Rocket Lawyer https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog Everyday Law Blog Wed, 30 Sep 2020 19:04:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 What to Do When Someone Dies: A Step-by-Step Guide https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/what-to-do-when-someone-dies-a-step-by-step-guide-928040 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/what-to-do-when-someone-dies-a-step-by-step-guide-928040#respond Wed, 30 Sep 2020 19:04:10 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=28040 Sadly, because of the COVID-19 global pandemic and its mounting toll, many more people than usual are likely to experience the death of a loved one in the coming months. […]

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Sadly, because of the COVID-19 global pandemic and its mounting toll, many more people than usual are likely to experience the death of a loved one in the coming months. Sometimes when these deaths occur, no prior preparations have been made. This is more likely when those who die are on the younger side, as they are less likely to have wills or advance directives in place. If someone close to you dies, you may need to take care of some important tasks even though you are grieving.

The following information will help you understand the various legal considerations you may need to address in the event of a loved one’s death, from first steps and funeral arrangements to dependent care and financial matters.


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What is the first thing that needs to be done after a loved one dies?

The first legal documentation that will be required is a pronouncement of death. If the individual died in a hospital or in hospice care, the medical doctor or hospice nurse may fill out the paperwork necessary to certify the place, time, and cause of death. If the person died in your home or some other location, call 911 for assistance. The police will notify the coroner. It is best not to move your loved one until someone in authority has confirmed the death.

How should I notify friends and family?

It’s good to take everyone’s preferences into consideration before notifying friends and family. For instance, would it be better to share the news over the phone or in person? Can some friends and family help you notify others? You will probably want to tell immediate family members first, then other family and friends. After that, you can notify additional relevant contacts, such as your loved one’s employer or clergy.

The American Red Cross may be able to assist with notifications regarding the deaths of current and former members of the military. 

What are the options for final arrangements?

Look for any instructions your loved one may have left regarding final arrangements. These might be located wherever files are kept in the home or in a safe deposit box. If there are written instructions regarding a funeral, a prepaid burial plan or cemetery plot, or membership in a memorial society, you may find them in the individual’s Last Will and Testament or in a separate document, such as a Memorial Plans document. If you cannot find any instructions, it will most likely be up to the family to decide what to do.

Depending on your loved one’s instructions or the family’s decision, the next step will be to contact one of the following: 

  • Funeral home
  • Cremation-specific company
  • Full body donation organization, such as a medical school

The organization you contact should be able to help you with the details of whatever arrangements you have chosen. Funeral homes can often handle cremations as well as burials and memorial services. Nonprofit organizations and medical schools are the most common recipients of full body donations. Cremation or donation may provide some flexibility to postpone a memorial until a later date that is more convenient for people who may not be able to travel right now due to COVID restrictions or other concerns. 

Aside from funeral arrangements, what other issues may need to be addressed right away?

Additional needs that you may need to address promptly include:

  • Dependent care: Check to see if your loved one has created a valid Child Care Authorization.
  • Pet care: If no one is able to take in your loved one’s pets, contact a local animal shelter.
  • Securing your loved one’s home and vehicles: If necessary, you can arrange for the local police or sheriff to drive by periodically.
  • Mail or newspaper collection: Until you can arrange to cancel any newspapers and forward the mail, make sure someone is collecting them, so they don’t pile up at the home.
  • Notifying any relevant parties mentioned in the will or other directives: These might include an attorney, trustee, executor, or conservator. One of these parties may be able to distribute funds to cover the funeral and other expenses.

What kinds of documents should I look for?

The documents you will want to keep an eye out for, either in a safe deposit box or within the person’s home, include:

  • Information regarding a safe deposit box, including keys.
  • Bank records or information regarding stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, and other financial instruments and accounts.
  • A will, trust, or other testamentary documents.
  • Documents relating to marriage, such as a marriage certificate or divorce papers.
  • Life insurance and other insurance policies.
  • Retirement benefit, pension, or IRA statements.
  • Income tax returns or other tax documents.
  • Birth or death certificates.
  • Military records. 
  • Computer records, including password logs.
  • Title documents for any vehicles or properties the person owned, as well as deeds and mortgage documents.
  • Business-related information, such as employment or partnership agreements.

If your loved one had a safe deposit box, only those who are also named on the account are usually granted access. However, most banks will open the box for heirs seeking access to a will or other related documents. Aside from these documents, the bank will generally keep possession of the box and its contents until it receives a court order. 

If you find a will, it will most likely name an executor. This is the person who is responsible for administering the estate, which includes taking care of most of the items discussed in the rest of this article. If you are named as the executor, you will find it helpful to work with an estate attorney to get all of this done.

If you cannot find a will or any other testamentary documents, then you will most likely need to find an estate or probate attorney to advise you on the legal aspects of settling your loved one’s estate. This attorney can also guide you through many of the steps discussed here. 

What else needs to be done within a few days of a loved one’s death?

To prevent the mail from piling up, which could increase the potential for identity theft, arrange to have it forwarded. You will need to file a request at the post office, which may involve proving that you are authorized to manage the mail, by being an executor of the estate, for example. Going through the mail can help you determine which bills need to be addressed.

What kinds of bills might I need to address?

Some of the most common kinds of bills that will need to be paid, cancelled, or otherwise dealt with include:

  • Utilities
  • Cable TV or streaming services
  • Rent or mortgage
  • Car payments
  • Mobile phone
  • Home telephone and/or internet service
  • Monthly subscriptions
  • Credit cards (Individual accounts generally need to be closed. If amounts are owed, it’s best to consult with the attorney handling the estate.) 
  • Student loans (These are generally dischargeable at death if you provide the lender with a copy of the death certificate.) 

It’s a good idea to review any incoming bills carefully. You may need to do some investigating to find out about bills that arrive electronically and those that are set to auto-pay from a credit card. Additionally, be careful about phone calls and mail offers following a loved one’s death. Inheritance theft can and does occur. 

What longer-term matters need to be taken care of?

As soon as the death certificate is available, it’s a good idea to request several copies. You may need one copy for each account that needs to be closed or otherwise managed. You can usually order death certificates directly through your local governmental office, such as the city clerk, or the funeral director should be able to assist you.

Also, it’s a good idea to secure all tangible assets, such as jewelry and other valuables. If possible, take pictures of each item and inventory it before anyone takes anything, even if those items have been willed to specific individuals.

Who else might I need to contact over the next few days or weeks?

