Your Business Exit strategy should start today

Posted July 15, 2014 in Business Law, Estate Planning by Rebecca Sternbach.

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July 15, 2014
Your Business Exit strategy should start today
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If you draft a will in order to ensure that your heirs are taken care, developing a business succession plan will ensure your company continues to thrive after you are gone.

As the economy slowly emerges from the shadow of The Great Recession of 2009, businesses are also starting to thrive again. While storefront businesses are still a staple of the American dream, use of the internet and the relatively low cost of creating a website and selling a unique product or idea has lowered the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs who wish to start a family business.

If you own or are starting a family business, you are in good company: Forbes estimates that family businesses account for 50 percent of the current Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. This includes 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies (the top 500 U.S. publicly and privately held companies ranked by their gross revenue and published by Fortune magazine) that are controlled exclusively by families.

However, there is a problem with the family business model. According to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey, only 52 percent of family businesses expect members of the next generation to be able to run their business. Junior members lack of experience for running a company coupled with poor succession planning are the main culprits.

Get a Prenup for Your Business

If a premarital agreement can reduce headache and anxiety in the event of a divorce, then a similar mechanism for a family business – labeled a Shareholder’s Agreement* – will reduce anxiety and hard feelings when it becomes necessary to distribute assets or make tough decisions regarding the family business.

An agreement among shareholders or family owners lays the ground rules of a family business in terms of important topics such as governance, succession, transfer of assets, liquidity and taxes among others. A Shareholder’s Agreement may address such questions as:

  • Board composition:
    • Will each sibling be represented?
    • Will there be a board of directors?
    • Will executives from outside the family be allowed?
    • What training experience will be required?
  • Decision-making process:
    • What is the number of votes needed to approve key issues?
    • What is the method for dispute resolution?
    • What are the rights of family members?
    • Family members not involved in the business?
    • Non-family involved in the business?
  • Business and Owner Estate Plan:
    • Who are the business successors (both managers and owners of the business)?
    • What is the compensation for owners?
    • What is the remaining profit distribution?
    • What are the taxation implications upon sale or transfer of ownership?
    • Is there an estate plan? Is it in writing? Is there a timeline for implementation?

Although many small businesses fail, by addressing these issues a small business owner takes steps towards ensuring his or her family’s interests while saving money, and avoiding conflict.

Careful estate planning can ensure that a family business continues to benefit family members and that ownership of the business is not diluted until the business is ready to accept outside investors. Owners’ estate plans should use trusts or other mechanisms to restrict the ability of their heirs to transfer shares. A successful family business is an excellent means to provide financial security for the small business owner and his or her loved ones as well as employment opportunities for interested family members.

Estate planning is a complex field. Whether you are concerned with devising a plan for either a family estate or that of a business, it is important to get good advice. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters including business succession plans, wills, and living trusts. If you are interested in developing an estate plan or reviewing your current estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information as we are happy to offer you a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

*Source

 

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The Surprising Tax Benefits of Holding Title as Community Property with Right of Survivorship

Posted May 30, 2014 in Estate Planning by Jennifer Mispagel.

A married couple in California can hold title to their real property in various forms. Historically, many couples took title in joint tenancy without first consulting with an attorney, merely because their real estate agent would suggest it. However, the way that a couple holds title to an asset can have significant consequences in the event of divorce or the death of a spouse.

Community Property with Right of Survivorship is a relatively new way for married couples to hold title to property in California. Under Section 682.1 of the California Civil Code, property clearly titled “Community Property with Right of Survivorship” and deeded after July 1, 2001 will pass to the surviving spouse upon death of one of the spouses.

Depending on your situation, there may be significant benefits to holding title as Community Property with Right of Survivorship. When title is held in this manner and a spouse dies, their interest in the property is extinguished and it passes to the surviving spouse, avoiding probate. This can benefit the surviving spouse by eliminating any stress associated with probate procedures, family disputes, and attorney’s fees. For more information regarding the probate system and why people choose to avoid it, see our previous post.

Additionally, this form of title allows the surviving spouse to obtain the tax benefits of community property upon the death of the other spouse. Consider the happily married couple, Hank and Wendy, who bought a home in 2004 for $100,000. This is their basis.  Now, the house is worth $1,000,000. If Hank and Wendy were to sell the house for $1,000,000, they would be taxed on the difference between the sale price ($1,000,000) and their adjusted basis ($100,000), or $900,000. Now let’s assume that Hank unfortunately dies and Wendy wants to sell the house. In this scenario, the amount of taxable profit will depend on how title is held.

