Month: September 2015

Funding The Revocable Trust

As most people know, one of the major benefits of creating a trust during your lifetime is that you can avoid probate. However, if the trust is not funded, you will not avoid probate. Funding your trust is the process of transferring ownership of your assets from your individual name to your trust.   To do this, you physically change the titles from your individual name (or joint names) to the name of your trust. You will also change most beneficiary designations to your trust so those proceeds will flow into your trust when you die.

When you sign a will, no further action is needed. The Will is filed away and usually forgotten about. The title to property is changed after you die when you have a Will. The probate court oversees this transfer of title. When create your trust, you must change the titles now so there will be nothing for the courts to do when you die (or incapacitated).

While the funding process is not difficult, it will take some time and it’s easy to get sidetracked or procrastinate. Make a list of your assets, their values and locations, then start with the most valuable ones and work your way down. Your attorney will usually transfer the real estate. However, many assets can be transferred yourself therefore saving some attorney’s fees. If there is an asset that you are finding difficult or complicated to transfer, you can always go back to the attorney for some additional assistance. While the funding process can sometimes take a bit of time and effort; you can look forward to your peace of mind once you have completed it.

Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation for Business Owners

Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation for Business Owners

For most Wisconsin employers, the thought of a Worker’s Compensation claim is scary. Trying to keep your business afloat while navigating the countless rules seems impossible. At first glance, the rules appear to be stacked against the business. With the right guidance, however, a Wisconsin worker’s compensation claim should not mean the end of your business. In fact, a claim shouldn’t even be all that scary.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development defines worker’s compensation as a system of no-fault insurance that pays benefits to employees for accidental injuries or diseases related to an employee’s work. Payment to employees is typically prompt, and much more certain then other states. In exchange, employers have limited liability. The question for every business owner then, is why do claims appear to threaten the success of my business? That answer is two part.

First, and the most likely answer, is perception. Because every bad story is told a thousand times more than every good story, the perception is that every worker’s compensation claim shuts down a business. But, perception is not reality in this situation. The second reason is a failure to obtain insurance. Like anything, not having insurance places 100% of the risk on the business. As if that risk weren’t enough, the business can also face penalties and fines. But, once insurance is in place the insurance company assumes nearly all of the risk. So, the first step to not allowing a worker’s compensation claim to shut down your business is obtaining the right insurance.

But, even after obtaining insurance, a business may still be liable to an injured worker. Worker’s compensation insurance does not cover every risk associated with a workplace injury. The two most common uninsured scenarios are (i) safety violations and (ii) an employer’s failure to timely report a fatality or injury.

A safety violation may result in an employer being liable for a 15% increase in compensation, up to a maximum of $15,000.00. Or, in other words, a penalty equal to 15% of the compensation awarded to the injured employee. Safety violations can include a violation of a safety order/statute, failure to use a safety device or failure to obey an established safety rule. Thankfully, by following safety rules, installing safety devices and providing employees with training and guidelines, employers can limit their risk.

An employer’s failure to timely report a work place incident is susceptible for two different penalties. First, an intentional failure to report a work place injury may result in an employer being assessed a penalty of up to $15,000.00 or 200% of the compensation paid to the injured employee. On the other hand, an employer who negligently fails to timely report an injury may be assessed a penalty of 10% of the injured employee’s compensation if the delay in reporting causes an untimely payment. Thankfully an employer’s reporting period is pretty generous. In the event of a work-related fatality, an employer must report said fatality to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and the Worker’s Compensation Division, Madison Office, within 24 hours of the fatality. This doesn’t seem to extreme considering the severity of the triggering event. On the other hand, employers must report a work place injury to their insurance carrier within 7 days of the incident. This time frame also seems very reasonable.

Although this article is not an exhaustive list of the different ways an employer can be susceptible to liability, it does include two of the biggest risks under Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation laws. Even though a business has limited liability, it is still very important to make sure you properly navigate each worker’s compensation claim. The attorneys of Epiphany Law are always happy to help reduce that risk and ensure your future success.

Trademarks: Selecting the Right Name

Trademarks: Selecting the Right Name

One legal topic we at Epiphany Law often advise businesses on – whether a New London startup, or a Neenah multi-national company – is trademark protection. Trademarks are one of the “big three”( intellectual property rights, along with copyrights and patents.) A trademark is a brand name. Trademarks include any word, name, symbol or device used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one business from those of another. In other words, a trademark indicates the source of goods/services (such as your Appleton, Wisconsin headquarters!). Many businesses rely heavily on their brand name, because it signifies the quality, reputation, or other characteristics of the business and its products or services. It is important for these businesses to ensure their trademarks are on solid legal ground.

The best time for a business to seek legal advice regarding the strength of a potential trademark is before the trademark is used. The relatively small upfront investment in researching a trademark is worth the peace of mind in knowing that your trademark is protectable and not already being used by someone else. Litigation and disputes about trademarks once already used in commerce can be a very expensive distraction.

Although there are many nuances involved in analyzing a trademark, the two most crucial factors are (1) likelihood of confusion and (2) distinctiveness. The likelihood of confusion essentially means that a trademark cannot be too similar to an existing trademark that is in use by another company for a similar set of goods and services. Distinctiveness means that a trademark cannot be too generic. For example, a Kaukauna bakery named “The Good Bakery” would not receive much, if any, trademark protection.

Some trademark rights can be automatically “earned” simply by using the mark. However, those rights are generally limited. For example, if your business only does business in Menasha, it likely won’t have rights in Little Chute, Kimberly or Waupaca. In order to secure stronger protection your trademark should be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO.) Start by searching the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) on the USPTO.gov website to determine the viability of your trademark. Then contact Epiphany Law to assist with your registration. Using a knowledgeable law firm will ensure success and keep costs at a reasonable level (generally $1,000-$2,000 per trademark).