New form needed for employee background checks

If you use an outside agency to perform background checks on employees or job applicants, then a federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires you to provide a form to any person if you take adverse action against them based on the results of the report. This form summarizes the rights of the employee or applicant under the law.

You should note that a new form is required to be used starting in 2013. If you’re still using the old form, you should discard it and begin using the new form.

The main reason for the change is that the old form was issued by the Federal Trade Commission. As of January 1, 2013, regulation of this aspect of the law has been moved to the federal government’s new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Bureau issued its own form; among other things, the new form provides contact information for the Bureau as well as the FTC.

Important news if you’re thinking of applying for a patent

As of March 2013, the way that patents are granted in the U.S. has undergone a radical change.

For more than 200 years, when two or more people claimed to have invented something, the key question was who actually invented it first. Starting now, however, the key question will be who was the first to file a patent application. This means that the second person to invent something might nevertheless “win” the patent simply by winning the race to the U.S. Patent Office.

This change is part of a new law called the America Invents Act. This law also makes very big changes in the process by which someone can legally challenge the validity of someone else’s patent.

If you’re interested in obtaining a patent, there is now much more of a premium than before in acting quickly, before someone else gets the same idea.

Should your company adopt a Roth 401(k) plan?

The new tax law that resolved the “fiscal cliff” back in January will prompt many more companies to offer their employees a Roth 401(k) plan in addition to a traditional 401(k) plan.

In a traditional 401(k) plan, employees contribute pre-tax earnings, the assets grow tax-free, and an employee can withdraw them at retirement age and pay ordinary income tax on the withdrawals.

With a Roth 401(k), employees contribute post-tax earnings, but when they withdraw the assets years later, the withdrawals are tax-free.

Roth 401(k)s have been around for a few years, but they haven’t been very popular, in part due to numerous restrictions on the ability of employees to transfer existing 401(k) assets into a Roth account. But the new fiscal cliff law allows employees to freely convert any or all of a traditional 401(k) into a Roth 401(k), simply by paying income tax now on the amount transferred. [Read more…]

What arbitration clauses should say (and usually don’t)

A large number of business contracts contain some “boilerplate” language to the effect that any disputes will be resolved by arbitration. That’s fine – but a good arbitration clause should be a little more specific, and should resolve the most common sorts of questions that tend to arise when problems actually do go to arbitration.

After all, the point of an arbitration clause is to provide a quick, inexpensive resolution of disputes. So why allow an actual arbitration to be bogged down by unnecessary and preventable delays and issues?

A good arbitration clause should say:

  • How will the arbitrator be selected? Will each side choose from a list provided by a specified organization? What happens if they can’t agree? [Read more…]

‘Bring your own device to work’ policies carry legal risks

More and more businesses are allowing employees to use their own laptops, tablets and smartphones for work, instead of providing the equipment themselves.

About a third of all large companies in the U.S. now have a “bring your own device” policy, and about half of smaller companies do.

These policies have a lot of advantages, but they can also create security and legal risks. If you have such a policy, or you’re thinking of adopting one, it’s wise to have a written agreement with your employees that will protect you if something goes wrong.

In fact, it’s always wise for a business to have written agreements and policies about the use of personal technology, since employees today are increasingly likely to use their own devices for work purposes, whether it’s officially allowed or not. [Read more…]

Bankruptcy didn’t release spouse from divorce obligation

A woman whose divorce decree required her to pay half of her ex-husband’s federal income taxes for the previous year couldn’t escape this obligation by filing for bankruptcy, the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently decided.

When the wife filed for bankruptcy, she listed her husband as a “creditor” in the amount of the $4,500 tax debt.

The husband sought to hold her in contempt of court when she failed to pay the debt. A judge initially decided that the bankruptcy cleared the wife, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed and said that under federal law, this type of debt couldn’t be avoided in bankruptcy.

Married man entitled to paternity test to find out if child is his

In most family law disputes involving children, a court is required to act in the best interest of the children. But there may be exceptions – including when a parent suspects that a child he’s raised as his own isn’t really his after all.

Take a recent case in New Jersey where a man suspected that his wife had cheated on him and that one of their three children – who was by this point a young adult – wasn’t actually his. When the wife filed for divorce, the husband claimed she’d hid the fact that he was not the child’s biological father. He asked the court to order the wife and son to submit to genetic testing. [Read more…]

Unmarried couple’s assets could be split equally after breakup

In some states at least, if you act like you’re married for long enough, the legal system might treat you as married when you break up.

