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14 Fun, Free Activities for You and Your Family to Enjoy During the Lockdown

OK, we’ve all been living La Vida Lockdown for about a month now. And maybe we have even managed to adjust to the lockdown lifestyle somewhat. But even if, like me, you are socially distant at the best of times, you may be experiencing some cabin fever. You’ve now read all of the previously unread books that were in your bookshelves, binge-watched as much Netflix as you can stand, and finally realized, like me,  that you are not going to use your surfeit of stay-at home time for cleaning, organizing, or exercising. So, what to do?

Memes. Covid-19 has really brought out the humor and creativity in people. I have lost many hours being entertained by memes. Some of my favorites are the Batman memes, and those involving kids and their parents trying to cope with school-from-home. You can Google some of the best ones, or just wait for them to cross your dash, or even better, if you are creative and have a good sense of humor, join the fun, and create and share your own.

Online Games. If you are a serious gamer and embrace the covid quarantine as perfect justification for staying in your room and playing games nonstop (finally, vindication!), you will never see this article. You were ahead of the curve. But if you haven’t done much gaming since you were in school, maybe you’re rediscovering the sims. If you have a shorter attention span (mea culpa), there are more traditional, but no less addictive, games online, like Sudoku, Set, and Solitaire.

Coloring Books. You finally have time to make use of all those interesting, grown-up coloring books you bought a few years ago. If you were able to resist that fad, did you know that plenty of the world’s museums offer free, downloadable coloring books? Not sure that’s really the best use of their budgetary resources, but there they are, nonetheless. Whether you prefer the art of ancient Greece, medieval stained-glass patterns, or botanicals, there are some superb designs to color.

Virtual tours. Avoid long lines, the TSA, delays, expense, and lost baggage. Take advantage of some of the virtual tours of top destinations, or just take a short trip using Google street view. You can even time travel, and see ancient Rome. Your virtual journey may just be the most pleasant travel experience you have ever enjoyed.

National Parks. You can’t get there in person right now, but thanks to these virtual experiences, you can enjoy the best of the great outdoors in the U.S. national parks without having to worry about mosquitos, weather, wild animals, or where to find a restroom.

Live Cams. If you are missing your spring trip to the zoo, lots of zoos, aquariums, and human wildlife offer live cams of their daily existence. So check out the baby tigers, naked mole rats, or impoverished students trying to earn a buck letting you share their daily lives. You can share an animal enclosure or a tiny apartment without violating any social distancing rules.

Museum Virtual Tours. Art, history, archeology, natural history: whatever your interest, it is probably there.

Dallas Arboretum Virtual Visits. The spring blooms are not to be missed, even if you can’t get there in person. When I worked there on the Paseo years ago, I know I was sometimes rained on, snowed on, and even got heatstroke once, but I remember it just as Sunny World, a beautiful place filled with families enjoying the garden installations, school kids on field trips shepherded their teachers, and groups of friends exploring all the 66 acres had to offer.

Concerts. Many arts organizations are providing their musical offerings for free, their performances going viral, so you don’t have to. NPR has a list of many of the classical concerts, and the Berlin Philharmonic, among many others, is providing free access to their performances while concert halls are closed. If classical music grates on your last nerve, rock, pop, electronic dance, and other types of artists are also livestreaming for us while we are stuck at home, possibly drinking one too many quarantinis. I’ve bookmarked the David Guetta livestream for charity to listen to later.

Audiobooks. Audible, for example, has a large collection of free audiobooks online right now to help get you through the coronapocalypse. I sampled the first book of the Harry Potter series, the Jungle Book, and Brave New World (seemed topical).

Public Libraries. The libraries have done an amazing job of stepping up with new ways of providing services while we’re all essentially under house arrest. You can stream or use curbside pickup. Check out your local library. They will get you a library card if you don’t have on yet.

Free Online Courses. For the more ambitious among us, there are all sorts of free online courses out there. Learn a language, study art, learn coding, or take a biochemistry course at an Ivy League university; the choice is yours.

Academic Journals. If you’re a knowledge junkie and love the minutiae of an intense discipline, the obscure discoveries in a difficult field, or just want to learn something about the latest research in virology, given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, you can find it all at the MUSE site. Universities and research institutions around the world are making vast quantities of their information for available for free. But hurry, much of the free access seems to end by June 30th, or even before.

