Rules of Married Filing Separately

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When you are married, you have the choice of filing your taxes jointly or separately. What are the benefits? Here we discuss the option of married filing separately on your tax returns.

What Is Married Filing Separately on Taxes?

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Married couples that file their taxes together, also called filing jointly, file with the same return. They take joint responsibility for the information on the return and the amount of taxes that are owed to the government. When you are married and file separately, each person in the couple can have a separate responsibility for the taxes owed. Filing separately while you are married can disqualify you from a large number of tax breaks. However, there are some situations that would warrant married filing separately (MFS) versus married filing jointly (MFJ).

Is There a Need to File Separately if You Are Married?

Here we will discuss situations that could create benefits for a person that is married filing separately.

You Need to Separate Your Tax Liability

There may be a need to separate your tax liability from that of your spouse. If you sign a joint return, both people are responsible for whether the information on the return is correct. If penalties or additional taxes are owed, both people are responsible. If you think your spouse is less than truthful about income or deductions, you may want to separate your tax liability. If you are audited by the Internal Revenue Service when you file separately, you are only responsible for paying what you owe on your earnings. In a situation where your spouse’s income is significantly higher than your own, it may be especially advantageous to submit your tax returns as married filing separately.

One Spouse Has Substantial Itemized Deductions

If both spouses have taxable income and at least one person, usually the spouse with lower income, has substantial itemized deductions that are limited by adjusted gross income, it may be helpful to submit a married filing jointly return. Itemized deductions can be limited by your adjusted gross income. Some of these deductions include:

  • Charitable deductions – deductible up to 20%, 30%, or 50% of adjusted gross income, depending upon type of gift
  • Medical expenses for those under age 65 – deductible if they are greater than 10% of adjusted gross income
  • Medical expenses for those age 65 or older – deductible if they are greater than 7.5% of adjusted gross income
  • Miscellaneous expenses, including tax preparation costs, investment expenses, and unreimbursed business expenses – deductible if they are greater than 2% of adjusted gross income
  • Personal casualty losses – deductible if they are greater than 10% of adjusted gross income

Here’s an example of a situation where one spouse has substantial itemized deductions. A couple has a large quantity of unreimbursed healthcare costs. The spouse with the most medical expenses can calculate the deductibility against his or her lower adjusted gross income. When filing separately, the allowable deductions could be higher than if the couple submitted their return as married filing jointly. Therefore, the couple submitting a married filing separately return could reduce the amount of tax liability.

Other Considerations for Married Filing Separately

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Your state income taxes are another factor to consider if you want to submit tax returns as married filed separately. Calculating federal and state taxes owed may influence your decision to file separately. Here are some other considerations.

Community Property States

In community property states, marital property is owned by spouses equally. Marital property includes earnings, property purchased with earnings, and debts gained during the marriage. For example, if your spouse earned $60,000, half of that would be reported as your income even if you did not work outside the home. In general, assets owned by each individual before the marriage and after the couple physically separates are considered that individual’s property.

Community property states require different rules for distributing income and deductions when filing separately. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin (as of 2018). Even if only one spouse lives in a community property state, community property deductions must be split in half, with each spouse reporting half of the deduction on each return.

Other Reasons for Filing Separately

Some spouses may prefer to keep their finances separate. If the taxes owed when submitting a return as married filing separately are the same or very similar than if you file jointly, you may choose to file separately.

If you or your spouse has income-based student loan payments, you may want to file to keep the payments based on only the student’s income and not the combined income of the couple. If you or your spouse owes unpaid taxes and the Internal Revenue Service may take a refund to offset the balance due, you may want to file separately. If both you and your spouse earn a high income, it may be advantageous to file separately.

There may be non-financial reasons a couple would want to submit a married filing separately return. One member of the couple may not be able to consent to filing a joint return. One member of the couple may be unwilling to consent to filing a joint return. The married couple may be separated, but not yet divorced, and wish to keep their tax returns separate. The couple may live separately and one spouse qualifies as the head of household.

Head of Household Status

A legally married person may be considered unmarried by the IRS. If that is the case, that person may choose to file as head of household rather than married filing separately. Certain criteria must be met to submit returns as a head of household filing status. One of these criteria is that the spouses did not live together for the last six months of the year. Another criterion is that a child or other dependent must have had their primary residence with you for more than half of the year.

As head of household, you must have had to pay for more than half the cost of maintaining the household. If you are eligible to file as a head of household, there are certain tax deductions and credits that are available to you because of your status. However, determining status as head of household can be tricky. Consult your tax professional or the IRS What Is My Filing Status tool for more information.

Tax Rates of Married Filing Separately

tax rates

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Here are the federal tax rates in 2018 for those who are married filing separately, according to Forbes magazine.

If Taxable Income Is

Then Tax Due Is

$0 – $9,525

10% of taxable income

$9,526 – $38,700

$952.50 + 12% of the amount over $9,525

$38,701 – $82,500

$4,453.50 + 22% of the amount over $38,700

$82,501 – $157,500

$14,089.50 + 24% of the amount over $82,500

$157,501 – $200,00

$32,089.50 + 32% of the amount over $157,500

$200,001 – $300,000

$45,689.50 + 35% of the amount over $200,000

$300,000 and above

$80,689.50 + 37% of the amount over $300,000

Amending Your Return

If you change your mind about whether to submit your tax return as married filing separately or married filing jointly, you can file an amended return. However, some restrictions apply to filing an amendment, also known as a Form 1040X. If a couple files separately, they have 3 years from the due date of the original return (not counting extensions) to switch to a single return. However, if the couple files jointly, they only have until the April 15th deadline of that tax year to change their mind.

Cons of Married Filing Separately

There are negative impacts of the married filing separately status. One is that the two filers must both itemize or both claim the standard deductions. One filer cannot itemize while the other claims the standard deduction if they submit their taxes as married filing separately. In addition, those who submit taxes as married filing separately are unable to claim a number of tax breaks. These include the following:

  • Adoption Tax Credit
  • American Opportunity or Lifetime Learning Educational Credits
  • Child and Dependent Care Expenses
  • Credit for the Elderly and Disabled
  • Earned Income Credit
  • IRA contributions (under certain circumstances)
  • Passive real estate loss (under certain circumstances)
  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Tax-free exclusion of Social Security benefits
  • Tax-free exclusion of U.S. bond interest
  • Tuition and fees deduction (currently available through tax year 2017, but this may change in the future)

Some other tax breaks are significantly reduced. The following will be half of the amount as the deduction on a joint return.

  • Alternative standard deduction
  • Capital loss deduction
  • Child tax credit
  • Standard deduction
  • Saver’s credit

Conclusion

You should always do your research before filing your tax return. Crunch the numbers and see whether submitting your return as married filing separately, married filing jointly, or filing as head of household is the best for you. There are some circumstances where married filing separately, as discussed here, is the best choice. Consult your tax professional for up-to-date advice. You can also consult the IRS website for tools such as the What is My Filing Status interactive tax assistant for more information.

5 Things to Know About Common Law Marriage

Formal marriages, complete with marriage licenses and the signatures of legal officiants/witnesses, are the most recognized forms of relationships today. However, there are also informal relationships — such as a common law marriage — that our modern society recognizes in nine states and the District of Columbia.

A common law marriage is a union between two individuals who live together and present themselves to others as a married couple, without having gone through all the legal proceedings for a formal marriage.

Want to know more? This article highlights the ins and outs of common law marriage, how such an arrangement compares with statutory marriage and five elementary things you should know about common law marriage and its circumstances and consequences.

What Is Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage, also known as sui iuris marriage, arises if two parties cohabitate without being formally married but, by mutual consent, agree to be husband and wife (or married partners in the case of same-sex couples.) Common law marriage also is referred to as marriage by habit and repute, informal marriage or marriage in fact.

A common law marriage is an agreement between the two involved that they will live with the open assumption of a marital relationship, which implies that both spouses hold themselves to the public as a married couple. The couple in a common law union both recognize it to be a valid marriage, although their marriage has not formally been recorded with a religious or civil registry.

In addition to their mutual consent and an open assumption of the marriage, spouses who wish to prove a common-law marriage must meet additional criteria laid under the legal codes of the state they live in. In most instances, the legal requirements include:

  • Both parties should be at least 18 years old at the time of the marriage
  • The marriage must not be bigamous, so neither of the parties should have been married at the time of their union
  • The marriage is not incestuous, meaning the union cannot be between relatives

However, even when the court finds a marriage to be prohibited, you can still be considered as a “putative spouse” — someone who has lived with a partner under good faith and with the belief they were in a marriage. This happens when a couple forms a common law relationship, but one spouse doesn’t know the other is married, technically, to someone else.

Under the law, a putative spouse has similar rights as a legal spouse regarding the right to property and alimony. Having children together does not make a relationship automatically a common law marriage. The key is whether you regard yourself as a wife or husband.

Understanding common law marriage rights is sometimes confusing. Even the spouses may not know all the ramifications if they decide to terminate the marriage and sort through their individual rights and responsibilities.

Certificate of marriage and two rings

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In a legal dispute, so long as friends and family view the couple as married, then it doesn’t matter what each spouse thinks of the living arrangement or relationship. This means that, upon termination of a relationship, one partner may get his friends and family to support the marriage claim, especially if the tactic involves money.

You cannot annul such a marriage without a full-blown divorce proceeding. And, if you die unexpectedly, your partner may inherit your assets, potentially depriving your biological heirs of the rights to money and valuables.

Common Law Marriage vs. Marriage

Statutory (legal) marriage and common law marriages can be quite confusing as they ultimately seem to be describing the same thing. Yet, there are many differences. Here, we will look at what these two types of marriages have in common and how they differ from one another.

What Is Common Law Marriage?

  • Both partners freely consent to being in a matrimonial arrangement
  • Both parties should be of sound mind
  • Neither of the partners should be married currently
  • Neither of the parties should be under a disability that prevents them from entering into a valid marriage
  • Both parties are of legal age to contract a marriage
  • Partners have parental consent to marry if they are not of legal age
  • In both marriages, partners are subject to legal rights after a breakup, such as property sharing

Differences

Couple wedding rings on leather surface

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A common law marriage arrangement differs from statutory marriage in the following ways:

  • There is no formal ceremony that solemnizes the marriage before witnesses, such as in a church
  • There is no marriage license that the government issues to recognize the marriage
  • No formal certificate is filed with the government
  • Most jurisdictions require that the parties should be living together at the time the marriage is formed
  • Some jurisdictions may require the cohabitation to last a certain period of time, specifically 3 years, for the marriage to be valid
  • Cohabitation alone doesn’t create the marriage, as the partners must intend their relationship to be recognized socially and regarded as legal

5 Things You Should Know

The following are five things you need to know about common law marriages:

1. No Process or Ceremony Needed

To be considered as a couple under the common law marriage arrangement, partners must live together in a marriage-like relationship. (This can include same-sex partners.) There are no legal formalities or requirements that the two people involved in the union have to undergo any process or ceremony in order to formalize the arrangement.

2. Cohabitation Agreements Allowed

Couple interlocking fingers with anchor tattoos

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In this type of marriage, you can agree on a pre-nuptial contract, just like they do in formal marriages. Partners in common law marriages can use the "cohabitation agreement" to protect their property rights, settle financial obligations or even determine what a spouse's entitlements would be if the two agree to dissolve the marriage.

However, just like in domestic contracts, this marriage arrangement will not cover matters concerning the access to or custody of children.

3. Defining Parameters

To be in a common law marriage, the spouses must have lived together for at least three years or for a shorter time if they had a child together and a “relationship of some permanence.”

Generally, courts will consider the lifestyle of the couple, for example: shared accommodation, social interaction, personal and sexual habits, financial support of each other and of any children and how the public and society perceive them. Not all these parameters should be present, however, for a legal system to consider the couple to be in the marriage arrangement.

Even though there is a requirement that the partners must have lived together continuously for about three years, temporary break-ups without a settled intention to end the marriage doesn’t interrupt the continuity of the relationship.

4. Spousal Support

Woman hugging man infront of lake

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If the marriage ends, one partner may have the right to receive spousal support. Although common law marriages are treated differently under the law regarding the division of property, there is an entitlement for spousal support similar to formal marriages.

This implies that if the common law relationship between the partners ends, one may seek spousal support under certain circumstances, such as one partner being unable to support herself or himself after the termination of the relationship.

5. Right to Property

If the marriage ends, one partner may still be entitled to certain rights in connection to the partner’s property. Common-law partners don’t have similar property rights as spouses in a formal marriage. Upon termination of a common law relationship, property such as furniture and other household items continues to be owned by the individual who bought them.

However, in the right circumstances, partners in a common law relationship may still make claims against each other’s property based on “unjust enrichment.” This is due to the concept that one partner in the relationship should not be allowed to profit at the other’s expense, regarding their respective contributions to the union.

One partner can apply to have the other compensate them for the value of services, property and benefits that the other partner received at the expense of the first partner.

Conclusion

An informal or common law marriage arises if two parties live together without being formally married, but both people mutually consent to presenting themselves as married to the public. A common-law couple is legally recognized as married, even though they have not formally registered their relationship as a religious or civil marriage.

Besides their consent and an open assumption of marriage, both spouses should meet legal requirements. They have to be at least 18 years old at the time of the marriage or have a parent's signature if they are underage. The marriage partners should neither have been married at the time of their union to one another. Additionally, the marriage cannot be between related parties.

For a couple to be considered under the common law marriage arrangement, they must have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for about 3 years. There is a legal provision that allows common-law spouses to enter into a cohabitation agreement, which will help each partner to protect his or her property rights.

For those who have lived together fewer than three years, the relationship is still considered legally as an informal marriage if the spouses have had a child together and the relationship had permanence. Those in an informal marriage have the right to spousal support upon dissolution of the relationship.

Additionally, if the marriage ends, common-law spouses may be entitled to certain rights in connection to their partners' property. Common-law partners don’t have similar property rights as spouses legally married, but under the right circumstances, similar rights may be enforced. 

Rental Agreement Signing: 15 Things You Should Know About

Renting a new apartment can be an exciting time. It can also be a stressful one so it is important to make sure that you have done your due diligence when it comes time to sign your rental agreement. The rental agreement is a contract between you and the landlord, the person renting the property to you, and it is meant to cover all the physical items, rights, policies, or expectations that are associated with renting that property.

Since many people do not spend as much time reading this contract as they should, or do not know what to look for, we have reviewed here some major things to pay attention to before signing this important document.

What To Do before Signing Your Rental Agreement

searching for rental spaces

There are a number of things a future renter should do before signing their rental agreement, not least of which is physically examining the property. This may seem fairly obvious, but examining the property together with the landlord is the first step to handling any problems with the property, possible renovations, areas that are not clear, or specific issues like common areas or outdoor spaces. Physically reviewing the property allows you to request that certain issues like renovations are resolved before you rent the property or, at the very least, that language pertaining to these issues is included in the rental agreement.

The period before signing your rental agreement is also a time to make sure that you are fully prepared to enter into a binding contract and that you are able to fulfill your end of the bargain. Contracts of this nature nearly always include a duration of the lease, 12 months, for example, so you need to make sure that you are ready to commit to a 12-month lease, and that you can afford it. Any doubts you have about the property should be resolved before you sign your rental agreement. This is also a good time to meet the neighbors and establish a positive rapport with your landlord or their representative.

Questions To Ask A Potential Landlord

rental agreement between two persons

A smart thing to do before you sign your rental agreement is to come up with a list of question to ask the landlord or their representative. These questions will vary based on your specific situation and the specifics of the property.

If the landlord mentions in passing that pets are allowed, what kind of pets? He or she may allow dogs, but are we talking about a lapdog or a Great Dane? This is a good chance to ask about any weight or breed specifications in the lease.

You notice that there is a dent in the wall of the apartment. Is the landlord going to fix that before you move in? At the very least, the presence of any defects in the property should be noted before you sign the agreement.

In reality, the questions that might be asked by a prospective renter are too numerous to list. These questions depend on your specific situation. Some common questions that renters commonly ask before they sign a rental agreement include:

  • When is the rent due and what are acceptable forms of payment?
  • In what situations would a security deposit be withheld?
  • Am I allowed to have roommates or to sublet?
  • Am I required to maintain (i.e. clean or mow) common areas or outdoor areas?
  • What happens when my lease is up—is there a chance that my rent will magically increase?
  • What is included in the monthly rent?

This is merely a short list of some important questions that renters should consider asking before they sign their agreement. We all understand that sometimes you’re in a rush to sign an agreement and move in. Maybe the place is great and you don’t want someone else to swoop in and nab it, but you need to protect yourself. Asking the right questions before you sign an agreement is the first step to doing that.

