Sunday, September 29, 2013

Digital Undead: How to keep from becoming a social media zombie by estate planning

Every time I log onto LinkedIn, I am asked if I want to become associated with a dearly departed friend. It's more than disconcerting, it's downright macabre. Unfortunately her family doesn't know her login and passwords to her LinkedIn and many other social media sites she was active on. So her friends, family, and social acquaintances are constantly reminded of her passing and unable to stop the ghoulish prompts.
It's time for Internet and social media users to start thinking of their user names and passwords as part of their estate planning, so that they can securely leave this information for family members to access upon their death. Digital assets, such as iTunes, Twitter, and Facebook accounts may or may not be transferable to beneficiaries depending upon each companies specific licensing terms and agreements, but even so, no one wants their family members' account to "live" eternally once they are dead.

If you have a business and you or your business partner have tens of thousands of Twitter or Facebook followers, your online account is of great value even though it might not be found listed on your financial statement. These integral assets, including domain names, blogs, and websites, need to be thought of and treated as assets. Thus they should be listed and considered as part of your financial possessions to be bequeathed upon one's death.
According to attorney Kate Diehm, of Rucci Law Group, LLC, "When thinking of business assets (domain names, business Twitter/Facebook accounts, etc.), the most important thing is to make sure that the digital assets are owned by the business entity, not an individual. (In other words, if you had an employee set up your website for you ten years ago, make sure that the domain name is owned by the business, not by the employee.) That's critical, not just for succession planning issues, but also for investment in your current business - if you're running a successful e-commerce site, but the business doesn't own the domain name, the business is missing control over a critical asset."     
Don't forget that assets in online trading and bank accounts can be difficult to access and close without user ID and passwords so creating and maintaining a secure access list is crucial.   
So, what can you do to prepare for this? Here are a few simple steps to ensure your digital life will be managed after death:  

To quote Chuck Palahniuk: 
"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."

Benay's Role
Benay works diligently to understand the changing financial climates and legal directives for our clients' respective states so that we can effectively inform and assist them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Soho Press's 'Masaryk Station' Close Out Series With A Bang, Receives Much Praise

by Colleen McClintock

Benay client, New York-based publisher, Soho found one of their newest books well-lauded in the September 15 issue of the New York Times Book Review.

Coming out of the Soho Crime imprint, Masaryk Station is the last of a series of six crime novels written by author David Downing. It is set inside a post-WWII political context; a setting that lends itself aptly to suspense and drama.  Likewise, it is a world that can seem impossibly complex to anyone examining it, but as Jan Stuart says in her review in the New York Times Book Review, Downing does an incredible job of “elucidating… post-World War II geopolitics without dumbing down.”

Like most crime series, the books follow the secret, often tumultuous life of a man undercover. In this case, we see John Russell; a journalist-turned-spy who – by the sixth installment of the series – has got himself mixed up in the proverbial snake pit of post-WWI/pre-Cold War Germany. He is working for both the CIA and Stalin’s NKVD , and no longer sees the benefit in either. As Russell scrambles for a way to come out clean, Masaryrk Station quickly starts to show the reader that it will in no way be letting the Russell series go out quietly.

If you are interested in the John Russell series, visit the Soho Crime website to view all of the titles that comprise it. Pick up a copy of Zoo Station – the first installment of the Russell series – to get started today.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lee Montgomery's Fall Master Writer's Workshop

Former Tin House editor, Lee Montgomery is teaching an intermediate advanced “master” writer’s workshop in Portland, OR: The Fall Master Writer’s Workshop. The class begins on October 8th and will be held Tuesdays 6-8pm. Tuition is $600 and enrollment is limited to ten people.

“Designed to combine seminar and workshop methodologies, Montgomery employs in-class exercises, outside reading, as well as the classic workshop format. Students can expect to present new work at least twice during the session in addition to a private consultation with Lee during the final weeks of class. For those students who are interested in presenting their work to a broader audience, the class will culminate with a public reading.”

Montgomery has extensive experience as an editor and author. She is the author of The Things Between Us, A Memoir (Free Press, August 2006), Whose World Is This? Stories (University of Iowa Press, September 2007), and Searching for Emily: Illustrated (Nothing Moments Press, October 2007). The Things Between Us received the 2007 Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction and Whose World Is This? received the 2007 John Simmons Iowa Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award in Fiction in 2008.

Click here to download the flyer for further information on signing up. We’re sure that this will be a fun and exciting experience for the students (I’d consider signing up if I was in OR) and wish Lee the best of luck in this and future endeavors.

