Are Your Trade Secrets Really Safe? 4 Steps To Safeguard Your Competitive Edge

Are Your Trade Secrets Really Safe? 4 Steps To Safeguard Your Competitive Edge

A trade secret is a piece of information which is confidential, can be legally protected, and gives your company a competitive edge.  Lots of the most famous examples involve recipes: the formula for Coca Cola, McDonald’s Big Mac “secret sauce”, or that Mrs. Field’s chocolate chip cookie recipe that caused such a legal stir in the 90s.  But you don’t need to be a food purveyor or a mega-corporation to have a unique approach that sets you apart from your competition—and if you can legally keep it a secret, you should.

Here are four steps you can take to keep trade secrets safe:

  1. Make a list: The first step in protecting trade secrets is knowing that you have them.  Look across your business and think about any types of information you possess that are both confidential and critical to your success.  Trade secrets could be product designs, customer lists, marketing plans, sales forecasts, or processes.  For software developers, proprietary code obviously needs protection and for restaurants and food stores, it’s the secret recipe.  Conduct a “trademark audit” to identify the information you have a legal right to keep private and wouldn’t want your competitors to find out.
  2. Stake your claim: Once you know what your trade secrets are, it’s essential to start treating them like secrets.  Stamp or watermark “confidential” on sensitive documents.  Get confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements in place with employees and vendors.   These will put the people who learn your secrets on notice not to usurp them and lay the basis for a legal claim, if necessary.
  3. Lock it up:  Take whatever steps are reasonably available to you to secure your trade secrets from access.  Digital files and systems should be encrypted and password protected. Physical files should be kept locked.  Establish rules around access to sensitive files.  If possible, use a badge system to control access to your facility and posted signs to designate areas where access is controlled.
  4. Train your troops:  Many disclosures of trade secrets are inadvertent slips by an employee who simply did not know better.  That may make it easier to forgive, but the negative impacts on your business are still there.  Prevent this with good training and education for your employees on what your company considers confidential and what employees’ obligations are.  Back the training up with strong written policies.  And when an employee leaves, take steps to shut down their access to your files and systems right away to ensure that your secrets don’t leave with them.

Whether your trade secret is a treasured family recipe, a brilliant string of code, or a closely guarded customer list, it won’t be a secret for long unless you are careful.  Taking the steps above is a great first step toward a solid trade secret strategy.  For even further assurances of security, consider retaining counsel for a professional security audit.  Business attorneys like us can be great partners in protecting your trade secrets and your business.

Independent Contractor or Employee: It’s Very Easy to Cross the Line

Independent Contractor or Employee: It’s Very Easy to Cross the Line

Many businesses prefer to hire independent contractors because there’s often less overhead and fewer expenses (i.e. taxes). However, classify an employee as an independent contractor and you’re in big trouble. Here’s how to legally differentiate between the two.

Who Controls the Worker?

This question is not always easy to answer.  According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), evidence of the degree of control and independence of a worker falls into three distinct categories:

  • Behavioral: Does the company control or have the right to control what the worker does and how she performs the job?
  • Financial: Are the business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the payer? These include how the worker is paid, whether expenses are reimbursed, and who provides tools/supplies.
  • Type of Relationship: Are there written contracts or employee-type benefits such as a pension plan, insurance, sick pay, and vacation pay? Will the relationship continue indefinitely?  Is the work performed a key aspect of the business?

Let’s look at an example involving Jim, John, and Joan.  All three perform work for the ABC Repair Shop.

  • Jim works at the front desk, earns $10 per hour, works from 9am to 5pm and takes complete direction for all of his duties from his supervisor.
  • John is a mechanic, earns $15 per hour, takes some direction from his supervisor, but only works on an “on call” basis when needed, using the company’s tools.
  • Joan is a master mechanic, paid depending on the complexity of the job, “generally” works from 9am to 5pm, but decides which autos to work on, uses her own tools, and takes very little direction from her supervisor.

Who is an independent contractor and who is an employee?  Based on the information above, the answer is – it depends.

  • It’s likely that Jim is an employee as he takes all direction from his supervisor.
  • John could be an employee as he uses the company’s tools, but working on an on-call basis and only taking some direction from his supervisor makes his designation as an employee less certain.
  • Joan is likely an independent contractor as her rate is not fixed, she uses her own tools, and takes very little direction from her supervisor.

Keep in mind that any change in Jim’s, John’s, or Joan’s duties or relationships with ABC could alter their status.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), misclassification of employees as independent contractors presents one of the most serious problems facing affected workers, employers, and the entire economy.