For example, an unmarried couple in Alaska broke up after 12 years and two children. The couple had maintained separate bank accounts the whole time, but they made many joint purchases while raising their children in the same home.

When the man sought custody of the children, the woman responded by seeking a court order that their property be divided 50-50. [Read more…]

Wife loses alimony due to secret money stash

When marriages get unhappy and divorce is on the horizon, there can be a real temptation to hide assets to keep them from the other spouse. But tempting as this may be, it’s morally wrong, and it can also get you into legal trouble.

Take the case of a New Jersey woman who took $350,000 from the business she owned jointly with her husband and secreted it away. Clever as she was, during divorce proceedings a forensic accountant discovered the secret stash.

The woman thought she’d be okay in the end, since the divorce judge simply ordered her to repay half the amount, and proceeded to award her $600 a week in alimony. [Read more…]

Husband needn’t help wife take out insurance on his life

A court can require many things in a divorce case. But at least in Kansas, requiring a husband to “cooperate” in taking out an insurance policy on his own life is not one of them.

In that case, a divorce judge ordered the man to cooperate in obtaining life insurance. The idea was to make sure that if he died, his child-support obligations would be taken care of through the policy proceeds.

Even though the wife was to pay the policy premiums, the husband argued that the order violated state insurance law, because it forced him to help obtain insurance without his consent. [Read more…]

Guardian could file for divorce

A woman whose mother suffered brain damage and other disabilities in an accident could sue to end the mother’s 33-year marriage to her father, the Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled.

The daughter had become her mother’s guardian three years earlier, when her father, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, could no longer care for her. The daughter claimed that her father then moved in with another woman and began concealing marital assets.

A trial judge initially rejected her suit, saying a guardian didn’t have the authority to bring divorce proceedings on behalf of a ward. [Read more…]

Home appraisals can become a battleground at divorce

For many people, a home is the single most valuable asset they own. So it’s not surprising that divorcing couples often fight over the value of that asset.

And the recent crash in real estate prices has only exacerbated this trend. The crash has made the market value of certain types of property more uncertain. And tempers frequently flare if people are told that their home isn’t worth what they once thought it was.

When a couple are married, they usually have a common interest – they both want their home to be worth as much as possible. But when they divorce, their interests might suddenly become very different. [Read more…]

Estate Planning

David was recommended to me by a mutual friend and I was immediately impressed by his knowledge of estate planning law. He took the time to explain our options and was very honest, even steering us away from the most expensive option as it did not provide the best value at this point in our lives. David and his team provided us with a Will, Living Will, Healthcare Proxy, Power of Attorney, and HIPAA privacy documents. We would recommend David without hesitation.  ~Gabe, estate planning client.

Estate Planning

Margaret and her team at Beliveau Law Group recently helped my wife and I create our first estate plan. She took the time to answer our questions and explain the different options available to us. She was very knowledgeable when it came to probate, trust, and tax considerations. She provided us with a Will, Living Will, Healthcare Proxy, Power of Attorney, and HIPAA privacy documents. We would recommend Margaret without reservation.  ~ Gabe, estate planning client

I highly recommend Mary Hart

Mary was recommended by one of my family members. She is not only very knowledgeable about Real Estate, but also always returns my call in a short period time answers every question I have, and also has a reasonable fee. I would highly recommend Mary for any of Real Estate need. ~Diana, a real estate client

July 31, 2013 Seminar: Medicaid Applications, Planning, and Asset Protection Plans

Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Time: 11:45 a.m.
Location: Woodland Golf Club’s Doyle Room
1867 Washington Street
Newton, MA  02465
RSVP to this seminar by calling Kenneth J. Raffol at 781-449-3343 or by emailing Anne at tabs@hhcocpas.com

Speakers: Margaret L. Cross-Beliveau Esq., LL.M. Admitted to the Massachusetts and Louisiana Bars

This seminar brought to you by Heald Hoffmeister and Company, Inc.

What to know about future interests in a real estate deal

Many contracts involving real estate don’t involve an immediate sale or lease of a property. Instead, they contemplate a future sale or lease, and give the parties various rights involving the future transaction.

