eCommerce Tips for conducting business online.

eCommerce (also known as ‘electronic commerce’) refers to business conducted online. At one time, the term included only web businesses such as Amazon and Travelocity that transferred a real world paradigm – buying books or booking flights — to the Internet. But heading into the second decade of the 21st Century, practically all business is conducted online in some way and eCommerce includes a wide range of subject matter, whether it’s downloading an app, clicking on an adword at a blog, licensing content from iStockphoto, or purchasing a legal form. In fact it’s hard to imagine a business without some eCommerce element. In this section we look at all of the legal issues affecting eCommerce 2.0.

Website Law

If you want your website to succeed, you’ll need to understand basic legal and business principles.

If you want your website to succeed — whether you are creating a simple two-page online shop for a local jeweler or a thousand page site for a Fortune 500 company — you’ll need to understand basic legal and business principles. This section provides the basics for developers and those who contract for website development with a focus on contracting, intellectual property and the patchwork variety of website related laws and regulations.

Website Terms and Conditions

Posting legal notices on your website.

Many sites post “terms and conditions” somewhere on the site. Do you need them, too? If you have anything more than a small, information-only site, you probably do, covering topics like copyright, returns, and limiting your liability.

Refunds, Returns, and Losses

If your site sells products, you may need notices regarding credit card use, refunds, and returns (known as “transaction conditions”). For example, you might want to announce that your business will accept returns up to 30 days after purchase.

You may also want to include disclaimers — statements that inform customers that you won’t be liable for certain kinds of losses that might incur. For example, you may disclaim responsibility for losses that result if pottery breaks when a customer ships it back for return.

Privacy Policy

If you are gathering information from your customers, including credit card information, you should post a privacy policy detailing how this information will be used or not used. Yahoo!’s privacy policy ( http://privacy.yahoo.com) is a good example of a broad, easy-to-understand policy.

You can check out other policies by typing “privacy policy” in a search engine. Pick and choose the elements that apply to your site. Whatever policy you adopt, be consistent, and if you are going to change it, make an effort to notify your customers of the change.

Limiting Your Liability

If your site provides space for chats or postings from the Web-surfing public, you’ll want to limit your liability from offensive or libelous postings or similar chat room comments. There are three things you can do:

  • Monitor postings. Regularly review all postings and promptly take down those you think are offensive or libelous.
  • Remove suspect postings. If asked to remove a posting by a third party, remove it while you investigate. If you determine — after speaking with an attorney — that you are entitled to keep the post, then you can put it back up.
  • Include a disclaimer. Your disclaimer should explain you don’t endorse and aren’t responsible for the accuracy or reliability of statements made by third parties. This won’t shield you from claims, but it may minimize your financial damages if you’re involved in a lawsuit over the posting.

Copyright Notices

Regardless of what your site does, you should include notices regarding copyright and trademark — for example “Copyright © 2006 RichandAndrea.com” or “Cyzuki is a trademark of Cynthia Lloyd.”

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How to Make Your Business Green

Businesses interested in going green have many resources available to help them out.

A famous frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green;” but today’s small businesses have many resources available to them on how to have a green business. You do not need to be large corporation to integrate green business practices. In fact, green strategies can attract consumers to your goods and services, save your business money and spiff up your company’s image while improving the quality of the environment for all of us.

Both the Small Business Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency provide a great deal of helpful information on green ideas for small and medium-sized businesses. It may seem simplistic, but being green may start first with taking small resource-saving steps and then sticking with them on a regular basis. Here are several practical suggestions to help you begin to have a green business.

1. Undertake an energy audit of your business

Small businesses use about half the energy resources in the country. Many businesses may not be aware of how much money they are losing through energy inefficiencies. An energy audit may reveal ways in which your business is paying for wasted water, electric, and heating and cooling system resources.

To start off energy companies will often provide free checklists for energy self-assessments. For commercial audits, no and low-cost audits are often available. In addition, if you work from home, many local energy companies will provide a free home energy audit. Check with your local power company to begin evaluating your energy needs and uses.

2. Institute a company-wide conservation program

So many items we dispose of today can be recycled or reused rather than shipped off to a local landfill. Your program could be a combination of resource conservation, recycling, and donation.

