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Small Business Owner? Know What Can Happen to Your Business If You Become Incapacitated or Pass Away

Small Business Owner? Know What Can Happen to Your Business If You Become Incapacitated or Pass Away

Preparing your company for your incapacity or death is vital to the survival of the enterprise. Otherwise, your business will be disrupted, harming your customers, employees, vendors, and ultimately, your family. For this reason, proactive financial planning — including your business and your estate plan — is key. Below are some tips on how to protect your company and keep the business on track and operating day-to-day in your absence.

Preparing for the Unexpected

If you are a small business owner, your focus is likely on keeping the company running on a daily basis. While this is important, looking beyond today to what will happen if you can’t run your business should be on the top of your to-do list. If you die or become incapacitated without a plan in place, you will leave your heirs without clear instructions on how to run your company. This can jeopardize the business you worked so hard to build. The right plan along with adequate insurance can help keep your business running regardless of what happens.

Execute the Proper Business Documents

If your company has several owners, a buy-sell agreement is a must. This contract will outline the agreed upon plan for the business should an owner become incapacitated or die. Provisions in the buy-sell agreement will include:

  • how the sale price for the business and an owner’s interest are determined,
  • whether the remaining owners will have the option to buy the incapacitated or deceased member’s interest, and
  • whether certain individuals can be blocked from participating in the business.

Execute the Proper Estate Planning Documents

A properly executed will or trust will allow you to state how you would like your assets to be transferred — and who will receive these assets — at your death. A will or a trust also lets you identify who will take charge of the assets and manage their disbursement (including your business accounts) according to your wishes.

Although a will can be used to pass assets at death, creating and properly funding a trust allows any assets owned by the trust to bypass the probate process making distribution of assets to heirs much faster, private, and may reduce the legal fees and estate taxes your heirs will owe.

Additionally, a trust can help your loved ones manage your trust assets if you become incapacitated. While you are alive and well, you typically act as the trustee of the trust, so you can manage your business and assets with little change from the way you do now. But unlike a will, a trust allows your successor trustee to step in manage things if you become incapacitated. This process avoids court involvement, allows for a smooth transition of trust management (which can be very important if your business is an asset of your trust), and proper continuing care for you in your time of need. Although having a will can be a great way to start, most business owners are much better off with a trust-based estate plan.

Purchase Additional Insurance

Whether you own the business by yourself or are a co-owner, it is important to have separate term life insurance and a disability policy that names your spouse and children as beneficiaries. The money from these policies will help avoid financial hardship while the buyout procedures of buy-sell agreement are being carried out.

Contact a Family Business Lawyer®

Having a plan for your business in the event you are unable to continue managing the company is essential to keep the company going. A Family Business Lawyer like myself can explain the many options you have to protect your enterprise so that you can focus on what you do best — running your company. Give me a call today to get started protecting your business.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Family Business Lawyer®. I offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. I also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call me today to schedule.

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What do successor trustees and executors do?

What do successor trustees and executors do?

Executor’s Duties

An executor, sometimes called a personal representative, is the person who is named in a will, appointed by the court, and responsible for probating the will and settling the estate. Depending on the state, an executor may work under court supervision or may use so-called “independent” administration for an unsupervised probate.

Typically, a petition of probate must be filed with the court for an executor to be appointed. If the person agrees to be the executor, and no one objects, the court will issue letters of testamentary. These letters authorize the executor to gather the estate’s assets, sell assets, pay creditors, and open an estate bank account. An executor is ultimately responsible for distributing the estate assets to the heirs in accordance with the terms of the will. If there is no will, then your executor will distribute assets in accordance with state law. Distribution of estate assets, in either case, happens only after debts, taxes, and administration expenses are paid.

Trustee’s and Successor Trustee’s Duties

A trustee, on the other hand, is an individual or trust company named in a trust document and is in charge of the assets that are held in a trust. Assets held in a living trust avoid probate, which means that court supervision is typically not required. In most revocable living trusts, you act as the trustee. While alive and well, you can make changes including moving assets to and from the trust, changing its beneficiaries, or even revoking the trust entirely if you choose it is no longer necessary. If you are no longer able to manage your affairs, because of cognitive impairment or another injury, your incapacity trustee will step in and handle the trust for you. Upon your death, the successor trustee will distribute the assets held in the trust to your named beneficiaries and subsequently close down the trust, similar to an executor, without the burden of probate.

Other Thoughts

You have the option of having more than one trustee or executor. It is better to name a sequence of trustees or executors rather than joint ones. The executor and successor trustee can be the different people, but do not have to be. Designating the same person as the executor of your estate and your successor trustee will minimize expenses but naming different ones will not allow one single person to have unilateral control. There are advantages and disadvantages to each setup. Contact me today so I can help you select your executor and trustee.

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After Tax Reform, Is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

After Tax Reform, Is Estate Planning Still Necessary?

The new tax legislation raises the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for couples. The increase means that an exceedingly small number of estates (only about 1,800, nationally) will have to worry about federal estate taxes in 2018, according to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

So, you may be wondering, is estate planning even still necessary?

To put it simply: Yes!

Comprehensive estate planning does a lot more than guard against you owing federal estate taxes. Other than taxes, you and your family likely face a range of estate planning challenges, such as:

  • Distribution of your assets. Create your legacy with the help of tools like a trust and/or a last will and testament.
    • If you die without a will, state intestacy laws determine where your stuff goes. You lose control, and the people closest to you may feel hurt or may suffer financially.
    • If your estate plans do not include asset protection strategies, your lifetime of hard work and savings could be squandered needlessly.
    • Without an estate plan, your family may not be aware of all of the assets that you own.  Your hard earned money may end up with the California Department of Unclaimed Property, which is estimated to reach over $9 Billion in unclaimed property by mid-2018.
  • Cognitive impairment. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders could make handling your own affairs impossible or at least ill-advised. Executing a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), for instance, allows you to choose a person, referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to step in and manage your financial affairs on your behalf. Without this important document, your fate will be left to the public whims of the court in a proceeding called a Conservatorship (aka Living Probate).  If a family member hasn’t stepped in to Petition for Conservatorship, the court could appoint someone else—for instance, a public conservator.
  • Medical emergencies. What if you become unable to communicate your preferences regarding medical care yourself? Naming someone as your health care power of attorney under a medical Power of Attorney allows him or her to act as your voice for medical decisions. In addition, a Living Will and Advance Health Care Directives allows you to specify the types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want to receive.
  • Specific family situations. Life is unpredictable. You need to consider (and proactively deal with) challenges like the following:
    • If you have minor children, you can name a guardian for them and provide for their care through your estate plan. Without a named guardian, the decision of who raises your children will be left to a Judge.  The Judge will not know your family dynamics and who would be best to raise your children in the manner in which you intended.  Even worse, your children may even end up with the Department of Child Protective Services while the courts sort your affairs out.
    • If you care for a dependent with a debilitating condition, provide for her and protect her government benefits using tools like the Special Needs Trust (SNT).
    • If you’re married with children from a previous relationship, you need clear, properly prepared documents to ensure that your current spouse and children inherit according to your wishes.
  • Probate is the court-supervised process of the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. A veritable avalanche of paperwork, expense and stress awaits your loved ones during probate. But it doesn’t have to happen to your family! Through proper planning, you can keep all of your assets outside of probate to be distributed according to your wishes in a private Trust administration.

Estate Planning Involves Much More Than Minimizing Estate Taxes

Even prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, relatively few Americans needed to worry about the estate tax. However, virtually everyone faces one or more of the issues outlined above. Shockingly, a 2016 Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans do not even have a simple will. A 2017 poll conducted by Caring.com found similarly alarming news—a majority of U.S. adults (especially Gen-Xers and Millennials) do not have their estate plans in order.

We can help you get prepared for the future.  Please contact me to begin your plan and get the peace of mind you need.

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.

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Are Payable-On-Death Accounts Right For You?

Are Payable-On-Death Accounts Right For You?

A payable-on-death account, also called a POD account, is a common way to keep bank and investment accounts out of probate, the court-supervised process that oversees distributing a deceased person’s property. Most people want to avoid their estate going through probate because their heirs will receive the inheritance faster, privately, and at lower cost.

Is a POD account an appropriate solution for your needs? Let’s examine what POD accounts do and how they fit into the overall picture.

POD Accounts: The Nuts and Bolts

A POD designation can be set up for savings, checking, certificates of deposit, U.S. savings bonds, and investment accounts. Upon the death of the account holder, the funds in the account pass directly to the named beneficiary.

Setting up a POD account is usually very easy. Typically, there’s a form you have to complete and sign to select your beneficiary or beneficiaries. Additionally, you can change beneficiaries whenever you like or name several beneficiaries (allowing them to split the money).

After the death of the POD account holder, the beneficiary can claim the money in a fairly simple process. Often, the beneficiary will need to show ID, provide a copy of the death certificate, and complete some forms provided by the financial institution.

Some Pros and Cons

So, POD sounds great because they are easy. But, there can be significant problems using this as the primary tool for passing along what you’ve worked to build.

What if a beneficiary predeceases you? If you do not name new ones before you die, then your estate is back to probate, thus negating the primary advantage of establishing the POD account in the first place!

What if the beneficiary is in the middle of a bankruptcy, divorce, or lawsuit? Because a POD account transfers the money to the beneficiary without any protection, your beneficiary may lose his or her entire inheritance simply because the death of the POD account owner occurred at the “wrong” time.

What if you are in a car crash and rendered legally incapacitated and unable to make decisions? The named beneficiary cannot access funds to provide for your needs. POD accounts only function at death. They provide no protection in the event of your incapacitation.

Trusts: A Comprehensive Solution

Here’s a comprehensive solution: establish a revocable living trust to hold your accounts. Just like a POD account, a funded trust avoids probate and is private. But, unlike a POD account, it can incorporate alternate beneficiaries, so your assets avoid court even if someone predeceases you. You can also provide long-term asset protection for your beneficiaries, protecting them against lawsuits, judgments, divorce, and bankruptcy courts. If you become incapacitated due to an accident or illness, the successor trustee can use the assets in your trust to pay for your care. Trusts provide all the benefits and peace of mind of a POD account without any of the downsides.

Remember: Estate Planning Tools are Context Dependent

Rather than pick tools out of a hat, you first need clarity on the big picture. What are your goals and priorities? What challenges do you face now—or do you anticipate confronting? Whom do you want to protect? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

I can organize your thinking and help you select appropriate planning tools from the arsenal. Want to discuss POD accounts, living trusts, or just your future in general? Please call or email me to set up a private appointment.

This blog 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.

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