By Associate Attorney Katy Currie
Valentine’s Day is a holiday to celebrate the endless love we have for the loves of our life. What better present to give your Valentine this year than ensuring your estate planning is done? There are many important aspects of sitting down and planning for your future through your estate planning documents, and unfortunately, there are countless issues that could arise without proper estate planning.
Without a will you lose the control you have over who inherits what when you pass away, and this could have huge implications on your loved ones. You are deemed to have died “intestate” if you die without a will. North Carolina has an Intestate Succession Act which is the default law that kicks in if you should pass away without a will. It names which of your surviving family members are considered your legal heirs in North Carolina.
The most common misconception surrounding intestate succession is that your spouse will inherit everything if you pass away without a will. This is not always the case if you have probate property and are survived by children or parents in addition to a spouse. For example, if you do not have a will and are survived by a spouse and one child (or grandchildren if that child is deceased), or a spouse and a living parent if you have no children or grandchildren, in addition to receiving the $60,000 spousal allowance, your surviving spouse takes the first $60,000 of your personal property, ½ of your real property, and ½ of whatever remains of your personal property while the child/grandchildren/parent inherits the remainder. If you are survived by multiple children or grandchildren, that number is cut to 1/3.
Additionally, in North Carolina, a will is the only way to name a guardian for your minor children in the event both parents pass away. You can also create a testamentary trust within your will, which will name a trustee who can be the money manager for inheriting children until they reach a certain age (later than the default age of 18).
So, while enjoying a nice romantic dinner to celebrate and show your love for your Valentine, it is also an opportunity to discuss planning for your future while you have some alone, intimate time together. If you approach the conversation with care and thoughtfulness, it could help you break the ice for those difficult, but important, decisions for your estate plan which will have a positive impact on your Valentine for years to come. If you would like to take the next step and work on your estate plan, give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
Branding your business helps set it apart from your competitors and keeps it present in the minds of consumers. To protect that brand, a business can obtain a trademark that essentially puts the world on notice that you are the owner of the specific mark. A trademark is a “word, phrase, symbol and/or design” that identifies and distinguishes the goods or services of the owner of the mark from another party. Examples of these marks include brand names, slogans, tag lines, logos, and design elements (think, Tiffany blue boxes).
To get a federal registered trademark, the mark must be used in commerce, so normally the owner of the mark is a business. An application can be filed before the mark is used in commerce if the owner intends to use it in commerce, but the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) will not register the trademark until the applicant shows that it is actually being used. A benefit of a trademark is that they do not expire, so long as the mark continues to be used in commerce and the owner files periodic documentation with the USPTO.
The trademark application process is fairly simple, so oftentimes non-lawyer business owners will attempt it themselves, but actually obtaining the registered trademark can be tricky. Applications can be denied for a variety of reasons, such as the mark being “merely descriptive” of the goods or services it applies to, or a mark being considered too similar to an existing trademark in a similar industry (a “likelihood of confusion” according to the USPTO). The strongest trademarks are “fanciful and arbitrary,” meaning they are words that have no relation to the good or service sold (like Apple computers), and the second strongest trademarks are “suggestive” meaning they suggest the good or service without literally describing it (think, Facebook). Unfortunately, most people name their businesses something that describes their goods and services for marketing purposes (for example, “Northwest Construction”), so trademark registration may not possible. Exceptions to this rule are well-known businesses or those that have been in business for many years.
A business can have a common law trademark (indicated by the ™ symbol instead of the ® symbol) without registering it with the USPTO just by using the mark in commerce, but there are benefits to federally registering. Inclusion in the national database deters others from using similar marks in similar industries. Also, there is a legal presumption that registrant was the first to use it, meaning that in a dispute with another business, it would be presumed to be the winner. Damages would also be presumed. A drawback to a common law trademark is that it is limited in geographic area, so you could have a competitor business open up with the same name in an entirely different state, as long as you did not share customers. If a competitor opens in your geographic area, and you sue them for common law trademark infringement, you would have to prove that they did damage to your mark and that you were the first to use the mark.
If you’re thinking of protecting an element of your brand with a trademark, give Jesson & Rains a call!
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