Examine how your company uses paper, ink cartridges, metals, plastics, electronic equipment, and other company assets and determine how to trim or make more effective uses and reuses of these items. Instead of printing off digital messages, why not store them electronically or print them out on both sides of a sheet of paper? Explore greener supply and packaging options with your vendors. Consider recycling or donating older, serviceable equipment to nonprofits and educational programs rather than simply disposing of these items. “Crowdsource” your conservation policies by asking your employees, customers, and suppliers for their ideas on ways to preserve resources.

3. Turn it down or shut it off

About a quarter of your office’s electrical costs are spent on lighting, so turn off lights when leaving a room. Look to see when natural lighting or dimmer lighting may be preferable to standard lighting. Consider replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. Install light timers or motion sensors to suit your fluctuating needs.

You might also be surprised to learn that about seventy-five percent of the electricity used to power your office equipment is eaten up when these machines are off. Try to use Energy Star® rated office equipment that can save energy by putting your machines in “sleep mode” when they are not in use during the day. Shut off office equipment, including computers and power strips, at the end of the day, to stop the overnight drain on electrical resources.

4. Avoid wasting water down the drain

Many business leaders consider water scarcity to be a major obstacle for future business continuity and growth world-wide. Water use has increased two times faster than population growth. With recent heat waves and droughts across the U.S., your business can help conserve limited water resources while saving money in several ways.

Fix leaky faucets as slow dripping ones can waste up to 34 gallons per year while fast ones can waste over 170 gallons in a year. Install faucet aerators to reduce your water consumption. Turn the temperature of your water heater down to the lowest level necessary to meet your business needs. In addition, that running toilet is more than a nuisance; it is a pricey water guzzler. Repair a running toilet and think about investing in low water volume toilets for more water savings.

5. Conserve heating and cooling system resources

Similar to lighting and water, heating and cooling systems can result in expensive, recurring operational costs. The use of programmable thermostats will modulate your energy uses to suit your business needs.

Clean or replace HVAC filters routinely so your systems are running more efficiently. Inspect and repair weather-stripping around windows, doors, and electrical outlets to avoid heat and cool air loss. Shades, blinds, and other window coverings may help keep your business cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Think about using fans rather than air conditioning at certain times of the year.

These measures may seem insignificant, but these inefficiencies add up over time, costing you money and harming our environment. The EPA also provides helpful information to businesses on indoor air quality issues.

6. Properly maintain, repair and/or replace business equipment

It is important to adequately maintain and repair business machinery. Running equipment that has not undergone routine maintenance or is in need of repair damages the machinery, wastes energy resources and may endanger your health and safety. In some circumstances, it may make sense to replace older assets with newer energy efficient equipment which can save your business money in the long term while preserving energy resources.

If you are thinking about upgrading your business machinery, the Small Business Administration provides a portal with links to governmental agencies that may be able to provide your business with tax incentives and environmental loans and grants. Your state government may offer similar options so it is worth investigating any local programs aiding your transition to more energy-efficient options.

7. Reduce commuting and business-related travel

Transportation of people and goods accounts for approximately 28.5 percent of all energy resources consumed in the country. Over 80 percent of fuel resources are consumed through travel on local roads and highways. Air travel and other forms of transportation only account for about 19.5 percent of our transportation energy resources. Aside from using energy resources, jet fuel and car gasoline pollute the air with similar CO2 emissions—nearly 20 lbs. per gallon of fuel.

Businesses can help shrink energy consumption, lower travel expenses, and improve air quality through reductions in commuting and business-related travel. Certain jobs may be effectively handled through full- or part-time telecommuting with employees working from home rather than driving to work. Employers might also offer incentives to employees who utilize public transportation or form carpools for their daily commute. Long-distance air and car travel and their attendant expenses could be decreased through the use of teleconferencing options.

8. Comply with Existing Environmental Laws and Regulations

Clearly, compliance with existing environmental laws and regulations is required for any business, and more so for a business that wishes to tout its green credentials in the marketplace. Every industry may have different legal obligations to address on a local, state, and federal basis.

