April 23, 2014

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012: Bidding Adieu to the Sunset (Part 3)

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-Part Series. For Part 1, click here, and for Part 2, click here.

By Merry H. Balson and Laurie A. Hunter

Return of the Charitable IRA Rollover Through 2013. The 2012 Tax Act extended the IRA charitable rollover rules through 2013. These rules were originally put in place in 2006, and had expired at the end of 2011. The charitable IRA rollover provisions allow individuals who are 70 ½ or older to transfer (or “rollover”) up to $100,000 per year from their IRAs to most charities on a “tax neutral” basis if the transfer is a “qualified charitable distribution” and satisfies certain rules. Qualified Charitable Distributions will not count as taxable income to the individual (as would usually be the case in any other distribution from an IRA) but no charitable income tax deduction is allowed for the contribution. Transfers must be directly from the IRA trustee to the charity to qualify. Additionally, transfers to private foundations, donor advised funds, supporting organizations or split-interest trusts (such as charitable remainder or charitable lead trusts) do not qualify for this special treatment. Because the charitable IRA rollover had expired in 2011 and has now been reinstated retroactively for 2012, taxpayers were also allowed to treat distributions from IRAs made after November 20, 2012 and before January 31, 2013 as a charitable IRA rollover for 2012, if that distribution is made in cash to charity before January 31, 2013. As a result, in 2013 taxpayers had an opportunity to give up to $200,000 to charity from their IRAs (with $100,000 treated as given in 2012) if they acted by the end of January.

Other Annual Extenders. The 2012 Tax Act also extended a number of credits and deductions that have been extended year by year for some time, and did not make them “permanent.” These include the American Opportunity Tax Credit,[1] more favorable conservation easement rules,[2] more favorable depreciation rules, the wind energy credit, and research and development credits.

Health Care Act Changes. Finally, changes taking place in 2013 include raising the medical expense deduction to 10% of adjusted gross income from 7.5%, and the new 3.8% surtax on net investment income for single taxpayers with $200,000 “modified” adjusted gross income and $250,000 for married filing jointly.

Conclusion

The 2012 Tax Act is replete with references to permanence. While that might provide comfort to some, keep in mind that the provisions of the 2012 Tax Act are only truly permanent until Congress and the President decide to change them. Until then, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that sunset never came to pass, and for the first time in decades advise our clients about the tax implications of their gifts during life and at death with some measure of certainty.

Merry H. Balson is Of Counsel at Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C., where her practice emphasizes estate planning, estate and trust administration and forming and advising exempt organizations. She can be reached at mbalson@wadeash.com or 303-329-2215.

Laurie A. Hunter is a Shareholder at Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C., where her practice emphasizes estate planning, probate and trust administration. She can be reached at lhunter@wadeash.com or 303-329-2227.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

 


[1] Pub.L. 112-240, Sec. 103, H.R. 8, 126 Stat. 2313 (2013).

[2] Pub.L. 112-240, Sec. 206, H.R. 8, 126 Stat. 2313 (2013).

The Intersection of Lawful Off-Duty Activities and Employment Discrimination

A few years ago, the national and local news ran a story about a man who was employed by a company that distributes Budweiser beer and was fired for drinking a Coors (click here for the Denver Post story). The man said that the company president’s son-in-law saw him sipping the Coors, and he was terminated two days later.

We know there are two sides to every story, and the article focused on the man’s story, not the employer’s. However, if what the man said was true, the employer violated the Lawful Activities Statute, C.R.S. § 24-34-402.5. This statute provides “It shall be a discriminatory or unfair practice for an employer to terminate the employment of any employee due to that employee’s engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours. . . .” The statute applies only to employees, not job applications.

The statute enumerates three exceptions to this rule, if the conduct: (1) relates to a bona fide occupational requirement; (2) creates a conflict of interest; and (3) is rationally related to the employment activities.

In the beer case, the employer claimed that the employee’s activity fell under all three exceptions–the employer stated that the employee was terminated to avoid a conflict of interest, and that his conduct was rationally related to a bona fide occupational requirement.

The beer case never went to trial, but the issue is not uncommon in employment disputes. Very few cases have interpreted the statute, however; Marsh v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1458 (D. Colo. 1997) provides most of the guidance on the issue.

To learn more about the intersection of lawful off-duty activities and employment discrimination, don’t miss CBA-CLE’s Employment Law Conference April 4 and 5 at the Denver Marriott City Center. Click the links below to register online or call (303) 860-0608.

CLE Program: 2013 Employment Law Conference

This CLE presentation will take place on Thursday and Friday, April 4 and 5, 2013, at the Denver Marriott City Center. Click here to register for the live program.

Can’t make the live program? Click here to order the homestudy.

Split Decision in the U.S. Supreme Court

BNHoffmanBy Brian Neil Hoffman

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued two much-anticipated decisions on securities law matters: One on the statute of limitations applicable in SEC enforcement matters in Gabelli et al. v. Securities and Exchange Commission, No. 11-1274 (Feb. 27, 2013) and another on class certification standards in private securities class actions in Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, No. 11-1085 (Feb. 27, 2013). The rulings together present a “you win some, you lose some” outcome for securities law litigants.

In the Gabelli case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the SEC’s five-year time limit to recover civil penalties (contained in 28 U.S.C. § 2462) begins to run when the alleged fraud occurs, not when it is later discovered. The Court rejected the SEC’s attempt to graft a “discovery rule” onto the statutory limitations period. Unlike private plaintiffs, the Court reasoned, part of the SEC’s very mission is to ferret out potential securities law violations. The SEC has a plethora of tools available to aid in the effort — including examination and subpoena powers, the ability to pay whistleblower incentive awards, and cooperation agreements. As such, the Court found that the agency should not benefit from a presumption allowing further delays.

The ruling is bound to set the SEC scrambling to assess its current case load and prioritizations. Indeed, we may see a push to bring, or close, more dated cases, and a new urgency in cases approaching the five year mark. Importantly, the decision leaves untouched the SEC’s authority to seek a civil injunction, cease-and-desist order, and disgorgement at any point – even more than five years after the misconduct. Yet the staff may be reluctant to seek these remedies unaccompanied by claims for a civil penalty. Moreover, the Court did not address whether the SEC could rely on equitable tolling (that is, when a defendant takes steps – independent from the fraud itself – to conceal his or her actions) to seek penalties after the five year period. Nor did the Court address whether the ruling applies to other punishments that the SEC could seek: officer-and-director or securities industry collateral bars. Despite these uncertainties, registered entities, public companies, auditors, and other market participants can breathe a small, brief sigh of relief that there is now at least some certainty about how long a potential SEC enforcement action may be afoot.

The Amgen decision, however, is less defendant-friendly. In this 6-3 ruling, the majority held that private securities class action plaintiffs do not need to prove that the alleged misrepresentations or omissions were material at the class certification stage. Class action plaintiffs seeking class certification frequently rely on the “fraud-on-the-market” presumption to overcome a need to prove reliance by each individual class member. The presumption allows a court to presume that the price of a security in an efficient market reflects all publicly-available material information, which a buyer presumptively relied upon when purchasing the security. Although the efficiency of the market for Amgen’s securities was not in question, Amgen challenged the materiality of the challenged misrepresentations or omissions and, thus, the appropriateness of using the fraud-on-the-market presumption to overcome individual reliance issues. The Supreme Court majority rejected this argument. Rather, it held that materiality is evaluated on an objective standard, and thus raised a question common to all class members.

The Amgen decision is a disappointment to entities and individuals named as defendants in securities class actions. Rulings on class certification are important mileposts in a private securities lawsuit, often significantly affecting damages and sometimes dictating whether a case even proceeds at all. Yet decreasing plaintiffs’ burden at this stage, as the Amgen decision does, only increases the pressure on defendants to try and resolve or narrow claims at other stages of the case. The Amgen case is not a total loss for defendants, though. Justice Alito’s short concurrence noted that “more recent evidence suggests that the [entire fraud-on-the-market] presumption may rest on a faulty economic premise.” Time will tell the uses to which lower courts and the defense bar put this missive.

For litigants, the effects of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Gabelli and Amgen are both immediate and concrete. Both decisions, albeit in different contexts, ultimately address whether and how a securities case will proceed. And both decisions significantly affect the remedies that may be awarded in those cases. Yet perhaps most importantly, both decisions — whether viewed favorably or unfavorably — provide some degree of certainty in a previously uncertain area.

Brian Neil Hoffman is Of Counsel in Morrison & Foerster’s Securities Litigation, Enforcement, and White-Collar Defense Group. He recently served as a Senior Attorney in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. He now represents entities and individuals in government and self-regulatory organization investigations and proceedings; conducts corporate internal investigations; and defends shareholder class action and derivative lawsuits. He can be contacted at bhoffman@mofo.com and (303) 592-2227.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Social Media Policies: Permissible Employer Regulation

Joel Jacobson_pictureBy Joel Jacobson

Social media use is rapidly increasing and has become central to the workforce. Employers recognize that public information posted online is useful for monitoring employee activity and the portrayal of the company. However, new technologies result in unintended, legal consequences. Recently, an Applebee’s waitress was terminated after posting a customer’s receipt on reddit and the SEC warned Netflix’s CEO that his Facebook post might trigger securities regulations. Colorado attorneys should pay attention to legal developments within the social media context because the appropriate level of employer regulation of employee social media use remains unsettled.

Many laws are potentially implicated when an employer improperly regulates or misuses information from social networking sites. Notably, Anti-Discrimination laws (ADA, Title VII, ADEA), Stored Communications Act, National Labor Relations Act (protecting concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection), Lawful Off-Duty Conduct, and common law privacy claims should be considered. Recent decisions have targeted social media policies that are wide sweeping and impinge on protected employee action. In fact, rulings by the NLRB led large, publicly traded companies including GM, Target, and Costco to rewrite their social media policies.

The chairman of the NLRB explains that social media is the “new water cooler” and that current government regulation results from “applying traditional rules to new technology.” Application of the traditional rules takes place on a case-by-case basis and the NLRB found it permissible to terminate a single employee whose internet posts harmed the company and had no relation to protected activity. Workers have the right to talk with each other for the goal of improving pay, benefits, and working conditions. As such, social media policies should be revisited to determine whether they are too restrictive. Courts will look to company policies, procedures, and conduct so it is essential that Colorado attorneys help draft guidelines tailored to accomplish a specific, lawful end.

Employers will continue to turn to lawyers for guidance in this developing area of law. To this end, Colorado lawyers should know that employers must not access employee, online information by deceitful means. Also, common law privacy claims can be addressed with a written policy that defeats an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Finally, a savings clause in a social media policy can explicitly state that the policy is not meant to prevent employees from engaging in protected, concerted activity.

Joel Jacobson is a Contracts and Operations Associate with H.B. Stubbs Company, LCC – a national design and fabrication firm headquartered near Detroit, MI for exhibits displayed by technology and automotive companies. He focuses on contracts, employment law, and a variety of non-legal business issues. Joel serves on the Executive Council of the Denver Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and has an interest in topics impacting start-up companies in the Denver entrepreneurial community. He can be reached by email at jmjacobson1@gmail.com or on Twitter @J_m_Jacobson.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

U.S. District Court Strikes Down IRS’s Registered Tax Return Preparer Regulations

TramLeBy Tram Le

On Jan. 18, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision enjoining the IRS from enforcing its new registered tax return preparer program. See Loving v. IRS, No. 12-385, 2013 WL 204667 (D.D.C. Jan. 18, 2013).

In 2011, the IRS issued final regulations requiring all paid tax return preparers, who were not otherwise regulated by the IRS, to comply with Circular No. 230. Specifically, the regulations required tax return preparers who are not attorneys, CPAs or enrolled agents to pass a qualifying exam, pay an annual fee, and take 15 hours of continuing education courses each year.

In promulgating the regulations, the IRS relied on 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330, which gave them the authority to regulate individuals who “practice” before it.

Factual and Procedural History

Three paid tax return preparers, who were not previously regulated, filed suit against the IRS in federal court. The individuals argued that the IRS had no authority under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330 to regulate tax return preparers who only prepare and sign tax returns, and file claims for refund and other documents with the IRS.

The tax return preparers claimed that the new IRS regulations would likely cause them to lose customers and close their business due to the increased costs and burdens associated with compliance. Therefore, they sought for injunctive and declaratory relief and moved for summary judgment.

Issue and Decision

The issue before the court was whether all paid tax return preparers are “representatives” who “practice” before the IRS under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330 and therefore, are properly subject to the new IRS regulations. In deciding the case, the court applied the two prong Chevron test. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984). The first step asks whether “the intent of Congress is clear.” Under this test, if the intent is clear, then the court “must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress” and does not need to address the second step.

