The Reason Why You Should Have A Will - Even If You Don't Have Many Assets

The Reason Why You Should Have A Will - Even If You Don't Have Many Assets

"If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you. Regardless of how old you are or how much wealth you have, would you rather have government officials dictate where your property goes or would you rather decide that for yourself?”

Should I Hire an Employee or Independent Contractor?

If you run a growing business then you’ve probably already found the need to get help carrying the workload, or soon will. Almost anyone will tell you that you should avoid giving away equity in the company (unless there is a really good reason) so the best options will be to hire employees or hire independent contractors.

Although you can pay an employee or independent contractor to do the same type of work there are key legal differences between the two. It’s important that you understand the distinctions and choose the option that will be most beneficial to your business.

Employees

Perhaps the biggest benefit of hiring an employee is that the employee-employer relationship affords both of you much more security than you’ll get when hiring an independent contractor. Employees are covered under various state and federal laws whereas a contractor is not. If you hire an employee than you have much more control over where and how work is performed because your relationship with an employee is much more exclusive and binding. That comes with pros and cons of course.

Hiring an employee requires jumping through more hoops because the hiring practice usually involves an application and interview and, once hired, more information is required because you will be responsible for reporting payments during the tax year on a W2.

Other considerations also come into play, such as workers compensation, benefits (pension, insurance, etc.), paid vacations, regular paychecks, and meeting minimum wage requirements. While that might seem like a lot to take on, it can often be worth the work because these employee benefits make it much more likely that you retain employees for longer terms and the nature of your legal relationship means that there is room for their responsibilities to evolve as time goes on.

Independent Contractors

Independent contractors have a much less stringent relationship with those for whom they do work. If you hire an independent contractor then the agreement made is specific to the job they are performing and will set a specific payment amount. You cannot expect a contractor to do anything not specified in the signed independent contractor agreement.

The big benefit to independent contractors is that you don’t have to worry about their taxes (issuing a 1099 is required for payments exceeding $600, but that’s it), clearing minimum wage requirements, providing benefits and so on. In many ways this arrangement is simpler: you agree to pay someone to perform certain work and your legal relationship does not extend beyond that agreement.

One drawback to independent contractors is that they will be under no obligation to continue performing services after the terms of a specific agreement are complete. So if you are looking for help on a responsibility that is a crucial and continuous part of your business then it can be risky to delegate that to an independent contractor.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free consultations for you and your business. We draft employee and independent contractor agreements and can advise on the best course of action in your specific situation. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

Beginner's Guide To Completing Your Estate Plan

If you dread the idea of estate planning then, trust us, you are not alone. Many people avoid making proper legal arrangements for their end-of- life desires and assets for as long as possible.

While it is certainly understandable – both because there is some work required and the fact that thinking about death is unpleasant for some – this is the type of thing that should not, and need not, be procrastinated.

The first step is to have a clear understanding of exactly what estate planning entails. Estate planning is simply the legal specification of your desires for the management of all of your property after your death. Estate planning also often includes provisions for your healthcare if incapacitated before death and the desired arrangements for your body after death.

These are decisions you will want to make after giving them proper thought and consideration but just deciding on a course of action is not enough. Unfortunately there are a couple legal hoops that need to be jumped through to make your end-of- life wishes legally binding and enforceable after your death. You will want to consult with a trustworthy attorney in order to arrange your estate planning but below are a few things that everyone should know about the process.

While the term “estate” might leave you inclined to think of estate planning as only necessary for the wealthy it is, in fact, not a matter of wealth at all. You don’t need to live in Wayne Manor to have what is legally considered an estate.

By legal definition, your estate is just the umbrella term for all the property and assets that you own. This extends beyond just homes, cars, and jewelry to other intangible property such as bank accounts and insurance policies. With this understanding in mind, you can see that you don’t need to be of retirement age for estate planning to make sense.

If you own property and would like to have a say in what happens to it when you die then you will want to tackle your own estate planning sooner rather than later. Without legally binding estate planning, your end-of- life circumstances (both in terms of property and your own healthcare/burial matters) will be left to the whims of local laws, relatives, and doctors.

