Posts under: Business planning

The New “Centralized Partnership Audit Regime” – A Seismic Shift or Much Ado about Nothing?

October 31, 2017 Business planning, IRS, Tax Planning Comments Off on The New “Centralized Partnership Audit Regime” – A Seismic Shift or Much Ado about Nothing?

An article on IRS audits…just what you needed to read before going to bed tonight, and I’m not kidding. Now, don’t be embarrassed if you haven’t heard of the Centralized Partnership Audit Regime (“CPAR”). If you think it sounds like something out of a George Orwell novel that only CPA’s and Tax Attorneys care about – well then, you’re half right. It’s not from Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a real thing; the sort of thing people in my profession like to bring up when they’re trying to sound smart at cocktail parties – the most boring cocktail parties EVER.

Anyway, despite the sleep-inducing name, the CPAR is something many of our clients need to be aware of – namely clients who file (or should be filing) an annual Form 1065 Partnership Tax Return. So, if you are involved in a partnership, try to stay awake – this is for you.

A little background: The CPAR was enacted into law by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (“BBA”). As with most federal laws, the statute itself is nice and all, but the real meat comes in the form of the administrative rules implementing the law. The Proposed Rules for the BBA were introduced earlier this year, and barring something really crazy (which can’t be ruled out in the Washington D.C. of 2017) they will go into effect for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

In a nutshell, the CPAR will replace the rules that currently govern partnership audits (which come from the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (“TEFRA”). The intent of the CPAR is to make it simpler and easier for the examine partnerships, particularly large partnerships with multiple tiers or levels of ownership.

So, What’s New in the CPAR?

1) “Partnership Representative” Replaces “Tax Matters Partner”: Currently, a partnership is required to designate a “Tax Matters Partner.” This is typically done in an Operating or Limited Partnership Agreement. While the Tax Matters Partner can bind the partnership in connection with an audit, it cannot bind the individual partners. In addition, a partner who is not the Tax Matters Partner has certain rights during an audit, including notification rights and the right to participate in the proceedings.

Under the CPAR, the Tax Matters Partner is replaced by the concept of a “Partnership Representative” who is the sole point of contact between the partnership and the IRS. Unlike with the Tax Matters Partner, all partners and the partnership itself are bound by the actions of the Partnership Representative and no one other than the Partnership Representative is vested with a statutory right to participate in a partnership-level audit proceeding. Neither state law nor the partnership agreement itself may limit the authority of the Partnership Representative when it comes to an audit.

Under the CPAR, a partnership must designate its Partnership Representative in the partnership’s annual tax return. Unlike with the Tax Matters Partner, the Partnership Representative may or may not be a partner. The only hard and fast requirement is that the Partnership Representative have a “substantial presence” in the United States. The Partnership Representative designation must be made separately for each tax year and is effective only for that year. One Orwellian tidbit here is that if you fail to designate a Partnership Representative, the IRS is allowed to pick one for you!!! This is a little scary. Again, the Partnership Representative does not have to be a partner in the partnership – so it is at least conceivable that the IRS could appoint as Partnership Representative a non-partner third-party who then becomes the sole point of contact for the IRS regarding the audit and is vested with full authority to bind the partnership in an audit.

Given the above, under the CPAR it becomes more important than ever that you don’t blow off your annual 1065 Partnership Return. File the return on time and name a Partnership Representative! A pretty simply recipe to avoid IRS trouble. I have seen some chatter online about amending operating or partnership agreements to make this designation. However, while this is certainly a good place for the partners agree in writing as to who will be designated the Partnership Representative (or how the Partnership will choose the Partnership Representative), the actual designation must be made on the filed partnership return.

2) “Imputed Underpayment” and the “Push Out Election”: These will become important if you are ever in an audit, but we will not be going into detail here. They are technical changes regarding how the IRS notifies the partnership of an amount owed after audit, and how and when a partnership can decides to pay what is owed at the partnership level, or “push out” that liability to the individual partners.

Am I Stuck with the CPAR?

The short answer is “not necessarily.” Partnerships with 100 or fewer partners – all of whom are considered “Eligible Partners” by the IRS can opt out of the CPAR. Eligible Partners are defined as:

  1. Individuals
  2. C-Corporations
  3. S-Corporations
  4. The Estates of Deceased Partners

So, if any partner is a trust, a disregarded entity (such as a single-member LLC), or another partnership, opting out is simply not an option. Just like naming a Partnership Representative, opting out of CPAR is done annually, when you file your 1065 partnership return. In order to successfully opt out, you will need to provide the IRS with the name, tax ID number, and federal tax classifications of all partners. Also, the election to opt out only applies to the year to which your tax return applies, so it will need to be done each year going forward.

If you opt out, the IRS will be required to initiate deficiency proceedings at the partner level (instead of the partnership level) to adjust items associated with the partnership and thereby assess and collect any tax that may result from those adjustments. This makes life harder for the IRS, and for this reason, it will likely make sense for eligible partnerships to opt out of CPAR – if they can. The decision to opt out can be made in an operating or partnership agreement, but will need to be submitted to the IRS each year as part of filing the 1065 partnership return.

Because opting out makes a partnership audit more difficult for them, the IRS has stated its intention to closely scutinize any partnership’s decision to opt out. This will include analyzing whether the partnership correctly identified all of its partners. For example, the IRS could conduct a review of a partnership’s partners to confirm that none are acting as nominees or as agents for a beneficial owner.

At the end of the day, for most of our clients, the shift to CPAR will not be noticed. Most partnerships don’t get audited, and if they do, the partners work together to get through it. However, by taking the steps to opt out of CPAR (if eligible), or to make sure a Partnership Representative is named (if opting out isn’t a possibility), you can avoid running into a CPAR problem that could have otherwise been avoided.

8 Core Tax Concepts Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

October 24, 2017 Business planning, Corporations, Small Business, Tax Planning Comments Off on 8 Core Tax Concepts Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Of the many virtues that entrepreneurs have, one such virtue is the desire and ability to get as much information and knowledge as they can by reading books, attending speaking events, researching on the internet, etc. However, ‘taxes’ aren’t one of the topics entrepreneurs seek out, and it’s for a justifiable reason.

