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.  

How to Become A US Citizen: Understanding The Legal Process

U.S. Citizenship has become a hot topic in the media, especially with the controversy over immigration and the refugee crisis. Millions of people worldwide dream of becoming a citizen of the United States, lured by the ideals of the American dream and full of hope for expanded possibilities. However, the actual process involved for how to become a US citizen is complicated and extensive, with numerous requirements to fulfill. There are a few different paths that an immigrant can take depending on his or her life circumstances.

Becoming a citizen of the United States gives immigrants many new opportunities, but there is great difficulty and complexity in learning how to become a US citizen and all the legalities involved. While the smartest move is probably to get an immigration lawyer to help you navigate the laws, here is some general information to give you an idea of what's involved, as you seek to learn how to become a US citizen.

4 Ways to Become a US Citizen

If you have been following recent politics or come into contact with immigrants, you may have wondered how to become a US citizen. There are four main paths to citizenship, each of which has different rules and requirements. There are typically many steps along the journey, and it can take many years: a fact that can be discouraging for those striving to become a citizen. It is also necessary to prove that the incoming immigrant is a moral person who plans on being a contributor to, rather than a leech upon, society.

How to Become a US Citizen: Naturalization

USA flag

One way to obtain citizenship is through naturalization, the legal process that an immigrant or foreign citizen must go through to become a U.S. citizen. There are certain requirements that an applicant must complete, including the completion of an application, attending an interview, and passing English and civics test. Once these steps have been completed, the applicant takes an oath of allegiance and is accepted as a U.S. citizen. These criteria help to ensure that only genuinely committed immigrants become citizens of the United States.

The first step in becoming a naturalized citizen through naturalization is obtaining a green card, which means that you are a legal permanent resident of the United States. This allows you to work and live in the United States freely. You may obtain a green card if you:

  • have a relative living legally in the United States
  • receive a job offer in the United States
  • have lived legally in the United States as a refugee or asylum seeker for a year
statue of liberty

Relatives living legally in the States can immediately sponsor a spouse, child under 21 years of age, or parent. If the U.S. citizen wants to sponsor a sibling or child over 21 years of age, the wait time is much longer: typically a few years. Those with a job offer can petition themselves for a green card or ask their employer to do so. This strategy of obtaining U.S. citizenship is a popular route, but it can take a long time.

How to Become a US Citizen: Marriage

wedding rings

Another viable option for receiving U.S. citizenship is through marriage. To use this route, you must apply for a green card by submitting the Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative, which establishes the relationship between the immigrant and the resident. You must show evidence of the marriage with official documents such as a marriage certificate.

If the immigrant spouse lives with the U.S. citizen already, they can adjust their status as the Form I-130 is being completed. The other form to submit is the Application to Register Permanent Residency or Adjust Status, which can be turned in with the Form I-130. If the immigrant spouse lives outside of the United States, they must wait to acquire a visa and then have an interview at a consulate or embassy. Once the spouse is accepted as a citizen of the U.S., they can file to adjust status with Form I-485.

How to Become a US Citizen: Parents

mother and daughter

Some immigrants achieve U.S. citizenship through having parents who legally live in the U.S. The parents must be married to each other and have physically lived in a state or territory of the U.S. for at least five years before the child in question is born. Two of those five years must have been after the parent was 14 years old, and the child's birthdate needs to be on or after November 14, 1986. One exception to the five year rule is if the U.S. citizen parent spent time serving in the American armed forces or worked for the U.S. government.

Another way to gain citizenship through parents is through adoption. Parents must have legal custody of the child in question, and they must have lived with the child in the United States for at least two years. It is necessary for the child to be accepted into the United States as an orphan or conventional adoptee. The child must be adopted outside of the United States before turning 18 years old.

How to Become a US Citizen: Military Service

soldier lending his hand to two young boys

If you serve in the United States military and are wondering how to become a US citizen, you can be eligible to apply for naturalization if you complete some of the requirements that apply to the five-year green card holders. Along with serving in the military, applicants must prove certain aspects about themselves to show that they will be a benefit to American society.

They must show that they are a person of good moral standing, have not been convicted of any serious crimes, pay taxes, pay any child support they might owe, and are overall viewed as a positive community member. In addition, they must be literate in English and understand the basics of U.S. history and government.

