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Los Angeles, CA Estate & Business Planning Blog

Monday, December 8, 2014

FDNS Administrative Site Visits/ Business Law

In 2009, the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched a program to ensure that employers comply with immigration rules designed to protect public safety and national security.  Under the Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program (ASVVP), FDNS makes surprise site inspections to verify the information that employers provide to the government.

Who Is Inspected?

The FDNS selects sites at random, before or after adjudication of a visa petition.  It focuses on employer fraud in immigration petitions filed on Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker), particularly in connection with H-1B, L-1, R-1, and certain other workers.  If it finds fraud, it asks the USCIS to deny or revoke a petition.  An employer could also face fines and penalties.

What Happens During an Inspection?

FDNS Inspectors arrive without notice at a workplace.  They usually interview the employer or a representative, and the foreign worker or "beneficiary" who is the subject of the inquiry.  They may interview each separately to determine whether employer and employee answer the same questions similarly.  They may ask for tax records, employee lists, and payroll information.

ASVVP site inspectors are given five specific tasks to perform at each site visit:

  • Verify that that the employer is not fictitious;
  • Verify the accuracy of information submitted by the employer;
  • Take digital photographs;
  • Review documents on site and make sure they match those submitted to the government; and
  • Confirm the beneficiary's work location, employment, duties, compensation, hours, and other details.

 What Happens Afterwards?

 The site inspectors make a report of their findings to FDNS, which may provide a Summary of Findings to an Immigration Services Officer (ISO).  The ISO decides whether a petitioner organization is entitled to the immigration benefit it seeks.  The ISO may also request further information from the petitioner.  If the FDNS detects signs of criminal immigration fraud, it may refer the matter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

 How Should Employers and Employees Prepare?

 Both the employer and the beneficiary worker should be familiar with the information included in the employer's I-129 so they can answer questions accurately and consistently.  Employers should make sure that the information in their petition is up-to-date and amend the petition if there have been changes.  Employers should also designate a representative—an attorney or HR manager—to deal with inspections and make sure that tax documents, employment records, and immigration forms are readily available.

These matters can be complex and time consuming.  It is therefore in your best interest to contact an experienced immigration attorney in the event that you are accused of violating these laws or if would like to ensure that you are in compliance with them.


Monday, November 24, 2014

When Will an Immigrant Be Barred from Entry Because of a Connection to Terrorism?

Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) bars individuals from entry in the United States for a variety of reasons.  These include terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG). 

Regardless of whether a person is coming to the U.S for tourism or employment, and regardless of whether he or she has married a U.S. citizen or won a visa lottery, TRIG may bar entry completely.

Types of Terrorism-Related Activities That May Be Covered

Terrorism-related activities include some that are violent and illegal, others that involve association with and support of causes or people involved in terrorism.  For example, a person who engages in terrorist acts, who has received military training from a terrorist organization, who has incited terrorist activity, or who has endorsed or espoused terrorism would be inadmissible.  So too would a spouse or child of anyone who engaged in terrorist activity during the preceding five years.

The INA's definition of terrorist activity covers various types of sabotage, assassination, kidnapping, hijacking, and other acts commonly associated with terror. 

"Engaging in Terrorist Activity" can involve planning and carrying out a terrorist act, but it can also be recruiting others to act, providing support, fundraising, or other help.  Providing a safe house, transportation or fake documents might constitute material support of a terrorist group.  So would feeding members of the group, distributing literature, or making a modest financial contribution.

Categories of Terrorist Organizations

Terrorist organizations are divided into three tiers:

  • Tier I includes Foreign Terrorist Organizations  (FTO) that threaten the security of the U.S. or U.S. citizens. 
  • Tier II includes groups on the Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL).  These are organizations that carry out or provide material support for terrorist acts that are unlawful under U.S. law or the laws of another country.
  • Tier III involves groups of two or more, organized or not, that are engaged in terrorist activity.  A less formal designation than the others, Tier III changes from time to time and determinations of who is affected are made on a case-by-case basis.

Exemptions

The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security can exempt some individuals from TRIG.  Exemptions have been issued to people who acted under duress, to people who provided voluntary medical care, and to selected individuals with existing immigration benefits.  Because the definition of terrorist activity is broad, potentially encompassing freedom fighters, group exemptions have been given to a number of organizations ranging from the All Burma Students Democratic Front to the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrean Kunama.

