14 Fun, Free Activities for You and Your Family to Enjoy During the Lockdown

OK, we’ve all been living La Vida Lockdown for about a month now. And maybe we have even managed to adjust to the lockdown lifestyle somewhat. But even if, like me, you are socially distant at the best of times, you may be experiencing some cabin fever. You’ve now read all of the previously unread books that were in your bookshelves, binge-watched as much Netflix as you can stand, and finally realized, like me,  that you are not going to use your surfeit of stay-at home time for cleaning, organizing, or exercising. So, what to do?

Memes. Covid-19 has really brought out the humor and creativity in people. I have lost many hours being entertained by memes. Some of my favorites are the Batman memes, and those involving kids and their parents trying to cope with school-from-home. You can Google some of the best ones, or just wait for them to cross your dash, or even better, if you are creative and have a good sense of humor, join the fun, and create and share your own.

Online Games. If you are a serious gamer and embrace the covid quarantine as perfect justification for staying in your room and playing games nonstop (finally, vindication!), you will never see this article. You were ahead of the curve. But if you haven’t done much gaming since you were in school, maybe you’re rediscovering the sims. If you have a shorter attention span (mea culpa), there are more traditional, but no less addictive, games online, like Sudoku, Set, and Solitaire.

Coloring Books. You finally have time to make use of all those interesting, grown-up coloring books you bought a few years ago. If you were able to resist that fad, did you know that plenty of the world’s museums offer free, downloadable coloring books? Not sure that’s really the best use of their budgetary resources, but there they are, nonetheless. Whether you prefer the art of ancient Greece, medieval stained-glass patterns, or botanicals, there are some superb designs to color.

Virtual tours. Avoid long lines, the TSA, delays, expense, and lost baggage. Take advantage of some of the virtual tours of top destinations, or just take a short trip using Google street view. You can even time travel, and see ancient Rome. Your virtual journey may just be the most pleasant travel experience you have ever enjoyed.

National Parks. You can’t get there in person right now, but thanks to these virtual experiences, you can enjoy the best of the great outdoors in the U.S. national parks without having to worry about mosquitos, weather, wild animals, or where to find a restroom.

Live Cams. If you are missing your spring trip to the zoo, lots of zoos, aquariums, and human wildlife offer live cams of their daily existence. So check out the baby tigers, naked mole rats, or impoverished students trying to earn a buck letting you share their daily lives. You can share an animal enclosure or a tiny apartment without violating any social distancing rules.

Museum Virtual Tours. Art, history, archeology, natural history: whatever your interest, it is probably there.

Dallas Arboretum Virtual Visits. The spring blooms are not to be missed, even if you can’t get there in person. When I worked there on the Paseo years ago, I know I was sometimes rained on, snowed on, and even got heatstroke once, but I remember it just as Sunny World, a beautiful place filled with families enjoying the garden installations, school kids on field trips shepherded their teachers, and groups of friends exploring all the 66 acres had to offer.

Concerts. Many arts organizations are providing their musical offerings for free, their performances going viral, so you don’t have to. NPR has a list of many of the classical concerts, and the Berlin Philharmonic, among many others, is providing free access to their performances while concert halls are closed. If classical music grates on your last nerve, rock, pop, electronic dance, and other types of artists are also livestreaming for us while we are stuck at home, possibly drinking one too many quarantinis. I’ve bookmarked the David Guetta livestream for charity to listen to later.

Audiobooks. Audible, for example, has a large collection of free audiobooks online right now to help get you through the coronapocalypse. I sampled the first book of the Harry Potter series, the Jungle Book, and Brave New World (seemed topical).

Public Libraries. The libraries have done an amazing job of stepping up with new ways of providing services while we’re all essentially under house arrest. You can stream or use curbside pickup. Check out your local library. They will get you a library card if you don’t have on yet.

Free Online Courses. For the more ambitious among us, there are all sorts of free online courses out there. Learn a language, study art, learn coding, or take a biochemistry course at an Ivy League university; the choice is yours.

