You may suspect that an employee has stolen from your company. But without evidence of a crime, you’ll have a hard time pursuing prosecution. So if you discover a fraud, first call your attorney. Then take immediate steps to preserve the evidence.

Safeguard paper documents

Place any hard documents related to the possible fraud in a safe location that’s accessible only to key people. The fewer who handle it, the better. Don’t make notes on any paper documents and, unless necessary, don’t let them be handled. Instead, make separate notations about when and where they were found and how you preserved them. A court case can be derailed if you don’t preserve the chain of evidence and can’t prove to a judge’s satisfaction that the documents haven’t been tampered with.

Handling paper documents is relatively easy as long as you approach the task with care. You can copy anything you need to continue operations and turn the originals over to a fraud expert or law enforcement for fingerprinting, handwriting analysis or other forensic testing.

Take care with technology

Digital evidence can be another story, especially if your IT staff isn’t trained to react to fraud incidents. Even if these employees are highly skilled at setting up and troubleshooting your computer applications, they’re unlikely to be fully aware of the legal ramifications of having a computer or mobile device used to commit fraud.

IT staffers could inadvertently alter or destroy evidence in the course of restoring a computer to normal operations. To avoid such mishaps, arrange for training so that these employees know how to respond to fraud incidents. They should be instructed to stop any routine data destruction immediately. If your system periodically deletes certain information &mdsh; including emails &mdsh; that process must be discontinued the minute you notify them that something is amiss.

If no one has a background in computer forensics, turn the investigation over to an expert as soon as possible. Forensic experts can identify and restore deleted and altered records, digital forgeries and files that have been intentionally corrupted. They also can access many password-protected files and pinpoint unauthorized system access.

Be prepared

If you’re unsure about how to handle fraud evidence, simply take steps to restrict access to it, then ask your attorney about the next step. Better yet, contact us before you discover fraud. We can help ensure you have the necessary training and procedures in place to preserve evidence if an incident ever occurs.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

You’d be hard pressed to find a business today that doesn’t have laptop computers listed among its assets. Large companies have hundreds of them; midsize ones issue them to managers to facilitate mobility; and many small businesses rely on them as primary computing devices.

Now, in and of itself, a laptop may seem harmless. But they literally hold a clear and present danger to companies: their batteries. Poorly maintained or damaged batteries can catch fire — putting any people and property nearby in serious risk. Faulty batteries can also hamper the device’s functionality, shorten its lifespan and put critical data at risk, inhibiting employees’ productivity and lowering morale.

Best practices

To help guard against the possibility that one of your company’s laptops might incur battery-related damage, follow these best practices:

  • Require the use of only compatible computer batteries or chargers.
  • If you maintain an inventory of loose batteries, keep them away from metal objects, such as small tools, coins, keys or jewelry.
  • Educate employees to, perhaps ironically, not use their computers on their laps or on any other soft surface (such as a bed or sofa) that could restrict airflow.
  • Teach employees to never place any heavy objects on their laptops that could crush, puncture or place a high degree of pressure on the battery.
  • Provide training on the proper transportation of laptops to prevent bumping the computers into objects or dropping them on hard surfaces.
  • Instruct users to never put a laptop in an area that could get very hot, such as the hood or dashboard of a vehicle, or a desk in a warm room directly exposed to sunlight.
  • Explain to employees how to safeguard their laptops from moisture and, if a computer does get wet, to bring it in for maintenance immediately because, even after drying, batteries or circuitry could slowly corrode and pose a safety hazard.

Ultimately, workers need to follow battery usage, storage and charging guidelines found in the user’s guide of their respective laptops.

Manufacturer info

Laptop battery manufacturers are a key resource in staying safe. Remind staff that they shouldn’t use batteries subject to recall while awaiting a replacement battery pack from the manufacturer. Employees should use the AC adapter power cord to power their laptops in the meantime.

If you’re unsure about the compatibility of any of your company’s laptops and batteries, or you suspect one of your units may have been damaged, contact the manufacturer to determine whether you’re at greater risk for a battery-related mishap. In fact, you might want to contact the manufacturer anyway just to get the latest on safety concerns about laptop batteries.

Critical assets

Laptops, and computing devices in general, represent a substantial cost outlay for virtually every size and type of business. We can help you set a reasonable purchasing budget and better track and manage the maintenance costs of these critical assets.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Protecting assets from creditors is a critical aspect of estate planning, but you need to think about more than just your own creditors: You also need to consider your heirs’ creditors. Adding spendthrift language to a trust benefiting your heirs can help safeguard assets.

Spendthrift language explained

Despite its name, the purpose of a spendthrift trust isn’t just to protect profligate heirs from themselves. Although that’s one use for this trust type, even the most financially responsible heirs can be exposed to frivolous lawsuits, dishonest business partners or unscrupulous creditors. A properly designed spendthrift trust can protect assets against such attacks.

It can also protect your loved ones in the event of relationship changes. If one of your children divorces, your child’s spouse generally can’t claim a share of the trust property in the divorce settlement.

Also, if your child predeceases his or her spouse, the spouse generally is entitled by law to a significant portion of your child’s estate, including property you left the child outright. In some cases, that may be a desirable outcome. But in others, such as second marriages when there are children from a prior marriage, a spendthrift trust can prevent your child’s inheritance from ending up in the hands of his or her spouse rather than in those of your grandchildren.

A variety of trusts can be spendthrift trusts. It’s just a matter of including a spendthrift clause, which restricts a beneficiary’s ability to assign or transfer his or her interest in the trust and restricts the rights of creditors to reach the trust assets.

Additional considerations

It’s important to recognize that the protection offered by a spendthrift trust isn’t absolute. Depending on applicable law, it may be possible for government agencies to reach the trust assets — to satisfy a tax obligation, for example.

Generally, the more discretion you give the trustee over distributions from the trust, the greater the protection against creditors’ claims. If the trust requires the trustee to make distributions for a beneficiary’s support, for example, a court may rule that a creditor can reach the trust assets to satisfy support-related debts. For increased protection, it’s preferable to give the trustee full discretion over whether and when to make distributions.

Protect wealth after transfer

Protecting your wealth after you’ve transferred it to your family is just as important as other estate planning strategies such as reducing tax liability on the transfer. One way to do this is to include spendthrift language in a trust. Contact us to learn whether a spendthrift trust is right for your estate plan at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA