OK I don’t believe there was ever an actual estate planning episode on The Andy Griffith Show, but the show is one of my all time favorites.  With the recent loss of Andy Griffith I could not pass up the chance to offer a little tribute.  Though I would love to simply recount my favorite episodes or scenes from the show, I guess I need to offer some useful info as well.  So I will use some great episodes from the show to illustrate the importance of keeping your estate planning documents up to date.

Even if you have a great set of estate planning documents in place, circumstances in your life will change and tax laws will change.  Your estate plan only works if it is relevant to your circumstances and the applicable laws at the time of your death.  This means that keeping your estate plan current is an important part of your overall financial plan and life plan.   Be sure to review your estate plan every three or four years to ensure that it continues to address your goals and is current with changes in the law.  When in doubt call your attorney and ask if any update is needed.

What are some Mayberry examples of changes that may warrant an update of estate planning documents?

Marriage – See Episode 94 “Mountain Wedding”…Barney in the wedding dress and the first sighting of Ernest T. Bass.

Birth of First Child – See Episode 29 “Quiet Sam”…Andy plays midwife for a farmer.

Divorce – See Episode 120 “Divorce Mountain Style”….The Darlings are back and Bob Denver pops up on this one.

Death of a Spouse – See Episode 8 “Opie’s Charity”…a subplot here involves a husband who returns from the grave after his wife made up a story that he died.

Changes in Wealth – See Episode 36 “Mayberry Goes Bankrupt” … local citizen becomes rich overnight after finding a very old savings bond which was never cashed.

Relocating to Another State – See Episode 12 “Stranger in Town”….new out-of-state resident has adopted Mayberry as his hometown…this is a classic early episode.

Spendthrift Child or Grandchild —  See Episode 47 “Bailey’s Bad Boy”…spoiled rich kid gets arrested and learns a lesson…also Bill Bixby appearance.

Changes in Tax Laws  — See Episode 129 “Barney’s Physical”… the physical requirements for deputy are increased by state law putting Barney’s career in jeopardy…until Andy and Aunt Bea come to the rescue.

So what would Andy have to say about estate planning really?  I guess if Aunt Bea was doing one of those do–it–yourself Wills he would surely say “Aunt Bea…just call the man!”

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At least that is what my kids tell me when they ask for money.  I guess I have been a little slack in teaching them the importance of giving to charitable causes.  In looking back on my various topics for Counselor’s Corner, I found also that I have not mentioned charity enough.  In these times of economic uncertainty charities are in more need than ever.  How can you help?  Give now! If you can’t do that at least include a provision for charity as part of your estate plan and here’s how:

1.  The easiest way to provide for charity in your estate plan is to include a bequest in your Will or Living Trust.  You can name one or more charities to receive a specific dollar amount or percentage of your estate.  It is as simple as that.  You can also provide that a specific asset will be distributed to charity at your death, but you should check with the charity first to make sure they can accept that particular asset, especially if it involves real estate.

2.  An even better option is to name charity as a beneficiary on a portion of your retirement assets.  You can list a charity as a beneficiary to receive a certain amount or certain percentage of your IRA or 401k.  Since the charity is a tax exempt entity it will not incur income tax when it receives its share of the retirement asset.  This is a great way to leverage the value in your retirement assets, even if it is at the expense of Uncle Sam.

3.  For clients who desire to provide a substantial gift for charity, they may benefit from the use of a charitable remainder trust (CRT).   A CRT allows you to give an asset to charity while retaining an income stream for life.  The special tax treatment of a CRT allows the donor to make a gift of low cost basis assets, which can be sold without incurrence of an immediate capital gain tax; the tax liability is recognized only as the funds are distributed to the life beneficiaries (similar to qualified retirement assets).  This provides the donor a tax efficient option to diversify a large asset  holding.  The donor also benefits from an income tax deduction for a portion of the value of the assets transferred to the CRT.  There are many variations for the CRT which are beyond this short description, but it is something to consider if you intend to include charity as a major beneficiary of your estate.

Important:  If you are naming a charity make sure that the charity qualifies as a §501(c)(3) organization.  That designation will ensure that your charitable gift will not be subject to estate tax or income tax.  Many nonprofits such as service organizations (Kiwanis, Lions Club etc.) are not qualified as a §501(c)(3) but they may have a related foundation that is which can receive your gift.