15 Things To Look For Before Signing A Rental Agreement

searching for rental homes

Some things you should look for in your rental agreement will be covered in the questions you have asked your future landlord (or should have asked). This is not a case of being redundant, but of making sure that critical aspects of renting a property have actually been stated in the agreement. This is not only to make sure that you and the landlord are on the same page but to protect you should any disagreement arise or if you decide to move.

When you surveyed the property, you should have noted any issues. These are important to keep in mind when going over the agreement. What follows is a list of 15 things you should look for before signing a rental agreement.

Read The Contract In Its Entirety

This may sound like a no-brainer, but many renters make the mistake of assuming that things they discussed with the landlord will be in the agreement, or that they understand the terms of the agreement without actually having read the document. To protect yourself and spare yourself any potential headaches in the future make sure you read the rental agreement in its entirety, and we don’t mean speed read it in two minutes either.

Understanding The Rent

This was mentioned in the questions you should ask the landlord. It is important that you and the landlord are on the same page in terms of how much the rent is, when it is due, and how you are expected to pay it (check, online, cash, etc.). All of this should be clearly stated in the agreement.

What Is Included In The Rent

Some rental properties may include some amenities in the rent, like cable, access to a common area, like a roof deck or a park and the like. Make sure all of that is mentioned in the agreement.

Utilities

Utilities are a biggie. Many of you may have lived in cities where the utilities may cost nearly as much monthly as the rent. Make sure that you understand what is covered by rent and what is not, also whether the utilities are already set up by the landlord or if you are required to get things turned on. Are you paying the water bill or is he or she?

Rental Property Policies

The landlord may have said that your komodo dragon is okay to stay in the apartment, but does it actually say that in the rental agreement? Make sure that any policies of the property are clearly stated in the agreement and match what the landlord may have told you.

Pets

Pets are another big issue. Many renters have them and properties vary in their policy on pets. The agreement should clearly state what breed or species of pet is allowed, whether there are any weight requirements, how much extra a pet deposit or monthly pet fee will be, etc. In reality, if you have a pet or are planning on getting one, you should read this area thoroughly.

Renewal Process

Many leases have a 12-month period of the lease. Although the period may vary depending on the property, it is important that you understand what will happen at the end of that period. Can you renew? Will it renew automatically? Is there a chance that your rent might go up? Also, make sure to ask if your lease will be shortened if you choose to not renew.

Renter's Insurance

Renter's insurance is always a good idea. Is this included in the rent or do you have to pay for it? Renter's insurance doesn't only cover your own belongings. Many times it can help cover the costs that a landlord might pass onto you if you are found responsible for something such as fire damage to the unit.

Security Deposits

Security deposits are important because most people want these back when they move, especially if they took good care of the property. Make sure any policies regarding security deposits are clearly stated in the agreement.

It can be particularly useful to look for reviews of the potential landlord. Some less reputable landlords claim to give back security deposits in the contracts, but never return the deposits in practice. These unscrupulous landlords will claim normal wear and tear as excessive damage to avoid returning the deposit.

Heating And Air Conditioning Units

AC units may not be important if your apartment already has one, or if you are renting an entire property, like a house, but if you live in a high-rise, these may be an issue. Some properties prohibit items jutting outside of windows so make sure you read and understand this part of the agreement.  

Additionally, if you rent an older single-family home, the heating unit could pose problems.  If your new rental has oil heat, and you turn on the heat without knowing that no oil is left, you run the risk of potential damage to the heater. Check to see if you would be on the hook for replacing appliances in situations like these.  You will also want to estimate costs for heating the home in winter prior to signing the lease to be sure that it will fit within your budget.

Roommates

It is common to have roommates. It is even common to sublet properties. Although you may have discussed this with the landlord, make sure any policies in these regards are clearly stated in the agreement before planning for these types of arrangements.

Common Areas And Outdoor Spaces

Some properties may come with common areas, like gardens or pools, or outdoor spaces like yards and terraces. Make sure that any expectations regarding these areas are clear in the agreement. If there is a yard that you will be expected to maintain, find out if a lawnmower and weed whacker will be provided or if you will be expected to buy your own. If you are expected to buy your own lawnmower, is there a shed or storage area that you will be able to store your mower away from the elements?

Renovations

Maybe during your walk-through of the property, you notice that a new paint job is needed, or the landlord promised to bring in a new fridge. Make sure that if the landlord has not already addressed these promises that they are mentioned in the agreement.

Apartments That Are Furnished

Some apartments are furnished. If the one that is, make sure that any furnishings there at the time you rent are clearly listed and described. This will save you any headaches later when (or if) you decide to move. After moving in, it can be helpful to take detailed pictures of any damage present on the furniture for your records.  You don't want to be held financially responsible for items that were damaged prior to you moving in.

Ask Questions

Yes, we talked about this one, but it is important that all issues are perfectly clear before you sign that rental agreement. Make sure anything you have discussed with the landlord is in the rental agreement. This is your last chance!

Conclusion

family

Renting a new place does not have to be a hassle. This is an opportunity to turn your life in a positive direction by getting a fresh start somewhere else. You are turning a new leaf, but you want to make sure you’re not turning to the wrong page. Making sure you have asked questions and carefully read the rental agreement will ensure that you are taking a step in the right direction with your new home.  

If the rental agreement seems to not match what the landlord claims and the landlord resists changing the agreement to match their promises, it might be best to pass on the property and find a different option. It can be frustrating to pass on what seems like the perfect apartment, but the last thing you want is to be stuck renting from an untrustworthy landlord for the next year. Do yourself a favor, make sure it's in writing. Walk away if it's not.

Breach Of Contract: Different Types Of Work That You Should Know About

No one wants to be a party to a breach of contract. Small businesses are especially vulnerable when a violation occurs.  Consider the costs and repercussions if someone sues you or even if you are the aggrieved party—all parties usually lose more than they gain when faced with legal disputes. You can only have a breach of contract on a valid contract. While it is optimal to have a lawyer review your contracts, it is not always possible nor is it a requirement by law. The courts have measures to assess whether there is a breach of contract. Not all contract violations invalidate a contract. 

What Is A Breach Of Contract?


A breach of contract is a violation of a legally binding agreement where at least one party fails to perform one or more contractual obligations. If you are considering suing someone, a court will first evaluate your contract to see if it meets the criteria for a breach of contract case.

First, you must prove your contract is legally valid. You must then demonstrate you fulfilled your part of the contract. If you could not perform all of your contractual obligations, you must prove that the breach hindered your performance. Furthermore, you have to show you suffered damages because of the breach.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A CONTRACT?

You do not need a lawyer to construct a legal contract. The contract can be a verbal agreement, something written on a dinner napkin, or it can be a 50-page agreement written in a lawyer’s office. Even if you have a formal agreement drawn up with lawyers present, it still needs to pass the validity test. Your contract is only valid if the following criteria are met:

  • An offer is made
  • The offer is accepted
  • Consideration exists
  • There is a legal intent
  • Both parties are competent
  • The contract is fair to both parties

The party making the offer must clearly communicate the proposition. All parties in the contract must agree on its terms. The offer details should be easy to understand, and both parties must interpret the conditions the same way.

The contract must also have consideration, which means it should be mutually beneficial. For instance, if you want a web design company to create your company website for a fee, then the contract has consideration for both parties.

Another critical element to a valid contract is the legal intent. For instance, if you pay someone to rob a bank and the party takes your money but does not go through with the robbery, you can’t sue the breaching party because robbing a bank is illegal.

The parties signing the agreement must have the mental capacity to understand what they are signing. You can’t enter into an agreement with someone who cannot understand the agreement (including minors). All parties to a contract must be of clear and of sound mind. You cannot enter an agreement while under the influence of any mind-altering agent like drugs or alcohol.

Finally, a contract is not valid if it is not fair. Going back to the website design firm example, assume the design firm owner is a college student who needs money to pay college expenses. You take advantage of his situation and pay him $500 per month for a year to complete and maintain the website. However, the student works 40 hours a week. Your contract is invalid because it is not fair to both parties

Types Of Contract Breaches


breach of contract agreement paper and a pen

Once you determine you are dealing with a breach of contract, you still have to determine the kind of breach that occurred. There are four contract breaches:

  • Material
  • Fundamental
  • Anticipatory
  • Minor

What Is a Material Breach?

