Don’t Shrink Your Estate with Last Minute Tax Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In the best-case scenario, you would start talking with your estate planning attorney early on about your overall goals and the various tools available to minimize tax liability and transfer wealth to the next generation. Whether your estate is modest or significant, the article “A Recipe for Risk—Last-Minute Tax Planning for Estates” from The Legal Intelligencer explains how a last-minute plan failed on a grand scale. A recent memorandum opinion from the U.S. Tax Court provides a cautionary tale.

Howard Moore owned a large amount of property and ran a successful farm. He was admitted to the hospital late in 2004, was discharged to hospice and told he only had six months to live. He created an estate plan that included a family limited partnership (FLP), a living trust, a charitable lead annuity trust, a trust for the adult children, a management trust that acted as the general partner of the family limited partnership and an “Irrevocable Trust No. 1” that was created to act as a conduit for the transfer of funds from the FLP to a charitable foundation.

The primary focus of the plan was to transfer the farm to a living trust and then to transfer 80% of the farm property to the FLP. The management trust was to serve as a partner to the FLP, with the living trust owning almost all the limited partnership interests and with each of the decedent’s children owning a 1% partnership interest. The FLP was to offer protection against liabilities from the use of pesticides, potential bad marriages, creditors and the fact that the family was a bit dysfunctional and would need to work together to manage the FLP. The FLP had many transfer restrictions and the limited partners were not given any rights to participate in business management or operational decisions regarding the FLP.

The trust known as “Irrevocable Trust No. 1” was nominally funded at the time of the decedent’s death and received funding from the FLP. Those funds, in turn, were transferred to the charitable trust to gain a charitable deduction by the estate. Just before he died, Moore used FLP funds to make large transfers to his children that were designated as loans. He also made outright gifts to the children and to one grandchild.

The estate filed an estate tax return and a gift tax return after Moore’s death. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency for nearly $6.4 million and the case went to tax court. The U. S. Tax Court agreed with the IRS’ findings. The defense of the estate plan, the tax court maintained, was form over substance and the only reason for the estate plan and the numerous transactions was to save estate taxes.

There were a lot of hurdles in this case, in addition to the short time period for the estate plan to have been created. At the time of the decedent’s hospitalization, the sale of the farm to a neighbor was being negotiated. A contract to sell the farm was executed within days of transferring it to the living trust. There were numerous transfers and distributions made between trusts and the FLP, and the court concluded that all decisions about the FLP after its formation were made unilaterally by the decedent. An FLP is supposed to function as a true partnership. Many other issues and errors occurred in the rush to have this estate structured in such a short period of time.

Had Moore engaged in planning five or ten years earlier, there would have been time to create a plan in which both the substance and execution of the plan were sound and the family would have been able to save millions of dollars in taxes. By waiting until his death was imminent, the plan attempted to establish transfer requirements without the opportunity to execute them properly.

Reference: The Legal Intelligencer (May 18, 2020) “A Recipe for Risk—Last-Minute Tax Planning for Estates”

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How Family Businesses Can Prepare Now for Future Tax Changes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The upcoming presidential election is giving small to mid-sized business owners concerns regarding changes in their business and the legacy they leave to family members. The recent article “How family businesses can come out on top in presidential election uncertainty,” from the St. Louis Business Journal looks at what is at stake.

Tax breaks. The current estate tax threshold of $11.58 million is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2025, when it will revert to the pre-2018 exemption level of $5 million (as indexed for inflation) for individuals. If that law is changed after the election, it is possible that the exemption could be phased out before the current levels end.

Increased tax liability. These possible changes present a problem for business owners. Making gifts now can use the full exemption, but future gifts may not enjoy such a generous tax exemption. Some transfers, if the exemption changes, could be subject to gift taxes as high as 40%.

Missed opportunity with lower valuations. Properly structured gifts to family members, which benefit from lower valuations (that is, before value appreciation due to capital gains) and current allowable valuation discounts give families an opportunity to pass a great amount of their businesses to heirs tax free.