In this case, the court found that the intent of Congress was clear under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330 and preparers who are limited to preparing and signing tax returns and claims for refund, and other documents to the IRS are not “representatives” who “practice” before the IRS.

The court reasoned that under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330(a)(2)(D), the definition of “practice of representatives” does not include tax return preparation. The court equates “practice” as advising and assisting taxpayers in presenting their cases. The court stated that merely filing a tax return would never in its normal usage be described as “presenting a case.”

The court also reasoned that the IRS’s interpretation of 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330 would displace an existing statutory scheme that regulates penalties on tax return preparers. The court referred to Title 26 of the U.S. Code, which provides for a “careful, regimented schedule of penalties for misdeeds by tax-return preparers.” For example, a tax return preparer would be subject to a fine of $50 (with an annual maximum of $25,000) for failing to sign a return without reasonable cause under 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6695(c). If tax return preparers were subject to 31 U.S.C. Sec. 330, the IRS would have a considerable amount of discretion to impose penalties ranging from $0 and the “gross income derived (or to be derived) from the conduct giving rise to the penalty.”

Furthermore, the court stated that a federal penalty provision pursuant to 26 U.S.C. Sec. 7407, which remedies abusive practice by tax return preparers, would be irrelevant under the IRS’s interpretation.

The court held that the statute was not ambiguous based on the plain language and does not clearly cover individuals who prepare and sign tax returns, file claims for refund and other documents to the IRS. Since the regulations failed under the first prong of the Chevron test, the court did not consider the second prong. As such, the court granted a declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief, enjoining the IRS from enforcing its new regulations.

Appeal of Ruling

In response to the district court’s decision, the IRS filed a motion to suspend the permanent injunction against the tax return preparer regulations. On Feb. 1, 2013, the court denied the IRS’s motion. However, the court agreed to modify the ruling to clarify that IRS could continue its Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) program and was not required to close its testing and continuing-education centers.

Tram Le, CPA, Esq., LL.M. – SALT Consultant – Golden, CO – With more than six years of government financial and forensic auditing experience, Tram has developed and implemented audit procedures for forensic audits and assisted in investigations of fraud, waste and abuse such as improper payments. Tram is a CPA and a licensed attorney.  She received a joint JD/LL.M. in taxation from the University of Denver. Tram is currently developing knowledge and expertise in State and Local Tax (SALT). She focuses on variety of state and local sales and income/franchise tax issues and assists with protesting and the representation of clients at administrative appeals and appeals meetings. She writes for the CBA Taxation Section newsletter, where this article originally appeared.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Environmental Concerns in Estate Planning and Real Estate Conveyancing

When constructing an estate plan, property conveyance is an important feature. However, devising property can sometimes create unanticipated problems when the property is subject to environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act,  Endangered Species Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates the discharge of pollutants into natural waters and regulates quality standards for surface waters. The CWA originated in 1948, but was significantly amended into the current CWA in 1972. There are numerous provisions of the CWA that may affect a landowner’s conveyance, but the most likely scenario encountered is the necessity of obtaining a Section 404 permit, which can authorize discharge of dredge or fill material into waters.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) intends to protect and recover endangered or imperiled species in order to maintain the natural ecosystem. It has been described as the most far-reaching wildlife preservation act in the world. Although the ESA does not prevent conveyance of property, it has significant potential to inhibit development of land. If an endangered or threatened species resides on the land to be conveyed, the ESA could prohibit any changes to the natural ecosystem of that species.

CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, was created by Congress in 1980. CERCLA creates penalties for the release of hazardous substances. It also encourages individuals to clean up waste in order to recover cleanup costs from others. CERCLA’s provisions can extend to inherited property, trusts, estates, and trustees or fiduciaries, so it has broad application to estate planning.

Strategies for addressing these environmental acts will be discussed at the CLE offices on Friday, March 9, 2013, at the “Natural Resource Issues in Estate Planning” seminar. Water law topics, real estate conveyancing, conveyance of mineral interests, oil and gas planning, and hard minerals will also be discussed. To register, click the link below or call the CLE offices at (303) 860-0608.

CLE Program: Natural Resource Issues in Estate Planning

This CLE presentation will take place on Friday, March 8, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. Click here to register for the live program, and click here to register for the webcast.

Can’t make the live program? Click here to order the homestudy.

Initial Discovery Protocols for Federal Employment Cases Being Tested in United States District Courts

Diane_S_King_cutout

By Diane King

As of December 1, 2012, United States District Court Judge William Martinez has implemented the Initial Discovery Protocols for Employment Cases Alleging Adverse Action (“Protocols”). The Protocols are the product of a national committee of defense and plaintiff attorneys with the goal of creating pattern discovery for employment cases that would limit unnecessary cost and delay in the litigation process.

The Protocols would replace initial disclosures with initial discovery specific to employment cases alleging adverse action and provided automatically by both sides within 30 days of the defendant’s responsive pleading or motion. Although the Protocols would not affect parties’ subsequent right to discovery under F.R.C.P., they are meant to supersede the initial disclosures pursuant to F.R.C.P. 26(a)(1).

Instead of standard initial disclosures, the Protocols would require both plaintiff and defendant to provide discovery specific to employment cases. For example, the plaintiff will be required to produce any claims, lawsuits, administrative charges and complaints related to the factual allegations at issue in the lawsuit, as well as diaries, journals and calendar entries maintained by the plaintiff concerning the factual allegations of the suit. Conversely, the defendant will be required to produce all communications concerning the factual allegations of the claim, including those between the plaintiff and defendant, as well as between members of management and human resources. The defendant will also be required to produce the plaintiff’s personnel file, and any documentation of discipline.

The effectiveness of the Protocols are currently being tested by individual judges throughout the United States District Courts in a pilot project overseen by the Federal Judicial Center. For a PDF of Judge Martinez’s practice standards for civil and criminal matters, including the Protocols, click here.

Diane S. King is a trial attorney who practices exclusively in the area of plaintiff’s employment/civil rights law. She has represented plaintiffs in all areas of employment law, including federal court, state court, appellate court, arbitration and administrative proceedings. She has written and lectured frequently on employment law issues. She is a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association Executive Board, the Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association Board, and numerous other professional boards. Ms. King is also a Fellow in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. Ms. King is a partner in the firm of King & Greisen, LLP. She received her Juris Doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Expect More FMLA Requests for Leave to Care for an Adult Child as a Result of New DOL Guidance

Wiletsky_MarkBy Mark B. Wiletsky

Employers will likely face additional requests by employees seeking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for an adult child who is unable to care for themselves. The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued an Administrator’s Interpretation (AI), No. 2013-1, clarifying the definition of “son or daughter” under the FMLA as it relates to covered leave for an adult child with a serious health condition. The AI also clarified FMLA leave to care for an adult child injured during military service. Let’s take a look at what employers need to know.

FMLA Leave for Care of a Son or Daughter

The FMLA provides an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a 12-month period to care for a son or daughter with a serious health condition. If the child is age 17 or younger, the employee requesting leave need only show that the child has a serious health condition and the employee is needed to care for the child. However, if the child is age 18 or older, leave is available only if the child has a mental or physical disability and is incapable of self-care because of that disability.

Four-part Test to Determine FMLA Leave for an Adult Child with a Disability

To determine whether a parent is entitled to take FMLA leave to care for their adult (age 18 or older) child, four criteria must be met. The adult son or daughter must:

1)     have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);

2)     be incapable of self-care due to that disability;

3)     have a serious health condition; and

4)     be in need of care due to the serious health condition.

Disability Determination. Because the FMLA regulations rely on the definition of disability found in the ADA, the first criteria will be met if the adult child has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of their major life activities. Because the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) expanded the definition of major life activities that lead to a disability determination, the issue of disability is not likely to require an extensive analysis.

Incapable of Self-Care. The second criteria specifies that the adult child must require active assistance or supervision to provide daily self-care in three or more of the “activities of daily living” or “instrumental activities of daily living.” In essence, this means that the individual needs help with daily activities such as bathing, grooming, dressing, eating, cooking, cleaning, shopping, maintaining their home, using a telephone, etc. Determining whether an adult child is incapable of self-care due to their disability is a fact-specific analysis that must be made based on their condition at the time of the requested leave.

FMLA Serious Health Condition. If the adult child meets the first two criteria in the test, the analysis turns to whether the child has a serious health condition, as defined by the FMLA. This means the individual has an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. In many cases, the impairments that meet the definition of disability under the ADAAA will also meet the definition of serious health condition under the FMLA. However, it is important to note that the serious health condition does not have to be associated with the individual’s disability (e.g., a broken leg may be the serious health condition for an individual whose disability is cancer).

