Virgin Islands Law Blog

Virgin Islands Law Blog

U.S. Virgin Islands law & politics

The Dangers of Prepackaged Wills and Trusts

Posted in Tax & Estate Planning

family willIn our do-it-yourself era, prepackaged wills and trusts may seem like an incredibly convenient option for individuals and couples not wanting to add extra stress to an already emotional process. However, most legal professionals strongly advise against using them. If your will or trust doesn’t meet specific requirements, your wishes may not be carried out to their full extent, or at all.

The following are seven solid reasons why prepackaged wills and trusts might not work out well for you and your loved ones:

1)      Inaccurate language: These documents are unlikely to use the correct language or uphold the signing requirements necessitated by your state or territory. Only an attorney who focuses on estate planning in your area can truly advise you on your legal obligations.

2)      Poor communication: Because they operate by a pre-set language and formula, prepackaged wills and trusts are unlikely to effectively or properly communicate your wishes in full.

3)      Inadequate oversight: It’s common for prepackaged wills and trusts to lack the signatures, witnesses and notarization required by law. Often, unauthorized people are the witnesses, a mistake that renders the documents invalid.

4)      Outdated planning: Estate laws change fairly often, so a prepackaged will or trust you purchase one year may be totally invalid the next.

5)      Invalidating mistakes: Courts are required to interpret a will by the plain meaning of the words it contains, which means that any typos, confusing clauses or incorrect terminology may completely alter the meaning of your will. This could change the way it will be carried out after you pass on.

6)      Insufficient wiggle room: Prepackaged wills and trusts don’t have the room or foresight to account for the many extenuating circumstances your estate could encounter, such as personal issues, sibling rivalries, difficult family finances or tax problems.

7)      Lack of maintenance: It’s important to regularly review and maintain your estate documents over the course of your life, a process that prepackaged wills and trusts generally do not allow for.

Any of these difficulties, which you are likely to run into when taking advantage of the convenience that prepackaged wills and trusts claim to offer, run the risk of destroying your original intent behind the will, denying your heirs their rightful inheritance and improperly handling or mismanaging your estate and assets. All of these issues may be avoided simply by obtaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney who practices in your state or territory.

When it comes to your will, which is one of the most important documents you’ll ever develop and sign, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Speak with a qualified attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist you with the estate planning process.

U.S. Virgin Islands Could See Tourism Boost with U.S. News Ranking

Posted in Community Affairs

hammockThe U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism Department recently announced that the Territory, which consistently ranks highly on the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Places to Visit in the Caribbean”, has topped the list this year.

U.S. News & World Report recognized the many amazing natural and cultural features the U.S. Virgin Islands has to offer tourists, from the pure white sand beaches of St. John to the vibrant cultural history of St. Croix to the exhilarating festivities of the carnival celebrations throughout the Virgin Islands. The coveted number one spot was occupied last year by the Cayman Islands, which now finds itself in second place, followed by St. Kitts and Nevis.

The “Best Places to Visit in the Caribbean” list is solidified in a highly selective process, in which U.S. News & World Report sends travel editorial staff all over the region to assess recommendations made by travel experts and investigate new travel possibilities. This year, the staff examined more than 200 destinations, choosing only a handful to receive the honor.

Although the chosen destinations, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, are widely known for their beautiful beaches and relaxing atmospheres, the list strives to evaluate a number of other features, such as colonial history, dynamic lifestyles, healthy economy, lush parks, cultural attractions and vibrant cuisine. America’s Paradise leads the region in offering these various amenities and opportunities.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is already a major port for cruise lines in the Caribbean, so the award will continue to inflate the steadily growing stream of visitors. The news coincides nicely with this summer’s Virgin Islands Nice promotion, designed by the Tourism Department to offer world-class features to the region’s new tourists. The agency’s efforts likely contributed to the honor for the territory this year.

