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”