The requirements for applicants to achieve citizenship through the military vary depending on if the country is at war or at peace. A person serving during a period of hostility may apply for naturalization immediately as long as they complete their military service honorably. For applicants who serve in the military during peacetime, the applicant must serve for at least one year and get a green card. Those serving during peacetime must apply while still in military service or within six months of ending that service.

Do You Need an Immigration Attorney?

hammer and book of justice

If you are unsure of the next steps or qualifications after researching how to become us citizen, it is a good idea to find an immigration attorney. If you have already attempted to become a citizen and discovered that you were ineligible, it's time to ask an attorney to determine how to fix your situation. If you have issues with your record regarding a criminal past or difficulty paying taxes or child support, discuss with your immigration attorney how to solve this problem.

If you are unsure if you meet the requirements for naturalization, or you believe that you should receive an exception, you may be able to fix your situation with the help of an attorney.

Personal & Residential Requirements & Other Helpful Information

business man speaking on the phone while dotting on some notes

Another requirement for naturalization is being fingerprinted, which involves making an appointment with the USCIS, getting your fingerprints taken, and mailing additional documents if necessary. The next step involves being interviewed and tested, a part of the process that can be time consuming and stress inducing for immigrants.

You must make an appointment, bring your identification, answer questions about your background, and take your English and civic tests. After passing all of your tests and interviews, you are expected to take the last step: the oath of allegiance. To complete this phase, applicants must check in to a ceremony, return the Permanent Resident Card, answer questions about your whereabouts since you completed your interview, and take the oath.

Conclusion

The process of is long and complicated, full of steps that require planning and persistence. The United States takes citizenship very seriously, since being a citizen of our country is seen as a great privilege and a way to gain access to many opportunities. To become a part of our country, you must demonstrate that you have earned this right through your upstanding moral character and willingness to persist through the many steps of the citizenship process.  The United States is full of diverse and talented people, many of whom have come from afar to find a better life or to escape struggles back home. Part of the beauty of this country is its blend of different experiences and cultures. The phrase "melting pot" was aptly chosen as a description of American society.  The keys to becoming a US citizen are to be determined to contribute meaningfully to society, to have the diligence to follow through on all the application process requirements, and possibly to get an attorney to help you. Most immigrants who have attained their citizenship through this kind of hard work and determination will tell you that the process is well worth it.

How To Get Power Of Attorney: Everything You Need To Know

The question of how to get power of attorney is an important one, and it’s one you should ask yourself. Do you need a power of attorney for any reason? Do you need to issue a power of attorney for anything? There might not seem to be much reason right now for you to give power to someone else in a legal capacity, but you may not be aware of the many reasons a power of attorney is necessary for your everyday life. It’s time to learn what it is, what it means, and how it can protect you in the rare instance you are unable to make a decision on your own.

How to get power of attorney is simple. Contact an attorney, create a power of attorney for any necessary reason, and allow someone else to make legal, medical, or financial decisions on your part at any time you are unable to do so for yourself. Before you sign a power of attorney allowing someone else to do anything for you, however, understand what you are signing and what it means. It’s a binding legal document, and you must be aware of what it means to you and your family before you sign the dotted line.

What Is Power of Attorney and What Does It Do?

Before you learn how to get power of attorney, let's understand what it is. It’s a legal document that provides power to you or to someone of your choice to make legal, financial, or medical decisions in the instance you or someone else is unable to do so. If you become incapacitated and cannot make legal, financial, or medical decisions, the person you hand over power of attorney to has the right to make those decisions on your behalf. This form is very specific, and it does not simply provide someone with the power to make all your legal, financial, or medical decisions if not specifically stated on the power of attorney legal document.

Choosing A Power of Attorney

Before you learn how to get power of attorney, you must learn how to choose your power of attorney. This person is making major life decisionsin your absence, either physically or mentally, and you must be able to trust this person. It’s best to provide a power of attorney to multiple people, in multiple instances, to ensure the best decisions are being made.

You should choose someone who meets the following requirements.

