(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
I’m Starting a New Business – Should I Use an LLC (Taxed as a Partnership) or an S Corporation?

I’m Starting a New Business – Should I Use an LLC (Taxed as a Partnership) or an S Corporation?

Entrepreneurship has been called the new American dream.  Being self-employed starts with an idea that develops into a business plan, but not without careful financial and legal considerations. Among the decisions that new business owners grapple with is whether to form a limited liability company taxed as a partnership (LLC) or a corporation making an S election (S corp).* There are similarities and differences between LLCs and S corps that business owners should understand before choosing between the two.

Similarities

  • Both entities are created by filing the necessary paperwork with the state. Unlike a sole proprietorship or a general partnership, LLCs and corporations are not recognized under state law until the filing has been made. In addition to state filings required to form the corporation, a special filing on Form 2553 is required for the state-law corporation to elect S status for federal tax purposes.
  • Both entities provide owners with limited liability, meaning the owner’s personal assets are protected from any business creditors’ claims.
  • Assuming an LLC does not make an election to be taxed as a corporation, both LLCs and S corps are pass-through tax entities, allowing business profits and losses to flow through and be reported on the owners’ personal tax returns.

Differences

  • Unlike LLCs, which can have an unlimited number and type of owners, S corps are subject to strict ownership rules. S corps can have no more than 100 shareholders, may not have non-U.S. citizens as shareholders, and cannot be owned by corporations, LLCs, partnerships, or many types of trusts.
  • As opposed to LLCs, which have flexibility in structuring the economic arrangement among its owners, S corps cannot issue classes of stock with different economic rights. However, an S corp can issue voting and non-voting classes of stock.
  • S corps are subject to mandatory requirements as to how the entity is managed. For example, S corps are often required to adopt bylaws, issue stock, hold regular meetings, and maintain meeting minutes within its corporate records. LLCs, on the other hand, are not subject to these types of requirements.
  • Owners of S corps, unlike LLCs, may be able to reduce or eliminate the need to pay self-employment tax. An S corp owner can be treated as an employee and paid a reasonable salary. Employment taxes are withheld from the reasonable salary, while corporate earnings in excess of that salary may be distributed to the owners as unearned income, free of self-employment tax.
  • S corp owners must share profits equally based on their percentage of ownership, while LLC owners have wide latitude to split profits and losses in any manner that is agreed upon.
  • LLCs are generally cheaper to form and operate.
  • S corps generally provide enhanced asset protection, as the structure creates more separation between the owners and the company.

*For the sake of simplicity, this brief overview is based on the assumption that (i) any reference to “LLC” is to an LLC taxed as a partnership, and (ii) any reference to “S corp” is to a corporation taxed as an S corporation. These entities are easily confused, in part because an LLC can make an S election. In that case, you have a state law LLC taxed as an S corporation under federal law. Why would anyone choose to do that? In many cases, it is the business owner’s desire to avoid strict state law corporate compliance coupled with the desire for favorable S corp taxation.

Each business has its own set of circumstance to consider and it is important to obtain competent legal advice when staring your own business.  I am here to discuss how to properly structure, form, and protect your business. Please give me a call at (858) 432-3923 to schedule a consultation.

 

 

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Big “Life Changes” Often Mean Big “Estate Plan Changes”

Big “Life Changes” Often Mean Big “Estate Plan Changes”

Many people who put together an estate plan do so when they start a family – assuming they put an estate plan together at all during their lifetime. While putting an estate plan together is a good thing to do, many people make few updates once the plan has been created, despite other key life events happening over the years. This is a major mistake that can place your hard-earned money and assets into a costly probate or into the wrong hands.

Estate planning must be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that your plan still accomplishes your goals and objectives and will work the way you want it to at incapacity and at death.

To make sure you do not run into these issues and your wishes are followed in the event of your incapacity at at your death, below are nine life decisions or events that should get you thinking about updating — or creating — your estate plan right away.