If your loved one didn’t have a will or didn’t specify a probate lawyer, it’s a good idea to contact one to help you administer the estate. Other professionals and agencies you may need to contact include:

  • Accountant or tax preparation company. Determine whether it will be necessary to file any income, trust, or estate taxes. 
  • Investment professionals. If your loved one had any investment accounts that you know of, you’ll want to contact the investment firm(s) to identify any potential assets. Additionally, it’s a good idea to contact any banks your loved one may have used for safe deposit boxes and secure account information.
  • Insurance agents. Determine whether your loved one had any life insurance policies and request any relevant claim forms. Determine whether you’ll need to cancel any other policies, such as for a car or a home.
  • Social Security Administration. Inquire about death benefits and find out if there are any monthly benefits you may need to stop.
  • Veteran’s Affairs. Inquire about potential benefits and find out if there are any payments you may need to stop.
  • Retirement or pension benefits. Request claim forms and see if there are monthly payments that may need to be stopped.
  • Medicare. If your loved one had Medicare, including any supplemental Medicare insurance, you may need to contact Medicare directly to cancel the policy.

Are there any non-financial accounts that may require action?

Yes. To prevent identity fraud, cancel your loved one’s driver’s license as soon as possible. In many cases, you can do this online. Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles can provide you with instructions. You will generally need to have a copy of the death certificate ready. 

It’s also a good idea to contact the major credit reporting agencies and provide them with a copy of the death certificate. This is another way to decrease the chances of identity theft. You may also want to conduct a credit report check periodically to confirm that new accounts have not been fraudulently opened. 

How should I handle social media accounts?

You may be able to memorialize your loved one’s social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. This will allow friends to continue to share and post memories, but it will prevent anyone from logging into the account. There may be other issues that come up. Your best bet is to check in with the probate attorney or the executor of the estate, if that’s not you, before making any major decisions. If you are having a hard time handling all the various legal requirements following the death of a loved one, there are additional resources on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Legal Help for Individuals & Families page. You can also reach the Rocket Lawyer CARES support team toll-free at (877) 885-0088, Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Signing Under Duress: Can You Be Forced to Sign a Contract? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/signing-under-duress-can-you-be-forced-to-sign-a-contract-928036 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/signing-under-duress-can-you-be-forced-to-sign-a-contract-928036#respond Tue, 29 Sep 2020 20:02:59 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=28036 A valid contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more mentally competent parties. Your signature on a contract affirms that you understand and accept the terms, whether they […]

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A valid contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more mentally competent parties. Your signature on a contract affirms that you understand and accept the terms, whether they involve an exchange or an agreement to do (or not do) something. But being forced, pressured, or tricked into signing a contract goes against the very concept of contract law.

Still, people do sometimes sign contracts under duress or because of undue influence or coercion. These are all legal terms referring to questionable tactics, and they may invalidate a contract. Read on for answers to questions you may have about signing under duress and challenging a contract you didn’t voluntarily sign.


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Can I be forced to sign a contract?

It’s possible that someone could force you to sign a contract, but the real question is whether that contract would be valid. If you feel you have been forced to sign a contract, there are steps you may take to try to prove your case and invalidate the contract. 

First, though, it’s important to understand what it means to be “forced” to sign a contract under the law. If you failed to read the contract thoroughly or realized later that you didn’t fully understand its terms, that’s on you. If someone gave you a hard sell and strongly encouraged you to sign, but the elements of a valid contract are all there, then that would probably not be considered “undue pressure.”

However, if you feel that you were coerced or compelled to sign a contract because the other party had leverage over you, made threats if you didn’t, or somehow you were dependent on them and felt you needed to sign the agreement because of that dependency, then there may be some coercion there. 

What does it mean to sign a contract under duress? 

Being pressured to sign a contract under duress, also called coercion, means you’re signing it against your will. In extreme cases, a party may threaten physical violence or even death unless you sign. Psychological pressure or lies about what could happen if you don’t sign may also be considered duress. One example of duress might be telling someone, “If you don’t accept these terms, you’ll face financial ruin.”

There are several ways one person may use duress to compel another person to sign a contract, including:

  • Threat of violence.
  • Threat against personal liberty.
  • Extraordinary economic pressure.
  • Unconscionability, or bad faith, in the bargaining process or terms. 
  • Misrepresentation, or fraud. 
  • Nondisclosure of information that is material to the contract.
  • Terms that are impossible to satisfy. 

The key to determining whether there was duress is looking at how the actions affected the alleged victim’s ability to make an informed decision. This is, by its nature, a subjective assessment. Whether or not there was duress, as a legal matter, may not just depend on whether a “reasonable person” would have felt unduly pressured. It depends on the facts of the case and the specific relationship between the people involved. 

Duress may happen at any time leading up to the actual signing of the contract. For example, Carol’s approach to the bargaining process might be considered bad faith if Carol knew that a subtle threat to Terry’s social status would lead Terry to sign something that she would otherwise reject. 

What is undue influence?

Undue influence with respect to signing a contract is much more subtle than coercion or duress and involves persuasion — similar to how a con artist operates. Courts typically consider the dynamics of the relationship and patterns of behavior when determining undue influence, rather than just one or a few specific actions.

The classic example of undue influence involves someone who gets close to an elderly person, perhaps striking up an intense friendship or encouraging dependency, such as by moving in with the older person and providing hospice care. The individual may hint at needing financial assistance, with the goal of persuading the elderly person to name the individual as an heir.

Typically, surviving relatives seeking to have such a will invalidated will argue that the deceased person signed the will as a result of undue influence. Generally, courts will consider the following factors when the validity of a contract is challenged on such grounds:

  • The victim’s vulnerability. Courts will consider the victim’s age, mental capacity, isolation from others, level of dependency, and whether the individual accused of undue influence knew or should have known about the victim’s vulnerability. 
  • Authority of the influencing individual. Someone’s status as a family member, fiduciary, clergy, care provider, or legal consultant may help determine whether that person had ample opportunity to influence the victim.
  • Actions or tactics used. Did the influencing individual have control over medications or other necessities of life, use affection or intimidation, or make changes in property rights at inappropriate times?
  • Consequences of the actions. What was the result of the influencing individual’s actions and how far does it stray from the victim’s original intentions? Is it appropriate in light of the relationship?

How do I get out of a contract I signed under duress or as a result of undue influence?  

If you believe you were forced to sign a contract that was not in your best interests, you may take action to invalidate it. However, it’s considered valid until you prove otherwise. For example, if you’re sued for breaching the contract’s terms, you might argue that you signed it under duress or undue influence. It’s a good idea to work with an attorney if you’re involved in a contract dispute of this nature.

If you claim duress, you may need to prove that you accepted the terms of the contract primarily because of a threat. Even if the other party didn’t intend to follow through with the threat, it may be considered duress if it had the effect of influencing you to sign.

As we discussed earlier, courts generally determine the presence of undue influence based on relationships, tactics, and other more subtle facts leading up to the signing.

