Procrastination: What Are The Consequences?

Currently, there are approximately 70% of Americans without a Will.  Without this basic estate planning document, your loved ones may pay the highest possible taxes upon your death, lose some of the assets you have earned during your lifetime, and will have to handle a much more complex administration of your estate.

By way of example, consider these famous deaths: Elvis Presley died suddenly at the age of 42 with an estate worth an estimated $10 million.  Of that amount, his daughter only received $3 million, as the other 70% was spent on estate taxes, administration costs and legal fees.  With a proper estate plan, Elvis’ daughter certainly would have received more than a mere third of her father’s wealth.

Famous for their chewing gum, the Wrigley family is another great example of a missed opportunity.  Both of William Wrigley’s parents died in 1977.  Their death gave Mr. Wrigley controlling interest in the Wrigley company, but it also left a significant estate tax burden due to the IRS.  The Wrigley’s had to sell their 80% stake in the Chicago Cubs for $20.5 million in 1981 to satisfy this debt.

Finally, Steve McNair, the famous NFL MVP, died in 2009 with an estate estimated to be worth $19 million but without even a simple will.  In attempts to settle his estate, his wife tried to sell his interest in a Nashville restaurant, his ranching and farming business as well as his Nashville home.  Not only did his murder shroud any hope of a amicable resolution of his estate, but the lack of any planning whatsoever left his wife and his children in a heated legal battle over the estate assets.

Although the most basic tenet of estate planning is a Will, the estate plan may and should encompass other aspects of your financial situation for when you pass.  Estate planning is thoughtful foresight that protects your family, provides for their future, and makes your wishes known.  If you pass without a Will in place, your assets will be distributed in accordance with State law in a process known as intestate succession.

Under the intestate succession laws in Georgia, a personal representative of the deceased is appointed by the Probate Court in order to marshal the assets, pay the debts and then distribute anything left over to the heirs.  Heirs are the closest relatives of the deceased, including the spouse, if living, and the children, including adopted and those born out of wedlock.  Stepchildren are not heirs.  Heirs of other degrees are determined if necessary.  A determination of the heirs is made by the Court, while your estate pays court fees, lawyer fees and other costs associated with probate handled by the Court and state law, rather than pursuant to your directions set forth in a Will. The Court and personal representative (which may or may not be a family member) may charge hefty fees (sometimes 5-15% of the value of the estate) to administer your estate.  Above all, this process takes time.  The probate of an estate handled by the court may take months longer than if you had clear, specific instructions regarding the distribution of your estate in a Will.

Having a Will does not avoid the probate process; rather, a Will is followed by the Court to determine who receives what property, who is appointed guardian of any minor children and who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the Will.

In order to ease the administrative burden on your family at your death and to save time and money on court costs and fees, you should plan accordingly now by contacting professionals who can help, such as an estate planning attorney, a financial planner, a CPA, and an insurance agent.  All can work together to help you prepare a plan that fits your family’s needs.  An exhaustive plan put in place by each of these professionals can also ensure you are taking advantage of any and all tax savings’ tools available to you.

Consider the following goals when thinking about your estate plan:

  • Determining who receives what share of your assets.
  • Deciding who will manage your estate and be responsible for distribution of the assets.
  • Selecting a guardian for your children.
  • If you own or control a business, providing for a smooth transition of management into the hands of persons who will effectively manage the business.
  • Arranging your affairs so that the chance for disputes among your heirs is minimized.
  • Making sure that your heirs can live with the estate plan. A plan that cannot respond to changes in the economy, or to unanticipated events, can burden the family.
  • For individuals with charitable wishes, making sure that your vision will be fulfilled.

With these overall goals in mind, it is important to move forward in developing an estate plan that fits your family’s needs.  At Hoffman & Associates, we define a basic estate plan as having the following essential components:

For individuals and families who are of higher net-worth, additional planning techniques may be introduced in order to reduce the estate taxes due upon death and take advantage of other tax savings strategies during your life.  Some of these techniques include:

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Asset Protection: You Get What You Pay For

As estate planning, tax and business lawyers, we are always concerned with asset protection.  Whether we are talking in the context of trusts for surviving spouses or descendants, or protecting personal assets from business hiccups, asset protection is at the front of our minds when advising clients.