The U.S. Virgin Islands came in fifth on the list last year, and this is the first time it has been named the number one destination to visit in the Caribbean. U.S. News & World Report has also named the Territory number 10 on the “Best Places to Visit in the United States” list and number 11 on the “Best Places to Visit in the World” list. These achievements mean local businesses will likely see an exciting influx of new travelers and visitors seeking the natural beauty and thrilling cultural experiences here in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected government relations law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Police, Fire Retirements May Stress Public Services in US Virgin Islands

Posted in Community Affairs, Government Relations

During recent budget hearings before the Finance Committee of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, police and fire officials alerted the Virgin Islands Senate that their agencies, chronically understaffed already over the last few years, may be in even worse shape in the coming months and years.

According to the officials, an unprecedented number of Police Department and VI Fire Services employees will soon be eligible to retire or are retiring already. This is resulting in losses that could well decimate the departments’ number of employees. Nearly 150 officers are eligible to retire in the next two years, raising serious concerns with the Police Commissioner as to the remaining force’s ability to maintain order and safety throughout the Territory.

Calling all recruits

This is just the latest assessment of an ongoing issue, raised last year in the Senate’s budget hearings by the Police Commissioner. In 2013, the Department was already concerned about the rising retirement eligibility of its officers, citing a loss of more than 100 employees since 2007. At the time, the Police Commissioner Rodney F. Querrard detailed ongoing recruitment efforts, which have proven of great help but still have not provided the necessary re-staffing necessary.

The problem, as detailed in the most recent budget hearing, is mainly that the new recruits are primarily coming through in the area of personnel staff, leaving a gaping hole in supervisory personnel. To address this particular shortage, the Police Department is working to implement step raises for the supervisory staff it so desperately needs, measures that were approved just a few years ago in the 2010 Law Enforcement Supervisors Union contract.

Overlap in services

The increasing retirement eligibility, combined with what appear to be falling rates of enrollment in the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Academy, is not the only issue detracting from the forces’ numbers. Shortages in personnel may also be due to an overlap between the USVI Fire Services and the Virgin Islands National Guard Reserves. Although the St. Croix district could lose just one fire personnel member this year to service in the VING Reserves, the St. Thomas/St. John District stands to lose 17 officers.

Four of the firefighters have already received confirmation of their deployment later this year, necessitating overtime costs on behalf of the VI Fire Services to meet minimum staffing levels. Fortunately, despite the budgeting difficulties that have come about, the Police Department reported that crime rates have decreased.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected government relations law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Understanding Copyright, Trademark and Other Intellectual Property Issues in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Posted in Litigation

Copyright-_all_rights_reservedIt’s easy to confuse copyrights, trademarks, service marks, patents and other intellectual property protections, but they all serve quite different purposes. To effectively safeguard your work and the intellectual property that keeps your business ahead of the competition, it’s important to know the differences between these protections and which one is appropriate for your needs.

Below we have provided a brief overview of each:

Copyrights

A copyright is a type of intellectual property protection, registered by the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office, afforded to the authors of original works of authorship expressed in a tangible medium, such as musical, artistic, literary, dramatic and other works. A copyright gives you (and no one else) the exclusive right to distribute copies or recordings of your work, to perform or display your work publicly, to reproduce your work and to prepare any further works derived from the original.

A copyright does not protect the subject matter of your work, so others can base their own original work on yours. The copyright only protects your specific form of expression.

Patents

A patent, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office, awards the property rights of an invention to the inventor for 20 years from the date of the patent application. Patents exclude other parties from constructing, using, importing, selling or offering to sell the invention themselves.

Trademarks and service marks

A trademark or service mark, also registered with the Patent and Trademark Office, is used in the trade of goods to indicate the source through an identifying symbol, name, device or word. Trademark rights ensure that the makers of similar goods cannot package those goods with a mark similar to your own.

The Uniform Trade Secrets Act

The U.S. Virgin Islands has also adapted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which was enacted by the U.S. a few decades ago to better protect the trade secrets of American companies that, because they operated in multiple states, were more vulnerable to an exposure of their trade secrets.

The Trade Secrets Act established a uniform trade secret law to deal with any uncertainty associated with a patent, while allowing each state and territory some flexibility with its text. In short, it protects your patent and trade secrets by providing a framework for legal recourse if another company obtains, uses or tries to acquire your protected works.

Although it’s very clear when a patent is appropriate, it may occasionally be difficult to determine whether you need a copyright or a trademark for your work. In these situations, seek the assistance of a skilled intellectual property attorney.

BolgNagi is a widely respected and well-established intellectual property and civil litigation law firm that serves clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

The Key Components of a Business Contract

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

contractWhen writing a business contract in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is important to keep in mind a few simple, but very important, considerations to protect your company and your best interests. By doing so, you can help ensure that in the event of a future dispute, your contract will be considered valid and enforceable in a court of law.

To start, every business contract must include at least two parties, one of which is making an offer of some sort that the other is accepting. Without the acceptance of the offer, the contract does not exist.

If one party needs to take a reasonable amount of time to consider whether or not it will accept the offer, you will want to include an expiration date with the offer to prevent any confusion. The offer has to remain open for the specified period and, if the offer is accepted, the offering party is bound by the contract’s terms even if circumstances change. If the other party makes a counteroffer, this qualifies as a rejection and requires a new contract.

The rules for acceptance vary depending on the contract’s subject matter. When dealing with a contract for services, most courts accept that there will be small, reasonable differences between both parties’ understanding of the contract. However, when it comes to the sale of goods, both parties have to be in complete agreement about the terms for the contract to be valid.

Exchanging something of value

A valid contract requires an exchange of something of value, called a “consideration. This may include goods, services, money or even promises to act — or refrain from acting — in a specific capacity.

Whatever the consideration is, the exchange of something of value does not have to take place immediately. Many contracts specify or allow for the delivery of the payments, goods, services or actions to take place in the future, rather than right away.

In addition, it’s important to keep all of the following basic considerations in mind to avoid any disputes or future problems with the agreement:

  • Both parties must demonstrate the intent to make the contract
  • The subject matter cannot involve anything illegal, such as stolen property
  • There must be an offer and a complete acceptance (rather than an offer still under consideration or an unaccepted counteroffer)
  • There must be an exchange of something of value
  • Some subject matters require the contract to be drawn up and accepted in writing
  • Both parties must perform fully and in exact accordance with the terms of the contract

As long as your contract adheres to these general guidelines, it will likely be considered valid in a court of law. This will allow both parties to avoid tough disputes and settle any differences without having to engage in litigation.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected business and corporate law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Five Tips for Avoiding Employment Discrimination Issues

Posted in Labor & Employment

facesDiscrimination in the workplace is a serious issue, and all employers in the U.S. Virgin Islands need to take steps to ensure discrimination does not take place within their businesses or organizations.

This issue may take a variety of forms, and employers are prohibited by law from discriminating against workers based on their age, gender, race, skin color, ethnicity, national origin or disability. In many of these cases, employees may claim that they were unfairly prevented from being hired or obtaining raises or promotions, or that they were unjustly fired. These lawsuits can be extremely costly for businesses and create hostile work environments that may affect productivity.

For business owners and supervisors, there are five steps you can take to address the root of employment discrimination and ensure a more positive and healthy workplace for all:

1. Engage your discrimination policy. Every business and organization should have a clear, comprehensive and ethical anti-discrimination policy in place. Work with an employment law attorney to ensure the policy accounts for all possible scenarios, complies with federal and state laws and is easily understood. Review it with all employees and encourage questions. Although every scenario should be an opportunity for learning and reform, make sure that policy violations come with appropriate penalties.

2. Analyze and reward diversity. Take a look at your workforce and customers and analyze how much diversity you have within your organization. Greater diversity often means that you’ll have employees who bring a wide range of perspectives, which can help your business innovate and stay ahead of the competition.

3. Create a safe environment. Organize committees or groups within the workplace to analyze the potential for discrimination and suggest resolutions to issues. Make sure no one feels that they will be punished for identifying or reporting problems by including a human resources professional in these discussions.

4. Encourage education. If employees have diverse backgrounds, create opportunities for educating each other on different traditions — such as religious holidays — or distinctions between cultures and genders. The more you know, the more you understand and the less there is to fear.

5. Promote cooperation and inclusion. Isolation and separation (or segregation) only fosters misunderstanding, fear and resentment. Create departments and work groups that encourage cooperation, inclusion, education and goodwill between all employees.