No two estates are the same so no two estate planning processes are the same either. In some cases the transferal of property is simple and clear and requires just a few pages of legal documentation. In most cases, however, arranging who gets what and when they will get it requires a number of different legal documents.

In addition to a declaration of what property goes to what person, you also want to consider aspects such as legal guardianship of dependent children, who will act as your agent in making decisions after your death, and how to handle any outstanding debts and taxes.

The most basic and essential document is a will but most people also find it necessary to set up a trust in order to legally arrange for a person (or people) to have the right to manage all or some of your assets upon your death without going through probate court (which is costly and time-consuming).

Trusts can be set up as revocable or irrevocable, with the former meaning that it can be amended down the road if you so desire and the latter meaning that once finalized it cannot be changed.

Wills and trusts are just two of the most crucial documents needed to properly arrange for your wishes to be carried out after your death. Depending on your circumstance, there may be other estate planning documents that you need and you will certainly want to consult with an attorney in that process.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free estate planning consultations for you and your family. We handle all the steps of estate planning, can help simplify the process for you, and are available to consult on any stage of the process. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

3 Things Every Person Should Know About Small Claims Court

Thankfully, most of us will never find ourselves tangled up in the types of messy legal disputes that make big headlines. That being said, it is fairly common for disputes to arise between businesses or individuals that, though not big enough to make the news, are certainly too big to shrug off and ignore. Every state has a Small Claims court section to handle such disputes.

Small Claims Court is less formal than traditional court and tends to be quicker, easier, and more affordable to navigate. While we would never suggest someone walk into a traditional lawsuit without good legal representation, there may be situations in which it is perfectly reasonable to go to Small Claims Court without a lawyer.

If you’re dealing with a legal dispute and feel that Small Claims Court could be a good option for you then you’ll want to be informed on all the implications. Consulting with a trusted attorney about the specifics of your situation is a good idea but it will be helpful to know a few of the basics.

1. What counts as “small” is defined on a state-by-state basis

Each state designates a limit for small claims. These amounts range from $2,000 to $25,000, depending on the state. Utah’s limit is $11,000. If you are looking to sue for an amount that exceeds your state’s established limit then any legal course of action would need to be settled outside of Small Claims Court, such as a State District Court.

2. There is a set process for Small Claims

Although Small Claims Court is less involved than traditional court it does still involve a number of steps. These steps will vary from state to state and city to city but the basics are the same. First, you’ll need to figure out the appropriate place to file. In Utah, Small Claims must be filed in the city where the defendant resides and/or where the claim arose. Second, you will need to fill out the appropriate forms and file them at the courthouse of the city with jurisdiction. Third, you’ll want to prepare adequately for your day in court.

3. Preparing for Small Claims Court

Once you’ve properly filed your paperwork and have a court date set then you’ll want to make sure you are ready to state your case. Gather and organize all relevant documents, practice telling your side of the story clearly and concisely but with sufficient detail and, if possible, bring a disinterested third party to speak to your claim (an expert on the type of service in dispute, for example, could benefit you greatly).

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free consultations for you and your business. We can draft and review demand letters for small claims, help you navigate the paperwork, and consult on any stage of the process. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

 

Landlord Best Practices: What You Need to Know to Avoid Legal Trouble With Tenants

Like any investment, owning a rental property (whether you own a second property or have converted a walk-in basement, for example) comes with costs. Although the initial purchase, conversion, or renovation will usually be the most expensive phase there will always be costs associated with maintaining that property.

Normal maintenance costs are to be expected but one thing you won’t want to hassle with is unexpected legal troubles. Most landlord-tenant legal disputes end in settlement or small claims court but either of those options will mean wasted time, wasted money, and extra stress for you as a property owner and/or landlord.

And most disputes are completely avoidable if you’ve covered your bases before asking the tenant to sign on the dotted line. While it is a good idea to use a qualified attorney to draft your lease agreements, you should be aware of a some of the most common and important legal aspects yourself.

Fair Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the federal Fair Housing Act Amendments Act of 1988, prohibit discrimination on the basis of: race or color, religion, national origin, familial status or age (including families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), disability or handicap, and sex. In other words, it is illegal for you to profile or deny a prospective renter based on their belonging to any of these legally protected categories.

Most landlords have no trouble avoiding overt discrimination but you should be aware that more subtle actions can still land you in a sticky legal mess. Broadly referred to as “steering,” these actions include things like trying to convince a prospective tenant to look elsewhere even though your property’s features seem to fall within their search parameters or discouraging renters by exaggerating downsides to your property or failing to inform them about key upsides.

Likewise, something like suggesting that a prospective tenant might not feel comfortable in the neighborhood could lead to fair housing complaints.

For those with larger rental properties that include multiple units it is possible to be accused of steering even if you’ve agreed to rent a unit to the person in question. If a landlord rents to families with small children but only places those families in units on a certain floor then this might be deemed a form of steering because the landlord is imposing their own limits.

Although complaints about steering can be tough to legally penalize, particularly if it an isolated incident, it is still a situation you will want to avoid altogether.

Property Maintenance

As a property owner your rental spaces are obligated to meet certain habitability requirements. These requirements vary from state to state (and city to city in some cases) but generally include providing a structurally safe and sufficiently waterproofed premise with available heat, water, and electricity.

A landlord’s “right to enter” also varies from state to state – in Utah you have the right to enter your rental property to deal with an emergency or to make repairs, alterations, or improvements but you must obtain permission 24 hours in advance (unless the rental agreement specifies otherwise).

It’s important to be aware of the rights your tenant has in regards to repairs as well. If your tenant requests repairs to bring the property up to habitability requirements and you don’t make those repairs then they have several options such as withholding rent until the problem is fixed or making the repairs themselves and deducting the costs from the next month’s rent. In some cases they may be legally allowed to move out during the middle of a lease without the responsibility of paying any further rent.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free consultations for you and your business. We can draft and review landlord-tenant contracts to ensure you are entering into a fair and lawful agreement with your tenants. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

Quick Guide to Music Licensing: An Intro to a Musician's Legal Rights

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Licensing can be a significant form of revenue and exposure for musicians even if it doesn’t tend to grab headlines like touring or record sales. In fact, there are plenty of songwriters out there who make a great living without ever stepping in front of a live crowd or releasing music under their own name. But the world of licensing can be a complicated one so if you’re an independent musician feeling overwhelmed by the legalese that tends to accompany such deals, then you are not alone. 

Comps and Masters

Every song consists legally of the composition and the master, with the composition referring to the melodies, lyrics, notes, etc. that make up a song and the master referring to a specific recording of that composition. It is incredibly easy to copyright a composition (assuming it’s an original work): all you need is a tangible copy.

This could mean notes and lyrics written on paper or it could mean the song being played into a recording device (even just a rough recording on your smartphone constitutes a tangible copy). That’s it. There’s no need to register it anywhere for a legal copyright to exist (however note that if you want to enforce your copyright by filing a lawsuit then you do need to register it).

Once you’ve got your tangible copy then you have the exclusive right to: perform the work publicly, make and distribute copies (i.e. masters) of the work, reproduce the work, or create a derivative work (like a remix or parody). Thus, absent your permission, it is illegal for anyone to use your songs in any of those ways. Typically, permission is granted by issuing the applicable license to another party.

Types of Licenses

A copyright owner can issue (or authorize an agent to issue) a number of different licenses. They are as follows:

Public Performance License: the right to perform your song publicly. Some examples of public performances include: a band playing a cover of someone else’s song at a concert, background music in restaurants, or a song being played at halftime of a pro basketball game. Obviously it would be impossible for each individual artist to track all of the occasions when their music is played publicly so fortunately you don’t need worry about that. Performance Rights Organizations (BMI, ASCAP, etc.) allow artists to register their music and then pass off the task of collecting royalties for public performances to them.

Mechanical Licenses: the right to reproduce and distribute your composition. Record companies, for example, require mechanical licenses in order to make and sell records. If you are funding the recording of your song or album then you will typically retain ownership of the master in addition to the composition.

Synchronization Licenses: the right to use your composition in timed synchronization with visual images. Examples: songs used in commercials, TV shows, and movies. It’s important to remember that a license to use both the composition and master is required for a synch agreement so if you own a song outright then you’ll double up on this opportunities.

It is worth noting that the fees range wildly for these various licenses but if someone requests permission to use your music then you should ask for a fee. Occasionally the expected exposure of a usage may be worth waiving a fee altogether but even in those instances it is plausible to get even a small licensing fee as well. It is common for artists to legally transfer copyright to someone else temporarily/conditionally so that this entity (e.g. publishers) may act as agent on the artists’ behalf. This is only advisable in a situation where the entity is likely to generate opportunities for you that you would otherwise miss.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free consultations for you, your band, and/or your business. We can review licensing contracts to ensure you are getting a fair fee and avoiding any problematic agreements. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

The Key Benefits of Creating Your Own Business Entity

If you run a business as a sole proprietor under your own name, or a DBA, but have yet to legally form a business entity then you’ll want to be informed on the options available to you and their respective benefits. Forming a corporation or LLC requires some paperwork and minor fees but in most cases the effort and cost is small compared to the benefits.

The LLC

Most small business owners opt to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) because of the flexibility and simplicity that this option affords. LLCs can be structured in nearly any way seen fit by the members and changes can be made with relatively little hassle as the company grows or evolves.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of creating an LLC, as opposed to a sole proprietorship or general partnership, is that your personal assets will be protected. Your home, for example, could not be sought by creditors to pay outstanding business debts.

Although other types of corporations will also allow you to limit personal liability, one advantage of an LLC is that business tax liabilities are passed through to members and the business itself is not taxed. The tax benefits, coupled with the simplicity and flexibility, make an LLC a great option for any company that plans to keep ownership restricted to a relatively small number of individuals.

The C Corporation

A standard corporation (commonly referred to as a C Corporation) is helpful for businesses anticipating venture capital funding because it affords more flexibility when multiple investors are involved (and is particularly helpful if those investors won’t be actively involved in day-to-day decisions).

Although C Corps are subject to the “double tax,” this option allows more legal options that offset heavy taxation than an LLC or sole proprietorship. Both the salary and fringe benefits (health insurance premiums etc.) of a shareholder would be tax deductible, for example.

An additional benefit to C Corps is that they can offer stocks and stock options can be a big incentive for keeping and/or attracting employees. C Corps are a terrific choice for companies expecting the type of expansion that would require numerous investors.

The S Corporation

The S Corp’s most attractive feature is pass-through taxation. Similar to LLCs, S Corps are not subject to taxation on the corporate level and personal level. Unlike LLCs, however, S Corps offer many of the benefits mentioned in the C Corp section above.

The key difference between the S Corp and C Corp is that S Corps face more restrictions than C Corps when it comes to those benefits. S Corps are not allowed to have more than 100 shareholders, for example. S Corps also cannot have non-US citizen shareholders. These restrictions do not apply to C Corps. S Corps do have stocks (and the stock options that come with them) so they offer that advantage over LLCs but these stocks are restricted to a single class whereas C Corps are allowed more diversity in stocks.

The S Corp is a great choice for companies that anticipate growth outside of the local market but do not anticipate expanding internationally.

Call J. Cutler Law Today

At J. Cutler Law, we offer free initial consultations for you and your business. We can help you decide what type of entity best fits your business’s needs. Call us today for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.

What Everyone Needs to Know About Estate Planning

Curious about estate planning but don't know where to start?

Then check out the slideshow below to learn the basics about estate planning. (Click the bottom right corner for full-screen).

Call J. Cutler Law Today

To determine what estate planning documents are best for you, or to answer any of your Estate Planning questions, call J. Cutler Law for a free consultation at (801) 618-4469 or contact us online.