Being involved in terrorism is a serious matter and can have an effect on the ability to obtain U.S. citizenship.  For more information regarding TRIG or if you think you might be exempt from exclusion, contact an experienced immigration attorney today.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Role of the Successor Trustee

When creating a trust, it is common practice that the person doing the estate planning will name themselves as trustee and will appoint a successor trustee to handle matters once they pass on.  If you have been named successor trustee for a person that has died, it is important that you hire a wills, trusts and estates attorney to assist you in carrying out your duties. Although the attorney that originally created the estate plan would most likely be more familiar with the situation, you are not legally required to hire that same attorney. You can hire any attorney that you please in order to determine what your obligations are.

 If the decedent had a will it is common that the successor trustee is also named as the executor.  Although the role of executor is similar to that of trustee, there are technical differences. If there was a will, you should consult with an attorney to determine if a court probate process will be required to administer the estate. If all assets were titled in the trust prior to the person’s death, or passed by beneficiary designation, such as in the case of life insurance and retirement plan assets (such as 401ks, IRAs, etc.), then a court probate may not be needed. However, if there were accounts or real estate in the person’s name alone that were not covered by the trust, a court probate may be necessary.

During the probate process, all of the deceased person’s assets must be collected and accounted for. This includes all bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, investment accounts, retirement assets, life insurance, cars, personal belongings and real estate. All of these assets should be valued and listed on one or more inventories. Depending upon the value of the assets, an estate tax return may be needed. You should be aware of any final expenses, the person’s final income tax returns, and any creditors. Although this process is lengthy, once all of the appropriate steps are taken, the assets will be distributed and the estate will come to a close. 

If you have been named a successor trustee, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you through this process and make sure you carry out your legal duties as required.  Contact us for a consultation today.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Will Marriage to a U.S. Citizen Make an Undocumented Immigrant Legal?

Under the laws of most states, a United States citizen can marry an undocumented immigrant.  Regardless of whether the marriage is legal, however, the marriage may not confer legality upon the undocumented spouse's immigration status.

Usually, an immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen becomes an "immediate relative" and is eligible to apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for a green card, i.e. lawful permanent residence.  After the marriage, the U.S. citizen spouse can file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and the immigrant can file Form I-485 seeking Adjustment of Status to permanent resident.

If the spouse is here illegally, however, the couple may encounter some obstacles.  The spouse's illegal presence may mean that using Form I-485 to apply for permanent residence is not an option.  The undocumented spouse must first leave the United States and rely on  processing by a U.S. Department of State Consulate abroad before returning.  Once outside the U.S, however, he or she may be barred from returning to the U.S. for years because of laws designed to punish and deter illegal immigration.

According to Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, if the spouse was present unlawfully for more than six months but less than a year, he or she would be barred from returning to the U.S. for three years.  If present for more than a year, the spouse would be barred for ten years.

Under a recent change in immigration law, undocumented immigrants can apply for a provisional waiver of the three- or ten-year ban.  If granted, the undocumented spouse would still have to leave the U.S. and apply at a consulate for reentry, but would not barred from returning.

Undocumented spouses must also meet the requirements that any documented spouse would have to meet.  They might have to show that they are not inadmissible for other reasons, such as a criminal past, a dangerous communicable disease, or a need for public assistance.  The marriage to an undocumented immigrant, like a marriage to a legal immigrant, would also have to be genuine and not a ploy to help the immigrant spouse get citizenship.

As the consequences of remaining in the country illegally can be severe, if you or your spouse is undocumented and intends to apply for citizenship based on the marriage, you should contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Differences Between Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Visas

A U.S. visa is an authorization, typically in form of a stamp inside a passport, which demonstrates that a U.S. consular official has determined that the traveler is eligible to enter the U.S. for the purposes stated in the visa. The United States issues two classes of visas, an Immigrant Visa and a Non-Immigrant Visa.

Choosing which visa to request is an important decision, and will largely depend on the reasons for coming to the U.S., as well as the visitor’s intentions regarding immigration. An Immigrant Visa is issued to aliens who intend to permanently reside in the U.S., whereas a Non-Immigrant Visa is issued to those who are coming to the U.S. for a specific, temporary purpose, such as travel, business, medical treatment, temporary work or study.

Immigrant Visas are for those who wish to stay and work in the United States, or who would like to seek U.S. citizenship. However, there are a limited number of these visas available each year. Immigrant Visas are subject to numerical limits and once the quota is filled, applicants are placed on a waiting list until a visa becomes available.