Here is what this might look like: a family business owner gifts $1 million in the business to one heir, but at the time of the owner’s passing, that share appreciates to $10 million. Because the gift was made early, the business owner only uses up $1 million of the estate tax exemption. That is a $9 million savings at 40%; saving the estate from paying $3.6 million in taxes. If the laws change, that is a costly missed opportunity.

It is better to protect a business from the “Three D’s”—death, divorce, disability or a serious health issue, by preparing in advance. That means the appropriate estate protection, prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney who understands the needs of business owners.

Consider reorganizing the business. If you own an S-corporation, you know how complicated estate planning can be. One strategy is to reorganize your business, so you have both voting and non-voting shares. Gifting non-voting shares might provide some relief to business owners, who are not yet ready to give up complete control of their business.

Preparing for future ownership alternatives. What kind of planning will offer the most flexibility for future cash flow and, if necessary, being able to use principal? Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), entity freezes, and sales are three ways the owner might retain access to cash flow, while transferring future appreciation of assets out of the estate.

Know your gifting options. Your estate planning attorney will help determine what gifting scenario may work best. Some business owners establish irrevocable trusts, providing asset protection for the family and allowing the trust to have control of distributions.

Reference: St. Louis Business Journal (April 3, 2020) “How family businesses can come out on top in presidential election uncertainty”

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If Not Now, When? It is the Time for Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

What else could possibly go wrong? You might not want to ask that question, given recent events. A global pandemic, markets in what feels like free fall, schools closed for an extended period of time—these are just a few of the challenges facing our communities, our nation and our world. The time is now, in other words, to be sure that everyone has their estate planning completed, advises Kiplinger in the article “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

Business owners from large and small sized companies are contacting estate planning attorney’s offices to get their plans done. People who have delayed having their estate plans done or never finalized their plans are now getting their affairs in order. What would happen if multiple family members got sick, and a family business was left unprotected?

Because the virus is recognized as being especially dangerous for people who are over age 60 or have underlying medical issues, which includes many business owners and CEOs, the question of “What if I get it?” needs to be addressed. Not having a succession plan or an estate plan, could lead to havoc for the company and the family.

Establishing a Power of Attorney is a key part of the estate plan, in case key decision makers are incapacitated, or if the head of the household cannot take care of paying bills, taxes or taking care of family or business matters. For that, you need a Durable Power of Attorney.

Another document needed now, more than ever: is an Advance Health Care Directive. This explains how you want medical decisions to be made, if you are too sick to make these decisions on your own behalf. It tells your health care team and family members what kind of care you want, what kind of care you do not want and who should make these decisions for you.

This is especially important for people who are living together without the legal protection that being married provides. While some states may recognize registered domestic partners, in other states, medical personnel will not permit someone who is not legally married to another person to be involved in their health care decisions.

Personal information that lives only online is also at risk. Most bills today do not arrive in the mail, but in your email inbox. What happens if the person who pays the bill is in a hospital, on a ventilator? Just as you make sure that your spouse or children know where your estate plan documents are, they also need to know who your estate planning attorney is, where your insurance policies, financial records and legal documents are and your contact list of key friends and family members.

Right now, estate planning attorneys are talking with clients about a “Plan C”—a plan for what would happen if heirs, beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries are wiped out. They are adding language that states which beneficiaries or charities should receive their assets, if all of the people named in the estate plan have died. This is to maintain control over the distribution of assets, even in a worst-case scenario, rather than having assets pass via the rules of intestate succession. Without a Plan C, an entire estate could go to a distant relative, regardless of whether you wanted that to happen.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 16, 2020) “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

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How Do I Incorporate My Business into My Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When people think about estate planning, many just think about their personal property and their children’s future. If you have a successful business, you may want to think about having it continue after you retire or pass away.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later” says that many business owners believe that estate planning and getting their affairs in order happens when they are older. While that’s true for the most part, it is only because that is the stage of life when many people begin pondering their mortality and worrying about what will happen next or what will happen when they are gone. The day-to-day concerns and running of a business is also more than enough to worry about, let alone adding one’s mortality to the worry list at the earlier stages in your life.

