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Do You Have a Business Succession Plan In Place?

Do You Have a Business Succession Plan In Place?

As a business owner, you’ve taken on a big responsibility to your family, your clients/customers, your team and your partners. Most businesses are not sufficiently liquid to keep the company going and the owner’s family thriving, in the event of death. But with the right plan in place, you can ensure the people you care most about are well provided for if anything happens to you.

While facing death is not the most pleasant prospect, doing so can actually make your life and business a whole lot better. A life and death plan – also called a succession plan – for your business will ensure you have:

  • Enough insurance (and the right kind of insurance) to provide cash to keep your business going in the event of your death;
  • A written plan to designate who will run your business (or prepare it for sale), when you are no longer able to do so;
  • Documented access to your digital business assets so your business can continue to serve customers, collect payments and pay expenses;
  • A plan to keep your business (and your family) out of probate court, which is totally unnecessary and avoidable;
  • An updated inventory of your business and personal assets so nothing you own is lost to the State Department of Unclaimed Property and so your intellectual property is well-protected and capitalized upon;
  • The story of your business, written, video or audio recorded, so you can leave a documented legacy of the lessons and experienced you learned along the way.

With a succession plan in place for your business, you can rest easy knowing that if anything happens to you, the people you care about most — your family, clients and customers, your team and partners — will be well cared for, in just the way you want. The peace of mind which comes with that knowledge frees you up to focus on creating more income and a bigger impact now.

Creating and documenting a business succession plan is truly a win-win-win situation. If you are ready to set up yourself, and your business, and the most important people in your life to win, no matter what, we can help you accomplish just that. I’ll ensure you get from where you are now – no matter what stage your planning is in currently – to exactly where you want to be. That’s my commitment to you.

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 structure your operations for success. One of our primary services is a LIFT Start-Up Session,™ in which we guide you through the right choice of business entity, location of business entity, start up agreements, intellectual property protection, employment structuring, insurance, financial and tax systems you need to start your next business and succeed right out of the gate. This session is normally $5,000, but if you are one of the first three people to schedule, I’ll take you through the entire LIFT Start-Up™ process for half that investment. Call me today to schedule a time to have a conversation!

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How Does My Annuity Fit Into My Estate Plan?

How Does My Annuity Fit Into My Estate Plan?

Selecting the right type of annuity for yourself is no small feat. Of course, you’ve put in the research and planned with your financial advisors. But, you might still be wondering what happens to those annuity payments upon your death.

In addition to their benefits as a financial tool for your goals, annuities can have a positive impact on your beneficiaries after you’re gone — but only if you take smart estate planning steps to make sure your wealth ends up in the right hands.

Types of annuities

Your annuity type affects how things pan out after your death. In some cases, annuities end with the death of the annuitant. In other cases, the annuity payments continue to be distributed to a named beneficiary. If you haven’t already named your beneficiaries, it’s crucial that you don’t wait any longer. Make sure to work with me when naming your beneficiaries because you’ll want them to be coordinated with your will or trust.

  • Immediate vs deferred: You may have chosen an immediate annuity, which begins paying out as soon as your initial investment is made. This is a common choice for those nearing retirement or those looking to secure long-term income after a windfall like an inheritance or the sale of a business. However, many people opt for a deferred annuity and don’t begin receiving payments for some time. Deferred simply means that it begins paying out at some point after the initial investment.
  • Fixed-period or lifetime: A fixed-period annuity only lasts for a predetermined amount of time (such as 20 years). A lifetime annuity pays out during the annuitant’s life, and these are commonly purchased for the lives of both spouses.
  • Fixed-sum or variable: Within both immediate and deferred annuities, you’ve likely selected either a fixed-sum payment schedule or fluctuating payments depending on the performance of your investments in the market.

Why you need to name your beneficiaries explicitly

It’s easy to think that including your loved ones in your will or trust is enough to cover your annuities as well. But if you want your children, spouse, or other individuals to receive your annuities when you’re gone, you need to fill out paperwork from your financial advisor that names those people as beneficiaries. Otherwise, your annuity sums could end up going to people you don’t want to leave your legacy to.

Annuity death benefits

There are a few different ways you can build death benefits into your annuity plan so that your wealth is passed on to your beneficiaries once you’re gone.