A material breach is the most severe type of contract breach and deems a contract “irreparably broken.”  A contract breach is a material breach if one or more parties in the contract failed to perform their duties as outlined in the contract. Proving a material breach is difficult. The court determines the answer to the following questions before declaring a material breach:

  • Is the aggrieved party deprived of the “heart” of the deal?
  • Would compensation take care of the aggrieved party’s loss?
  • What will the breaching party lose?
  • What are the chances that the breaching party can and will fix things?
  • Was the breach willful or in bad faith?
  • Is the aggrieved party “ready, willing, and able” to perform?
  • Does the contract include a clause to deal with a material breach?

A contract breach would deprive the aggrieved party of the “heart” of the deal if the party did not enjoy the core agreement. For example, you paid the web design company $20,000 for your website. They completed all the site's core functionality and design, but the content contained obvious grammar errors and some broken links. The courts would consider the errors a material breach since you received all the required features. That would not deprive you of your part of the core deal. You still can pursue corrective measures, however, it does not qualify for material breach.

If the breaching party can compensate the aggrieved party for the breach, then the courts would enforce the contract. The court also considers what the breaching party would lose if the contract were void. You paid the web design company $10,000 dollars to start the website. A week before the project is complete, you tell them you are not happy with the product and decide you will not pay the final $10,000. The courts would not consider a contract breach since they completed most of the work.

If possible, the courts will try to uphold the contract, so unless the breaching party does not have the capability of taking corrective actions or acted unethically, you cannot cancel the contract. The last thing the courts will test is the contract itself. If there are provisions in the contract for handling breaches, the courts will enforce the contract.

What Is a Fundamental Breach?

A fundamental breach is one where the breaching party failed to complete a task so essential to the contract it hindered the aggrieved party from fulfilling their part of the agreement. If you are having a website built, but you do not give the contracted party access to your web servers, then they cannot deploy your site.

What Is an Anticipatory Breach?

You hired a web design team to launch your website by December 1st. It takes about three months to complete the site. It is now November 3rd, the team has not worked on the project and you no longer trust the project will make the launch date. You can sue before any violation occurs. An anticipatory breach is a breach that has not yet occurred, but it is clear the offending party will not perform their duties.

What Is a Minor Breach?

A minor breach, also known as a partial breach, is when there are minor contract violations. In the example where the web design company finished most of your website but the content contained errors, it would be a minor contract breach.

What Happens In A Breach Of Contract?


signing

The journey is not over once you have determined you have a compelling breach of contract case. Not all contract breaches are treated the same. The courts consider an array of remediation tactics. You may get monetary remediation or contract remediation.

Common Remedies for Breach of Contract

The legal remedies depend on factors such as the breach, its severity, and how much work both parties completed. Compensatory damages allow you to recover the money you are owed while punitive damages penalize the breaching party their wrongdoing.

People use incidental and consequential damages interchangeably, however; they have two distinct meanings. Incidental damages are the expenses the non-breaching party incurred while trying to avoid further losses. Consequential damages are expenses that would have been avoided if the breach did not occur.

Liquidated damages are damages the parties outlined in the contract should a breach occur. Contracts usually use liquidated damages when the losses are hard to prove (like intellectual property). Some contracts include a clause that forces the breaching party to pay attorney fees. You cannot recover attorney fees unless the contract permits it.

Other Remedies for Breach of Contract

Along with monetary damages, there are other options available to remedy a breach of contract. The court can force both parties to fulfill their obligations under the original agreement.

It is possible that a judge would rescind the contract. This means the contract is treated as if it never existed and all monies are returned to the rightful party. Contract rescission can occur in the following situations:

  • Both parties agree to it
  • The contract is illegal
  • It is evident that one party has no intention of fulfilling their contractual duties

Contract reformation is a viable option if both parties agree a contract rewrite to match the original intent.

Conclusion


corporate man reading

Legal contract disputes can get complicated. Make sure your agreements are legally binding and try to settle disputes before going to court.  

What Is The Purpose Of A Durable Power Of Attorney?

Power of attorney gives a trusted individual the right to make decisions and take actions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney is most often used by seniors to give another person the authority to act in their name in medical and legal matters, including those about property, taxes, business deals and real estate. It is also known as a continuing power of attorney because it will continue even if the principal; the person granting the authority, becomes mentally incapacitated or incompetent.

The documents drawing up a power of attorney (POA) can be particularly about the purposes and duration for which it is conferred. The agent is usually a trusted friend or close relative who can be relied upon to make decisions in the best interest of the principal when he or she can no longer do so. For seniors and their families, it’s best to plan and set up a durable power of attorney, especially for medical matters, well before it will be needed.

What Is a Durable Power of Attorney?

discussion of what is written in the document

A durable power of attorney is also known as a continuing power of attorney and remains in effect even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated and incapable of taking or communicating decisions. Different states have their power of attorney forms which state the conditions and duration of the POA,as well as the start date. These forms must be filled out completely and correctly for the POA to become effective.

What Is a Power of Attorney?

Power of Attorney gives a trusted individual the authority to act on your behalf. It can pertain to legal or medical matters or just be limited to a single task. The scope and duration of the POA can be specified in the document. The person delegating the authority is called the principal, and the individual who is given the authority is called the agent or attorney-in-fact.

Types of POA

There are two types of POA: medical and general. General Power of Attorney gives the agent the authority to act for the principal in financial and legal matters like property and real estate, business, taxes, lawsuits and in dealings with the government agencies such as applying for benefits.

Medical Power of Attorney typically gives the agent the authority to make decisions regarding medical matters and healthcare. It is sometimes named differently in different states and may be known as Health Care Proxy, Designation of Health Advocate, Designation of Healthcare Surrogate, etc.

Both types of POA can continue even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated if the word “Durable” is added.

Defining the Scope of Power of Attorney

shaking hands of approval

The scope of POA can be defined so that it is limited to a specified matter or duration. The limits are clearly specified in the document. A durable power of attorney remains effective even if the principal becomes mentally incompetent. The state of being mentally incompetent is defined as the inability of the principal to make an informed decision or of communicating such decisions. In fact, this is why seniors and their families should plan and set up durable POA well in advance of it becoming necessary.

Mental incapacitation can result from mental illness or physical injury which affects the functioning of the brain. This includes strokes, coma, paralysis, etc. For seniors, it may stem from the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. In general, certification from a medical doctor is required for a POA that springs from mental incompetency.

How Long Does Durable Power of Attorney Last?

The durable power of attorney comes into effect when the form is properly completed unless specified otherwise. Alternatively, a “springing” durable power of attorney springs from an event such as the mental incapacitation of the principal, which is specified in the document. Durable POA typically ends with the death of the principal unless an ending date is specified.

When Is a Durable Power of Attorney Used?

A durable power of attorney is typically used when seniors need someone else to make decisions and take actions on their behalf in medical and legal matters. This may be done in the event of a sickness or injury or just because the principal needs help with managing affairs such as medical care, bills, and legal matters. It continues if a senior cannot make informed decisions about these and other matters. For seniors and their families, it is usually best to plan and establish a durable POA well before it will be needed.

Durable POA may also be needed if an injury or illness makes it impossible for the senior to communicate such decisions. For example, a disease such as a stroke may make it physically impossible to speak or communicate by any other means, even if mental functions are unimpaired. Many seniors may just choose to delegate durable POA to a trusted individual because they need someone to act on their behalf in making decisions regarding medical care, managing social security, applying for benefits, paying bills, etc.

Planning Ahead

Seniors and their families should plan and prepare for a durable power of attorney, especially for medical matters. In case of an accident or injury, or the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it will save time, money and trouble if a trusted family member or friend can step in and take over the decision about medical care and treatment. It’s best to be proactive rather than wait too long and risk a situation where the principal is no longer capable of making a decision about choosing an agent.

If a senior does become mentally incompetent due to injury or illness without establishing a durable POA, relatives will have to go to the courts to make decisions about their medical care and treatment. This can be expensive and time-consuming and distract their efforts at a time when the medical care of the individual should be the highest priority.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Durable Power of Attorney?

Durable POA is a relatively easy way for seniors to get help in managing their affairs without the intervention of a court. Even if there is no serious medical condition or emergency, it can be helpful to have someone who can manage financial and legal matters for them. It’s important to have someone who can make decisions about medical treatment and long-term care if and when the need should arise.

On the other hand, there is great potential for fraud and abuse in this position of trust, and unfortunately, this does happen very frequently. One way to prevent against fraud and embezzlement is to specify the limits of the durable POA.

