Why Estate Planning is Essential for Small Business Owners

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”

Estate Planning Smooths Life’s Bumpy Road

It’s too bad that this happened to the Franklin family, but it happens often. A family member dies unexpectedly or becomes incapacitated at a young age and they never did the right planning.  Sometimes worse, they did the right planning, but the documents are decades old, out of step with current laws and the power of attorney is so old, that no financial institution will recognize it.

The problems that these scenarios create for loved ones are stressful, expensive and take a fair amount of everyone’s time. Solutions are offered in the article “Planning for the unexpected–4 Steps to get your affairs in order” from the Post Independent.

These four steps will help make the unexpected events of life a little less challenging.

Have a will and other estate planning documents prepared.

A will is a list of instructions to the court that details how you want your possessions to be distributed after you die. It should be drafted by an estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice law in your home state. The will goes through the probate process, which takes care of your legal and financial matters. In some states, the probate process is a simple process. In others, it can be problematic. Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise you about the probate process in your area.

A revocable living trust is a useful estate planning document that is used to establish more control over your assets, while you are alive. It should also be created by an experienced estate planning attorney. At your death, assets held in your trust then pass to heirs and avoid the probate process.

Make sure you title your assets properly.

Save, Piggy Bank, Money, Coins, Finance

Once you have a will and any trusts in place, any assets you wish to have placed in the trust need to be titled correctly. If you own a property with someone else and want to be sure your share of that property goes to the other owner, you’ll need to title it jointly.

Don’t forget to review the beneficiary designations that are usually a part of your bank and investment accounts, retirement accounts and insurance policies. Any beneficiary designation will override the will. If you haven’t reviewed beneficiary designations in a long time, now is the time to do so. There is no way to undo a beneficiary designation, once you have died.

Have power of attorney agreements created.

These documents give another person, the “agent,” the power to act on your business, financial and legal affairs, if you are incapacitated. The laws vary from state to state, which is another reason to work with an estate planning attorney licensed in your state. You’ll need these documents:

  • A durable power of attorney
  • A medical durable power of attorney
  • A living will

Prepare a letter of instruction.

This is not a legally binding document, but it can provide loved ones with a great deal of clarity when you have passed. Consider including this information:

  • A list of financial accounts and account numbers and any online usernames and passwords.
  • A list of important documents and where they can be found.
  • The names and contact information for the legal and financial professionals with whom you work.
  • Your final burial and/or funeral wishes.

Once you’re done, review the documents every few years and when there are major events in your life, including births, marriages, divorces, deaths and other “trigger” events. Remember that the laws change, so don’t let too much time go by without a thorough review of your estate plan.

Reference: Post Independent (July 22, 2019) “Planning for the unexpected–4 Steps to get your affairs in order”

How Power of Attorney Can Help Unravel an Estate Mess

This is the type of estate scenario that demonstrates the importance of having a will, no matter how old you are. The challenge, as described in My San Antonio’s article, “Using power of attorney in daughter’s estate,” is untangling the house title, the mortgage and the taxes. Having a will would have prevented this entire situation from occurring.

Further details: the 19-year-old grandson’s mother died when he was 15. He has made his grandfather power of attorney. The house is not in the grandson’s name, nor is it in the grandfather’s name. The mortgage company won’t talk to either of them, since they are not owners of the home.

Does the grandfather need to be on the deed to the house before the mortgage company will talk to him? Why are the taxes in the grandson’s name? The mortgage has the home listed under the daughter’s estate.

Sounds like a mess, doesn’t it?

When a person dies without a will (known as “intestate”) the state’s law determines who inherits their property. The law outlines the ownership, starting with the surviving spouse. Assuming that the daughter was not married, her son is second in line to inherit her assets.

The grandson needs to take the steps to get the deed to the house into his name. He will need the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. There are a few options, depending on state law: he can use an affidavit of heirship, a small estate affidavit, or do a determination of heirship in court. Depending on some complex details, which the estate lawyer will be able to help him with, the title to the property will be changed, when the correct legal documents are filed with the county clerk.

Once the deed is in his name, the mortgage company will recognize him as the legal owner of the property. They likely have a lien against the house, and mortgage payments must be made current. The mortgage company is required by law to allow the grandson, once he is the legal heir of the house, to continue paying on the loan. They may try to get him to refinance, but the attorney will know if he needs to or should do that. Hiring an attorney to solve the title issue, also addresses the mortgage issue.