If the DOL finds that a worker has been misclassified and denied access to critical benefits and protections to which they are entitled such as the minimum wage, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, and unemployment insurance – it can enforce employers to pay, not only going forward, but retroactively as well.

Case in point?  Federal Express (FedEx) settled a long-running class action lawsuit with over 2,000 of its drivers.  The reason?  The DOL found that FedEx misclassified employees as independent contractors.  The result?  FedEx must create a $228 million fund to cover the claims.

Play it safe.  Discuss employee classification issues with our experienced business attorneys who can guide you in determining which classifications are correct for your situation.

Today We Honor Those We Will Never Forget

In honor of September 11th, a day that we will never forget, Intrepid Law is introducing a non-profit program to benefit current and past first responders.  Our new program offers free wills and other estate planning documents to first responders and or their spouses during the month of September.  Contact us for more information!

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Follow This 8 Point Plan When Starting Your New Business

Follow This 8 Point Plan When Starting Your New Business

Starting a new business can seem overwhelming – especially when you’re doing it alone.  Creating a business plan will allow you to refine incomplete ideas, address areas you may have not yet considered, create a map so you know what to do next, and increase credibility for bank loans or investor funding.

While you may think you’ve got your business concept down pat, turning the idea you wrote down on a napkin into reality isn’t as easy as it might appear and many people get so caught up on how to start the process that the business itself never materializes.

Following this solid eight-point plan, based on guidelines from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), will help you get down to business, literally:

  1. Executive Summary. The executive summary is a snapshot of your business plan as a whole and touches on your company profile and goals.
  2. Company Description. The company description provides information on what you do, what differentiates your business from others, and the markets your business serves.
  3. Market Analysis. Before launching your business, it is essential for you to research the industry, market, and competitors. What’s working and what’s not working for your competitors? How will you distinguish yourself?  Is there anyone else in your market?  If not, there may not be money to be made.
  4. Organization & Management. Every business is structured differently, so it’s important to understand how your company will be organized and managed. What entity will you use? Who’s in charge of what, when?  What kind of business succession plan needs to be put in place?
  5. Service or Product Line. Tell the story about your product or service. Describe what you sell and how it will benefit your potential customers.
  6. Marketing & Sales. Describe how you plan to market your business and explain your general sales strategy.
  7. Funding Request. If you are seeking funding for your business, make sure to include everything asked for in the plan. Any omissions may put your request at the bottom of the pile, or worse yet, in the garbage can.
  8. Financial Projections. Providing financial projections to back up your funding request is critical. Find out what information you need to include in your financial projections for the bank or angel investor.

It’s likely that you may not even know the answers to these questions.  That’s okay. We can help you to refine your goals, map out your plan, and provide the kinds of details needed to make your venture a success.

Are You Prepared to Include the “Wow” Factor?

You may think your business plan is great; but don’t forget that most people think the same of their own business.  The Wow Factor becomes especially important when you’re all competing for funding.

Make sure your plan has a “Wow” factor by:

  • Explaining in very clear terms why your business plan is unique;
  • Being clear about what you have to offer that’s different from your competitors (skills, experiences, relationships, etc.); and
  • Defining how your business caters to a unique niche in the market, which areas are being ignored and what potential opportunities exist for your business going forward.

The bottom line is that you want to make your business plan stand out far above the rest – your plan needs to be well thought out, organized, and unique.  Even if you don’t need outside funding, complete the business plan so you have a road map and the knowledge that you haven’t missed an important consideration.

Let’s Continue This Conversation

If you’re not used to drafting business plans, the task may feel daunting and you may be tempted to jump ahead. Don’t. We’re happy to think through a strong business plan and make sure you have protections in place so that your business gets off to the right start. And, even if you’re already knee deep in your business, we’ll help you get all of your ducks in a row. Give us a call and get on our calendar.

Important Estate Planning Info That You Should Know

Regardless of your financial situation or family size, you need a comprehensive estate plan that handles the distribution of your assets and legacy wishes if you become incapacitated or upon your passing. Most people will revise their estate plan many times during a lifetime. Here are the most common reasons to update an existing estate plan.

A New Spouse

If you have recently gotten married, you have probably already included your new spouse in your health and life insurance policies, but you should also update other areas of your estate plan. Do you have a prenuptial agreement with your current spouse, kids from a former marriage, or assets that you own with another person? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your assets may not be designated to your spouse after your death if your estate plan is not updated after marriage. To ensure that your new spouse is protected in the event of your death, you need to thoroughly review your existing estate plan as soon as possible.

