Some “Hors d’oeuvres” style answers to common legal questions. (Toothpicks and filo dough not included.)

answers to common legal questionsI’ve talked about the possible pitfalls of office holiday parties and how you can steer clear of some of the potential problems that can arise in my post Holiday Cheers Without Legal Fears. In addition to your annual office party, you’ll probably also be attending (or possibly hosting) some holiday cocktail parties.

Invariably, at least one of these will be hosted by someone you only hear from once a year, attended by people vaguely remember from last year, and scheduled on the same night you need to attend at least two other gatherings. David Hadedom summed up this type of event very beautifully when he stated:

“Throwing a cocktail party is like speed dating; you spend a little bit of time with a lot of people, make vague promises to get together in the future, and then send everyone on their way while the night is still young.”

Speed Dating for the Palette

answers to common legal questionsThe speed dating aspect of cocktail parties isn’t restricted to the people. It also applies to the food. Hors d’oeuvres are a bit like speed dating as well – a brief moment in time and taste before you move on to the next one. These types of menus usually follow a guide: of some hot, some cold, some meats and a crudité, cheeses and fruit trays, savory and sweet bites galore. Ironically, the trays of “sensible, healthy choices” always seem to get to you right after you’ve given up waiting for them and indulged in the more decadent “diet wrecker” trays.

No matter what the flavor, the nibbles, along with needing a drink refresher, are a nice anchor when you need a break from the small talk (or need an extra moment or two to remember the name of the person who acts like they’ve known you forever, but you haven’t got a clue who they are).

The cocktail-party question that inevitably arises every time is “So what do you do for a living?” And, you eagerly rattle off your elevator speech, thankful you can sound intelligent and coherent without much effort while you balance your drink and a small plate of colorful food that keeps threatening to make a break for the new and expensive looking rug under your feet.

Being an attorney, when I answer this question, there is always at least one party goer who responds with, “Oh, a lawyer. Hey, maybe you can answer this question for me. . . .”

Because of a lawyer’s duties to rendering legal advice, I tend to start off with the disclaimer about not providing legal advice. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, because the person thinks I’m trying to wrangle a fee, but I feel obligated to do so anyway. Like a hors d’oeuves, it’s hard for us lawyers to give a comprehensive legal answer when we only have a small bite of time and information. A lawyer’s automatic and natural response is to ask for more information, which can be inappropriate in a party setting, if you know what I mean. Like the assortment of appetizers passed on trays, the questions run the gamut from practical (what to do about speeding tickets) to absurd (how would I have defended OJ).

Some Bite Size Legal Answers

answers to common legal questionsOccasionally I’ll get asked questions that actually do fall in my wheelhouse. So in case I don’t see you at any of this year’s holiday parties – I thought we might have a little “virtual” cocktail party chat. Here are some 2-minute “hors d’oeuves” answers to some frequent cocktail party legal questions:

Question: “I’m starting a business. Should I be an S corp or an LLC? What do you think?”

Response: You have some choices to make when you are deciding on a legal structure for your business. There is no one “right choice.” Deciding on a legal entity is a lot like deciding what kind of car to buy. Everyone at this party may want a car but they all have different needs and preferences: Some of us want a sports car or a hybrid or a truck or a luxury vehicle. Similarly, some of us want a partnership or an LLC or a corporation. In Texas and many other states, you can create an LLC with the State of Texas. You can use my free Start Up checklist. Then, you can have your LLC make an “S corp” election on the federal level using IRS Form 2553. You can have both!

Question: “I recently got married and my spouse has some adult children by a previous marriage. The children told me that my spouse doesn’t need a will to provide for me after death, because we live in a community property state. Are the kids telling me the truth?”

Response: It depends. When a person dies without a will, Texas laws apply as to how the estate is divided. It is possible that community property (property acquired during marriage) is divided with one-half to you as the surviving spouse and the other half to your spouse’s children from a previous marriage. You and your spouse might consider visiting an estate planning lawyer to create wills—a will gives you the ability to decide how and to whom you’d like to leave your estate. I can refer you to a specialist and I have a free pamphlet from the Texas State Bar if you are interested in knowing more. Click here to request it.

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