Make sure your contracts are legit and serve your interests

Regardless of which side you’re on, the best contracts involve an exchange of goods or services that serve all parties’ interests. Being forced (or forcing someone) to sign a contract, whether through duress or undue influence, can cause problems for everyone involved. If you have questions about contract law or believe you may have signed a contract against your will, be sure to ask a lawyer about your legal options.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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What Makes a Contract Null and Void? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/what-makes-a-contract-null-and-void-928024 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/what-makes-a-contract-null-and-void-928024#respond Mon, 28 Sep 2020 20:21:25 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=28024 When you sign a contract, you’re agreeing to its terms and are legally obligated to fulfill them — if the contract is valid. However, a contract may be deemed null […]

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When you sign a contract, you’re agreeing to its terms and are legally obligated to fulfill them — if the contract is valid. However, a contract may be deemed null and void after it’s signed, meaning it was never enforceable. Whether you’re a typical consumer or someone who regularly enters into contractual agreements as a business owner or manager, it’s critical to understand what can make a contract null and void.

Here, we discuss the elements of a valid contract, the factors that make a contract null and void, and how that differs from a voidable contract. 


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What makes a contract valid?

Generally, a contract is an agreement between two or more entities that creates a legally binding promise to perform something. The elements of a valid contract include:

  1. Subject. This includes all details of the contract’s terms, primarily the offer and acceptance. For example, Brakes Express offers to replace the brake pads in Kimi’s car by 3:00 PM today in exchange for $150, which Kimi accepts by signing the contract.
  2. Consideration. This is the reason for the contract, or the value that each party is receiving. For instance, Janelle offers to buy Eric’s autographed poster of Prince for $500. In this case, the consideration being offered for the poster is $500, and the consideration offered for the $500 is the poster.  
  3. Capacity. If you have the capacity to enter into a contract, it means you are of sound mind, have reached the age of majority (18 in most states), and have the authority to enter into a given agreement.

What makes a contract null and void? 

In contract law, the term “null and void” means the contract was never valid. Therefore, the contract has no legal effect. This is different from having a contract invalidated. Contracts may be considered null and void for various reasons, generally because they’re missing one or more of the elements discussed above. These are some of the most common reasons:

  • The subject of the contract is illegal. For example, if you sign a contract to launder money for an organized crime syndicate, but the other party breaches its terms, you have no legal recourse because the subject of the agreement was unlawful. 
  • The terms are vague or impossible to fulfill. Let’s say you signed a contract to supply a restaurant with a certain amount of fresh abalone, but you can’t fulfill your obligation because a ban on harvesting abalone was subsequently passed. In this case, the contract may be considered null and void because your obligation became impossible to fulfill. 
  • Lack of consideration. There needs to be a clear objective for the contract, where the parties are involved in an exchange of some sort. For example, you may not contractually agree to do something you’ve already done (called a “past consideration”) or something you’re already legally required to do.
  • Fraud. A contract could be invalidated because one party got the other party to sign it by lying or concealing important facts. For instance, if Craig presents himself as a plumber but actually has no plumbing experience, the contract he entered into with Aaron to personally replace all of the old pipes in Aaron’s house could be ruled null and void due to fraud.  

How is a voidable contract different from a null and void contract?

A null and void contract is considered dead on arrival because it was never valid. By contrast, a voidable contract may be deemed valid if both parties agree to proceed. For example, Janelle offers to buy Eric’s autographed poster of Prince, but upon closer inspection, both she and Eric realize that the autograph is not Prince’s, but Sheila E’s. Janelle could void the contract because of Eric’s mistaken belief that Prince signed the poster, but decides to go through with the deal anyway, because she’s an even bigger fan of Sheila E. So even though the contract is voidable because of the mistake, it is deemed valid and enforceable because Janelle has agreed to the deal despite the mistake.  

Some other reasons a contract may be considered voidable are:

  • Coercion or undue influence
  • Withheld or misrepresented information
  • Breach of contract by one or more parties
  • One or more parties lacks the capacity to enter into the contract

Can a contract be rendered null and void by mutual agreement?

If both parties want out of the agreement, that may be achieved by signing a Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement. The Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement serves to render the original contract null and void and places the parties back to their original positions before they entered into that first agreement.

Get expert legal support for your contractual needs

When you’re entering into an agreement that will be backed by the force of law, it’s important to take care and pay attention to the details. Signing a contract that’s later rendered null and void can lead to unintended consequences, costing you time and money. Make sure your contractual agreements reflect your intentions, protect your interests, and are legally enforceable. If you have additional questions or concerns, be sure to ask a lawyer.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Leaving California: Tax Implications for Out-of-State Workers https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/leaving-california-tax-implications-for-out-of-state-workers-928008 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/leaving-california-tax-implications-for-out-of-state-workers-928008#respond Fri, 25 Sep 2020 21:44:45 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=28008 In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, America is experiencing a wave of suburban relocation unseen since the 1950s. As interest rates fall to historic lows and professional sector jobs […]

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, America is experiencing a wave of suburban relocation unseen since the 1950s. As interest rates fall to historic lows and professional sector jobs have pivoted to fully remote work, millions of Americans are departing expensive rentals in cities for larger, cheaper homes in less populous regions. “Zoom towns” are on the rise in lieu of the company towns of the past, with developments like Remote Shoals in Alabama offering up to $10,000 cash for remote employees and freelancers alike to relocate and remain at least one year.

For Californians in particular, mass relocation is not only motivated by the pandemic but also by the devastating wildfires, heatwaves, and rolling blackouts. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who works primarily in an independent contractor role may have also found their incomes severely decimated or even vanished entirely with the passage of AB5, with redress from AB 2257 not arriving until several months later.

Whether your departure is motivated by safety or economics, there could be tax consequences even if your move is temporary.


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How do taxes work if I move out of state and work as an employee from a different state?

Typically, this depends on whether your move is permanent or temporary, and how you will prove it. You are ultimately taxed on all income as a resident, and California-sourced income as a part-year resident or nonresident.

If you are no longer a California resident and can prove it, you will only be taxed as a part-year resident for the months of the year you were still present. However, if your move is seen as temporary and does not meet the safe harbor rule, you are still a full resident.

What if I’m only moving temporarily out of state?

While roughly 20% of Americans moved, or plan to move, due to COVID-19 and the subsequent shift to remote work, Pew Research estimates that only 3% of these moves will be permanent in the long term. Even if you plan to return to California some time in the future, but you’re not sure when, you may want to commit to some important decisions now if you’re hoping to avoid unnecessary tax liability.

The California Franchise Tax Board is likely to take a number of factors into consideration to figure out if you’ve actually left the state for good or if you have enough connections still in California to be considered a resident in the state for tax purposes. For example, if you’ve moved but still have a house in California and belongings in a storage facility, that might indicate that you have not permanently moved out of the state. In other words, whether your move is permanent or temporary depends on your particular situation. The Franchise Tax Board makes these determinations on a case-by-case basis.

