Ziese & Associates, Ltd.

Robert J. Ziese, Esq.

Client Newsletter - Jan.- Mar 2000

Call us for real estate, wills & trusts, tax & bankruptcy issues, business startup & litigation, matrimonial, and non-profit organization matters

 Cell Phone Users-Companies can be liable for accidents
 Where will you rest in peace?

 Fine Print Before the Hearts and Flowers

How's Your Social Security?

Welcome to Software Hell

New Tax News on our Tax Page

Cell Phone Users- 
Companies can be liable for job-related cell phone use resulting in accidents
If you have an accident while you are talking on your cell phone, the courts treat you as an "inattentive driver". This means a jury could find you responsible and liable for the accident. A New England Journal of Medicine study says drivers are four times more likely to have an accident when using cell phones. This risk remains the same even though the phones were equipped to allow drivers to keep both hands on the wheel. While attempts to ban cell phone use while driving have failed in several states, New York City has made the practice illegal for cab drivers. In several other countries, drivers are not allowed to use cell phones.
Roberts v. Smith Barney, a Federal Court case in Pennsylvania, recently tried to extend the liability to the driver's employer. The driver was making a business cell phone call. His employer provided the cell phone and encouraged quick response to clients. The plaintiff, seeking someone with deep pockets in this fatal accident, sued the driver and the driver's employer.
Rather than leave it to a jury, Smith Barney settled for $ 500,000.

Where will you rest in peace? RIP
You may not be able to take it with you, but now, more than ever, it may be time to start investigating where you'll go.  Cemeteries have turned into big business, and as America's population ages, the field is expected to become increasingly in demand and profitable.

For profit cemeteries are on the increase, and new industry trends call for building funeral homes - and even florists - on cemetery land for the full-service approach.   Many cemeteries already offer reduced fees for pre-need or family purchases.  For consumers, such trends mean that more information will be needed to make informed decisions.

There are several types of cemeteries: national, state, municipal, fraternal, religious, commercial, and private.  Each type - and even each cemetery- has different requirements and offers different services.

When making decisions, consider:
Costs.  Prices for a single grave range from $200 to$3,700 or more.  Additional costs include interment, grave side services, burial vault.
Burial vaults.  A burial vault is a reinforced container that encloses the casket and helps to maintain ground integrity. Although commonly believed to be required by law, burial vaults are optional unless mandated by cemetery rules.
Payment.  All costs must be paid in full before a burial can take place.  Many cemeteries will take only cash or check, but credit card options are becoming more available.
Availability.   While rumors have circulated for years that cemeteries are running out of room, few are nearing capacity. What is true is that they are becoming more creative with options and land use.  Any particular site may, nevertheless, become unavailable.
Memorials.  Cemeteries are usually inflexible about rules for grave identification or decoration.  Be sure to check what is allowed.
Pre-planning versus pre-need purchase.  Pre-planning a funeral requires only a conversation or pen and paper, to ensure that your executor knows your preferences.  Pre-need purchases are made in advance of death.

Fine print before the Wedding

For most of us, the prospect of tying the knot has traditionally had associations of domesticity rather than legalistics.  But even if your name isn't Trump, the pageantry of love and marriage might well involve prenuptial agreements right along with the hearts and flowers.  Many people with a lot less at stake are starting to see why.

Consider a prenuptial if you meet one of the following characteristics:
Have children from a previous marriage.
Own or are partner in a business.
Have significant assets (real estate, investments, retirement benefits).
Will support your spouse through college or post-graduate studies.
Have a career that is potentially very profitable.

Because many couples are marrying later in life, and for the second or third time, each partner has the potential to bring significant assets to the marriage.  More and more, the agreements are employed to simplify the distribution of assets or custody after the death of a spouse.

Many couples avoid the topics of money or asset resolution, thinking that the mere subject implies a lack of trust or commitment to the new union.

If you think the view in your rose-colored glasses could benefit from a more full spectrum approach, be sure you and your potential spouse seek the advice of attorneys (separate lawyers for each party are recommended).