Many believe the topic of taxes to be either too boring or overly complicated, and it typically is when presented improperly.  Yet, so many business owners are starving and anxious to learn tax and legal principles. Inspired by those teachers of tax and legal topics that make it truly interesting, I have tried to summarize in this article the top 8 Core Tax Concepts that every entrepreneur needs to know:

  1. The IRS treats different types income VERY differently. This principle is at the CORE of so much of our advising. For example, income you make in your operational business is NOT taxed the same as income you make in your rental real estate “business”. So as you read books, attend speaking events, etc., keep in mind that the principles taught (and the advice if you’re talking to your tax professional) are going to depend in large part on the TYPE of income.
  2. Corporate Income Tax versus Pass-through Entities i.e. LLC’s, S-corps, Sole Props, Partnerships. A pass-through entity is a business entity that does NOT pay income tax at the “entity” level but rather, the income tax liability is passed-through to the owner(s) of the business (hence avoiding the double taxation that is often associated with c-corporations). In other words, the manner in which income generated by an LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship or partnership is very different than a c-corporation. There are a lot of false assumptions that entrepreneurs have about their tax situation and a lot of that comes from internet research – not because the article was bad, but because they simply misapplied it to their situation. For example, if an entrepreneur whose business is taxed as a partnership comes across an article about business taxes is going to become very confused if the articles is referring to corporate income taxation, unless they REALIZE the article is not referring to “pass-through entities” such as theirs. The result would be that if that entrepreneur tried to apply the principles in that article to their business, it would be confusing and likely not helpful.
  3. There are all sorts of taxes – It’s important to keep them straight. If you regularly read books, attend speaking events, listen to podcasts, etc., and you hear taxes, don’t assume it’s ALWAYS about income taxes. For example, technically, self-employment taxes, which is discussed frequently, is different than income tax. And when you’re in the world of small business, real estate, estate planning, etc., trying to get as much “self-learning” as you can, there’s even more types of tax out there which may or may not apply to you. For example, there’s income tax, self-employment tax, estate tax, property tax, gift tax, payroll tax, sales tax, and many more. So always make sure you’re aware of which type of tax that author, or speaker, etc., is referring to.
  4. Generally, a tax-write off is whatever costs and expenses are customary and appropriate in your industry and helpful to your business. Actually, the verbiage in the tax code is “ordinary” and “necessary”, but thanks to the courts, those words have been defined to mean “customary” and “appropriate”. So if you’re a house flipper out genuinely trying to make money in your business and you have costs and expenses along the way, you’ll typically be able to write off any and all expenses that are customary and appropriate for someone in the house flipping business.
  5. Some business “write-off’s” must be amortized over time. With some exception, when you/your business buys equipment or assets, generally that cost IS deductible BUT will have to be spread out or amortized over multiple tax years based on the IRS schedule for that particular asset/equipment.
  6. Basis. One of the core principles of taxation is that your cost to acquire an asset is called your basis, and that’s important because when you decide to sell that asset, the tax consequences of that transaction will be determined “based” (bad pun) on the selling price of the asset/equipment over and above the basis (note: by the time you sell that asset, the basis will have adjusted and so it’s referred to as your “adjusted basis”). That excess amount, if any, is a capital gain and is typically taxed differently than your “ordinary” business income. Selling an asset in your business (or the business itself) can become quite complicated, but so long as you remember this core tax concept, it will help you when discussing transactions with your tax professional(s).
  7. Most tax deductions are “entity-agnostic”. Most of the tax write-off’s that a typical entrepreneur are going to have will be available to them regardless of whether they operate as a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation. For example, if you’re trying to claim expenses associated with your business that you incur in the course of traveling, meeting with clients, etc., those costs will generally be deductible regardless of whether you operate your business as a sole proprietor, partnership, s-corporation, or c-corporation.
  8. Don’t let the “tax tail wag the dog”. I’m not suggesting your business is a “dog”, but if your business doesn’t need a certain expense or you wouldn’t buy a certain expense otherwise, it usually doesn’t make sense to incur such an expense simply to claim another tax write-off. For example, it’s exciting when you read a book or attend a speaking event that mentions a certain tax write-off, but if you don’t need that expensive new piece of equipment, particularly if you’re just starting out in your business, that huge expense, notwithstanding the fact that it is deductible, could run your business into the ground.

In sum, keep reading, attending speaking events, listening to podcasts, but if you will keep these core principles in mind you’ll have much better success in implementing some of the strategies you read/learn about. This article is not intended as legal or tax advice. If you’re an entrepreneur or potential entrepreneur and have tax and legal questions, please contact our office.

Creative Planning Options with a Revocable Living Trust

October 17, 2017 Business planning, Estate Planning, Uncategorized Comments Off on Creative Planning Options with a Revocable Living Trust

Estate planning is something most know they should do, but most American adults simply haven’t gotten it done.  In a survey available from AARP,  60% of American adults do not have an estate plan.  The number gets even higher for some minority populations.  In most cases, this is simply due to procrastination that “I just haven’t gotten around to it.”  Many people that I speak to as a lawyer simply don’t understand the consequences of passing away without an estate plan.

One of the primary reasons for a Trust is to avoid probate, which is a court supervised process for the distribution of a decedent’s assets (especially real estate) when a person dies without a trust.  However, the revocable living trust affords many creative planning opportunities that generally cannot be accomplished without a comprehensive estate plan.  Many individuals who have not consulted with a professional estate planner do not know the creative strategies that can be accomplished through a trust.  Examples of some creative planning opportunities include:

Planning for the Disabled

In general, eligibility for certain need based government benefits such as disability or SSI have restrictions based on income and assets.    Many people mistakenly assume that if they have a child or other dependent that is disabled or who otherwise relies on government benefits, that they should disinherit these disabled dependents in order to ensure that the dependents continue to qualify for disability benefits.  Disinheriting a dependent entirely just so they can continue to get disability represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the available options and often times simply indicates bad planning.  A “special needs trust” is a special type of trust that can allow a dependent to potentially receive funds and benefits from the trust without interfering with government benefits.    These types of trusts require very precise terms and conditions so that any benefits from the trust do not disqualify the dependent’s eligibility for the particular government benefit to which the dependent is or may be eligible.

