‘No felons’ hiring policy could amount to discrimination

Most employers would probably consider a policy that forbids the hiring of convicted felons to be a good, common-sense idea – especially in businesses that involve frequent customer contact.

But a blanket policy that disqualifies all applicants with a criminal history could lead to trouble with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency has announced.

Such a policy might be okay – but if its actual goal is to keep out minorities, it could amount to illegal discrimination, the agency says. [Read more…]

Women can’t be given less severance pay, court says

A county administrator could sue her employer for giving her a less favorable severance package than her male colleagues when her job was eliminated, a federal appeals court in Virginia decided recently.

The employee was offered three months’ pay and health benefits in exchange for her voluntary resignation and written agreement not to sue.

But she claimed that some male employees with similar jobs were allowed to keep their salary and benefits by transferring to positions with less responsibility. Others were kept on the payroll with benefits for six months or more in order to enhance their retirement benefits, she said. [Read more…]

Mandatory arbitration provisions aren’t always valid

It’s become increasingly common for employers to try to protect themselves from lawsuits by having employees sign mandatory arbitration agreements. Under these agreements, employees waive the right to sue in court for employment-related disputes. Instead, they agree to bring their case before a neutral, private third party.

These agreements are often valid…but not always. Here are some recent examples where courts rejected them and allowed employees to sue anyway:

  • An arbitration agreement that prohibited employees from bringing class actions, and instead required them to arbitrate all claims individually, violated federal labor law, the National Labor Relations Board ruled. The agreement in this case was illegal because it prohibited workers from engaging in “concerted activity” protected by the National Labor Relations Act. [Read more…]

Here’s a new issue when employees resign rather than be fired

Video game developer NCsoft decided to fire Richard Garriott in 2008, but after some negotiations, it agreed to let him resign instead. The company issued a press release saying that he was leaving “to pursue other interests.”

Sounds like a nice gesture…right?

The problem was that Garriott’s employment agreement said that if he voluntarily resigned, he had to exercise his stock options within 90 days…whereas if he were involuntarily let go, he’d have a much longer time in which to do so. [Read more…]

‘Background checks’ of employees may violate a little-known law

As the job market has become more competitive in a down economy, a growing number of employers are conducting background checks to screen job applicants, looking for criminal records, credit problems and other issues.

But many employers who conduct these checks – and many job applicants who are subject to them – are unaware that a federal law strictly limits how they can be conducted.

Employers who don’t fully comply with the law can be sued, and if they routinely conduct these checks, they could be subject to a class action. [Read more…]

Long-Term Care Insurance Bill in Massachusetts has passed

GOV. SIGNS LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE BILL: After taking his full 10 days to review, Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday afternoon signed long-term care insurance legislation (S 2359) that sets new standards for policies and creates consumer protections. Long-term care insurance regulations already exist in Massachusetts, but the new law requires the insurance commissioner to promulgate the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ model, which provides additional consumer protections. It also gives the insurance commissioner increased authority over rate-setting and cost controls. Its sponsors say it will protect some elderly patients from losing their homes to pay for long-term care. Currently, patients who go into a nursing home are allowed to keep their homes if they have bought a sufficient amount of long-term care insurance to cover some of the costs before Medicaid coverage takes over. In some instances, elderly patients choose home care before going into a nursing home, bringing their long-term care benefits below the minimum amount required – sometimes leading them to lose their homes to the state to cover the costs of care, according to sponsors of the legislation. The law limits MassHealth’s estate recovery ability for people holding approved plans.

Beliveau Law Group: Massachusetts | Florida | New Hampshire

The estate planning attorneys at the Beliveau Law Group provides legal services for estate and asset protection planning. The law firm has offices and attorneys in Naples, Florida; Boca Raton, Florida; Danvers, Massachusetts; Waltham, Massachusetts; Quincy, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire and Salem, New Hampshire.

Homeowner’s insurance usually won’t cover you if there’s a flood

Many people are surprised to discover that their standard homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover them in the event of a flood.

If you want flood insurance, you generally have to buy a separate policy. Typically these policies are sold by private insurers, but are backed by the U.S. Government through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Some federally backed mortgage programs require homeowners to buy flood insurance if they live in a high-risk area. Some private lenders require this as well, and they may require it even if the property is not in a high-risk area. [Read more…]

Landlord could be on the hook if tenant doesn’t pay contractor

If a tenant hires a contractor to make improvements to a property, but the tenant doesn’t pay the contractor in full, can the contractor sue the landlord for the difference?

It sounds unlikely, but it happened in one case recently.

Former Boston Celtics player Dana Barros leased a warehouse and hired a contractor to make improvements so he could turn it into a sports complex. Later, the contractor believed it hadn’t been paid in full, so it went to court against Barros and against the owner of the warehouse. [Read more…]

Here’s another reason to always have a property inspected

A couple who purchased a condo in a building that turned out to be contaminated with toxic chemicals can recover only 65% of their losses, because they could have arranged an environmental inspection of the property before they bought it but didn’t do so, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently decided.

The couple bought a condo unit in a converted factory. The developer had installed a vapor barrier, but never actually decontaminated the dangerous chemicals on the site. [Read more…]

Buying? Selling? Refinancing? Know the tax rules!

Owning a home provides a lot of tax advantages. Sometimes, though, the rules can be tricky.

Here’s a brief introduction to some of the many tax rules involved in buying, selling, or refinancing a home. But remember, the rules are complicated, and there are always exceptions. You’ll want to consult an attorney or tax advisor to see how the general rules apply to your specific situation.

  • If I own a home, can I deduct my mortgage interest payments?

Yes, home mortgage interest is generally deductible on your federal income tax return on loan amounts up to $1 million. To get the deduction, you’ll need to itemize your deductions on Schedule A. For most people, this is the primary tax advantage of owning a home. [Read more…]

Reverse mortgage borrowers are getting younger

The average age of people who take out a reverse mortgage is dropping, according to a new study by MetLife. Unfortunately, these types of mortgages come with risks, so younger borrowers need to be careful.

Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are at least 62 years old to borrow money on their house. The homeowner receives a sum of money from the lender, based largely on the value of the house, the age of the borrower, and current interest rates. The loan doesn’t have to be paid back until the last surviving homeowner dies, sells the house, or permanently moves out. [Read more…]

Giving your home to your children can have tax consequences

Many people wonder if it’s a good idea to give their home to their children. While it’s possible to do this, giving away a house can have major tax consequences, among other results.

When you give anyone (other than a spouse) property valued at more than $13,000 in any one year, you must file a gift tax return.

You won’t owe any federal gift taxes if the total value of your gift, in addition to any previous gifts over the $13,000 limit, is under the exemption amount. That amount is about $5 million in 2012, but it’s scheduled to be reduced to $1 million next year. [Read more…]

Here’s an easy new way to compare home health agencies

Given the choice, most seniors who need help with care would prefer to remain at home rather than move to a nursing home. One way to avoid nursing home care is to hire help at home through a home health care agency. But how can you tell which is the best one to choose?

This just got a bit easier for Medicare recipients, who can now see the results of surveys of patients who have used various agencies’ services in the past. Findings from a national survey that asks patients about their experiences with Medicare-certified home health agencies are now available on Medicare’s Quality Care Finder website, www.medicare.gov/quality-care-finder. [Read more…]

Low interest rates make long-term care insurance more costly

Prices for long-term care insurance policies jumped between 6 and 17 percent in the past year, according to an industry survey.

A 55-year-old couple can expect to pay about $2,700 a year for about $340,000 worth of current-value benefits, according to an annual report from the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.  The same coverage would have cost only about $2,350 just one year ago. [Read more…]

Son is liable for mother’s $93,000 nursing home bill

The adult son of a nursing home patient is legally on the hook for her $93,000 in unpaid nursing home bills, an appeals court in Pennsylvania recently decided.

It doesn’t matter that the son never signed a contract with the nursing home; he’s still liable for his mother’s debt, the court said.

The case in the latest in a series of lawsuits in which nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other institutions have sued the adult children of their residents for the cost of their care. [Read more…]

October 18, 2012: Estate Planning & Medicaid Planning Seminar

Please join Attorney David M. Beliveau, featured speaker, on October 18, 2012, for a free estate planning and Medicaid planning seminar on important changes to Massachusetts probate law, Medicaid, and the estate tax system.  Attendees will receive 4 CPE credits.

THE SETATE PLANNING, MEDICAID 7 TAX LAW LANDSCAPE CONTINUES TO CHANGE

PRESENTER: David M. Beliveau, Esq.

DATE: October 18, 2012

LOCATION: Hilton Garden Inn, Waltham MA

SCHEDULE: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

DESCRIPTION: This seminar will address, among other topics, updates to the Massachusetts Homestead Act, Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, Massachusetts Uniform Trust Code, Medicaid planning, and estate tax planning.

Make sure you can access your power of attorney documents

It’s important to have access to the originals of your power of attorney documents, because a photocopy sometimes won’t be accepted.

Sometimes an attorney keeps the originals, and sometimes the client keeps them. Both are good ideas. But either way, make sure you can access them when you need them. If you keep them yourself, put them in a safe place. And if your attorney keeps them, be sure you leave enough time to obtain them if you’ll need them for a transaction. [Read more…]

Deceased man’s sister is sued for interfering with inheritance

When Marc MacGinnis was in the hospital awaiting surgery, he asked his friend Brent to prepare a will for him that would leave half of his estate to Brent and half to Marc’s sister, Susan. Brent downloaded some will forms from the Internet, but Susan then suggested that she contact a lawyer to set up a trust instead. She said this would be better because it would avoid probate.

Susan never talked to a lawyer, and Marc died a few days after the surgery. Because Marc never signed a will, his entire $1 million estate went to Susan. [Read more…]

Should a will include children conceived after a parent’s death?

What’s the legal status of a child who was conceived after a parent’s death? That question would have been ridiculous not many years ago, but with advances in fertility treatments and the ability to freeze embryos and store sperm for later use, a number of children are now being conceived after one biological parent has passed away.

This has created a number of legal issues. For instance, the Supreme Court recently decided whether twins who were born 18 months after a father’s death were eligible for Social Security survivors’ benefits. (The answer was no, based on the specific language in the Social Security law.) [Read more…]

Prepare now – new 3.8% tax on investment income takes effect in 2013

A new 3.8% tax on investment income will take effect in 2013, and anyone who has significant investments or who manages a trust should be planning for it now.

The tax was included in President Obama’s health care law. In the past, many people didn’t plan for the tax because they thought the law might be struck down by the Supreme Court. But now that the Supreme Court has upheld the law, the tax will take effect as scheduled starting January 1. [Read more…]

Huge tax-saving opportunity available only until December 31

An enormous opportunity for families to reduce their estate taxes – and in some cases, save millions of dollars – will end on December 31, 2012. If there’s a chance you can take advantage of these savings, it’s wise to act immediately, because unless Congress changes the law, the window of opportunity will close permanently when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

Between now and the end of the year, the lifetime exemption from the federal gift tax is $5.12 million. But on January 1, 2013, this exemption is scheduled to be reduced drastically, to just $1 million. [Read more…]

S Corporation owners should take steps to avoid paying themselves unreasonably low salaries, especially when issuing dividends.

The Supreme Court has declined to review a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which held that an S corporation paying unreasonably low salary was liable for employment taxes on dividends reclassified as salary. Specifically, the Eighth Circuit, affirming the district court, found that the shareholder-employee’s $24,000 salary in 2002 and 2003 was unreasonably low and allowed IRS to reclassify as salary over $67,000 in dividend payments to the officer during each of those years. This resulted in the corporation owing employment taxes on the reclassified dividend payments.

[Read more…]

Pros and cons of dollar cost averaging

Experienced investors don’t need to be convinced about the inherent volatility of the stock market. Prices seem to soar and plummet regularly. One possible investment strategy for smoothing out the inevitable ups and downs is called “dollar cost averaging.” But this long-standing investment method has as many detractors as proponents.

The basic concept is relatively simple. Essentially, you invest a fixed amount of money in shares of the same stock at regular intervals – usually, on a monthly basis – regardless of the stock’s performance. (The same principle can be applied to investments in mutual funds.) And you continue to invest the same way for an extended period of time. [Read more…]

The annual gift tax exclusion – use it or lose it!

Did you know that this year you can give gifts of up to $13,000 to as many individuals as you want without being liable for gift tax? Normally, any gift you make counts towards your lifetime exemption from gift and estate taxes. That’s so you don’t just give away your estate shortly before death to avoid estate taxes.

But each year you can make an unlimited number of gifts free of tax, provided they’re below a certain amount. The limit for 2012 is $13,000 per gift. A husband and wife each have their own separate limit, so they can jointly give up to $26,000 to any one person. [Read more…]

“Bunching” deductions could cut your taxes

Getting the most benefit from tax deductions requires multi-year planning as well as consideration of the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

The multi-year part involves “bunching” your expenses. That’s a strategy where you decide to accelerate or delay payments between different years for itemized deductions such as state income taxes, routine health care, and charitable contributions. You calculate the tax savings for each year and choose the most advantageous time to pay the expense and claim the deduction. [Read more…]

October 15 is the final filing deadline

If you requested a six-month extension to file your 2011 income tax return, you face a major deadline on October 15. That’s the final date for filing your 2011 return; the IRS does not give filing extensions beyond that date.

October 15 is also the deadline for undoing a 2011 conversion of a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. If you did a conversion to a Roth last year, you can switch it back to a regular IRA without penalty if you do so by October 15.

If you need details or filing assistance, contact our office.