So if you’re planning to move out of California and want to try and establish that you are no longer a California resident for tax purposes, some actions that may show your move is not temporary might include:

  • Selling your home or ending your lease
  • Taking your belongings instead of leaving them in storage in California
  • Changing your drivers license to your new state
  • Enrolling your children in local schools
  • Registering to vote in your new state
  • Joining local social, civic, and professional societies in your new state

Even if your job or business comes with you, you must prove permanence to avoid additional taxation from the state of California.

How do I avoid paying taxes to two states?

Paying taxes to two states is often inevitable if you move late in the year, as you will have two part-year state tax returns to contend with unless you live in one of seven states that does not have an income tax. If you anticipate a large taxable item like a relocation bonus or stock sale, you may want to change and assert your residency as quickly as possible, then time the transaction for when your California residency has ceased. By the way, the seven states that do not levy personal income taxes are:

  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Nevada
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

If I want to move but still work for the same California company, does it make a difference if I’m an employee or independent contractor?

Ultimately, this depends on how you choose to structure your career and relationship to the company, as well as federal and state labor laws. Under AB5 in California, it is more difficult to establish that a worker is an independent contractor. However, in other states that do not employ the ABC test, an independent contractor relationship is freer to form and relieves your employer of legal liability and tax burdens.

If you wish to remain an employee, you will need to notify your employer of your new residence so your state tax withholding and mandatory fund payments appropriately change. If moving out of state is still an idea, rather than a reality, then you may want to discuss your desire to remain an employee with your employer should you move. If you move, your employer will be subject to the labor laws in the new state, which may or may not make them amenable to this arrangement.

Which states provide the best tax policy for remote workers?

States that make it simpler for tax filing across the board, such as Pennsylvania’s flat tax scheme, or have no income tax like Florida or Nevada, have proven to be popular destinations for remote workers.

Business-friendly states like Florida, Alabama, and Nevada have also appealed to freelancers and entrepreneurs in search of lower business taxes and administrative burden. Multi-state and temporary residencies are a difficult tax matter to navigate. Ask a lawyer today if you have nonresident and part-year residency tax questions.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Can a Minor Sign a Contract? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/can-a-minor-sign-a-contract-927995 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/can-a-minor-sign-a-contract-927995#respond Thu, 24 Sep 2020 23:02:09 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27995 Minors are individuals under the age of majority, which is 19 in Alabama and Nebraska and 18 in all other states. Because they are not considered adults under the law, […]

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Minors are individuals under the age of majority, which is 19 in Alabama and Nebraska and 18 in all other states. Because they are not considered adults under the law, minors have limited legal control over their affairs. For instance, minors can’t vote, own property, or consent to medical treatment.     

Minors typically rely on parents, legal guardians, or other authorized adults to handle such matters. For example, parents or legal guardians must sign a Consent for Medical Treatment of a Minor document on behalf of hospital patients who are minors.

Below, we discuss how the law treats minors with respect to contracts, including how and when contracts may be voided and special rules for contracts that are considered necessary for basic essentials. 


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Can a minor sign a contract, and if so, would it be enforceable?

Minors can and do sign and enter into many types of contracts, such as for summer jobs, acting gigs, or car purchases. Whether these contracts are enforceable, though, is not as straightforward. Because minors don’t have legal capacity as adults, the rules for how certain types of contracts are enforced differ quite a bit from contracts between adults.

In many cases, minors can’t be held to the terms of a contract until they reach the age of majority. In other words, a minor has the right to opt out of a contract, even if the other party is an adult and is bound by the terms. Therefore, from the minor’s perspective, a contract in most instances is a good faith agreement but not a legally enforceable one.

Which kinds of contracts with minors are enforceable?

Contracts for certain items considered essential to a minor’s well-being are legally enforceable, meaning the minor cannot simply opt out of them. Some of these items (referred to as “necessaries”) are:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter 
  • Transportation 
  • Education

For instance, let’s say a 17-year-old enrolls in college and prepays for the first semester. He changes his mind before the first class and tries to recoup his payment, arguing that he did not have the legal capacity to enroll in the first place. Since education often is on the list of necessaries, depending on the state, the minor may not be able to void the contract. 

Contracts with minors may also be enforceable when they involve:

  • Taxes
  • Bank regulations
  • Civil and criminal penalties
  • Military service

Here’s an example: A minor lies about her age so she can join the Army after running away from home. She reconciles with her family and changes her mind, admitting to the recruitment office that she’s a minor and therefore lacks the capacity to enlist. Regardless of her change of heart, she may not be able to get out of her military commitment. 

Also, minors may not be able to void certain sports and entertainment contracts, although this depends on state law. Professional sports leagues, for example, spend a lot of time and money scouting young athletes and signing them to high-profile deals. Considering how much money professional leagues generate and the way teams are built, a minor deciding to opt out of a contract could cause financial damage to an organization. 

How do minors opt out of, or void, contracts?   

When a contract is voidable, meaning it’s not for necessaries, military service, or one of the other enforceable categories, minors generally have two ways to opt out:

  1. File a lawsuit asking the court to void the contract.
  2. Defend themselves by asserting that they lack capacity after being sued for not complying with contractual terms.

Note that minors cannot pick and choose from among the terms of a contract. The only choices are to void the entire contract or not void it at all. In practice, parties may void the contract through a Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement to avoid going through the courts. The minor may have to pay restitution or return items after a contract is voided. 

What happens to a contract signed by a minor after the minor reaches the age of majority?

In most states, voidable contracts with minors become legally enforceable, or “ratified,” once those minors reach the age of majority. Some states allow a period of six months or so after a minor becomes a legal adult to void such contracts.  

Understand your rights and responsibilities when signing a contract with a minor

While a minor can sign a contract, the contract may not be legally enforceable. Understanding the laws of your state before you sign a contract as a minor or with a minor will help you make informed decisions and protect your interests. If you have additional questions about contract law or other legal matters, ask a lawyer.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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5 Great Reasons to Incorporate Your Business https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/5-great-reasons-incorporate-business-923856 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/5-great-reasons-incorporate-business-923856#respond Thu, 24 Sep 2020 18:17:59 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=23856 If you're launching your business or have a side hustle, consider incorporation. Here are our 5 reasons to incorporate your business, it is a great idea for your business, and it’s a lot easier than you think.

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This article was updated September 24, 2020.

Have you been thinking about incorporating, but not sure it’s worth it? You’re not alone. If you haven’t incorporated yet, you could be missing out—and potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. Here are five reasons to consider taking incorporation off the back burner and getting started today:

1. You won’t lose your house.

As far as the IRS is concerned, as a sole proprietor, you and your business are the same thing. That means if someone were to sue your business, they could win not just your business earnings but your personal assets, too—including your home, your car, and your retirement savings. But incorporating your business makes it a separate legal entity, so generally, your personal assets stay safe and secure.