Important Life Decisions

There are several important life decisions that you should factor into your estate plan. They include:

  1. Getting married: Estate planning after tying the knot does not have to be complicated. Simply updating your beneficiary information, purchasing a life insurance policy, and updating emergency contact information are all things that should happen right away. You should also consider preparing a will and a living will. As your marriage progresses, it may make sense to consider a revocable trust as well. Having discussions with your spouse about how you want your estate to be managed depending on different scenarios is also important.
  2. Getting divorced: While couples do not plan for divorce, many spouses go through this process. For many, the emotional toll and legal complexities of divorce can be overwhelming. Oftentimes estate planning is overshadowed by the divorce, resulting in unintended consequences. Making sure you make changes to your estate plan as soon as your divorce proceedings have been finalized will make sure your ex will not end up with the house, life insurance proceeds or other assets of yours.
  3. Buying life insurance: These policies are present in virtually all estate plans and serve as a useful source of liquidity, education-expense coverage, and financial support for your family or loved ones. Make sure to list all beneficiaries under the policy and make sure to update them as time passes.
  4. Buying a new home: When you purchase or refinance a home or other real estate, you should always make sure the asset is titled appropriately. If you use a trust, sometimes a lender will take a property out of a trust during a refinance. The key is to make sure your title furthers your goals.
  5. Having a child: While adding another member to your family is an exciting time in your life, it is not an excuse to forget to update your estate plan. A new child necessitates major revisions to your estate plan. This not only affects who will inherit your estate upon your death but will also require you deciding who will be the guardian of your children if you should die before they become adults. As your child grows and matures — and more children are added — your estate plan will likely continue to change.
  6. Starting a business: If you start a business or ownership interest changes in a current business, you need to understand what impact these changes have on your estate plan. Even more, there may be tax implications that could affect your heirs without proper planning ahead of time.
  7. Death of a loved one: The passing away of someone listed in your will is often overlooked in estate planning. These individuals may be named guardians to your children, have an inheritance allocated to them, be designated as emergency contacts, or may be named as executors of your estate. Leaving the role vacant can have terrible unintended consequences and necessitates transitioning new people to fill the void left behind by your loved one’s death right away.
  8. Moving to another state or country: When you change your residency from one state to another, you must review your estate plan to make sure it conforms with local laws. The same is true if you move to another country. Likewise, if you have property in more than one state or country, special attention must be paid to how those assets will be distributed according to your estate plan and applicable law.
  9. Change in work benefits: Whether this happened through a promotion, demotion, or your employer just changed the benefits they offer, this could impact the type amount of assets you have available. Look at your estate plan to see if your goals are still achievable or if you can do more with what you have.

Estate Planning Advice

Planning based on your life stages is important because your circumstances over the years will change. The only thing certain in life is change. Your estate plan must be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect your life’s changes. If you have any questions about estate planning — or have had to make a recent big decision in your life — contact me at (858) 432-3923 to learn more about your options.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

How to Choose a Trustee

How to Choose a Trustee

When you establish a Trust, you name someone to be the Trustee. Generally, you are the Initial Trustee for your Revocable Living Trust.  A Successor Trustee steps in your shoes in the event of your incapacity and at your death.  That person does what you do right now with your financial affairs – collect income, pay bills and taxes, save and invest for the future, buy and sell assets, provide for your loved ones, keep accurate records, and generally keep things organized and in good order.

The Key Takeaways

  • You can be Trustee of your Revocable Living Trust. If you are married, your spouse can be co-Trustee.
  • Most Irrevocable Trusts do not allow you to be Trustee.
  • Even though you may be allowed to be your own Trustee, you may not be the best choice.
  • You can also choose an adult child, trusted friend or a professional or corporate Trustee.
  • Naming someone else to be co-Trustee with you is an option should the circumstances call for it.  Some reasons for this include helping them become familiar with your trust, allows them to learn firsthand how you want the trust to operate, and lets you evaluate the co-Trustee’s abilities.

Who Can Be Your Trustee

If you have a Revocable Living Trust, you can be your own Trustee. If you are married, your spouse can be a Trustee with you. This way, if either of you become incapacitated or die, the other can continue to handle your financial affairs without interruption. Most married couples who own assets together, especially those who have been married for some time, are usually co-Trustees.

You don’t have to be your own Trustee. Some people choose an adult son or daughter, a trusted friend or another relative. Some like having the experience and investment skills of a professional or corporate trustee (e.g., a licensed private Professional Fiduciary, a bank Trust department or Trust Company). Naming someone else as Trustee or co-Trustee with you does not mean you lose control. The Trustee you name must follow the instructions in your Trust and report to you. You can even replace your Trustee should you change your mind.

