Think Twice Before Hiring Close Family Members & Friends

Creating a positive work environment always requires careful planning. Everyone must feel equally valued to do their best work. While it can be tempting to hire a close family member or friend who’s highly qualified, you must carefully consider how well the new person might fit in with your current employees.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to minimize potential problems. However, before making this type of choice, you should always confer with your business partners and hiring manager about the types of risks set forth below.

Unexpected employee jealousies & tensions can lower workplace morale

  • Current employees may fear they’ll never be given a fair chance again to compete for choice assignments and promotions once the new person comes on board;
  • Many or most of your conversations with this new individual may cause others to fear that their competing opinions will cease to matter or be respected;
  • Employee morale may suffer if your family member or friend is granted any special privileges regarding work hours, early promotions or salary;
  • Your new hire must be prepared to receive the “cold shoulder” from others. He or she must be prepared to avoid reacting in an angry or defensive manner;
  • Regular chains of command should be honored so that even your friend or family member must remain open to job performance feedback from other employees.

Ways you can try to minimize problems and help your family member or friend succeed

  • Openly discuss this hiring possibility with any equal partners in the business, as well as your hiring manager. If any of these people have serious misgivings, always consider hiring a well-qualified newcomer instead. If you’re the company’s only higher-level boss, talk about this hiring idea with another close family member or friend who will confidentially let you know if you’re being reasonably objective;
  • Plan on introducing the new person in a staff meeting, clearly noting who he or she will work with on a regular basis. Also, note that the new person is eager to obtain helpful advice from all those already onboard;
  • Have a private meeting before hiring the person, explaining the fact that the two of you must exercise strong boundaries at work each day. Topics only important to the two of you concerning family members or other friends should only be discussed during non-work hours to minimize conflicts;
  • Require your family member or close friend to sign a binding work contract if all others had to sign one when hired. If no written contracts are being used, make sure this person knows that they’ve been hired for a set trial period, especially if this holds true for all other employees. Clearly explain how you’ll need to end the work relationship if too many special privileges are requested — or sub-standard work is turned in;
  • Provide early and regular feedback to your family member or regarding their work. Let this person know that you’ll probably need to let the regular supervisor also offer constructive criticism;
  • Do not tolerate any special requests that go beyond what you grant to other employees. This type of activity will undermine your good relationships with other staff members.
  • Be realistically prepared to fire this person– sooner rather than later – if others are having to do extra work since your family member or friend isn’t working hard enough.

Fortunately, carefully chosen family members and friends will try hard to succeed if you insist they treat everyone else with respect.  Just remember to remain open to what other employees may tell you about the quality of the new person’s work – and do all you can to help your friend or family member stay open to suggestions for improvement.

Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys regarding any questions you may have about both routine and complicated employee management issues. We’ve had the opportunity to provide useful legal guidance to businesses of all sizes for many years now.

Why Most Adults Under Age 35 Needs an Estate Plan

Many young adults assume they won’t need a simple or comprehensive estate plan until they’ve created or inherited a sizeable amount of wealth. However, all adults, especially those who are married or have children, need estate plans to protect their legal interests.

After all, none of us know when we may suddenly become the victim of a severe pedestrian or auto accident – or receive a devastating medical diagnosis. When you have a basic Will, it can greatly simplify matters for your loved ones if you become too incapacitated to manage your own finances or even pass away.

The following information helps explain why no one should want to continue being one of the approximately 60% of American adults who are without a Will or estate plan.

While it may be a bit uncomfortable requesting documents that directly address your own possible incapacitation or death – the peace of mind you and your loved ones will gain always makes the effort worth it.

Key reasons why all younger adults can benefit from a Will or comprehensive estate plan

  • They each allow you to specifically name the beneficiaries you want to receive your real property and investment accounts. When you fail to create a Will, the state of Texas will apply its laws of intestacy to decide who will inherit everything you own. Even if you’ve only had time to pay into a 401k or other investment account for a few years, chances are you also own a car and a few other valuable possessions. Creating an estate plan lets you decide who will receive your assets – although community property and other laws will also come into play if you’re married;
  • You can designate a guardian for any minor children. There may be good reasons why your child shouldn’t go live with certain relatives if you become critically ill (or too disabled) to care for the child. A Will lets you designate one or more people to shoulder this responsibility, along with one or two back-up guardians.
  • You can designate someone else to speak for you in a medical Advanced Directive. This type of estate planning document lets a person you trust choose the specific medical care you wish to receive if you become seriously ill and can’t make decisions for yourself;
  • Your Houston estate planning attorney can provide you with valuable legal advice on how to protect your wealth against excessive taxes as your estate begins to grow. Even if you hold a degree in asset or wealth management, you’ll always need to make sure you’re using tax-efficient wealth transfers to others that fully comply with all recent changes in IRS laws and regulations. You may also want to have a trust account created to help you annually transfer wealth to specific individuals or charitable organizations;
  • Creating an estate plan helps you develop meaningful savings goals as you begin to plan for your eventual retirement. If you begin funding your retirement in your early 20s and 30s, you’ll increase the chances of being able to choose the date when you’ll retire or reduce your workload. Should you marry, having an estate plan can help you and your spouse make more informed choices about assuming a new mortgage, having children, setting aside funds to help pay for your children’s education — and possibly even one day funding a charitable trust or family foundation.