2. You could save tons of money.

Once you incorporate, your business could benefit from tax savings depending on the entity type. Sure, you might have some additional paperwork to do, but that’s a small price to pay for what could be a lot more in savings. Talk to a lawyer to learn what’s right for you.


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3. You’ll have more ways to make money.

It takes money to make money, and once you’ve incorporated, you can raise funding for your business in a variety of ways. Depending on the type of company you form, you can accept bank loans, private investments, stock sales, or donations.

4. People will take you seriously.

Who would you rather offer a big corporate contract: Malia, the freelance designer, or Design by Malia, LLC? Incorporation adds a sense of legitimacy to your business and makes you more likely to be hired, especially by larger companies. It shows you take your business seriously and know how to play by the rules.

5. It opens doors.

In some cases, incorporation isn’t just a good idea; it’s required. If you want to do business with the government or a non-profit organization, for example, you’re legally required to be incorporated. That’s a whole lot of opportunity to pass up if you don’t incorporate!

Have we convinced you yet? Incorporating is a great idea for your business, and it’s a lot easier than you think. Check out our incorporation center to get started, and we’ll help you choose a business type, file your paperwork, and connect you with a business attorney for advice. So get started today!

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5 Essential Release Agreements for Your Small Business https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/5-essential-release-agreements-for-your-small-business-927987 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/5-essential-release-agreements-for-your-small-business-927987#respond Wed, 23 Sep 2020 18:19:38 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27987 As a small business owner, you live to provide the best experiences and the best service. Sometimes, providing the best puts you and your business at risk. Getting that great […]

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As a small business owner, you live to provide the best experiences and the best service. Sometimes, providing the best puts you and your business at risk. Getting that great photo might mean teetering at the top of a ladder. Hosting a great party might mean monitoring a particularly wild group of bounce house revelers. Small businesses like yours need to ensure they are doing what they can to avoid potentially damaging or expensive legal conflicts. One way to protect against legal or business exposure is to have proper release documents on file when you are dealing with potentially risky activities that may be integral or adjacent to your business operations.

We will discuss the importance of these documents and examine five of the most important release forms for protecting your small business.


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What is a Release Form?

Release Forms, or Release Agreements, are legally binding documents that are used to: 

  • Protect a business from potential liability posed by activities hosted or sponsored by the business
  • Get permission to use a person’s image or likeness for marketing or creative purposes 
  • Confirm the termination of an existing contract for both parties 

There are different Release Agreements for different purposes, and it’s a good business practice to have these on hand when you need them. It is also a good practice to have liability insurance in case an injury happens during an activity that is hosted or sponsored by your business.

When would I need a Release Form?

There are different Release Agreements for different purposes. Here are some common Release Agreements you can have on hand to use as needed:

Activity Release of Liability – This document protects your business from liability for injuries or damages that occur during an activity your business hosts or sponsors. It also gathers emergency contact information from participants. 

General Liability Release of Claims – This release protects your business from liability when providing services on property owned by another person or business. 

Photo Release – If you are planning to include customer photos and stories in your marketing materials or on your website, you will need permission from your customers to do that. You can use a Photo Release to get their permission.

Declaration of Compliance for Content Rules or Sweepstakes Rules – If you’re running a contest or sweepstakes, you will need permission from the winner to use their name and likeness in your marketing materials. You can get their permission by using the appropriate Declaration.

Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement – This document allows all parties to a contract to agree that the contract is terminated and all duties and obligations under the contract are cancelled. 

What Release Agreements should my business know about?

The first step in determining which Release Agreements to use is determining the scope of the activities you are considering. For example, if you are hosting an event where you or a company employee will be taking photos, you may need several releases including a General Liability Release, a Location Release, and a Photo Release. The five most common forms you might consider for your business include:

  • Mutual Rescission and Release
  • Photo Release
  • General Liability Release of Claims
  • Activity Release of Liability
  • Location Release

When would I use a Location Release?

A Location Release may be used if you are engaged in photography or filming while on someone’s property. You can also use this release if you are a property owner wishing to grant permission to photograph or film on your property. The release grants permission to be on the property for specific purposes, outlines access dates, specifies clean-up responsibilities, and releases any rights the property owner might have in the images or film. 

This document details the agreement between the photographer or filmmaker and the property owner prior to taking any photographs or shooting any film, and releases the creators from the responsibility of paying any additional fees.

What is a Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement?

A Mutual Rescission and Release Agreement allows all parties to a contract to agree to cancel the contract and terminate all obligations to fulfill any of its remaining terms. Since the long-term success of mutually beneficial relationships is never guaranteed, this release is a good document for any business to have on hand.

Why do I need to use a Photo Release?

Let’s assume you host numerous events where photos are taken, take photographs to use in marketing materials, or you photograph employees from time to time. Having a signed Photo Release on file can help you avoid potential future conflicts since it gives you permission to use the images at any time you deem appropriate. Having photos available for use in marketing materials, on your company website, or when writing a press release can be helpful. Having signed Photo Releases from individuals shown in the photos provides peace of mind that you have permission to use their image and likeness in your marketing materials. 

Do I really need a General Liability Release of Claims if I have a liability policy?

If you are working, hosting an event, or performing a service on property that you do not own, it may be a good idea to have a General Liability Release of Claims. This document may protect you from damage or injury claims that happen while work is being done or services provided on someone else’s property. A properly filled-out release may protect you personally, as well as your business, but injury claims are inherently case-specific, and liability can vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the injury. Ask a lawyer if you have questions about a specific claim of liability. 

How do I protect myself from liability for inherently risky activities?

When you are hosting a gathering of your employees and their families, you may offer activities like bounce houses, dunk tanks, and other activities which pose some risk. You can protect your business by requesting all attendees sign an Activity Release of Liability document. 

While common sense should inform people attending that some activities can be risky, employees or family members injured while participating—absent this release form—may decide to take legal action, nevertheless. This type of form can also give you authorization to secure medical attention when someone is injured.

Business owners need to have protections in place to try and prevent lawsuits, and one way to do this is to evaluate the activities in which you or your employees will be participating under your direction. 

Life is risky business, so prepare accordingly 

Having the proper liability releases in place can protect your small business as well as you personally. Rocket Lawyer makes it easy and affordable for you to put these protections in place by walking you step-by-step through the preparation of various Release of Liability documents. Do not take unnecessary risks, get these documents signed, keep them on file, and ask a lawyer if you have additional questions or concerns.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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2020 State-by-State Voter Registration Deadlines https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/2020-state-by-state-voter-registration-deadlines-927971 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/2020-state-by-state-voter-registration-deadlines-927971#respond Tue, 22 Sep 2020 20:26:18 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27971 Election Day 2020 is on Tuesday, November 3rd, and it’s bound to be one of the most exciting and consequential elections so far this century. If you’re planning to participate, […]

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Election Day 2020 is on Tuesday, November 3rd, and it’s bound to be one of the most exciting and consequential elections so far this century. If you’re planning to participate, your first step is to check if you are registered to vote. Different states have different procedures and rules for voter registration, and different deadlines too. It pays to find out what your state requires so you don’t miss out on voting because you missed the deadline for registration. If you’ve recently moved, changed your name, or made other major changes, you may need to update your information for the 2020 Election.


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Each state has its own deadlines for registering to vote, and these deadlines may vary by the way in which you register (for example, online, in-person, or by mail). Some states allow for same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day. Some states may have different registration deadlines for special elections or primaries.

The following state-by-state guide will help you determine your voter registration deadline for the upcoming election on November 3rd.

STATEDEADLINE
AlabamaOctober 19th
AlaskaOctober 4th
ArizonaOctober 5th
ArkansasOctober 5th
CaliforniaOctober 19th; Same-day registration Oct. 20th through Election Day.
ColoradoOctober 26th; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
ConnecticutOctober 27th; Same-day registration on Election Day.
DelawareOctober 10th
District of ColumbiaOctober 10th; Same-day registration on Election Day.
FloridaOctober 5th
GeorgiaOctober 5th
HawaiiOctober 5th; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
IdahoOctober 9th; Same-day registration on Election Day.
IllinoisOctober 6th (Oct. 18th for online registration);
Same-day registration Oct. 7th through Election Day, although availability varies by county.
IndianaOctober 5th
IowaOctober 24th (Mail-in registrations must be postmarked by Oct. 19th or received by Oct. 24th);
Same-day registration on Election Day.
KansasOctober 13th
KentuckyOctober 5th
LouisianaOctober 4th (Oct. 13th for online registration)
MaineOctober 13th; Same-day registration on Election Day.
Maryland October 13th; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
MassachusettsOctober 24th
MichiganOctober 19th; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
MinnesotaOctober 13th; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
MississippiOctober 5th
MissouriOctober 7th
MontanaOctober 26th; Same-day registration on Election Day.
NebraskaOctober 16th (In-person on Oct. 23rd)
NevadaOctober 6th (Oct. 29th for online registration)
Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
New HampshireOctober 27th; Same-day registration on Election Day.
New JerseyOctober 13th
New MexicoOctober 6th; Same-day registration available until Oct. 31st at your County Clerk’s office.
New YorkOctober 9th (Mail-in registrations must be received by Oct. 14th)
North CarolinaOctober 9th; Same-day registration during early voting.
North DakotaNo registration necessary.
OhioOctober 5th
OklahomaOctober 9th
OregonOctober 13th
PennsylvaniaOctober 19th
Rhode IslandOctober 4th
South CarolinaOctober 2nd for in-person registration; email or fax by Oct. 4th; postmarked by Oct. 5th for mail-in.
South DakotaOctober 19th
TennesseeOctober 5th
TexasOctober 6th
UtahOctober 23rd; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
VermontNo deadline for registration. Same-day registration available every day, including Election Day.
VirginiaOctober 13th
WashingtonOctober 26th; Same-day registration during early voting and on Election Day.
West VirginiaOctober 13th (For mail-in, must be received by Oct. 16th.)
WisconsinOctober 14th (Oct. 30th if registering in person.)
Same-day registration on Election Day.
WyomingOctober 19th; Same-day registration on Election Day.

Get registered to vote and make your voice heard

Even though Election Day may seem a long way off, your state’s registration deadline may be just around the corner. Whether you’re planning to register online, by mail, or in person, it’s important that you understand these deadlines if you hope to participate in one of our most cherished traditions. If you have additional questions or concerns about your voting rights, don’t hesitate to ask a lawyer.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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What Makes a Contract Legally Binding? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/what-makes-a-contract-legally-binding-927964 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/what-makes-a-contract-legally-binding-927964#respond Mon, 21 Sep 2020 18:32:10 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27964 A legally enforceable agreement between two (or more) parties, often an exchange of goods or services, is called a contract. A contract may be legally formed by a verbal agreement […]

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A legally enforceable agreement between two (or more) parties, often an exchange of goods or services, is called a contract. A contract may be legally formed by a verbal agreement and a handshake, but written contracts—whether they’re ink-on-paper or digital—are always preferred, as they provide a record of the agreement and the parties’ signatures. 

If you sign a contract, then you’re agreeing to a legal duty or responsibility and may face lawsuits or other adverse consequences if you fail to honor your end of the agreement. Poorly written contracts may not be worth the paper they’re written on, so it’s important to understand what makes a contract legally binding before you sign it or present it to another party.

We’ll explain what makes a contract legally binding, including the elements required, what to do if something is missing from a contract, whether an invalid contract may be fixed, and more.


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What are the elements of a legally binding contract?

Different legal texts break down the elements of a legally binding (or “valid”) contract in different ways, typically identifying between three and six elements. Reputable legal sources generally describe the same thing, however, even if the elements are grouped differently. For our purposes, let’s consider the following three elements of a legally binding contract:

  1. Subject. This comprises the details of the agreement, specifically the offer and an acceptance of clear, unambiguous terms. 
  2. Consideration. This is the reason or motive for the contract. For instance, a party may be motivated by money (if it’s a monetary transaction) or the desire to keep certain information confidential.
  3. Capacity. Everyone signing onto the contract must be of legal age, of sound mind, and possessing the legal authority to enter into the contract. 

Putting these elements together, let’s consider what a valid contract might look like. Company X presents an employment contract to Jane. The subject includes the terms of the job, including the salary and the type of work involved (i.e., the offer). If Jane agrees with the terms and signs the contract, she has provided her acceptance. Since Company X wants to hire Jane, while Jane wants a job and the salary that comes with it, there is adequate consideration. Both parties have the capacity to enter into this agreement. 

How do I know whether a contract is legally binding?  

The simple answer is that a contract is legally binding as long as it contains the elements listed above, but it may not always be so obvious. For instance, a party drafts a contract to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. The offer, acceptance, and even the consideration are clear. However, the party offering the bridge does not actually own it, and therefore lacks the legal capacity to sell it. 

Keep in mind that legally binding contracts still may be considered “voidable.” While an invalid (or void) contract is one that never was enforceable to begin with, a voidable contract is enforceable unless a party actively challenges it and proves that it has one or more legal issues. For example, a minor who signs a contract may have that contract voided if they’re able to prove they weren’t legally an adult at the time it was signed.

In any event, it’s always best to ask a lawyer if you have any doubts or concerns about whether a contract you signed (or have yet to sign) is legally binding.

What should I do if something that was discussed is missing from the written contract?