When to Consider a Professional or Corporate Trustee

You may be elderly, widowed, or in declining health and have no children or other trusted relatives living nearby.  Or you may not have friends or family that you fully trust for this important duty.  Or your candidates may not have the time or ability to manage your trust. You may simply not have the time, desire or experience to manage your investments by yourself. Also, certain Irrevocable Trusts will not allow you to be Trustee due to restrictions in the tax laws. In these situations, a professional or corporate trustee may be exactly what you need: they have the experience, time and resources to manage your trust and help you meet your investment goals.

What You Need to Know

Professional or corporate trustees will charge a fee to manage your trust, but generally the fee is quite reasonable, especially when you consider their experience, the services provided, and the investment returns that a professional Trustee can deliver.

Actions to Consider

  • Honestly evaluate if you are the best choice to be your own Trustee. Someone else may truly do a better job than you, especially in investing your assets.
  • Name someone to be co-Trustee with you now. This would eliminate the time a successor would need to become knowledgeable about your trust, your assets, and the needs and personalities of your beneficiaries. It would also let you evaluate if the co-Trustee is the right choice to manage the Trust in your absence.
  • Evaluate your Trustee candidates carefully and realistically.
  • If you are considering a Professional or Corporate Trustee, talk to several. Compare their services, investment returns, and fees.  I have a couple I highly recommend, which will give you a nice starting place.

I can help you select, educate, and advise your Successor Trustees so they will have support and know what to do next to carry out your wishes. Give me a call at 858-432-3923 and I will be happy to serve you.

 

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Rewarding Your Employees By Giving Them the Business

Rewarding Your Employees By Giving Them the Business

Retiring from your business can a tough decision. To ensure that what you have built continues on, there needs to be a plan for succession. For some people, they have spent years grooming a child or other family member to take over, wanting the business to stay in the family. Others look to sell to a third party for a quick way out that will also give them a nest egg for their next phase of life. However, there is a third option–transferring the business to your employees. If you like the idea of transferring your business to long-time faithful employees who have contributed greatly to the company’s success over the years, below are a couple of options for you to consider.

Management Buyout

This type of transfer is a process, not an event. The management team comes together with the financing and arranges a deal with you to buy the assets and operations of the business. A management buyout has the benefit of being quicker and more confidential than a third party transaction, and the structure of the deal can be more flexible. There is also the added benefit that the legacy of the company will continue in the hands of those in management who have earned the opportunity to buy the business with his or her loyalty and hard work.

With this option, you may also be able to provide some continued service to the company as an officer and/or director. In addition, you may even be able to continue in some part of the business that you enjoy. And you may be able to keep some control over the company.

When considering this option, it is important that you consider the following:

  • How much cash, debt, and earn-out will be involved?
  • When will the transfer of control occur?
  • If management has little or no capital, where will they get the money for the buyout?

Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)

An ESOP is a qualified plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Instead of selling directly to management, you are making the sale to the ESOP, which has been set up by the company. The ESOP can either attempt to get bank financing to purchase the stock from you, or you can take a note for the value of your shares and have the repayment taken care of internally. The employees become plan participants, similar to other employee incentive programs and are entitled to benefits at certain points as determined by the terms of the ESOP.

This option is similar to a management buyout, but with potentially valuable tax benefits. With an ESOP, you are selling stock in the company, not the assets, so the taxes are capital gains, not ordinary income taxes. Because of this distinction, there are planning techniques available that may help save on taxes with this transaction.

When reviewing this option, there are a few things to consider:

  • In order to repay the note, most (if not all) of the excess cash flow from the business may be needed, instead of using it to grow the company;
  • The company must set aside money to meet repurchase obligations on the ESOP when an employee retires, dies, becomes incapacitated or terminates his or her employment after vesting;
  • Stock in an ESOP is allocated based on payroll, so there are no extra management incentives.

Both management buyout and ESOPs are options that should be considered if you are looking to transfer your business to your employees.  I am a knowledgeable Estate Planning and Business Attorney and I am here to help you. Give my office a call at (858) 432-3923 and I would be happy to discuss these options more and find a solution that best protects you and your legacy.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning: What You Need to Know

Cryptocurrency and Estate Planning: What You Need to Know

You may have heard of Cryptocurrencies, a digital currency.  Cryptocurrencies have been making headlines lately attracting people to invest in this type of currency.  Cryptocurrencies are attractive because they are unregulated, decentralized, and anonymous. There are no financial institutions controlling it, and unless you tell someone you own digital currency, it remains a secret.

When it comes to estate planning, however, that kind of secrecy can be disastrous. In fact, without the appropriate planning protections in place, all of your crypto wealth will disappear the moment you die or become incapacitated, leaving your family with absolutely no way to recover it.  Indeed, we’re facing a potential crisis whereby millions—perhaps billions—of dollars’ worth of family wealth could potentially vanish into thin air unless you take action to protect your digital assets with estate planning.

Cryptocurrencies Explained

Cryptocurrency is a form of internet currency. Instead of a central bank regulating the funds, encryption techniques are used to regulate the amount or units of currency. These techniques are also used to verify the transfer of funds. In this manner, cryptocurrency can be transferred online without a third party. Some cryptoassets have units that are all the same (called “fungible tokens”). Bitcoin is an example of a fungible token since all bitcoins are the same as one another. Other cryptoassets have unique attributes (called “non-fungible tokens”). Cryptokitties is an example of a nonfungible token since each digital “cat” is unique.

Notably, if you lose the key (i.e., the encryption) to your cryptocurrency, you will be unable to access your digital assets. Thus, making access to your key available to your loved ones upon your death or incapacity is vital to estate planning. This is because if there is no access to the key, there is no access to the assets. Unlike more “traditional” assets, there is no third party to control or compel assets nor reset the key for access to these digital funds. The software or hardware device that holds the keys to your cryptocurrency and manages your transaction is referred to as a “wallet.”

The first step in securing your crypto assets is to let your heirs know you own it. This can be done by including your digital currency in your net-worth statement listing all of your assets and liabilities. Along with the amount of cryptocurrency you own, you should also include detailed instructions about where it’s located and how to find the instructions to access it. But you want those instructions to be kept in an absolutely secure location because anyone who has them can take your cryptocurrency.

Even if your heirs know you own cryptocurrency, they won’t be able to access it unless they know the encrypted passcodes needed to unlock your account. Indeed, there are numerous stories of crypto owners losing their own passcodes and then being so desperate to recover or remember them that they dug through trash cans and even hired hypnotists.

The best way to secure your passcodes is by storing them in a digital wallet. The safest option is a “cold” wallet, or one that is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. Cold wallets include USB drives as well as “paper” wallets, which are simply the passcodes printed on paper—and ideally stored in a fireproof safe.

Digital Asset Estate Planning

It is important to understand that cryptocurrencies are typically a non-listed, non-vetted asset category. In other words – cryptocurrencies are not like publicly traded stocks, which have a vetting process, legal disclosures, and are subject to other requirements. In short, buyer beware when it comes to digital currencies. Therefore, if you own cryptocurrency — or are thinking about investing in digital currency — understand that you will need a technical access plan (a way to ensure your successors can access your digital wealth) in addition to a legal plan in order to effectively create an estate plan that incorporates these digital assets. And because what is going on with digital currency is evolving all the time, and quickly, it is important to touch base with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney at least once a year to make sure you and your family’s needs are being met.

With your crypto assets, the only way these wallets are of any use to your heirs is for them to know where they are and how to access them in the event of your incapacity or death. So make sure these instructions are included in your estate plan and your estate planning lawyer knows about the assets and where to locate the instructions on how to access them. Just as it would be foolish to store your money in a secret safe and not tell anybody where it is or give them the combination to open it, it’s just as foolhardy not to take the appropriate steps to protect your cryptocurrency through proper estate planning.

Since digital currency is such a recent phenomenon, not all estate planning attorneys are familiar with it, but I as an experienced estate planning attorney, you can rest assured I have the knowledge and experience to help you safeguard your digital wealth just as effectively as all of your other assets.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever,  Estate Planning and Business Planning Attorney. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Should your child’s guardian and trustee be the same person?

Should your child’s guardian and trustee be the same person?

If you have overheard any discussion about estate planning, you have likely heard the words “guardian” or “trustee” tossed around in the conversation. When it comes to estate planning, who will be ultimately in charge of your minor child is an important decision that requires consideration of many factors. Although there is no substitute for you as a parent, a guardian is essentially someone who steps in as a parent, assuming the parental role and raising the child through adulthood. A trustee, on the other hand, is in charge of managing the financial legacy that has been left behind for the minor. As a parent, you need to take into account the characteristics needed for each role.

Who Makes a Good Guardian?