Non-Immigrant Visas are easier to obtain than Immigrant Visas, and usually do not involve a waiting list. However, Non-Immigrant Visas limit the length of time and scope of activities the visitor may engage in while in the U.S. For example, those granted a B-2 Tourist Visa are only permitted to undertake activities consistent with being a visitor in another country, such as sightseeing or visiting with relatives or friends; they are not permitted to work or enroll in school.

Visitors in the U.S. on one type of visa may be able to change the visa status to another category, provided the qualifications are met. An experienced immigration attorney can help facilitate this process.

Within each category, the various types of visas are grouped within subcategories. There are many different types of Non-Immigrant Visas, each designed to serve a specific purpose, such as tourists, business visitors, specialty occupations, media professionals, religious workers, temporary workers, medical treatment, government officials, students, exchange visitors, and fiancées of US citizens. Immigrant Visa categories include employer-sponsored immigrants, family-sponsored immigrants, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and special immigrants.

Not every traveler is required to obtain a visa. If your home country is part of the Visa Waiver Program you may not need a visa at all, though you will not be able to work or permanently reside in the U.S. Anyone who wants to travel to the U.S. for purposes of living or working herein is required to obtain an Immigrant Visa.

Whether applying for an Immigrant Visa or a Non-Immigrant Visa, it is vital that you apply for the right type of visa. Consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer can save money and time, by limiting delays caused by incomplete applications or requests for the wrong type of visa. Also, by ensuring you obtain the correct visa, you can avoid engaging in unauthorized activities while in the United States.


Monday, October 13, 2014

You’ve Finally Done Your Healthcare Directives – Now What?

Healthcare directives can be vitally important, as recent cases, like that of Terry Schiavo, clearly brought to light. These important documents can mean the difference between your health care wishes being carried out or family members fighting over whether a loved one should be placed in a nursing home or removed from life support. Healthcare directives usually include both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will, or a form which is a combination of the two. In a healthcare power of attorney, an individual authorizes another individual to make healthcare decisions for him or her if the individual becomes unable to do so. A living will expresses an individual’s preferences about life support.

Once you have executed your healthcare directives, you may be uncertain as to what to do with them. First, you should make copies of the documents and inform others of their existence. In addition to your health care agent, persons you should consider notifying of the directives include family members and your health care providers.  Ideally, the originals should be kept in a place that is both safe and easily accessible.

You may wish to consider using a secure registry service to store your healthcare directives. Such services allow you to access healthcare directives any time and in any location with access to the Internet.  Some also allow the documents to be accessed via an automated fax-back service. In addition to providing the healthcare directives, many registries also allow caregivers to access information like emergency contacts, allergies, and other pertinent medical information.

You should review your healthcare directives regularly.  As individuals get older, their preferences about health care and life support change, and it’s important that your directives reflect your current health care wishes.   Of course, life changing events such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a loved one typically require changes in those documents to ensure that the people named in them are still those you wish to make decisions on your behalf.  

Moving to another state? Many states provide that healthcare directives prepared in another state are valid, but you should consult an attorney to make sure your wishes will be carried out in the manner you desire.

Establishing your healthcare directives can spare your family a great deal of anguish if they need to make decisions at a time that is already very emotionally-charged. By keeping the documents in a secure place, providing copies to loved ones, and reviewing them regularly, you can be more certain that your healthcare wishes will be carried out.
 


Monday, October 6, 2014

How Par Value Affects Start-Up Businesses

Many entrepreneurs are unclear about the “par value” of a stock, and what par value they should establish for their new corporation. Generally, par value (also known as nominal or face value) is the minimum price per share that shares can be issued for, in order to be fully paid. In the old days, the par value of a common stock was equal to the amount invested and represented the initial capital of the company; but today the vast majority of stocks are issued with an extremely low par value, or none at all.

A share of stock cannot be issued, sold or traded for less than the par value. Therefore, incorporators often opt for such a low – or no – par value to reduce the amount of money a company founder must invest in exchange for shares of ownership in a start-up corporation. Regardless of the par value, the company’s board of directors retain the right to sell shares in the company at a higher price.

Some online incorporation services recommend setting par value at zero, however this is not necessarily the best approach and can have unintended consequences. Many corporations want to assign a par value, so that an actual investment (money or services) is necessary in order to acquire ownership in the company. This way, the corporation can generate capital and recoup start-up costs.