As for that power of attorney — stop! Do not name the grandson as agent, nor should the grandson name the grandfather as agent. Revoke it or be certain that it was never signed. The attorney will also be able to help you with this. The grandfather has no authority over the daughter’s home, so the grandson as agent would have no authority either. He must act for himself to fix the deed issue.

Powers of attorney can be very valuable tools. If the situation were different, for instance, if the grandson was older and more knowledgeable and needed to help the grandparent, the grandparent could sign a legal document that would name the grandson as power of attorney. However, these documents should be prepared by a lawyer and they must be filed with the county clerk, only when the agent uses the power to sign a document that must be recorded with the county clerk.

This article shows what can happen when there no will and the family does not reach out to an estate planning attorney to help with the issues that result after someone dies. To avoid a long, costly situation, speak with an estate planning attorney admitted to practice in your state and have a proper will and estate plan put into place.

Reference: My San Antonio (May 24, 2019) “Using power of attorney in daughter’s estate”

 

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Really Do?

A knowledgeable elder law attorney will make certain that he represents the best interests of his senior client in a variety of situations that usually occur in an elderly person’s life.

An elder care attorney will also be very knowledgeable about several different areas of the law.

The Idaho Falls Spokesperson’s recent article, “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?” looks at some of the things an elder care attorney can do.

Elder care attorneys address long-term care issues, housing, quality of life, independence and autonomy—which are all critical issues concerning seniors.

Your elder law attorney knows that one of the main issues senior citizens face is sound estate planning. This may include planning for a minor or adult child with special needs, as well as probate proceedings, which is a process where a deceased person’s assets are collected and distributed to the heirs and creditors.

The probate process may also involve the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a set of inheritance rules written by national experts. A major responsibility of the probate process is to fully administer the entire estate, including appointing executors and ensuring that all assets are disbursed properly.

An experienced elder law attorney can also assist your family to make sure that your senior receives the best possible care arrangement, which may become more important as his or her medical needs increase.

An elder care law attorney also helps clients find the best nursing home to fully satisfy all their needs. Finally, they often will also work to safeguard assets to prevent spousal impoverishment, when one spouse must go to a nursing home.

A qualified elder care attorney can be a big asset to your family, as you journey through the elder care planning process. Working with an attorney to set up contingency plans can provide peace of mind and relief to you and your loved ones.

Reference: Idaho Falls Spokesperson (May 20, 2019) “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?”

 

Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning attorneys see them all the time: the mistakes that people make when they try to create an estate plan or a will by themselves. They learn about it, when families come to their offices trying to correct mistakes that could have been avoided just by seeking legal advice in the first place. That’s the message from the article “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’” from Dedham Wicked Local.

Here are the five estate planning mistakes that you can easily avoid:

Naming minors as beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations are a simple way to avoid probate and be certain that an asset goes to your beneficiary at death. Most life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial accounts permit you to name a beneficiary. Many well-meaning parents (and grandparents) name a grandchild or a child as a beneficiary. However, a minor is not permitted to own an asset. Therefore, the financial institution will not name the minor child as the new owner. A conservator must be appointed by the court to receive the asset on behalf of the child and they must hold that asset for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes of legal age. The conservator must file annual accountings with the court reflecting activity in the account and report on how any funds were used for the minor’s benefit, until the minor becomes a legal adult. The time, effort, and expense of this are unnecessary. Handing a large amount of money to a child the moment they become of legal age is rarely a good idea. Leaving assets in trust for the benefit of a minor or young adult, without naming them directly as a beneficiary, is one solution.

Drafting a will without the help of an estate planning attorney. The will created at the kitchen table or from an online template is almost always a recipe for disaster. They don’t include administrative provisions required by the state’s laws, provisions are ambiguous or conflicting and the documents are often executed incorrectly, rendering them invalid. Whatever money or time the person thought they were saving is lost. There are court fees, penalties and other costs that add up fast to fix a DIY will.

Adding joint owners to bank accounts. It seems like a good idea. Adding an adult child to a bank account, allows the child to help the parent with paying bills, if hospitalized or lets them pay post-death bills. If the amount of money in the account is not large, that may work out okay. However, the child is considered an owner of any account they are added to. If the child is sued, gets divorced, files for bankruptcy or has trouble with creditors, that bank account is an asset that can be reached.