When choosing a guardian, the top factor to consider is who is the best person that will love and raise your child in a manner that you would. This would include religious beliefs, parenting style, interest in extracurricular activities, energy level, and whether or not he or she has children already. Keep in mind that a guardian will provide day-to-day love, care, and support for your child. While the guardian you choose may be great with your children, he or she may not be great with money. For this reason, it may make sense to place the financial management of your minor child’s funds in the hands of someone else.

Who Makes a Good Trustee?

Not surprisingly, when choosing a trustee the most important characteristic is that he or she is great with finances. Specifically, the trustee must be able to manage the funds in accordance with your intent and instructions that are left in your trust. Consider whether he or she will honor your wishes. Likewise, should you choose to grant your successor trustee discretion in making financial decisions regarding the management of funds left behind you should ensure the individual’s decisions will be aligned with your intent. In short, you want to choose a successor trustee who will act in your minor child’s best interest within the limits you have set forth in your estate plan documents. If you choose two different people for the role of guardian and trustee, make sure to consider how the two get along as they will likely have to work together throughout your minor’s childhood and possibly into adulthood.

Seek Help to Make Your Decision

While estate planning can be daunting, it does not have to be. Contact me, a knowledgeable estate planning attorney, to help guide you through this process. I can explain your options and advise you on the best plan that will follow your wishes while at the same time meeting your family’s needs.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever,  Estate Planning and Business Planning Attorney. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

The Ins and Outs of Collecting Life Insurance Policy Proceeds

The Ins and Outs of Collecting Life Insurance Policy Proceeds

Unlike many estate assets, if you’re looking to collect the proceeds of a life insurance policy, the process is fairly simple provided you’re named as the beneficiary. That said, following a loved one’s death, the whole world can feel like it’s falling apart, and it’s helpful to know exactly what steps need to be taken to access the insurance funds as quickly and easily as possible during this trying time.

Additionally, if you have been dependent on the person who died for regular financial support and/or are responsible for paying funeral expenses, the need to access insurance proceeds can sometimes be downright urgent.

Here, I’ve outlined the typical procedure for claiming and collecting life insurance proceeds, along with discussing how beneficiaries can deal with common hiccups in the process. However, because all life insurance policies are different and some involve more complexities than others, it’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified Estate Planning attorney, such as myself, if you need extra help or guidance.

Filing a Claim
To start the life insurance claims process, you first need to identify who the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is—are you the beneficiary, or is a trust set up to handle the claim for you?

I often recommend that life insurance proceeds be paid to a trust, not outright to a beneficiary. This way, the life insurance proceeds can be used by the beneficiary, but the funds are protected from lawsuits and/or creditors that the beneficiary may be involved with—even a future divorce.

In the event that a trust is the beneficiary, contact me so that I can create a certificate of trust that you (or the trustee, if the trustee is someone other than you) can send to the life insurance company, along with a death certificate when one is available.

In any case, you (or the trustee) will notify the insurance company of the policyholder’s death, either by contacting a local agent or by following the instructions on the company’s website. If the policy was provided through an employer, you may need to contact their workplace first, and someone there will put you in touch with the appropriate representative.

Many insurance companies allow you to report the death over the phone or by sending in a simple form and not require the actual death certificate at this stage. Depending on the cause of death, it can sometimes take weeks for the death certificate to be available, so this simplified reporting speeds up the process.

From there, the insurance company typically sends the beneficiary (or the trustee of the trust named as beneficiary) more in-depth forms to fill out, along with further instructions about how to proceed. Some of the information you’re likely to be asked to provide during the claims process include the deceased’s date of birth, date and place of death, their Social Security number, marital status, address, as well as other personal data.

Your state’s vital records office creates the death certificate, and it will either send the certificate directly to you or route it through your funeral/mortuary provider. Once you’ve received a certified copy of the death certificate, you’ll send it to the insurance company, along with the other completed forms requested.

Multiple beneficiaries
If more than one adult beneficiary was named, each person should provide his or her own signed and notarized claim form. If any of the primary beneficiaries died before the policyholder, an alternate/contingent beneficiary can claim the proceeds, but he or she will need to send in the death certificates of both the policyholder and the primary beneficiary.

Minors
While policyholders are free to name anyone as a beneficiary, when minor children are named, it creates serious complications, as most insurance companies will not allow a minor child to receive life insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority. And the age of majority varies between states—with some it’s 18, and others it’s 21.

