588 today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.  Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee. 

Proposed Legislation Offers Big Tax Break to Entrepreneurs

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

A new bipartisan bill introduced in Congress – the Startup Innovation Act of 2013 – promises a big benefit to entrepreneurs via a new research and development tax credit.

The bill, which was originally introduced last summer, was reintroduced in the Senate in late January.  A House bill that would mirror the Senate bill is expected to be introduced shortly.

If passed, the new law would allow companies that are less than five years old and have less than $5 million in total revenue to claim a research and development tax credit of up to $250,000 against their employment taxes. 

It is typical for firms to deduct R&D expenses from taxable profits, but under the new law, if a company has not yet made a profit, it can deduct its R&D expenses from employment spending.

Legislators said that it has been the larger companies that have benefitted in the past from R&D tax credits; the new legislation is aimed at incentivizing entrepreneurs to invest in innovation.

Coupled with the changes to benefit startups and small businesses provided by the JOBS Act, this new bill offers a jumpstart to entrepreneurs considering the formation of new companies across the country. 

To determine how you might benefit from new legislation aimed at helping small businesses, call us today  at 303-255-3588 to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.  Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.

5 Ways to Ease the Pain of the Payroll Tax Hike

From Brett Lee Shelton, Personal Family Lawyer™

While the fiscal cliff tax deal cut by Congress last month targeted primarily higher wage earners, every American worker is feeling the effects of the payroll tax hike that went into effect on January 1, raising the Social Security payroll tax from 4.2% to 6.2%.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the average employee will feel an annual pinch of about $700 due to this increase.  Families with an annual household income of $100,000 face an income loss of approximately $2,000 a year.

A recent post on CNBC.com provides some tips on what we can all do to help offset this loss in income:

Adjust withholding.  Love getting that big fat IRS refund check every April?  Well, you’re not doing yourself any favors.  By banking with Uncle Sam, you are shorting yourself on funds you can use for your daily expenses.  Be sure you are taking the maximum number of withholding allowances to put that money back in your hands; you can check using the IRS Withholding Calculator.

Shop your insurance.  Financial experts advise consumers to shop around for car and home insurance every year, as rates are constantly changing.  You may be able to qualify for a number of discounts that will lower your rates as well.

Max out 401(k) contributions.  You can reduce your taxable income by contributing the maximum amount to your 401(k).  In 2013, you can contribute up to $17,500; if you’re over the age of 50, you can add another $5,500 in “catch-up contributions” for a total of $23,000.

Mortgage refinancing.  Mortgage rates are at an all-time low and you may be able to significantly reduce your monthly mortgage payment by refinancing now. 

Cut monthly fees.  Check all those auto-pay fees and be sure you still need those services you signed up for that take a chunk out of your take-home pay every month.  If your credit score is good, you should be able to qualify for low-rate credit cards as well.

If you’d like to learn more about preserving your assets, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call 303-255-3588 today and mention this article.

Top 10 Asset Protection Planning Guidelines for Small Business Owners

Top 10 Asset Protection Planning Guidelines for Small Business Owners

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

1.  The best time to create an asset protection plan is prior to having a claim made against your business; after that, it’s too late.

2.  Trying to put asset protection in place after a claim is made often makes things worse, not better.

3.  Asset protection planning should not be confused with insurance; it is not a substitute.

4.  Putting your personal assets into the business is not the way to protect them; you should instead create a trust.

5.  The purpose of good asset protection is to strike a good balance of control; you are not protected if you still have major control over assets.

6.  Asset protection planning should not be confused with estate planning; the goals of each may differ.

7.  Placing all your assets into an offshore account is not always the best plan.

8.  Bankruptcy does not solve all problems.

9.  Asset protection planning should be kept simple.

10.  Plan with the assumption that creditors will discover your asset protection plan.

If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us at 303-355-3588 today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.  Normally, this session is $1,250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee.

How to Secure Your Personal Information Online

From Brett Lee Shelton, Family Business Lawyer™

Most of us conduct a lot of our personal business online these days, so the necessity of being savvy when it comes to security has never been greater.  Hackers are becoming much better at scouring our online lives – including social media networks – to get the information they need to compromise our security.

Here are some steps we should all take to secure our information online:

Create strong passwords.  Yes, it’s a major pain to create different passwords for each of our online accounts, but it is one of the most effective ways to stop hackers in their tracks.  Experts say passwords should be at least 10 characters long and include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and characters.  Never use your name or initials in your password.

Security question switch-up.  Many sites now require you to answer security questions, like where you were born.  Instead of answering correctly, choose a place that has meaning to only you that is unrelated to your birthplace.

Choose double-verification.  If you have a Google account, you know about double verification: anytime you try to access your account from an unfamiliar computer, Google asks for your password and also sends a one-time password that they generate to your cell phone.  Whenever a site you regularly use offers you this option, use it.

Password-protect your Wi-Fi.  Never use an unsecured network in your home – hackers can break in, control your computer and even break into your bank account.  Create a strong password for your home Wi-Fi network.  And if you are using public Wi-Fi, always log out of your accounts when you are finished.

Never click on questionable links.  Ever get an email from a friend’s account that you know just doesn’t sound quite right?  That friend’s account has been hacked, and their contact list is being used to send spam.  If you get an email with just a link from a friend, ignore it.  Then let your friend know he or she has been hacked.

Back up your data.  Get an external hard drive to back up your data or store your files in the cloud via applications like Dropbox or Apple iCloud. 

If you’d like to learn more about protecting all your assets, including digital assets, call our office today at 303-255-3588 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.