  • Trustworthy
  • Responsible
  • Wise
  • Careful
  • Considerate
  • Intelligent
  • Has your best interests at heart

Choosing someone to hand over power attorney to is a careful decision. This person is capable of making decisions on your behalf when you cannot. If they make the wrong decision, will you be able to survive that decision? Most people choose a spouse, a parent, a sibling, or even their personal attorney to stand as their power of attorney.

Reasons You May Need Power of Attorney

agreement of 2 people

Before you learn how to get power of attorney, you should know why you might need one.

  • To make medical decisions
  • You are going on a trip
  • You are leaving your kids with a loved one while traveling
  • You are being deployed
  • You are planning for a specific event

There is no limit to the number of reasons you might need a power of attorney.

Medical Reasons

If you ask someone to become a power of attorney for medical reasons, it might be for more than one reason. For example, you might ask them to make medical decisions because you are going under the knife, and you want someone to be there to make medical decisions in case you cannot.

On another note, you might have a medical power of attorney in case something happens. Having someone around to make your legal medical decisions in case something unexpected happens to you in the future and you become incapacitated is not a bad idea. For example, if you are injured in a car accident you didn’t see coming, having a medical power of attorney helps you when you are unable to make your own medical decisions.

You Are Active Military

Not only do you need a power of attorney when you are in the military for medical reasons, but you also need it for financial reasons. For example, let’s say you are deployed, but you and your spouse are also selling your home. If that sale goes through, you cannot be home to sign the paperwork at closing. You need to have a power of attorney present to sign on your behalf. Your attorney or your spouse make a good power of attorney choice for a situation like this one.

You Are Traveling

Whether you’re just on a trip around the world or you’re in the Caribbean for a long weekend, you need a power of attorney for several reasons. The first is in case something happens, and you need someone to have access to your financial records when you are away. You never know what might happen while traveling, and you never know when you need access to more funds you can only get in person.

The other reason this is a good idea is that you have children, and they’re home with a grandparent or relative. If something happens to your child while you are away, you need to provide the power of attorney to the person who is keeping them to make quick medical decisions. The last thing you want is to be out of the country or too far away to get to the hospital in a timely manner when your child needs medical attention, and there is no one there with the power to provide permission.

Types of Power of Attorney

man signing in a document

Now that you know why you might need a power of attorney, you must know what kind you need. There are four major types of power of attorney. Getting to know each one is important. It’s also imperative you learn that you might need more than just one for various reasons.

Springing Power of Attorney

When decided how to get power of attorney in your life, you should know about this one. It’s designed to give power to someone else only when a specific instance occurs. For example, you are incapacitated and unable to make a decision on your own.

Durable Power of Attorney

This is a power of attorney used for a lifetime. It doesn’t matter what it is for, only that you must sign documents when you want to revoke this power of attorney. It is a long-term legal matter.

Medical Power of Attorney

This type of power of attorney is used when you are unable to make sound decisions. It’s not necessarily a document that allows someone to make medical decisions. It’s used when you are no longer of sound mind and body, which renders you incapable of making decisions on your own.

Conventional Power of Attorney

This is called a limited power of attorney because it’s specific. You only give the power to make a very specific decision in a very specific situation. For example, you sign this stating the power of attorney can sign on the sale of your home only if you are on a plane without cellular service at the time of closing. If every detail is not accounted for, the power of attorney is not valid.

How to Get Power of Attorney

power attorney

How to get a power of attorney is simple, but you must follow a certain number of steps. It’s important you don’t miss any steps because you can hinder your ability to get the power of attorney. First, you must talk to the person you want to become your power of attorney. They are okay with must agree to be the responsible party in your specific situation. They will be required to sign the legal document as well.

The next step is to determine the type of power of attorney you need. You can print a form from the Internet, or you can speak to your attorney about this. Now, check with the state in which you live to find out what the requirements are when learning how to get power of attorney for your specific situation. If you want to be sure your document is as legal and binding as possible, simply call your attorney. Once you have the form, you and the person you choose to be your agent must sign it. Notarizing the form is helpful, too. Now, make copies and provide it to the person you chose, keep one for yourself, and give one to your attorney or put it in a safe deposit box or safe.

Conclusion

the power attorney

How to get a power of attorney is easy, but it’s figuring out what kind you need, how to word it, and how to ensure it’s legally binding without any question that’s the difficult part. You must know what you need, and you must ensure that your document is carefully worded to ensure that it conveys the message you are trying to send. Call an attorney to help you with your power of attorney if you’re unsure what you’re doing. Legal matters are always best handled when you know you’re making the correct decisions that will be legal and binding.

How To Change Your Name: Tips And Advice

Have you ever wondered how to change your name? The legal process might be more complicated than you think.

Whether you’re getting married, switching back to your maiden name after a divorce, looking for a name that better fits your identity, or just looking for a change of pace, changing your name is a way to adjust your identity to make you feel more comfortable and confident.

What’s in a name? A lot of paperwork, apparently. Changing your name seems fairly simple, but it can be a complicated, lengthy, costly process. In circumstances outside of marriage and divorce, changing your name requires attending a court hearing and explaining to a judge why you chose your new name. You will also need to update your name everywhere that it's currently used, which can be a time-consuming and headache-inducing process.

If you're thinking of making the switch, it's important to know how to change your name before embarking on the process, so you're fully prepared.

Reasons to Change Your Name

There are quite a few reasons why someone might choose to change their name.

Marriage and Divorce

These huge life events often inspire name changes. Since women traditionally take their husband's last name after marriage and revert to their maiden name after a divorce, their name-changing process is streamlined. There's less paperwork, and the process doesn't involve a court hearing. If a husband is taking his wife's name instead, the name-changing process is only streamlined in California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and North Dakota.

It's also becoming more common for a couple to combine their last names into a new name by joining their names with a hyphen or melding them together into an entirely new name. This name-combining process is streamlined in some states, but not all. If you're looking into how to change your name to a combined name, you will need to research the process in your specific state.

Disliking Your Name

Maybe your parents got a little too creative when choosing your first nameand you’re stuck with a name that’s difficult to spell or pronounce, negatively impacting your social life or career. Maybe your last name sounds similar to something inappropriate, making you the subject of ridicule at school or work. Maybe you’re just sick of not being able to find your name on personalized items in gift shops.

Or maybe you have the opposite problem and you’re stuck with a popular name that’s overused. Maybe you’re sick of having to stop what you’re doing and look up whenever someone calls out “Sarah?” or “Mike?” and you want a name that's a little more unique and distinctive.

Whatever your personal reason is, your name represents you and introduces you to others. If you feel strongly that you’d be happier with another name, you might be interested in learning how to change your name.

Matching Your New Identity

If you are transitioning genders, changing your name to reflect your new identity may help you feel comfortable and confident. It can also encourage friends and family to learn to stop calling you by your old name and embrace your new identity.

Embracing Family History

Maybe you want to take the name of a relative or ancestor whom you admire, or resurrect an old surname that your family stopped using over time; you might choose to honor your family's history by adopting the name and preserving it for future generations.

Reasons You Can’t Change Your Name

Most people are allowed to change their names for any reason they choose, but there are a few reasons why you might be prevented from completing the name-changing process.

You need to be careful of what name you pick; you can’t give yourself an intentionally misleading name, like a celebrity name. You can't change your name to a racial slur or anything that’s offensive or threatening. You also can’t change your name to escape debt, hide from criminal liability, or to commit a crime.

Impacts of Changing Your Name

name changing discussion

Our names are incredibly important parts of our lives and our identities, and changing them requires time, patience, and paperwork. Once you have your new name, how will the change affect your life?

Social Impact

Your friends and family have been calling you by your original name your entire life, so it might take them time to adjust to your new name. They may initially slip up or hesitate to call you by your new name.

Your parents might not take to the new name right away; chances are, if they chose your name for you, it might disappoint them to see you let it go. However, you need to remind them that it's your name and your choice. You're the one who has to go through life with your name, so it's important that you're happy with it.

Patience is key; remind your loved ones about your new name if they ever forget, and hope that they’ll eventually catch on and respect your choice.

Updating Your Name

Once you change your name, you will need to let everyone in your life know. This includes updating your social media profiles, credit cards, voter registration, license and passport, subscriptions, and so on.

This can cause a hectic period after the name-changing process, especially if you slip up and forget to change something important. For instance, if you don't update your driver's license and passport, you might have difficulty traveling.