Business continuity is the biggest concern for entrepreneurs. This can be a touchy subject, both personally and professionally, so it is better to have this addressed while you are in charge, rather than leaving the company’s future in the hands of others who are emotionally invested in you or in your work. One option is to create a living trust and will to put in place parameters that a trustee can carry out. With these names and decisions in place, you will avoid a lot of stress and conflict for those you leave behind.

Let them be upset with you, rather than with each other. This will give them a higher probability of working things out amicably at your death. The smart move is to create a business succession plan that names successor trustees to be in charge of operating the business, if you become incapacitated or die.

A power of attorney document will nominate a fiduciary agent to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, but you should also ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust to provide for the seamless transition of your business at your death to your successor trustees. The transfer of the company to your trust will avoid the hassle of probate and will ensure that your business assets are passed on to your chosen beneficiaries. Timely planning will also preserve your business assets, as advanced tax planning strategies might be implemented to establish specific trusts to minimize the estate tax.

Estate planning may not be on tomorrow’s to do list for young entrepreneurs and business owners. Nonetheless, it is vital to plan for all that life may bring.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 30, 2019) “Why Business Owners Should Think About Estate Planning Sooner Than Later”

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Why Should I Pair my Business Succession and Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A successful business exit plan can accomplish three important objectives for a business owner: (i) financial security because the business sale or transfer provides income that the owner and owner’s family will need after the owner’s exit; (ii) the right person where the business owner names his or her successor; and (iii) income-tax minimization.

Likewise, a successful estate plan achieves three important personal goals: (i) financial security for the decedent’s heirs; (ii) the decedent (not the state) chooses who receives his or her estate assets; and (iii) estate-tax minimization.

Business owners will realize that the two processes have the same goals. Therefore, they can leverage their time and money and develop their exit plans into the design of their estate plans. The Phoenix Business Journal’s recent article “Which comes first for Arizona business owners: estate planning or exit planning?” explains that considering exit and estate planning together, lets a business owner ask questions to bring their entire picture into focus. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. If a business owner doesn’t leave her business on the planned business exit date, how will she provide her family with the same income stream they would’ve enjoyed if she had?
  2. How can a business owner be certain that her business retains its previously determined value?
  3. Regardless of whether an owner’s exit plan involves transferring part of the business to her children, does her estate plan reflect and implement her wishes, if she doesn’t survive?
  4. If an owner dies before leaving the business, can she be certain that her family will still get the full value of the business?

Another goal of the exit planning process is to protect assets from creditors during an owner’s lifetime and to minimize tax consequences upon a transfer of ownership.

Because planning exits from both business and life are based on the same premises, it can be relatively easy to develop a consistent outcome. There isn’t only one correct answer to the “estate or exit planning” question. A business owner must act on both fronts since a failure to act in either case creates ongoing issues for owners and for their businesses and families.

Reference: Phoenix Business Journal (October 8, 2019) “Which comes first for Arizona business owners: estate planning or exit planning?”

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What’s the Best Way to Gift an Interest in My Business? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A couple who owned a small family business was thinking about giving interests in the business to their married son over time. However, they were worried about the “what if” scenario of a possible divorce in his future. If their son divorced, they didn’t want to be in business with his ex-wife.

Forbes’s recent article, “What Family Businesses Need To Know About Gifting Business Interests,” explains that prior to the couple transferring some of their business to their son, they asked their attorney to draft a shareholder agreement with restrictions on to who the stock can be transferred in the future. The parents’ goal was to keep the stock from being transferred as part of a potential divorce. In our scenario, the parents want their daughter-in-law to sign a consent agreeing that she would be bound by the shareholder agreement and that the stock would never be transferred to her. If their son and his wife later divorced, she’d be bound by the agreement and the stock would remain with the son.