Some states restrict the number of shares which may be offered at zero par value, or charge additional taxes or filing fees based on the number of zero par value shares. For example, Delaware corporations can issue up to 1,500 shares at zero par value before additional filing fees kick in.

Zero par value can pose problems at tax time in some jurisdictions. In Delaware, for example, there are two methods of calculating franchise taxes corporations must pay annually. In one example, the same corporation would owe annual tax in excess of $75,000 if the stock had zero par value, as opposed to annual taxes of just $350 with a nominal par value of $.01 per share.

Consider establishing a par value that is above zero and below $.01 per share to minimize the initial investment required from the founders and to protect against potential tax consequences associated with zero par value stock. Some also recommend issuing founder shares at a multiple of whatever par value is, to avoid future complications if the corporation needs to execute a stock split that results in a new share price that is below par value.

Par value has no bearing on the market value of a stock, but is an important decision in the formation of your new enterprise. Consultation with an experienced business or tax lawyer can help you ensure your ultimate decision serves your company well into the future, in terms of raising capital, lowering taxes and retaining control as a shareholder in your corporation.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Testamentary vs Inter Vivos Trusts

The world of estate planning can be complex. If you have just started your research or are in the process of setting up your estate plan, you’ve likely encountered discussions of wills and trusts. While most people have a very basic understanding of a last will and testament, trusts are often foreign concepts. Two of the most common types of trusts used in estate planning are testamentary trusts and inter vivos trusts.

A testamentary trust refers to a trust that is established after your death from instructions set forth in your will. Because a will only has legal effect upon your death, such a trust has no existence until that time. In other words, at your death your will provides that the trusts be created for your loved ones whether that be a spouse, a child, a grandchild or someone else.

An inter vivos trust, also known as a revocable living trust, is created by you while you are living. It also may provide for ongoing trusts for your loved ones upon your death. One benefit of a revocable trust, versus simply using a will, is that the revocable trust plan may allow your estate to avoid a court-administered probate process upon your death. However, to take advantage this benefit you must "fund" your revocable trust with your assets while you are still living. To do so you would need to retitle most assets such as real estate, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, CDs, and other assets into the name of the trust.

Since one size doesn’t fit all in estate planning, you should contact a qualified estate planning attorney who can assess your goals and family situation, and work with you to devise a personalized strategy that helps to protect your loved ones, wealth and legacy.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Turning Over the Keys: Helping Older Drivers Make the Tough Decision

We all want to be in control, to go where we want at our leisure.  As we age, however, our senses and reaction times begin to slow which can make getting behind the wheel increasingly hazardous. It is important to be realistic about the driving abilities of loved ones as they reach a certain stage and to prepare accordingly. Not only will it keep seniors safe, but planning ahead will help them financially as they make other arrangements for transportation.

The first step is to reduce the need to drive. Find ways to bring the things they need right to them, like ordering groceries online for delivery and encouraging in-home appointments. Suggest that they invite friends and family over for regular visits instead of going out. They may be surprised by how many things are possible from the comfort of their own home.

For the times your loved ones need to, or want to, venture elsewhere, look into other transportation options. Although there is usually no need to quit driving all at once, look to family, friends, taxis, and public transportation when you can, especially for longer trips. Use the money you’ve been saving, along with what would have been spent on gas, on alternate modes of transportation. Their town may even have designated senior transportation services. 

The time to start making this transition may be sooner than you or your loved ones think. Don’t wait until an accident leaves them with no alternative. It may be time to start talking about limiting driving if they report noticing subtle difficulties, like trouble reading traffic signs or delayed breaking. Keep an eye out for small dings in your loved one’s car or surrounding items, like the mailbox or garage door, along with slower response time or difficulty finding their way around familiar territory. Ask them to watch for these things as well.

Asking a loved one to turn over their keys can be tough but with an open dialogue, the right support system and reasonable alternatives in place to ensure that they can continue to live an active lifestyle, a smooth transition is feasible.  


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Limited Liability Company (LLC): An Overview

The limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid type of business structure, offering business owners the best of both worlds: the simplicity of a sole proprietorship or partnership, with the liability protection of a corporation. A limited liability company consists of one or more owners (called “members”) who actively manage the company’s business affairs. LLCs are relatively simple to establish and operate, with minimal annual filing requirements in most jurisdictions.

