Dance like no one is watching; email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition

By: Christian J. Schulte – Published in the BizWest Thought Leaders column in April 2017

The title comes from journalist Olivia Nuzzi, reminding us that technology, however useful, can bite us. Nowadays, evidence in lawsuits can be mostly emails, instead of more carefully edited letters and memoranda. This matters, because people write stupid things in emails they would not elsewhere. Policy and training do not help, and even if they did, there are limits; candor among coworkers is too important.

So, when faced with a lawsuit, it can be tempting to try to delete and cover up damaging internal emails, even from your own lawyers—but do not. Emails propagate in a network like rabbits in a field, and everything eventually comes out. Better to get the worst into your lawyers’ hands quickly, to help them help you develop a strategy to deal with it early on.

Why Is My Contract So Long?

By: Brandy Natalzia

“The time to repair the roof
is when the sun is shining.”
-John F. Kennedy

You entered into a pretty basic commercial deal, and decided to do things properly and get it drawn up by an attorney. You’ve now received a ‘draft’ from the attorney and it’s long. It was a simple deal. Why are there so many terms? Why is it several pages in length? The answer lies in risk-shifting, or preparing for the rain.

Contracts are generally signed in good times, when the sun is shining. The parties typically have high expectations of the success of the agreement and may not consider what happens if and when things don’t go as planned. However, it is important to prepare for the bad times, to formulate terms that consider risks that may arise after the contract is signed. There are many ways a contract can be drafted to guard against the rain – two of the more common ones are representations and warranties and indemnity provisions.

Representations and Warranties

A representation is simply a statement of fact upon which another party is expected to rely, while a warranty is a party’s assurance as to a particular fact coupled with an implied indemnification obligation if that fact is false. Representations and warranties are generally used to allocate risk by (1) apportioning exposure to potential losses and shifting risk from the recipient to the maker; (2) creating a direct claim against the maker if representations and warranties are inaccurate; and (3) serving as a basis for the parties’ indemnification rights.

Indemnification

An indemnification clause is a promise to protect and defend another in the event a particular set of circumstances leads to a loss suffered by another party. Indemnity provisions are the primary vehicle by which parties typically shift or apportion risk in a contract.  Indemnity provisions may include any, or all, of three obligations to (1) indemnify, (2) defend, and (3) hold harmless the other party. A well-drafted indemnification provision allows parties to customize their risk allocation by shifting the burden of loss and compensating an indemnified party for risks it did not assume and expenses that may not be recoverable under common law, like attorneys’ fees.

Having an attorney draft or review your contract before signing is recommended. It is imperative that you understand the potential consequences of the risk-shifting provisions in any contract. By carefully drafting and negotiating a contract before execution, during the good times, you can best protect yourself or your company from the inevitable rain.

Turning Over the Keys to Your Business

By: Jeffrey T. Bedingfield

We’ve all heard the saying that there are only two things in life that are certain – death and taxes. The same might be said for your business that you’ve spent a good part of your life building. The difference is that the death of a business can be delayed or avoided all together and that depends upon how well you plan the passing of the business to a partner or the next generation.

Only about 30% of family businesses survive into the second generation and only about 12% into the third generation. For the most part, failures can be traced to one factor, little or no succession planning.

Succession planning, or, should I say, successful succession planning really boils down to creating continuity in management, culture and leadership in the midst of a change in ownership. It isn’t accomplished at an annual retreat or a planning session with an attorney, accountant or financial planner. It is developed and executed over a period of years.

Planning for a transition in the ownership of a family business has its own unique set of difficulties because you add family dynamics to the business dynamics. There are several key components to developing a successful plan that deals with family dynamics separately from the business dynamics. The key components to the development of a successful plan that deal with family dynamics are communication and trust. The key components to the development of a successful plan addressing business dynamics include culture, management and leadership.

The culture of a business is what defines that business internally and externally. It is the value system of the company and it establishes the reputation of the company within itself and the community. It defines the vision and goals of the company. Culture is what attracts and retains employees and customers. We all know that a big part of the reason why people do business with you is because they like you. Whether or not they like you more often than not depends upon culture.

Management of a company is not so much about who owns the company, but who will do the work of the business that makes it successful. The four areas of focus for management include administration and finance, operations and customer fulfillment, sales and marketing. More often than not in a family business, several of those areas are handled by you or another family member. While you may have developed the ability to handle each of those areas as you grew your business, turning over the reins of management of the company you’ve built requires that any person taking over one of those areas has the ability to hit the ground running. Before any business can be transitioned to the next generation, you must train those who will take over your responsibilities. You may be able to fill some areas with family members, but you might have to fill gaps in other positions with outsiders. More than likely, you are the individual who provides the leadership for the company and are the individual to whom everybody looks for direction. Before you can transition out of the business, you will need to find the individual or team who will take on that leadership role and give them the opportunity to position themselves in the eyes of all employees as the source of leadership and direction moving forward.

Assessing the abilities and competencies of employees and family members is a critical, but often awkward, part of succession planning. Not only must you find the right people, you must give them enough time to grow into their positions. Simply reaching a certain point in life and turning to a child and telling them that “it’s now your turn to make it or break it,” is a sure recipe for failure.

Finally, once the culture is clearly established, strong management is trained and in place, and leadership is established, you will have reached the point of being able to successfully “pass the baton” of ownership to the next generation. This is the point at which you complete the plan and set in motion your release of ultimate control to the next generation, whether in stages or all at once. Obviously, some control will be relinquished through developing and empowering management and allowing others to develop in leadership roles, but a change in ownership is really the transitioning of the ultimate control and responsibility for the business. A succession plan is as unique as each business and the owners of that business. There are many different tools available to the professional helping you develop your succession plan. They involve not only the structures for change in ownership, but also for providing incentives to retain key management and leadership and policies to create loyal employees.

The additional and unique nature of family dynamics in a business succession plan are more often than not accomplished through clear communication of the plan and the building of trust that the plan will be followed. Before the next generation can buy into any succession plan, they must first understand what that plan is. In addition, trust that the plan will be followed and executed can only be accomplished by the business owner fulfilling the promises and goals established by such a plan. Successful business succession planning is really most about preparation, common sense, communication and execution. It takes commitment to develop a plan and even greater commitment to follow it.

Should I Look for Environmental Issues Prior to Completing My Real Estate Transaction?

By: John Kolanz

A version of this article was published in the November 2016 BizWest Thought Leaders column.

When purchasing (often even leasing) commercial or industrial property, the answer is usually yes. Environmental issues take various forms, such as soil and groundwater contamination, mold or asbestos on structures, or the presence of wetlands or endangered species. They can even emanate from neighboring properties.

The context of the property and its intended use inform the nature of the environmental review. Often used is a Phase I Assessment, where a qualified consultant conducts a non-invasive evaluation of the property designed primarily to help protect against liability arising from contamination. It can also identify environmental issues that might render the property unsuitable for intended uses. For some properties however, a lesser screen may suffice.

Environmental issues need not be a deal killer — just identified and accounted for before closing. A knowledgeable environmental attorney can help a client define the proper scope of the investigation, and work with the consultant to meet the unique needs of the transaction at hand.

Is your property titled correctly?

By: Timothy P. Brynteson – Published in the BizWest Thought Leaders column in October 2016

Most couples assume that if one them dies, their home or other real estate will pass automatically to their spouse.  Normally couples own their home or other real estate “jointly” – in other words they own it together, or both of their names are on the title.  While this is almost always true, you may not own it as “joint tenants” which is how most couples think they own their home.  If your title does not specifically name you and your partner as “joint tenants” – you will be deemed to own your property as “tenants in common” which will mean that the survivor of the couple will need to file a probate proceeding to transfer the deceased partner’s property to themselves.  It is a good practice to check your title to property, cars and bank accounts to make sure they are titled properly and avoid extra work and expense when the first of the couple dies.

Considering options for your home if you are worried about long-term care

By: Timothy P. Brynteson

Many of our older clients are worried about two things – 1. Having the resources to afford long-term care, or qualifying for government assistance if they don’t, typically Medicaid; and 2.  They want to leave their house to their heirs if it is one of their primary assets. These concerns are true even for reasonably healthy individuals.

These concerns lead to questions of strategies for those who own their homes and wish to live there as long as possible, but are concerned that one, or both (if they are a couple) will need expensive, long-term care in either an assisted living facility or a nursing home.  Is there a way to continue to own your home as long as possible, qualify for Medicaid AND make sure the family home is passed on to the children?  The short answer is that it is difficult to accomplish this goal without giving up ownership and taking actions which require long-term planning.   This brief article will not explore all the avenues to both preserve assets to pass on to heirs and minimize your “countable” assets in qualifying to Medicaid assistance, but will provide a brief discussion regarding the family home.

The most common strategy many people will employ is to transfer ownership of the home to a child, but continue to live in the home.   While this strategy can sometimes “work” – there are several potential problems with this course of action.  First, Medicaid utilizes a look-back period for assets that were transferred within 5 years of a person applying for Medicaid.  This means that if you transfer ownership of your home to a child (or children) and need to apply for Medicaid within 5 years of the transfer, Medicaid will impose a penalty period during which you will not be eligible to receive benefits.  The period is calculated by dividing the value of the assets transferred by the average monthly cost of long term care in the state to arrive at the number of months you will be ineligible.  Worse, the penalty period will begin running on the first day you start receiving services and would be eligible for Medicaid, but for the transfer.

The second potential problem, even if the 5 year look-back period isn’t an issue, is that you give up ownership of your home and it is now owned by someone else.  While this can often work out just fine, sometimes we can’t always control events in our children’s lives.  Events such as lawsuits, accidents, divorce and the loss of a job may put their ownership of “your” house in jeopardy.

You should be very careful in considering options for your home if you are worried about needing long-term care and talk with an attorney specializing in such matters before taking steps on your own.

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Tim Brynteson is a partner with Otis, Bedingfield and Peters LLC in Loveland. Tim’s practice emphasizes on business transactions, real estate, business succession planning, estate planning, probate administration, and tax controversies and can be reached at 970-663-7300 or tbrynteson@nocoattorneys.com.

The First Decision in Forming a Business: What Type of Entity?

 

By: Corey Moore

Choosing the appropriate entity for a new business is not as easy as one might think. Most people tend to gravitate towards a limited liability company, or LLC, for its relative ease of formation and asset protection, however there are various other entities that can be beneficial for an emerging business.  The various entity types, including C and S corporations, LLCs, and partnerships all have aspects that can be useful to a new business and should be examined before selecting an entity.

Businesses with Multiple Owners

If the new business entity will have multiple owners with different rights and interests when it comes to control, income, business losses, or assets upon liquidation, ownership rights may need to be structured differently for each owner.

If the new entity is a C or S corporation, ownership is limited to company issued stock and those owning the majority of outstanding stock control the business, whereas partnerships and LLCs are flexible and can customize and define control and interests through the entity’s operating agreement. The ability to customize LLCs and partnerships can allow the owners to set up a business structure that can take into account the differences each owner may bring to the business.

Earnings Bailout Potential

Further, it is important for the new business owners to fully understand the earnings bailout potential of various entities. With S corporations, LLCs, and partnerships, it is fairly easy to remove earnings from the business and pass them on to the owners.  In this case the profits generated by the business are taxed directly to the owners, so the distribution of profits in the form of dividends or partnership distributions will not carry tax consequences for the entity.  However, when a C corporation distributes earning to owners, or shareholders, in the form of dividends, the dividend distribution is not deductible to the corporation. Instead, it is double taxed, once to the entity and once to the owner, which can be a huge hit against company profits.  This tax trap can be avoided if the shareholders are employed by the corporation and receive earnings in the form of taxable compensation.  The compensation would then be deductible to the corporation, which results in a tax at shareholder level only.

Business Losses

A new entity can also benefit from utilizing losses generated by the business. The threshold issue is whether the losses should be retained by the entity or passed through to the owners. Losses generated by C corporations are retained in the business and can be carried backwards or forwards to be deducted against earned income.  This can be a valuable tool in lowering the business’s tax liability once the business makes a profit, but the shareholders never benefit from the losses of the business.  In an S corporation, LLC, and partnership, losses can be passed through to the owners.  For example, when losses are anticipated in the first year of the business, passing the losses on to the owners may generate tax advantages if the owners have other taxable income against which those losses can be offset. 

Ability to Restructure

Additionally, the ability of an existing organization to restructure without being penalized can be a helpful tool for a business down the road. For a C corporation looking to restructure, the options are limited.  If it converts to a partnership or LLC, the corporation will recognize gain on all its assets, and the shareholders will recognize gain on the liquidation of their stock, leading to tax liability.  An S corporation and other pass through entities, on the other hand, can convert without triggering the type of gain and tax consequences you would see with a C corporation.

Estate Plan Integration

Although most people do not consider it when starting a business, it is also important to integrate a new business entity with the owners’ estate plan. Owners may want to shift income to a lower tax bracket, freeze or slow down the growth of an estate, or utilize the annual gift tax exclusion.  To make use of these options, LLCs and partnerships provide the best options and flexibility.

Potential of Sale

Finally, although most people will not think about it when beginning a business, it is important to consider the possibility of selling the business or going public. If the business is an S corporation, partnership, or LLC when the assets are sold, the gains realized on the sale of the assets are taxed to the owners in proportion to their interests in the business.  In a C corporation there will be taxes levied on the proceeds at the corporate level and then upon distribution to the shareholders.  The shareholders will pay capital gains tax on the difference between the amount they received in distribution and their individual basis in the corporation’s stock.  While there are ways for C corporations to mitigate their tax liability, it would be easier to sell a business if it was not a C corporation.  However, if the company is funded with outside capital, as many emerging companies are these days, and the plan is to eventually go public, then a C corporation is the only option.  The interests of outside investors and potential gain that can be found on the public market may trump any of the other concerns discussed above.

Deciding which type of entity to use for a new business venture may not be a difficult decision for some, but it is important to look at all the factors before creating the entity. The above discussion does not address every factor to consider nor is it a thorough discussion of the factors mentioned.  The point is to make sure to fully analyze and understand how the choice of entity decision can help or hinder the goals of the business.

Don’t Let Emotional Support Animals Drive You Crazy

By: Brandy Natalzia

If you own or manage residential rental property in Colorado, you may have noticed a growing trend in tenant requests for “reasonable accommodations” in the form of emotional support animals (ESAs). Reasonable accommodations are defined as when a tenant asks a landlord to make a change in an existing rule or policy so they may have an equal opportunity to enjoy the unit and surrounding property. The Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act require landlords to provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, and ESAs typically do qualify as such an accommodation. This means that if your property is a “no-pet” property, you would be required to modify your policy to allow an animal that is claimed to be an ESA.

Landlords cannot refuse to rent to tenants with disabilities nor can landlords ask applicants and tenants about the details of any conditions. Sometimes the disability is apparent, such as a tenant in a wheelchair, but many times a person’s disability is not obvious to observers. An ESA is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of an individual’s mental or psychiatric disability. ESAs are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals.

Many homeowners, property managers, and homeowners associations have become all too familiar with health professionals producing letters for individuals seeking to keep an emotional support animal in a property based on an online health questionnaire. Unlike service animals under the ADA, standards governing emotional support animals are virtually non-existent and there are no restrictions on the types of animals that qualify as assistance or companion pets. Associations frequently end up relying on statements made by unlicensed individuals who may be out of state and never even met the individuals making requests.  The standards are vague enough that landlords and property managers may face a risk if they fail to make a proper determination regarding a tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation.

House Bill 16-1201 (“HB 1201”) was introduced to address a gaping loophole used by tenants to keep dogs and cats in communities which ban them, but was killed by the Democrats in the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee in March on a 7 to 6 party line vote.

HB 1201 would have regulated how licensed professionals in Colorado must approach providing recommendations for ESAs under the Colorado Fair Housing Act.  In particular, this bill would have required that licensed physicians, physician assistants, nurses, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors and addiction counselors must make the following findings prior to recommending that an individual should be permitted to have an emotional support animal:

  1. The licensed professional must make a finding that the individual requesting the emotional assistance animal has a disability as defined by Colorado law orthat there is insufficient information available to make a determination that the individual has a disability; and
  2. The licensed professional must actually meet with the individual requesting an emotional support animal IN PERSON, prior to making a finding of whether the person has a disability which necessitates the emotional support animal.

This bill would have all but done away with the concept of online ESA approvals that require little more than a valid credit card to obtain. It would have given landlords a greater ability to confirm a tenant’s true disability and would have decreased the current abuse of the existing policy.

While House Bill 1201 has been defeated, there is now a new bill (House Bill 16-1308) that has been introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee.  Federal and state law require places of public accommodation to allow service animals trained to do work or perform tasks for a disabled person.  Under this bill, it would be a misdemeanor for a person to intentionally and fraudulently misrepresent an animal in his possession as his service animal for the purpose of obtaining any of the rights or privileges granted by law to persons with disabilities that have service animals.  This bill does not have the same type of impact on landlords since it applies to places of public accommodations, but further indicates that whether the issue is emotional support animals or service animals, there is a growing legislative reaction to perceived abuses of statutes designed to help persons with disabilities.

Many of the more recent court cases involving landlords, property owners, tenants, and animals center on the laws, rules, and regulations about ESAs, not service animals. To outsiders, it is difficult to distinguish between an ESA and a pet. As a landlord, it can be difficult to ensure that you are following federal, state, and municipal laws regarding reasonable accommodations. However, even if you believe you are in compliance with the law, it does not prevent an applicant or tenant from filing a discrimination claim if you deny the reasonable accommodation request. If a prospective tenant files a complaint with HUD, which is usually turned over to the Colorado Civil Rights Division (“CCRD”), you are required to thoroughly respond to the complaint in a timely manner. This response can be time-consuming with requests for documentation, telephone interviews, rebuttals, etc. If the CCRD finds probable cause for discrimination, there is a mandatory conciliation that the landlord and tenant must attend, at which time the CCRD will attempt to negotiate a settlement between the parties, which usually involves a monetary payment to the tenant. If that conciliation does not result in a resolution, the matter must then be set for a trial in front of an administrative law judge.

In general, the consequences of denying a reasonable accommodation request can vary depending on location. If you find yourself with a request for a reasonable accommodation, your existing community pet restriction policies are likely inapplicable and the consequences of denying a request could be costly, both in time and money. The best course of action for most landlords is to seek legal counsel before responding to these types of requests.

Involving Litigation Counsel Early on in a Dispute Can Help Keep You Out of Court

By: Jennifer Lynn Peters

Published in the BizWest Thought Leaders column in April 2016

Most leaders know that selecting the right trial attorney can make all the difference.  But did you also know that involving litigation counsel before a dispute escalates could keep you out of court?

Getting advice from litigation counsel when a dispute first arises can lead to effective strategies to find resolution.  For example, litigation counsel can explain the options and likely outcomes.  She can help you avoid making costly admissions in your communications, and help elicit useful facts from the other side.  She can help you identify what issues to address, and which to avoid.  Knowing the strength of your position and the potential long-term consequences for both sides up front can help get the resolution you want, before you find yourself in court.

So next time you see a potential dispute heading your way, don’t wait to get litigation counsel involved.  She may just keep you out of court.

Otis, Bedingfield & Peters, LLC attorney Christian J. Schulte appointed to the Greeley Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

Otis, Bedingfield & Peters, LLC is proud to announce that attorney Christian J. Schulte has been accepted to The Greeley Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

The Greeley Chamber of Commerce is an investment organization that is driven to meet the needs of the businesses in our community. The chamber is a great source of information for assisting and promoting businesses.

The Greeley Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors develops and oversees the implementation of the Chamber’s Strategic Plan. They identify policies and initiatives for the benefit of all Chamber investors.

“I am truly pleased to be involved with the Greeley Chamber, because it does so much to help our city thrive. It’s a great group of people to work with, and I’m looking forward to doing my part,” said Christian J. Schulte.

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Otis, Bedingfield & Peters, LLC provides real estate law and business law services throughout Northern Colorado. OBP has 13 attorneys spread across its two offices in Greeley and Loveland.  For more information, contact Christian J. Schulte at cschulte@nocoattorneys.com or Jennifer Lynn Peters at jpeters@nocoattorneys.com or 970-330-6700 or visit www.nocoattorneys.com.