The Birth or Adoption of Children

The birth or adoption of a child can change everything. From the amount of money that you spend each month to your nightly sleeping habits when a child comes into your life, your world is sure to be turned upside down in some way. Just like your life will significantly change upon the birth of a child, your estate plan should also change. Depending on how your existing estate plan is composed, you may need to add your child as a beneficiary of your policy. As your child slowly grows in age, you should alter your plan to make sure that your assets will be distributed in a way that you think would be appropriate. For example, when your child is a minor, your estate plan should name a guardian who will care for your child upon your death. On the other hand, when your child becomes an adult, you may want to set up installments so that your loved one receives money at certain intervals or ages.

An Unexpected Divorce

While certain states and federal laws may prohibit your former spouse from receiving an inheritance once you and your significant other parts ways, you should still update your estate plan when your divorce is finalized. Following a divorce, you might need to change any beneficiary designations, powers of attorney authorizations, and health insurance spousal coverages. In fact, it’s a good idea to review your entire estate plan during this life-changing event to ensure that your former spouse is not included in your will.

The Death of a Loved One

Life is often unpredictable and, as a result, there may be appointed people in your estate plan who will pass away before you. When a death of a loved one unexpectedly happens, you will need to designate a new guardian, power of attorney, executor, or health care proxy as soon as possible.

A Substantial Change in Assets

The purchase of a big asset, a generous salary increase, and the loss of a good paying job over a prolonged period are all considered significant changes in assets. When any of these types of situations occur, you must alter your current estate plan immediately. If you have a big estate, there will likely be disputes over the distribution of your assets if there is not an updated plan upon your death.

A Move to A New Country or State

Whenever you move to a new country or state, most expert estate planning attorneys would advise you to draft a completely new estate plan that reflects the legal requirements in the location where you have chosen to reside. If you plan to live abroad, as an American, your estate plan will require professional assistance.

An Expert Estate and Trusts Attorney in St Louis Can Help You Determine Which Items to Update in Your Estate Plan

During the course of your eventful life, protecting yourself and your family should be your primary focus. If you would like to learn more about ways to properly prepare for the future, visit our estate planning page here. Once you have finished reading this important information, remember that an estate planning attorney St. Louis is always ready to help you build a great estate plan. Contact us today and let us help you!

7 Qualities of an Excellent Estate Planning Attorney

The term estate planning can be defined as the process of making a plan in advance to manage a person’s estate in an anticipation of death or illness. A common misconception is that only wealthy people should prepare documents for medical directives, wills, trusts, and guardianship, but this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that estate planning is essential for everyone. Regardless of the person, in order to create a great estate plan you need an experienced family trust attorney who completely understands your situation and unique desires. Even though proper estate planning is a serious pursuit, the right family estate attorney will ensure a smooth execution of the documents by making you feel comfortable disclosing pertinent information, answering any questions about complex terminology, and maintaining contact every step of the way. At Intrepid Law, experienced attorney Adam Tucker truly embodies the qualities of a great estate planning attorney that you can completely trust.

Qualities of a Great Estate Planning Attorney

1. Specializes in Estate Planning

Some lawyers who have little or no experience in trust and estate planning will simply input your information into a software program without completely knowing the ways in which laws of your state can impact your estate. These types of lawyers may be skilled at handling divorces, personal injury cases, traffic tickets, or bill collection, but estate planning is not their main area of practice.

A great family estate attorney is one who only focuses on estate planning. Because these specialized lawyers should also have many years of experience and continuing education dedicated to this field, they are more likely to be fully knowledgeable about the laws in your state. If they are not well-versed and up to date on estate laws, your estate plan may not be approved by the courts after you die.

For extra assurance and peace of mind, make sure that he is certified as a specialist in probate, trust, and estate planning law in the state in which you live. The most qualified family trust attorney must have extensive knowledge of this area of law in his state.

2. Offers a Fixed Price to Create an Estate Plan

Before embarking on the estate planning process, you want to make sure that the lawyer you are hiring is charging you a fixed price for all of the work that he is performing. A flat upfront fee will ensure that there will not be any surprise fees since you will know the exact cost of the services beforehand. As long as you know what the flat fee does and doesn’t cover, you shouldn’t encounter hidden costs.

Although it’s rare these days, a trust planning attorney may charge an hourly rate for providing estate planning services. In most cases, a family estate attorney offering hourly rates are probably not acting in your best interest as he will may be more likely to require many office consultations and multiple drafts of documents to ultimately increase his pay.

Whether he charges a flat fee or an hourly rate, make sure that you do not sign a fee agreement until you completely understand its terms.

3. Performs a Wide Range of Tasks

The practice of estate planning includes an extremely wide range of topics from probates to trust administration. A highly skilled trust attorney will be able to establish trusts for loved ones, minimize estate taxes, avoid probate, create wills, plan for disability, and much more.

If your dad has recently died and you want to hire a family estate attorney to settle his estate, consider selecting a qualified lawyer with expertise in probates. If you have a complex financial and family situation, you probably need to hire a family trust attorney who is skilled at drafting trusts. Or, if you have extensive real estate holdings, the ideal trust planning attorney will have a wealth of knowledge about real property law.

Sometimes it’s necessary to work with attorney who has experience in multiple areas. For instance, if you need to rewrite your estate plan and your wife suddenly becomes ill, you need a family trust attorney who is knowledgeable about special needs trusts and estate tax laws.

4. Prepares Estate Plans Quickly and Efficiently 

A good question to ask an estate planning attorney is the amount of time it will take him to prepare the plan. If you are prepared and organized, most experienced attorneys can prepare a first draft of the plan within a couple of weeks. It will usually take him another two weeks to have corrections made.

Depending on your specific situation, you may not have that luxury of time. For instance, if you or a closed loved one is seriously ill, you need a lawyer who can prepare the necessary documents as soon as possible. An estate planning attorney that you can trust will be able to excite an estate plan in a timely manner.

5. Maintains a Friendly and Understanding Demeanor 

An excellent trust estate attorney’s primary goal is to learn as much information as he can about your family and planning goals so that he can create an estate plan that incorporates your objectives. In fact, most attorneys will begin the estate planning process by asking you some intimate questions about your current assets, family tree, and physical/mental health; as a result, he should make you feel extremely comfortable disclosing this information to him.

An empathetic attorney will understand that disclosing your life insurance policy, savings/checking accounts, and real estate may be invasive, so he will take this opportunity to explain why an estate plan should account for every single asset. Instead of speaking in legalese, he will speak in easy to understand language so that you will feel extremely comfortable with the process. For example, he should ask simple questions like “Who do you want to handle your business, sell your home, or make sure your beneficiaries receive your money when you die?” as opposed to potentially confusing questions like “Who would you like to be the principal beneficiaries of your revocable trust?” The former question is not only one that you can actually understand but it also suggests that your attorney understands and wants to help you in any way possible. The latter question creates a barrier between you and your attorney simply because you probably can’t understand him.

If your trust planning attorney is aloof, unpleasant, or hard to understand, you may unintentionally hold back certain information in the planning process. Such undisclosed information could be vital in creating a proper estate plan.

6. Guides You Through the Entire Process

Once you have disclosed your pertinent information, your estate planning attorney will assist you with completing the beneficiary designation forms for retirement plans and pensions, real estate, bank accounts, and property titles.

The attorney should also ensure that you complete formation documents for a revocable living trust. Make sure to inform your trust planning attorney that you want a living trust that avoids probate when you die.

In addition, a skilled attorney will set up your plan in such a way to minimize estate taxes as much as possible. Other issues that he may want to discuss with you are guardianship of dependents, charitable giving, life insurance, healthcare decisions, and powers of attorney. During this process of creating an individualized plan together, he should make sure that you thoroughly understand its specific details.

Following the completion of the many documents, your attorney should let you know who should receive copies and where to store the originals. Many attorneys retain a copy in their file. Ensuring that your loved ones can access your important documents when needed is just as important as creating the estate plan in the first place.

7. Keeps in Contact with You

Many average family estate attorneys view estate planning as a one-time process. Most are unwilling to keep in touch unless you pay them another fee. Even if your attorney drafts the perfect plan for you, he should still check in with you about every five years to determine if your goals and situation have changed. A formal periodic review process should also be conducted when the laws in your state have been altered.

Choose Intrepid Law for Your Estate Planning Needs

Even if the attorney has all of the right qualifications, you still have to determine if you can see yourself working closely with him. Known as one of the best full-service law firms in Saint Louis, Missouri, Intrepid Law is a trusted place where you can receive sophisticated, long-term estate planning for your family from a highly-qualified lawyer. Our firm proudly provides assistance with family legacy planning, trust and estate administration, estate tax matters, trust formation, and more. Contrary to many large firms in the area, we only accept clients who are interested in business and estate planning. Contact us today to learn more about our exclusive services at 314-797-5202.

5 Estate Planning Tips for Your Retirement

Retirement is something most try to avoid thinking about, but you will eventually be forced to take it into consideration due to its effects on the later stages of your life. After all, no one wants to be short of money to spend when they quit their jobs. People do not want to be working their entire lives (unless you’re passionate about something, of course!).

If you are close to retirement, one thing that has probably been on your mind is your estate plan. If you’re not sure where to start, then we will be going through some of the most important points in this guide with five useful estate planning tips.

Estate Planning Tip #1: Create a Will

It is understandable that you do not want to think about your will just yet. Growing old isn’t exactly the most exciting point in your life so thinking about a will before you even retire might be strange. Sadly, it is an important part of your estate plan that you should attend to as soon as possible. Your estate plan will decide who inherits your assets such as your property, car, valuable items, and even your digital accounts which is why it is important to draw up plans at an early stage.

You want to approach creating your will wisely; that being said, contact a lawyer. An attorney will help you come up with the right words and structure for your will so that when it is used your executor will have a much easier time carrying out your will. Just remember that certain things cannot be put on your will which is why it is important to have a trusted attorney to walk you through the process.

Estate Planning Tip #2: Planning Tax-Efficient Strategies

When you leave behind a large sum of money to be inherited you may be forced to pay high amounts of tax. Thankfully, it is possible to reduce the amount of tax you pay by utilizing tax-efficient strategies. For example, donating to charities means you do not pay tax on those assets you own. This could be a sum of money or something valuable. If you own something that you do not want to pay tax on when handling down to your relatives and loved ones then simply donate it and you will be spared the tax charges.  If you do not want to give it away, there are life insurance options we can talk about to offset taxes.

Some assets are free from estate taxes. For example, a life insurance policy can be left to someone without being forced to pay tax on it. Retirement accounts are also exempt from estate taxes.  It is good to learn where you can and cannot avoid paying taxes. Do not worry if you are unsure—your professional lawyer (Intrepid Law) will be able to guide you through this step with ease.

Estate Planning Tip #3: Cover Expenses with a Trust

If you feel like there will be monetary issues when you are no longer around, then it might be worth using your current assets to cover expenses by using a trust plan. Whether it is schooling fees, insurance payments, or even health care, our experienced lawyer can help you set up a trust that can be used to pay for future expenses when you have passed away.

Here is an example of how this works:

Let’s say that you want to provide a great education for your grandson when he comes of age. You can set up the trust to trigger when your grandson reaches the age of 18 where they receive the money you have left in the trust to pay for their college tuition. However, the money must be used for the agreed purpose or else the money will not be released. Using a trust to cover expenses is a great way to feel at ease when you are close to passing on. Many want to provide for their family even when they are not around and it gives your loved one’s peace of mind for their futures.

Estate Planning Tip #4: Use Your Life Insurance to Offset Taxes

The people you have entrusted your assets to will likely be subject to fees and income taxes. This can put them under a lot of financial stress despite inheriting all of your assets. Thankfully, you can use your life insurance to offset those costs so that they can cover all of these payable taxes.

For instance, if your estate planner does the calculations and estimates that a total of $250,000 needs to be paid in estate and income tax, then you can set up a life insurance plan in their name. The beneficiary of your life insurance is not forced to pay tax, so they may use the $250,000 to help pay the taxes owed on the assets inherited. This is a brilliant tax-efficient strategy that will help your loved ones a great deal.

Estate Planning Tip #5: Hire a Reputable Estate Planning Team

Estate planning is not something you can do on your own easily. It takes a great deal of patience, knowledge, and understanding of the law in order to accomplish everything and hiring just a single person will not cut it. You need several experts that are knowledgeable in their fields if you want to get the best estate planning assistance possible.

This usually consists of an estate planning attorney, a tax specialist, and possibly a financial advisor. These are three main roles you will need in your team. The estate planning attorney will help you write up a will and set up any trusts that you may want. This helps ensure that your plan will meet any federal and state criteria so that it becomes legally binding. You must find a professional that knows the law in your state. For example, if you live in Missouri then you will need to find a lawyer from a city such as St. Louis.

The tax professional will be helping you minimize the amount you have to pay in taxes, and your financial advisor will help you design an investment portfolio for the assets you have. Make sure your financial advisor has some experience with estate planning before you hire them.  While we do not offer investment advice, Intrepid Law can assist you with both estate and tax planning.

Summary

Hopefully, these five tips have given you some insight into estate planning and how you can prepare for your retirement. Make sure you do this as soon as possible so you can enjoy the rest of your life as a carefree soul.