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The tweet that launched #BringBackOurGirls

For weeks, the plight of more than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped and trafficked by Islamist terrorists drew little attention internationally. A Nigerian lawyer’s tweet marked the starting point of a now global campaign.

Michelle Obama, Holding a #BringBackOurGirls sign

Casual news readers could be excused for assuming it was just last week when the now highly publicized kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls took place. That’s when reports of their abduction began leading news coverage, a full three weeks after the crime occurred in the night beginning April 14.

It’s thanks in large part to an initially uncoordinated campaign launched by local Nigerian activists that the girls’ disappearance didn’t continue to fly under the radar at major news providers. The campaign began on April 23 with a single tweet by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, the first to use the now viral #BringBackOurGirls tag, amid what he calls “complete dissatisfaction” with his government’s response to the incident.

As Abdullahi watched a live address on that date by former Nigerian Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili, he tweeted a phrase she used as follows: “Yes #BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurGirls declared by @obyezeks and all people at Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014.”

The lawyer and activist tells DW it is a “great joy” and “heartwarming to know that [the campaign] has gone so global,” as #BringBackOurGirls today nears three million uses on Twitter since April 23. In the Nigerian capital of Abuja, Abdullahi says a group of around 20 campaign volunteers has expanded into more than 100 individuals. They meet daily to monitor progress on finding the girls and follow how the viral campaign is developing.
Breakthrough one week later

The former education minister whom Abdullahi originally quoted was among the first to lend steam to the campaign, retweeting his comment hours later and encouraging her followers to “use the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to keep the momentum UNTIL they are RESCUED.”

Their joint appeal on April 23 had an impact. In the following week, Twitter users, primarily in Nigeria, began using the hashtag thousands of times per day to draw attention to the girls’ plight.

The first breakthrough in the campaign’s popularity came on April 30, when Twitter references to #BringBackOurGirls shot up to well over 100,000 in a single day.

The reporting of new details on the case as well as celebrity support could explain that sudden jump. News reports emerged, citing information from the missing girls’ families and local villagers, that at least some of the abducted had been sold off as child brides for sums of around $12. Around the same time, prominent Twitter accounts associated with Pakistani Taliban victim Malala Yousafzai, UNICEF and celebrities such as Mary J. Blige and Chris Brown began tweeting the tag.

By May 7, just after #BringBackOurGirls had been tweeted one million times in total, US First Lady Michelle Obama lent her support to the campaign via Twitter. She took over the president’s weekly address on Saturday (10.05.2014) to express being “outraged and heartbroken” at the crime in Nigeria.

One day later, on March 11, British Prime Minister David Cameron similarly offered backing to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, pledging in a television interview that Britain “will do what we can” to recover the abductees.

Familiar criticisms

Meanwhile, familiar criticisms have emerged when it comes to activism on social media. Some have argued the gestures on Twitter and elsewhere are often rooted in vanity. Others have dismissed them as a superficial approach to the complex problems associated with the power of the Boko Haram Islamist group, which has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in Nigeria.

Sudanese-born writer and journalist Nesrine Malik tweeted last week that Western countries were already turning inward to reflect on what their response to the incident says about themselves, quipping that there are similarities with the five stages of grief.
But Abdullahi, whose tweet marked the beginning of the campaign and who continues to work on its development, says he believes the massive international response on Twitter has had at least limited success in changing the Nigerian government’s course.

“Initially, the government didn’t even want to talk about it, but now the government has come out now to say that it wants to do something – even though not at the rate or the speed we want it to act,” he told DW.

One positive result, he says, is that Nigerian leaders have expressed openness to assistance from other nations in terms of intelligence and technology that might help recover the girls. That doesn’t mean Abdullahi is now satisfied with the official response, though. He reports that #BringBackOurGirls volunteers in Abuja faced pressure from the police yesterday during their daily meeting and fears similar reactions going forward.

Link   http://www.dw.de/the-tweet-that-launched-bringbackourgirls/a-17630568

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Estates, Executors & Probate Court

What Does an Executor Do?

Settling an estate, in or out of probate court.

It’s both an honor and a burden to serve as someone’s executor. An executor is entrusted with responsibility for winding up someone’s earthly affairs — a big or little task, depending on the situation. Essentially, an executor is charged with protecting a deceased person’s property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and seeing that what’s left is transferred to the people who are entitled to it.

The law does not require an executor (also called a personal representative) to be a legal or financial expert, but it does require the highest degree of honesty, impartiality, and diligence. This is called a “fiduciary duty” — the duty to act with scrupulous good faith and honesty on behalf of someone else.

Executors have a number of duties, depending on the complexity of the deceased person’s financial and family circumstances. Typically, an executor must:

  • Find the deceased person’s assets and manage them until they are distributed to inheritors. This may involve deciding whether to sell real estate or securities owned by the deceased person.
  • Decide whether or not probate court proceedings are needed. Most jointly owned assets pass to the surviving owner, without probate. And if the deceased person’s property is worth less than a certain amount (how much depends on state law), it may be able to go through a streamlined probate process. (To learn more about probate, see Probate FAQ.)
  • Figure out who inherits property. If the deceased person left a will, the executor will read it to determine who gets what. If there’s no will, the person in charge (sometimes called the administrator) will have to look at state law (called “intestate succession” statutes) to find out who the deceased person’s heirs are.
  • File the will (if any) in the local probate court. Generally, this step is required by law, even if no probate proceeding will be necessary. To learn more about this process, see Nolo’s article Finding and Filing the Will.
  • Handle day-to-day details. This may include terminating leases and credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies — such as the Social Security Administration, the post office, Medicare, and the Department of Veterans Affairs — of the death.
  • Set up an estate bank account. This account will hold money that is owed to the deceased person — for example, paychecks or stock dividends.
  • Use estate funds to pay continuing expenses. The executor may need to pay, for example, utility bills, mortgage payments, and homeowner’s insurance premiums.
  • Pay debts. If there is a probate proceeding, the executor must officially notify creditors of it, following the procedure set out by state law. For help with this process, see Nolo’s eForm Notice to Creditor of Death.
  • Pay taxes. A final income tax return must be filed, covering the period from the beginning of the tax year to the date of death. State and federal estate tax returns are required only for large estates.
  • Supervise the distribution of the deceased person’s property. The property will go to the people or organizations named in the will or those entitled to inherit under state law.

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Unemployment Benefits: What If You’re Fired?

To collect unemployment benefits, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. Workers who are laid off for economic reasons — due to a plant closing, a reduction-in-force (RIF), or because of lack of work, for example — are eligible for unemployment benefits. But employees who are fired are not always eligible for unemployment, at least not right away. It depends on the reasons why the employee was fired.

State law determines whether a fired employee can collect unemployment. Generally speaking, an employee who is fired for serious misconduct is ineligible for benefits, either entirely or for a certain period of time (often called a “disqualification period”). But the definition of misconduct varies from state to state.

In many states, an employee’s misconduct has to be pretty bad to render the employee ineligible for unemployment benefits. An employee who is fired for being a poor fit for the job, lacking the necessary skills for the position, or failing to perform up to expected standards will likely be able to collect unemployment. But an employee who acts intentionally or recklessly against the employer’s interests will likely be ineligible for unemployment benefits. Other states take a harder line, finding that employees who are fired for violating a workplace policy or rule won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits, at least for a period of time.

Here are some of the types of misconduct that might render an employee ineligible to collect unemployment benefits:

  • Failing a drug or alcohol test. In many states, an employee who is fired for failing a drug or alcohol test will not be able to collect unemployment benefits. Refusing to submit to testing is also a disqualifying event in some states.
  • Theft. An employee who is fired for stealing from the company or from coworkers will most likely be ineligible to receive unemployment benefits.
  • Committing a crime. An employee who commits a crime connected with the job — such as assaulting a coworker, driving under the influence while on company business, or destroying valuable company property — will almost certainly be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
  • Violating safety rules. An employee who makes a careless mistake may still be eligible to receive unemployment benefits, but an employee who willfully or intentionally disregards important safety rules will probably be disqualified from collecting benefits.

Even if you are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because of why you were fired, that disqualification may not last forever. In some states, being fired for misconduct renders an employee ineligible for unemployment benefits, period. In those states, until the employee gets another job, works there long enough to meet the state’s earnings and/or work tenure requirements, and then becomes unemployed again, that employee will not be able to collect unemployment benefits. But in other states, an employee who has been fired for misconduct is ineligible for unemployment benefits only for a set period of time, particularly if the misconduct is less egregious. In other words, a penalty is imposed on the employee, but he or she may become eligible for unemployment benefits once the disqualification period ends

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Workplace Retaliation: What Are Your Rights? Learn about workplace retaliation — and what to do if it happens to you.

Most people know that laws exist to protect employees from discrimination and harassment. However, many don’t know these laws also protect employees from retaliation. That means employers cannot punish employees for making discrimination or harassment complaints or participating in workplace investigations. And punishment doesn’t just mean firing or demotion: It can include other negative employment actions, from being denied a raise or transfer to a more desirable position to missing out on training or mentoring opportunities.

What Is Retaliation?

Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. Retaliation can include any negative job action, such as demotion, discipline, firing, salary reduction, or job or shift reassignment. But retaliation can also be more subtle.

Sometimes it’s clear that an employer’s action is negative — for instance, when an employee is fired. But sometimes it’s not. In those cases, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, you must consider the circumstances of the situation. For example, a change in job shift may not be objectionable to a lot of employees, but it could be very detrimental to a parent with young children and a less flexible schedule.

As long as the employer’s adverse action would deter a reasonable person in the situation from making a complaint, it constitutes illegal retaliation.

When Is Retaliation Prohibited?

Federal law protects employees from retaliation when employees complain — either internally or to an outside body like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — about workplace discrimination or harassment. That’s true even if the claim turns out to be unfounded, as long as it was made in good faith.

The law also protects employees who cooperate in EEOC investigations or serve as witnesses in EEOC investigations or litigation. A recent Supreme Court case confirms that an employee’s participation as a witness in an internal investigation is protected, too. And various federal laws protect other types of “whistleblowers” too, such as those who complain of unsafe working conditions.

In addition, some state laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees.

How Do You Know if Your Employer is Retaliating Against You?

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether your employer is retaliating against you. For example, if you complain about your supervisor’s harassing conduct, his attitude and demeanor may change. But if the change means he acts more professionally towards you, that isn’t retaliation even if he isn’t as friendly as he once was. Only changes that have an adverse effect on your employment are retaliatory.

On the other hand, if something clearly negative happens shortly after you make a complaint — like firing or demotion — you’ll have good reason to be suspicious. And remember, not every retaliatory act is obvious or necessarily means your job is threatened. It may come in the form of an unexpected and unfair poor performance review, the boss micromanaging everything you do, or sudden exclusion from staff meetings on a project you’ve been working on.

What to Do if You Suspect Retaliation

If you suspect your employer is retaliating against you, first talk to your supervisor or a human resources representative about the reasons for these negative acts. It’s fair to ask specific questions. Your employer may have a perfectly reasonable explanation — you’ve been moved to the day shift because there’s an opening, and that’s what you’d said you always wanted, or your poor performance review may be based on documented problems you’d been told of previously.

If your employer can’t give you a legitimate explanation, voice your concern that you are being retaliated against. No doubt your employer will deny it — and in truth, employers can retaliate without realizing it. You should point out that the negative action took place only after you complained, and ask that it stop immediately.

If the employer isn’t willing to admit its wrongdoing or correct the problem, you may have to take your concerns to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s fair employment agency.

Building a Case of Retaliation

If you suspect retaliation and your employer won’t correct the problem, you will need to show a link between your complaint (or other behavior that you believe triggered the retaliation), and the employer’s retaliatory behavior. The more evidence you have in support of your claim, the better.

To do this, document the allegedly retaliatory behavior. Also, keep track of historical information prior to when you made your complaint. For example, if your boss claims your performance is poor after you make a complaint, be sure to dig up any email messages or other documents showing that your boss was pleased with your work performance before the complaint.

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Your Rights Against Age Discrimination

A number of state and federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and applicants based on age. This means that although stereotypes about older people abound in our culture, employers are not allowed to rely on them when making workplace decisions.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA ( 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634), is the primary federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants who are at least 40 years old based on age.

The ADEA protects workers from age discrimination in every phase of the employment relationship, including job advertisements, interviewing, hiring, compensation, promotion, discipline, job evaluations, demotion, training, job assignments, and termination. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the ADEA prohibits practices and policies that are seemingly neutral, but have a disproportionately negative impact on older workers (disparate impact), as well as those that explicitly treat older workers worse than younger workers (disparate treatment). (See Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi, 544 U.S. 228 (2005).)

Not only does the ADEA prohibit employers from discriminating against older workers in favor of those who are younger than 40, it also prohibits employers from discriminating among older workers. For example, an employer cannot hire a 43-year-old rather than a 53-year-old simply based on age.

The ADEA applies to all private employers with 20 or more employees and to federal and local governments. It also applies to state governments, although their employees cannot sue them directly for age discrimination.

Discrimination in Benefits and Early Retirement

The federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, or OWBPA (29 U.S.C. § 623 and following), amended the ADEA to make it illegal for employers to use an employee’s age as a basis for discrimination in benefits and retirement. Like the rest of the ADEA, the OWBPA only protects people who are at least 40 years old.

The OWBPA prohibits age discrimination in the provision of fringe benefits, such as life insurance, health insurance, disability benefits, pensions, and retirement benefits. Typically, this means that employers must provide equal benefits to older and younger workers. For some types of benefits, however, employers can meet this nondiscrimination requirement by spending the same amount on the benefit provided to each group, even if older workers receive lesser benefits. In some circumstances, employers are also allowed to provide lesser benefits to older workers if those workers receive additional benefits — from the government or the employer — to make up the difference.

State Laws

Many state laws also prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Although some of these laws essentially mirror federal law and protect only employees who are at least 40 years old, other state laws are broader and protect workers of all ages.

State laws tend to apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees, so your employer might have to comply with your state law even if it isn’t covered by federal law.

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How to Write a Will

VARIOUS – SEP 2005…Mandatory Credit: Photo By Jonathan Hordle / Rex Features
A last will and testament
VARIOUS – SEP 2005
LEGAL DOCUMENT

Most people know they need one, but aren’t sure how to write a will.  The first decision you’ll need to make is whether to write your will yourself.  Most people can write a simple will without a lawyer, but some situations require professional help.

How to Write a Will Yourself

If you decide to write your own will, you’ll probably want some help creating your document, you’ll want to know what to include, and you’ll want to know how to make it legal.

Will Templates

First, choose a tool to help you write your will.  You might use a book that gives you a variety of will clauses that you put together, or you might use a program that puts it together for you.  In any case, you’ll want to make a document that is typed, because although handwritten wills are permitted in some states, creating a formal, typed document is less likely to cause trouble after your death.

Find a will making tool that you can trust.  There are several types, including:

  • Flat forms –fill in the blank documents that you can edit with your word processor
  • Statutory forms – forms written into the laws of just a few states
  • Will books –  books usually provide thorough instructions for filling out flat forms, and may also offer additional information about estate planning
  • Will software – with estate planning software, you answer “interview” questions, then the program builds the will for you
  • Online will programs – these work like will software, but instead of loading the program on the computer, you make your will online

No matter what type of will template you prefer, make sure to choose one that comes with clear plain-English instructions so that you can feel confident that you are making a will that does what you want it to do.

What to Include in Your Will

No state requires specific language to make a will.  The best wills are those that clearly reflect the wishes of the will maker.  So what you include in your will depends on what you want your will to do for you.  Most people use a will to distribute their property after they die.  A will can also:

  • Name your executor.
  • Name guardians for young children and their property.
  • State how to pay debts and taxes.
  • Provide for pets.
  • Serve as a backup for a living trust.

Here are some things that you shouldn’t try to do in your will:

  • Put conditions on your gifts. (I give my house to Susan if she finishes college.)
  • Leave instructions for final arrangements.
  • Leave property for your pet.
  • Make arrangements for money or property will be left another way. (Property in a trust or property for which you’ve named a pay-on-death beneficiary.)

Making Your Will Legal

After you use a will template to write your will, you’ll need to do a few things to make it legal:

  • Sign your will.
  • Have two witnesses sign your will.
  • In most states, have a notary sign a self-proving affidavit – this is optional.

Your witnesses do not need to know what’s in your will.  Simply gather them around, say ‘this is my will’ and have them sign. Wills do not need to be signed by a notary public to be legal and binding.  However, in most states you can also attach a self-proving affidavit and those must be signed by a notary public. Self-proving affidavits don’t affect the legality of your will, but they do make your will easier to probate after your death.

Having a Lawyer Write Your Will

If you decide that your situation is too complicated to write your own will, or if you would just rather have a professional do it, then you’ll need a lawyer’s help.  But hiring a lawyer doesn’t mean you need to hand over the entire process or spend an outrageous amount of money.  Instead, you can educate yourself about the law.  Doing so will save you money because you will need  less time with the attorney and increase the likelihood that the attorney will draft a document that reflects your wishes.

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Business Contracts

Contracts: The Basics

What goes into a legally binding agreement?

Contracts are legally binding agreements, and they pervade almost every aspect of our personal and business lives. If you own or manage a business, you contend with contracts all the time in your dealings with employees, contractors, vendors, commercial landlords, banks, utilities, insurance companies, and, of course, customers and clients.

What makes a contract special — and essential for business dealings — is that it is binding on the parties. If one party doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, the other party has legal remedies for any resulting damages. This article looks at the basic requirements for a legally binding contract, the contract as a document, and the process of “contracting.”

Contract Requirements

To be enforceable by a court, every contract (whether written or oral) must meet several requirements. Let’s take a look at each of them.

  • Consideration. As Cole Porter wrote in the song, True Love, “You give to me and I give to you.” That sums up consideration. Each party has to promise or provide something of value to the other. Without this exchange, there is no contract. (Learn more in Nolo’s article Consideration: Every Contract Needs It.)
  • Offer and acceptance. There must be a clear or definite offer to contract (“Do you want to buy this?”) and an unqualified acceptance (“Yes!”).
  • Legal purpose. The purpose of the agreement must not violate the law. For example, you won’t be able to enforce a loan agreement that charges interest in excess of what is allowed by usury laws or a service agreement to hire someone to rob a bank or kill your mother-in-law.
  • Capable parties. To be “capable” of making a contract, the parties must understand what they’re doing. For example, there is a presumption that minors and insane people usually don’t know what they’re doing and, for that reason, contracts they enter into won’t be enforced under certain circumstances. (Learn more in Nolo’s article Who Lacks the Capacity to Contract?)
  • Mutual assent. This is also sometimes referred to as a “meeting of the minds.” The contracting parties must intend to be bound by their agreement and must agree on the essential terms.

In addition to these general rules, federal and state laws may impose more requirements on particular types of contracts. For example, certain consumer contracts must meet additional requirements, and some contracts must be in writing.

The Contract as a Document

The term “contract” often refers to a written agreement, typically including some or all of the following elements:

  • introductory material (sometimes known as “recitals” or “whereas provisions”)
  • definitions of key terms
  • a statement of the purpose or purposes of the agreement
  • the obligations of each party (and conditions that may trigger obligations)
  • assurances as to various aspects of agreement (sometimes phrased as warranties, representations, or covenants)
  • boilerplate provisions (see examples of these in Nolo’s article Common Boilerplate Provisions in Contracts)
  • a signature block, and
  • exhibits or attachments.

The Contract as a Process

“Contract” is a noun, but it can be used as a verb, too. When you contract with somebody, you participate in a process that typically involves three phases.

  • Phase 1: Contemplating the deal. The parties each assess the prospective arrangement and its risks (“Can I trust her?”) and attempt to predict the future (“Will I regret paying this price for the computer next month? Will it be outdated?”).
  • Phase 2: Reaching an agreement. During this phase the parties negotiate and agree on the terms, usually formalized in a written contract or some other documented evidence of the arrangement (such as a receipt or purchase order, for example).
  • Phase 3: Performance and enforcement. Once the contract is in place, the parties are legally required to perform their mutual obligations. If one party fails to perform, the other can sue to enforce the deal.