Pen Pals. If you remember the joy of receiving a letter from your pen pal in France or England during high school, you may want to seek a pen pal. You can find people all over the world to correspond with, either electronically or by snail mail, with the colorful stamps that provides for your collection. Brush up on your high school French, or just correspond in English (or Texan).

Fandom. If you’re a nerd and love this social distancing and isolation time as much as I do, you probably already know that there is no better time to read and write fanfiction and to play in the fictional worlds that we have come to love (and which are almost certainly better than the present one in which we find ourselves, and some of them are dystopian). I have been spending time at J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, which  has launched a Harry Potter at home hub, where you can get your wizarding passport, learn to which Hogwarts house you belong, and receive your virtual magic wand. There are also free activities and a link to a free audiobook listening experience.

People have come together and responded in so many positive ways during the pandemic, so enjoy the opportunities for free experiences that are offered during lockdown. We may never have so much free access to knowledge, culture, and virtual activity again.

by Jen Green, Burch Law

6 Critical Steps for Avoiding Business Litigation Liability

Set up an LLC. The State of Texas provides for the creation of limited liability companies (LLCs), and for the registering and operation in-state of LLCs created in other jurisdictions. Properly operated, and absent fraud and willfully bad behavior, the LLC shields its Members from liability and judgments. Those who obtain judgments against an LLC Member have to file a charging order with the court to try and obtain payment on the judgment, and the charging order only applies to LLC distributions to that Member. If there are no such distributions, for instance, if the LLC is putting its profits back into the company, then the judgment holder is out of luck. Additionally, where someone holds multiple investment properties or other separate assets, they can place each of those assets into a separate series of a Texas series LLC, and each series is protected from any liabilities of other series.

Make sure you have an operating agreement. Many people create their companies online, and get a Certificate of Formation, but never create an operating agreement (or Bylaws or Articles) for their entity. But if you don’t have an operating agreement, the State of Texas has one for you in its Business Operations Code, and you may not like its one-size-fits-all provisions. So be sure and create an operating agreement when you form your LLC or other form of company. An attorney can do this for you for a relatively small fee, and tailor it to reflect your wishes, including a succession plan. The operating agreement is an enforceable contract, and if you end up in litigation, wouldn’t you rather be enforcing a contract that you had designed in your favor to reflect how you want to operate your business and where you want the profits to go, rather than enforcing a generic contract provided by the Code?

Include emergency management provisions. Especially where you have a single-Member LLC or one with very few Members, situations can arise where no member is able to operate the company at a critical time.  For example, say a coronavirus pandemic has stranded one Member on a quarantined cruise ship with poor access to internet or cell service, and the other Member is in ICU following a car wreck, and the LLC has no other employees: who is going to finish the work on the big branding project for the Fortune 500 company by the deadline? Make sure your operating agreement provides for Substitute Members in the event of an emergency. The agreement can also provide for who obtains your Member interest, or its financial value as an assignee, in the event of your incapacity or your exit from this worldly stage on to the next great adventure.

Always file your franchise tax report, taxes, & Public Information Report every year. The State of Texas places yearly filing requirements on companies registered in the State. For example, for an LLC, you will need to file an annual public information report updating your most basic structural information for the public database, an annual franchise tax report, and pay any franchise taxes due. If you fail to make these annual filings in a timely way, your LLC falls into tax and/or administrative forfeiture status, and you lose the limited liability protection that an LLC offer. The Members become personally liable on company obligations. And if you are involved in litigation, it is the time period during which the subject of the litigation arose that governs. So if that is when your LLC was out of status, you are personally liable. The State also requires that you keep your registered agent name and address current.

Document changes to your company structure or other important aspects of the company.  Any material changes to company Members/partners/shareholders, management, procedures, or assets) should be documented and the documentation should be kept with your other business records. If you have bought out a Member of the LLC via handshake and an exchange of cash or maybe IP or other capital, and failed to document it in any way, you don’t want that allegedly former Member successfully suing you for a share of the company and its profits because all of the company paperwork still says that there are the two Members with equal rights in the company. Also be sure to document amendments to procedures, actions taken by unanimous written consent, and acquisitions or divestments or property. The documents can be fairly simple, so long as they are clear, and are signed. An attorney can help you in documenting company actions.

