Saturday, June 26, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

I like to define estate planning as giving what you want, to whom you want, the way you want, how you want, and at the lowest possible cost. That definition has always made a lot of sense to me. But, that definition is really focused on estate planning as a process. What makes even more sense is to think of how one's estate plan can add value to others. The joy of giving is difficult for many to grasp. But, when one gives something of value that reflects a donor's hopes, dreams and goals there is demonstrable benefit to the donor. It is, I believe, an universal law of nature. When you gives some thing away of value, there is a benefit that comes back to the donor. It may not be economic; but, there is joy in helping others to achieve a goal. That joy is brought about by leaving a legacy. A legacy is a benefit that survives the donor. It comes from the realization that we enter this world with nothing and when we die, we can't take it with us. So what does one do with the accumulation of wealth? This has nothing to do with the quantity of wealth; but, everything to do with the quality of one's estate plan.

If someone fails to do any planning at all, the State determines who will benefit. This is called the law of Intestate Succession. For example, in Missouri if someone dies while they are married with children, the spouse will receive the first $20,000 of assets. The balance is then divided between the spouse and the children. If a single person dies without descendants, the estate passes in equal shares between the mother, father, brothers and sisters. Many times when people discover this, they will say, "That is not what I want!" This is why it is important for every person, regardless of the size of one's estate, to create an estate plan long before the need arises.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Wyoming Single Member Limited Liability Company

I remember back in 1977 when the State of Wyoming passed the first Limited Liability Company Act. Many thought that a hybrid company that could be treated as a partnership or proprietorship for tax purposes and yet have limited liability like a corporation would never work. Fast forward to today and all fifty states now have Limited Liability Company statutes and the Limited Liability Company ("LLC") has become the entity of choice for all of new business organizations.

Well, the state of Wyoming is at it again. Beginning July 1, 2010 , an individual can set up a single person LLC in Wyoming and have creditor protection in a way that is not available in Missouri or in very few states. The new provision of the Wyoming statute regarding creditor's rights (W.S 17-15-503) now creates an "exclusive remedy" for creditors of an LLC. A creditor is limited to what is known as a "charging order". The charging order "is the exclusive remedy by which a person seeking to enforce a judgment against a judgment debtor, including any judgment debtor who may be the sole member, disassociated member or transferee, may, in the capacity of the judgment creditor, satisfy the judgment from the judgment debtor's transferable interest or from the assets of the limited liability." This means the individual member of the LLC (think "owner") cannot be sued for the liabilities of the LLC. The Wyoming statute even goes on to say that there are "no other rights, legal or equitable, other than the charging order". Thus, there is no judicial foreclosure available to a creditor of a member's LLC ownership interest.

Anyone who is interested in creating an extra layer of security in a business enterprise might consider setting up a single member Wyoming LLC and then registering the Wyoming LLC as a foreign business in the state in which the member resides or does business. We can partner with attorneys who are licensed in Wyoming to assist clients with this new tool of asset protection planning.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Estate Planning

As of June 8, 2010 Congress has still failed to act to advise us as to what the exact tax implications will actually be for people who die in 2010. With the repeal of the Estate Tax and Generation Skipping Transfer ("GST") tax in 2010, anyone who contemplates that they could meet their demise in 2010 would be well advised to seek legal counsel immediately to update one's estate planning documents. In particular, anyone who utilizes a "formula clause" in one's will or trust to create sub-trusts after the first spouse's death for the benefit of a surviving spouse and/or family members (i.e. a "Marital Trust" and a "Family Trust") would be well advised to update his or her documents.

For larger estates the gift tax rate this year is at an all time low of 35%. Next year, the rates revert to 55%. Should one consider making taxable gifts this year to pick up a 20% savings for the benefit of one's heirs? Anyone who has to write a check to the "U.S. Treasury" next year for 55% rates would have thought that this would have been a wonderful idea!

Clients who face end of life issues may wish to update their Health Care Powers of Attorney and Living Wills in light of the year end tax issues for 2010. The time to make these decisions is well in advance of the events that cause the need for them.

Our best guess at this time is that we are not going to see any tax legislation before the November elections. Given the current circumstances of gridlock in Washington D.C. at this time, the thought of comprehensive tax legislation getting done before year end is looking more and more unlikely. We very well may be facing a situation starting on January 1, 2011 where every unmarried citizen who dies in 2011 will be paying 55% estate taxes on one's estate in excess of $1M dollars.