In my previous two blogs in this series, I’ve discussed the importance of having a will so that you can specifically name the person or people who you want to inherit your estate. The difference in today’s blog is that we are assuming you already have a will.
What happens when you get married, but you don’t update your will?
The good news is that North Carolina law will prevent a surviving spouse from getting nothing with their spouses passes away. In North Carolina, we have what is called “an Elective Share.” That means that a spouse, whether or not there is a will, and whether or not they are omitted from a will, can elect to take a share. The amount of the share is determined by statute. I will not go into specifics here, but if a spouse is omitted from a will, they can take a percentage of the deceased spouse’s estate (not just their probate estate, but everything, including life insurance proceeds, stocks and bonds, etc.), and the percentage is based upon the number of years they have been married. So this is good – if you have a will and you get married, but you pass away before you can revise your will, your surviving spouse will not be left out in the cold. However, as we discussed in a previous blog, if you intend for your spouse to inherit 100% of your estate, you may need to revise your will.
Now, let’s say you have a will, you’ve left property to your spouse, but then you get divorced:
What happens if you do not update your will after a divorce?
Well, there’s good news here, too. In North Carolina, the divorced spouse will get nothing under the will, and if you have the spouse listed as an executor, trustee, or guardian, the spouse will not be permitted to serve as one of those, either. However, I still recommend that a divorced person revise their will. There may be other provisions in the will indirectly impacted by the divorce that are not automatically revoked. For example, maybe your wife’s sister was to serve as your successor executor, and you’d prefer someone from your own family to serve now? Maybe you had provided for your husband’s step-child in your will and you would like to remove the step-child? These provisions are not automatically revoked upon divorce.
So, as you can see, North Carolina law does a great job protected spouses from unintentional disinheritance and from their ex-spouses inheriting. However, a revised Will will do an even better job at making sure your wishes are carried out.
Occasionally, potential clients, be they general contractors or subcontractors, come to me with issues regarding a project that they’ve been involved with. More often than not those questions revolve around what their rights are, and what their duties are, when a problem has arisen on the project that they’re working on.
The first document that I ask for when presented with these questions is the contract that governs the work the contractor was doing, and, unfortunately, I am often told that there was no contract—which is almost as bad as when the contract that is in place is a form contract pulled from the internet that is not specific to the work that was actually being performed.
In the construction industry, contracts serve many purposes. The main purposes are to outline the rights and duties of all the parties involved in the contract, and to allocate the risk between those parties. Typically, most people are interested in the rights and duties part of a contract and somewhat ignore the allocation as a risk. However, as you will see below, this can be a costly mistake.
If a contract allocates too much of the risk involved in a project to one party (e.g. a general contractor shifting all of the risk to its subcontractor), then the party that is assuming the lion’s share of the risk likely will not want to enter into the contract. Properly and fairly allocating the risk in contracts also allows the parties to the contracts to effectively plan ahead and will likely result in fewer insurance claims, lower costs, and projects being completed on time.
This point was well made in a recent case decided by the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit. The contract in question was between the Department of the Navy and DG21, a contractor doing business with the Navy. The contract was a fixed price contract in which DG21 would be paid a fixed sum of money to perform all the tasks that it was agreeing to. The issue that arose, was that of fuel costs. The contract was to be performed in Diego Garcia, which is located approximately 1,800 miles east of Africa and 1,20 miles south of India, not a place where you can drive to the local gas station to get gas for your fleet of vehicles!
The contract stated that DG21 was to use a certain type of fuel while operating on Diego Garcia and the fuel was to be paid for by DG21 at the prevailing Department of Defense rate at the time of purchase. DG21 examined the Department of Defense fuel rate at the time it was bidding for the contract, bid accordingly, and was awarded the contract.
The Navy, in response to DG21’s bid, advised that the fuel cost information it provided was for informational purposes only and that the bid was for a firm fixed price, meaning that DG21 would assume the full risk of fuel consumption and/or fuel rate changes. During the term of the contract, fuel prices, and the prevailing Department of Defense rate for fuel rose dramatically, reaching more than double the rate DG21 relied on when preparing its bid. As you can imagine, as a result of the fuel costs doubling, the contract no longer made financial sense to DG21.
DG21 requested that the Navy increase the price of the contract so that DG21 could be properly compensated in light of the increased fuel costs. The Navy denied this request leaving DG21 to finish out a contract that, due to the dramatic increase in fuel costs, it was likely losing money on.
The Court sided with the Navy. All the Court had to do was review the contract that was in place which allocated the risk of fuel price changes to DG21. Even more damning to DG21’s case was the fact that DG21 itself recognized that fuel prices fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Yet even though DG21 was aware of this risk, it did nothing during the contract negotiations to protect itself from fuel price fluctuations.
While not everyone will be contracting with the government, the point that this case makes is valuable to anyone involved in the construction industry, whether they are competitively bidding for work or simply negotiating the price of a project. Had DG21 fully examined the risk that was being allocated to it regarding fuel prices, DG21 may well have decided that it needed additional protections from that risk written into the contract; or that it needed to increase its bid price for the contract; or that it simply did not want to take the job due to the excessive risk that it would be taking. Unfortunately, DG21 did not undertake that analysis when negotiating its contract and was left in the unenviable position of finishing out a contract on which it would be losing money.
It is important to examine any contracts that are being entered into to see where the various risks are being allocated and to make sure that those risks are being fairly distributed between the parties. Failing to do so could result in a job in which your profit margins are slashed completely, or in which you actually lose money.
Everyone is somewhat familiar with the law that requires overtime to be paid to employees who work over 40 hours per week. However, the law exempts any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity. This exemption is premised on the belief that these types of salaried employees generally earn higher salaries & enjoy other benefits.
Now, there is an exception to this exemption – if a person is a salaried employee and employed in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity, they will still be entitled to overtime under federal law if they earn a low salary. Currently, an employee in this category who earns less than $455/ week or $23,660 is entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week.
Starting December 1, 2016, these figures will increase over 100%. If an employee in this category earns less than $913/week or $47,476 per year, they will be entitled to overtime if they work over 40 hours per week.
While this is a dramatic increase, the law has not been changed in 12 years. With this new law, the minimum salary for this overtime change will be evaluated and possibly increased every 3 years.
If you are a business owner and employ employees who may be affected by the change in the new law, we encourage you to contact an attorney or other human resource professional to ensure you comply with the law.
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