Benefits

Durable POA allows your agent to help you make decisions about medical care and deal with financial matters like bank accounts, taxes, social security, insurance, property, etc. Your agent can deal with third parties like banks, credit card companies, and government agencies and programs like Medicare and social security on your behalf. They will have to provide a letter of attorney to establish this authority.

A durable power of attorney is a relatively easy way for seniors to manage their affairs without the intervention of a court. The terms and limits can be specified. Durable POA ends with the death of the principal, which means that the agent does not have any control over the estate unless that is specified elsewhere.

Disadvantages

While there are many benefits for seniors in giving durable POA to someone they trust, there is always the risk that this trust may be abused. Fraud does happen, and it can be a way for an agent to embezzle funds and transfer property to themselves or others. They can even change the names of beneficiaries on life insurance policies and annuities to benefit themselves.

In some cases, an agent may not be acting from malicious intentions but still fail to carry out the wishes of the principal. As in all matters, mistakes can be made. If fraud is detected, by the principal or the heirs, the agent may be sued for the return of assets as well as damages.

Can Durable Power of Attorney Be Revoked?

A durable power of attorney can be revoked at any time by the principal provided he or she is of sound mind. A properly-drafted statement of revocation will have to be given to the agent as well as to any third parties with whom the agent has had dealings in that capacity. If the agent is a spouse, the durable POA is automatically revoked in case of divorce.

Durable POA is automatically revoked on the death of the principal, and the agent has no control over the estate unless specified elsewhere.

Conclusion

A durable power of attorney helps seniors by giving a trusted individual the authority to act on their behalf in medical and legal matters. It can be important in situations where the principal becomes mentally incompetent to make informed decisions due to injury or illness. Durable POA is a way for seniors and their families to manage their medical and legal affairs without the intervention of the courts.

Useful Tips On Why And How To Patent An Idea

Have an innovative mind that has come up with some decent business ideas? Perhaps you have already even developed a useful product that shows great potential for success. Whatever the reason you are here now reading this article, know that we have some useful knowledge on why and how to patent an idea that will hopefully get you closer to knowing if this is the right choice for you.

The Purpose of a Patent

The patent system was designed to promote the creation and innovation of ideas by allowing inventors ownership for their work and granting them an “exclusionary right.” The exact basis for the patent system can be found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It is stated that this article grants Congress the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

This gives inventors the legal right to prevent any other from using, making, selling or importing their invention. By definition, this specification is what determines the patent as a “negative right” as opposed to a “positive right”. A positive right would allow one to make, use, sell or offer something for sale This is also known as monopolistic right. A negative right, on the other hand, is a right that puts restrictions on using something in a type of way. Technical terminology aside, a patent protects future revenue stream, but this is only for a limited time.

Patent Expiration

You might be curious as to why a grant is only protected for a limited time. Due to the patent expiration process, this process was designed to allow the public access and information for using the once-patented product. After the time of patent expiration, the public will then be able to take advantage of this opportunity, essentially allowing them the potential to innovate a once-patented invention further.  By having the system setup this way, it sets the stage and encourages progress towards technological advances. This makes sense to do for positive intentions; many minds are greater than one, typically.

Patent Types

So, you're wondering how to patent an idea? Let's find out about the kinds of patents. There are 3 different types of patents that exist, as of now:  utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents give any individual the right to a patent that invents or discovers any useful, new process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter. Utility patents can also be given to those that discover any new or useful improvement to those categories of creations just mentioned. Design patents have the ability to grant anyone who specifically invents an original ornamental design for an article of manufacture. And lastly, plant patents are allowed to those who discover or invent a plant that asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of species.

Should You Patent Your Idea?

If you are undecided about getting a patent for your idea, here are some things to consider before committing. Understand that while there are many benefits to having a patent for a product, it isn’t the only way to find success in using your creation. Patents aren’t the cheapest of things to apply for especially if you are filing for a patent that is for a mechanical or electrical device. This could cost up to $2,500 to $3,000.

Also, not to bring down your hopes or discourage you in any way---only two to three percent of all patented products get approved for the market. Once again, we're not telling you that you should not try to patent your product. We’re just suggesting it doesn't have to be your first step or even a required one.

First Step

You may also be asking yourself in regards to how to patent an idea, what is the first step in obtaining a patent? We suggest an overall assessment and evaluation of your product. That includes understanding how viable your business opportunity is. To do so, really try to understand your product. Determine what its potential target market would be, and get a good idea for your competition. The last thing you would want to do is spend all of that time, energy and money on a product that doesn't have a strong potential foothold in today's marketplace. We will discuss in greater detail what we think you should research further to avoid situations like this.

Patent Research

man doing his research in the library

How to patent an idea? The process involves research. As we mentioned previously, it's a really good idea to know your product before applying for a patent. This includes also knowing if your product may be infringing on someone else's product that is already patented. You can go about this in different ways. But to know for sure, you'll need to conduct a "preliminary patent search." To do so, you can either hire an expert to help you or do it yourself.

Product Prototype

Before filing for a patent, it's important to have your product's materials or mechanics in official order should you happen to develop a product that you would consider to be anywhere shy of your ideal final product. It may prove to be a difficult process in dealing with the patent modification system. It is best to build your prototype first. That way you know if you like it, you know it's ready to be patented.

Manufacturing Cost

Not to assume you don't understand your product or product-to-be, but it's also important to determine how much it's going to cost you to make your creation. Say it costs more to make than the market is willing to give for it. (We figured we'd mention a quick product cost tip, just in case.)

Benefits of a Patent

chart showing the benefits of patent

After taking all of the above mentioned information into consideration when assessing how to patent an idea, you can now decide whether you need the patent. For those who will later learn that their product is not able to be patented, don't panic. Thousands of products that exist on today's market are not patented. And it's not just because they aren't able to be patented. Like we said, you can find success without a patent.

LICENSING RIGHTS

sample patent license agreement

In discovering how to patent an idea, you must know about licensing rights. In gaining a patent for your product, you also gain the right to license your product to a company or multiple companies, depending on the terms of your licensing agreement. And not only that, patented products are a lot more desirable for companies as well. This gives them the confidence that they won't be infringing on the rights of another patent. And actually, some companies may only agree to product licensing if a product is patented or patent-pending.

How to Patent an Idea

At this point in finding out how to patent an idea, you may still see value in getting a patent for your product. If this is the case, then we are going to provide you with some steps which hopefully make this a smoother process for you.

Proof of Invention

First, understand that it is not completely necessary to hire a lawyer for this process. Just to be clear. There will be no court, judge or  legal "research phase in this process. In fact, the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), which is the department in charge of approving and issuing patents, has rules anyone can follow just fine without a lawyer.

With that in mind, you may still want to take legal precautions while filing for your patent. If you haven't already, a good start would be to develop some sort of record for your invention. This could be a developmental, step-by-step process giving insight on the evolution of your product or even just having descriptions or diagrams that denotes key aspects of your invention. As long as there is some sort of documentation of your invention, you should have what you need. Also, we suggest signing and dating each entry and have two reliable witnesses sign off on this as well. (It is better to be safe than sorry.)

Prepare Then File with the USPTO

In the patent filing process, these are the steps:

  • Making sure your invention qualifies for patent protection
  • Assessing the costs and having the funds
  • Doing a thorough patent search

After checking these steps off of the list, you can then begin the next step which is filling out a Provisional patent application (PPA). This isn't an actual application for the patent itself. Filing a PPA only allows you to claim a patent-pending status. It is a sort of pre-phase process, if you will. It can cost anywhere from $65-$250, depending on the company. And it requires a detailed description of the product, including an informal drawing.

If you decide to file electronically instead, understand that it might be faster to do so by mail, especially if you are only filing one application. But filing online has its advantages too. You get to avoid the mailing system, and you also have the advantage of obtaining instant confirmation of the PTO's receipt of documents.

Conclusion

All in all, there's much to consider when deciding whether o file a patent for your product. Realistically, it depends on exactly what type of product you have created and whether you think a patent is worth it. If money isn't an issue and you don't mind putting in the time and effort, file away; apply for a patent.

Best Law Schools | Top 10 In The U.S.

So you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, or are in the midst of it at a 3/3 program, and law school is on your horizon. A 3/3 program is one offered by some schools which allows students to overlap their first year of law school with their senior year of undergrad, finished undergrad and being awarded their degree at the same time as finishing their first year in law school. Whether you are entering as a 3/3 or a first-year applicant, the best law schools are good to keep your sights on. In this article, we’ll explore a list of 10 of the best law schools in the United States.