How's Your Social Security?
Consumers now have a new tool to help with retirement planning.  The Social Security Administration will mail each worker age 25 and over a personalized statement of estimated government retirement benefits.

The mailing, which you'll receive annually three months before your birthday, estimates the monthly benefits you'll receive if you retire early at age 62; if you retire at your full retirement age,which ranges from 65 to 67 depending on the year you were born; and if you retire at age 70.  It also lists the years you have worked, the dollar amount of your earnings credited for Social Security and Medicare benefits, and estimates of government benefits you and your family would get if you were to become disabled or die.

When you get your Social Security Statement, also called a Personal Earnings & Benefits Estimate Statement (PEBES), check the salary record, name spelling, birth date, and Social Security number. Call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 to report any errors. Try to have your W-2s available for the years in question. The SSAWeb site  also allows you to order a PEBES online or by downloading form SSA-7004.

If you are unhappy with the projected benefit, order another PEBES.  On the request form, ask for estimates based on higher projected wages and on delaying your retirement a few years. This will show what you may need to do to increase your benefit. Make sure your spouse gets a PEBES at the same time you do, so you can discuss your joint retirement strategy.

You can also go to the SSA's web site,www.ssa.gov, click on Office of the Actuary, and download software(for Windows, not Macintosh) that lets you plug in various scenarios to see how changes, such as retiring early, affect benefits.

Welcome to Software Hell !
Y2K has come and gone, and most if not all of the world's computers survived.Yet the Year 2000 bug was only a tiny fragment of the challenge facing the software industry as it tries to bring software quality and reliability to the level we have come to expect from cars, televisions, and other hunks of dependable hardware.
The December 6, 1999 issue of  BusinessWeek has a special report called Software Hell. The entire article is online at their website. Click on Search Past Issues and go to the Dec.6 issue. Here are some excerpts:

June 10 of this year is a day the software industry would love to forget. Auction site eBay suffered a 22-hour system crash--the longest, but not last, in a series of crippling software-related outages. The magnitude of the crash signaled more than just the temporary interruption of Beanie Baby trading. It stoked concerns across the computer industry that software, in its current form, may not be a match for the voracious demands of the information economy.

With the low points of just the past 24 months, you could build a Software Hall of Infamy. In a fast-flowing river of woe, software bugs--along with viruses and security loopholes--have plagued most new releases of Microsoft Windows and Office products, Netscape Navigator, Intuit's Quicken, and countless other personal-computer applications. Glitches have crippled online auctions and trading sites and delayed product shipments at Hershey, Whirlpool, and Handspring, maker of Visor palm computers. All told, bad software cost U.S. businesses $85 billion in lost productivity last year, according to Jim Johnson, president of market researcher The Standish Group in Dennis, Mass.

Over the past two decades, bad software has been implicated in plane crashes, road and rail accidents, and malfunctions of medical gear that resulted in death--lending ghoulish new meaning to the term ''killer app.'' Recent glitches have knocked out AT&T's high-speed phone and data networks and interrupted emergency service in New York. ''Software easily rates among the most poorly constructed, unreliable, and least maintainable technological artifacts invented by man,'' says Paul Strassmann, a former chief information officer for Xerox Corp. and for the Defense Dept who now heads a private consulting company. Most software executives share at least some of this dismay.

Now, the PC software industry is reaching into new domains, such as cell-phone networks and automobile electronics. Historically, such products have depended on high-quality, embedded software that the user never touched or tinkered with. All that could change, however, when cell phones become portable Web browsers. Soon, phones may be running some of the same sorts of slapdash applications as a PC--and crashing like one, too. Cars could be next. Right now, auto electronic systems don't flash the worst system error--the Blue Screen of Death. But that could change when off-the-rack applications--from mapping software to speech-activated Net browsing--are humming on the dashboard, controlled by PC-derived operating systems.

Business Week, Dec. 6,1999


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