While the parents’ plan sounds like a great idea, it is in theory. However, the reality is that there’s a good chance of a far different and less desirable result. Let’s examine three ways this type of agreement could become a big headache.

  • Creating a big, icky issue. Ask yourself if you really want to ask your daughter-in-law (or son-in-law) to sign this? This may open a big can of worms in your family. If she didn’t think there was any value in the business, she may feel differently when she reads the agreement. Thanksgiving dinner may end up in a food fight!
  • Is it legal? Ask your attorney to analyze how effective the agreement would be under the laws that apply to the agreement and in the state where the couple may divorce.
  • How much protection does it offer? In many states, the agreement wouldn’t remove the stock as a marital asset. Even if the stock stays on the husband’s side of the balance sheet, its value would still be subject to division, and the wife could get other marital assets to balance things out.

An alternative might be the use of a marital agreement, like a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement. The family business may be better protected with the son having an agreement that states that the stock is outside the marital estate and not subject to division in the event of divorce. Of course, the parents can’t force their son to enter into the agreement, but they can stop the gifting spigot if he doesn’t.

Speak with your attorney and look at all your options to find the strategies that will work best for your business and your family.

Reference: Forbes (October 9, 2019) “What Family Businesses Need To Know About Gifting Business Interests”

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Why Estate Planning is Essential for Small Business Owners – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

For the entrepreneurial-minded person, nothing beats the excitement of having a vision for a business, and then making that dream come true. However, have you ever wondered what will happen to that business after you are gone?

A comprehensive estate plan, says Bakersfield.com, in the recent article “Estate planning tips for small business owners,” provides a plan that can protect your life’s work.

It makes sense. You’ve likely spent decades building your business throughout your working life. You’re proud of what you have accomplished, and you should be. You should then protect it with a well-thought-out plan. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you design a two-pronged plan for your business and your personal life. For business owners, these two are intertwined.

Can you avoid taxes? Reviewing your personal and business assets, as part of an estate plan, is the best way to minimize the tax exposure of your estate and facilitate an organized sale or succession plan for your business. You can’t completely avoid taxes, but good planning will help them from being excessive.

There are a number of IRS sections that can help, and your estate planning attorney will know them. For example, Section 6166 gives your loved ones more time to pay the tax, by paying in ten annual installments. Another Section, 303, lets your family redeem stock with few tax penalties. Talk with your attorney and CPA to find out if your business is eligible for either of these strategies. Create a plan and talk about it in detail with survivors to help them navigate the transition.

Do you have a buy-sell agreement in place? This is critical if more than one person owns the business. The buy-sell agreement dictates how the partnership or LLC is distributed upon the death or incapacity of one of the owners. Without one, family members may be stuck owning a company they don’t want or don’t know anything about. Alternatively, your former partners may find themselves partnered with people with whom they never intended to go into business.

The buy-sell agreement creates a plan so, when an owner passes, the shares of the company must be bought out by the other owners at a fair market price. The agreement can even establish a sale price, so family members will know exactly what they can expect to receive from the sale. In addition, a buy-sell agreement can be used to block certain individuals from taking a role in the business. For many family businesses, that’s enough of a reason to make sure to have a buy-sell agreement.

How are life insurance policies used by small business owners? Maybe you want the business to die with you. Some small businesses provide a stable income for the owner, but there’s no plan for the business to be passed to another family member or to survive the passing of the owner. If that is your situation, and you want your family to have income, you’ll need a life insurance policy.

A life insurance policy can also be used to help partners with the capital they’ll need to purchase your shares if that is how your buy-sell agreement has been set up.

As a small business owner and a family breadwinner, you want to be sure your family and your business are prepared for your passing. Talk with your estate planning attorney to make sure both are protected, in the event of your passing.