Whether the other party omitted a term that was discussed earlier in negotiations by accident, or by sleight-of-hand, make sure you know exactly what it is you’re signing onto. In some cases, the contract may have been written up prematurely and doesn’t reflect the most recent deliberations. Whatever the case: If it doesn’t look right, don’t sign it. 

You can scrap the original contract and start over, or you may use a Contract Amendment to change one or more of its terms. Even if the other party is sincere about upholding terms that were discussed but not included in the written contract, you don’t want to sign a legally binding contract if it’s not quite right.

If the contract isn’t technically valid, but the parties are making a good faith effort to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, it’s best not to rely on good intentions alone. An invalid contract may or may not hold up if a disagreement occurs and the contract gets tested.  

Can I breach a contract that I signed without consequences if it turned out to be invalid?

It depends. While, generally speaking, an invalid contract may not be legally enforceable, there are situations where a contract that might otherwise be unenforceable becomes enforceable by having a severability clause, or by some other legal rule. For example, there might be a valid verbal contract in place that overlaps some terms covered by the invalid written contract in question. 

Therefore, it may not be advisable to breach an invalid contract with reckless abandon. You might think the contract is invalid, but it may be legally enforceable, which might put you in a bad position. Likewise, you might not want to burn bridges with the other party to the contract, especially if it involves a person or organization that you hope to work with in the future.   

Make sure your contracts are legally binding and work for you

Life is riddled with contractual relationships, even when we don’t actually “sign” a contract (clicking on a web site disclaimer, for example). Understanding what’s required for a legally binding contract can save you time and money, while preventing unintended consequences. Rocket Lawyer’s extensive legal resources and documents will help you enter into contracts the right way. Be sure to ask a lawyer if you have any pressing questions about contracts.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Should I Have Employees Sign an Arbitration Agreement? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/should-i-have-employees-sign-an-arbitration-agreement-927954 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/should-i-have-employees-sign-an-arbitration-agreement-927954#respond Fri, 18 Sep 2020 20:44:02 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27954 Employers typically ask new employees to review and understand their company’s policies, to read and sometimes sign the Employee Handbook, and to go through training. One additional document that you, […]

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Employers typically ask new employees to review and understand their company’s policies, to read and sometimes sign the Employee Handbook, and to go through training. One additional document that you, as an employer, might consider is an Arbitration Agreement. While it’s true that Arbitration Agreements only become relevant if there is an employment dispute, this type of arrangement can save your business significant time and legal costs if it is appropriately enforced.


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What is the purpose of an Arbitration Agreement?

An Arbitration Agreement is a legal contract that requires the parties to resolve any disputes they might have through an arbitration process instead of filing a traditional lawsuit. Arbitration is similar to a trial, but it uses a neutral third-party to evaluate the dispute instead of a judge or jury. Arbitration is a private process.

Arbitration is a favored method for settling disputes because it is often faster, costs less than going to trial, and is generally less formal than presenting the case in court. For example, the rules of evidence generally do not apply in arbitration, unless the parties agree that they should. Since arbitration is private, there is no public record of the filings or the facts and legal matters at issue, which can be helpful for both the employer and the employee in some circumstances.

Parties who choose to settle their disputes through arbitration have the advantage of selecting their arbitrator. This is particularly helpful if you know that your industry is very technical or complicated, where someone with specialized knowledge is beneficial.

Can I require an employee to sign an Arbitration Agreement?

You can certainly ask that your employee sign an Arbitration Agreement as part of the onboarding process. While an employee cannot be required to sign an Arbitration Agreement, you, as the employer, may refuse to hire an employee who chooses not to sign it. In some respects, the arbitration agreement can then become a mandatory term of employment.

You may very well decide to rescind an employment offer if the employee will not agree to arbitration. However, if you are hiring an employee with an Employment Contract, rather than as an “at-will” employee, then you may want to check that the requirement doesn’t overstep your contractual rights. You may want to include language in the Employment Contract that an Arbitration Agreement is required for a contract for services.

What if an employee doesn’t want to sign an Arbitration Agreement?

As an employer, you can’t force your employee to sign an Arbitration Agreement. If the employee refuses to sign it, you have two options:

  1. Let their employment continue, knowing that if there is a dispute, it will be heard in court rather than through arbitration
  2. Rescind an employment offer or terminate their employment

For some employers, an Arbitration Agreement would be preferred but may not be a deal-breaker. In other situations, employers may specifically require that all employees sign an Arbitration Agreement as a condition of employment.

Be aware that not all arbitration agreements will be considered valid if they are challenged in court. For instance, it may be worded incorrectly, biased toward the employer, or forces the employee to cover too much of the cost. In those situations, the employee might file a lawsuit in court to challenge the agreement and request to move forward with their case with a judge or jury.

Are digitally signed Arbitration Agreements legally valid?

In the vast majority of situations, an electronic or digital signature will have just as much force and effect as an original signature. While there may be situations where a digital signature is not an option, these circumstances are rare.

Get more information about Arbitration Agreements

Arbitration Agreements can be a great way to reduce the cost of resolving employee disputes. While you can’t force your employees to sign anything, you do have the option of excluding current and prospective employees who refuse to enter into an Arbitration Agreement.

If you have more questions about the legal aspects of Arbitration Agreements, consider asking an attorney. They will be able to help you think through the advantages and disadvantages of these and other employment-related agreements. 

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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6 Legal Documents Every Employer Should Have on File https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/6-legal-documents-every-employer-should-have-on-file-927949 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/6-legal-documents-every-employer-should-have-on-file-927949#respond Thu, 17 Sep 2020 18:50:48 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27949 When you hire an employee, you commit to following all state and federal employment laws. This includes having the right kind of insurance, such as workers’ compensation insurance, and making […]

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When you hire an employee, you commit to following all state and federal employment laws. This includes having the right kind of insurance, such as workers’ compensation insurance, and making sure that you follow wage and hour requirements. Hiring your first employee can be overwhelming, but understanding all applicable employment laws is a great place to start.

There are paperwork requirements for virtually all employment regulations. Therefore, you should have specific documents on file when you hire new employees. Every business is different, but every employer should consider these six legal documents.


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1. Employment Application

An Employment Application tells you a lot about your applicant. Even if you don’t ultimately hire an applicant after they have filled out the application, it’s still good practice to keep them on file in case you need to contact them again. The application provides vital background information on the employee that you hire, including their employment history and relevant skills. It is also the first piece of every employee’s file that you should keep.

2. Employment Contract

The vast majority of employees across the United States do not have an Employment Contract. However, where there is a contract, it is a good idea to keep a signed copy in your employee’s file. You may need to reference it at various points in their employment.

As time goes on, it may be a good idea to revisit the Employment Contract. You may need to make changes or updates to the contract so that it accurately reflects the current state of the employment relationship. Changes can be discussed with the employee and the new, amended agreement signed and filed away.