Perhaps the best part of creating an estate plan when you’re very young is that you’ll be able to reflect on how your legal documents are helping you “grow your income.” And you’ll always be able to change and update your financial goals when new life circumstances develop.

While many younger people request an entire set of estate planning documents, others are more comfortable just requesting a Will that will cover all their current, limited possessions.

Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can provide you with the estate planning advice you currently need. We’ll always be available to answer any questions you have and update your legal paperwork as your life changes and moves forward.

Protecting Seniors & Disabled Loved Ones Against Financial Abuse

At present, there are 3.2 million Texans (12% of the total population) who are age 65 and older. By the year 2050, that percentage is expected to rise to twenty percent (20%). Our state also has an unusually large number of disabled citizens – close to 11.7 percent of our population fits into this category.

All these individuals are at a higher risk of being financially abused than others. Furthermore, a highly regarded MetLife Study found that the annual cost of elder financial abuse equals about $2.9 billion – and that number would be far higher if we added in the losses incurred by the disabled population

For this reason, all honest adults should do whatever they can to help their older family members and friends protect themselves against being defrauded of their money and possessions.

Defining financial abuse – and noting who most often commits this type of crime

Before reviewing how the elderly and disabled can protect themselves against financial abuse and scams, it’s important to define “financial abuse” more precisely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this type of abuse involves the improper or unauthorized use of an older person’s resources for the wrongdoer’s personal profit, benefit or gain

Sadly, ninety percent (90%) of those who commit fraud against the elderly (and disabled) are already people known to them. A February 2018 article published by AARP entitled, “Fraud in the Family,” provides highly useful information on this topic.

Financial safety tips to share with the elderly and disabled regarding financial fraud

  • Each person should put together a small “team” of professionals who will help them manage their funds – and meet with them every few months for this purpose. This team should include two or more of the following individuals.
  1. A reputable Houston estate planning attorney
  2. A highly trusted family member – or friend
  3. A geriatric (or disability) case manager, social worker or therapist
  4. A bonded accountant or bookkeeper

           Advise your elderly or disabled friends to meet quarterly with their small group – and

           make sure their Durable Power of Attorney, Advanced Directive for Healthcare and other

           legal documents clearly indicate that no major life decisions should be made without the

           added input of the individuals named within those documents;

  • Always confer with others before making any major purchases, sales or life decisions. Never rush into to making any new financial investments or decisions about moving into a new home or senior care facility;
  • Keep important items either in a desk or safe at home. Put copies of the person’s Will and all other estate planning documents in their desk at home – making sure that at least one family member or close friend knows where they can be found in case the person becomes suddenly ill. It’s also wise to place all blank checks and major credit cards in a locked safe at home – and only take them out on days when they will be needed to make purchases. These actions can help the senior or disabled person greatly minimize chances of fraud and identity theft. All older bills and bank statements should always be shredded;
  • Never accept any phone calls from strangers. If the person accidentally takes a call from someone they don’t know and is asked to make some type of donation, tell the caller donations or only made by check – and only in response to a written request received by mail. Never, ever give out any bank or credit card information over the phone to such callers;
  • Seniors and the disabled should always ask a family member or friend to help them run a comprehensive background check on anyone them would like to hire as a caregiver in their home or current residence;
  • All routine bank and investment statements should be reviewed with a family member, a bonded bookkeeper or a trusted close friend. Any suspicious withdrawals from such accounts should be reported right away;
  • Consider having all credit reports frozen if any unauthorized credit card accounts are opened in the person’s name. Also, find out which type of fraud alert or security watch program is best suited to daily monitoring all larger financial accounts;
  • Never readily make gifts or loans to family members or friends – especially if they are currently battling drug or alcohol addictions. Ask other people to help address this problem;
  • Finally, advise the senior or disabled person to create a workable monthly budget, allowing for unexpected medical fees and limited travel and entertainment expenses.

If you or a senior friend or disabled person need additional advice and help with these issues, please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have concerning this topic.

Legal Documents Often Needed by Caregivers

Careful planning is required once you agree to act as the legal caregiver of a family member or close friend. Always make sure the person making this request promptly provides you with copies of properly executed legal documents that will help you address their most critical needs on a timely basis.

Fortunately, your Houston estate planning attorney can help you decide which legal documents may be required by the person needing care. These documents can help you make such crucial decisions as where the person needing care may want to live — and choose the types of medical care they’re willing to receive from specific healthcare providers.

Depending on if you’re personally named in all the required documents, you may also need to handle burial needs – and make sure that all money and possessions are properly transferred to the correct beneficiaries once your loved one or ailing friend passes away.

Here’s a brief overview of the types of legal documents you’ll need the person you’ll be taking care of to obtain from a lawyer.

Key documents to consult while taking care of an ailing friend or family member

  • Power of Attorney. While many older or ailing adults can still often make sound decisions for themselves – they may want you to stand ready to step in and handle key business transactions for them with various companies should they become too ill to manage these matters on a temporary basis;
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This may also be called an Advance Directive for Healthcare and other similar terms. Its purpose is to clearly indicate the types of medical care the named party is open to receiving – and when certain types of life-extending treatments should be discontinued when the party named in the documents is suffering from a terminal or irreversible condition. The document also clearly provides authority for the person named as the Medical Power of Attorney to have full access to all medical records required while making decisions in coordination with doctors and other healthcare providers;
  • A Living Will. This document is different than an Advance Directive because it states how the person needing medical treatment wants their medical care to be handled – as opposed to the Advance Directive which states how another person (the agent) should handle the ill person’s medical treatment needs when that person is unable to do so. This type of Will also often addresses whether life support procedures should be provided under specific circumstances;
  • A Basic Will. This sets forth the name of the executor who’s been chosen to manage the ill person’s estate once they pass away — so the chosen beneficiaries will receive all the designated wealth and possessions. Hopefully, the person you’re helping will remember to ask their lawyer if they need to create one or more trust accounts so that all or part of the estate can be easily transferred without going through the probate process.

Be sure the person you’ll be taking care of informs their lawyer about any unusual or special circumstances that may need to be addressed in all the documents named above.

You may also want to obtain a document sometimes referred to as an Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains. This will allow the older or disabled person needing your care to state who will handle their remains once a funeral home has prepared them for burial (or placement in an urn). Many people today who’ve chosen to be cremated obtain this form, so they can state the location of a specific cemetery or columbarium where their remains will be interred.

Please feel free to have the person who’s asked you to act as caregiver to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can help prepare all of these important legal documents. We are always available to respond to any questions you may have regarding any of these documents and the entire estate planning and probate process.

Basic Facts: Special Needs and Pooled Trusts

If you want to give money to a disabled family member receiving government benefits like SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid, consider setting up a special needs trust and naming that person in your Will. Careful planning is required since disabled people can lose their eligibility to receive certain benefits if their net worth and assets increase.

Once you’ve created the proper type of trust account, your disabled family member will be in a better position to: (1) start receiving an added monthly stipend or inheritance from a family member; (2) accept a large sum of money after surviving a serious vehicle accident caused by another person’s negligence; or (3) receive funds from another unusual source.

Here’s additional information about creating SNTs – special needs trusts. You may want to set up a third-party or first-party SNT – and possibly even a pooled trust.

Here are some of the unique features offered by third-party SNTs (special needs trusts)

The American Bar Association says that this type of SNT, also referred to as a supplemental needs trust, can be used to help a disabled beneficiary receive a gift or inheritance from a third party such as a relative. However, it should never to be used for any assets or money that already belong to the beneficiary.

Based on the general terms you set forth in the trust, your trustee will then determine the exact way all funds will be used to help your beneficiary (or loved one). While many of these types of trusts are considered testamentary (part of someone’s estate), they can also be used for inter vivos transfers of gifts (those made while the person making the gift is still alive).

Like the third-party SNT described below, this first-party type should be set up so that the recipient’s government benefits remain their primary source of income — and these types of added funds are simply a supplemental source.

What are some of the unique attributes of a first-party SNT (special needs trust)?

While sometimes referred to as self-settled special needs trusts, these are mainly created to receive assets that are the beneficiary’s legal possessions. As is true of most SNTs, you’ll need the help of a highly experienced Houston business law attorney to help you create one since the multiple state and federal laws governing them can periodically change.

What’s most unique about this type of trust is that it must include a provision stating that when the beneficiary dies – depending on the exact amount of assets still contained in the SNT — Medicaid must be repaid for all funds that were ever spent on the beneficiary.

Those who most often benefit most from these types of first-party, special needs trusts usually fall into one of the two following categories.

  • They are under age 65 and want to receive funds worth more than $2000 (or more than the net worth amount currently allowed by law) – while remaining eligible for government benefits — or
  • They have received (or will receive) an unexpected financial windfall – possibly as the result of a personal injury lawsuit following a car accident.

Keep in mind that first-party SNTs can only be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or court for a special needs person.

If you can’t afford a trust administered by a paid trustee – ask about “pooled” trusts

When funds are limited, you can ask your attorney to create what’s often referred to as a “pooled trust.” This type of account containing a disabled person’s money can be added to funds that have been deposited for other special needs individuals.

All of these accounts are then monitored and administered together by a non-profit board or agency. Among other tasks, your attorney may need to create a joinder agreement (or review one offered to you) as you start applying to various types of appropriate pooled trust groups.

Many disabled adults prefer this approach since they can personally help establish their own “pooled trust” with an organization set up to administer such accounts – without the help of other family members.

Whatever else you do, try to avoid simply giving extra funds to a family member so that person can later provide for all the disabled person’s needs. Given human nature, that money may never wind up being spent to benefit the person with special needs.

Please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can use our lengthy experience creating special needs and other trusts to protect your disabled loved one’s financial interests — both now and in the future.

Administering the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Prior to the passage of the FMLA in 1993, American workers had few options when they needed extra time off from work due to their own serious medical conditions and accidents – or those of immediate family members. In fact, workers often had to use up all their vacation and sick leave benefits, if entitled to any, and then worry about their job security if they needed more time off. (However, eligible women could seek the special help offered by the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act). 

Fortunately, the Family Medical Leave Act is still helping many 21st century workers address critical family caregiving duties and remains one of the signature pieces of legislation from the Clinton era.

Here’s a brief overview of specific provisions of the act that can help your qualified workers.

What basic opportunities does the FMLA offer qualified employees?

If a worker meets the minimum qualifications referenced below, it’s possible to take up to twelve (12) weeks of unpaid leave during a calendar year to take care of seriously ill family members, new children or the individual’s own major medical condition.

In 2008, the Family Medical Leave Act was updated so that qualified workers could also take time off work to take care of immediate family members who became very ill (or were seriously injured) while serving in the military.

The FMLA guarantees that qualified workers can take the extended time off work without having to worry about losing their jobs, their seniority or their employer-provided health care insurance.

Which types of employees are qualified to use the FMLA?

  • Those who have employers with 50 or more workers on the payroll for at least 20 workweeks during the preceding or current calendar year. A worker may still qualify even if all the 50 workers aren’t working at the same site – if they work within a 75-mile radius of one another;
  • Those who have worked for their employer for a minimum of 12 months, for a total of at least 1,250 hours. This means that many part-time workers may not qualify for FMLA leave. However, there are special rules that may apply to workers who are teachers, are highly paid – or are flight crew members of airlines;
  • Employees taking time off from jobs to handle their own “serious health conditions” – or those of covered family members. This time may also be used to take care of a new child or a servicemember in the immediate family who has been wounded.

Note:  Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals can also qualify like other workers to take care of their family members.

General questions often raised about the FMLA by employers and employees

Question 1:   Can the leave time requested be intermittent during a calendar year?

Answer 1:     Yes, if all the time that’s taken is counted toward the maximum amount of time off

                     allowed (12 weeks).

Question 2:  What government agency oversees and administers the FMLA for all federal

                     employees – as well as all state and local government workers and private

                     employees?

Answer 2:   The U. S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. This is noted in Fact

                   Sheet #77B entitled, “Protection for Individuals Under the FMLA.”

Question 3: Are all workers qualified to take time off from their jobs under the FMLA entitled

                     to receive pay while away from work?

Answer 3:    No. The FMLA doesn’t require employers to pay qualified employees while they’re

                    taking this type of leave. However, it’s up to your employer to let you make a claim

                    for regular vacation time, sick leave or annual time off.

Question 4: Can a qualified worker ever be granted more than 12 weeks of paid or unpaid

                     FMLA leave in one year?

Answer 4:   An exception only exists for qualified family caregivers of wounded

                    servicemembers. They’re allowed to take up to 26 weeks off from their jobs in a

                    given calendar year.

Question 5: Can a qualified worker request more than 12 weeks off under the FMLA to take care

                    of a newborn – or a newly adopted child?

Answer 5:   In general, the answer is “No.” However, individual states can pass their own

                   versions of the FMLA and provide somewhat different benefits. To date, the Texas

                   Workforce Commission says that Texas has not passed such legislation.

Although the Family Medical Leave Act is a straightforward piece of legislation, it’s been updated with new rules and regulations and interpreted by the courts. Therefore, it’s usually wise for employers to ask their Houston employment lawyer for help if they have any specific questions about properly handling FMLA issues.

Please feel free to contact Murray Lobb so we can help explain any specific aspects of the FMLA to you as you provide its benefits to your employees. We’re always available to research any questions you may have.