By considering and implementing these concepts into your workplace culture, you can help your employees understand each other and avoid potential complications related to employment discrimination claims.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected employment law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

The Benefits of Using Mediation to Resolve Business Disputes

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services, Litigation

meetingIf you own or operate a business, it’s possible that you will find yourself in disputes from time to time. These conflicts can quickly become very heated, but mediation is often an effective alternative to engaging in expensive and time-consuming litigation.

Business disputes may be related to nonbinding verbal agreements, breach of contract and employment issues, or even more serious matters like embezzlement and fraud. In many cases, these conflicts involve dissolving a partnership.

While business disputes are often complicated, the process of resolving them does not have to be inherently negative or difficult. Through mediation, you and the other parties can settle all issues quickly and amicably, without enormous costs to you or your business.

Mediation is a process undertaken voluntarily by both parties in the conflict, in which a professional mediator opens up a line of effective communication between the parties to identify the root of the problem and reach solutions that address everyone’s needs. Mediation offers a number of key benefits:

  • Settling out of court avoids incredibly costly fees
  • Provides a safe environment for raising, discussing and resolving disagreements, differences of opinion, grudges and other hurdles
  • The ability to preserve valuable ties between colleagues and coworkers, improve weak or unstable relationships and cultivate new ones
  • Often requires only a few days or even hours to effectively settle a dispute, whereas litigation may take months or years
  • High levels of privacy and confidentiality, reducing the risk of publicly severing business relationships

Research indicates that when resolutions are formulated and agreed on by both parties, rather than imposed and rigidly enforced by a court of law, the parties are much more likely to comply, both immediately and in the long term. In addition, because the mediator works equally and without bias for both parties and because a dissatisfied party may withdraw at any time — unlike in court, where attendance is mandatory and lawyers can intimidate — there’s no risk for exploitation or manipulation.

If you find yourself in a business-related dispute in the U.S. Virgin Islands, consider utilizing alternative dispute resolution means such as mediation. It can help you avoid the drawn-out, expensive process of filing a lawsuit and preserve key relationships for the benefit of your company’s future.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established business and corporate law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

US Virgin Islands Businesses Gain Access to USDA’s REAP

Posted in Government Relations

doughThe Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offered a seminar on best practices last month to local businesses at the U.S. Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center.

The informative seminar, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office, aimed to educate small business owners about resources and options it has available for sustaining and growing their businesses.

Operating a small business on the U.S. Virgin Islands can be particularly difficult because of both energy expenses and the costs of living tend to be much higher on small islands. REAP provides a forward-thinking solution to this problem faced by small businesses everywhere, but to a much greater extent here in the Territory.

As the USDA representatives from Florida explained, REAP offers guaranteed loans and grants to small businesses and agricultural producers who plan to install renewable energy systems, providing both an incentive and a break on energy costs. This double relief is especially helpful in today’s sluggish economy.

The seminar leaders explained in detail the processes and goals of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency projects, two of the USDA’s main areas of focus. While energy efficiency aims to decrease a system’s overall consumption of energy, thus conserving a valuable resource, renewable energy systems aim to actually produce energy themselves using the power of natural resources like solar heat, wind movement, geothermal currents, ocean wave currents, and even grasses or other organic, decomposable biomass materials. These are all available for use by U.S. Virgin Islands businesses.

If small businesses and agricultural producers pledge to install and use their own energy efficiency projects or renewable energy systems, they are eligible for a number of grants or guaranteed loans to maintain their businesses during the transition process. Organizations can do this by submitting a proposal that is viable and includes the use of technology that is already or soon to be available.

The attendees, a diverse crowd that included farmers, storeowners and restaurant managers, had much to discuss after the seminar. Although they were not unanimously excited about the idea of taking out loans, most were intrigued and inspired by the potential for energy efficient and renewable energy systems to revitalize their operations, their livelihoods and the local economy — and thrilled at the prospect of receiving a government grant to help move this process along.

