The Legal Insider

March 2014

5 Tips for Tax Season

Tax season is upon us and the April 15th deadline is fast approaching. Here are some quick tips to get you ready to file.

1. Get Organized: Make sure you have all the documents you will need in one place and that you have received all your tax forms. Put all of your receipts from work related expenses, charitable donations, and medical expenses for 2013 in one place – either electronically or in a physical folder. This will make sitting down to do your taxes a little easier for yourself or a professional tax preparer.

2. Preparing to File: If you have relatively uncomplicated taxes, you may want to use an online service such as TurboTax or H&R Block. These services are often free or of low cost to individuals and families with basic tax needs. Additionally, these programs can help ensure that you haven’t missed any opportunities for deductions or credits, as well as ensure that you are reporting all income.

If you have more complicated taxes, or own a business, you may want to consider hiring a professional tax preparer. Check to make sure that the preparer is properly certified to prepare taxes for the IRS and your state. You should also make sure that your tax preparer is familiar with the type of taxes you need to file.

3. Filing Electronically: Filing electronically can help ensure that you get your refund faster or that your payment is promptly processed. You can usually receive refunds through direct deposit or pay taxes by debit or credit card. Additionally, the IRS confirms receipt of your filing if you file electronically, giving you some peace of mind that you have filed on time.

4. Making Last Minute Contributions: If you have an IRA retirement account, you may be able to reduce your 2013 taxable income by making a contribution. The deadline for contributions is April 15th. Check with a tax professional to see if this is right for you.

5. Filing for an Extension: If you are not able to get your taxes filed by April 15th, you can file for a six-month extension by filing Form 4868. You will still have to do a bit of leg work to file an extension, though, as you will need to estimate your tax liability for 2013 and pay any taxes due. Filing for an extension will help you avoid costly penalties for late filing.

Seeking Legal Help

Tax issues are highly complicated and every person’s situation is different. For example, you may be asking: “What if I can’t pay my taxes this year?” or “What if I didn’t file last year?” If you are unable to resolve such issues, you should consult an experienced tax lawyer.

Top 5 Small Business Issues

Running a small business can be fun and rewarding. It can also be challenging, especially for first-time business owners. Understanding some of the major issues that affect small businesses can help minimize interruptions. Here are the top 5 issues to consider when managing a small business:

1) Transitions Are Key: A major transition is the shift from employee to owner. Many small businesses start-ups begin when a worker gets an idea and decides to run their own show. This is a major adjustment that should be approached with a solid plan. You should try to anticipate other changes, such as hiring employees, marketing new products, or expanding office space.

2) Avoid Burnout: Small businesses can sometimes be understaffed. Don’t forget to put some priority on your down time. You may need to actually schedule free time for yourself if necessary. Overworked employees can also drain efficiency.

3) Do Some Market Research: Small shops tend to rely on existing networks that have been handed down for generations. However, this doesn’t mean that such outfits can’t benefit from newer market strategies such as online SEO-based advertising and social networking. Realize that online review sites can have major effects on the public’s perception of a business—whether for the good or for the bad.

4) Debt Management: Borrowing too much or cutting too many bad deals can harm business operations. Some small businesses are built on debt relationships with other local business; however, don’t be afraid to engage in debt collection when needed. Understand how basic small business financing works and invest in an advisor if necessary.

5) Location: Some small businesses do extremely well simply based on their geographic location in the community. Consider various locations that will increase your business’ visibility. Also, “location” in a business sense may be expanded beyond physical geography. For instance, your business’ ranking on a search engine page can help drive online business conversions. Excellent page ranking and other online search factors can help boost your company’s sales tremendously.

All of the issues mentioned above should be addressed in a carefully thought out business plan. One of the main factors in business failures is a lack of a viable business plan. You should keep your plan updated to address any new factors that might come up in the years to come. That way, you can anticipate and avoid legal or financial issues at an early stage.

When Should I Hire a Real Estate Lawyer?

Property rights are among the oldest rights in the United States. Somewhere during the 20th and 21st centuries, however, property rights took a backseat to privacy rights. That’s unfortunate, because privacy rights are rooted in property. Stand your ground and unreasonable search are both born from the notion that a man’s house is his castle.

Still, property disputes continue today. Even though a lot has changed since the U.S. Constitution was ratified, a person’s home is still their castle. A real estate attorney can keep it that way.

1. Your Agent Encounters a Difficult Legal Question

If you’re thinking about buying or selling real estate, real estate agents are your best friends. However, few best friends can advise you about the legal consequences of buying a property if, for example, the property owner wants to sell it without telling his spouse. If your agent wants to be a duel agent, you should consult a real estate attorney to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

2. Someone Is Losing Their Home

Although Americans don’t have a right to housing, the law makes it difficult to kick someone out of their home. Real estate attorneys are essential if there is a foreclosure or an eviction. Whether you’re a landlord trying to evict a tenant who can’t pay his rent or a homeowner trying to save your house from the bank, real estate attorneys can help.

3. Land Use Issues

There’s a surprising number of ways to use land. Some people use land to build houses while others develop cattle ranches, gas stations, burial grounds, or churches with extra loud bells. However, land use is subject to zoning laws and nuisance disputes. The only exceptions are illegal discrimination or government seizure.

4. The Neighbors Are Interfering with Your Land

When most people think trespass, they imagine someone sneaking through their property. However, trespass can include any type of physical invasion of property, not just the surfers who walk through your yard on the way to the beach. The kids who throw eggs at your window are committing trespass. Likewise, the neighbor who builds his storage shed on your property is also liable for trespass if you catch it in time.

The Is Alternative Dispute Resolution Appropriate for My Legal Issue?

When people file a lawsuit, they expect some kind of trial if the case doesn’t settle. However, alternative dispute resolutions (ADR) are becoming more and more common in our legal system. Alternative dispute resolutions exist to resolve cases outside the courtroom. In some cases, ADRs are a requirement before the parties can go to trial. In other cases, ADRs are used instead of trial because the parties agreed to use an ADR in a contract.

There are three forms of ADR: settlements, meditation, and arbitration. Settlements are the most famous type of alternative dispute resolution. Settlements are discussions whereby the parties try to reach an agreement on their own. The settlement agreement is written down and is considered binding between the parties. In many jurisdictions, parties must engage in settlement discussions. The case only goes to trial if the settlements fail after a good faith effort to negotiate.

The second type of ADR is meditation. Meditations are like settlements but with one major difference. A neutral third party, the mediator, speaks with the parties and tries to help them reach an agreement. The mediator is only an advisor and has no legal authority, although the mediator can write a settlement agreement on behalf of the parties. Meditation is common, and is often required, in certain fields of law such as family law.

Arbitration is the third type of ADR used in the United States. In many respects, arbitrators are like judges. Parties present evidence to the arbitrator and the arbitrator makes a binding decision about which party wins or loses a case. Unlike judge trials, parties often choose who the arbitrators are and what type of evidentiary rules apply. The hearing is not recorded unless one party pays for it. Arbitration is commonly found in contracts, including patient-doctor agreements, so that corporations can end lawsuits quickly and efficiently. As a result, arbitration has been criticized as a means by which the wealthy can avoid trial.

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