The best form of business structure depends on many factors, and must be determined according to your particular business and overall goals:

Advantages:

  • LLC members enjoy a limited liability, similar to that of a shareholder in a corporation. In general, your risk is limited to the amount of your investment in the limited liability company. Since none of the members will have personal liability and may not necessarily be required to personally perform any tasks of management, it is easier to attract investors to the limited liability company form of business than to a general partnership.

  • LLC members share in the profits and in the tax deductions of the limited liability company while limiting the potential financial risks.

  • LLCs offer a relatively flexible management structure. The business may be managed either by members or by managers. Thus, depending on needs or desires, the limited liability company can be a hands-on, owner-managed company, or a relatively hands-off operation for its members where hired managers actually operate the company.

  • Because the IRS treats the limited liability company as a pass-through entity, the profits and losses of the company pass directly to each member and are taxed only at the individual level (which may or may not be an advantage to you, depending on the profitability of the LLC and your personal income tax bracket).

  • Members of an LLC have flexibility in dividing the profits and losses. In a corporation or partnership, profits must be divided according to percentage of ownership. However, with an LLC, special allocations are permitted, so long as they have a “substantial economic effect” (e.g. they must be based upon legitimate economic circumstances, and may not be used to simply reduce one member’s tax liability).

Disadvantages

  • Limited liability companies are, generally, a more complex form of business operation than either the sole proprietorship or the general partnership. They are subject to more paperwork requirements than a simple partnership but less than a corporation. Annual filings typically include statement and nominal filing fee payable to the Secretary of State, informational returns to the IRS, and filing of a state tax return.

  • In certain jurisdictions, single member LLCs may not be afforded the same level of limited liability protection as that of an incorporated entity.

Also note that in many states, an LLC is prohibited from rendering “professional services” which can include companies providing services that require a license, registration or certification.   Such professionals typically have to establish a Professional LLC which does not offer limited liability for professional malpractice.
 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Overview of the Ways to Hold Title to Property

You are purchasing a home, and the escrow officer asks, “How do you want to hold title to the property?” In the context of your overall home purchase, this may seem like a small, inconsequential detail; however nothing could be further from the truth. A property can be owned by the same people, yet the manner in which title is held can drastically affect each owner’s rights during their lifetime and upon their death. Below is an overview of the common ways to hold title to real estate:

Tenancy in Common
Tenants in common are two or more owners, who may own equal or unequal percentages of the property as specified on the deed. Any co-owner may transfer his or her interest in the property to another individual. Upon a co-owner’s death, his or her interest in the property passes to the heirs or beneficiaries of that co-owner; the remaining co-owners retain their same percentage of ownership. Transferring property upon the death of a co-tenant requires a probate proceeding.

Tenancy in common is generally appropriate when the co-owners want to leave their share of the property to someone other than the other co-tenants, or want to own the property in unequal shares.

Joint Tenancy
Joint tenants are two or more owners who must own equal shares of the property. Upon a co-owner’s death, the decedent’s share of the property transfers to the surviving joint tenants, not his or her heirs or beneficiaries. Transferring property upon the death of a joint tenant does not require a probate proceeding, but will require certain forms to be filed and a new deed to be recorded.

Joint tenancy is generally favored when owners want the property to transfer automatically to the remaining co-owners upon death, and want to own the property in equal shares.

Living Trusts
The above methods of taking title apply to properties with multiple owners. However, even sole owners, for whom the above methods are inapplicable, face an important choice when purchasing property. Whether a sole owner, or multiple co-owners, everyone has the option of holding title through a living trust, which avoids probate upon the property owner’s death. Once your living trust is established, the property can be transferred to you, as trustee of the living trust. The trust document names the successor trustee, who will manage your affairs upon your death, and beneficiaries who will receive the property. With a living trust, the property can be transferred to your beneficiaries quickly and economically, by avoiding the probate courts altogether. Because you remain as trustee of your living trust during your lifetime, you retain sole control of your property.

How you hold title has lasting ramifications on you, your family and the co-owners of the property. Title transfers can affect property taxes, capital gains taxes and estate taxes. If the property is not titled in such a way that probate can be avoided, your heirs will be subject to a lengthy, costly, and very public probate court proceeding. By consulting an experienced real estate attorney, you can ensure your rights – and those of your loved ones – are fully protected.
 


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