Read your contracts and abide by them. Operating agreements and other contracts are enforceable. If you don’t understand a contract you are asked to sign, don’t sign it; or if some of its provisions seem sketchy to you, they probably are. An attorney can help you review the contract and pinpoint concerns and red flags before you sign. You or your attorney can negotiate more favorable terms. Don’t do anything by oral agreement; any verbal understandings you think you have won’t help you when it comes time to litigate and the written contract is presented. Many people don’t take contracts seriously and think the long provisions in the contract don’t apply to them, and then they are surprised when they lose a court case and are ordered to pay tens of thousands or more in a judgment. Don’t let that person be you. Get attorney help when you need before you sign a contract.

By Jen Green, Burch Law

7 Essential Elements of a Good Will

There are 7 essential things that you must put in your Will to make sure it has a quick and clean probate. They are listed below, along with cautionary notes about what can happen if you leave these critical elements out of your Will.

  1. Name all of your family members. If you do not have a section up front identifying your family (and that can include family by choice as well as by blood), courts likely will make your executor do a lengthy and expensive determination of heirship to identify your family, prior to the Will even being addressed. Additionally, if you fail to include family members (whom you may, quite reasonably, want to forget about), said forgotten fam have grounds to challenge the Will on the basis that you clearly were not of sound mind, since you forgot your own family members. And sound mind is one of the necessities for making a valid Will; you don’t want your Will invalidated on the alleged basis that you were not of sound mind, but in some stage of dementia.
  2. Name specifically anyone you want to exclude. In the same section where you identify your family, be sure and specifically name any relatives that you do not want to receive part of your estate. You only need to specifically exclude those who would inherit from you in the absence of a Will (spouse, children, parents, or siblings). If you don’t exclude such relatives specifically, and there is a problem with the Will, they may end up getting a share of your estate even if they were not named as beneficiaries. Don’t let a not-so-beloved relative get the last laugh.
  3. Name an executor. And preferably two backups to your first-named executor. If you fail to name an executor in your Will, or if you name one, but that one predeceases you, those who would inherit from you will need to choose one by agreement. That is easy when there are few to agree and they are all agreeable. But where you have blended families or estranged relatives, this makes for a prime opportunity to rock the boat, or just plain obstruct execution of the Will. The court could appoint someone where the family can’t agree, but that could engender extra fees, delay, and paperwork, and limit the freedom of the family to deal with estate property.
  4. Set up an independent administration, provide for service without bond, and use the statutory language regarding inventory et al. You do not want to set your family up for a dependent administration, where every step of administration and execution of your Will must be approved by the Court, and bond must be posted. The administrator would have to file annual accountings, and would be entitled to a share of the estate, 5% or more, for fulfilling their duties. An administrator is also in the position to foil the waiting beneficiaries of the estate and delay distribution of the estate by, for example, changing attorneys at every opportunity, waiting for the dates on delinquent tax letters to pass, and being unresponsive and failing to provide information to attorneys. While some courts will recognize your intent if you simply state that you appoint someone as your independent executor to serve without bond, some courts are not reasonable. So be sure and include the statutory language stating “that no other action shall be had in the probate court in relation to the settlement of my estate than the probating and recording of the will and the return of any required inventory, appraisement, and list of claims of my estate.”
  5. Make sure you have a self-proving affidavit as part of your will. Texas does not actually require that your Will be notarized in order to be a valid Will. But if your Will is only signed and witnessed, it is an “attested” Will and not a self-proven Will, and in order to prove it up in Court, your executor will need to have a witness to the Will testify in Court as to the circumstances of signing the Will. This seems easy, right? But if 20 or 30 years have passed since the Will was signed, good luck locating any of the witnesses, if they still survive, and getting them to testify. We have on occasion found such witnesses, and some have been good and caring souls who have stepped up. But in this busy world, even if a witness is otherwise well-intentioned, it is much easier to dodge this task than not. A self-proving affidavit allows you to prove the will up in advance, by following the statutory language, and that affidavit can be added up to a year after the initial signing of the Will. In this time of coronavirus lockdown, it is one of the options for getting a Will in place sooner rather than later. Do your Will now, and add the self-proving affidavit after the lockdown is lifted.
  6. Make sure everyone signs the Will in front of a notary after the notary has asked the questions of a proper signing ceremony. There are various elements that must be established before the Will can be considered validly signed, witnessed, and notarized, such as that the person making the Will is of age and of sound mind. Make sure that all these bases are covered, so that in the event the Will is later challenged by a disgruntled relative who did not receive as much as they wanted under the Will, that challenge will fail. An estates planning attorney will take everyone through the proper sequence of questions before a Will signing.
  7. Keep the original signed, notarized Will in a safe place and make sure your Executors know where that place is and can access it. If your executor does not have the original Will, the Court will presume that the Will was revoked or destroyed, in other words, that there is no Will. Especially if someone is trying to probate the Will more than 4 years after the maker of the Will passed away, the probate will follow the steps that would be necessary if there was no Will at all. This can result in thousands of dollars of additional probate costs and several extra months of delay, a real problem if the family needs access to the estate to pay bills. So, keep your Will in a safe, but accessible, place (not a locked safe deposit box for which no relative has the key). Make sure that your executor and alternate executors know where that original Will is located before you pass away.

There are some other things too that you will want to put in your Will: guardians for children under the age of 18 (otherwise, your survivors face a court proceeding to name a guardian); trusts for children under 18 who inherit (otherwise, their gifts may have to chill in the Court Registry until the kids turn 18, and even then, there is a not-so-fun paperwork process to try and spring the funds from the Registry); and trusts for any incapacitated beneficiaries (which incapacitation can sometimes happen if your Will has been in place many years).

It is always tempting to save a few dollars and try and DIY your Will, or download a free Will template online, or buy a “Will kit” at an office supply. But we have many probate clients who could tell you about the lengthy delays, extra expense, and agony such Wills will cause for your survivors. Sometimes these DIY Wills are worse and more costly than no Will at all. These one-size-fits-all Wills inevitably fail to include language necessary in Texas, and almost never get signed, witnessed, and notarized properly. Others are signed and witnessed but not filled in. It is relatively inexpensive to have an actual estates planning attorney do a proper Will for you, and that will save thousands of dollars in the probate phase.

On the other hand, you will not have to suffer these consequences of a poorly drafted or executed Will yourself. So, if you feel your relatives need a run for your money, by all means, DIY. Only you know if they deserve it.

By Jen Green, Burch Law

 

 

How to Write Your Own Will in Texas

During this time, there is a heightened concern for getting your affairs in order. One of the biggest challenges is getting your Will signed with all legal requirements. To be a valid Will, you must sign it in the physical presence of two unrelated, disinterested witnesses. For added protection, it should also be notarized. That is three people who are not your family that you have to be face to face with at a time when you are supposed to be social distancing and sheltered at home.

One exception is a holographic Will that is entirely in your own handwriting and signed. That’s it! Now, this is a TEMPORARY fix and has many drawbacks as far as not being able to have the degree of legal complexity and thoroughness that even a simple Will requires and it does require extra steps to prove-up in probate court. BUT this is better than having nothing and it is better than trying to complete an online form (that still need the formal signing requirements).

We do not recommend that you attempt to write this without any instruction, so we’ve created an online tutorial that will guide you on the best way to Write Your Own Will. Click here to start the tutorial!

5 Tips for navigating the SBA PPP Loan Process

NOTE: This information is changing on a daily basis, please contact us with the most recent information.

Everyone is feeling pain during the Covid-19 shutdown, including previously solid businesses, and their employees, that are having to close or stop work indefinitely in the face of increasingly draconian measures to stop the virus from spreading. To help ease the pain, the government has allotted $350 billion for the Payroll Protection Program as part of its $2 trillion stimulus bill. So, if you are a small business owner, what can you do to get your share?  See below:

  1. Know whether you are eligible to apply:

The PPP loans generally are available for small businesses with 500 or less employees, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors, nonprofits, tribal businesses, and in some cases, businesses like hospitality and restaurant businesses with more then 500 employees in aggregate, but less than 500 at each location (see the SBA rules at the link provided below). Independent contractors and the self-employed must wait until April 10, 2020 to apply. Otherwise, applications are already being taken, but the application process is off to a rocky start, as both lenders and applicants don’t understand the rules yet, and the rules are still being tweaked, with other relief programs, not necessarily for small business though, coming down the pipeline. Under the PPP, you need to have had employees on the payroll by 2/15/2020, and they must be rehired by 6/30/2020 if you let them go due to the economic shutdown. You can read eligibility rules and other detailed information regarding the PPP guidelines on the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s website.

  1. Understand the lenders’ lending rules:

The most important thing to know is that the lenders are operating under a “Know your Customer” rule following the debacle of the 2008 downturn after which many of them were held liable for loans to fraudulent applicants. The lenders, for the most part, have posted rules on their websites. Bank of America, for instance, is requiring applicants to have had a loan with their bank by 2-15-2020; and Chase is requiring applicants to have had a business checking account with them by 2-15-2020. Wells Fargo has already exhausted the available loan funds unavailable under the regulatory cap imposed on the bank due to past irregularities. If you fit the “Know your Customer” criteria and met 2-15-2020 deadlines, you can apply at any federally insured depository bank, credit union, participating Farm Credit System institution, or SBA7(a) lender that “knows” you. And more lenders are applying and being approved as you are reading this article, up to 150 per hour, as per a treasury department briefing to bankers on April 6th. Applicants have until June 30, 2020 to apply, and loans are being processed on a 1st come, 1st served basis. To date, while many applications, for tens of billions of dollars in value, have already been submitted, not very many have been approved, as applicants did not meet the “Know your Customer” criterion. But that said, it still is a good idea to get your application documentation together and apply as soon as possible.

  1. Be able to document your application:

A link to the application itself is provided below. To support your application, you will need to provide proof of your employee headcount average for 2019 and your average monthly payroll costs in 2019, or if you are a new business, you will need to provide that for January and February 2020. You won’t have to put up collateral or a personal guarantee for the loan, but there are criminal penalties for fraud. If your application is successful, you should receive the equivalent of 2.5 months of your average payroll expense in 2019, or if you are a new business, your average payroll expense for January and February 2020(through 2/25/2020). See more about the application form and its documentation requirements on the SBA website and lender websites.

  1. Apply your loan proceeds properly to receive loan forgiveness:

You can use the proceeds of your loan on business overhead costs like payroll, rent, utilities, and mortgage interest, and the loan will be forgiven, without you having to pay income tax on the forgiven amount, if you apply at least 75% of the proceeds to payroll costs within 8 weeks after receiving the loan, and maintain your employee headcount without cutting their pay. Remember, only the interest part of a mortgage payment will be forgiven, so you need to apply your loan proceeds wisely.

  1. Document your use of loan proceeds and present them to your lender for loan forgiveness:

8 weeks after you receive your loan, you will need to prove to your lender your expenses and how you spent the loan proceeds, so maintaining good documentation of this is essential (and may already be part of your ongoing business practice). Even if you find that you really need to pay the business’s mortgage, and not just the interest, with your loan amount, and you can’t meet the loan forgiveness criteria, all is not necessarily lost. The interest that will be charged on the loan is only 1%, and repayment is deferred for 6 months.

Other relief for small business owners, besides the new PP loans, is available through disaster assistance, and enhanced debt relief in other SBA loan programs. Right now, we are all in the same boat basically during the economic shutdown, and it is important to seek widely for all the available forms of relief that might help.  A PPP loan is a good start though.

By Jen Green, Burch Law

BUSINESS CHANGES IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

Don’t let the coronapocalypse get you down: the future belongs to those who can adapt and see the needs and opportunities ahead

These are interesting times. As we have been bemoaning the lack of toilet paper and the ability to visit our favorite restaurants, the gaps in our technology, infrastructure, and general ways of life have been revealing themselves. Additionally, we can see what is really important in our lives, and what is just gravy. For those who can see the ways to fill those gaps, their fortune awaits.

If you are a business owner, you have perhaps been realizing how you could save the huge overhead cost of rents paid to your landlord, and use those monies in better ways than paying for space you don’t really need. Vast swaths of the business landscape have (finally!) been discovering that we can work from home quite efficiently. And the working from home is more civilized, keeps employees happier, and saves commute time that can be better spent on other tasks.

Zoom and LogMeIn have suddenly become essential tools for everyone, but they also show that there are great opportunities for those who can create more such tools, so that we aren’t all dependent on 1 or 2 currently overloaded systems. Skype has stepped up with a Meet Now application for instance. And we would need innovative new marketing systems with a wide reach that could get the word out about such useful new products.

There is an opportunity for innovation in trucking and logistics, the delivery-end crux of our national supply chain. Industry players with the ability at a moment’s notice to change their routes, and quickly make short-term contracts with new vendors and buyers to cope with a crisis or a break in the chain, could divert supplies piling up in warehouses or production facilities to where they are most needed. This would apply to air freight too.

Another thing we see tis the need for more local production. No one should be completely dependent on extra-national suppliers for any essentials of their economy. The future is probably going to see more pandemics rather than less, and now is a good time to build for such contingencies. Similarly, no economy should be dependent on the need to export the bulk of its production elsewhere. Because sometimes, as China recently discovered, you won’t be able to produce or to export.

Efficient hydroponics and greenhouses could supply local produce in a time of crisis. Lab-grown meats could be a game-changer, but probably like many of you, I am not sure I am ready to go for that yet, even though it is probably cleaner than traditional meats.

There is a wider need for inexpensive, efficient generators, and new fuel sources. We are all too dependent on the larger energy grids and supply chains. One of the few good things about the current crisis is that the price of gas has been going down. But that can change, as we have all seen. Widely available and economically accessible methods of transport not dependent on oil and gas (or electricity generated by it) would be a game-changer.

Cultural venues are offering free virtual tours and concerts. You can travel and vacation without the hassle and without even leaving home. Audible has some free audio book offerings. The Dallas Arboretum has a wonderful aerial drone tour with a lovely musical soundtrack. It’s all great! For those of us who previously did not have computers or internet at home, it has been the time to change that. Builders of in-home shelters and storage facilities may be seeing a boom in business. Apparently, gun sales certainly have soared. Prepping has gone mainstream.

There are also immediate opportunities: payment systems are scrambling to climb on board the helicopter-money train and be a middle-man delivery system (no doubt for a fine fee) that helps bring your stimulus check to you.

Traditional lenders are in some cases balking at lending under the emergency small-business loan program that is part of the $2 trillion stimulus package. The guidelines are not clear, and their underwriters simply do not have enough time to reasonably digest the vast quantities of information that are part of the loan application. And some lenders were liable after the 2008 stimulus, when loans weren’t paid back, or they found they had lent to fraudulent entities. There is always a lot of opportunity for fraud in any government program, and that comes from the top all the way down. If you are a business owner applying for the program, you may have noticed the invasive information grab: you need to supply all your payroll records, lease information, costs and revenues and so on. There is some opportunity for loan forgiveness of the federally-backed loans, if you use the money to pay your employees. And new lenders are being approved as we write this.

If everyone broke their lease that now sees that they are trapped in an unnecessary and highly expensive lease contract, with an unreasonable landlord who grants no break on rent in these times when no money is coming in, what would happen? Does that landlord have the time, money, and legal staff to sue everyone for breach of contract? Is this an opportunity for landlord-side attorneys to find new, lucrative employment? Or would everyone be forced to adapt to a better way of doing things? So much of brick-and-mortar really is mostly obsolete in these times, and empty malls could be better turned into apartment or townhome communities or entertainment venues. Particularly for commercial landlords, this might be a good time to grant some temporary rent forgiveness, until tenants are able to bring in money again to pay you. If you are known as the more decent and reasonable commercial landlord, surely businesses looking for a place to rent would know that you are the one to come to? Otherwise, businesses that suddenly see less value in renting the premises may go elsewhere as soon as possible,

Also obsolete are paper newspapers. The waste of ink and paper is unconscionable.

But I digress. Anyway, it is a new world. We need to adapt. And always keep plenty of toilet paper on hand.

by Jen Green, Burch Law

 

5 Reasons Why You Should Get a Will NOW! (COVID-19 Edition)

  1. You are contemplating your own mortality.
  2. You have more time on your hands to think through these decisions.
  3. You are no longer unsure about who you trust to name as guardians of your children, because at this point, you’d let anyone take them!
  4. You’ve run out of things to talk about with your family.
  5. Beat the rush of people who are waiting to get this done once the dust settles. We are already dealing with a high volume of clients anxious to get this planning done; just imagine what it will be like when things begin to return to normal.

These are uncertain times and many are feeling anxious. What better time to get this vital planning started? You can even view the recording of our online class: How To Write Your Own Will: https://bit.ly/2WW9Ecg.

And remember: If you don’t have a Will, the state of Texas has one for you!

Contact us for more information!

APOSTILLES

by Jen Green, Burch Law

You may never have heard of apostilles; and to be fair, you may never need one. But if you do need one or more apostilles, time is usually of the essence, international transactions are pending, and you need someone familiar with the apostille process to help you obtain them in a timely manner.

When you have a transaction that crosses international borders, for example: if you are opening a business office abroad, buying property overseas, or inheriting an estate outside of the U.S., you may need various documents with apostilles to document the authenticity of the document or the identity of the signatory.

An apostille basically is a form of document authentication established by treaty that can be used in nations that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. The Apostille Treaty (or Apostille Convention) is an international treaty that came out of the Hague Convention on Private International Law. Various nations signed on at different times and under different conditions, so you need to know the apostille requirements for the country that will receive your document with its apostille. This variety makes the process fun.

There are several types of apostille authentications that you can obtain in Texas: recordable documents issued by a Texas officer such as a County Clerk, for instance – you will need to submit the original or a certified copy to the Texas Authentications Unit in Austin; non-recordable documents that are notarized by a Texas Notary Public – you will submit the original document with an original, notarized signature; copies (such as of a passport photo page) that are verified by the signatory/person making the copy and notarized by a Texas Notary Public; requests relating to child adoption; and Texas corporations documents on file with the Texas Secretary of State that can be authenticated by the Texas Secretary of State corporations unit. Some of the apostille requests require different request forms from the standard request, and all require payment of fees and specification for the apostille agency of the nation to which you will send the apostilled documents.

In Texas, the turnaround time for receiving your apostilled document back is relatively quick compared to most government processes, but you want to make sure that you have submitted your documents in a form that the agency can validly authenticate and apostille, along with the proper request and fee payment, or your much-needed apostilles may be delayed for failure to follow the specific requirements of convention and treaty.

So if you find yourself in need of one or more apostilles, contact us. We have experience in obtaining apostilles and in formatting documents and requests to comport with treaty and convention requirements. Let us help you navigate the maze of cross-border document authentications.

Rainbow Marriage; Green Card

by Jen Green, Burch Law

OK, so the federal government has finally recognized that love is love and a true marriage of souls is valid whatever may be the physical gender(s) of those uniting in matrimony. The U.S. federal government now recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages, even though some of the individual states of the United States do not. Fortunately for those whose marriage partner is of the same gender but of another nation, the marriage-based immigration process is a federal matter.

So, if you are a U.S. citizen, and your true love is from abroad and happens to be of the same gender as yourself (as gender is commonly defined – the full continuum of gender identity being beyond the scope of this particular blog entry), you now have the opportunity to sponsor them for legal permanent residence in the United States! Yes, your partner may now obtain a U.S. green card through marriage. For purposes of this blog, let’s call it the U.S. rainbow card!

The marriage itself is just the first step though in the green card process. If you are a U.S. citizen, a visa is immediately available for your spouse. If you are a U.S. permanent resident and your spouse is from abroad, they fall into the second preference category, and may have a lengthy wait (currently around two years) before a visa becomes available for them.

In either case, there are forms to fill, documents to gather, and a medical exam with a government-approved physician to undergo. If you married and live together in the USA, you may file everything by mail, and simply wait. There will be a biometrics appointment in your local community for photos and fingerprints of your spouse, and an interview at the local USCIS office.

The marriage-based interview can be notoriously difficult. The interview process is designed to weed out fraudulent applications. It isn’t infallible, clearly, but it does have some success here and there. People might fail even with a genuine marriage if they don’t pay attention to their spouse’s habits or preferences (does anyone else know people who don’t pay close attention to their spouse’s habits or preferences?), or if they guess at the answer to a question where they don’t know. There are other challenges if your chosen life mate has criminal convictions or has associations with groups the government is not fond of. Basically, there is a long list of questions about your spouse’s background and activities in the permanent residence application, and even if they choose to answer untruthfully, the truth is out there and may well be found during the background check phase. And falsifying information on an application can make your spouse permanently ineligible for permanent residence.

Alternatively, if you were married abroad, you may have to travel back to the U.S without your spouse and wait for a time until they receive their immigrant visa and can rejoin you in the U.S. You will need to file a marriage-based petition, and they will need to fill out the immigrant visa application and submit it to the U.S. Consulate in their home country (or sometimes in a nearby country, depending on the status of diplomatic relations). When their application is reviewed and approved, they will schedule an interview at the Consulate, take their original biographical documents with them, and with luck, receive their passport back with an immigrant visa stamp allowing them to enter the U.S. as a permanent resident. The actual “green card” or permanent resident card is received in the mail afterwards.

The initial green card received by someone sponsored through marriage is a conditional one however, good for two years only. Slightly before the end of that two years, you will file a petition to remove the conditions on your spouse’s permanent residency. Timing of the filing is critical; if you miss the deadline, you may find your spouse in removal proceedings. An interview at the local USCIS office may be required with this petition also. If all goes well, and the conditions on your spouse’s permanent residence are removed, your spouse receives a non-conditional green card, and is eligible top apply for naturalization as a U.S. citizen in another 3 years. And you could live happily ever after. (Or not. But that’s marriage.)