Joint ownership of accounts after death can be an issue, if your will does not clearly state what your intentions are for that account. Do those funds go to the child, or should they be distributed between heirs? If wishes are unclear, expect the disagreements and bad feelings to be directly proportionate to the size of the account. Thoughtful estate planning, that includes power of attorney and trust planning, will permit access to your assets when needed and division of assets after your death in a manner that is consistent with your intentions.

Failing to fund trusts. Funding a trust means changing the ownership of an asset, so the asset is owned by the trust or designating the trust as a beneficiary. When a trust is properly funded, assets funding the trust avoid probate at your death. If your trust includes estate tax planning provisions, the assets are sheltered from estate tax at death. You have to do this before you die. Once you’re gone, the benefits of funding the trust are gone. Work closely with your estate planning attorney to make sure that you follow the instructions to fund trusts.

Poor choices of co-fiduciaries. If your children have never gotten along, don’t expect that to change when you die. Recognize your children’s strengths and weaknesses and be realistic about their ability to work together, when deciding who will make financial decisions under a power of attorney, health care decisions under a health care proxy and who will best be able to settle your estate. If you choose two people who do not get along, or do not trust each other, it will take far longer and cost more to settle your estate. Don’t worry about birth order or egos.

The sixth biggest estate planning mistake people make, is failing to review their estate plan every few years. Estate laws change, tax laws change and lives change. If it’s been a while since your estate plan was reviewed, make an appointment to meet with your estate planning attorney for a review.

Reference: Dedham Wicked Local (May 17, 2019) “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’”

 

Special Needs Families and Special Needs Trust

If nothing prepares a person for parenting, consider how much harder it is to be prepared to raise a child with special needs. Parents often sink in uncharted waters. It’s not just a matter of negotiating all of the day-to-day details, says Newsday in the article “Be ‘biggest advocate’: Parents plan future for adult children with special needs.” Special needs families need to plan for what will happen as the parents age, become ill or die.

As an adult child with disabilities ages, eventually there will be medical issues. If the parents are gone, who will be able to make medical decisions? Where they live, who will oversee their finances and who will be there for them to rely on in a parenting role? There are many questions and they all need answering.

For one family, raising their special needs daughter was a full-time challenge. Their daughter, now 24, has autism. The couple sought out others in their same situation, noting that often even their own family members could not relate to their daily experiences.

It takes a village for special needs families to do more than survive. That includes estate planning and elder law attorneys with deep experience in special needs planning, social workers, therapists and medical professionals. Here’s what needs to be top-of-mind:

Don’t wait to plan. Families often think they have time, but you never know when unexpected events occur. Have a plan in place for legal guardianship, finances and health care.

Work with experienced legal help. You want to work with an attorney who has a great deal of experience and knowledge in special needs law and estate planning. Someone who dabbles on the side of a real estate practice is not the right professional for the task.

Stay in control. When children turn 18, they are adults. Parents and guardians will need to go through Surrogate’s Court to become the child’s guardian. Unless that is done, the parents and guardians will have no legal rights about the child’s medical, financial or other affairs. A successor guardian also needs to be named, so that when the parents are no longer able to serve, someone is in place to care for the child.

Create a Special Needs Trust. A trusts attorney with experience in Special Needs planning will be able to work with the family to create and structure a Special Needs Trust (SNT). A disabled person usually cannot earn enough to support himself, or the caregiver who remains at home to care for them and care-related expenses. The SNT helps to meet current needs and plan for future needs. The trust is used to preserve eligibility for any means-tested state and federal benefits. It allows the individual to have a better quality of life, by providing for expenses that are not covered by their benefits.

It’s very important that no assets be left to the child in an inheritance. Any assets must be placed in the trust. A well-meaning relative could put their eligibility for aid in jeopardy.

Parents and guardians also need to name a trustee and a successor trustee. The person needs to be competent, good with money management, organized and focused on caring for the loved one. It cannot be an emotional decision.

Parents of special needs children are advised to create a Letter of Intent, a narrative that outlines their child’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, activities and friends they enjoy and other details that will help them to continue an enjoyable life, when their parents are gone.

Parent’s own estate planning must be done with an eye to maintaining the SNT and caring for their other children. This is a case when assets need to be distributed in a realistic and fair manner. If one sibling is the successor trustee, for example, they may need a larger portion of an estate to help care for their sibling.

Reference: Newsday (May 9, 2019) “Be ‘biggest advocate’: Parents plan future for adult children with special needs.”

 

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