Legal Matters in Starting Your Business

Mike_Hoffman_17Join Mike Hoffman in this 74 minute audio as he hosts the 11th session of the 24 hour MBA in discussing how to get your business off the ground.  There are many different legal options in starting a business, and in this audio session, you will understand the best way to start your business and keep it successful for future generations.  24hrmba-11.mp3

 

What the New Tax Law Means to You

As you probably know, Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff by passing – at the 12th hour –the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), signed into law by the President on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Tax Act makes several important revisions to the tax code that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. What follows is a brief description of some of these revisions – and their impact:

  • The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news for all Americans; for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained built in expiration dates. And while “permanent” in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have more certainty with which to plan.
  • The federal gift and estate tax exemptions will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains. So if you did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012, you can still do so – and there are advantages to doing so sooner rather than later. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, you can expect to be able to transfer even more each year in the future.
  • The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at your death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than you; in other words, transfers that “skip” a generation. Having this exemption be “permanent” allows you to take advantage of planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
  • Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
  • The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
  • The “portability” provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up a trust specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to proper estate planning using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
  • Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased from $13,000 to $14,000, meaning you can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary, per year ($28,000 for a married couple) free of federal gift,  estate and GST tax – in addition to the $5 million gift, estate, and GST tax exemptions. By making annual tax-free transfers while you are alive, you can transfer significant wealth to your children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries, thereby reducing your taxable estate and removing future appreciation on assets you transfer. And, you can significantly enhance this lifetime giving strategy by transferring interests in a limited liability company or similar entity because these assets have a reduced value for transfer tax purposes, allowing you to transfer more free of tax.  Gifting to Family Trusts allows the tremendous advantage of gifting to one destination, while using the annual gift exclusions for all of your descendants.

For most Americans, the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on planning for worst case scenarios and put it back on the real reasons we need to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. This includes:

  • Protecting you, your family, and your assets in the event of incapacity;
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want;
  • Protecting your legacy from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
  • Providing for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits; and
  • Helping protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits; and from estate depletion to fund nursing home costs.

For those with estates less than the $5.25 million exemption amount, trusts should still provide much valued asset protection.  However, those who are less concerned about asset protection may want to review options for unwinding previous transactions to the extent possible and, at a minimum, review their estate plan to ensure proper income tax planning (see below).

For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax free to future generations, but it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. With Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated.   REVENUE RAISING PROPOSALS INCLUDE 1) LIMITING THE BENEFITS OF GRANTOR TRUSTS, 2) LIMITING THE DURATION OF ALLOCATION OF GST EXEMPTION, 3) IMPOSING A MINIMUM 10 YEAR TERM FOR GRANTOR RETAINED ANNUITY TRUSTS (“GRATS”), AND 4) REDUCING THE AVAILABILITY OF ENTITY BASED VALUATION DISCOUNTS.  These are all tools that can reduce your estate tax exposure but that may not be available much longer.  Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.

Further, as is well publicized, the 2012 Tax Act included several income tax rate increases on those earning more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).  Combined with the two additional income tax rate increases resulting from the healthcare bill, income tax planning for individuals is obviously now more important than ever.

What hasn’t been as publicized is that trusts (only those trusts not taxed as grantor trusts) and estates will be subject to these new taxes and higher tax rates on income above $11,950.   Proper income tax/distribution planning for trusts and estates will be essential going forward to minimize these burdensome tax increases.

Income tax basis planning will also be more important.  Many trusts hold highly appreciated, low tax basis assets. Reverse DGT transactions – purchasing low basis assets back from grantor trusts – can be used to obtain a step up in basis at death.  Trusts may be able to be amended and/or restated to allow a Trust Protector to identify low basis assets and take certain actions that would cause them to get a step up in tax basis at your death.   For assets not already in trust, Alaska Community Property Trusts can be utilized to get a double step up in tax basis at both spouse’s deaths.

The good news is that if you have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over.  We have increased certainty with “permanent” laws and you can have some comfort that the rules won’t drastically shift from year to year.  Unfortunately, for those of you with larger estates, planning techniques that can be utilized to reduce estate tax exposure are still on the chopping block – so don’t wait to plan.  For all clients, income tax planning, including income tax basis planning, should be a focus this year.  As always, the ultimate goals of estate planning, including protecting family assets and providing for loved ones, do not change.  Make sure you have a good plan to meet these goals. Schedule an appointment today by calling 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.

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.

Family Limited Partnership (FLP) and Limited Liablity Company (LLC)

A family limited partnership or a limited liability company can provide important tax and non-tax benefits. From a non-tax standpoint, these entities are important in that they can provide a vehicle for managing family assets and can protect you from liabilities arising in connection with the assets held in the FLP or LLC. It can also provide asset protection, in that a creditor who might successfully seize the partnership interest from you will succeed only to your distribution rights, and may not be able to force a liquidation of the partnership (making it a much less attractive asset to seize.) Thus, a FLP or LLC is an excellent way to own buildings or an unincorporated business. From an income tax standpoint, a FLP or LLC can be superior to a corporation because there are no federal income taxes, and minimal or no state income taxes, on the income.

From a gift and estate tax planning standpoint, a FLP or LLC can give rise to significant valuation discounts. If a person owns a percentage interest in a FLP or LLC, the value of that interest will be less than the same percentage of the value of the net assets of the partnership. For example, assume that a FLP owns assets worth $100,000, and you own 10% of the partnership. Generally, your interest would be worth less than the $10,000 you’d receive if the partnership terminated and distributed the assets to the partners. That’s because you probably can’t force the partnership to terminate and distribute the assets. Rather, you’re entitled only to whatever distributions the general partner of the FLP or manager of the LLC elects to make. Typically, discounts from “liquidation value” will range from 15% to 40%, depending on the facts of the case.

If you make gifts of interests in a FLP or LLC, the value of the gift is based on the rights that the recipient has in the interest. Thus, the more power you retain in the partnership (and the less power the recipient has over the partnership), the smaller the value will be for the gift. On the other hand, on your death, the value of the asset in your estate will be based on the rights you’ve retained. Thus, the more power you retain in the partnership (and the less power the recipients of gifts you’ve made have received), the greater the value will be in your estate.

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.