If a child is named as a beneficiary and has yet to reach the age of majority, the claim proceeds will be paid to the child’s legal guardian, who will be responsible for managing those funds until the child comes of age. Given this, in the event a minor is named you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian, even if you’re the child’s parent. This is why I recommend never naming a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, even as a backup to the primary beneficiary.

Rather than naming a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, it’s often better to set up a trust to receive the proceeds. By doing that, the proceeds would be paid into the trust, and whomever is named as trustee will follow the steps above to collect the insurance benefits, put them in the trust, and manage the funds for the child’s benefit.  Whatever you decide, you should consult with me, a qualified Estate Planning Attorney to determine the best options for passing along your life insurance benefits and other assets to minor children.

Insurance claim payment
Provided you fill out the forms properly and include a certified copy of the death certificate, insurance companies typically pay out life insurance claims quickly. In fact, some claims are paid within one-to-two weeks of the start of the process, and rarely do claims take more than 60 days to be paid. Most insurance companies will offer you the option to collect the proceeds via a mailed check or transfer the funds electronically directly to your account.

Sometimes an insurance company will request you to send in a completed W-9 form (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification) from the IRS in order to process a claim. Most of the time, a W-9 is requested only if there is some question or issue with the records, such as having an address provided in a claim form that doesn’t match the one on file.

A W-9 is simply a way for the insurance company to verify information to prevent fraudulent activity. To this end, don’t be alarmed if you’re asked for a W-9. It’s a common verification practice, and it doesn’t automatically mean the company suspects you of fraud or plans to deny your claim.

While collecting life insurance proceeds is a fairly simple process, it’s always a good idea to consult with me as a qualified Estate Planning Attorney if you have any questions or need help to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible during the often-chaotic period following a loved one’s death.


This article is a service of Tara Cheever,  Estate Planning and Business Planning Attorney. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Passing Along a Benefit, Not a Burden

Passing Along a Benefit, Not a Burden

Why Incapacity Planning for Business Owners is an Indispensable Component of Your Plan

Most business owners have their estate planning prepared because they are worried about what will happen to their business after they are dead. However, proper estate planning has the added benefit of allowing you to make plans for what will happen if you are incapacitated or needing to be away from your business for an extended period of time.

As the owner, you are responsible for the day-to-day operations of your business. This is a full-time responsibility. But what will happen if you can’t be there all the time? You don’t necessarily have to be in a coma to be unable to participate in your business. You could be on an extended vacation or have a medical diagnosis that requires you to take several months away for treatment or recovery. During this time, your business needs to continue on so that you and your employees can continue to take home money.

It is important to think ahead about who will be in charge of the day-to-day operations because a ship without a captain can be dangerous. Not only does this individual need to understand the business, he or she needs to have the respect of your employees, and be confident in making tough decisions in your absence. Without this planning, everyone could jump to the conclusion that he or she is in charge, or alternatively, no one will step up, resulting in chaos either way.

If you have family members working in your business it is also important to explain to them what will happen in your absence and who will be in charge so that someone does not assume they are in charge just because they are family. Importantly, remember that just because your family is involved with your business does not mean that he or she is the best choice to succeed you.

I can help you develop a plan to keep your business running while you are away. From choosing the right individual to putting processes in place for your incapacity, I am here to help.  Feel free to contact me at (858) 432-3923 for any questions you may have.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 2

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 2

Last week, I shared the first part of this series explaining the powers and duties that come with serving as trustee. Here in part two, I discuss the rest of a trustee’s core responsibilities. 

Being asked to serve as trustee can be a huge honor—but it’s also a major responsibility. Indeed, the job entails a wide array of complex duties, and trustees are both ethically and legally required to effectively execute those functions or face significant liability.

To this end, you should thoroughly understand exactly what your role as trustee requires before agreeing to accept the position. Last week, I highlighted three of a trustee’s primary functions, and here I continue with that list, starting with one of the most labor-intensive of all duties—managing and accounting for a trust’s assets.

Manage and account for trust assets

Before a trustee can sell, invest, or make distributions to beneficiaries, he or she must take control of, inventory, and value all trust assets. Ideally, this happens as soon as possible after the death of the grantor in the privacy of a lawyer’s office. As long as assets are titled in the name of the trust, there’s no need for court involvement—unless a beneficiary or creditor forces it with a claim against the trust.