  • Standard death benefit: The value of the annuity at the time of your death is passed to your beneficiary.
  • Return of premium death benefit: Either the current value or the amount of the initial premium (whichever is greater) is distributed to your beneficiary.
  • Stepped-up death benefit: The highest anniversary value is distributed to your beneficiary.

In each of these cases, your beneficiary can decide if they’d like to receive this payment as a lump sum or over a period of time. With so many options, it’s a good idea to discuss an annuity with me, an estate planning attorney, before you sign up for one. Your financial advisor works with you to make sure the annuity fits your financial goals and I can work with you to make sure it works with your estate planning goals. If you already have an annuity, it’s important to make sure it’s taken into account with the rest of your estate plan.

Annuity taxation

It’s rarely uplifting to consider how much of your annuity value will be lost to taxation before being handed over to your beneficiary, but taxes are a fact of life (and estate planning). Your annuity will either be taxed as part of your estate (as an estate tax if you have a large enough estate) or as a disbursement to your beneficiary upon your death (as an income tax). However, in most cases, your spouse can continue to receive annuity benefits or inherit your annuity with little to no tax burdens.

How your estate planning attorney can help

As with many estate planning and financial issues, choices you make about your annuity can make a big difference for your loved ones. You want to make sure you’re setting your beneficiaries up with the right kind of death benefits with as little loss to taxation as possible. Give me a call today so we can review your current annuities and explore ways to get more out of them for you and your family in the long run.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Family Business 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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New Baby? Time to Create Your Estate Plan

New Baby? Time to Create Your Estate Plan

Estate planning is often one item that gets pushed back on nearly everyone’s to-do list. The reasons you might be delaying vary: lack of time, not thinking you have enough assets, not knowing how to start, or fear of contemplating death. Whatever the reason for not putting an estate plan together, it is important to understand that if you just had a baby or have minor children – now is the time to meet with me to implement an estate plan.

In general terms, an estate plan is a set of legal documents that outline your wishes on how your assets should be distributed and who is responsible for your dependents, in the event of your death or legal incapacity. An estate plan should be developed with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that it will work as intended and fully protect your family. Here’s how an estate plan can you protect the newest addition to your family.

Protect Your Children

Perhaps to top reason to put together an estate plan is to dictate who will care for your children in the event you and your spouse die early or become legally incapacitated and therefore unable to care for your kids. Your estate plan can designate someone you trust and who shares your values as a guardian of your minor children.  This is the person who will essentially be a surrogate parent and raise the children through adulthood. When selecting a guardian, it is important to choose people who will be willing participants in your estate plan, who share your values and parenting philosophy, and who you trust to raise your children.

Distribute Your Things

While some assets have purely financial value, others have deep emotional attachments. Not only will a properly funded trust-based estate will eliminate probate, it will promote family harmony and save time and money. As you may already know, probate is the court-supervised process of wrapping up a deceased person’s affairs. This consists of multiple steps, including presenting a deceased’s last will and testament (if they had one – otherwise the probate court uses the government’s default plan known as intestacy), gathering assets, paying off debts, and distributing what’s left over to the deceased’s heirs.  Essentially, a probate proceeding is a lawsuit against the estate for the benefit of the creditors.  Using a trust to provide specific instructions on distribution of assets can help ward off fights among surviving relatives and will keep your affairs private.  Additionally, special features in your trust, sometimes called lifetime trusts, also allow you provide long-term financial stability and support for your children. These lifetime trusts can prevent a financially immature young child from using up their inheritance.

Provide for Your Loved Ones

Beyond your children, creating an estate plan will inform your loved ones what final health care decisions should be made on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions. Serving as healthcare proxy is an enormous responsibility for the person you name, but you can help lessen the burden by communicating your wishes about medical decisions. One significant advantage of properly planning is that your intentions can be clearly stated so that your surviving family members do not have to guess what your desires are.

Complete your Estate Planning

If you have experienced a recent life-event – such as a new baby, a work promotion, purchasing a home, moving to a new state, or any other milestone – you should discuss your situation with me, your Family Business Lawyer. If you already have a will or trust in place, it may make sense to update it to ensure it provides for your family and loved ones and ensure that your Trust is properly and fully funded, which is the legal term for transferring assets into you Trust.  To learn how estate planning can protect you, your newborn, and the rest of your family, contact me today.

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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The Perils of Joint Property

The Perils of Joint Property

People often set up bank accounts or real estate so that they own it jointly with a spouse or other family member. The appeal of joint tenancy is that when one owner dies, the other will automatically inherit the property without it having to go through probate. Joint property is all perceived to be easy to setup since it can be done at the bank when opening an account or title company when buying real estate.

That’s all well and good, but joint ownership can also cause unintended consequences and complications. And it’s worth considering some of these, before deciding that joint ownership is the best way to pass on assets to your heirs.

So let’s explore some of the common problems that can arise.

The other owner’s debts become your problem.

Any debt or obligation incurred by the other owner could affect you. If the joint owner files bankruptcy, has a tax lien, or has a judgment against them, it could cause you to end up with a new co-owner – your old co-owner’s creditors! For example, if you add your adult child to the deed on your home, and he has debt you don’t know about, your property could be seized to collect that debt. Although “your” equity of the property won’t necessarily be taken, that’s little relief when the house you live in is put up on the auction block!

Your property could end up belonging to someone you don’t intend.

Some of the most difficult situations come from blended families. If you own your property jointly with your spouse and you die, your spouse gets the property. On the surface, that may seem like what you intended, but what if your surviving spouse remarries? Your home could become shared between your spouse and her second spouse. And this gets especially complicated if there are children involved: Your property could conceivably go to children of the second marriage, rather than to your own.

You could accidentally disinherit family members.

If you designate someone as a joint owner and you die, you can’t control what she does with your property after your death. Perhaps you and an adult child co-owned a business. You may state in your will that the business should be equally shared with your spouse or divided between all of your kids; however, ownership goes to the survivor – regardless of what you put in your will.

You could have difficulty selling or refinancing your home.

All joint owners must sign off on a property sale. Depending on whether the other joint owners agree, you could end up at a standstill from the sales perspective. That is unless you’re willing to take the joint owner to court to force a sale of the property. (No one wants to sue their family members, not to mention the cost of the lawsuit.)

And what if your co-owner somehow becomes incapacitated, through accident or illness? In that case, you may have to petition a court to appoint a guardian or conservator to represent the co-owner’s interest in the sale. While you and your co-owner always worked together, an appointed guardian may see his responsibility as protecting the other owner’s interest–which might mean going against you.

You might trigger unnecessary capital gains taxes.

When you sell a home for more than you paid for it, you usually pay capital gains taxes–based on the increase in value. Therefore, if you make an adult child a co-owner of your property, and you sell the property, you’re both responsible for the taxes. Your adult child may not be able to afford a tax bill based on decades of appreciation.

On the other hand, heirs only pay capital gains taxes based on the increase in value from when they inherited the asset, not from the day you first acquired it. So often, while people worry about estate taxes, in this case–inheriting a property (rather than jointly owning it) could save your heirs a fortune in income tax. And with today’s generous $5.49 million estate tax exemption, most of us don’t have to worry about the estate tax (but the income tax and capital gains tax hits almost everyone).

You could cause your unmarried partner to have to pay a gift tax.

If you buy property and place it in joint tenancy with an unmarried partner, the IRS will consider that to be a taxable gift to your partner. This can create needless paperwork and taxes.

So what can you do? These decisions are too important and complex to be left to chance.  Contact me, a Family Business Lawyer like myself who specializes in estate planning.  I will help you decide the best way to manage your property to meet your needs and goals.

I can assist you in planning to reduce estate taxes, avoid potential legal pitfalls, and set up a trust to protect your loved ones. I understand not only the legal issues but the complex layers of relationships involved in estate planning. I’ll listen to your concerns and help you develop a plan that gives you peace of mind while achieving all of your goals you have for your family. Contact me and mention this blog article and I can share with you how to obtain a Life & Legacy Planning Session valued at $750 free of charge.