Reference: Bakersfield.com (July 15, 2019) “Estate planning tips for small business owners”

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Estate Planning a Necessity for Small Business Owners – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Just as the small business owner must plan for their own personal estate to be passed onto the next generation, they must also plan for the future of their business. This is why you need a comprehensive estate plan that addresses both you personal life and the business, says grbj.com’s recent article “Estate planning for small businesses.” Here are the basic strategies you’ll need as a small business owner:

A will. A last will and testament allows you to name someone who will receive your assets, including your business, when you die. If you don’t have a will, you leave your heirs a series of problems, expenses and stress. In the absence of a will, everything you’ve worked to attain will be distributed depending on the laws of the state. That includes your assets and your business. It’s far better to have a will, so you make these decisions.

A Living Trust. A living trust is similar to a will, in that it allows you to name who will receive your assets when you die. However, there are certain advantages to having a trust. For one thing, a trust is a private document, and assets controlled by the trust can bypass probate. Assets controlled by a will must first go through probate, which is a public proceeding. If you’ve ever had a family member die and wonder why all those companies seemed to know that your loved one had passed, it’s because they get the information that is available to the public.

If your business is owned by a trust, the transition of ownership to your intended beneficiaries can be a much smoother process.

A financial durable power of attorney. This document lets you appoint an agent to act on your behalf, if you are incapacitated by illness or injury. This is a powerful legal document, so take the time to consider who you want to give this power to. Your agent can manage your finances, pay your bills and manage the day-to-day operations of your business.

A succession plan. Here is where many small business owners fall short in their planning. It takes a long time to create a succession plan for a business. Sometimes a buy-out agreement is part of a succession plan, or a partner in the business or key employee wishes to become the new owner. If a family member wishes to take over the business, will they inherit your entire ownership interest, or will there be a payment required? Will more than one family member take over the business? If a non-family member is going to take over the business, you’ll need an agreement documenting the obligation to purchase the business and the terms of the purchase.

If you would prefer to have the business sold upon your death, you’ll need to plan for that in advance so that family members will be able to receive the best possible price.

A buy-sell agreement. If you are not the sole owner, it’s important that you have a buy-sell agreement with your partners. This agreement requires your ownership interest to be purchased by the business or other owners, if and when a triggering event occurs, like death or disability. This document must set forth how the value of ownership interest is to be determined and how it is to be paid to your family. Without this kind of document, your ownership interest in the business will pass to your spouse or other family members. If that is not your intention, you’ll need to do prior planning.

The right type of life insurance. This is an important part of planning for the future for the small business owner. The death benefit may be needed to provide income to the family, until a business is sold, if that is the ultimate goal. If a family member takes over the business, proceeds from the life insurance policy may be needed to cover payroll or other expenses, until the business gets going under new leadership. Life insurance proceeds may also be used to buy out the other partners in the business.

Failing to plan through the use of basic estate planning and succession planning can create significant costs and stress. An experienced estate planning attorney can review the strategies and documents that are appropriate for your situation. You’ll want to ensure a smooth transition for your business and your family, as that too will be part of your legacy.

Reference: grbj.com (Grand Rapids Business Journal) (July 19, 2019) “Estate planning for small businesses”

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Business Owners Need Estate Plan and a Succession Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Business owners get so caught up in working in their business, that they don’t take the time to consider their future—and that of the business—when sometime in the future they’ll want to retire. Many business owners insist they’ll never retire, but that time does eventually come. The question The Gardner News article asks of business owners is this:

“Do you have a business succession strategy?”

It takes a very long time to create a succession plan that works. Therefore, planning for such a plan should begin long before retirement is on the horizon. That’s because there are as many different ways to map out a succession plan as there are types of business. A business owner could sell the business to a family member, an outsider, a key employee or to all the employees. The plan could be implemented while the business owner is still alive and well and working, or it could be set up to take effect only after the owner passes.

The decision of how to handle a succession plan needs to be made with a number of issues in mind: family dynamics and interest in the business (or lack of interest), the nature of the business, the success of the business and the owner’s overall financial situation.

Here are a few of the more popular strategies:

Selling the business outright. There are business owners who don’t need the money and feel that no one else will care as much as they do about their business. Therefore, they sell it. There needs to be a lot of planning to minimize tax liability when this is the choice.