If you are ready to undertake the well-papered path of the marriage-based green card process, or if you already have and now need to apply for your citizenship, contact us. We can help. We have been down those paths with many people before. Your success is our goal.

Rental Properties & LLCs: How to Protect your Investment

by Jen Green, Burch Law

You may be one of the many people contemplating how to expand your investment and income possibilities. In an era of uncertain economic outlook and roller coaster returns in the stock market, many people are turning to real property as the more certain investment. Whether it is flipping houses or acquiring rental properties, real property represents to many people a solid investment offering real returns in an age of unreal and insubstantial wealth offerings, like derivatives. Unlike less tangible assets, you can insure your real property against most worst-case scenarios.

However, real property can also be a real target for lawsuits, frivolous or genuine, so you want to shield yourself and your assets from liability exposure as much as you can. Slip and fall incidents, landlord-tenant disputes, breach of contract, all kinds of issues and unexpected situations are out there waiting to complicate your life.

One way to shield yourself from unnecessary liability exposure in Texas is the limited liability company (LLC). The traditional LLC is a favorite of real estate investors. And the LLC is a flexible vehicle that generally allows you to register your LLC in other states, as a foreign entity, when you find your business and opportunities expanding. The flexibility is one of things investors and business owners love about the LLC. It has pass-through tax treatment, you can easily you’re your entity and customize your operating structure as needed in your LLC Agreement, and decrease your personal and asset exposure to liability, all in a user-friendly package.

For an investor with numerous properties, there is even an additional level of protection that you can find: the Texas Series LLC. The ancestor of the Texas Series LLC evolved in Delaware, initially as a vehicle to allow different classes of mutual funds to be treated as a single whole for SEC filing purposes. And the Texas LLC for real property investments also allows you to have different classes of property located in different series of a single LLC. The entire Series LLC is taxed as a single entity, but the separate series can engage in their own contracts and business transactions. The annual corporate filings with eth Texas Secretary of State are also for the single, overall Series LLC; no separate filings are required from the individual series within it. Whether you choose to have separate bank accounts for each series, or account for them separately within a single account, depends upon the complexity of their transactions and your own (or your accountant’s) love of detail. Single entity tax and filing treatment can streamline operations for those who plan well.

If you have rental properties, you could hold each one in a separate series of your Series LLC. You could obtain assumed names (d/b/a names) for each to make it easier to interface with your market. You could have single family residences, duplexes, and other types of rental properties in separate series. If you are fortunate enough to have multiple properties with vastly different tax treatments (farm/agricultural, urban commercial, and residential rentals), you may want to set up separate Series LLCs for each tax type of property, since your overall Series LLC(s) will (each) get treated as a single entity for tax purposes. Word to the Wise: creating complex tax headaches for the tax man could create tax headaches for you too.

And to keep your liability shield in place, you must clearly account for the transactions of each separate series, even if it is all within one bank account, so that anyone looking at the account can tell which income, expense, and other transactions relate to which individual series. Mixing and muddling the accounting loses you the protection of your Series LLC, so don’t skimp on record-keeping.

There are several ways to structure your LLC or Series LLC that we could discuss with you. You might prefer a single traditional LLC for its simplicity. Or you may prefer to have a traditional LLC conducting all of the business operations while a Series LLC acts as a holding company for the assets. You may prefer to own the LLC directly as Managing Member or have one entity own another. You can throw in trusts and additional structures too as additional layers of shielding from liability, but the more you add, the more you must keep track of, and you may find the complexity adding time and expense to your operations. The LLC’s flexibility ensures that you should be able to find a structure that works best for you and your investment goals, with the level of protection you need from liability.

And if someone has a slip-and-fall, for example, at one of your properties and obtains a judgment, they can only collect against the series that contains the property at which they allegedly fell. They cannot collect against any of the other series within that Series LLC or against the Series LLC itself. Or against you personally. They are limited to that one series asset. Note: when you are transferring properties in and out of your business(es), especially if you will be holding it for a long term, ensure you transfer them into an individual series, and not just into the name of the overall Series LLC. That missed property is a sitting duck for collections of judgment – it doesn’t have the extra shielding that slipping it into its individual series affords. If someone wants to assault your business battlements, make them work for it.

Let us help you build your fortress LLC as you build your business. Texas is a business and property-friendly state, and that’s the goal behind the extra liability protection in a Texas Series LLC – to tend your assets so that they are there to help your business grow and conquer.