In the best case, the person who created the trust and was the original trustee—usually the grantor—will have maintained an up-to-date inventory of all trust assets. And if the estate is extensive, gathering those assets can be a major undertaking, so contact me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to help review the trust and determine the best course of action.

The value of some assets, like financial accounts, securities, and insurance, will be easy to determine. But with other property—real estate, vehicles, businesses, artwork, furniture, and jewelry—a trustee may need to hire a professional appraiser to determine those values. With the assets secured and valued, the trustee must then identify and pay the grantor’s creditors and other debts.

Be careful about ensuring regularly scheduled payments, such as mortgages, property taxes, and insurance, are promptly paid, or trustees risk personal liability for late payments and/or other penalties. Trustees are also required to prepare and file the grantor’s income and estate tax returns. This includes the final income tax return for the year of the decedent’s death and any prior years’ returns on extension, along with filing an annual return during each subsequent year the trust remains open.

For high-value estates, trustees may have to file a federal estate tax return or possibly a state estate tax return. However, Trump’s new tax law of 2017 (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) doubled the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million, so very few estates will be impacted. But keep in mind, this new exemption is only valid through 2025, when it will return to $5.6 million.

During this entire process, it’s vital that trustees keep strict accounting of every transaction (bills paid and income received) made using the trust’s assets, no matter how small. In fact, if a trustee fails to fully pay the trust’s debts, taxes, and expenses before distributing assets to beneficiaries, he or she can be held personally liable if there are insufficient assets to pay for outstanding estate expenses.

Given this, it’s crucial to work with a Personal Family Lawyer® and a qualified accountant to properly account for and pay all trust-related expenses and debts as well as ensure all tax returns are filed on behalf of the trust.

Personally administer the trust

While trustees are nearly always permitted to hire outside advisers like lawyers, accountants, and even professional trust administration services, trustees must personally communicate with those advisors and be the one to make all final decisions on trust matters. After all, the grantor chose you as trustee because they value your judgment.

So even though trustees can delegate much of the underlying legwork, they’re still required to serve as the lead decision maker. What’s more, trustees are ultimately responsible if any mistakes are made. In the end, a trustee’s full range of powers, duties, and discretion will depend on the terms of the trust, so always refer to the trust for specific instructions when delegating tasks and/or making tough decisions. And if you need help understanding what the trust says, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for support.

Clear communication with beneficiaries

To keep them informed and updated as to the status of the trust, trustees are required to provide beneficiaries with regular information and reports related to trust matters. Typically, trustees provide such information on an annual basis, but again, the level of communication depends on the trust’s terms.

In general, trustees should provide annual status reports with complete and accurate accounting of the trust’s assets. Moreover, trustees must permit beneficiaries to personally inspect trust property, accounts, and any related documents if requested. Additionally, trustees must provide an annual tax return statement (Schedule K-1) to each beneficiary who’s taxed on income earned by the trust.

Entitled to reasonable fees for services rendered

Given such extensive duties and responsibilities, trustees are entitled to receive reasonable fees for their services. Oftentimes, family members and close friends named as trustee choose not to accept any payment beyond what’s required to cover trust expenses, but this all depends on the trustee’s particular situation and relationship with the grantor and/or beneficiaries.

What’s more, determining what’s “reasonable,” can itself be challenging. Entities like accounting firms, lawyers, banks, and trust administration companies typically charge a percentage of the funds under their management or a set fee for their time. In the end, what’s reasonable is based on the amount of work involved, the level of funds in the trust, the trust’s other expenses, and whether or not the trustee was chosen for their professional experience. Consult with me if you need guidance about what would be considered reasonable in your specific circumstance.

Since the trustee’s duties are comprehensive, complex, and foreign to most people, if you’ve been asked to serve as trustee, it’s critical you have a professional advisor who can give you a clear and accurate assessment of what’s required of you before you accept the position. And if you do choose to serve as trustee, it’s even more important that you have someone who can guide you step-by-step throughout the entire process.

In either case, you can rely on me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to offer the most accurate advice, guidance, and assistance with all trustee duties and functions. I can ensure that you’ll effectively fulfill all of the grantor’s final wishes—and do so in the most efficient and risk-free manner possible. Contact me today at (858) 432-3923 to learn more.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 1

Before Agreeing to Serve as Trustee, Carefully Consider the Duties and Obligations Involved—Part 1

If a friend or family member has asked you to serve as trustee for their trust upon their death, you should feel honored—this means they consider you among the most honest, reliable, and responsible people they know.