Academic Journals. If you’re a knowledge junkie and love the minutiae of an intense discipline, the obscure discoveries in a difficult field, or just want to learn something about the latest research in virology, given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, you can find it all at the MUSE site. Universities and research institutions around the world are making vast quantities of their information for available for free. But hurry, much of the free access seems to end by June 30th, or even before.

Pen Pals. If you remember the joy of receiving a letter from your pen pal in France or England during high school, you may want to seek a pen pal. You can find people all over the world to correspond with, either electronically or by snail mail, with the colorful stamps that provides for your collection. Brush up on your high school French, or just correspond in English (or Texan).

Fandom. If you’re a nerd and love this social distancing and isolation time as much as I do, you probably already know that there is no better time to read and write fanfiction and to play in the fictional worlds that we have come to love (and which are almost certainly better than the present one in which we find ourselves, and some of them are dystopian). I have been spending time at J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, which  has launched a Harry Potter at home hub, where you can get your wizarding passport, learn to which Hogwarts house you belong, and receive your virtual magic wand. There are also free activities and a link to a free audiobook listening experience.

People have come together and responded in so many positive ways during the pandemic, so enjoy the opportunities for free experiences that are offered during lockdown. We may never have so much free access to knowledge, culture, and virtual activity again.

by Jen Green, Burch Law

How to Write Your Own Will in Texas

During this time, there is a heightened concern for getting your affairs in order. One of the biggest challenges is getting your Will signed with all legal requirements. To be a valid Will, you must sign it in the physical presence of two unrelated, disinterested witnesses. For added protection, it should also be notarized. That is three people who are not your family that you have to be face to face with at a time when you are supposed to be social distancing and sheltered at home.

One exception is a holographic Will that is entirely in your own handwriting and signed. That’s it! Now, this is a TEMPORARY fix and has many drawbacks as far as not being able to have the degree of legal complexity and thoroughness that even a simple Will requires and it does require extra steps to prove-up in probate court. BUT this is better than having nothing and it is better than trying to complete an online form (that still need the formal signing requirements).

We do not recommend that you attempt to write this without any instruction, so we’ve created an online tutorial that will guide you on the best way to Write Your Own Will. Click here to start the tutorial!

5 Tips for navigating the SBA PPP Loan Process

NOTE: This information is changing on a daily basis, please contact us with the most recent information.

Everyone is feeling pain during the Covid-19 shutdown, including previously solid businesses, and their employees, that are having to close or stop work indefinitely in the face of increasingly draconian measures to stop the virus from spreading. To help ease the pain, the government has allotted $350 billion for the Payroll Protection Program as part of its $2 trillion stimulus bill. So, if you are a small business owner, what can you do to get your share?  See below:

  1. Know whether you are eligible to apply:

The PPP loans generally are available for small businesses with 500 or less employees, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors, nonprofits, tribal businesses, and in some cases, businesses like hospitality and restaurant businesses with more then 500 employees in aggregate, but less than 500 at each location (see the SBA rules at the link provided below). Independent contractors and the self-employed must wait until April 10, 2020 to apply. Otherwise, applications are already being taken, but the application process is off to a rocky start, as both lenders and applicants don’t understand the rules yet, and the rules are still being tweaked, with other relief programs, not necessarily for small business though, coming down the pipeline. Under the PPP, you need to have had employees on the payroll by 2/15/2020, and they must be rehired by 6/30/2020 if you let them go due to the economic shutdown. You can read eligibility rules and other detailed information regarding the PPP guidelines on the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s website.

  1. Understand the lenders’ lending rules:

The most important thing to know is that the lenders are operating under a “Know your Customer” rule following the debacle of the 2008 downturn after which many of them were held liable for loans to fraudulent applicants. The lenders, for the most part, have posted rules on their websites. Bank of America, for instance, is requiring applicants to have had a loan with their bank by 2-15-2020; and Chase is requiring applicants to have had a business checking account with them by 2-15-2020. Wells Fargo has already exhausted the available loan funds unavailable under the regulatory cap imposed on the bank due to past irregularities. If you fit the “Know your Customer” criteria and met 2-15-2020 deadlines, you can apply at any federally insured depository bank, credit union, participating Farm Credit System institution, or SBA7(a) lender that “knows” you. And more lenders are applying and being approved as you are reading this article, up to 150 per hour, as per a treasury department briefing to bankers on April 6th. Applicants have until June 30, 2020 to apply, and loans are being processed on a 1st come, 1st served basis. To date, while many applications, for tens of billions of dollars in value, have already been submitted, not very many have been approved, as applicants did not meet the “Know your Customer” criterion. But that said, it still is a good idea to get your application documentation together and apply as soon as possible.

  1. Be able to document your application:

A link to the application itself is provided below. To support your application, you will need to provide proof of your employee headcount average for 2019 and your average monthly payroll costs in 2019, or if you are a new business, you will need to provide that for January and February 2020. You won’t have to put up collateral or a personal guarantee for the loan, but there are criminal penalties for fraud. If your application is successful, you should receive the equivalent of 2.5 months of your average payroll expense in 2019, or if you are a new business, your average payroll expense for January and February 2020(through 2/25/2020). See more about the application form and its documentation requirements on the SBA website and lender websites.

  1. Apply your loan proceeds properly to receive loan forgiveness:

You can use the proceeds of your loan on business overhead costs like payroll, rent, utilities, and mortgage interest, and the loan will be forgiven, without you having to pay income tax on the forgiven amount, if you apply at least 75% of the proceeds to payroll costs within 8 weeks after receiving the loan, and maintain your employee headcount without cutting their pay. Remember, only the interest part of a mortgage payment will be forgiven, so you need to apply your loan proceeds wisely.

  1. Document your use of loan proceeds and present them to your lender for loan forgiveness:

8 weeks after you receive your loan, you will need to prove to your lender your expenses and how you spent the loan proceeds, so maintaining good documentation of this is essential (and may already be part of your ongoing business practice). Even if you find that you really need to pay the business’s mortgage, and not just the interest, with your loan amount, and you can’t meet the loan forgiveness criteria, all is not necessarily lost. The interest that will be charged on the loan is only 1%, and repayment is deferred for 6 months.

Other relief for small business owners, besides the new PP loans, is available through disaster assistance, and enhanced debt relief in other SBA loan programs. Right now, we are all in the same boat basically during the economic shutdown, and it is important to seek widely for all the available forms of relief that might help.  A PPP loan is a good start though.

By Jen Green, Burch Law

BUSINESS CHANGES IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

Don’t let the coronapocalypse get you down: the future belongs to those who can adapt and see the needs and opportunities ahead

These are interesting times. As we have been bemoaning the lack of toilet paper and the ability to visit our favorite restaurants, the gaps in our technology, infrastructure, and general ways of life have been revealing themselves. Additionally, we can see what is really important in our lives, and what is just gravy. For those who can see the ways to fill those gaps, their fortune awaits.

If you are a business owner, you have perhaps been realizing how you could save the huge overhead cost of rents paid to your landlord, and use those monies in better ways than paying for space you don’t really need. Vast swaths of the business landscape have (finally!) been discovering that we can work from home quite efficiently. And the working from home is more civilized, keeps employees happier, and saves commute time that can be better spent on other tasks.

Zoom and LogMeIn have suddenly become essential tools for everyone, but they also show that there are great opportunities for those who can create more such tools, so that we aren’t all dependent on 1 or 2 currently overloaded systems. Skype has stepped up with a Meet Now application for instance. And we would need innovative new marketing systems with a wide reach that could get the word out about such useful new products.

There is an opportunity for innovation in trucking and logistics, the delivery-end crux of our national supply chain. Industry players with the ability at a moment’s notice to change their routes, and quickly make short-term contracts with new vendors and buyers to cope with a crisis or a break in the chain, could divert supplies piling up in warehouses or production facilities to where they are most needed. This would apply to air freight too.

