Smithville Legal Blog

The dangers of fatigued driving

Fatigue slows down reaction times and hampers decision making, but studies suggest that an alarming number of drivers in Texas and around the country are unconcerned by these risks. Six out of 10 of the motorists polled by the National Sleep Foundation admitted to drowsy driving, and more than a third said that they had fallen asleep while behind the wheel at least once. This disturbs road safety advocates because a driver who has not slept for 24 hours is as impaired as a motorist with a blood alcohol content of .10 percent.

Another study conducted on behalf of the American Automobile Association suggests that government crash statistics may not be painting a complete picture. After studying in-vehicle video footage recorded just moments before collisions occurred, researchers concluded that the percentage of accidents involving drowsy drivers could be as much as eight times higher than figures from agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate.

Study finds some groups more likely to use phones while driving

Drivers in Texas whose attitudes toward safety are negative may be more likely to use their mobile phones while behind the wheel. In addition, frequent phone users and women are more likely to get distracted by a mobile device while driving. These were among the results of a recent study published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

The study also found that drivers who were more experienced were less likely to drive while using their phones. It is estimated that talking on a mobile phone while driving makes it about twice as likely that the motorist will be involved in a car accident. Texting and driving makes an accident around six times more likely.

Business formation types that limit personal liability

If you own and operate your own small business, or if you are looking to launch your own small business, one of the first things you should consider is how to reduce your degree of personal liability in that business. Even if you are not creating a business that has obvious risks, such as some sort of outdoor recreation or transportation endeavor, you still have certain areas in which you may be liable, or responsible, if someone sues you.

Exactly how liable you are in the event that your company becomes the subject of a lawsuit or judgment depends on the type of business entity you operate. Certain business structures, such as the limited liability company and the S corporation, can limit the amount of personal liability you have in your business. 

The importance of an estate plan

Having a carefully crafted will is important, but this only a small part of ensuring that assets will be managed in accordance with one's wishes. A well-developed estate plan is necessary to address the complicated issues that can arise regarding a decedent's estate. With an estate plan, a Texas resident can specify what should happen to their estate after they die, their reasons for wanting their estate handled in a specific way and who should be in charge of the estate to ensure that it is managed properly.

In addition to having a will, an estate plan could include trusts, powers of attorney and a health care directive. Furthermore, documents will be necessary to express one's reasons or intent for the decisions they make.

Estate planning changes to accompany divorce

When people in Texas decide to divorce, they are often aware of the range of financial, practical and emotional changes and decisions that lie ahead. While divorcing spouses are often prepared for these challenges, there are some issues that can be very important yet are rarely considered at the time of a divorce filing. One such issue is estate planning; during a marriage, many people develop an estate plan jointly with their spouses. After the marriage has come to an end, it is time to change those plans.

There are a number of changes that cannot be made until the divorce is final. For example, spouses cannot change the beneficiaries of their life insurance, retirement, investment, pension or other accounts until after the divorce is completed. However, there are other steps that can be taken right after the filing is made. In addition, once the divorce is final, those previously untouchable accounts can be the first to receive attention. When people fail to change these beneficiaries after divorce, the situation can lead to later lawsuits and family disputes after polices have been disbursed.

Estate planning can protect people from elder abuse

Failing to plan for the future can have costly and dangerous impacts on people in Texas, especially seniors over 65 who do not have a will or other key estate planning documents. One Wells Fargo survey found that around 40 percent of Americans in this age group do not have critical documents in place that can protect them if they are incapacitated and can make sure their wishes are followed upon their death. Without these plans in place, people can be more vulnerable to financial abuse and exploitation, a major concern for elderly Americans.

There are four key estate planning documents that everyone should have in place for the future: a will, a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive and a health care power of attorney. While a will designates what will happen to a person's belongings and property after he or she passes away, the other documents address a person's needs in case they are incapacitated and no longer able to make decisions for themselves.

Estate planning can be crucial for the future

For people in Texas concerned about providing for their loved ones and preparing for the future, estate planning is a must. This process involves the creation of certain documents, like wills, trusts and powers of attorney, in order to arrange for how a person's assets will be handled through their life and after death. It can also address key concerns like how decisions will be made on key matters like healthcare or finances in case a person is incapacitated. While many people recognize just how important it can be to draw up an estate plan, 55 percent of Americans do not have the most basic document: a will.

When people steer clear of estate planning, they wind up leaving the decisions about their assets and their loved ones in the hands of the state and probate court. Assets of people who die without wills are passed according to state intestacy laws, and probate court fees can eat up a portion of the estate as well as delay its disbursement. By working on an estate plan, a person can create a will as well as trusts and powers of attorney that can establish a strong plan for management of their assets.

Should you start a sole proprietorship or LLC?

As an entrepreneur, you may be wondering what business entity you should form. The company type you choose will affect how you will pay business taxes and how much personal liability you will risk. If you are starting out on your own, you may be trying to decide between starting a sole proprietorship or limited liability company.  

There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these entities. Here are the pros and cons of operating an LLC versus a sole proprietorship.

Pitfalls to avoid in creating a trust

A trust can be a powerful tool as part of a Texas resident's estate plan. Assets such as annuities or life insurance policies can be placed in a trust so they can increase in value while tax deferred or tax free. A person can also place conditions on distributions such as having them go to a beneficiary over a period of time or after reaching certain milestones. The grantor may have a goal for the trust, such as providing for the education of grandchildren, that can be written into the document.

However, after all of this preparation, many grantors then go on to make one mistake, and that is appointing a family member or friend as trustee. This can seem like a logical choice since this is a person who knows the family and will understand the grantor's wishes. However, it is also likely this person will lack the time as well as the financial and legal expertise to administer the trust.

Distracted driving across the country

When drivers in Texas get behind the wheel, there is an approximately 39 percent chance that they will be using a handheld mobile phone while driving. This is on the higher end of the results produced by a nationwide study conducted by Everdrive, a mobile app. The application tracks drivers' safety practices, with their consent, and the study obtained data from 300,000 American drivers who make use of the app.

While around 40 percent of the trips taken by Texas drivers involve phone use, other states saw even higher numbers. For example, in Mississippi, 47 percent of all trips involved use of a mobile phone while behind the wheel, followed closely by Louisiana and Alabama. The South in general had the highest rates of cellphone usage with Georgia, South Carolina and Florida rounding out the top states with 42 percent cellphone usage behind the wheel. Making use of a handheld mobile for calls, texts or internet access behind the wheel is a concern because it is a major cause of distracted driving. Any kind of driver behavior that diverts eyes and attention from the road can easily lead to devastating auto accidents.

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