Same Corporate Compliance Required For Same-Sex Marriages

The Supreme Court's decision on the "Defense of Marriage Act" has forced employers to scramble to ensure their employee benefits plans comply. While creating new responsibilities for employers, it also offers new opportunities and tax strategies for civil unions and/or domestic partners. Employers must continue to monitor their state's marriage and partnership laws in order to keep their employer-provided benefits packages and company policies up-to-date, or risk violating laws and discriminating against newly protected employees and their spouses or partners.

There are currently 13 states that recognize and approve same-sex marriages. On August 29, 2013, the IRS released guidelines that show the effects of the Court's decision on various tax issues, including the coverage of same-sex spouses under employer-sponsored benefit plans.

Several of the key Employee Benefit Implications of the IRS Ruling are:

  • Same-sex couples can receive the same tax break on health coverage that other couples have been receiving.
  • Employees will now be able to seek reimbursement from flexible health spending accounts for the medical expenses of same-sex spouses.
  • The value of employer-provided health coverage for employee's same-sex spouse no longer is to be included in the employee's gross income for federal tax purposes.
  • Contributions made by an employee for the coverage of a same-sex spouse are no longer required to be paid on an after-tax basis.
  • A retirement plan must recognize a same-sex spouse for purposes of qualified joint and survivor annuity and spouse death benefits.
The Supreme Court's decision means same-sex spouses are entitled to a host of benefits they were denied previously. Now in New York, same-sex spouses should be offered education and funeral leave as well as the right to take leaves under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for an ill same-sex spouse.

In addition, other employer-provided benefits and policies for opposite-sex spouses also must be offered without discrimination to same-sex spouses.

Legal ambiguities remain and will have to be resolved in future court decisions but here are some tips: 

Benay's Role

Benay works diligently to understand the changing laws for our clients' respective states so that we can effectively inform and advise them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Remembrance of 9/11

At this time 12 years ago, I was on my morning commute—unaware what horrors were unfolding. Upon my arrival, Dawn Reshen-Doty asked me up to her office saying “Do you want to watch the TV up here?” I had assumed a client was on the morning news discussing their latest book. I then soon found out what the reality was, and just a few moments after I had reached her office—we watched the second plane hit.

The day was spent trying to make sense of what had happened as well as trying to reach our clients (most of them at the time were located in the city) and employees’ friends and family to make sure all were accounted for, and safe.  Due to most phone lines being tied up or completely down, this took a few days. However, even though a few clients were located extremely close to Ground Zero, we eventually found that everyone was safe.

On this September 11th, we at Benay not only reflect on the thousands of lives that were lost, we are also thankful to have the clients we do. While some have come and gone over the years since, our clients are our extended family. We are very thankful to have worked with all of them.

Merrilee Warholak, Director of Client Relations

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Benay Tips For Surviving Annual Insurance Audits

Almost every insurance company requires an annual review of a company's payroll and financial records. It's
very easy to get through these quickly and without incident if you prepare.
Here are some tips:

  • Create a separate file specifically for audits that contains copies of all quarterly payroll tax reports for state and federal agencies, as they are always required. On the federal level they are 941 forms while the state forms vary. If you file them yourself, keep copies. If you have a payroll provider, such as ADP or Paychex, make sure you receive copies from them.
  • You will always be asked for payroll records for the audit period in question, so keep your payroll and taxes up to date. Your financial records will be compared to the tax filings, so do not fall behind in entering them. Not having up to date financial records is a sure sign to any auditors that something may be amiss in your company, even if it's not.
  • Reconcile your accounts every month - this is a good way to remain on top of financial data entry, not to mention understanding your financial picture. You will be required to provide sales journals, sales tax reports, and your general ledgers if requested.
  • Be sure to keep copies of Workers Compensation Insurance and other policies on hand that may be needed.
  • When paying bills, make sure you track and maintain records on payments to independent contractors. This will be reviewed by auditors to make sure you are not trying to avoid paying any withholding payroll taxes on individuals who should really be treated as employees. You will also be required to show any certificates of insurance for subcontractors you may have, if applicable.   

If you follow these tips and prepare, prepare, prepare, and even provide these documents to your auditor prior to meeting, the entire process should go smoothly. Then you can get ready for the next years' audit!

Benay's Role

Benay handles the annual audits for all of our clients, leaving them free to focus on running and growing their businesses. Our clients never experience that last minute rush to gather records and reports because we always have the necessary records on hand. If you want a business management company that frees you to focus on growth and development, please give us a call.