Another thing we see tis the need for more local production. No one should be completely dependent on extra-national suppliers for any essentials of their economy. The future is probably going to see more pandemics rather than less, and now is a good time to build for such contingencies. Similarly, no economy should be dependent on the need to export the bulk of its production elsewhere. Because sometimes, as China recently discovered, you won’t be able to produce or to export.

Efficient hydroponics and greenhouses could supply local produce in a time of crisis. Lab-grown meats could be a game-changer, but probably like many of you, I am not sure I am ready to go for that yet, even though it is probably cleaner than traditional meats.

There is a wider need for inexpensive, efficient generators, and new fuel sources. We are all too dependent on the larger energy grids and supply chains. One of the few good things about the current crisis is that the price of gas has been going down. But that can change, as we have all seen. Widely available and economically accessible methods of transport not dependent on oil and gas (or electricity generated by it) would be a game-changer.

Cultural venues are offering free virtual tours and concerts. You can travel and vacation without the hassle and without even leaving home. Audible has some free audio book offerings. The Dallas Arboretum has a wonderful aerial drone tour with a lovely musical soundtrack. It’s all great! For those of us who previously did not have computers or internet at home, it has been the time to change that. Builders of in-home shelters and storage facilities may be seeing a boom in business. Apparently, gun sales certainly have soared. Prepping has gone mainstream.

There are also immediate opportunities: payment systems are scrambling to climb on board the helicopter-money train and be a middle-man delivery system (no doubt for a fine fee) that helps bring your stimulus check to you.

Traditional lenders are in some cases balking at lending under the emergency small-business loan program that is part of the $2 trillion stimulus package. The guidelines are not clear, and their underwriters simply do not have enough time to reasonably digest the vast quantities of information that are part of the loan application. And some lenders were liable after the 2008 stimulus, when loans weren’t paid back, or they found they had lent to fraudulent entities. There is always a lot of opportunity for fraud in any government program, and that comes from the top all the way down. If you are a business owner applying for the program, you may have noticed the invasive information grab: you need to supply all your payroll records, lease information, costs and revenues and so on. There is some opportunity for loan forgiveness of the federally-backed loans, if you use the money to pay your employees. And new lenders are being approved as we write this.

If everyone broke their lease that now sees that they are trapped in an unnecessary and highly expensive lease contract, with an unreasonable landlord who grants no break on rent in these times when no money is coming in, what would happen? Does that landlord have the time, money, and legal staff to sue everyone for breach of contract? Is this an opportunity for landlord-side attorneys to find new, lucrative employment? Or would everyone be forced to adapt to a better way of doing things? So much of brick-and-mortar really is mostly obsolete in these times, and empty malls could be better turned into apartment or townhome communities or entertainment venues. Particularly for commercial landlords, this might be a good time to grant some temporary rent forgiveness, until tenants are able to bring in money again to pay you. If you are known as the more decent and reasonable commercial landlord, surely businesses looking for a place to rent would know that you are the one to come to? Otherwise, businesses that suddenly see less value in renting the premises may go elsewhere as soon as possible,

Also obsolete are paper newspapers. The waste of ink and paper is unconscionable.

But I digress. Anyway, it is a new world. We need to adapt. And always keep plenty of toilet paper on hand.

by Jen Green, Burch Law

 

5 Reasons Why You Should Get a Will NOW! (COVID-19 Edition)

  1. You are contemplating your own mortality.
  2. You have more time on your hands to think through these decisions.
  3. You are no longer unsure about who you trust to name as guardians of your children, because at this point, you’d let anyone take them!
  4. You’ve run out of things to talk about with your family.
  5. Beat the rush of people who are waiting to get this done once the dust settles. We are already dealing with a high volume of clients anxious to get this planning done; just imagine what it will be like when things begin to return to normal.

These are uncertain times and many are feeling anxious. What better time to get this vital planning started? You can even view the recording of our online class: How To Write Your Own Will: https://bit.ly/2WW9Ecg.

And remember: If you don’t have a Will, the state of Texas has one for you!

Contact us for more information!