The most common of these future rights are an “option,” a “right of first refusal,” a “right of first offer,” and a “right of first negotiation.” These terms can be confusing, and it’s very important to understand the difference.

For example, suppose Alan owns some property, and Joan is interested in buying or leasing it at some point in the future. As part of a contract with Alan, Joan might acquire one of these future rights. [Read more…]

Apartment rents continue to increase

Apartment rents are continuing their steady climb, as the growing demand for residential rental space keeps pushing up prices.

The average monthly apartment rent in the U.S. was $1,048 in the last quarter of 2012. That’s an increase of 3.8% over a year earlier, according to research firm Reis, Inc.,

The year-over-year increase is the largest since 2007.

A number of large communities saw year-over-year increases of more than 5% last year, including Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, San Jose and Baltimore. [Read more…]

Short-term rentals can lead to long-term neighbor problems

The number of people who rent a home or condo while on vacation – instead of a hotel or motel room – is skyrocketing. This can be a great thing for a vacationer, who may get a lot more space and convenience at the same or lower cost.

But it’s not necessarily a great thing for neighbors, particularly if several homes in a neighborhood are rented on a frequent basis. On a quiet residential street, short-term rentals can create a variety of noise, parking, congestion and trash problems.

Increasingly, the issue is resulting in disputes and even court cases.

The explosion of vacation rentals is partly due to the weak economy. Owners of vacation homes often decide to rent them rather than try to sell them in a soft market. And struggling homeowners may rent their own homes to make ends meet, particularly if they live near a vacation area or the location of a local festival or event, such that for a few weeks a year a rental may be very profitable. [Read more…]

U.S. Government issues new rules for home mortgages

A federal government agency has issued new rules for home mortgages that will rewrite the way that banks decide who gets a home loan.

The rules are designed to prevent a replay of the housing crisis that resulted from a flood of easy-money loans a few years ago. However, the new rules could have the effect of tightening the availability of mortgages, at a time when banks are already being extremely strict about granting loans.

Under current law, if a homeowner defaults on a mortgage, the homeowner can potentially sue the lender for issuing a loan that the homeowner couldn’t reasonably be expected to pay off.

The way the new rules work is that they give banks and other lenders a “safe harbor” – that is, they say that if a bank issues a loan that meets certain criteria (called a “qualified” mortgage), then it can’t be sued if the borrower defaults. [Read more…]

Tax filing reminder:

July 31 is the deadline for filing 2012 retirement or employee benefit returns (5500 series) for plans on a calendar year.

Budget issues force IRS closures

The IRS will close all of its operations on June 14, July 5, July 22, and August 30, 2013. The current budget situation, including the sequester, has made these closures necessary. IRS employees will be furloughed without pay on these days. Taxpayers should continue to file returns and pay any taxes due as usual, though on these days the IRS will not answer toll-free hotlines or accept or acknowledge receipt of electronically filed returns. Electronic deposits of employment and excise taxes must be made as usual.

Recordkeeping: How to get all that paper under control

It’s spring cleaning time, and that includes your tax paperwork. While it can get a bit confusing, there are some general guidelines that you can follow.

  • Income tax returns. These should be kept indefinitely. You would be amazed how many times the IRS will “lose” a tax return, and this is your only way to prove original filing. You should also keep the various back-up documents associated with the return, such as W-2 forms, mortgage interest statements, year-end brokerage statements, interest/dividend income statements, etc. This may seem like overkill, but you never know when you might need these documents for other purposes.
  • Supporting documents. These are things like cancelled checks, receipts, expense and travel diaries. With respect to retaining these items: three years minimum, five years is better, and seven years is best. How long you keep these records depends on your storage area and audit potential. [Read more…]

Give your children a good financial education

Financial illiteracy appears to be rampant in the younger generation. The same kid who is adept at using a smartphone or iPad may have trouble with basic math skills, balancing a checkbook, or managing money.

Knowing about money – how to earn it, use it, invest it, and share it – is a critical life skill. Unfortunately, such skills are often given short shrift in our education system and homes. Recent surveys have highlighted an astonishing level of ignorance in today’s teenagers when questions about simple financial concepts are raised. For example, one survey found that only 26% of teens understood credit card interest, and only one in three could read a bank statement or balance a checkbook.

If you haven’t already started teaching your children about money and finances, you’re neglecting an important part of their education. But where do you start? Perhaps begin with the following benchmarks of financial literacy. [Read more…]