Care Needed. Finally, the parent requesting leave must be needed to care for the adult child with a serious health condition. This threshold is relatively low as the term “needed to care” can include providing transportation for doctor appointments, preparing food and offering psychological comfort and reassurance.

Age at Onset of Disability Doesn’t Matter

An important clarification made by the DOL is that the disability of the child does not have to have occurred or been diagnosed before the child turned 18 years old. For purposes of FMLA leave, it does not matter when the disability commenced. The DOL believes this interpretation is consistent with the legislative history and purpose of the FMLA.

Caring for Adult Children Injured During Military Service

Under the FMLA military caregiver provision, the parent of a covered servicemember who incurred a serious injury or illness during military service may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period. Recognizing that the impact of the injury may extend beyond a single 12-month period, the DOL clarified that the servicemember’s parent may take FMLA leave to care for a son or daughter in subsequent years due to the adult child’s serious health condition, provided all other FMLA requirements are met.

What Do I Do Now?

With the potential influx of new FMLA leave requests related to the care of an adult child, review your FMLA policies and procedures now to ensure that they are consistent with the new DOL guidance. Train your human resource professionals and any supervisors who handle leave requests to recognize the issues associated with leave for the care of an adult child. And finally, given the complexities involved in this four-part test, consult with your legal counsel when faced with a leave request to care for an adult child.

Mark B. Wiletsky is Of Counsel at Holland & Hart. He has experience representing public and private entities in all aspects of employment law, including defense of claims at the administrative, trial, and appellate levels under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Section 1981 and 1983, and First Amendment retaliation claims. He also has experience with a variety of state law claims, including wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, Colorado’s Wage Claim Act and defamation, and he has handled traditional labor issues and arbitrations as well. Mr. Wiletsky blogs at www.coloradoemploymentlawblog.com, where this post originally appeared.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

New Tax Law for a New Year

JenniferMSpitzBy Jennifer M. Spitz

On January 2, 2013, the President signed into law the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA). ATRA extends much of the prior tax laws, by extending tax acts passed in 2001 and 2010. ATRA also makes some changes to prior law. Much of ATRA is permanent, meaning it is not scheduled to expire. Select highlights of ATRA of particular interest to trust and estate attorneys, including changes to some key exemptions and rates, are summarized below.

2013 Tax Act 01 18 13

Portability: The 2010 tax act included a provision allowing a surviving spouse to utilize the unused estate tax exclusion amount of the first spouse to die, if a timely election is made. This concept is referred to as portability. ATRA extends portability. The IRS has issued Treasury Regulations clarifying some aspects of portability. Also ATRA included a technical correction to make clear there is no “privity” requirement.

GST Tax: ATRA extends the generation-skipping transfer tax benefits that have been in place since 2001, such as qualified severances, automatic allocation of GST exemption to certain lifetime transfers, and 9100 relief.

Clawback: During 2011 and 2012 there was much discussion about whether there would be a “clawback” if the gift and estate tax exclusion amount dropped from the $5,120,000 amount applicable in 2012 to a lower amount in 2013. Since the exclusion amount did not drop, the clawback issue is moot.

IRAs:  ATRA reinstates the ability for certain individuals to make tax-free distributions to charity from individual retirement plans. ATRA includes special transition rules in light of the fact that this benefit was not extended until after December 31, 2012. This provision of ATRA is not permanent. It applies to years 2012 and 2013, and then expires.

Colorado Estate Tax: With the passage of ATRA, the state death tax credit is still repealed. C.R.S. § 39-23.5-103(1) imposes a Colorado estate tax equal to the state death tax credit. Since there is no credit, Colorado continues to impose no estate tax. However, about half of the states do impose estate tax, and many of those states have an estate tax exclusion amount much lower than the federal level.

Jennifer M. Spitz practices law in Longmont, Colorado with Stover & Spitz LLC, a Tier 1 Trust and Estates law firm, as recognized by U.S. News Best Law Firms. Jennifer primarily practices in the areas of estate planning, probate and trust administration. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado School of Law. She is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Council (ACTEC) and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America® and Colorado Super Lawyers.  Jennifer is very active in the Trust and Estate Section of the Colorado Bar Association, including recently serving as the Section’s Chair.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Are Lawyers Unhappy?

rhodesIt depends who you ask.

