Smithville Legal Blog

Single people and estate-tax planning

Single residents in Texas may have to adjust how they handle their estate-tax planning due to the changes in the tax law brought on by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Under the TCJA, the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption was raised to $11.18 million for the 2018 tax year and $11.4 million for the 2019 tax year. There will also be adjustments for annual inflation from 2020 to 2025.

These changes are very beneficial for people who have larger estates. However, the significantly increased exemption amounts mean that everyone, including unmarried individuals, with an estate plan or who plan to develop an estate plan should strongly consider taking advantage.

IIHS studies the safety benefits of automatic braking systems

Car buyers in Texas who are concerned about safety should consider getting a vehicle equipped with an automatic braking system, according to researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The nonprofit road safety advocacy group recently analyzed police accident reports to determine how effective this technology is in real-world situations, and they discovered that it reduces rear-end impacts by up to 68 percent.

General Motors began offering automatic braking systems on its sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs in 2013. As part of its study, the IIHS scrutinized police reports of rear-end crashes involving GM vehicles. Researchers then checked a list of serial numbers provided by GM to see how many of the accidents involved cars equipped with the automatic safety systems.

The facts about start-ups and trade secret protection

Companies in Texas often go to great lengths to protect their proprietary information. Many businesses, especially ones just getting started, often have important information they don't want to be made public. This knowledge can include everything from creative or manufacturing methodologies to unique in-house technology. While legal options are available to both start-ups and existing businesses looking to protect important trade secrets, there are some important facts about this type of intellectual property (IP) about which newly launched businesses should be aware.

Trade secret battles may result in ongoing business law issues sometimes because there is a debate over what is considered a "trade secret." According to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (USTA), the definition of this term extends to devices, formulas, techniques and methods, programs and compilations with independent economic value. In 2016, a federal law known as the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) became effective. It gives parties with trade secrets the option to pursue legal action in state or federal courts for misappropriation claims.

Publicity, laws and penalties address distracted driving dangers

Smartphones tempt drivers in Texas to take their attention away from the road all of the time. Known as distracted driving, the behavior has caused an increase in traffic accidents and prompted a growing number of states to pursue legislation to address the dangerous problem. Researchers who have studied the results of laws that ban holding phones while driving have concluded that a mix of public awareness campaigns and strong laws and penalties can reduce negative behaviors like texting or using social media behind the wheel.

The marketing director at TrueMotion, which informs insurance companies about mobile device usage, said that media exposure on the subject of distracted driving improves people's awareness of their dangerous habits. The company collected data in three states that passed laws meant to punish drivers distracted by devices. Researchers measured a 19 percent drop in distracting behaviors after the passage of tough laws in two states. In a third state, they recorded a 22 percent drop in texting or app usage while driving.

Steps to take during a merger or acquisition

In an effort to run a business more efficiently, an organization may choose to merge with a competitor. Acquiring or merging with other companies in Texas can be a complex process. The first step is the due diligence process, during which each side learns more about each other and the proposed deal itself. Ideally, companies will review all aspects of the deal including its financial and technological impacts.

To ensure a successful merger or acquisition, it's a good idea to determine the new management structure before the deal is completed. This makes it easier to implement once two companies officially become one entity. The faster that a new management team is in place, the more confidence that interested parties can have in the deal. There should also be an effort made to identify which types of technology should be kept or dismantled once the merger or acquisition is complete.

AAA: drivers don't know the limitations of their car safety tech

Texas residents may find that driver assistance systems provide a great benefit to them. It's true that car safety features are effective and can prevent about 40 percent of car crashes and about 30 percent of crash-related fatalities, according to federal estimates. However, they can backfire on drivers if they fail to grasp the limitations inherent in technology. This is where a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety comes in.

AAA has found some alarming evidence that drivers are over-reliant on safety features like blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. 80 percent of drivers with the former do not know about its limited ability to detect fast-approaching cars, bicyclists and pedestrians, and 20 percent never even look for oncoming vehicles when changing lanes.

Why estate planning is important for adults

There are several reasons a person in Texas may need an estate plan regardless of whether the person is wealthy or not. However, people may hesitate to make one. One survey found that only 42 percent of people said they had an estate plan.

For wealthy people, an estate plan is important in avoiding taxes including gift tax, estate tax and generation-skipping transfer tax. An estate plan can also be used to establish philanthropic giving. A person might want to create a trust or a foundation to donate to charity. Limited liability entities or trusts could be set up to protect the family wealth from lawsuits. Estate planning can also be an important part of preparing children to become more comfortable with the family wealth. Parents may work with children themselves or have a financial advisor start teaching them about money.

What to say and not say when police pull you over for DWI

With school underway, so is partying with your fellow college students. While this may be a normal part of college life, it can also be a source of legal trouble if you are not careful. A common way partying can land you in hot water is by driving while intoxicated.

Unfortunately, it does not take much for your blood alcohol level to rise. Numerous factors play a role in the rate your body metabolizes alcohol, such as your sex, size, health, speed of consumption and food intake. So even if you think it is safe to get behind the wheel, it may not be, and you can find yourself face to face with a Texas police officer on the side of the road. What you say and do not say is influential in the outcome of your case, so review these tips to avoid making the situation worse.

Estate planning lessons to be learned from Aretha Franklin

It's not unusual for hardworking individuals in Texas to do everything possible to protect the future of their assets. This is often done legally with either a will or trust. However, many estate owners neglect to do this. For example, the late R&B singer Aretha Franklin never made such arrangements with her own estate, estimated to be valued at approximately $80 million. Because of a lack of will or trust, the Queen of Soul's four sons have come forward as interested parties. Franklin's niece has reportedly been selected to act as the estate's personal representative.

When properly prepared, wills and trusts can expedite estate matters following a death. The singer's entertainment lawyer said that he had tried several times over the years to convince Franklin to complete a trust. She did, however, have an estate lawyer. Even so, it's unclear as to why she never followed through with the legal advice she was given. The "Freeway of Love" singer was said to have certain financial quirks, such as demanding to be paid in cash prior to performances.

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