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4 Steps to Building a Successful Business

December 5, 2014,

Are you thinking about starting a business? The success or failure of your business venture depends on your ability to plan ahead, take action, and respond to what happens after your idea becomes a company. Here are 4 actions to consider on your path to business success.
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Building a Successful Business: 4 Steps

1. Clearly Define Your Vision and Goals
Business success comes through hard work and dedication. Having a clear vision and measurable goals is the first step. Write down your plans for the future of your company, both short term and long term. It can also be helpful to scout out your competition to see if your plans will hold up in the market. This is known as market research, and it will allow you to identify whether a similar product or idea is already out on the market.

2. Keep Detailed Records
By keeping detailed records from the start of your venture, you are more likely to be successful in financial and operational matters. Record all details of company finances, personnel, contracts negotiated, and investment opportunities. Hiring a lawyer can help keep the foundation of your business solid. By having all records organized, you will likely see trends and potential pitfalls in your company, giving you the foresight to plan ahead.

3. Set New Challenges
Setting challenges is a great way to motivate yourself and continue building a successful business. Keep lists of your dreams and accomplishments and always aim higher after you achieve each new goal. Once you have a successful product or idea out on the market, you can add to it and take it a step further, or you can branch off and create a complimentary product.

4. Balance Risks and Rewards
Achieving business success requires risks which may bring fruitful rewards. Understanding the risks you may have to take is important when starting a business. Ask for advice from other entrepreneurs and don't act on impulse when faced with a decision. Always weigh risks with their benefits, asking yourself what you stand to gain from the situation at hand.

Building a successful business requires dedication and a clear vision. Staying up to date on small business laws in California can be time consuming. Leaving such matters to a dedicated business attorney allows you to focus on what is most important: day-to-day operations, growing your business and achieving your goals.


About Structure Law Group
Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

Choosing the Right Business Entity

October 31, 2014,

Among the most important decisions a business owner or entrepreneur can make is determining what business entity best suits their needs. This decision can affect how much you pay in taxes, the amount of paperwork that you will need to do, your own personal liability, and your ability to raise capital by issuing stock. Additionally, some business formations require certain formalities in order to be in compliance with state and federal law.

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Of course, every business is different, and what may be an appropriate business entity for one venture may be completely inappropriate for another. Business ventures that anticipate rapid growth or are formed with the intention of being acquired by another company may choose an entity type that may be unnecessarily onerous at startup but allow growth and compliance with federal securities laws, preempting the need for a potentially costly reorganization down the road. For these and other reasons, it is best for anyone considering forming a business entity to discuss their goals and options with an experienced Silicon Valley business lawyer before filing any paperwork with the state.

In the meantime, here is some basic information regarding the some of the most commonly used business formations:

Sole Proprietorships - A sole proprietorship is perhaps the most common type of business that exists today, and many people may own one without knowing it. Sole proprietors are simply individuals who engage in some sort of business venture for themselves. There are no filing requirements to start a sole proprietorship, and they may even do business under an assumed name if they choose to file a fictitious name with the state. One of the main drawbacks of sole proprietorships is that the owner can be held personally liable for all obligations incurred by the business.

Partnerships - A partnership involves two or more people who work together in a common enterprise and share in the profits and losses of that enterprise. Like sole proprietorships, partnerships can be formed without any state filings, and can actually be formed with a simple oral agreement. In some cases, a court may even determine the existence of a partnership even in the absence of an agreement. All partners are jointly and severally liable for the financial obligations of the partnership and profits or losses pass through to the partners for the purposes of taxation.

Corporations - A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners created to conduct business. Because it is a separate entity, a corporation has the benefit of shielding its owners from personal liability for the debts or other obligations incurred by the corporation. One of the main disadvantages of a corporation is the legal requirements associated with formation and ongoing operations, which make them better suited to large, well-established businesses.

Limited Liability Companies - Limited Liability Companies are a relatively new business formation favored by many startups and small businesses because they combine the flexibility of partnerships with the liability protection of corporations. An LLC has the same limited personal liability as a corporation that is provided by state law and gets treated as a Partnership for Federal tax law purposes.

Choosing a business formation can be a complicated decision with far-reaching implications on the success and operation of your business. If you have any questions at all regarding business formation or any other matter related to business law, the skilled lawyers at Structure Law Group can help you. Please do not hesitate to call us today at (408) 441-7500 for assistance today.


About Structure Law Group
Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

Business 101: Buy-Sell Agreements

August 8, 2014,

contract.jpgAny business with multiple owners should have a buy-sell agreement. A buy-sell agreement, provides order and clarity should anything happen to one of the owners. In this post we'll take a look at buy-sell agreements, how they work and what to include.

Understanding an Agreement

Let's say you and some family members get together and form a corporation or an LLC. Things are going pretty well, the business is making money and everyone is happy. Then something happens, maybe one of your family members dies or simply decides to leave the business. What happens to that person's stake in your company? A business without a buy-sell agreement can easily fall into in fighting and costly litigation, not to mention the impact on consumer confidence.

How to Craft a Buy-Sell Agreement

Really, the first thing you should do once you start thinking about forming a corporation, LLC or partnership is to hire an attorney. However, that doesn't mean you can't start talking with each other about what to include in a buy-sell agreement. Generally, you'll want to list the conditions that would lead one owner to buy out another. This can be anything from death to termination. You'll also want to outline the process for transferring ownership. Will the owners purchase the shares with their own money or will it be done through the business? Also, how will the sale price be determined? Some companies negotiate that upfront while others use a formula.

It's important to be detail oriented. You and your fellow owners should understand each part of the agreement. You don't want to be surprised later on when one of the owners sues you for paying in installments instead of one lump sum. The more specific the better. In the end, a buy-sell agreement may not only save your business, it may save your relationships.

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

3 Steps to Creating a Strategic Alliance

July 11, 2014,

hands.jpgA strategic alliance is a fairly simple concept. Two companies with similar interests join forces to produce favorable outcomes for all involved. An everyday example is the Starbucks inside of Barnes and Noble bookstores. This move helped Starbucks expand, but it also kept people in the bookstore, perhaps reading the first few pages of a book they were thinking of buying. A strategic alliance is good for business, but you'll need to take the proper steps to make it work.

1,2,3 - The Steps to Creating a Strategic Alliance for Your Company

Step 1: Choosing a Partner

Companies create a strategic alliance to help increase their profits. A solid partnership is one that generates revenue that couldn't be achieved by going it alone. Therefore, it's important to pick a partner you trust and that has a solid reputation. Also, a strategic alliance is a long-term commitment. Results are monitored over years, not months, so be sure the company you pick is one you can work with for the foreseeable future.

Step 2: Crafting a Deal

Perhaps the most important part of this step is determining a strategy. How will you go about achieving your goals over the next 3-5 years? This is also the time to set boundaries and determine roles. It's critical that you and your potential partner agree on such things like operation details and rules for intellectual property.

Step 3: Making it Work

Remember, these are two companies with two different ways of doing things. To make your alliance work you'll need to cultivate relationships. You'll need to know who's in charge and what happens when something unexpected happens. The way you handle a particular situation may be different than your strategic alliance partner.

The best way to avoid confrontation is by creating a clear contract. A good contract will outline roles and responsibilities as well as provide an "out" should the alliance fall apart. The team at Structure Law Group can craft an agreement that satisfies such objectives. By putting everything in writing you protect your company legally from any problems that may arise.

Have questions about creating a strategic alliance for your company? Contact Structure Law Group today!

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

Business 101: Litigation

June 20, 2014,

scale.jpgWith any luck, you or your business will never end up the subject of a lawsuit. Since this isn't a perfect world, it's best to start thinking about what to do if the unforeseen happens. Like most things, business litigation is an involved issue. We can't go through the entire process in one post, so we'll start with three basic steps to take if you find yourself in legal trouble.

Step 1: Purchase Liability Insurance

This step should happen long before trouble starts. In reality, this is one of the first things you should do as a business owner. Liability insurance protects the purchaser from the risks of liabilities imposed by lawsuits and similar claims. Say a customer slips on a wet spot in your store; your insurance would step in and handle the costs. You may want to add extra protection such as errors and omissions coverage. For businesses that have a Board of Directors it's a good idea to have directors and officers coverage. This type of coverage protects the corporation as well as the personal liabilities for the directors and officers of the corporation.

Step 2: Separate Yourself from Your Business

Sole proprietorships are a popular business structure. Unfortunately, these entities can leave you personally exposed. In this arrangement your personal property, including your home or car, are fair game in a lawsuit. To avoid this you want to create separation by forming a trust, or consider an alternative business structure. A trust is a legal entity that pays its own taxes and can own assets. Making the trust the legal owner of the business safeguards your money and property. Also, consider forming a corporation. Trusts and corporations are miles apart in terms of regulation but offer protection to the individual.

Step 3: Hire a Good Attorney

Of course it is always advisable to have an attorney on your side before any litigation to avoid potential lawsuits. If all else fails and you are served with the lawsuit, you should immediately consult your attorney. Time is of the essence. A quality attorney can help you through the initial steps.

Finally, it's a good idea to hire lawyers who specialize in specific fields. If you're served with a lawsuit or anticipating one then it's smart to hire an attorney familiar with litigation like the professionals at Structure Law Group.

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

LLC's and Corporations: Making the Switch

June 13, 2014,

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Converting a limited liability company to a corporation is a relatively easy process. Before I take you through the steps, let's take a quick look at the differences between the two types of business structures.

3 Differences Between Limited Liability Companies and Corporations

1. LLCs are formed by one or more people (members). These members file Articles of Organization and craft an Operating Agreement. Corporations file similar paperwork. However, unlike LLCs, corporations have shareholders and governing bodies like a Board of Directors.

2. Corporations have the ability to offer preferred stock which can be desirable to investors, including angel investors and venture capital investors. LLCs do not have a recognized class of preferred ownership.

3. LLCs are subject to a gross receipt fee based on the gross revenues of the company. This fee is charged based on the gross receipts, irrespective of whether the company had net income or a net loss. Corporations by comparison are taxed on net income.

Converting an LLC to a Corporation

Now that I've gone over some of the key differences, it's time to talk about converting your limited liability company into a corporation. There are details specific to your company, but in general the process is pretty straightforward.

1. Adopt a plan of conversion. Here you'll need to address some key questions like the name of your new corporation and how you plan to convert membership interests into shares.
2. Craft a statement of conversion. The statement needs to include the following: the name of your LLC, the Secretary of State's file number for your LLC, documentation that your plan of conversion was approved by the LLC's members and is compliant with California law.

Once these tasks have been completed and approved, your LLC is now a corporation - but don't think you're done. You'll need to draft bylaws, elect officers and directors, hold an initial board meeting and issue stock certificates. The team at Structure Law Group can help you with the transition. You can find more information about our services by clicking on this link.

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

LLC: Choosing a Management Structure

June 6, 2014,

llc.jpgLimited liability companies combine parts of both corporations and partnerships. Because they're a hybrid, LLC's can be more difficult to setup. One part of this process involves choosing a management structure to fit your specific LLC.

Single Member or Multiple Member LLC

The difference here is implied in the name. Single member LLC's have only one owner, while multiple member LLC's have at least two. Choosing one over the other typically comes down to financing. Starting a single member LLC comes with a higher level of risk as the profits and losses are reported on the individual's tax return. However, as the sole owner, you don't have the stress of running a company with another person.

Member Managed LLC or Manager Managed LLC

This type of structure only applies to Multiple Member LLC's. If both owners (members) plan to be actively involved in the business, then a member managed LLC is the best choice. In this scenario each owner can act on behalf of the company. A manager managed LLC is a good option if you have investors who don't plan on being involved. These silent partners typically elect the owners to run the day-to-day operations of the company.

Operating Agreement

Whatever you do, make sure to put it in writing. An operating agreement outlines the particulars of your business and helps to ensure your status as a limited liability company. A good operating agreement should include: powers and duties of members, distribution of profits and losses, buyout and buy-sell rules, ownership percentages and voting rights.

It should be noted that California recently revised the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act or RULLCA. The revised act specifically addressed operating agreements. New details were added concerning which RULLCA sections can be, and which cannot be, overridden by the operating agreement. Also, more detail was added regarding withdrawal and the consequences of withdrawal of a member from an LLC

Determining which type of company organization to choose can be difficult. Consider hiring an attorney, like the ones at Structure Law Group, to guide you through the process. If you've done most of the leg work but need help crafting an operating agreement, the professionals at Structure can help with that too.

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

Business Entities: Beware of New Reporting Requirement for Change of Mailing Address, Business Location or Responsible Party

February 20, 2014,

If you are an employer in San Jose, you are most likely aware that on January 1, 2014, the minimum wage increased to $10.15 per hour for your business; California's minimum wage increase was to $9 per hour. In addition to new employment laws, there, there have been other new laws that affect businesses in 2014, such as the all new California limited liability company act. But one law actually applies to all business entities with an Employer Identification Number ("EIN"), including entities such as corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, and even nonprofit organizations. As of January 1, 2014, any entity with an EIN must notify the IRS of a change of (1) a mailing address, (2) a business location or (3) the identity of a "responsible party." A change in a company's mailing address or business location is pretty clear, but the identity of a responsible party may not be so clear.

If you are not sure who the "responsible party" was initially, check the Form SS-4 application that was filed initially by the organization to obtain its EIN, and it will be the person or entity listed as responsible on that form. Then, look at the instructions to Form 8822-B to determine if your responsible party has changed. The instructions define a responsible party as "the person who has a level of control over, or entitlement to, the funds or assets in the entity that, as a practical matter, enables the individual, directly or indirectly, to control, manage, or direct the entity and the disposition of its funds and assets." If the entity's original responsible party at the time of filing the Form SS-4 is no longer affiliated with the organization or no longer fits that definition, then the entity must use Form 8822-B to let the IRS know.

Form 8822-B must be filed within 60 days of the change. If such a change occurred before January 1, 2014, and the entity has not previously notified the IRS in some other manner, Form 8822-B must be filed before March 1, 2014. If you no longer have a copy of the SS-4 Application or remember who was named as the "responsible party," you may wish to file a Form 8822-B before March 1, 2014.

So, if you are a corporation or LLC making changes on your Statement of Information filing with the California Secretary of State, or if you are amending your LLC operating agreement or your corporate documents, keep in mind that you may also need to notify the IRS of the change. If you are not sure whether your company needs to notify the IRS or other agencies of changes, or if you have questions regarding the "responsible party" for your business, you may wish to consult with a business lawyer or accountant.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

Tax Planning Reminders for Businesses Before Year-End

November 7, 2013,

It is that time of year again. Every year in the fourth quarter, businesses in San Jose and all over the United States are looking at the quickly approaching year-end and trying to figure out what they can do now before it is too late to save on taxes for 2013. This is especially true for small businesses, where every dollar of deduction is important because it hits the owner(s) directly in the pocketbook. My law firm is an LLP, so all items of profit and loss flow through to the partners. Therefore, this is the time of year that I look very carefully at how much money is available and what my law firm is going to need or want to buy in the next few months. Do we need a new copier? Do we want to upgrade our software? If so, let's do it in December rather than January and get the deduction this year. With this in mind, here are a few things for business owners to consider before 2013 is over.

Purchase Equipment for Your Business
Make your equipment purchases before year-end. In 2013, up to $500,000 of both new and used assets purchased and actually put in use by December 31st can be expensed. This means you get a dollar for dollar deduction this year, without having to depreciate the asset over its useful life. This is really helpful for partners that want a deduction for every dollar spent so that they do not have taxable profits without available cash for distribution. But this benefit is limited. If you purchase and put in place more than $2,000,000 of assets during 2013, the $500,000 expense is phased out on a dollar for dollar basis. These limits will likely be even lower next year, so take advantage of them now.

Make Tenant Improvements on Your Commercial Property
Another tax break set to expire after his year is the 50% bonus depreciation, which allows companies to write off half the cost of new assets with useful lives of 20 years or less, in the first year. This includes interior leasehold improvements for commercial real estate. The remaining 50% is depreciated as usual. So, if you are planning some nice tenant improvements in your office, do them before year-end, just in case Congress does not get around to extending this tax break.

Purchase an SUV for Your Business
Have you been thinking about a new Sport Utility Vehicle? You can deduct most of the cost of new SUVs that are used 100% for business and weigh over 6,000 pounds, in the year of purchase. First, there is the special $25,000 deduction for new SUVs, add to that the 50% bonus depreciation, plus normal depreciation on top of that, and you end up with approximately $46,000 of a $60,000 heavy SUV being deductible this year.

So whether you are a partner in a law firm like me, or a partner in any type of business partnership, or a shareholder in a corporation, do not wait until tax time to look at what deductions are available to you. Start planning now for tax savings later.

Source: The Kiplinger Tax Letter, Vol. 88, No. 18, Aug. 30, 2013

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

A Checklist for Closing Down a Business

August 7, 2013,

Small businesses dominate the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), 99% of all independent companies in the U.S. have less than 500 employees. As a small business attorney in San Jose, most of the time I am working with clients to form new businesses. However, as we all know, not all businesses succeed. Recently I was counseling a client with regard to the sale of her retail store. She had worked hard building the store into a business that could support her needs, but it was time to retire. Rather than going through the hassle of selling the business as a whole, she decided to simply sell the inventory to a competitor and shut the doors. However, shutting down a company can still be a hassle, and if you forget to do one thing it could result in a big liability later.

So, what does it take to shut down a small company? Here is just a short to-do list of the basic items common to most small businesses. This list does not take into account the added complexities of a business with multiple owners.

1. Talk to your accountant, attorney, financial advisor and any other professionals that may be able to assist you in a smooth closure of your business.

2. Check your leases and terminate them. If they cannot be terminated, try to negotiate with your landlord. For example, if your real property lease still has a number of years left to run, advanced notice to the landlord may allow time for the landlord to re-rent the space. Or, the landlord may take a lump sum payment of a portion of the total liability to let you out of the lease now. Do not forget smaller leases like your postage machine lease or copier lease. If you have a car lease, talk to the dealer about assigning the lease to you individually.

3. Check your contracts for rights to terminate and any personal liability. If allowed, provide notice of termination. Try to complete contracts if possible. If not, return any unused deposits or payments.

4. Try to sell off as much inventory as possible. Use a liquidator, have a 'going out of business' sale, and contact competitors to see if they want to buy what is left at a discount. Publish a bulk sales notice if required.

5. Liquidate other business assets - furniture, equipment, etc.

6. Collect as much of the accounts receivable as possible - after others hear you are going out of business it may be harder to collect.

7. Notify anyone that may be affected by the closure - especially creditors. Pay or settle your debts as much as possible. Ask each creditor for a confirmation that they have been paid in full, or settled in full satisfaction. Note that there are specific bulk sales requirements for notifying creditors if you sold your inventory. If you cannot satisfy your creditors, contact a bankruptcy or insolvency attorney to help assess your options. A bankruptcy or an assignment for the benefit of creditors may affect your rights to take actions on this list.

8. Tell your employees and give them as much notice as you can. Be ready to pay them their final paychecks, including all accrued and unpaid vacation, on the date of their termination. Notify your payroll company that these are the final paychecks so they can notify the Employment Development Department (EDD), or if they do not notify the EDD, file a DE-24 form yourself.

9. Submit final sales taxes and employment taxes.

10. File all final federal, state and local tax returns.

11. Cancel any business permits or licenses, including sales tax resale permit. File a Notice of Closeout for Seller's Permit (form BOE-65) with the California Board of Equalization,.

12. Close your bank accounts, cancel any line of credit and outstanding credit cards, and shred business checks.

13. Turn off utilities.

14. Forward mail and email accounts.

15. Shut down websites (or post a notice) and turn off any e-commerce accounts.

16. If you have a fictitious business name, file a statement of abandonment with the county.

17. Distribute remaining assets to yourself (the owner), but only after creditors have all been satisfied. It is important to transfer any assets that are currently titled in the name of the business, before the business entity is dissolved.

18. Dissolve your business entity with the Secretary of State.

Businesses with more complex ownership structures may wish to consult with an attorney or tax professional to guide them through the shutting-down process.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

New Corporate and LLC Startups May Find Relief with the Passage of a New Bill in California

July 15, 2013,

In Silicon Valley, home to many large technology corporations and thousands of innovative startups, businesses need to move quickly to stay ahead of the competition. As a small business attorney in San Jose, I have formed countless of limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and corporations with the Delaware and California Secretaries of State over the years. And one of the first questions my eager small business clients ask me in our initial meetings is almost always, "How long will it take to form my company?"

For many years my answer was that we could have the filed Articles of Incorporation (for a Corporation), Articles of Organization (for an LLC), or Certificate of Partnership within about a week. When the California Secretary of State slowed down a few years ago, I had to tell clients that it could take as much as several weeks. However, in the last year or so the delays crept up to three months or more for the California Secretary of State to process and return a business filing.

Of course, California does provide a 24-hour expedited filing option, for an additional $350 over the usual filing fees. In my more cynical moments I have had to wonder whether it was the California budget crisis that was causing filing times to slow down because of lack of resources, or if the Secretary of State was purposefully taking longer to return routine filings in order to force virtually everyone to pay the "rush" fees.

Now it seems my cynicism may have been misplaced. Governor Brown just signed a bill (AB 113) which will provide $1.6 million in funding to the California Secretary of State to be used to eliminate the backlog of over 100,000 filings and speed up the business filing process. The stated goal is to reduce waiting times for a business filing to be processed and returned from three months to between 5 and 10 days by November, 2013. [Source: Spidell's California Taxletter, Vol 35.6, June 1, 2013, p.71]

Although I applaud the Governor for trying to do something, I think we need to go a lot further than this. As the home of Silicon Valley, California should be setting the standard for the use of technology in business. Never mind that we can form corporations and LLCs usually the same day by email in Delaware (with no extra fees). I want to be able to form entities immediately on-line, without extra State charges, and without the need to pay extra fees to filing agents in Sacramento to walk my client's filings into the Secretary of State's office to be at the front of the line (processing times for filings by mail are much slower).

If our business owners and inventors can start their business in California faster and less expensively (with no rush fees), this will benefit everyone. The State will collect more franchise taxes and will likely start collecting more payroll taxes and sales taxes from new businesses sooner. With this in mind, I hope the Secretary of State is seriously considering significant investments in technology both as part of the $1.6 million and in addition to the AB 113 funds.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

When the Minimum Franchise Tax is Not the Minimum Franchise Tax

July 25, 2012,

Every corporation, limited liability company and limited partnership, that either forms in California or registers to do business in California must pay an annual minimum franchise tax of $800. However, I just read an article in Spidell's California Taxletter that really annoyed me (Volume 34.7, July 1, 2012, pages 75-76). The article, entitled "Midyear switch from S to C corporation means an extra $800" says that when a corporation files two short year returns for one calendar year, each return is subject to the $800 minimum tax even though the corporation is the same entity for civil law purposes. Because it is changing its tax status, it is two different entities for tax purposes and therefore must pay the minimum tax twice in one year. As a corporate and business attorney, I am sensitive to this issue since many of my clients are small businesses or partnerships in San Jose, Santa Clara and other parts of Silicon Valley, and every dollar counts when you are running a small business.

This could be an issue in many midyear circumstances, including:
• When an S corporation loses its S election
• When an LLC switches from single member to multiple member
• When an LLC switches from multiple member to single member
• When a limited partnership changes into a limited liability company
• When 50% of the ownership of a limited partnership or limited liability company changes hands
• When an LLC elects to be taxed as a corporation, or revokes such an election
• If an entity changes accounting periods resulting in two short-period returns

Although this may look reasonable on the surface of one tax return independently, when you look at both returns together this looks like double-dipping to me. If one entity has to file two tax returns for one calendar year, I think the entity should get credit in the second tax return for any minimum tax already paid for that entity for that year. However, with California's ongoing budget crisis, I know this argument will fall on deaf ears. Therefore, I applaud Spidell's California Taxletter for informing tax practitioners of this tax trap. I'm hoping California business owners, as well as out of state owners with businesses registered in California, will read this blog and avoid inadvertently paying double minimum taxes. As a California business lawyer, I will do what I can to structure deals for my clients to avoid this double tax.

Continue reading "When the Minimum Franchise Tax is Not the Minimum Franchise Tax" »

New Rules for Business Entities Change of Ownership Reporting for Real Property

April 27, 2012,

As a Silicon Valley business lawyer, I have many clients that are limited liability companies, partnerships, and corporations which own real property in California. It is common knowledge that when property changes hands in California, the property will be reassessed (unless an exception applies). However, people often forget that similar rules apply for business entities like corporations, partnerships and LLCs that own real property, when interests in the business entity change hands. As of January 1, 2012 there are some new rules and some higher penalties regarding reporting a change of ownership or control of real property in California. The required period for reporting has been extended from 45 to 90 days. The maximum penalty is now $5,000 for property eligible for the homeowners' exemption and $20,000 for property not eligible for the homeowners' exemption.

A change of ownership can happen in one of two ways:

1. Change in Control of a Legal Entity: If real property is owned by an entity and any person or entity gains control of that entity through direct or indirect ownership of more than 50% of the voting stock of a corporation or a majority interest in a partnership or LLC, the real property owned by that entity is considered to have undergone a change in ownership and must be reappraised.

2. Cumulative Transfers by Original Co-Owners: If real property is owned by an entity and over time voting stock or ownership interests representing more than 50% of the total interests are transferred by the original co-owners (in one or more transactions), the real property owned by that entity is considered to have undergone a change in ownership and must be reappraised.

There is no change of ownership when the direct or indirect proportional interests of the transferors and transferees do not change.

For legal entity transfers, the Form BOE-100-B Statement of Change in Control and Ownership of Legal Entities must be filed with the Board of Equalization in three circumstances. The personal or legal entity acquiring control of an entity must file when there is a change in control and the legal entity owned California real property on the date of the change. The entity must file when there is a change in control and it owns California real property. An entity must file upon request by the Board of Equalization. Source: Spidell's California Taxletter, Volume 34.2, February 1, 2012

Continue reading "New Rules for Business Entities Change of Ownership Reporting for Real Property" »

Employee Terminations

October 24, 2011,

Whether your company is a large manufacturer corporation in San Jose or a small service partnership in Los Gatos, you will eventually be forced to deal with terminating an employee. Terminations can be especially daunting because they are one of the most common reasons companies are sued. Therefore, whenever possible, it is important to plan and prepare for a termination before actually firing the employee.

I recently helped an LLC in Santa Clara set up a progressive discipline plan for their company in order to set up systems to assist management and employees before someone gets to the termination stage. Before an employee is fired, many companies use a form of progressive discipline when dealing with employee problems. Under progressive discipline an employee receives greater disciplinary measures when employment continues to be unsatisfactory. It is imperative that all disciplinary actions are documented in writing. If a system of progressive discipline is used, all managers should be trained on that system. If managers are not properly trained, a disgruntled employee may have a stronger claim for wrongful discharge than if the system had not been used at all. Whether a system of progressive discipline is used or not, it is critical that all disciplinary actions be documented.

If a termination is inevitable, you should have a plan in place before firing an employee. However, there are times when you must fire an employee immediately, without any prior planning, because he has done something that poses a threat to other employees, your company or your clients. Prior to termination, you should review any termination procedures in the employee handbook, to the extent they exist, to ensure that your company is following its own procedures. If you are worried about an employee making a claim against the company upon termination and you want to request the employee release the company from all claims, you should contact an attorney to assist you in preparing a severance agreement.

On termination, you must provide the former employee with the final paycheck including any accrued but unused PTO or vacation pay, a change of status notice, and the EDD pamphlet "For Your Benefit, California's Programs for the Unemployed." If the employee is a shareholder or option holder, you should review all applicable documents prior to the termination for notices or deadlines related to termination of employment. However, do not give the employee legal or tax advice regarding those documents or their rights.

When conducting a termination, conduct it in a neutral, private place such as a conference room. Have the final paycheck and change of status notice ready for the meeting. If you are offering a severance agreement, have that agreement prepared as well. Many employees will not sign the severance agreement immediately so be sure to give them the allotted time in the agreement to sign it and don't give the employee any severance payments until the severance agreement has been signed, or 8 days later if the employee is over 40 and therefore subject to age discrimination rules.

You should always have two managers present during a firing. During the meeting, tell the employee within the first few minutes that he is being fired and tell the employee why he is being terminated. Although you do not need a reason to fire an at-will employee, you may not do so for the wrong reason (e.g. discrimination), so be careful in what you say. Also, if you say the termination is a result of restructuring, but the reason is really poor performance, the inconsistency may be used against you if the company is sued. Do not argue with the employee and do not be so complimentary that the employee wonders why he is being terminated. You are not required to give employees a written reason for termination. However, if you decide to, be sure that your legal counsel reviews those reasons. Avoid any reference to anything that could be considered evidence of discrimination, especially if you are terminating someone who is in a protected class. Always be courteous to the employee. You should also explain any benefits, such as COBRA, that the employee may receive. Have someone take notes during and after the termination to document the process and what was said at the meeting. Lastly, you should remind the employee of any continuing obligations to the company, such as confidentiality.

Once an employee has been terminated, be sure to get any company keys, cell phone or laptop that the employee had. Also be sure to change phone codes, computer passwords, alarm codes or other passwords that the employee may have had access to.

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LP verses LLP verses LLC - What is the Difference?

January 24, 2011,

In my San Jose law practice, I often meet with clients who tell me they want to form a certain type of entity, and then proceed to tell me some facts that actually disqualify them from that form of entity. Even worse is when the client tells me that some other advisor told them they should be that form of entity. Recently, I met with a Cupertino real estate investor who said his financial advisor told him he should form an LLP for his property (he was not eligible to be an LLP). In Silicon Valley, we have a lot of do-it-yourselfers who form their own company online and then regret their ill-informed choice of entity and have to pay an attorney a lot more to fix the problem than they would have paid to do it right in the first place.

Here are some basic facts about LPs, LLPs and LLCs in California to help you make a more knowledgeable initial decision.

LP: This stands for "Limited Partnership." In a limited partnership, at least one partner must be a general partner, which means that partner will be personally responsible for any liabilities of the partnership, as well as partnership decisions. The limited partners are not responsible for partnership liabilities, but also do not have any say in the management of the partnership.

LLP: This stands for "Limited Liability Partnership." In California, only attorneys, accountants, architects, and now engineers and land surveyors are eligible to be LLP partners. The partners operate much like general partners, but have insulation from each others' liability.

LLC: This stands for "Limited Liability Company." [Note: there is no such thing as a "Limited Liability Corporation" in California.] Only certain types of businesses are eligible to be LLCs in California. You are not eligible if you are in the trust or banking business or if your business requires a license or certification under the California Business and Professions Code ("B&P Code") unless that section of the B&P Code specifically allow for LLCs. For example, as of January 1st of this year, the B&P Code provides that licensed contractors are eligible to be LLCs in California. LLCs can be managed either by designated managers, or by the members. The members and managers are not personally responsible for LLC liabilities.

Once you understand LPs, LLPs and LLCs, don't forget to still consider the corporation to see if it is the best fit for your business. Above all, make sure to run your decision by a legal professional to make sure you haven't missed any other considerations when you are ready to form an entity.