Asset Protection for the Beneficiaries (Your Kids/Heirs)

A trust can provide significant asset protection for children who have difficulties handling money or who are otherwise high risk.  Most states allow trusts to contain “spendthrift” provisions which can restrict the ability of creditors of the beneficiary from reaching the beneficiary’s interest in the trust.  In general, a creditor can only reach assets from a debtor which the debtor himself/herself can reach.  Different states may have different rules and there may be exceptions for certain types of creditors (for example, claims by a spouse for alimony or child support may not be protected by a spendthrift clause).  In addition, the protection of the spendthrift provision general applies only to the beneficiary, not the original creator (i.e. the grantor) of the trust.  However, the spendthrift provision could be an effective planning tool to provide for your beneficiary without risking that the trust could be subject to that beneficiary’s creditors.

Planning for Blended or Non-traditional Families

Lets face it, our conception of the family unit from generations ago is constantly changing and evolving.   Many of us are now raised in blended families, or by individuals who were not our blood parents, or live in various types of family arrangements.  In most cases, the law has not evolved in recognition of these different family arrangements.   A primary purpose of the revocable living trust is to dictate how your loved ones will share in your legacy.  With a Trust, you can help ensure that certain individuals do (or don’t) share in your legacy.    Otherwise, leaving this decision up to the laws of the state could result in people you care for being cut off from your estate.   The most common example is someone who divorces and remarries but has children from the original marriage.  In many states, if that person passes without an estate plan (will or trust), the estate passes to the surviving spouse and the children from the first marriage are cut off.   Proper planning using the revocable living trust will help ensure that the people you wish to benefit will actually receive those benefits.

Planning and Supporting a Legacy

A trust is a very flexible document and can be drafted in different ways to support the ones you love but not allow the assets to be wasted.  Do you want to provide support to a grandchild, but not have it affect their eligibility for financial aide for college?  Do you want to help a child start a business, but not unless he/she first gets a college degree?   Do you want to assist your children to buy their first home, or finance their wedding?  A revocable living trust allows you to set terms and conditions for your generosity to ensure that your gift is used the way you wanted it to be used, and for nothing else.

Of course if you’re one of those people who feel that “I can’t take it with me so I’m going to spend it all now,” then perhaps these planning opportunities are not for you.  But for those who wish to leave a legacy behind for your loved ones (or loved causes) future and want it protected and preserved for this purpose, the revocable living trust can provide infinite possibilities to secure your legacy.

Essential Tax & Legal Tips for the NEW Business Owner

August 28, 2017 Business planning, Law, Tax Planning Comments Off on Essential Tax & Legal Tips for the NEW Business Owner

Starting a business is a process.  It is MUCH more than filing the one or two page articles/certificate of formation with the state.  At the same time, it doesn’t have to be so complicated and overwhelming that you never start.   Further, not only is starting a business a process, it’s a process that is unique to YOU.  It is not a cookie-cutter one size fits all proposition.  What your business and YOUR situation require may be completely different than anyone else you might know who is self-employed.  Having said that, here are 8 tips that apply to all businesses, but how to USE these tips will be different for each business owner:

  1. Operate out of and properly maintain the appropriate entity formation for YOUR situation. While it is true you can operate your business as a sole proprietorship, I think it’s generally better to operate your business out of an entity such as an LLC or corporation.  First, I think it has a positive impact on your mindset as a business owner in that it makes you feel more “legit”and others will see you the same. More importantly, it is always better to operate your business out of an entity such as an LLC or corporation as those companies prevent liability of the business from extending to the owners.  Lastly, operating out of an entity can in certain situations produce tax savings such as when operating out of an S-corporation to save self-employment taxes. This is generally recommended for operating businesses who have $30-$40k net annual income.
  2. Make sure you have a partnership/ownership agreement if there are other owners. If you have somebody that you trust to own and run your business WITH YOU, that’s a great thing, and hopefully you continue to have a great business relationship with that person(s).  But don’t let that be a reason to NOT get your relationship in writing through a written agreement that you both/all would sign to memorialize the rights and obligations of each other.  If the business fails or one of the owners wants out or isn’t “pulling their weight” and you didn’t address this in writing BEFORE the crisis/event has occurred, that friendly business partner could wind up AGAINST YOU.
  3. Embrace bookkeeping. Embrace the fact that bookkeeping is one of the keys to maximizing tax write-offs and commit to either obtain the right training to do it yourself OR see the value in outsourcing it to someone who knows what they’re doing.  Maybe your strength as an entrepreneur is the marketing/sales side of business, or you have the relationships to be successful, but when it comes to taxes, you must keep good records, and for all your strengths, if you’re not organized, you’re going to get killed in an IRS audit.  So either learn to be organized with your records in terms of tracking expenses and use a good bookkeeping software (Mark Kohler offers a great set of videos that train on how to use Quickbooks), or outsource it to someone else who is good at it so you can focus on what you do best. The clients who embrace bookkeeping usually have more write-offs and deductions come tax-time as they rarely miss an opportunity to expense something.
  4. Have periodic tax and legal consults with your attorney and CPA. Unfortunately, many small business owners don’t use a business attorney ever, and maybe only meet with their CPA once a year, assuming they even use a CPA.  I think the cost of meeting with a good business attorney and CPA at least twice a year is worth the cost.  Prevention is much less expensive than the cost of getting “sick”, whether “sick” is an unnecessary amount or risk exposure that leads to a lawsuit, or whether “sick” is failure to maximize tax write-offs and you’re paying more than necessary to Uncle Sam, OR, maybe without a good CPA you’re TOO aggressive on your taxes or even worse, you don’t file a return at all and the IRS comes knocking.  Not to mention meeting with your attorney and/or CPA is a tax write-off!  On the legal side, it is good to get periodic “checkups” on how your business is structured, what has changed, what’s coming up that is new in your business, etc., so that your business attorney can guide you on mitigating your risks and protecting against liabilities.  On the tax side, it’s good to also get periodic “checkups” to talk about tax strategies and which ones you aren’t maximizing or implementing, or which ones you’re doing wrong that is going to be a problem in an audit, i.e. health care, paying kids, auto, home office, dining, entertainment, travel, tax deductible contributions to retirement plans, owning real estate, etc.
  5. Be sure to have adequate insurance for your business. This legal tip is not new or cutting edge by any means, but the failure to follow it could be catastrophic to your business.  A good insurance broker can help a great deal to match up the appropriate amount of insurance (in terms of amount and policy types) for YOUR business.   You don’t want to spend TOO much of your business income on insurance premiums but if you don’t have any insurance, if/when a liability comes up in your business, and you don’t have an appropriate insurance policy to divert that financial responsibility for that claim/liability to an insurance company, it puts the full force of that claim or liability on potentially ALL of the assets and income of your business.
  6. Make sure to use contracts in your business and don’t rely on verbal conversations or handshake deals. You may have heard that under the law in most situations verbal contracts are enforceable.  That doesn’t mean you should RELY on them, especially with the core aspects of your business i.e. your clients, your vendors, your business partners, etc., you want to properly memorialize the agreement IN WRITING.  This will make it SO much easier to prove your case in court if the other party violates/breaches the written contract versus trying to prove they breached/violated a contract that is not in writing and signed by all parties.  You should have a good service contract or something applicable that is provided to your customers.  This not only helps with enforcing any liabilities or claims you have against them (non-payment for example), but it also is REALLY helpful to clarify the SCOPE of what your business WILL do for them and what your business will NOT do for them.  If you don’t clarify that in writing, you have no idea what your customer assumes or expects, so even it doesn’t result in a lawsuit, it can create a rift between your business and that client and result in bad press about your business on social media, etc.
  7. Make sure you are properly characterizing your workers (independent contractor v. employee). There is a temptation for the small business owner to view/consider ALL of their workers as independent contractors.  The small business owner loves to do that because there’s no payroll tax, no added costs for worker’s compensation, unemployment, employee benefits, etc.  Unfortunately, the federal and state taxing authorities do not take YOUR word alone that your workers are actually independent contractors.  IF you improperly classify workers as independent contractors and the government (state or federal) determines they are employees, you will have fines and penalties.  Don’t misunderstand, you can have workers that ARE independent contractors, so long as they are TREATED as independent contractors, and the key word there is “independent”.  If you’re going to micro-manage what they wear, when they work, how they work, where they work, etc., that doesn’t sound very “independent” and it sounds at lot like an employee, which it is sometimes necessary to have that much control of your workers, but you can’t have it both ways, if you treat them like employees, you have to accept that it comes with things like payroll taxes, unemployment, worker’s comp, etc.
  8. Have an exit strategy (including an estate plan). Understandably your primary concern is getting the business STARTED, so you might think it would be unproductive to think about an exit strategy so early in the “game”, but it is so important to have that in your mind.  Do you want to grow the business and sell it soon as possible or hold onto it and pass it loved ones, or maybe you want to buy out your partner’s ownership (or vice versa).  There are many unknowns that make it difficult to have any certainty about what WILL happen, but it’s very productive to consider the ways in which it COULD happen and form an opinion on what seems most appealing to you.  But REGARDLESS of what your exit strategy is, you should make sure your business ownership and estate plan is coordinated.  Even if you plan to sell the business as soon as possible, and you have no plans of owning the business for the long-term, the spontaneity of death requires that even in that situation, your business ownership be coordinated with your estate plan.  Don’t forget about incapacity either.  This could mean you have power of attorney documents in your estate plan that contemplates ownership/operation of your business if you become incapacitated.

In sum, your business needs you as the business owner to make sure your business is healthy from both a tax and legal perspective.  These tips are a great starting point to make sure that happens.  Our office is available to assist and would love to help you and your business with implementing these and other tips specifically to you and your business.

Legal Tips for Wholesaling Real Estate

July 18, 2017 Business planning, Real Estate Comments Off on Legal Tips for Wholesaling Real Estate


Many real estate investors regard wholesaling as a way to learn how to evaluate deals and develop your real estate network.  It is also a method to profit from investing in real estate without requiring significant up front capital.  Wholesaling is a strategy whereby the wholesaler enters into a purchase contract with a seller of real estate and then assigns the purchase contract to another third party who will typically rehab the property and flip it for a profit (at least that is the goal).

Although most investors regard wholesaling as involving less risk than, for example, the flipper who is rehabbing and selling the property, there are always risks in any transaction, and so the purpose of this article is to identify some of the common legal issues to look out for in your wholesale deals.  This article is not designed to teach you the strategies for being a successful wholesaler, such as how to find properties, how to approaching homeowners, etc., but instead, focuses on some of the legal aspects of wholesaling that investors should be aware.

Licensing Issues:  Be aware of potential licensing requirements for your state:  Different states define the scope of activities that require a license differently and so you should be aware of what activities are regulated by your particular state and act accordingly.  For example, California generally defines a real estate broker as someone who sells, buys or negotiates for another with the expectation of compensation.  If your activities in California meet these elements, then be advised that you may need to be licensed as real estate agent.   Any questions regarding state licensing requirements should be directed to an attorney with knowledge of the requirements of that state.

LICENSING ISSUES

Understand the Rules & Procedures Governing Real Estate Transactions in your State:  Many states have unique laws, forms or disclosure requirements for real estate purchase transactions.  For example, in California, a seller is required to provide a transfer disclosure statement and if the property is in foreclosure, there are additional required disclosure requirements.  Failure to abide by the rules that are required in your state could cause legal issues down the line in your transaction.  You don’t want to have a seller or your end buyer come back later raising an issue with the transaction that could have been avoided had you followed the proper procedures for real estate transactions in your state.

DISCLOSURE & TRANSPARENCY

Be Transparent as to your Role in the Deal:  If your intent is to wholesale the property during escrow, the homeowner should be well aware in writing that your intent is to assign the deal to a third party for profit, and the contract language should give you a unilateral right to assign without requiring the consent of the homeowner.  Most standard form purchase agreements you get from realtors do not have this language and so an amendment or specially prepared form may be necessary.   On the buyer’s side, you should be very clear in your written agreement with the end buyer as to what you will be responsible for and what will be the responsibility of the end buyer.  For example, are you going to do an analysis of after repair value (e.g. running comps and estimating repair costs)? Run title?  Do an inspection?  What happens to your earnest money deposit once you assign the contract to the end buyer?   Your agreement should clearly specify in detail what your specific obligations are in the deal, where your obligations in the deal ends, and what the end buyer is expected to do to close the deal.  It is better to have these details on who does what expressed clearly in writing rather than rely on assumption.    Most importantly, you should include language that fully releases you from any further obligations or liabilities in the deal to ALL parties once you complete the assignment to end buyer.