If the parties hold title to the house as Joint Tenants, each spouse owns a 50% interest in the house. When Hank dies, Wendy automatically inherits his half share of the house. The basis of inherited property is adjusted to the value of the property at the date of death. Wendy’s basis will stay the same ($50,000) and the share she inherited from Hank will be adjusted to the value of his share of the property at his death ($500,000). Wendy’s new adjusted basis in the house is $550,000. If Wendy sells for $1,000,000, she is taxed on the difference between the sale price ($1,000,000) and her adjusted basis ($550,000) or $450,000.

However, if the parties hold title to the house as Community Property with Right of Survivorship, each spouse owns the entire property rather than a 50% interest. Upon Hank’s death, both his interest and Wendy’s interest receive a stepped up basis. Thus, the basis of the home is adjusted to the date of death value for the entire property ($1,000,000). If Wendy sells for $1,000,000, she is taxed on the difference between the sale price ($1,000,000) and her adjusted basis ($1,000,000), or nothing.

In the event of a divorce, the house is treated as community property. If you have any questions regarding how your current property is titled or are considering changing your current estate plan, feel  free to contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information.

Remember that each individual situation is unique. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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A Cautionary Tale of Fill-in-the-Blank Wills: Not So E-Z After All

Posted April 9, 2014 in Estate Planning by Jennifer Mispagel.

Online platforms like Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer, as well as form wills marketed by companies like E-Z Legal Forms, are gaining popularity in the estate planning world. However, a recent Florida decision* serves as a fresh reminder that using one of these one-size-fits all approaches to estate planning could land your family in court despite your wishes.**

In a recent case, a Florida woman created a will through E-Z Legal Forms, leaving all of her property to her sister and finally to her brother if her sister predeceased her. The sister died first, so the brother claimed the entire estate. That would have been the result that fit with the deceased woman’s wishes. However, because the document was made without attorney oversight, the document lacked a residuary clause (important in Florida) and opened the door to disagreement over the interpretation of the will. Two of the woman’s nieces sued for a share of the estate.

The nieces, who were born to another brother who had already passed away and who were not mentioned in the will, walked away with a portion of the estate because they argued that they should receive part of any property that the deceased earned after signing the original will.  The Florida Supreme Court agreed, determining that all property earned after the will was signed must go through probate and be distributed based upon the State’s intestacy laws. (Intestacy laws govern who will receive property when a person dies without a will). Because she had a will, this was clearly not what the deceased woman intended, and one Justice shared a word of caution:

“I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees—the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

The court also acknowledged that people want to avoid dealing with lawyers and spending additional money, but sometimes making an investment in legal counsel will help the party and their family avoid even greater legal feels and turmoil in the future.

Creating a will doesn’t always have to be complicated. Nevertheless, it is best to create yours with the aid of an experienced estate planning attorney if you wish to avoid probate and future disputes over your estate. If you need estate planning advice, call Lonich & Patton to schedule a free half-hour consultation. Our attorneys are passionate about estate planning and have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters, including wills and living trusts. If you need a will or would like to review the will you currently have, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

 

*FlascBlog: The Florida Supreme Court Blog reports on the opinion (PDF).

**To see the original article that inspired this post: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/e-z_legal_form_proved_to_be_complicated_in_litigation_over_wills_missing_re/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email

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Trust Administration: The Basics

Posted April 3, 2014 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

Trust administration is the process used to ensure that a trustee complies with California law and is carrying out the mandates of the trust as written. For example, a common task in trust administration is ensuring that the title to assets held in the trust is properly transferred. Trust administration also includes the process by which a trust creator’s (also known as the “trustor” or “settlor”) estate is distributed following his or her death. Following the creator’s death, the successor trustee(s) takes over management of the trust. The trustee must take multiple steps to properly administer the trust assets.

After the death of the trustor, the trustee of any trust has a number of fiduciary duties with regard to the trust and its assets. Here are some important examples:

  • Locate the deceased’s important documents, including the will, trusts, tax papers, and funeral directives.
  • If deceased was living alone, change locks and secure the house.
  • Check on insurance for the property and any cars the deceased owned to be certain the assets within the trust are protected.
  • Arrange to have certified copies of the deceased’s death certificate from the city or county where the death occurred.
  • Take an inventory of all assets and the value of those assets, because the value will affect the new tax basis of the items going forward. The value of all these items at death may need to be considered when evaluating federal state tax liability (if any).
  • Make a list of any household items that will be distributed to beneficiaries, and consider photographing the items to help with organization.
  • Take an inventory of bank accounts and the like. It may help to streamline the accounts and consolidate them into one place so that it is easier to keep a record of all trust activity, including bills paid and deposits made.
  • As trustee, you are responsible for paying any remaining debts or bills. If these are not paid you, and not the estate, may be personally liable.
  • You may need to obtain a Tax ID number for the trust if the trust will generate more than a few hundred dollars between the date of decedent’s death and when all of the assets are distributed. This step can be complicated and you may want to refer to an attorney or a tax professional for advice.
  • Make sure that all tax returns are filed in a timely fashion.
  • File any claims for life insurance, IRA’s or other assets that require claims. Also be sure to liquidate any assets that need liquidating, but get advice before you act because there may be serious tax consequences.
  • Accounting is required of trustees by law. Keep a record of all assets in existence at death and show all additions to the trust, subtract all expenses, and be prepared to show current assets within the trust. Place the assets into a non-interest bearing account to make sure the value does not change after the final accounting is complete.
  • Distribute the trust assets. Have a lawyer or other professional create a receipt and release form for each beneficiary, memorializing that each person received their inheritance and that the trustee is released from further liability.

While trust administration is generally handled outside the court system, breach of any of the trustee’s fiduciary duties can result in a court action being brought by a beneficiary. For this reason, it is important that a trustee seek out the help of a qualified trust attorney for guidance as needed.

The attorneys at Lonich & Patton  are experienced in the area of trust administration and can advise the trustee regarding their duties and responsibilities while guiding them through the trust administration process. In addition, our attorneys have experience assisting beneficiaries who believe the trustee is not acting properly. We invite you to contact our office to schedule a free consultation, with no obligation, to discuss your trust administration needs.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Estate Tax Portability: A Valuable Asset You May Not Know You Had

Posted March 27, 2014 in Estate Planning, Probate by Michael Lonich.

Have you heard about the “portability provision?” Believe it or not, your estate (or your spouse’s estate, if you were to pass first) could benefit tremendously if the executor of your estate elects this provision. In short, the portability election allows the transfer of any unused estate tax exclusion amount of the first spouse to die (commonly referred to as the “deceased spouse’s unused exemption” or “DSUE”) to the surviving spouse, who can then utilize the remaining amount to benefit his or her gift or estate tax purposes. Essentially, this provision operates as a safety net for couples with joint assets exceeding the exemption amount for the estate of the first spouse to die because the surviving spouse can reduce his or her estate or gift tax liability. Depending on the size of the estate, electing this provision can mean saving a significant amount on estate taxes.

Although this portability provision technically expired after 2012, Congress passed the American Tax Relief Act of 2012 (“ATRA”), which made the “portability” of the applicable exclusion amount between spouses permanent. This favorable estate tax rule should be incorporated into estate plans because as previously mentioned, the potential impact of the portability provision can be quite substantial.

For example, suppose the following: A husband and wife each own $2 million individually and $3 million jointly with rights of survivorship, bringing their estate to a total of $7 million in assets. Suppose their wills instruct that all assets pass first to the surviving spouse and then to the couple’s children. If the husband dies in 2014, his $2 million in assets is covered by the unlimited marital deduction. His $5.34 million exemption remains unused (his DSUE). When the wife dies, her estate can use that leftover DSUE amount, in addition to the exemption for the year in which she dies, to shelter the remaining $7 million of assets from tax. ATRA has permanently set the top estate tax rate at 40 percent. As such, if the wife died later in 2014, $1.66 million in assets would have been subject to estate tax without the portability provision. Therefore, the family saves $664,000 in federal estate tax (40% of $1.66 million).

Not only is the portability provision an excellent tool to use for estate and gift planning considerations, the provision can also be used as a negotiation tool during marital agreement negotiations. The portability provision can be viewed as a highly valuable asset that attorneys and their clients should consider when drafting marital agreements. However, there are also certain limitations to be aware of. For example, the executor of a deceased spouse’s estate must elect portability for the provision to take effect, and the election must be made on an estate tax return filed within nine months of death.*

If you or your loved ones are in the planning stages of creating an estate plan, take the necessary steps to ensure that you and your family members are maximizing the benefits available to you by an experienced, knowledgeable estate planning attorney guide you through the process. Estate planning laws are constantly evolving and having a trusted estate planning attorney by your side can prove to be invaluable. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters, including wills and living trusts, and we are happy to offer you a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Sources: http://www.bizactions.com/n.cfm/page/e120/key/259853661G1005J3585631N0P0P2268T2/;http://www.forbes.com/sites/lewissaret/2014/02/25/estate-tax-portability-and-marital-agreements-a-new-consideration/

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