The name-changing process requires a lot of organization and, inevitably, some stress. It’s important to make a list of all the various institutions that know you by your old name so you can inform them of the change. You will also need to keep track of all the new documents you'll be receiving, as your old documents no longer accurately represent you.

How to Change Your Name

court sign documents

The process of how to change your name varies depending on the circumstances.

After Marriage

This process is a little simpler than other methods of changing your name as it's more common.

First, contact the Social Security Administration. You’ll need to fill out a form and mail their offices a few different forms of identification and your marriage certificate. Your new documentation should come in the mail.

After Divorce

The process of changing your last name back to your maiden name after divorce is usually handled during divorce proceedings. Your Decree of Dissolution should reflect your name change.

Other Reasons

Changing your name for any reason other than marriage becomes a little more complicated; the government wants to make sure you’re not making the name change for shady reasons. You’ll need to file a Petition for Change of Name with your local court clerk and attend a court hearing.

Don’t be intimidated by the court hearing; it's not as scary as it sounds. Although the process involves physically going to court and explaining the name change to a judge, you won't need to make a hard case for your new name. The hearing is just standard procedure to make sure you’re not using the name change to run from debt, trick someone, or commit a crime. The very idea of a hearing should dissuade the name-changers who are in it for the wrong reasons.

Petition

The petition you file includes your current name, proposed name, and Social Security number. You may also have to sign the petition to assert that you’re not changing your name for criminal reasons.

You have to sign the petition in front of a witness and notary. You may need to pay between $100 to $150 to file the name-change petition, and an additional fee to have it notarized. Once the form is in, your court hearing will be scheduled.

Court Hearing

During the hearing, you’ll answer questions from a judge or a magistrate about why you want to change your name. Unless the judge thinks the name you've chosen is threatening or that you're changing for criminal reasons, he or she should approve your new name. You’ll then receive a certified copy of the Court Order, which you need to present to various institutions as verification of your new name.

You might also be required to announce your new name in a newspaper ad. If creditors or other interested parties see the name change, it gives them the opportunity to object. You’ll have to pay a fee to post the announcement.

After the Name Change

The next step is letting various institutions know that you’ve changed your name so they can continue to contact you.

Some of these institutions include:

  • The IRS
  • Your employer
  • Landlord
  • Post office
  • Your school or alumni association
  • Airlines where you have rewards points or miles

And anywhere else you might have a subscription or plan.

Conclusion

lawyer legal process

Chances are, if you’ve researched how to change your name and you're still willing to go through this lengthy, involved process, you’ve got your heart set on the new you. Although the entire process can be tedious and costly, especially if you're changing for reasons other than marriage or divorce, it's worth it to have a name that fits your identity and makes you feel happy and comfortable.

Just be sure to spell your new name correctly when filing your paperwork; having to change your name a second time because of a typo would be embarrassing!

Your Guide to Independent Contractor Agreement

Hiring independent contractors, rather than employees, can be beneficial for businesses. This is because you cannot control them as you do employees since they work as consultants and are self-employed. You save resources regarding training them and also don’t need to pay bonuses. However, you should document the independent contractor agreement carefully since they need to sign it to avoid issues with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The independent contractor agreement is very important if you contract the consultant to develop software, a product, a manual or book, or any other type of intellectual property.

As the contracting party, you need to document what rights you expect to retain with the end product so that the independent contractors cannot interfere with the intellectual product. However, you have to first understand what an independent contractor agreement is, along with things you consider when drafting it. So, what does this contract entail? This article highlights what an independent contractor agreement is, what you should consider when drafting it, and the guide to the contract. We have also addressed key tax and business issues you will encounter when dealing with consultants or independent contractors.

What Is an Independent Contractor Agreement?

An independent contractor agreement is basically a written contract between two parties for a specific project or service. It usually applies where a company or a person is hiring another to help on a short-term task or project. It differs from an employment agreement since it clearly spells out why the consultant or independent contractor is not an employee for tax and legal purposes.

The independent contractor agreement mainly addresses several elements. It specifies the hiring entity or person that may need special services in the short-term and establishes that there is no need for hiring them as an employee. It has to encompass a contractor who is the entity or person hired for a task or project. It must include the services offered. For services offered, the agreement should specify the task to be performed or delivered. It has to stipulate the compensation, which is how much the contractor will be paid. It includes the effective date which is when the agreement begins and when the job starts.

It has to specify the termination process. This is whether the hiring entity or person can end the relationship at any time. This is what is referred to as an “at will” contract.  It should also address the number of days a written notice is needed to end the contract. It also includes the fringe benefits, which specify that the contractor cannot participate in any of the hiring entity’s employee health, pension, sick pay, health, or any unemployment benefits. The entity can also hire its own assistants, but is solely responsible for the expenses like Medicare or Social Security taxes.

The contract may also be referred to as:

  • Company contractor agreement
  • Client/service freelancer agreement
  • Independent consultant agreement
  • Freelance contract
  • Freelancer agreement
  • Contractor agreement
  • Freelancer contractor agreement

Advantages and Disadvantages of Working with Independent Contractors

Working with independent contractors has a number of advantages, including:

  • You can use contractors for a project or task when needed
  • Contractors provide special expertise
  • You establish a flexible relationship with the contractor
  • You will cut on costs on tax contributions

However, it has its downsides, including:

  • You may end up paying high fees to the contractor
  • You do not have full control over the contractor
  • There is a chance you will run into tax problems
  • You cannot establish continuity in the relationship with contractors, instead, an employee here would be preferable

Things to Consider When Drafting Your Agreement

A good independent contractor agreement includes the following aspects:

1.Timing

The agreement needs to spell out when the services are to be performed. Here, the hiring entity should consider including a late-penalty fee if the services are not delivered in the documented time or when the product is delivered late.

2.Services

The contract spells out the services that the independent contractor will perform. Here, you should specify all the things that you expect to be done by the independent contractor so that he or she can be paid.

3.Reporting

The contract needs to spell out when progress reports should be made by the independent contractor and to whom he or she reports. You should be careful here not to have excessive control over the contractor since it could potentially lead to the identification of the contractor as an employee as far as tax is concerned.

4.Payment

The contractor expects to be paid but only if he or she delivers the product or services. The clause regarding payment in the contract should address the amount that the contractor will be paid, the manner in which he or she will be paid (per hour or per project), and when the payment is due. From the perspective of the hiring company, it should ensure that the product or service is of reasonable quality before being obligated to pay the entire amount. Otherwise, you do not have to pay until you’re satisfied with the work.

5.Subcontractors

If the contractor expects to use subcontractors, he or she should provide approval over them, and we recommend that they execute an appropriate contract with you.

6.Warranties

In the contract, you need to spell out any warranties from the contractor, including the contractor’s warranty that the services or product delivered should be of high-quality, timely, and professional.

7.Work for hire

The contract should stipulate that the work product that the contractor develops for the hiring company is considered a work for hire under the copyright laws and owned only by the hiring entity and not the contractor.

8.Confidentiality

The contract needs to clarify that the contractor must keep any proprietary information about the hiring company confidential and that the contractor will not use any information that the entity provides other than for the benefit of the hiring company.

Your Guide to an Independent Contractor Agreement

Protecting Your Interests

Prior to hiring an independent contractor, you have to first do a background check to establish whether the person is the right person to perform the job. If you want to verify the information that the person provides, have the person sign a background check just to make sure the information provided is accurate.

Confidentiality and Invention Assignment Contracts

Have the contractor or consultant sign a confidentiality agreement, especially if you run a tech-oriented firm since you’ll pass a significant amount of confidential information. Since the contract comes up with a product or business idea, it is your best interest to maintain ownership. In areas where you are sensitive about confidentiality and the company’s ownership of the product, ensure that the contractor or consultant signs the Confidentiality and Invention Assignment. This will ensure that the contractor doesn’t pass on confidential information and that the final product or idea belongs to the company, not the contractor.

Tax Considerations

Tax laws demand that you treat contractors and employees differently. Contractors are beneficial since you reduce the tax liability but you need to be careful to correctly fill out tax forms and agreements to avoid the IRS disagreeing with your assessment. For tax purposes, the following is required for independent contractors:

  • No Social Security contributions
  • No Medicare taxes contribution
  • No withholding of federal taxes
  • File Form 1099-MISC with IRS if you pay the contractor $600 or more per year
  • No compensation insurance
  • No contribution to unemployment insurance funds or taxes
  • No sick leave or holidays
  • No overtime payments
  • You do not have the right to control how the contractor works, what you’re interested in is the final product
  • You don’t have the right to control the business aspects of the worker’s activities

If the IRS determines that the contractor should have been classified as an employee, rather than a contractor, you may be penalized as follows:

  • Pay Medicare contributions that would have been withheld
  • Pay federal income tax that should otherwise be withheld from the employee
  • You’ll be penalized for failing to properly pay taxes and file tax returns
  • Criminal sanctions, you could be imprisoned or face fines up to $100,000
  • A larger penalty if it is established that you were negligent or fraudulent
  • Pay tax interest should have been withheld
  • Pay personal liability for corporate officers, up to 100% of the amount that would otherwise be withheld

Independent Contractor Tax Forms

IRS requires you to fill the following forms:

1. Form W-9: This requires you to collect Social Security numbers or the Employer Identification Number (EIN).
2. Form 1099-MISC: Once you pay the contractor $600 or more in a year, send the form to IRS and to the contractor at the end of the year.

Conclusion

It is vital for a business to first establish whether the person providing services is an independent contractor or employee so you understand if you have to withhold taxes, pay unemployment tax on wages, pay and withhold Social Security and Medicare tax, or provide benefits to this person. For independent contractors, you don’t have to withhold or pay any type of tax when working with them. When working with contractors, the hiring entity must first ensure that the person or company signs the independent contractor agreement.

The contract includes aspects like timing, services offered, reporting mechanisms, payment, subcontractors (if any are involved), warranties, work for hire, and confidentiality. For tax purposes, ensure you file with the IRS Form W-9 and Form 1099-MISC. We hope that this article has adequately addressed what an independent contractor agreement is, what you should consider when drafting it, and key tax and business issues involved.

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Constitutional Law

When we ask ourselves what kind of country we want to live in, one of the first thoughts we have is, “What should be allowed, and what shouldn’t?” In a nation that is governed by 23,000 pages of criminal law alone, how do we decide what laws we want to live by? It all comes down to what is written in the Constitution of the United States, and how it is interpreted through constitutional law.

What Is Constitutional Law?

No one can write a law that is in conflict with what the Constitution says, and that is where constitutional law comes in.

The Law of the Land

Constitutional law is the body of law that deals with interpreting the Constitution and applying its decrees to practice in real-life situations, some mundane and others extremely consequential. In the United States, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  It outlines what powers the different branches of government have, and what rights the citizens have. The Constitution has the final word in all questions of how our government and legal systems work – end of story.

Murky Waters

In the real world, however, there are arguments and differing opinions over specific aspects of the Constitution, and resolving them is not always as simple as dusting off the document and checking it to see which side is getting it right. Two people (or two areas of government, or two companies, or one person and the government, etc.) can read the same document, and each can think that the law is on their side.

Furthermore, there may seem to be contradictions within the Constitution itself, which can rouse questions about enforcing existing national, state, and local laws. New laws also have to be checked for constitutionality as well.

Constitutional law aims to untangle these questions and figure out what is in line with what the Constitution says and what is not. But, what does the Constitution say?

What Constitutes the Constitution?

The Constitution is invoked every day by pundits on cable news outlets, politicians on the campaign trail, and advocates arguing their stance on one issue or another. There is much more in the text than the commonly quoted bits and pieces that turn up so often in soundbites. Here is a quick rundown of what is covered in the constitution:

The Original Seven Articles

These form the bulk of the original document, drafted by the founders in 1787 and ratified by all of the original thirteen colonies by 1789.

Articles 1-3:

Articles 4-6:

Article 7:

A Living Document

Right from the get-go, the founders got to work adding amendments to the Constitution, and we have been adding more ever since with the latest amendment being ratified in 1992.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. They restrict government power and guarantee specific rights to the population. The First Amendment, for example, guarantees freedom of religion and restricts government from imposing any religion on the population. Other amendments in the Bill of Rights address gun ownership, the right to a speedy trial by jury, and protection against unwarranted search and seizure.

The remaining seventeen amendments can be grouped into three main categories:

Expansion of civil rights:

There are amendments outlawing slavery, guaranteeing women's suffrage, and abolishing Jim Crow policies.

Government processes and procedures:

These address questions of how the government will go about its business and deal with things like term limits and what happens if the President is unable to carry out his or her duties.

Governmental authority:

The eighteenth amendment, banning alcohol sales in the United States (the only one to be repealed), is included here, as well as others dealing with the reach of government authority.

The Need for Constitutional Law

Clearly, there is a lot to untangle in the Constitution. To further complicate the issue, the original document was signed into law well over 200 years ago. Inevitably, situations are going to arise that cause confusion about how best to apply the letter of the law, and inevitably, there will be lawyers involved.

How to Apply the Constitution?

There are five main approaches to figuring out how best to apply the Constitution.

Look at the Text: Ideally, all you need to do is read the text and do what it says. You may need to get around some old-fashioned language and follow some complicated thought processes, but otherwise, hopefully, the answer is in the document.

Structure and Logic: Sometimes, it is helpful to consider an individual amendment in the context of the entire constitution. For example, the eighteenth and twenty-first amendments only make sense if you consider that one repealed the other. Further, if there is any lack of clarity around one of the first ten amendments, consider that as part of the Bill of Rights, it is there to enshrine the rights of citizens.

Original Intent: The question of what the Founding Fathers originally intended when writing a part of the Constitution is a common, and complicated, dilemma. It is a useful question to the extent that their intention can help clarify the law itself, but it can be difficult to find the line between what they may have had on their mind, but still chose not to enshrine into law, and what they intended the words that they actually did enshrine into law to mean. For example,  if an amendment states that “any person has equal protection under the law” even though, at the time, many did not wish for women to have equal protection under the law, it may be true that many would not have wished the law to include women, thinking that “person” would be understood to refer to men only. However, the word that they chose to write was “person,” (and not “man” or “male”), which even then could be understood to include women. Therefore, we cannot say that the law should not apply to women;  they chose the word “person,” and that is what we go by.

Precedent: Here you would look at what has already been decided by previous courts and apply that decision to another situation. Precedents and the thought processes behind them can shed a lot of light on the issue at hand, but should never supersede what is actually written in the Constitution.

Policy: The question here is, “What impact will this have on the real world?” This approach is a bit tricky, as here you begin with the result that you want, and try to make it work within the Constitution. This should be the last approach, taking a back seat to an impartial reading of what the document says.

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Constitutional Law

There Is Always an Issue:

At any given time, there are plenty of important issues being worked out nationally, and one way to set policy is through the courts. Look no further than the cases involving money in politics, LGBT civil liberties, and religious freedom, or the debate about online file sharing.

Court Cases Matter:

A lot of important court cases involving the constitutionality of certain laws have shaped our policy for years and affect our lives today. Here are a few you may know: Roe Vs. Wade, in 1973, held that women have a constitutional right to choice; and Miranda Vs. Arizona, in 1966, gave us the “Miranda Rights” by guaranteeing that citizens are informed of their right against self-incrimination.

But Some Are Boring:

Take Fischer vs St. Louis (1896), about milk distribution; or Northwestern States Portland Cement Co. Vs. Minnesota (1959), about interstate tax laws. No offense, constitutional law professors.

It’s Not All About the Supreme Court:

While commonly regarded as the branch that interprets the Constitution and the place we should bring constitutional matters to be decided, the Supreme Court is not the sole guardian of our Constitution. Each branch of government is equally responsible to abide by the Constitution as they see fit, independent of the others, and nowhere in the Constitution itself does it say that the Supreme Court innately has more authority to interpret the law than the others. In fact, not only are all three branches of government bound by this responsibility but...

It's In Your Hands:

As citizens, we too have the authority to interpret the Constitution. The point is made explicitly in the first three words of the document itself, “We the People.” It is our right and responsibility to uphold the law of the Constitution by voting, jury duty, political advocacy, and all forms of civic participation.

So Get Out There!

The Constitution is one of the most important documents in our nation and guarantees us our rights and liberties. It is the backbone of our legal system, outlines how our government should work, and tells us who has the power to do what. If you have something to say about the Constitution, say it! You can get informed by viewing the Constitution itself here: https://www.usconstitution.net/const.pdf