Category: Breakfast at Epiphany’s

Introducing a new weekly blog that covers legal matters, business strategy, and life perspectives… all from the mind of a non-attorney (Project Specialist: Kelton Dopp).  
Real Estate Law

COVID-19 and the Effects on Real Estate

 

On April 25, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (the “DATCP”) enacted a new temporary law in response to Governor’s Emergency Order #72, the Health Emergency Order.  The new temporary law prevents residential landlords from enforcing or seeking late fees or penalties for nonpayment or late payment of rent against their residential tenants. This rule will be enforced from April 25 until the earlier of September 22, 2020, which is when the new temporary law expires, or 90 days after Governor’s Emergency Order #72 expires.

Because the DATCP did not enact the rule until April 25, residential landlords may charge their residential tenants late fees or penalties for nonpayment or late payment of rent for those days prior to April 25th.

In addition to the implementation of the new temporary rule, the courts themselves are beginning to adjust their processes to Covid-19. For example, the Outagamie County Courthouse released a statement that small claims plaintiffs, not the defendants, including landlord-tenant disputes, should not appear for the initial hearing. So, pay attention to your court’s local rules to determine how to proceed with your case.

If you have a question regarding landlord-tenant law, please contact Epiphany Law, LLC at 920-996-0000 and I am happy to answer your question.

Do You Have a Financial Power of Attorney?

Many Americans spend a lot of time and effort in managing their finances. While most are worried about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact their income—whether that’s because they are temporarily furloughed, find themselves suddenly without a job, or watching their investment and retirement accounts dwindle—there is another way COVID-19 can wreak havoc on American’s finances: lack of incapacity planning.

As the coronavirus continues to expand across the country, thousands of Americans are unable to carry out normal financial responsibilities because they are too ill and unable to travel ,or from a lack of resources due to being isolated at home.

While feeling healthy, individuals should plan ahead now and ensure that someone will take care of their financial duties by setting up a Financial Power of Attorney. This important legal document will not only protect your finances should you fall ill from COVID-19 but also from any events that might leave you incapacitated, like an injury or accident.

A Financial Power of Attorney allows you to select a trusted family member or friend who will be responsible for managing your money and other property if you become mentally incapacitated (unable to make your own decisions) due to illness or injury. Without this document, bills won’t get paid, tax returns won’t be filed, bank and investment accounts held in your name will become inaccessible, retirement distributions can’t be requested, and property can’t be bought, sold, or managed.

If you get sick and are unable to make or communicate your financial decisions and don’t have an updated Financial Power of Attorney in place, a judge can appoint someone to take control of your assets and make all personal and medical decisions for you through a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship.

Why would a court do that?—You may ask.  As an adult, no one is automatically able to act for you, including your spouse or children.  You must legally appoint the through the use of a financial power of attorney.  Without a power of attorney, you and your loved ones could lose valuable time, money, and control.

WORD OF CAUTION: Don’t think you’re protected just because your assets are held jointly with your spouse, child, or family member. Here are a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t rely on joint ownership:

  1. Limited power. While a joint account holder may be able to access your bank account to pay bills or access your brokerage account to manage investments, a joint owner of real estate will not be able to mortgage or sell the property without the consent of all other owners.  Furthermore, you are unable to name a joint owner to certain assets such as IRAs or 401Ks.
  2. Tax liability. By adding a family member’s name to your accounts or real estate titles you might be saddling them with gift tax liability.
  3. Property seizure. If your joint owner is sued than your property could be seized in order to pay their debt.
  4. Medicaid disqualification. Putting a loved one’s name on a joint bank account or property title can disqualify them from receiving government benefits, such as Medicaid.

Only a comprehensive incapacity plan will protect you and your assets from a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship and the misdeeds of your joint owners. Do not rely on joint ownership as your plan—it’s simply too risky and unreliable.

Even if you already have a financial power of attorney, it can become “obsolete”. Many institutions don’t want to rely on stale, outdated documents. Depending on your circumstances, a stale, obsolete power of attorney may not be able to help you and your family with insurance contracts, retirement plans, banking and investment accounts, online personal accounts such as email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and elder care and special needs planning.  Furthermore, a financial power of attorney can also become obsolete due to the fact that the people you have named to fulfill the role of agents are unable to act due to age or death.

 

 

 

 

Protecting Your Business with an Employee Handbook

An employee handbook serves as a guide for employees and employers. The handbook is a tool that defines ground rules and explains what is and is not considered acceptable behavior. Done properly, an employee handbook is a great first line of defense for a variety of legal issues.

However, if an employee handbook is done improperly, it can lead to confusion, anger and lawsuits. The sections contained in the handbook need to be carefully worded in order to avoid those pitfalls.  Generally, laws regarding employees and employees are drafted in favor of the employee so without the protections offered in an employee handbook, the employer is open to more risk.

Although some federal regulations such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act do not go into effect until you have 15 or more employees, a business of any size can be sued for other employment related issues.

To minimize your risks, it is important to have a relationship with an employment law attorney who will update you of any federal or state required changes.

Other ways to minimize risks include an annual handbook review. As the world changes, you may need to create new policies that reflect the changes in the law and your employee handbook should reflect those changes.  For example, think of the changes to the workplace over the past few years like health care reform, employees working from home more frequently, working parents and the balance between home and work life, the use of personal mobile devices and so many others.

In addition, the handbook should be reviewed to make sure the documented polices that are included in the book are consistently followed and are a reflection of the culture of your work environment.  If the policies in the handbook are not followed and not a reflection of your work environment, you will have a weak defense if a dispute arises.

Remember, it’s not enough just to update the handbook.  Clearly communicating any change or policy update to all employees is also required.

 

Exit Planning: When to start?

 

Legal matters, business strategy, and life perspectives from the mind of a non-attorney.

A few weeks ago, we sent out emails to several business owners, inviting them to attend a presentation on Exit Planning. We met our desired room capacity pretty quickly, but we did get a few responses like this:

  • “I’m not exiting my business for 3 or 4 years, I’ll attend the presentation then.”
  • “We aren’t exiting until next year. Will you be doing this again in 6 months?”

Two separate business owners made a conscious decision to delay attending this kind of presentation until their exit is at arm’s length.

As a person who is very educated on what Exit Planning is and how much work it takes, let’s just say those decisions scare the s*** out of me.

Yes, I know, there is a certain contingent of business owners who simply cannot – and will not – mentally or emotionally handle the task of planning for their exit. In fact, we even wrote a blog about it: Exit Planning: Why Do Business Owners Avoid It? Bottom line: It’s just too much for them, so they stick their heads in the sand.

Those responses we got – you know, a few weeks ago after the presentation – those felt different. To my mind, it feels like those business owners actually think it is OK to wait longer than they already have. Like, with the rational part of their brain.

They weren’t being emotional, afraid, or willfully negligent.

It seems like they were just living their reality.

If that is the case, I have failed you all miserably.

Why?

The truth is, executing an Exit Plan takes a hell of a lot longer than 6-12 months. If you wait until then to even start LEARNING about Exit Planning, you are way behind the 8 ball. You are asking for disaster. I’m not saying you are S.O.L, but I AM SAYING that you have effectively put the ball in someone else’s court and left value – i.e. MONEY – on the table.

Really?

Yep.

Okay… So how long DOES it take?

Internal Transition

First of all, did you know there are really only four (4) practical ways that you can transition a business internally?

  1. Intergenerational Transfer: The transfer of a business to direct heirs, usually children. About 50% of business owners want to exercise this option; only 30% do it successfully.
  2. Management Buyout: Owner sells all or part of the business to the company’s management team. Management uses the assets of the business to finance a significant portion of the purchase price.
  3. ESOP: Company uses borrowed funds to acquire shares from the owner and contributes the shares to a trust on behalf of the employees.
  4. Sale to Existing Partners.

Here’s the deal: If I’m going to be your Exit Planner, and you are considering an Internal Transition of any kind, I want our initial meeting to be at least 10 years prior to your exit.

You heard me. 10 years.

Why? 2 Reasons.

  1. In all likelihood, you are not just GIVING this thing away. And you want cash at closing, not a promise to pay.
  2. In all likelihood, the person(s) you are selling it to can’t afford to buy it, and wouldn’t be able to secure financing.

If you come meet with me 10 years in advance, we can create a pot of money for your successor(s). The concept is simple: Money gets bonus-ed into the pot if – and only if – they achieve predetermined objectives that help you grow the value of the business. Pick your scenario:

  • Give successor(s) $0.00, have a company worth $2,000,000. In 10 years, receive a 20 year note and a $150,000 first year payment.
  • Give successor(s) $1,000,000.00, have a company worth $3,000,000. In 10 years, receive $2,000,000 and a 10 year note for the balance.

I know which one I’d pick.

If you come meet with me 5 years in advance, we cannot do that.

If you come meet with me somewhere in between, the numbers might work. They might not. It’s anybody’s guess.

External Sale

If you’re planning to pursue a sale to a third party, I will be thrilled if you give me a 5 year runway to work with.

You see, Exit Planning is a lot like flipping a house:

If you give me 5 years, we can update everything: new hardwoods, appliances, siding, and roofing. We can check the plumbing and electrical. We can remodel the kitchen and master bedroom. Hell, we can even toss on an addition. And the best news: All of that will be done in 2-3 years, giving us the opportunity to truly pick our spot and capitalize on favorable market conditions when they are present.

If you give me 3 years, we can still make a ton of updates. The house will truly be in great shape for buyers. Only problem: you aren’t giving yourself any time to play the market. Once the house is ready, you’re going up for sale, whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market.

If you give me 1 year, we can update a handful of things and slap on a fresh coat of paint. That’s it. Smart buyers – yes most of them are smart – are going to try and poke holes to drive the price down.

I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, remodeling makes everything look great, but it ain’t free either. Is it really worth the investment?”

  • For most of you it’s going to mean the difference between a business that sells and one that sits on the market for 2 years before getting liquidated because nobody wants it.
  • We track ROI for our clients. We’ve never had someone come out in the negative. We generally EXPECT our clients to earn at least 30% on their investments in Exit Planning by the time it’s all said and done.

Getting Started

We generally kick off the process with a complimentary “exploratory” meeting. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and help us understand your true desires.

Assuming all parties agree to move forward, we jump into “Benchmarking” your business.

To stick with the remodeling analogy, it’s the basic equivalent of obtaining a real estate appraisal – on steroids. Yes, we deliver you with an estimate of value based on your financials. We also take it 5 steps further. We give you insight that says, “Hey, someone is going to fall in love with this house and pay 20% more if you gut the basement clean, paint the stairwell olive green and put a giant picture of Aaron Rodgers in the family room.”

At that point, whether you hire us to gut the basement and paint the stairwell, contract it out to someone else, or ignore our advice is entirely your prerogative.