 

Goodness is the only investment that never fails

     — Thoreau

 

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In my last newsletter I offered some tips on issues to consider when buying a business.   The ink well isn’t dry yet…so here are a few more:

3. Ask the Seller to stick around.

When you buy a business, you are not just buying the Seller’s assets, you are buying their relationships, their goodwill, and a part of their life.  Having the Seller stay involved in the business for some time as a consultant or employee (a few months or even a year after the purchase) can be invaluable in ensuring a smooth transition.  The Seller may be the only one who knows where to find the extra set of keys to the cash register, or the Seller may be the key to keeping several big customer relationships.  These are the kinds of issues that can’t be completely addressed in the purchase documents and require continued cooperation from the Seller.  Of course, the Seller will expect to be paid for this service, but this is usually negotiated as part of the purchase price, so the Seller’s continued involvement is an integral part of the deal.  Often the Seller welcomes the opportunity to stay involved; they may seek the continued interaction with employees and customers and they will certainly want the business, their pride and joy, to continue to succeed.

 

4.  Watch out for surprise liens or judgments.

If bank financing is involved in your purchase, you can rest assured that your attorney will be required to make sure that the assets are free and clear of liens.  However many transactions these days do not involve bank financing and in those cases it is important  to have your attorney do a basic lien and judgment search as part of your due diligence.  If your Seller has a bank equity line of credit, the bank may have a UCC lien filed against all the Seller’s assets and unless that lien is released at closing it will follow the assets even though you as Buyer may have nothing to do with that equity line.   There are also possibilities of tax liens or other judgments which the Seller may have “forgotten” about.  Don’t rely simply on the representations and warranties given by your Seller in the purchase documents; those provisions are not binding on a third party creditor and will not help you when you are trying to get a release from the creditor so that you can get your own equity line in the future.

 

5.  LLC vs Corporation.

As you are making plans on a business purchase, you’ll have to decide the type of entity you want to use.  I don’t have space here to give you a full comparison of the options, but generally you will be looking at using either an LLC or a corporation.  If real estate is an asset in the business then an LLC will almost always be the preferred choice; remember my general rule – never put real estate in a corporation – if you need a refresher see my Nov 09 Newsletter on my blog.  A corporation is still the most common form of entity for operating businesses and can occasionally offer some tax savings opportunities.  Your best resource on this decision will be your CPA, since they will be handling your tax filings.

 

Give these issues consideration before you get too far into negotiations and don’t be afraid to call your attorney; your attorney can advise on these and other things to consider before you ever start discussions with the Seller and will save you time and expense in the long run.

 

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Thomas Tusser is attributed with the astute observation — A fool and his money are soon parted.  This holds true not only when you are trying to impress your 6 year old at the midway games at the fair, but also when buying a business.  From my view as an attorney there are a number of basic legal issues that should be considered early in the process of buying a business and I’ll review two of these this month with more to follow:

1.   Buy assets and leave the liabilities alone.

One important threshold decision is how to structure the legal form of the transaction.  The two basic options are to acquire the assets of the business or to acquire the entity that owns the assets such as a corporation.  As a buyer it will most often be preferable to buy the assets and not the entity.  Buying the entity means buying the assets and liabilities of the business including unknown liabilities.  Imagine a few weeks after closing, you get a call from an attorney representing a customer that slipped and fell on the icy stairs a few months before you bought the business; if you bought the entity you bought that law suit along with it.  However if you only acquire the assets you can limit your exposure to the business liabilities and even if you agree to assume some liabilities you can establish a specific list so you understand your exposure.

In addition to liability protection, an asset purchase will give you, as buyer, a better income tax  result.  When you purchase assets you will establish a new tax basis for the assets which will allow you to depreciate the assets in the future for tax deduction purposes.  On the other hand, if you purchase an entity the assets may already have been depreciated by the entity and your purchase will not allow you a basis increase, so you will not have the same tax depreciation opportunity.

Fair warning — an asset purchase can be a little more complicated than an entity purchase, because the assets and business relationships must be transitioned over to the buyer.  For example, if there are numerous assets with ownership title (such as a fleet of cars); each title will need to be transferred to the buyer.  If the buyer desires to continue existing customer and supplier relationships, the buyer will need to enter into new contracts for this purpose.

2.     Don’t pay everything up front.

As a buyer, one big concern you have is how to recover against the seller if you have any claims arise after closing.  Usually the seller is asked to make certain representations about the business and assets and if those representations are later found to be wrong (or even worse…lies)  then you will have a claim against the seller for any loss incurred as a result.  Also, even where you have limited liability exposure through an asset purchase, you can still be entangled in litigation associated with the seller which requires you to incur the costs of a defense attorney.  If you have already paid the seller in full, you may have a hard time recovering especially if the seller is relaxing on some Caribbean island far from your concerns.  By requiring that some portion of the purchase price be held in escrow for a reasonable period (sometimes a year or more), you will have a ready source to collect your claims against the seller.  You can also reserve this leverage if the seller is willing to take a promissory note for part of the purchase price; however be sure you reserve the right to offset your claims against your note payments.

Next time we’ll look at a few other ways to avoid the “fool” rule.

 

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