Using a buy-sell arrangement to transfer the business. This can be structured in whatever way works best for both parties. It allows a slower transition to new ownership. Some families use the proceeds of a life insurance policy to fund the buy-sell agreement so surviving owners could use the death benefit to buy the deceased owner’s stake.

Buying a private annuity. This permits the owner to transfer the business to family members or someone else, who then makes payments to the owner for the rest of their life, or maybe their life and another person’s life, like a surviving spouse. It has the potential to provide a lifetime stream of income and removes assets from the owner’s estate without triggering gift or estate taxes.

The plan for succession needs to align with the business owner’s estate plan. This is something that many estate planning attorneys who work with business owners have experience with. They can help facilitate the succession planning process. Talk with your estate planning attorney when you have your regular meeting to review your estate plan about what the future holds for your business.

Reference: The Gardener News (June 4, 2019) “Do you have a business succession strategy?”

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Estate Planning Hacks Create More Problems – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The estate planning attorney in this gentleman’s neighborhood isn’t worried about this rancher’s plan to avoid the “courtroom mumbo jumbo.” It’s not the first time someone thought they could make a short-cut work, and it won’t be the last. However, as described in the article “Estate planning workaround idea needs work” from My San Antonio, the problems this rancher will create for himself, his wife, and his children, will easily eclipse any savings in time or fees he thinks he may have avoided.

Let’s start with the idea of putting all the man’s assets in his wife’s name. For starters, that means she has complete control and access to all the accounts. Even if the accounts began as community property, once they are in her name only, she is the sole manager of these accounts.

If the husband dies first, she will not have to go into probate court. That is true. However, if she dies first, the husband will need to go to probate court to access and claim the accounts. If the marriage goes sour, it’s not likely that she’ll be in a big hurry to return access to everything.

Another solution: set the accounts up as joint accounts with right of survivorship. The bank would have to specify that when spouse dies, the other owns the accounts. However, that’s just one facet of this estate planning hack.

The next proposal is to put the ranch into the adult children’s names. Gifting the ranch to children has a number of irreversible consequences.

First, the children will all be co-owners. Each one of them will have full legal control. What if they don’t agree on something? How will they break an impasse? Will they run the ranch by majority rule? What if they don’t want to honor any of the parent’s requests or ideas for running the ranch?  In addition, if one of them dies, their spouse or their child will inherit their share of the farm. If they divorce, will their future ex-spouse retain ownership of their shares of the ranch?

Second, you can’t gift the ranch and still be an owner. The husband and wife will no longer own the ranch. If they don’t agree with the kid’s plans for the ranch, they can be evicted. After all, the parents gave them the ranch.

Third, the transfer of the ranch to the children is a gift. There will be a federal gift tax return form to be filed. Depending on the value of the ranch, the parents may have to pay gift tax to the IRS.  Because the children have become owners of the ranch by virtue of a gift, they receive the tax-saving “free step-up in basis.” If they sell the ranch (and they have that right), they will get hit with capital gains taxes that will cost a lot more than the cost of an estate plan with an estate planning attorney and the “courtroom mumbo jumbo.”

Finally, the ranch is not the children’s homestead. If it has been gifted it to them, it’s not the parent’s homestead either. Therefore, they can expect an increase in the local property taxes. Those taxes will also be due every year for the rest of the parent’s life and again, will cost more over time than the cost of creating a proper estate plan. Since the ranch is not a homestead, it is subject to a creditor’s claim, if any of the new owners—those children —have a financial problem.

We haven’t even mentioned the family business succession plan, which takes a while to create and complements the estate plan. Both plans exist to protect the current owners and their heirs. If the goal is to keep the ranch in the family and have the next generation take the reins, everyone concerned be better served by sitting down with an estate planning attorney and discussing the many different ways to make this happen.

Reference: My San Antonio (April 29, 2019) “Estate planning workaround idea needs work”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys