Coronavirus’ impact on contracts: can I cancel my vacation bookings? Get out of contract to buy a house?

The current coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has created several conditions most of us have not faced before.  It has been termed a national emergency.  For many, their incomes will be negatively impacted, any comprised health conditions may make travel prohibited or extremely dangerous, and life, in short, has been put on hold.

I have seen questions such as, “Can I cancel my vacation bookings without a penalty?” and “I’m in contract to buy a house but now I’m not sure I’ll have a paycheck to afford the home, moving expenses.  Can I back out of buying?”  Some companies are permitting vacation cancellations, maybe your seller will let you out of the real estate purchase contract.  What if they don’t?

In most contracts there is a force majeure contract provision that relieves the parties from performing their contractual obligations when certain circumstances beyond their control arise.  Your ability to claim relief under this clause depends on the terms of the contract and specifically the force majeure provision’s language.

See this excellent article for more information about force majeure provisions and how they might affect you and your ability to comply with contractual obligations.  The article is geared towards businesses but applies to individuals as well.

Happy “National Entrepreneurship Week”!

This week, February 15-22, 2020 is National Entrepreneurship Week (#NatlEshipWeek).  The U.S. has 30 million small businesses and entrepreneurs.  There is never a better time than now to start a business, and Ohio is a great state for business.  I posted on this blog on starting a business, the Small Business Administration offers a helpful guide, as does the Ohio Secretary of State here, and Ohio offers advice here.  So many of my clients who have started their businesses are going strong, and I hope you have the same success.  Here is my post from January 24, 2019, Starting a Business in Ohio:

The first of the year typically brings clients wanting to begin the new year by starting a business.  I enjoy working with people who want to pursue their dreams, whether it is working for themselves, or turning a hobby into income, or providing a product or service to others.  In addition to filing forms and preparing organizational documents, my role as your attorney is to take all steps necessary to protect you and your assets from personal liability.

The necessary actions in starting a business in Ohio will vary according to what type of business you’re starting.  Basic steps include:

This list is not exhaustive.  If you have employees, you should contact the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to determine any steps you need to take.  Certain businesses will need to obtain special licenses and permits, particularly if your business involves preparing and selling food.

If you want to discuss starting your own business, contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.  It is never too late to become an entrepreneur in business-friendly Ohio.

Before you die…

Or this post could have been titled “Ease the burden of loved ones.”  Because I’m an estate planning attorney, the “Before you die…” advice I’d typically give would be to have a will or living trust plan prepared.  I certainly always recommend that advice.  This post, however, is different.

I recently read an article I loved, “You Need to Make a ‘When I Die’ File–Before It’s Too Late.”  The article speaks to the side of estate planning that I rarely participate, and that’s the grieving family part of planning for what happens after you die.  I help my clients get all the documents they need, and advise on decisions that need made.  What struck me about the suggestions in this article though were actions to take that speak to people you love.  The article adds two items to the typical estate planning checklist, i.e., an ethical will and letters to loved ones: “[W]here a legal will transfers assets, an ethical will transfers immaterial things: your life lessons and values.”

An ethical will supplants a traditional will, and might be used to explain why you chose one child to serve as executor over the other child, or why you chose close friends as guardians for your child over your siblings.  “Letters to loved ones” is self-explanatory, and I highly recommend it if you have children who might have difficulty remembering you if you die when they are young.

As the author states:

The point of all this is to make a difficult thing like dying or loving someone who is dying less difficult. In that sense, creating a When I Die file is an act of love. It will always be too soon to tell your story and let people know how much they mean to you, until it is too late.

If you have any questions about estate planning, email me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

Has a nursing home asked you to sign?

Your mother, father, aunt, etc., is moving to a nursing home.  You accompany your dad, for example, so he won’t be going through this alone, and he might need help completing paperwork.  The nursing home asks, or requires, that you sign as hi—STOP!  Don’t sign!

The nursing home asks you to sign as your dad’s “personal representative.”  Or to sign as guarantor.  Or to sign anything.  What you are likely doing is signing an agreement to be held financially responsible if your dad, through his insurance or Medicaid, does not or cannot pay his bill.  This might happen if his Medicaid application is not approved, or if insurance denies his claims, or any number of reasons.

But, the nursing home simply wants you to sign as the “responsible relative,” the person who will take steps to see that Medicaid or insurance pays your mother’s nursing home bills, right?  Or as the point person who will track down information, call the insurance company, provide information, right?  You would certainly agree to help your mother this way.  The problem is that you have unwittingly agreed to also be financially responsible to the nursing home for your mother’s bills.  Just ask Judy Andrien.