3. Independent Contractor Agreement

Independent contractors are not considered employees in legal terms and don’t enjoy the same protections as employees. However, if you have properly classified workers in this way, it is a very good idea to have an Independent Contractor Agreement outlining the relationship. As with an Employment Contract, you might want to keep a signed copy of this document in the same folder as other documents that you keep relating to this individual.

4. Employee Handbook

Many employers, particularly small businesses and those just starting up, make the mistake of failing to create an Employee Handbook. This document is important for detailing your company’s policies and procedures, but it is not required by law. An Employee Handbook will inform your employees of your policies, including their rights in the workplace, and can help prevent disputes and other problems down the road.

5. Non-Disclosure Agreement

If your employee is going to have access to private client information or business practices that you do not want shared with your competitors, then you’ll want to use a Non-Disclosure Agreement. This type of agreement requires the employee to keep private information private, detailing how certain types of information should be handled. It also outlines the possible consequences should any confidential information be shared improperly.

6. Federal and State ID and Tax Forms

In addition to these business-specific forms, you may also have your new employees complete certain Government Forms. Specifically, they may need to fill out information for tax withholding and to prove their authorization to work in the United States. 

Form W-4 designates how the employee wants to be treated for income tax purposes so that you withhold the right amount of taxes as an employer. Form I-9 sets out the information that the employee provided to you so that you can confirm that he or she has the right to work in the United States.

Get started on your business-specific forms and contracts by visiting our Employment and HR Contracts and Documents page. We can help you create great forms that you can use to hire your first employees. You can also ask a lawyer if you have a legal question about your employment contracts or documents.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Changes to Child Custody and Visitation During COVID-19 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/changes-to-child-custody-and-visitation-during-covid-19-927942 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/changes-to-child-custody-and-visitation-during-covid-19-927942#respond Wed, 16 Sep 2020 18:17:24 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27942 If you share physical custody of your minor children with an ex, then you understand the stress these arrangements can cause. You hope the other parent is following the terms […]

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If you share physical custody of your minor children with an ex, then you understand the stress these arrangements can cause. You hope the other parent is following the terms of your parenting agreement and, more importantly, that your kids are adjusting as best they can. The COVID-19 pandemic — which has prompted shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines — increases these concerns tremendously.

You may have questions and concerns about child custody and visitation during this unprecedented health crisis. The following answers will help you navigate the family court system and better understand your legal rights, responsibilities, and options.


Questions about the coronavirus pandemic?

Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.


How do COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines affect custody and visitation orders?

Generally, parenting agreements and custody and visitation orders remain unchanged and must be followed. However, you and your ex may negotiate changes to your Parenting Plan or, if you both agree to the terms, ask the court to make changes to an existing custody or visitation order.

Even if you have legitimate concerns, you might be held in contempt of court if you fail to honor a visitation or shared physical custody agreement or order. If you believe your current agreement needs to be modified, be proactive. 

What if my ex doesn’t want to change our custody or visitation agreement?

Unfortunately, parents don’t always agree on what is best for their children. You may be worried about your kids’ safety when staying with your ex. Conversely, you may be concerned that your own home isn’t safe enough for them, particularly if you have a high-risk occupation. One or both of you may want the other parent to shoulder more of the day-to-day child care responsibilities. 

Valid concerns that could necessitate a temporary modification to your custody or visitation agreement include: 

  • You or your ex have been exposed to COVID-19 or show signs of illness.
  • Your child has a compromised immune system or is at a high risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.
  • You or your ex work in an industry with a high exposure risk, such as health care, elder care, corrections, or meat processing. 

If you have such concerns or you believe the other parent isn’t complying with shelter-in-place orders or following reasonable social distancing guidelines, you should ask a lawyer about modifying the order. If your ex fails to comply with an existing visitation order, you may want to document it in a Child Visitation Letter before taking legal action.

What are my legal options if I’m concerned about the immediate health and safety of my children in light of our current parenting agreement?

Let’s say your children tell you about a big party your ex had last weekend during a planned visit, in direct violation of current social distancing guidelines. Your ex admits to it but insists proper precautions were in place. Social media posts suggest otherwise. 

You’re concerned about your children being exposed to COVID-19 and don’t want to send them back to the other parent’s home, at least until the crisis has passed. But your ex refuses to change the terms of your parenting agreement. You don’t want to wait for this to work itself out; you want to take action right away.

In a case like this, you may be able to get an emergency custody order from a judge. But remember, child custody and visitation laws and procedures vary by state. Some states have a very high bar for granting emergency orders, often requiring a factual showing of “imminent danger” or serious risk to the child.

If you believe you need an emergency order, contact your attorney first. Your lawyer may be able to persuade your ex to agree to a modification. If that doesn’t work, your attorney might then pursue an emergency order, if appropriate.

What types of modifications are available?

Depending on your state’s laws, any relevant stay-at-home orders, and the facts of your particular case, you may be able to obtain the following custody or visitation modifications:

  • Temporary postponement of in-person visits.
  • Temporary postponement of shared physical custody.
  • Daily or periodic telephone calls or video meetings, also called virtual visitation.
  • Supervised visitation.

How does virtual visitation work?

Virtual visitation is a lot like an online business meeting or a video chat with relatives, often conducted via Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. It’s been available in many states for some time, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While not typically intended as an alternative to in-person visitation, courts may temporarily allow online visitation in place of in-person visitation in light of the current situation. 

As with most family law matters, the availability and application of virtual visitation depends on the state where you live. 

Have states issued guidance or temporary legal modifications for child custody and visitation as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

Most states provide online advice and FAQs regarding the legal and practical disruptions in child custody and visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They all stress the importance of not violating a parenting agreement or court order. Topics covered include: 

  • Switching from in-person to virtual visitation when it makes sense. 
  • Child custody and visitation exceptions to orders prohibiting nonessential travel.
  • The importance of documenting temporary, mutually agreed-upon modifications.
  • What happens if one parent is exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19. 
  • How to document and make up any missed parenting time once things return to normal. 

Some states are offering, and strongly encouraging, mediation services for parents who are having trouble agreeing on temporary modifications. Some courts are giving parties more time to file court documents or cancel court dates. Generally, though, family courts already have systems in place to account for temporary disruptions, disagreements among parents, and potential risks.

Here are links to a sampling of state-specific guidance for child custody and visitation in the context of COVID-19:

Protect your rights and your family during this difficult time  

Navigating the legal system is challenging enough as it is. But when you’re also dealing with a pandemic and concerned about your child’s health, it can be even more difficult. Make sure you have the right legal guidance regarding divorce, child support, custody, and other matters before you make important decisions. Ask a lawyer if you need additional help.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

The post Changes to Child Custody and Visitation During COVID-19 appeared first on Rocket Lawyer.

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