 Law School FAQ

Stack of law books

Following is a presentation of commonly asked questions pertaining to law school. We’ll explore what law school it, what opportunities it brings, and also the importance of keeping in mind the cost of law school and the prospect of making money upon finishing it. As we’ll see, the best law schools and the worst law schools alike can cost quite a bit of money–generally over $50,000 annually for three years–so choosing the right institution for you is essential to support your successful law school career.

What Is Law School?

In law school, the student pursues the achievement of a juris doctorate, a JD, meaning they will become a doctor of the law. Law schools come in all shapes and sizes, although generally law schools are broken into two primary categories: ABA-accredited law school, and non-accredited law schools.

It is of course preferable to attend an ABA-accredited law school, as many states require a degree from an ABA-accredited law school for the person to sit for the bar exam: an essential prerequisite to legal practice. Law school is the institution in which all the essential classes are taken to understand how to practice the law.

What Is Studied in Law School?

The law is complex both in the United States and abroad, and in law school the intricacies of the law, whether national, regional, metropolitan, or otherwise, are quite expansive. In the United States, law students focus upon core classes in addition to electives. To quality for ABA-accreditation, schools must require that particular classes be taken by all law students. These include two levels of constitutional law, contracts, torts, and civil procedure, in addition to courses in criminal procedure, legal writing and theory, and legal ethics.

Ethics are particularly important to the legal profession given the power that can be exercised by lawyers. Alongside the ethics course, most states require the prospective lawyer to pass the MPRE, or Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination. Passage of the exam is generally a pre-requisite to practice in a state, as it shows that the hopeful attorney knows and understands the ethical guidelines that govern the profession.

What Can You Do with a Law Degree?

A JD degree gives you the potential to practice as a lawyer, depending upon the licensing requirements of the state where you wish to work. Some states require you to pass a localized bar exam, while many states require you to pass the UBE, the Uniform Bar Exam, which has been adopted by many states across the nation.

Upon achieving the JD, you can also begin teaching law at certain institutions of higher learning. Undergraduate pre-law classes are often taught by persons with JDs, and sometimes by working lawyers. Having a JD does not by default make one able to practice the law and be a lawyer.

If an individual possesses a JD but has not passed a state bar exam or been licensed to practice law, they can teach law or can practice as in-house counsel. This means that persons with JDs may be hired into corporations to provide advice on legal issues, and since they are working within a company doing this, a license to practice law is not required. A law degree, whether from the best law schools, the mid-tier, or the low-tier law schools, gives one the essential knowledge to pass the bar exam, which is what one must do if they really want to practice law in the courts.

How Do I Become a Lawyer?

Becoming a lawyer is not as simple as achieving a JD from one of the best law schools. The JD must be passed with a sufficiently high grade to sit for the bar exam. The bar exam may be the UBE mentioned above, a state bar exam, or some combination of the two. For example, in Massachusetts a hopeful lawyer must have a JD from an ABA-accredited law school, have taken and passed the MPRE, have letters of recommendation, and also take a Massachusetts bar component exam which consists of 50 state-specific questions.

How Important Is Going to the Best Law Schools?

The importance of attending one of the best law schools depends entirely upon your goals. If you would like to work in a major city with a large corporate law firm, going to a prestigious law school with a strong name will help you gain the position you desire. At a top corporate law firm in Boston, a graduate of Harvard University is more likely to gain access to an entry-level position than would someone who attended a state university’s law school anywhere in the United States. Consider what kinds of clients you’d prefer to serve, and if the answer is global corporations, then choosing the best law schools will help.

Going to the best law schools for the self-employed is far less important. To open a law firm, one need only have a license to practice law in the state they intend upon opening a firm. Given that bar exams all test the same content, passing the bar exam is the same achievement regardless of what law school the student attended. If smaller legal practice outside the corporate world is your desired area of practice, the best law schools will add to the prestige of the degree on your wall but won’t necessarily add more to your wallet.

How We Reviewed

people studying in the library

In the review of the best law schools in the United States, we have focused upon the curriculum and quality, the pros and cons of each university, and the cost of a law degree. As noted below, the cost of a law degree from the best law schools can vary widely. It is important to remember that our review of a law school will be objective, but your decision is entirely subjective. Choosing the best law school for you will be a decision made through a combination of considering the school’s curriculum, as well as the culture, location, and staff; so make sure to take your time and check out schools before deciding.

Overall Price Range of the Best Law Schools

open doors along the corridor of a school

The overall price range of a law degree from the best law schools will generally be somewhere around $50,000 annually for academics, in addition to the cost of living. This is given that no scholarships or grants are received. Scholarships may be awarded to persons based upon membership or demographics, application to particular programs, or achieving victory in particular competitions.

What We Reviewed

School

University of California — Berkeley
University of Virginia
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor
University of Pennsylvania
New York University
Columbia University (NY)
University of Chicago (IL)
Harvard University (MA)
Stanford University (CA)
Yale University (CT)

University of California — Berkeley

Curriculum

A pristine Northern California campus with the traditional law school curriculum.

Pros 

 Cons

  • Very low acceptance rate of 23%
  • Bar passage rate of 83.1%
Tuition

Just over $19,000 for in-state residents, and a little over $32,000 for non-residents. Note that here and for all other schools explored, the cost of living is not included, and this can be substantial depending upon the locale.

University of Virginia

Curriculum

A traditional curriculum that achieves an 87.9 percent employment rate at graduation, with a professional assessment of 4.4.

Pros

  • Excellent employment rate at graduation
  • 90.3% employed 10 months after graduation
  • 93.2% bar passage rate

Cons

  • Virginia is not California
Tuition

About $47,900 for in-state and $52,900 for out-of-state students.

University of Michigan — Ann Arbor

Curriculum

In the aquatic Ann Arbor region, this school has a 7.3/1 student-to-faculty ration for the traditional law school curriculum.

Pros

  • 97.9% bar passage rate

Cons

  • Somewhat high student-to-faculty ratio compared to the competition
Tuition

Around $57,000 for in-state and $60,500 for out-of-state students.

University of Pennsylvania

Curriculum

The traditional law school curriculum with an overall score of 89/100 by CNBC.

Pros

  • 97.6% bar passage rate
  • 94.5% employed at graduation rate

 Cons

  • Low acceptance rate of 18%
Tuition

The tuition here is around $47,600 for everyone.

New York University

Curriculum

A strong traditional legal curriculum with an entering undergraduate body with average 3.66+ GPAs.

Pros 

  • 97.3% bar passage rate
  • 27% acceptance rate

 Cons

  • Lower employment rates at graduation than some competitors
Tuition

Tuition at this institution is about $64,000, making it one of the most expensive we’ve explored.

Columbia University (NY)

Curriculum

Columbia offers a classic legal curriculum in a historic setting that supports learning.

Pros 

  • A bargain for the level of prestige
  • 96.1% bar passage rate

 Cons

  • No in-state discount
Tuition

The tuition at Columbia is about $56,000.

University​ of Chicago (IL)

Curriculum

The windy city’s premiere legal curriculum with strong corporate opportunities.

Pros 

  • 97.7% bar passage rate
  • 95.3% employed at graduation

 Cons

  • Very high average entering GPA of 3.73-3.95
Tuition

In Chicago at this institution you’ll pay around $62,000 each year.

Harvard University (MA)

Curriculum

Harvard is the most classic of legal curriculums available in the United States at the historic campus in Cambridge.

Pros 

  • Beautiful campus and surrounding environment
  • The nation’s most prestigious law school

 Cons

  • 91.6% employed at graduation
Tuition

The cost at Harvard is about $64,000 for each of the three years of law school.

Stanford University (CA)

Curriculum

Stanford provides a nationally respected traditional legal curriculum sufficient to sit for the UBE.

Pros 

  • 4/1 student-to-faculty ratio
  • 91.3% employed at graduation
  • Low cost of tuition

 Cons

  • Lower bar passage rate than the competition at 91%
Tuition

At just about $47,500, Stanford is one of the cheapest private best law schools.

Yale University (CT)

Curriculum

Of the best law schools, Yale’s traditional curriculum is ranked at the top of the nation.

Pros 

  • 99% bar passage rate
  • 4.2/1 student-to-faculty ratio

 Cons

  • Low employment at graduation rate of 83.3%
  • Low employment at 10 months after graduation rate of 83.3%
Tuition

Students pay around $62,000 a year for law school at Yale.

The Verdict

Of the law schools reviewed, the costs vary substantially, while the curriculums are largely the same. The decision to attend one of the best law schools is something that is entirely personal and something you decide upon after considering your goals with your law degree. Stanford was the best combination of pricing, prestige, and ranking, at around $47,000 and ranked at number 2 in our list of the top 10 best law schools. Harvard may have the highest prestige, yet is ranked in at #3, and while Yale is ranked at #1, it has one of the worst employment at graduation rates of the schools reviewed.

Spending over $250,000 to acquire a JD if you intend upon practicing in a small town with a limited number of clients can be a financially ruinous decision. Spending $250,000 to acquire a JD if you will work for a corporation earning $300,000 annually is an investment that is entirely worthwhile. Consider what works for you, and be prepared to study.

For more information on lawyers, law school, and other related matters, check back to Lawyer Search for ongoing updates and articles.

Things To Know Before Signing A Non Compete Agreement

When you find a new job, you must sign a contract before you officially start working. The contract covers the terms of the employment, including issues like salary along with the duties and responsibilities. However, the employer may also need you to sign a non compete agreement. If you didn't sign such an agreement when you started working, you might notice that your employer pressures you to sign the agreement when you are being promoted or getting a pay raise.

Signing the non compete agreement is beneficial for employers as it helps them protect their businesses as it bars employees from starting a similar business. All types of businesses can benefit. So what is a non compete agreement? This content highlights what this agreement is, whether there is a need for signing it and things you should know before signing it.

What Is a Non Compete Agreement?

A non compete agreement is a contract between an employer and an employee that prohibits the employee from engaging in a business that competes with the employer's business for a certain time period and within a certain locality, which is specified in the agreement. Even though the employer cannot force you to sign it, they may terminate or not hire you if you refuse to sign the contract. Note:  courts are not usually supportive of non compete agreements; they will consider factors pertinent to the case to determine whether this kind of an agreement is reasonable.

Therefore, if you are negotiating a non compete agreement with your employer, we recommend you to ensure that it is limited only to aspects necessary for the employer’s protection. You should also ask for severance payment when terminated under such circumstances. The non compete agreement, which is a protective mechanism for the employer from the undue competition by an employee, can also be referred to as a "restrictive covenant" or a "covenant not to compete." The contract is common these days when applying for jobs and in contracts involving the sale of businesses.

The main purpose of the contract is to restrict the ability of employees to go into a business similar to the employer’s within a specific locality for a certain time period. If you sign it, you agree that you won’t compete with your employer by engaging in any business similar to that of your employer, as an independent contractor, employee, significant investor, part owner or whatever other forms of competition your employer identifies and includes in the contract.

Non Compete Agreement Elements

Non Compete Agreement Elements

The contract is typically state-governed and does not fall in the federal law jurisdiction. The non compete agreement covers these elements:

  • The traditional "covenant not to compete" prohibits the employee from joining a competing businesses during a certain period and within a specific geographical location.
  • Non-solicitation agreements bar approaching clients, poaching employees or wooing former employer’s supplies.
  • A confidentiality agreement, also known as a nondisclosure, bars the use or revelation of information of former employers to new employers. The information could include client lists, marketing plans and product formulations.

Is There a Need for Non Compete Agreements?

BUSINESS MEETING

The non compete agreement will legally bind employers and employees. It is important as it prevents the employee from competing with his or her employer after he or she is terminated, for a specified period in a certain locality. Employers benefit from the contract since it discourages an employee from leaving the current position held in the company or business and taking a new position, which presumably pays better, in a competitor's firm. Once the employee joins the competitor firm, he or she can pass on valuable information gained while working for the previous employer. This information can be used to gain a competitive advantage, which is deemed unfair.

As such, by making sure that the employee signs the agreement, an employer protects the company’s goodwill and trade secrets. It is also a viable strategy to retain talented and experienced employees from making a move to competitor firms. This allows the employer to benefit longer from its investment in providing a valuable training to staff. However, the agreement cannot include limitations on the employee’s right to earn a living and move on when he or she leaves the current employer.

Employers not using the non compete agreements should consider doing so. There are many benefits of ensuring that the employees sign the agreement. It is free and easily available to download off the internet. However, there are some demerits associated with the agreement since research has established that the non compete agreement can limit job mobility, discourage venture-capital investments and accelerate talent flight.

Provide Information on Non Compete Agreements

contract SIGNING

What Should Be Included

For the agreement to be legally valid, it should:

  • Have an intention to protect a legitimate business interest, such as trade secrets or retaining valuable customers
  • Be reasonable regarding its time, scope and geographical restriction
  • Be supported by consideration, such as money

5 Things Courts Look For To Establish The Reasonability Of The Agreement

courtroom

The court establishes the reasonability of the contract based on the following points:

  1. The potential harm to the employers. The agreement should establish the potential harm to the employer's business. 
  2. The specified time period. The reasonability depends on the nature of the job. For instance, a manufacturing business can have a period of about a year. For yoga instructors, it can be three to six months.
  3. The banned territory. This may be as far as ten miles away from the previous employer for a hair salon but a three-state area could be reasonable for a business or sales manager.
  4. Impact on the employee. Signing the agreement doesn’t mean that the employer will not work for the remainder of his or her life. It is not reasonable for the employer to deprive the employee of making a living or forcing a relocation. Courts typically consider this point more than the others.
  5. Interests of the general public. The contracts should not stifle competition to the point of creating a monopoly.

Courts do not honor provisions that are deemed as unreasonable, a point that is established when negotiating for such contracts. This again depends on the state in question and the court used for such proceedings.

Contract Negotiation

Signature

Employers should first focus on what they need to accomplish. If the employer is the owner of a local small business, you might ask where the contract came from. If it was downloaded from the internet, it is likely to include inapplicable clauses so it is best that you discuss point by point in the spirit that the resulting clauses will benefit you and doesn’t comprise excess baggage. This means that the parties involved should know the benefits and demerits.

The agreement binds both parties. As an employee, you need to ask for assurance in the contract that as you gain experience, you will receive promotions and pay raises so you are not stuck at your entry-level salary as the contract can trap you. Even if your employer is a large corporation, you’re entitled to negotiation. If the employer is not willing to negotiate, you’re free to walk away.

Always consult a lawyer to look into the contract document so that if there are any issues that are not in your favor, he or she can explain them to you and offer advice. You might also want to consult a lawyer if the employer wants you to sign the agreement as a condition for getting severance when being terminated. The situation is even more delicate when being offered a promotion or pay raise. Some states may require an add-on, such as more vacation when signing the contract if you're getting this raise or promotion.

You need to watch out for lawyer fees since some contracts stipulate that the employees pay for the legal fees of the company. Note that how the employer negotiates with you before signing the agreement can be an indicator of how you’ll be treated when employed. Therefore, you might be wary of employers who include too many clauses in the agreement that don't favor you as an employee.

Conclusion

A non compete agreement prohibits employees from engaging in a business that competes with his or her current or former boss’s business. For the contract to be valid, it must protect a legitimate business interest, such as trade secrets. It should also be reasonable regarding its time, scope and geographical restriction and must be supported by consideration, such as money. Again, both parties have to sign it for a court to recognize it. The non compete agreement falls under state jurisdiction.

You should note that the employer cannot force you to sign the non compete agreement but may terminate or not hire you if you refuse to sign it. It's mainly intended to restrict the ability of employees to go into a business similar to the employer’s within a specific locality for a certain period.
 
It is vital for employers since it discourages an employee from leaving the current position and helps protect the company’s goodwill and trade secrets. Some employers may use it as a strategy to keep talented and experienced employees from making a move to the competitor firm.

For employees:  before signing the contract, always consult a lawyer to look into the contract and provide advice. We hope this article has adequately addressed what a non compete agreement is and whether there is a need for signing it.

Guide To Residential Lease Agreements

The time has finally arrived; you are moving out of your parents' home and into your first apartment. Or maybe this isn't your first move to a new rental home. Either way, you are over-the-top excited. You are packed, pretty much, and ready to go. There's just one more thing you have to take care of. You have to go and sign your residential lease agreement.

What, you are asking yourself, exactly is a residential lease agreement? Sure, you know it's your lease, but do you really need to sign one? Just how important is a residential lease agreement, anyway? How will you ever understand all that legalese? Let's see if we can help.