Asset protection comes in all shapes and sizes, from the simple to the ultra complex. Rules can vary significantly from state to state. Generally speaking, if you want to protect an asset, don’t own it!  Strategies can range from the simple professional who puts his or her home in their spouse’s name.  In debtor oriented states like Florida, it could mean owning that residence jointly as tenancy by the entirety, which protects the property from creditors of each spouse.  Titling property correctly is simple and inexpensive.  Of course, once you have transferred that property to your spouse, it may be difficult to get it back!

Traditionally, businesses have conducted themselves as corporations or similar entities, one reason being to isolate the business activity from other assets owned by the business owner.  For instance, if a corporation were to get a judgment against it, the creditor’s only recourse would be against the assets of the corporation.  The creditor would not be able to reach through the entity and get at the other assets of the owner.  This is one of the reasons that our clients traditionally do business as corporations, LLCs or limited partnerships.  All of these entities have the characteristic of limited liability.

However, if it is the owner who is the subject of a judgment creditor, he can lose his stock in his closely held business.  So, consider placing assets in a limited liability company.  Some jurisdictions (not Georgia) provide that a creditor’s sole remedy, with respect to the LLC ownership by a debtor, is to obtain a charging order.  This remedy permits the creditor to stand in line to receive any distributions from the LLC that would otherwise go to the LLC’s owner (the debtor);  but the creditor cannot take the owner’s membership units or foreclose on ownership interest.  This, of course, is not a popular remedy for creditors.  Creditors would prefer to control the ownership interest in the business, allowing them to sell assets or otherwise liquidate the business in order to satisfy the debt.  Charging orders as a sole remedy are a statutory rule in a number of jurisdictions including Florida (for multiple member LLCs) and Nevada (a jurisdiction we find ourselves using more and more for the clients whose primary motivation is asset protection).

Creating a corporation is more expensive than merely titling assets in the name of your spouse.  Forming an LLC is significantly more expensive than forming a corporation.  Forming an LLC in another state is somewhat more expensive on the front end and annually than forming a Georgia entity.  You get what you pay for.

The next level of asset protection brings us to the area of trusts.  Of course, you can form an irrevocable trust for the benefit of another, and if properly drafted, that trust can own property which is protected from the grantor’s creditors.  However, Georgia does not recognize what are referred to as “self-settled” trusts;  one cannot create a trust for his or her own benefit in Georgia and many other jurisdictions.  There are approximately a dozen states that do recognize some sort of self-settled asset protection trusts that can accommodate the grantor as a possible beneficiary of the trusts.  Again, of the dozen or so states that allow what are referred to as “domestic asset protection trusts”, Nevada would have to be at the top of the list.  Domestic asset protection trusts require an independent trustee, meaning that the grantor cannot be in total control of the trust assets, although total control would not have to be given to the third party. Significant management control could be retained by the grantor if the trust agreement is carefully drafted.  These arrangements are significantly more expensive than forming an LLC for asset protection purposes.  Generally speaking, the more protection one seeks, the more expensive it is to set up the structure and maintain it.

Other trusts provide asset protection characteristics.  For instance, it is possible to create a trust for the benefit of one’s spouse, and the assets in the trust would be protected from not only the grantor’s creditors, but also the spouse’s creditors.  The grantor is entitled, in essence, to control the disposition of the trust upon the demise of the spouse.  Again, this arrangement must be carefully drafted, particularly if husband and wife are creating trusts for each other.  Again, the grantor should not retain total control of the trust’s property, so a third party trustee is highly recommended.  These types of arrangements tend to be more expensive than the domestic asset protection trust.   There are numerous other trust arrangements that offer asset protection; the appropriate choice depends on the actual circumstances and objectives.

Trusts can also be established in foreign jurisdictions where the local laws with respect to taxes, statute of limitations and contracts are very favorable as deterrents to creditors.  Again, offshore trusts have been around for hundreds of years.  Popular jurisdictions include the Cook Islands, Nevis, Bahamas, Cayman Islands and a number of other Caribbean island countries.  These trusts have been romanticized for many years. They are most popular with liquid investment assets. These arrangements tend to be the most expensive types of asset protection devices, so they also tend to be rare.

Finally, no one arrangement is absolutely perfect.  Ownership transfers should occur prior to the time a liability or potential judgment appears.  Creditors’ lawyers can always argue that assets were transferred in an attempt to defraud particular creditors, therefore seeking court intervention or set-aside.  However, prudent and timely planning should always be better than no planning, even if the result is that creditors are more receptive to sitting down to negotiate more favorable terms with our clients.

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.