CONTINGENCY CLAUSES 

Make Sure Your Contingencies are Clear.  This should go without saying, but depending on the specifics of the particular deal, it is important to properly set the expectations early for all the parties involved.   I typically advise clients who wholesale properties to have a good understanding of what their potential end buyers want in a deal in terms of location, spread, contract language, due diligence items, etc.  I also encourage individuals wanting to pursue wholesaling to develop relationships with rehabbers as early as possible, preferably before getting a property under contract, so that they have a good idea of whether they will be able to successfully complete the assignment as intended.    It is highly recommended to have your team of professionals such as realtors, contractors, appraisers, etc. in place to provide accurate feedback as you analyze the merits of your deal.  Finally, have an attorney’s fees clause in your agreements so if you have to pursue legal action to enforce the agreement or your contingency clause, you preserve the right to seek your attorney’s fees.

Of course, making sure you are covering yourself legally is just one detail for successful wholesaling.  Finding the right properties, learning to negotiate with homeowners, and developing a network of professionals to assist you during the wholesaling process are all necessary aspects for successful wholesaling, but making sure that you are covering your bases legally will help ensure that your wholesale deals proceed smoothly with minimal possibility for conflict.

Ask Your Attorney if a “Covfefe” Trademark Is Right for You

July 11, 2017 Business planning, Corporations, Law, Litigation Comments Off on Ask Your Attorney if a “Covfefe” Trademark Is Right for You

On May 31st, 2017, at 12:06 a.m. Eastern Time, President Donald Trump unleashed the following tweet: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” No one has been able to definitively crack the code (if there is one) as to what “covfefe” actually means. The President took down the tweet six hours later and replaced it with a tweet saying: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’??? Enjoy!”

Predictably, the word “covfefe” immediately went viral on social media, with several twitter users encouraging their followers to “ask your doctor if Covfefe is right for you” and others thinking it’s what you’re supposed to say when someone sneezes. In the following days and weeks, covfefe has taken on a life of its own and become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Late night hosts have debated whether President Trump had some sort of minor stroke or simply fell asleep when he typed covfefe, and Hillary Clinton was asked about what she thought it meant in a recent public appearance.

However, it’s not only comedians and 24-hour news channels that are making hay with covfefe. A Google search of “covfefe” reveals dozens of businesses ready to sell you apparel with hundreds of variations on the covfefe theme. To date, my personal favorites are “Make America Covfefe Again” and “What Part of Covfefe Don’t You Understand?”

A check of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) databases shows that in the forty days since the covfefe phenomenon began, 34 trademark applications have been filed using the term. The products and services being tied to covfefe run the gamut from “advice relating to investments” to fragrances, toys, coloring books, and even sandwiches. As you might expect, four different companies have filed applications to use covfefe for beer.

However, easily the most popular application (there are about twenty of them) is to get protection for using covfefe on t-shirts, hats, and other apparel. One applicant for a covfefe apparel trademark even appears to have access to the inner circle of Trump advisors and confidants who know what covfefe really means – after all, its application is for: “COVFEFE – Carry On Vigilantly Fighting Evil For Ever.”

So, the question becomes: which of these applicants will win the coveted “covfefe” trademark for t-shirts? The answer from this trademark attorney is: very possibly none of them! Why? Because the USPTO will generally refuse an application as “ornamental” if what is submitted to the USPTO shows that the use of the mark is only decorative or ornamental. That is, if the use of the mark does not clearly identify the source of the goods and distinguish them from the goods of others – which is required for proper trademark use.

The USPTO’s number one example of “ornamental” use is when a quote is prominently displayed across the front of a t-shirt, such as “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.” The USPTO’s position is that most purchasers would perceive the quote as a decoration, and would not think that it identifies the manufacturer of the t-shirts (the source of the t-shirts could be Hanes® or Champion®, for example, as shown by the neck-tag).

Other examples of “ornamental use” put out by the USPTO are:

  1. A logo on the front of a hat. When the logo is associated with an organization, like a sports team, which did not manufacture the hat.
  2. Stitching designs on the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Purchasers are accustomed to seeing embellishments on jean pockets and would not think this embroidery design identifies the source of the jeans.
  3. A floral pattern on tableware or silverware. A purchaser would likely see this pattern as merely decorative and would not think it identifies the source of the tableware or silverware.
  4. The phrase “Have a Nice Day” or a smiley face logo. Everyday expressions and symbols that commonly adorn products are normally not perceived as identifying the source of the goods.

While there is no definitive place to affix a mark to goods to avoid an ornamental refusal, the location, size and dominance of a mark have a big impact on how the public perceives it. The USPTO has offered the following examples of proper non-ornamental trademark use:

  1. Discrete wording or design on the pocket or breast portion of a shirt. A purchaser would typically associate the small logo on a shirt pocket or breast area with the manufacturer or the source of the shirt.
  2. A tag on the inside of a hat or garment. A purchaser would associate a logo on the tag with the maker of the garment.
  3. Logo on a tag above the back pocket of a pair of jeans. A purchaser would typically associate this mark with the manufacturer of the jeans.
  4. A small logo stamped on the back of a dinner plate or bottom of a coffee mug. Purchasers are accustomed to seeing a mark used in this location to identify the source of the tableware.

Another way to get around an “ornamental use” refusal from the USPTO is to show that the mark has “acquired distinctiveness.” Long-term use in commerce, advertising and sales figures, dealer and consumer statements, and other evidence can be used to show that consumers directly associate a mark with the source of those goods. While this probably won’t work for the covfefe applicants (since the term has only existed for about six weeks), it could be an option in your situation.

The final option for the covfefe trademark applicants would be to move their applications to the “Supplemental Register.” Registration on the Supplemental Register doesn’t provide all the same legal advantages as registration on the Principal Register, but it does provide protection if and when someone applies for a conflicting mark later. Also, after five years of continual use, you can apply for (and in most cases will be awarded) registration on the Principal Register.

If you feel like you have captured “covfefe-like” lightning in a bottle, and want to talk about how to protect your name and/or logo, please give me a call at 435-596-9366 or shoot me an email at jarom@kkoslawyers.com.

Bitcoin Basics: What is Cryptocurrency?

July 3, 2017 Business planning, Law, Tax Planning Comments Off on Bitcoin Basics: What is Cryptocurrency?


Questions about Bitcoin have increased dramatically as investors have seen the price of Bitcoin rise from 30 cents per Bitcoin in 2011 to $2,550 per Bitcoin in July 2017. This article answers basic questions about Bitcoin and we’ll have two follow-up articles addressing IRA ownership of Bitcoin and about accepting Bitcoin in your business. Needless to say, there’s a “bit” of uncertainty when it comes to whether or not one should invest in Bitcoin (sorry –bad pun) but here’s a breakdown of the basics.

What Is Bitcoin And How Does it Work?

Bitcoin is one type of digital currency also known as crypto currency. Users of Bitcoin pay each other directly without traditional intermediaries such as banks or even governments using what is known as blockchain technology to effectuate transactions. First, you would install a Bitcoin wallet on your device and it will generate a Bitcoin address. When you provide your Bitcoin address, the person paying you can transfer funds to your address and into your Bitcoin wallet. This transaction and all transactions on the Bitcoin network are done using this blockchain technology, which is a ledger that tracks balances. Cryptography i.e. mathematical proofs that provide high levels of security are used to strengthen the security of the Bitcoin network. By the way, cryptography is not some untested technology – it is through cryptography that online banking is currently done. As a Bitcoin user, you would authorize a transaction using a secret piece of data called a private key. A transaction isn’t finalized until it has been mined, which is a confirmation process to ensure the integrity of the transaction. You can learn more at www.bitcoin.org. I will write another article regarding whether a small business owner should consider accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment.

Where Did It Come From And Is It Risky?

Bitcoin was created in 2008 by an anonymous creator. Many executives in the financial sector are cautious or even skeptical, but others are optimistic and confident that it is not going anywhere. Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson believes in the future of digital currency and has been a proponent of Bitcoin.. One of the biggest complaints against digital currency is the lack of security/protection from hackers. JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has been a notable critic citing its use by criminals looking to transact outside of the traditional financial system. In 2015, a notorious online drug sales scheme was orchestrated using Bitcoin. There was an incident in Japan in 2013 in which digital hackers stole about $450M worth of Bitcoin. A similar incident happened in Slovenia in 2013. Other controversies surrounding Bitcoin include the disappearance of notable Bitcoin start-up companies Neo and Bee in 2014. In 2015 there were arrests when it was learned that Bitcoin company MyCoin was running a Ponzi scheme in Hong Kong. There have been quite a few money laundering cases here in the U.S. involving Bitcoin.

Should I Invest In It And How Do I Invest In It?

Most people investing in Bitcoin are using a relatively small portion of their investment portfolio i.e. I don’t know anyone who is investing most or all their “eggs” in the digital currency. A lot of people are excited about it, but like any investment, if you don’t time it right and/or you don’t know what you’re doing you can and probably will lose money. The concept, however, in simplistic terms is that you buy the digital currency at a certain price and sell it for more than you paid for it. There is the famous story of Kristoffer Koch who paid $27 in 2009 for 5,000 Bitcoins which has now been valued at almost $1M. Currently, 1 Bitcoin equals approx. $2,550 U.S. Dollars, so it would cost you over $10,000 to buy 4 Bitcoins right now. Over the last three or four years, the value of Bitcoin has continued to increase and it is the dramatic increase in value that has caused the recent stir and attention around digital currency investing. Others are attracted to Bitcoin as a protection against government currency. These investors fear a failure in the financial markets, which will dilute and may cause value declines in the dollar or other government currencies. These investors prefer to hold their Bitcoin directly, rather than through a fund.

Assuming you’ve done your research and are comfortable with the process, in terms of actually investing, one option is to invest in the Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC). GBTC is a publicly traded security that solely invests in Bitcoin. This allows an investor to use a traditional investment vehicle to realize gains (or losses) as the price of Bitcoin fluctuates without actually possessing and storing bitcoins. However, investing in bitcoin through the GBTC provides only a fractional value of the actual price of bitcoin and so in terms of ease and convenience, the GBTC is a good option, but at least for now, it’s not the best option to capitalize on the full value of Bitcoin. Coinbase, Inc. is another option – it is essentially a digital exchange where you can invest in Bitcoin as well as other cryptocurrencies (see below). Another option is to invest in actual Bitcoin through a self-directed IRA, which I will write about in another article.

What Are Other Types of CryptoCurrency?

Bitcoin is not the only form of digital currency – others include Litecoin, Peercoin, Primecoin, Namecoin, Ripple, Quark, Mastercoin, and Ether(Ethereum).

In sum, like any investment, it requires due diligence and a correct timing of the market(s). As you can tell, there have been some crazy tales of Ponzi schemes and fraud but also stories of incredible returns. In any case, I don’t think digital currency is going away anytime soon – I guess you could say that the stories in this article have been “tales from the crypt”-o currency (it was a stretch but I decided to go for it).

The Realities of Litigation

June 27, 2017 Business planning, Law, Litigation Comments Off on The Realities of Litigation


For most people involved in a dispute, declaring the words “See you in Court!!” can seem like the perfect threat or even feel therapeutic at the least. Some even presume that by stating “I’m going to sue you” is like declaring nuclear war against the other side and the person or company that wronged you will certainly want to ‘settle’ because you have scared them with a lawsuit.

However, people who have actually been participants in litigation soon realize that there is no such thing as “inexpensive litigation,” and many individuals, fueled by the passion of a person scorned, proceed hastily to the courthouse seeking vindication or retribution without having a full understanding of the realities that they are getting themselves into.

Certainly, one of the great hallmarks of our society, and what separates the American system from many others around the world is an independent judiciary. But again, the media frequently oversimplifies what is actually involved in the legal process with its sole focus on sensationalizing the outcome thereby conveying a misleading impression of the actual litigation process.   Here are a few misconceptions I frequently encounter with clients about the litigation process include the following:

  1. Are you ready for the PROCESS? Unless you are in small claims, you generally don’t just file a lawsuit and then get to see Judge Judy the very next day. Media usually focuses on “trials” only, but ignores the months (usually years) of pre-trial procedure needed to get to that point.    Litigation usually begins with a “Complaint” which begins the “pleading” phase where the parties set forth their allegations and responses in defense. Sometimes there could be challenges to the pleadings through the motion process, which add additional expense and delay. Once the pleadings are done, then the parties have the opportunity to require other parties to the lawsuit to answer questions, produce documents, or take testimony of witnesses (the “discovery” phase). It should come as no surprise that parties to litigation are not always so eager to provide information that may hurt their case, and so the discovery process can often take months or years with parties jockeying in court over who should get what.   Assuming the parties have completed discovery, that does not necessarily mean you go to trial.   Trials only occur when there are actual factual or legal issues in dispute which requires a judge or jury to determine, and the reality is that most lawsuits do not go to trial. Although the cost of litigation varies depending on the location and issues involved, what I usually tell clients is the cost to go through these procedures to litigate a normal civil matter from Complaint up to but not including trial, doing a minimal amount of work, can easily run between $50,000 to $100,000. Preparing for and conducting a trial can substantially increase these costs and so unless you’ve retained an attorney on contingency, the expense and delay litigation is definitely an important consideration for most litigants.
  2. Does the Opposing Party have Assets to Satisfy Your Claim?  Usually this is the first question I ask a client contemplating litigation, and many times it is question the client hasn’t considered. It makes no financial sense to pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on a case if the defendant has no money.  Although I’ve had my share of clients walk into the office wishing to sue “on principle” or “just to make a point,” these moral considerations usually get thrown out the window very quickly once we begin to discuss the costs that will be incurred to get them to where they want to be.   So unless the opposing party has significant, identifiable assets that may be exposed in a lawsuit, or there is sufficient insurance to cover the claim, many potential litigants find themselves having no remedy for their claim because the opposing side is essentially “judgment proof.”
  3. Do you realize how unpredictable litigation can be? This should go without saying, but I spoken with plenty of people contemplating a lawsuit express confidence that a judge or jury would find them in the right. In litigation, it is less about who is wrong or right and more about what you can prove. Court decisions are ultimately made by people who come from all types of backgrounds and from all walks of life, and attorneys in high stake cases often employ professional “jury consultants” and perform “mock trials” to gauge how a jury will likely view their case. Despite all the money that is spent on attorneys, consultants, experts and the like, even the best attorneys with the greatest of resources lose cases, and most of us have probably followed cases in which we were surprised by the outcome. From a legal perspective, the reason there are trials is because there are issues of law or fact in which “reasonable people can differ.” If every issue in a case was a “slam dunk,” then there would be no need for a trial.

For these reasons and more, I consider litigation to be the option of last resort. Although the media likes to portray litigation and trials as dramatic and full of suspense (which it certainly can be), they leave out the cost and the time consuming process.

Consider interviewing several litigation firms before embarking on your lawsuit and make sure you weigh all the pros and cons of a long draw out lawsuit. It doesn’t mean litigation shouldn’t be a tool, threat or productive option in your dispute, but just go into the process with your eyes wide open.

Feds Make Change to Help Entrepreneurs Raise More Money

May 9, 2017 Business planning, Real Estate, Small Business Comments Off on Feds Make Change to Help Entrepreneurs Raise More Money

Your federal government has modified rules making it easier to raise more money from so-called “unaccredited investors”. Under the updated rule, known as Rule 504, you can raise up to $5 million from unaccredited investors in a 12-month period. Prior to the 2017 update, you could only raise $1 million from unaccredited investors. The updated $5 million cap is available under Rule 504 offerings and should only be used when the offering is a private placement memorandum offering (“PPM”), where you aren’t marketing the offering to the general public but privately to know persons and contacts. The new $5 million cap will make it easier to raise larger amounts of money from unaccredited persons and we expect to see an increase in persons using Rule 504 to raise money for operating businesses and real estate investments.

Background to Securities Offering Exemptions

At some point in its lifespan, just about every business needs an infusion of capital, whether to buy equipment or inventory, hire more employees, make additional investments or something else.  Obtaining that capital can be accomplished in several ways – maxing out credit cards, getting a business line of credit, tracking down private money loans, bringing on partners who invest money but also participate in the decision-making process of the business, or maybe even having a bake sale!

However, sometimes it makes sense to raise cash by bringing on investors – silent partners who have funds to contribute, but who would rather not (and maybe who you would rather not) participate in the business.  These are the type of folks who want to invest their money, step away, and then have you make the hard decisions and put in the blood, sweat and tears to produce a return on their investment.  When you bring on an investor of this type, whether you know it or not, you have sold that investor a “security” and you are now under the purview of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) – perhaps the only federal agency with a less developed sense of humor than the IRS.

Created by FDR and Congress while the country was in the throes of the Great Depression in 1934, the SEC exists to make sure the excesses and outright frauds that created the 1929 Stock Market Crash do not repeat themselves.  The intervening decades have seen the number and complexity of SEC regulations wax and wane, but in 2017 we are left with a multi-layered, multi-faceted system that those seeking to raise capital should not attempt to navigate without expert guidance.

Regulation D and the 2017 Federal Securities Exemption Options

One of the most popular tools for small businesses looking to raise money is something called “Regulation D.”  In a nutshell, under Regulation D, the SEC allows businesses to raise capital through the sale of securities without requiring those businesses to register said securities with the Commission (an extremely expensive and time-consuming process).  For the past 35 years or so, there have been three separate and distinct sets of hoops to jump through to comply with Regulation D, called Rule 504, Rule 505 and Rule 506.

Rule 506 has been the most popular of the three.  For all intents and purposes, Rule 506 only allows businesses to offer and sell securities to “Accredited Investors” – people with a net worth over $1 million, or whose annual income exceeds $200,000 (individually) or $300,000 (jointly with a spouse).  In exchange for only dealing with Accredited Investors, issuers of Rule 506 offerings get to raise an unlimited amount of money from an unlimited amount of investors over an unlimited amount of time.  In some situations, they may also be eligible to solicit their offerings to the general public (think email blasts and radio and TV ads).  Rule 506 offerings are also simple at the state level – where only the same short document filed with the SEC (the “Form D”) has to be filed (and a fee paid) in each state where Rule 506 securities are sold.

2017 Update

The recent SEC change that will help entrepreneurs raise money comes in Rule 504 of Regulation D.  The nice part about Rule 504 has always been that it allows the company raising the funds to accept money from both accredited and non-accredited investors – a huge advantage if you don’t have contact info for a bunch of super-rich folks in your phone.

The main problem with Rule 504 has always been that you can’t raise more than $1 million in any 12-month period, and $1 million doesn’t go quite as far today as it did in 1988 (which is when the $1 million cap was instituted).  Well, apparently late last year the powers that be at the SEC woke up one morning and realized that 1988 was almost 30 years ago, so they decided to increase the cap from $1 million to $5 million in any 12 month period.  This increase became effective January 20, 2017.  The increase is a potentially significant change, so let’s recap the parameters of the new Rule 504 Offering:

1)   You may offer up to $5 million in securities in any 12 month period.

2)   You may offer securities to an unlimited number of both accredited and non-accredited investors.

3)   Unless you jump through some pretty onerous hoops, you may not “generally solicit” your offering.  You will still need to rely on “word of mouth” marketing.

4)   You can’t play in the Rule 504 sandbox if you have run afoul of the SEC previously and have been branded a “Bad Actor” under their rules.

5)   You still have to comply with state-by-state “Blue Sky” laws.  This can be tricky.  Unlike with a Rule 506 offering, state law compliance is not always as simple as filing the SEC Form D and paying a fee.  In some blessed states (let’s give a shout out to Colorado and South Dakota) the process is exactly the same as a Rule 506 offering.  In others (I’m looking at you California and Texas) the rules are restrictive and complex, and you will be very limited on the number of folks you can accept money from (or even solicit) without “qualifying” the offering in that state.

The bottom line is that if you want to bring on investors and raise up to $5 million in capital, but you are worried about only being able to take money from “accredited investors” then the Rule 504 Offering absolutely needs to be on your radar.  It’s going to take a bit of heavy lifting on the state compliance side of the coin, but depending on the states involved, it could be a very attractive option.  Please speak with an experienced securities attorney to see if a Rule 504 Offering could make sense in your specific situation.

Owner’s Liability After Your LLC is Closed or Dissolved?

April 25, 2017 Asset Protection, Business planning Comments Off on Owner’s Liability After Your LLC is Closed or Dissolved?

Many business owners wonder whether their LLC will protect them from claims and liabilities after their LLC is closed. Does the limited liability protection of the LLC still apply? Does it only apply for claims when the LLC was active? What about after the LLC is closed or dissolved? What if the claim is about something that arose when the LLC was in good standing but was something you never knew and filed after the LLC is dissolved?

Here are a five tips that answer these questions and that will help you decide when to dissolve your LLC.

First, when you close an LLC, a process known as dissolution, you must pay known/present LLC creditors before distributing assets and profits to the owners of the LLC.  If you fail to pay known creditors of the LLC and if you instead distribute assets of the LLC to the owners, then the owners can be sued by those creditors to collect on the assets distributed from the company.  Part of the process of properly dissolving an entity includes sending notice to known creditors.  In other words, if the LLC has current debts/liabilities and/or known creditors, you can’t simply “shut down the doors”, take all of the assets personally, and refuse to pay the creditors.   If the LLC is insolvent (i.e. the debts exceed the assets) and if there are no assets distributed to the LLC owners, then their is no personal assets which a creditor can pursue against the LLC owners.

Second, dissolve the LLC once business operations have ceased and once known creditors have been paid or otherwise resolved. If you have known creditors in your business, you cannot close down an LLC for the sole purpose of evading those creditors and then re-open your business with another LLC if it’s essentially the same business. As a precautionary measure, if you are aware of a liability issue but you are unsure whether it is a legitimate claim, you should wait until the statute of limitations for that potential claim has passed until you dissolve the LLC.

Third, follow the LLC operating agreement and/or state statutes regarding the voting rights required for dissolution and for the order of events to dissolve an LLC. A common order of events is as follows; pay-off all known creditors, return contributed capital to the members, distribute profits/assets to the members.  Many states have a notice requirement to creditors of the LLC which can actually be helpful in some cases to shorten the time limit they may have to file a claim. If you have known creditors you will want to send them notice of the dissolution to shorten the period upon which they have to file a claim for the assets of the LLC.

Fourth, if you dissolve the LLC when no known/present LLC creditors exist, the owners of the LLC are still afforded the protection from creditors for any claims that arose when the LLC was in good standing.  For example, if you dissolved your company in 2015 and were later sued in 2017 for an act that occurred in 2014, then so long as the company was unaware of the incident giving rise to the claim then the members of the LLC would be personally protected from the liabilities of the business.

Fifth, if you are aware of a potential liability (no judgement or lawsuit exists) and dissolve the LLC, the members may be personally liable up to the amount distributed from the LLC upon dissolution. This situation was the 2014 case of CB Richard Ellis v. Terra NostraIn this case, an LLC failed to pay a commission to their broker pursuant to a listing agreement and then dissolved their LLC. The real estate broker eventually obtained a judgement against the dissolved LLC and was able to pursue the members of the LLC for the liability of the LLC up to the amounts distributed to the LLC owners.

In Sum, if the purpose of the LLC has legitimately come to an end, and there aren’t any known/present creditors, then depending on the laws in your state and your situation, you may decide either to (a) keep the LLC open until, for example, the statute of limitations runs out, or (b) shut down the LLC so long as it was in existence and in good standing during the time in which the business had operations. If you dissolve the LLC when there are known/present creditors, the members of the LLC will generally be liable for amounts distributed from the LLC to the owners.

Note:  This article, like all of our articles, is to provide some general guidelines – always get specific advice for your situation.