What Is a Residential Lease Agreement?

A residential lease agreement is the commonly used legal document between landlords and tenants. While they can adapt this lease agreement to meet the specific needs of landlords, it still must follow all applicable state regulations and contain all the required legal disclosures. The lease agreement establishes the rules that will be followed by both the tenant and the landlord.

You may also see a residential lease agreement written under one of these other names:

  • Renters Agreement
  • Apartment Lease Agreement
  • Basic Rental Agreement
  • House Lease Agreement

When to Sign a Residential Lease Agreement

residential house

You should sign a lease agreement if you will be renting any property that is considered livable. A livable property could include an apartment, a townhouse, a house, a mobile home, a condo, or even a single room. The lease will set the term, or the length of time you will live at the property, which is usually one year.

Who Should Sign a Residential Lease Agreement

signing an agreement

A lease agreement should be signed by every adult who will living at the rental property. Each adult should be considered a tenant and be held responsible for an equal share of the rent, deposit, and any related fees. Each person is also equally responsible for the care and maintenance of the rental property.

Is There a Need for a Residential Lease Agreement?

document needs signature

The residential lease agreement puts the responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant in writing. This helps to keep confrontations to a minimum and, hopefully, helps to avoid any legal headaches. Both parties are protected by this legal document should a dispute arise. Below are some commonly disputed areas between landlords and tenants.

Repairs and Maintenance

man cleaning the yard

Perhaps one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding between landlords and tenants is who is responsible for certain repairs and maintenance. This will be clearly defined in the lease agreement, and should be followed by both parties to limit confusion. If you are unsure if you are permitted to make a repair, contact your landlord first. Repairs and permanent changes, such as installing new cabinets or painting walls, should never be done by tenants without their landlord's approval.

Generally speaking, the tenant is responsible for keeping the property neat, clean and presentable. Also, he or she is responsible for repairing or paying for the repair of any damage caused by his or her own neglect. The tenant must notify the landlord if a major repair is needed.

The landlord is responsible for maintaining the safety and integrity of the property. He or she must repair any dangerous living condition and fix defective areas such as plumbing, major appliances (if included with the property) and heating and air conditioning. The landlord must inform the tenant of how to request a repair and how the repair will be handled.

Deposits and Fees

safe

The end of the term has arrived, and that means that the question of what is to be done with the security deposit has come up. The standard security deposit on residential lease agreements is equal to one month's rent and is paid and the beginning of the lease. The lease agreement will state any reasons why the security deposit will not be refunded, for example, to pay for damage done to the property. It will state how long after the lease is ended, the landlord may hold the deposit before refunding it to allow for inspection of the property. The lease will also state whether or not the security deposit can be applied towards the last month's rent, which is not usually the case.

Fees can include a charge for a returned check, along with late payment fees. Cleaning fees may be applied at the end of the lease to pay for professional cleaning, and this will be clearly written in the lease agreement. Many landlords also charge a pet fee for those tenants who wish to bring their pet with them. This fee is to cover any potential, additional cleaning that may be required due to the presence of the pet. It will detail the amounts of the various fees in the lease agreement at the time it is signed.

Rent

real estate

The amount of rent for the term of the lease agreement will be agreed upon at the time the lease is signed. This amount cannot be arbitrarily changed by the landlord during the lease. The lease agreement will state the due date, acceptable forms of payment, and if there is a grace period. It will also specify if payment is to be made by mail, in person, or if either way is acceptable.

Landlord Entry

person signing a document

The residential lease agreement will specify the landlord's right to enter to property. The lease agreement will indicate whether the tenant needs to be present when the landlord enters. In most cases, the landlord has the right to enter the property in the absence of the tenant. It will state the amount of notice the landlord is required to give the tenant prior to entering the property.

FAQ'S on Residential Lease Agreements

document and a pen

What is the Difference Between a Month-to-Month and a Fixed-Term Lease?

Will I Have to Pay My Utilities?

Can I Move Someone in With Me?

Can I Have a Pet?

What if I Get a New Job During the Lease?

What if I Get an Eviction Notice?

Conclusion

Residential lease agreements are important for the landlord and for the tenant. They provide the guidelines for both parties to follow to ensure a positive landlord/tenant relationship. They also provide legal protection to both parties should an irreconcilable dispute arise.  So, now that you know more about residential lease agreements, you should have an easier time understanding yours when you go to sign it.  Still, be sure to ask questions about anything and everything that you want clarified. Residential lease agreements can vary slightly from landlord to landlord, read carefully, make yourself informed, and be sure to understand the fine print before you sign.

Then, enjoy your new apartment. There's nothing quite like having a place you can call your own. Even if it is stacked high with boxes and kind of cluttered right now.

How To Change Your Name After Marriage: The Legal Process

Did you recently get married? If so, congratulations! Before you put that pen away after writing all those thank-you notes, there is one more thing to make your union official. It is important to know how to change your name after marriage.

If you're interested in changing your last name to reflect your spouse's, then this is the guide for you.  There is not a lot to remember on how to change your name after marriage, but there are some documents that you will need to bring with you. Some of these steps you can do ahead of time to make sure it goes smoothly, and whatever you do, don't panic because you do have some grace time to make the transition, but it's best to start as soon as you can.

3 Ways to Change Your Name

Each state has different processes when it comes to changing one's name. You won't need to know all of these, but as a reference, they are included here. While none of these are complicated, there are certain documents that are needed to verify your identity. You will only need to focus on the marriage license section, for it is the one that will show you how to change your name after marriage.

Utilizing the Court System

pointing out on document for signature

The first and most popular option is to go through the courts and get your married name approved by a judge. This is for anyone that wants to change their own name. It is not just for those that wish to only change it due to marriage.

Using It Repeatedly

man pointing to himself infront of a woman

Another form of changing one's name is constantly using the name you wish and being recognized by it. It is not approved in some states, so you should check first in your own before doing so.

Marriage License

man signing papers

This is the one that will be what you will use to help get your name changed. It is a certificate that you signed at your marriage. It required both of your signatures and also those that witnessed as well as the marriage officiant.

Why You Should Learn How to Change Your Name After Marriage

It is important that you follow these procedures for they will prevent any legal ramifications in your future. We all have busy lives, and a newly married couple is the busiest of all. They are learning how to function as a married couple and do not need any additional interference while doing so. By learning how to change your name after marriage, it will keep undue stress off your new marriage.

Especially in this time of identity fraud, it is important not to have alternative identities causing confusion. In America, it is very important that you can prove who you are and keep your affairs registered under a legal name to avoid being questioned or accused of wrongdoing. Someone could use your maiden name and build up debt obligations while you are living your life under your married name. When people steal another's identity, it can cause a number of problems, and the credit bureau will have a hard time sorting things out if you don't have legal documents to back you up. That's bad enough, but also at risk is your credit score and long-term financial health.

In other instances, you can consider the woman who didn't change her identity properly after she was married and was regularly stopped at airline security when she traveled. Usually, it worked out, but think of the relief knowing you are traveling with the correct legal ID and are able to present it without any hesitation. Also, you'll find it difficult to complete simple transactions like when moving into a new home and having to transfer the utility or water accounts. Again, here we find that handling this matter properly and promptly makes for a much more pleasant and successful transition.

Legal Requirements on How to Change Your Name After Marriage

You must make sure that you meet all legal requirements before submitting a name change. This will ensure that you have all the legal points in and not create any problems later.

Permanent Address

Fraudulent Name Change

Proper Court

Who to Notify After Your Name Change

couple holding hand while walking

There are several other places that you will need to contact once you have your marriage certificate. Remember, that you will need the original marriage certificate and no copies. The original one has the raised seal. This is a vital step on how to change your name after marriage; not having it will hold up the entire process.

Social Security Department

DMV

Local Post Office

Internal Revenue Service

Correct Your Voter Information

Banks and Other Debtors

Passport and Other Legal Papers

Utility and Electric Bills

Update Your Airline

Conclusion

woman laying on autumn leaves

Not having a lot of stress is the key after one gets married. We want to keep living our happily ever after for as long as we can. By learning how to change your name after marriage, we are ensuring that no unwanted surprises will come your way. It is best to take care of the legal requirements right away and get your marriage license so that you can apply for the changes to your accounts, credit cards, and all other necessary documents. Once this is all done, you can breathe easier and enjoy your new life with a new name.