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How to Properly Document Money Your Business Receives

Know how to document loans and equity investments in your business.

When raising money for your business from through loans, equity investors, or gifts, it’s important to document what you’ve received. The form of documentation will vary depending on where the money is coming from.

Unsecured Loans

An unsecured loan is a loan you obtain without having to provide collateral or “security.” You might obtain this sort of loan from a bank. Alternatively, you might find another commercial lender, or even a private individual, who will give you an unsecured loan.

The key document for an unsecured loan is the promissory note. A promissory note should lay out the basic conditions of the loan, such as the number and amount of monthly installment payments you are agreeing to make, and what interest rate is being charged. It may also include other conditions of the loan, such as fees for late payments and whether you can pay in advance without a penalty. If you’re getting an unsecured loan from a bank, the bank itself will have its own promissory note form.

Make sure you sign only one promissory note for a loan; additional, signed copies can cause legal confusion about whether more than one loan is involved.

Secured Loans

With a secured loan, you are pledging some sort of collateral or security against the loan. If you fail to meet the terms of the loan, the lender ultimately will have the right to seize that security.

A secured loan, like an unsecured loan, should include a promissory note. However, the promissory note for a secured loan should include additional language indicating that the loan is secured, and that there are additional documents regarding the lender’s rights in regard to the collateral. If you’re dealing with a bank or similar institutional lender, then the lender should have the relevant documents.

Documentation will vary depending on what kind of asset you are using for security. If you are using personal property, such as business equipment or inventory, you should expect to fill out and sign a document where you agree that the lender can take that property if you fail to repay the loan. You can also expect that the lender will ask you to sign a financing statement as specified under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Sample versions of this document, commonly known as Form UCC-1, are readily available online. Once you’ve completed the UCC-1, the lender will file it with a local government office to provide notice to the public that the lender has a claim or “lien” on your property. Once you’ve paid off the loan, you should make sure the lender releases the lien.

A loan secured with real estate is more complicated than one secured with personal property. It will involve more specialized documentation than a promissory note and a Form UCC-1, and you may need to consult a lawyer for assistance. When the time comes to sign, you will need witnesses and notarization. As with a loan secured by personal property, documentation will be filed with a government office to provide public notice of a lien on your real estate. And, as with other types of secured loans, you will want to make sure that the lien is removed when you pay off the loan. With real estate, it’s particularly important not to have some blemish on the title, which might cause problems with a future sale of the property.

Equity Investments

An equity investment involves a person giving you money in exchange for an ownership interest in your business. Depending on how your business is structured, this may more specifically mean that the investor receives shares of stock in the business, or is now legally a partner in your business.

In the case of corporations, limited liability companies, and partnerships, equity investments are usually considered to be securities, and therefore are subject to certain federal and state laws. Those laws require some businesses to file a variety of documents with the government. If your business is “closely-held”—meaning most of its shares are held by a small number of people—then you should be able to avoid much of the securities paperwork. Otherwise, you should seek expert counsel on meeting your securities filing requirements.

As a separate issue, you should always have some written agreement with an equity investor. The exact form of agreement will depend on the legal form of your business:

  • for a corporation, an equity investor will be a shareholder, and should sign a shareholders’ agreement;
  • for a partnership, an equity investor will be a partner, and you should properly modify, and then all the partners should sign, the partnership agreement; and
  • for a limited liability company (LLC), an equity investor will be a “member,” and all members should sign (or, as appropriate, amend and sign) the LLC’s operating agreement.

Gifts

If you’re lucky enough to have someone give you money for your business as a gift, it’s still appropriate, though not legally required, that you prepare some kind of documentation. One reason for documenting a gift is to avoid later arguments; for example, you may think that money given to you by a parent was obviously a gift, but later find that a sibling always thought otherwise, leading to an unexpected legal dispute. Also, by documenting a gift, you can avoid wrangling with the IRS over whether the money was really a loan, and is therefore taxable; the IRS does not tax monetary gifts up to $13,000.

Additional Information

This article touches on just a few areas where you may bring money into your business in order to keep it running. There are many other sources you might rely on to raise money for your business and those sources will require their own forms of documentation

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