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How Your Trust Can Help a Loved One Who Struggles with Addiction

How Your Trust Can Help a Loved One Who Struggles with Addiction

Substance addiction is by no means rare, impacting as many as one in seven Americans. Since it is so prevalent, navigating a loved one’s addiction is actually a relatively common topic in everyday life.  Therefore, you should also consider it when working on your estate planning. Whether the addiction is alcoholism, drug abuse, or irresponsible spending, such as shopping or gambling, we all want our loved ones to be safe and experience a successful recovery. A properly created estate plan can help.

The idea that money from a trust could end up fueling those addictive behaviors can be a particularly troubling one. Luckily, it’s possible to frame your estate planning efforts in such a way that you’ll ensure your wealth has only a positive impact on your loved one during their difficult moments.

Funding for treatment

One of the ways your trust can have a positive influence on your loved one’s life is by helping fund their addiction treatment. If a loved one is already struggling with addiction issues, you can explicitly designate your trust funds for use in his or her voluntary recovery efforts. In extreme cases where an intervention of some sort is required to keep the family member safe, you can provide your trustee with guidance to help other family members with the beneficiary’s best interest by encouraging involuntary treatment until the problem is stabilized and the loved one begins recovery.

Incentive trusts

Incentive features can be included in your estate planning to help improve the behavior of the person in question. For example, the loved one who has an addiction can be required to maintain steady employment or voluntarily seek treatment in order to obtain additional benefits of the trust (such as money for a vacation or new car). Although this might seem controlling, this type of incentive structure can also help with treatment and recovery by giving a loved one something to work towards. This approach is probably best paired with funding for treatment (discussed above), so there are resources to help with treatment and then benefits that can help to motivate a beneficiary.

Lifetime discretionary trusts

Giving your heirs their inheritance as a lump sum could end up enabling addiction or make successful treatment more difficult. Luckily, there’s a better way. Lifetime discretionary trusts provide structure for an heir’s inheritance. If someone in your life is (or might eventually) struggle with addiction, you can rest easy when you know the inheritance you leave can’t be accessed early or make harmful addiction problem worse.

Of course, you want to balance this lifetime protection of the money with the ability of your loved one to actually obtain money out of the trust. That’s where the critical consideration of who to appoint as a trustee comes in. Your trustee will have discretion to give money directly to your beneficiary or pay on your loved one’s behalf (such as a payment directly to an inpatient treatment center or payment of an insurance premium). When dealing with addiction, your trustee will need to have a firm grasp of what appropriate usage of the trust’s funds looks like. Appointing a trustee is always an important task, but it’s made even more significant when that person will be responsible for keeping potentially harmful sums of money out of the addicted person’s hands.

Navigating a loved one’s addiction is more than enough stress already without having to worry about further enablement through assets contained in your trust. Let us take some of the burden off your shoulders by helping you build an estate plan that positively impacts your loved one and doesn’t contribute to the problem at hand. That way, you can go back to focusing your efforts on the solution.  Should you have any questions about estate planning or how I can help you, please feel free to contact me.

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3 Ways Your Trust Can Help a Loved One With Mental Illness

3 Ways Your Trust Can Help a Loved One With Mental Illness

When a loved one suffers from a mental illness, one small comfort can be knowing that your trust can take care of them through the good and bad times. There are some ways this can happen, ranging from the funding of various types of treatment to providing structure and support during his or her times of greatest need.

Let’s explore a few ways you can help take care of a loved one struggling with mental illness with an estate plan:

  1. It can contribute to voluntary treatment

Trusts can be disbursed in many ways. If your loved one is involved in an inpatient care facility or an ongoing outpatient program, you can structure your trust so that its disbursements cover the costs of that treatment as time goes on. This also helps your loved one because it relieves them of the responsibility of managing large sums of money on their own. They can rest easier knowing that their care is covered without having to set up a complicated payment plan on their own.

In some cases, the person suffering from mental illness doesn’t have the capacity to enroll themselves in the right type of care. If an intervention of care is needed, your trust can also help encourage involuntary treatment that ultimately serves your loved one’s best interests in the long run.

  1. Trustees can help watch over them

Selecting a trustee isn’t always easy. That’s one of many decision-making areas where I’m more than happy to step in and walk you through the process. When you have a loved one battling mental illness, your choice of a trustee is very important.

