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Why You Need a Will, Yes, You Have to Give Minors a Refund and 3 Other Burning Questions Answered

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer.

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I’m planning an end-of-year company party, but one concern is that somebody might get drunk and have a car accident and I might get sued. Got any advice on protecting myself?

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer. Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol, and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar— or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available, and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

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How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy, and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three- or four-month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

I haven’t gotten around to writing a will yet. What would happen to my business if I died unexpectedly?

When there’s no will, state law (“interstate succession” statutes) usually takes charge of your estate. “Each state has precise laws about who gets what when there is no will, and there are differences among the states,” says Norman M. Boone, a nationally renowned financial adviser. “In California, for example, the spouse inherits all the deceased spouse’s community property, but the separate property is shared with the children. In New Jersey, your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate and one-half of the rest; your children get everything else. If the children are minors in either state, then the court appoints someone to manage their property (including your business), and then supervises their activities, which involves more intrusion and more expense. The children receive their inheritance at age 18. For singles, the assets are parceled out to relatives in an order determined by state law. Usually children, parents and then siblings are first in line. Friends, lovers (even domestic partners) or charities are left out.” Without a will, there is always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process that can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

I have a no-return stipulation on all my products. But somebody told me that if a minor buys, for example, a hamster wheel from me, they have the right to return it for a full refund and I can’t do anything about it. Is this true?

It is true in most states. And it’s something many merchants are unaware of. Basically, it comes down to what the law regards as “capacity to contract” — something minors are considered to lack but which is an essential element of any valid commercial agreement. In most retail situations, minors thus have a right to disaffirm a contract and demand the return of their money in exchange for the good also being returned in perfect pre-sale condition. The law doesn’t state, however, you must return the money immediately, and if you’re up for it, you can insist Mom or Dad enforce the big-spending youngster’s right to disaffirmance in a court of law. Faced with such a prospect, the child or his parents are likely to come to something approximating a reasonable arrangement.

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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