Wednesday, December 15, 2010

LegalZoom.com Accused of Unauthorized Practice of Law and Privacy Violations

Legal Zoom (legalzoom.com) is accused of the unauthorized practice of law, as well as disclosing to third parties customers' private information:

LegalZoom and Washington State Reach Agreement Over Unauthorized Practice of Law, IP Watchdog
[T]he most egregious charge leveled against LegalZoom is that they sold, transfered or otherwise disclosed consumer information to third parties. So not only was LegalZoom offering to provide legal services to individuals without a legal license but they seem to have been collecting private information and giving away sensitive, personally identifying information such as financial information, information relating to real or personal property and information relating to family relationships. This screams for further investigation by other State Attorneys General and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Not only does LegalZoom’s advertising lull unsuspecting consumers to believe they are being represented, but what LegalZoom learns during such representation is given away to third parties? If an attorney did that they would lose their license.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New California Employer Workplace Poster and Pamphlet

Effective October 8, 2010, two new regulations impacting California employers go into effect:
1. All employers must post the new Notice to Employees, Injuries Caused by Work

2. Each new employee who begins work must be provided with the new Worker's Compensation Pamphlet, available here.
For more on employer workplace posters or to retain an employment attorney to advise and counsel you on California or Nevada business law issues, please click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Debt Collection Scam Phone Number 760-284-1423

Please note that if you have received a call from an alleged paralegal or other person claiming to work at, with, or from the Law Office of Jonas M. Grant, and demanding the payment of an alleged debt, and threatening "prosecution" or anything else if payment isn't made, note that these calls are not originating from this office, which does not practice consumer debt collection law and does not employ paralegals or others to make calls on behalf of debt collection agencies or creditors.

Calls have been reported to originate from 760-284-1423, an area code in which this law office does maintain an office, employees, attorneys, paralegals. Nor does this office have or use any 760 area code telephone. Note that the number displayed on the caller ID may be spoofed, and therefore the owner(s) of this telephone number may or may not be involved in this scam.

Furthermore, the United States abolished debtor's prisons more than a century ago; all collections and debtor-creditor matters are civil in nature, there is no jail time or criminal prosecution for failing to pay a debt (unless there's also fraud or something else going on).

Please do not cooperate with these individuals, and report to them to appropriate authorities. If you have any additional information about their whereabouts or identity, or aren't sure if a call is originating from this office, please contact the office.

Here's what others have reported about the nature of calls from this number. In sum, it's always a scam, but the scam and the alleged name of the caller varies from call to call.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Estate tax remains unresolved

It has come to this: Congress, quite by accident, is incentivizing death.

When the Senate allowed the estate tax to lapse at the end of last year, it encouraged wealthy people near death's door to stay alive until Jan. 1 so they could spare their heirs a 45% tax hit.

Now the situation has reversed: If Congress doesn't change the law soon—and many experts think it won't—the estate tax will come roaring back in 2011.

Not only will the top rate jump to 55%, but the exemption will shrink from $3.5 million per individual in 2009 to just $1 million in 2011, potentially affecting eight times as many taxpayers.

The math is ugly: On a $5 million estate, the tax consequence of dying a minute after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 rather than two minutes earlier could be more than $2 million; on a $15 million estate, the difference could be about $8 million.

Of course, there is a "death incentive" whenever Congress raises the estate tax. But it hasn't happened in decades; the top rate has held steady or fallen since 1942, according to tax historian Joseph Thorndike of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit group. In fact, the jump from zero to 55% would be "the largest increase in a major tax that we've ever seen," Mr. Thorndike says.
Too Rich to Live? The estate tax is set to come roaring back in January. That sets the stage for a perverse calculus: End it all—or leave a massive bill for your heirs to deal with. WSJ.com, July 10, 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do It Yourself Estate Planning Pitfalls

The pros and cons of DIY estate planning are discussed in yesterday's article in US New and World Report:
"Unless you are single and have absolutely no money," says Brooklyn-based estate planning and tax lawyer Hani Sarji, you need an estate planner, because people tend to make mistakes when they fill out their own forms online. "People might get a false sense of security from DIY estate planning," Sarji adds, and answering one question incorrectly or overlooking something such as appointing a guardian for children can lead to major problems down the road.

On her blog, estate planning lawyer Leanna Hamill writes about a colleague who had a client who used an online do-it-yourself will that he failed to update after some of his beneficiaries died and he opened new bank accounts that weren't mentioned on the form. "That is the reason to have an attorney assist you with this process. We know the questions to ask, and we know what to do with the answers," she writes.

"Without a lawyer, you might not understand the terms," says Deborah Jacobs, author of Estate Planning Smarts. Therefore, you could inadvertently give someone more power than you want to when creating a "durable power of attorney" document, for example. That document essentially gives someone else the power to take care of your finances if you become incapacitated. Jacobs says that if that person isn't trustworthy, he or she could steal from you. She also warns that if the document isn't executed properly—in some states you need witnesses to your signature—then it might not even be valid.

Another risk, says Jacobs, is that when it comes to transferring your money to family members after you pass away, a self-written will might contain holes that lead to errors.
As with other areas of the law, other lawyers, who don't practice estate planning law, have hired me to assist them with their estate plan; if they know they can't tackle an incorporation or an estate plan without some advice and counsel, do you believe you can do better?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

LegalZoom.com Faces California Class Action Over Estate Planning Documents

Legalzoom.com has been accused in California of the unauthorized practice of law, as well as providing ineffective estate planning documents.

January 8, 2012 Update: The case now has apparently settled, as most class actions and indeed most lawsuits of any kind are.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tax Audit Risk Among Reasons to Incorporate Side Business

CPA Michael Hanley, who specializes in working with small business, advises:
"The #1 most overlooked tip by people running side businesses is that they fail to setup a business entity because they still view their business as a little side business that they will incorporate when things take off."

Sole Proprietorships (the business structure you default to if you fail to setup a Corporation, LLC, etc) are subject to the highest audit risk out of all the business structures. The reason for this high audit risk is that all Sole Proprietorships report their business income and expenses on Schedule C (the second most highly audited form that you can attach to your tax return). By setting up an S Corporation, you become nine times less likely to be selected for a random IRS audit (audit risk decreases from 2.7% to .3%, making it very possible that you can go your entire life without ever being selected for an audit).
Setting up a Side Business Can Be Risky Unless You Do it Right, Mithcell York, About.com: Enterepreneurs

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Los Angeles Business Tax Break Proposed

Los Angeles' mayor today proposed an expansion of the City of Los Angeles' new business tax exemption, from two to three years, assuming gross revenues of less than $500,000:

Tax Break for New Businesses Proposed, Los Angeles Business Journal, June 15, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

CEOs rank California 51st for Business Environment

More than 600 CEOs rated states on a wide range of criteria from taxation and regulation to workforce quality and living environment, in our sixth annual special report.

In Chief Executive’s annual survey of best and worst states for business, conducted in late January of this year, 651 CEOs across the U.S. again gave Texas top honors, closely followed by North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. They gave the booby prize for worst state to California, with New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts filling out the bottom five-a line-up virtually unchanged from last year. Florida and Georgia each dropped three places in the ranking, but remain in the top 10. Utah jumped six positions this year to sneak into the top 10 at No. 9.

The business leaders were asked to draw upon their direct experience to rate each state in three general categories: taxation and regulation, quality of workforce and living environment.

Best and Worst States for Business 2010, chiefexecutive.net, 29 April 2010

See also Of 50 States, California ranks 51st, Orange County Register editorial, 5 May 2010:
As the magazine noted, Californians pay among the nation's highest income and sales taxes. Unemployment exceeds the national average, and, contrary to the national trend, "union density is climbing, from 16.1 percent of workers in 1998 to 17.8 percent in 2002."

Indeed, according to the magazine's critique, "organized labor has more political influence in California than in most other states." The magazine zeroes in on perhaps the crux of the problem: "When state employees reach critical mass, they tend to become a permanent lobby for continual growth in government."

That helps to explain why unfunded pension and health care promises for state workers "top $500 billion, and the annual pension contribution has climbed from $320 million to $7.3 billion in less than a decade," as the magazine noted.

It doesn't take a national survey to reveal California's failing business climate. Seven California metro areas were among the 15 national leaders in commercial bankruptcy filings in 2009, according to Equifax Inc. Not coincidentally, California had twice as many personal bankruptcies as any other state in 2009 when it ranked 11th in bankruptcies per capita.

It also doesn't take a CEO to notice the differences between California and top-rated Texas. Texas, with nearly as many residents and the world's 12th largest economy, "is where 70 percent of all new U.S. jobs have been created since 2008," the magazine reported. Also unsurprisingly, Texas gained more than 848,000 net residents based on migration in and out of the state in the past decade, while California lost 1.5 million, according to the Census.

"You feel like [Texas] state government understands the value of business and industry to create jobs and growth," one CEO said in the magazine.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

California Secretary of State Processing Times

California Secretary of State business entity filing times have soared since the first of the year, as a result of the state budget crisis and resulting budget and staff cuts at the Secretary of State's office (which included the closing of some regional offices).

Alas, the Secretary of State also failed to notify practitioners or the general public about these changes before the fact, resulting in unexpected delays to the tune of 6-8 week turnaround for business entity (LLC, corporation, etc.) filings by mail and standard over-the-counter expedited filing times increasing to three weeks and sometimes more from an average of less than two.

Belatedly, the SOS issued this apologetic announcement earlier this month:

http://www.sos.ca.gov/business/pdf/processing-times.pdf [subsequently updated in 2011 to provide an update on the progress the SOS is making to work through these issues]