I’ll help you deduce the perfect person to not only manage the wealth contained within the trust but also keep a compassionate watchful eye on your loved one benefitting from the trust. An astute trustee can look for early warning signs surrounding your loved one’s mental health issue and make sure to get them connected to the care and services they need in no time.

  1. Lifetime trusts provide structure and support

Most people don’t think of large inheritances as a burden. But this can be the case when an individual is dealing with depression, anxiety, hoarding, or diseases like schizophrenia. Lifetime trusts are an excellent way to take care of your loved one without saddling them with a challenge on top of what they are already experiencing.

A discretionary lifetime trust can be drafted in such a way that its funds can only be used to go toward certain goods and services — such as outpatient mental health care, housing, or other “necessaries” of life. Likewise, it can also prohibit spending in areas that would cause more harm than good — gambling or compulsive shopping, for example. The discretionary nature of these types of trusts makes it so your loved one doesn’t have to worry about their own potential missteps when it comes to using the wealth contained within the trust.

Do you have a family member or other loved one who could use the financial flexibility and structural support of a trust? Give me a call today, and together we’ll figure out the best ways to enhance your loved one’s life by finding the right estate planning tools to offer the most help.

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Do You Really Need a Trust?

Do You Really Need a Trust?

Although many people equate “estate planning” with having a will, there are many advantages to having a trust rather than a will as the centerpiece of your estate plan. While there are other estate planning tools (such as joint tenancy, transfer on death, beneficiary designations, to name a few), only a trust provides comprehensive management of your property in the event you can’t make financial decisions for yourself (commonly called legal incapacity) or after your death.  Do you really need a trust?

One of the primary advantages of having a trust is that it provides the ability to bypass the publicity, time, and expense of probate. Probate is the legal process by which a court decides the rightful heirs and distribution of assets of a deceased through the administration of the estate. This process can easily cost thousands of dollars and take more than a year to resolve. Or course, not all assets are subject to probate. Some exemptions include jointly owned assets with rights of survivorship as well as assets with designated beneficiaries (such as life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts) and payable upon death or transfer on death accounts. But joint tenancy and designating beneficiaries don’t provide the ability for someone you trust to manage your property if you’re unable to do so, so they are an incomplete solution. And having a will does not avoid probate.

Of note, if your probate estate is small enough – or it is going to a surviving spouse or domestic partner – you may qualify for a simplified probate process in your state, although this is highly dependent on the state where you live and own property. In general, if your assets are worth $150,000 or more, you will likely not qualify for simplified probate and should strongly consider creating a trust. Considering the cost of probate should also be a factor in your estate planning as creating a trust can save you both time and money in the long run. Moreover, if you own property in another state or country, the probate process will be even more complicated because your family may face multiple probate cases after your death, one in each state where you owned property – even if you have a will. Beyond the cost and time of probate, this court proceeding that includes your financial life and last wishes is public record. A trust, on the other hand, creates privacy for your personal matters as your heirs would not be made aware of the distribution of your assets knowledge of which may cause conflicts or even legal challenges.

Another common reason to create a trust is to provide ongoing financial support for a child or another loved one who may not ever be able to manage these assets on their own. Through a trust, you can designate someone to manage the assets and distribute them to your heirs under the terms you provide. Giving an inheritance to an heir directly and all at once may have unanticipated ancillary effects, such as disqualifying them from receiving some form of government benefits, enabling and funding an addiction, or encouraging irresponsible behavior that you don’t find desirable. A trust can also come with conditions that must be met for the person to receive the benefit of the gift. Furthermore, if you ever become incapacitated your successor trustee – the person you name in the document to take over after you pass away – can step in and manage the trust’s assets, helping you avoid a guardianship or conservatorship (sometimes called “living” probate). This protection can be essential in an emergency or in the event you succumb to a serious, chronic illness. Unlike a will, a trust can protect against court interference or control while you are alive and after your death.

Trusts are not simply just about avoiding probate. Creating a trust can give you privacy, provide ongoing financial support for loved ones, and protect you and your property if you are unable to manage your own assets. Simply put, the creation of a trust puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your assets and your wishes as opposed to leaving this critical life decision to others, such as a judge. To learn more about trusts – and estate planning in general, including which type of plan best fits your needs – contact me today.

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