5 useful tips to close out the year

The holidays are just around the corner, but before you ring in the New Year, take time to consider these useful year-end tips from the lawyers at Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper:

  • COMPLETE EMPLOYEE EVALUATIONS.

    If you haven't done it yet this year, be sure to complete all employee written evaluations—and be sure that the evaluations are realistic about the employees' strengths, weaknesses and areas that need improvement.

    Realistic, thoughtful performance evaluations can be important in deciding promotions and pay raises. If an employee or an ex-employee sues you, his or her evaluation can provide a valuable defense.

    It's a good idea to complete the evaluations once a year.

    —Matthew T. Fitzsimmons
    fitzsimmons@nicola.com

  • RENEGOTIATE OR RENEW AGREEMENTS AND CONTRACTS.

    Many employment agreements, leases and other contracts expire at the end of the year. If yours are among them, now is the time to review them for renewal or negotiation of new terms. If they expire with no action taken, you and the other parties may be left in a no-man's-land.

    —Jim Juliano
    juliano@nicola.com

  • INCREASE YOUR CAR INSURANCE.

    For the first time in 44 years, Ohio has raised the minimum liability coverage for drivers. Effective Dec. 22, the minimums go up from $12,500 to $25,000 per person for bodily injuries, from $25,000 to $50,000 per accident for bodily injuries and from $7,500 to $25,000 per accident for property damage.

    Check with your agent, and don't get caught without the increased coverage. You could be charged with noncompliance, and your license could be suspended.

    —Michael E. Cicero
    cicero@nicola.com

  • MEET THE DEADLINE FOR TAX-FREE GIFTS.

    Annual exclusion giving must be completed by Dec. 31. Individuals may make a gift of up to $14,000 per recipient to anyone without having to file an IRS Form 709 Gift Tax Return to report the gift. Married couples may gift up to $28,000 per recipient using what is known as "gift splitting," although Form 709 may need to be filed, depending on the circumstances.

    Be careful about checks dated Dec. 31. Technically, a Dec. 31 gift is not complete until the date the funds leave your bank account, which usually will not happen until the following year. This was an audit item for me several years ago! If in doubt, use a cashier's check or a certified check when making gifts on Dec. 31.

    Finally, there are no limits on gifts paid directly to institutions for qualified educational or medical expenses for the benefit of another person.

    —Arthur L. (Tim) Clements III
    tclements@nicola.com

  • UPDATE YOUR ENTERPRISE CALENDAR.

    Every business and organization should have its own calendar of critical dates, to serve as a permanent, up-to-date record of important deadlines and reminders. In addition to assisting in the management of day-to-day affairs, an enterprise calendar can provide essential institutional memory when there's a change in key personnel. Keep the calendar separate from the personal calendars of the owners and managers, update it as new critical dates are established and distribute it for review at least monthly.

    Consider including such important information as tax filing and payment deadlines, dates of shareholder and board meetings (and the deadlines for giving notice of these meetings), dates for delivery of financial reports to lenders and funders, loan repayment dates and the expiration dates and renewal notice deadlines for real estate and equipment leases, insurance contracts and other fixed-term agreements. An enterprise calendar is also useful for implementing numerous human resources functions and document destruction policies.

    The responsibility for preparing and updating the calendar should be assigned to specific members of the management team. Once compiled and periodically thereafter, the calendar should be distributed to each person who is responsible for a stated task, such as the chief executive, financial and operating officers, counsel and accountants.

    You may use one of the many available software programs for maintaining an electronic enterprise calendar, which may be programmed to send reminder e-mails to those responsible for tasks.

    Maintaining an enterprise calendar is a best practice to ensure that your business or organization meets important deadlines.

    —Bruce L. Waterhouse Jr.
    waterhouse@nicola.com