However, being a trustee is not only a great honor, it’s also a major responsibility. The job can entail a wide array of complex duties, and you’re both ethically and legally required to effectively execute those functions or face significant liability. Given this, agreeing to serve as trustee is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly, and you should thoroughly understand exactly what the role requires before giving your answer.

Of course, a trustee’s responsibility can vary enormously depending on the size of the estate, the type of trust involved, and the trust’s specific terms and instructions. But every trust comes with a few core requirements, and here I’ll highlight some of the key responsibilities.

That said, one of the first things to note about serving as trustee is that the job does NOT require you to be an expert in law, finance, taxes, or any other field related to trust administration. In fact, trustees are not just allowed to seek outside assistance from professionals in these fields, they’re highly encouraged to, and funding to pay for such services will be set aside for this in the trust.

To this end, don’t let the complicated nature of a trustee’s role scare you off. Indeed, there are numerous professionals and entities that specialize in trust administration, and people with no experience with these tasks successfully handle the role all of the time. And besides, depending on who nominated you, declining to serve may not be a realistic or practical option.

Adhere to the trust’s terms
Every trust is unique, and a trustee’s obligations and powers depend largely on what the trust creator, or grantor, allows for, so you should first carefully review the trust’s terms. The trust document outlines all the specific duties you’ll be required to fulfill as well as the appropriate timelines and discretion you’ll have for fulfilling these tasks.

Depending on the size of the estate and the types of assets held by the trust, your responsibilities as trustee can vary greatly. Some trusts are relatively straightforward, with few assets and beneficiaries, so the entire job can be completed within a few weeks or months. Others, especially those containing numerous assets and minor-aged beneficiaries, can take decades to completely fulfill. To ensure you understand exactly what a particular trust’s terms require of you as trustee, consult with me as a qualified estate planning attorney.

Act in the best interests of the beneficiaries
Trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the named beneficiaries at all times, and they must not use the position for personal gain. Moreover, they cannot commingle their own funds and assets with those of the trust, nor may they profit from the position beyond the fees set aside to pay for the trusteeship.

If the trust involves multiple beneficiaries, the trustee must balance any competing interests between the various beneficiaries in an impartial and objective manner for the benefit of them all. In some cases, grantors try to prevent conflicts between beneficiaries by including very specific instructions about how and when assets should be distributed, and if so, you must follow these directions exactly as spelled out.

However, some trusts leave asset distribution decisions up to the trustee’s discretion. If so, when deciding how to make distributions, the trustee must carefully evaluate each beneficiary’s current needs, future needs, other sources of income, as well as the potential impact the distribution might have on the other beneficiaries. Such duties should be taken very seriously, as beneficiaries can take legal action against trustees if they can prove he or she violated their fiduciary duties and/or mismanaged the trust.

Invest trust assets prudently
Many trusts contain interest-bearing securities and other investment vehicles. If so, the trustee is responsible not only for protecting and managing these assets, they’re also obligated to make them productive—which typically means selling and/or investing assets to generate income.

In doing so, the trustee must exercise reasonable care, skill, and caution when investing trust assets, otherwise known as the “prudent investor” rule. The trustee should always consider the specific purposes, terms, distribution requirements, and other aspects of the trust when meeting this standard.

Trustees must invest prudently and diversify investments appropriately to ensure they’re in the best interests of all beneficiaries. Given this, trustees are forbidden from investing trust assets in overly speculative or high-risk stocks and/or other investment vehicles. Unless specifically spelled out in the trust terms, it will be up to the trustee’s discretion to determine the investment strategies that are best suited for the trust’s goals and beneficiaries. If so, you should hire a financial advisor familiar with trusts to help guide you.

Given the unpredictable nature of the economy, it’s important to point out that poor performance of trust investments alone isn’t enough to prove a trustee breached his or her duties to invest prudently. Provided the trustee can show the underlying investment strategies were sound and reasonable, the mere fact that the investments lost money doesn’t make them legally liable.

Next week, I’ll continue with part two in this series explaining the scope of powers and duties that come with serving as trustee. 

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Estate Planning and Business Attorney. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Sign up for the Cheever Law Newsletter