This practice by nursing homes occurs regularly, at least according to what I see and hear.  It happened to my family member, where the nursing home left his sibling lying out in the hallway on a gurney until the family member signed as “personal representative,” assuring this family member that “oh, it’s just a formality–we never pursue payment.”  They did pursue payment.

It is illegal under the federal “Nursing Home Reform Law” (summarized here) to require or request someone to sign as a guarantor as a condition of someone (usually a family member) being admitted, or of being permitted to continue to stay.  Nursing homes often get “crafty,” however, by asking family to voluntarily sign, whether as personal representatives, the responsible party, guarantor, etc.  “It’s just a formality….”

As an attorney, I have handled matters where stunned family members come to me with 5-figure bills from the nursing home, where the nursing home says that they signed as a financially-responsible party and now the bill is due.  At this point, one of the the only arguments is that my client did not sign voluntarily which can be a difficult argument to make, not to mention costly in attorney fees.

My advice if you accompany someone other than your spouse to a nursing home to be admitted?  Do not sign anything.  Period.

If you have any questions, contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

Steps to take when a Veteran dies

If your deceased loved one was a Veteran of United States military service, there are steps you should take to know what documents to gather, and to get an idea of what benefits are available.  These are beyond the typical steps taken when a loved one dies, such as choosing a funeral home, obtaining the death certificate, gathering insurance policies. Funeral homes are experienced in knowing what to do, and what is available, for veterans’ funerals, but gathering what documents you need and knowing what is available is very helpful during a period when you and loved ones are grieving.

The following are a few steps to get you started.  Gather:

  1. A copy of the Veteran’s DD-214 (or discharge papers);
  2. Claim number for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).  Start with (800) 827-1000 if you are unsure where to find it.
  3. Social security numbers of the deceased veteran, spouse, and children.
  4. Contact information for your local National Cemetery or local VFW, DAV, VVA or American Legion group, if burial will be at a military cemetery.  You can request a “Military Funeral and Honor Guard” where two uniformed representatives of the deceased’s military branch will attend the funeral, serve as pall bearers, play Taps.
  5. Contact information for your local VA Hospital to arrange pick up of any VA-issued medical equipment such as wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, hospital beds, if you would like to return them.

The VA also provides burial flags, headstones, medallion markers.  This post just touches on the benefits available to Veterans and their survivors.  To learn more, visit the VA’s website, and download the document “Planning Your Legacy: VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit.”

If you have any questions about Veterans’ or survivor benefits, feel free to email me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.

If an LLC protects me, why get business insurance?

Business clients often ask me why, if they form their business as a limited liability company (LLC), would they need business insurance?  Doesn’t the LLC structure protect me from liability?

You can launch a business tomorrow simply by starting to do whatever your business does, without filing with the state, choosing a business entity.  If you want to sell widgets, you would get widgets and sell them.  You would be a sole proprietor, you would have a sole proprietorship structure to your business.  You would be your own boss, totally responsible for business decisions.  That sounds perfect to many people.  However, you would also be totally responsible for liabilities, and your personal assets would be vulnerable if your business was sued for whatever reason.  Your business’s money and property and your personal money and property are all at risk as a sole proprietor.  You might not only lose your business’s widgets in a lawsuit, you might lose your house.

To create a divide between “business” and “personal,” sole proprietors and people starting a business choose to incorporate.  The limited liability company (LLC) is a common choice of business entity in Ohio.  If your LLC is sued, only the business’s assets are at risk and your personal assets should be safe.  (“Piercing the corporate veil” in a lawsuit against an LLC could put personal assets at risk, but that is a topic for a different blog post.)  So, why would you need business insurance since your personal assets are protected?

The question becomes what happens if your business faces a large lawsuit.  For example, one of the widgets you sold was defective and caused a horrible personal injury to the customer who bought it.  Even if your company is found not liable, it could face financial ruin defending itself.  Business liability insurance protects the assets of your business.  Errors and omissions (E&O) insurance would cover the cost of defending your business in a lawsuit, while general liability insurance would cover your business in situations arising from negligence.

If you are a sole proprietor, or plan to start a business, incorporate your business to protect your personal assets.  Then, purchase business insurance to protect your business’s assets.

If you want to start a business in Ohio, or have any questions about LLCs, email me at julie@juliemillslaw.com.