If you ask lawyers, you’ll find we’re as happy with our work as anybody else:  we give it about an 80% approval rating, with lawyers in government and non-profits happiest, and lawyers in private practice less so. But if you ask the media and other anecdotal sources, you’ll run into a persistent urban legend that says lawyers as a whole are an unhappy lot.

A 2011 law journal article conducted a “meta-analysis” of the published research and influential media pieces on lawyer happiness over the past three decades. (Email me at kevin@rhodeslaw.com and I’ll send you the cite.) The results are paradoxical:  on the one hand, most lawyers give their profession a thumbs up; on the other, we’re more likely to engage in substance abuse and suffer from depression and other forms of mental distress than non-lawyers.

It’s nice to know that we’re not as bad off as the urban legend would lead us to think, at least in terms of job satisfaction, but it’s disturbing to think of the economic, societal, and personal cost associated with the unhappy 20%. Plus, as the law journal article points out, it’s possible for depressed and alcoholic lawyers to answer a survey saying they’re happy – e.g., because of denial or lack self-awareness. If that’s happening, then the 80% approval rating doesn’t look as good.

Lawyers as a group are fascinating people – bright, articulate, caring, with wide interests and a drive to make an impact in one of society’s essential institutions. If 1 in 5 lawyers aren’t engaged in and inspired by what we do every day, then we’re wasting a lot of human potential, and our clients aren’t getting our best either.

There seems to be a persistent belief in our profession that lawyer malaise is just part of what we sign up for – like some kind of injury you need to walk off or put some ice on, so you can get back in the game. This engenders an sense of inevitability about job-related suffering and feelings of powerlessness about making changes. No wonder the lawyers I’ve known who aren’t happy tend to be really unhappy.

I used to live that perspective, but not anymore. Now I believe we can rediscover our passions and make them our realities. We can change; it’s not easy, but we can do it. And every time one of us finds the courage to do so, we take one more step toward lessening the enormous toll all that unhappiness takes on ourselves, the ones we love, and the clients we serve.

It’s a New Year. If you’re one of the 20%, maybe it’s your year to make that change.

After 20+ years in private practice, Kevin Rhodes recently gave himself the title “Change Guru” to describe his work helping individuals and organizations to make transformative changes. He leads lead workshops on that topic for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. Check out his website at http://kevin-rhodes.com/.

Coworking: A New Means For Startup Real Estate

Joel Jacobson_pictureWhen deciding on commercial real estate, new entrepreneurs and solo attorneys should consider coworking as a viable real estate model. Coworking presents the opportunity for individuals from diverse fields to work daily or monthly in a shared, commercial environment at a reasonable price despite being employed by different industries or companies. Unlike some traditional commercial arrangements, one need not commit to a term of several years. Lawyers should know that coworking is an exciting and attractive real estate arrangement that brings together quality, low cost, and flexible exit options. This is a trend on the rise in Colorado uniting individuals in small businesses.

Recently, I began spending time at one such space in Denver – Creative Density.  This space is not only populated by technology entrepreneurs and free-lance website developers, but also attorneys and writers. At its core, coworking is not only about shared office space, but also about fostering a collaborative community. The less experienced and boot-strapped entrepreneurial client may be best advised to consider real estate that takes into account shared community, price sensitivity, and flexibility surrounding lease terms in the event that the business does not succeed. When asked why attorneys should care about coworking, the owner of Creative Density, Craig Baute said, “When advising clients on starting a business, coworking is an excellent way for them to reduce risk, expenses, and grow their network and skill set. Since it is a flexible option it grows with them and starts at a much lower rate compared to other office solutions for small businesses.”

Further, attorneys starting their own solo practice should consider this type of real estate arrangement for themselves if concerned about location, price-point, or future growth. Coworking is a flexible option that can quickly respond to new law practice dynamics and aid client development along the way. Mr. Baute agrees, noting that “lawyers have been sharing offices for years to lower costs, but this is a way to get to work with people outside of the industry, expand your network, and learn new valuable skills.” Similarly, a recent piece from the Harvard Business Review highlighted an attorney successfully utilizing a coworking arrangement to develop his new company. The attorney founded a business offering a transparent way to disclose legal terms within the social media context and was quite satisfied with coworking because the arrangement presented “ultra-flexibility and low overhead.”

It is important for Colorado attorneys to be aware of the coworking real estate model when advising entrepreneurial clients or considering a solo practice. To understand a client’s real estate desires, a lawyer must assess the client’s financials, business savvy, and likelihood of success. Coworking presents an arrangement that is affordable, permits one to quickly build out a diverse social network, and is flexible. Such a model can potentially lead to new clients, new investors, or new resources to aid in completing work. These characteristics certainly increase the probability of business success. In sum, coworking should be considered because the arrangement hits the mark of affordable pricing and early exit options.

Joel Jacobson is a Contracts and Operations Associate with H.B. Stubbs Company, LCC – a national design and fabrication firm headquartered near Detroit, MI for exhibits displayed by technology and automotive companies. He focuses on contracts, employment law, and a variety of non-legal business issues. Joel serves on the Executive Council of the Denver Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and has an interest in topics impacting start-up companies in the Denver entrepreneurial community. He can be reached by email at jmjacobson1@gmail.com or on Twitter @J_m_Jacobson.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

The State of Kansas Wants a Sperm Donor To Pay Child Support. Could This Happen in Colorado?

Laura Koupal PhotoKansas, 2009. William Marotta provided sperm to a lesbian couple, Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner, to enable them to have their first child together. Schreiner conceived a child, a girl, by artificial insemination done at home with Marotta’s sperm. Marotta has never had a relationship with the child.

Several years later Bauer and Schreiner broke off their relationship but both women continued to co-parent and provide for their child. Schreiner applied for state assistance for the child. Although Schreiner was listed as the sole parent on the birth certificate for the child, the Kansas Department of Children and Families required that she list a father’s name. Schreiner listed Marotta as the father and the state is now ordering Marotta to pay child support.

It is being reported that the parties had entered into a sperm donor agreement prior to the insemination. According to the reports, the donor agreement contained language stating that Marotta waived any parental rights and that Bauer and Schreiner agreed to indemnify Marotta and hold him harmless for any child support payments demanded of him by any other person or entity, public or private.

The state of Kansas is arguing that it does not recognize the agreement because the artificial insemination was not performed by a licensed physician. Kansas statutory law provides that the donor of semen provided to a licensed physician for use in artificial insemination of a woman other than the donor’s wife is treated in law as if he were not the birth father of a child thereby conceived, unless agreed to in writing by the donor and the woman. Kan. Stat. Ann §23-2212(f).

This story has made national news in the last week. Colorado sperm donors and intended parents may be wondering if a similar claim could be brought in Colorado. The short answer is yes. Colorado statutory law has a similar requirement stating that the assisted reproductive procedure must be done under the supervision of a licensed physician or advanced practice nurse. Specifically, the statute states, in part: “If, under the supervision of a licensed physician or advanced practice nurse, and with the consent of her husband, a wife consents to assisted reproduction with an egg donated by another woman, to conceive a child for herself, not as a surrogate, the wife is treated in law as if she were the natural mother of a child thereby conceived. Both the husband’s and the wife’s consent must be in writing and signed by each of them. The physician or advanced practice nurse shall certify their signatures and the date of the assisted reproduction and shall file the consents with the department of public health and environment, where they shall be kept confidential and in a sealed file; however, the physician’s failure to do so does not affect the father and child relationship or the mother and child relationship.” C.R.S. §19-4-106. Colorado has the added requirement that the recipient of the sperm must be married.

However, Colorado does allow second parent adoptions. After a child is born to a sole legal parent, same-sex couples may petition the court to have the other non-biological parent added to the birth certificate. The child’s two legal parents responsible for support and care would then be the biological mother and the adoptive mother, not the sperm donor.

Laura Koupal founded Koupal Law Firm, P.C. this year. Prior to starting her own firm, Laura spent nine years in private practice representing clients in assisted reproductive technology matters, complex divorce litigation, non-traditional family formation and dissolution, adoption and estate planning matters. Laura also completed a one-year clerkship with the Honorable Christina M. Habas of Denver District Court following law school.

Laura holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Colorado and a Juris Doctor from the University of Denver. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys, a professional Member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and RESOLVE, a Member of the Colorado Bar Association Family Law Section and the Denver Bar Association, and a Member of the American Bar Association Assisted Reproductive Technology Committee. Laura regularly writes and speaks on the issues of family law and assisted reproductive technology law. You can visit her website at www.koupallaw.com.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.