The USDA’s REAP program is part of a larger energy development initiative focused on developing large bio-refineries for commercial use, replacing fossil fuels with renewable biomass and producing advanced biofuels not made from corn kernel starch, all technologies that may prove useful to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the years to come.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and well-established government relations law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

How Can You Approach Business Valuation for a Startup?

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

startupIn the business world, valuation is a standard practice. The process can be much more complicated for a startup than it is for an established company, however, as most new businesses don’t yet have the operating and revenue history that older organizations have demonstrated.

For this reason, standard techniques typically used to evaluate growth and cash flow are not as helpful for startups. On the other hand, there are some techniques that can be useful for valuating startup companies with a comparable degree of accuracy.

If your startup is an Internet or e-commerce company, the most important first step will be placing a value on the business to attract investment capital. Determining the company’s current worth requires considering several factors. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Number/quality of employees
  • Experience and depth of management
  • Revenues and expenses
  • Customer relationships
  • Number of years in business
  • Technology and patents
  • Current and forecasted economic conditions

These criteria may be used to identify the company’s stage of growth, which plays a significant role in the valuation process. There are four main growth cycle stages: initial/seed stage, early stage, middle stage and late stage.

The key difference between seed stage and early stage companies is the state of business progress. While seed-stage companies might only have an idea for a product or service, an early-stage company typically has a corporate organization in place, has developed a website and likely started beta testing. A middle-stage company has a fully developed product or service, an established business model and potential revenue growth. At this stage, strategic partnerships have also been created and there may already be repeat customers.

Lastly, a late-stage company has proven its business model and management’s effectiveness, has formed long-lasting strategic partnerships and is experiencing solid revenue growth.

Your company’s startup stage may be used to establish a range of values — anywhere from $0 to more than $35 million — to help compare it to other similar-stage companies. These values are based on factors like market competition and the likelihood of success, and will allow potential investors to more easily compare investment opportunities between companies. However, investors will also be likely to evaluate a company’s specific circumstances, which may significantly alter the previously estimated value.

Business valuation for startups can be a difficult issue to address, but a skilled attorney can help you through the process.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected business law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Old and New Incentives for Airlines in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Posted in Corporate & Financial Services

airlineIn a bold attempt to encourage economic development in the region and meet growing travel demands, the U.S. Virgin Islands has announced various incentives for airlines to add service to the Territory over the last few years — with some significant results.

For companies that began new service or increased existing service to St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport between June 2008 and December 2010, the territorial government offered year-long waivers of all landing fees, terminal parking fees and half of the departure and arrival user fees, a significant savings for airlines. The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism offered additional support by providing the eligible airlines with its own incentives, including press announcements, inaugural flight events, receptions for travel agents and media and promotions marketed directly to consumers.

To qualify for the new incentive program, airlines had to provide new service on a route they had not been offering the previous year during the same period, or add new flights to a route already in existence. These programs have been applicable to all commercial passenger airlines and were engineered to increase service to only one specific airport, and so they are in compliance with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

Seaborne Airlines, based out of St. Croix, immediately made plans to increase its flight capacity from San Juan, St. Thomas, Vieques, Tortola and Virgin Gorda to the U.S. Virgin Islands, an initiative that began taking effect last spring. Even with their small planes, carrying only 17 to 34 seats, these new routes increase the airline’s flights to at least 350 per week, shuttling as many as 10,000 people to and from St. Croix.

These new flights make Seaborne the U.S. Virgin Islands’ highest-capacity carrier, as well as add more tourist revenue and local employment opportunities. Delta’s recent decision to increase flights has also provided some terrific economic benefits, as the airline announced late last fall that it would add more flights to St. Thomas from its Atlanta and New York hubs beginning in mid-2014.

In the past, Delta typically cut flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands during off-season (August to November). However, the airline has pledged to keep those flights, and add two flights a week during the winter months and make its Saturday-only New York-to-St. Thomas flight a daily route. This will continue until at least September of this year, with the potential to bring substantial tourist revenue to the territory.

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Tourist Commissioner has expressed excitement over the significantly increased airline service, citing an increasing demand for flights to St. Croix and the desire to continue to meet that demand.

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected business and corporate law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.