New York Real Estate & Estate Planning Blog
Monday, May 25, 2015
Business Succession Planning Tips
Business succession plans contemplate and instruct regarding any changes in future ownership and management of a business. Most business owners know they should think about succession planning, but few actually end up doing so. It is hard to think about not being in charge of the business you have built up, but a proper succession plan can ensure that your business continues long after you are there to run it, providing an enduring legacy.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you begin to think about putting a succession plan into place for your business.
- Proper plans take time - often years - to develop and implement because there are many steps involved. It is really never too early to start thinking about how you want to hand off control of your business.
- Succession plans are a waste of time unless they are more than a piece of paper. Involving attorneys, accountants and business advisors ensures that your plan is actually implemented.
- There is no cookie-cutter succession plan that fits all businesses, and no one way to develop and implement a successful plan. Each business is unique, so each business needs a custom-made plan that fits the needs of all parties involved.
- It may seem counterintuitive, but transferring a business between people who are familiar with the business - from one family member to another, or between business partners - is often more complicated than selling the business to a complete stranger. Emotional investments cannot be easily quantified, but their importance is real. Having a neutral party at the negotiating table can help everyone involved focus on what is best for the business and the people that are depending on it for their livelihood.
- Once a succession plan has been established, it is critically important that the completed plan be continually reviewed and updated as circumstances change. This is one of the biggest reasons having an attorney on your succession planning team is important. Sound legal counsel can assist you in making periodic adjustments and maintaining an effective succession plan.
If you are ready to start thinking about succession planning, contact an experienced business law attorney today.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Before transferring your home to your children, there are several issues that should be considered. Some are tax-related issues and some are none-tax issues that can have grave consequences on your livelihood.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the current federal estate tax exemption is currently over $5 million and thus it is likely that you may not have an estate tax issue anyway. If you are married you and your spouse can double that exemption to over $10 million. So, make sure the federal estate tax is truly an issue for you before proceeding.
Second, if you gift the home to your kids now they will legally be the owners. If they get sued or divorced, a creditor or an ex- in-law may end up with an interest in the house and could evict you. Also, if a child dies before you, that child’s interest may pass to his or her spouse or child who may want the house sold so they can simply get their money.
Third, if you give the kids the house now, their income tax basis will be the same as yours is (the value at which you purchased it) and thus when the house is later sold they may have to pay a significant capital gains tax on the difference. On the other hand if you pass it to them at death their basis gets stepped-up to the value of the home at your death, which will reduce or eliminate the capital gains tax the children will pay.
Fourth, if you gift the house now you likely will lose some property tax exemptions such as the homestead exemption because that exemption is normally only available for owner-occupied homes.
Fifth, you will still have to report the gift on a gift tax return and the value of the home will reduce your estate tax exemption available at death, though any future appreciation will be removed from your taxable estate.
Finally, there may be more efficient ways to do this through the use of a special qualified personal residence trust. Given the multitude of tax and practical issues involved, it would be best to seek the advice of an estate planning attorney before making any transfers of your property.
Monday, April 27, 2015
A 1992 Supreme Court decision Quill Corp. v. North Dakota established the principle that an out-of-state retailer does not have to collect state sales tax if it does not have a physical location—a store, business office, or warehouse—in the state where the purchase originated.
Theoretically, the consumer placing the order in a state that has a sales tax could be responsible for paying the tax on an out-of-state order. An out-of-state retailer can voluntarily collect sales tax and remit it to the state, but there is no legal obligation for it to do so. Because requiring consumers to "self-report" on large numbers of small transactions is burdensome, states generally do not do it, except on very expensive out-of-state purchases.
Sales Taxes on Online Transactions
The long-established principle that out-of-state stores with no in-state presence need not collect sales tax has been challenged in the Internet era. Many brick-and-mortar businesses have complained that out-of-state online companies have an unfair advantage because they do not have to charge customers sales tax. States have also lost billions in sales tax revenue to tax-free online orders.
In 2008, New York enacted the so-called "Amazon Tax" forcing Amazon and similar e-tailers to collect sales tax. New York got around the Quill requirement of a physical presence in the state because Amazon has countless affiliates and "associates" marketing products through it, and some of those are located in New York. Other states have enacted similar laws. Illinois, for example, passed the "Main Street Fairness Act" targeting online retailers with affiliates in Illinois. Currently Amazon collects sales tax in 23 states.
Some online retailers, such as Overstock.com, have cancelled affiliate programs in states with an "Amazon Tax" to avoid having to collect state sales taxes.
Which States Have an "Amazon Tax"?
Currently 23 states have sales taxes on online retailers like Amazon:
South Carolina will start collecting tax in 2016. Five states have no sales tax at all -- Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Others have yet to target online businesses.
Businesses online or off that have no physical connection to a state, other than shipping products to it, are generally shielded from having to collect sales tax by Quill. Businesses that have a physical presence in a state may have to collect sales tax if required by state law. Those with no physical presence but with representatives, affiliates or associates in a state may be required to collect state sales tax by laws like the Amazon Tax. An experienced business law attorney can assist you in determining whether you are obligated to collect sales taxes.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Medicaid is a federal health program for individuals with low income and financial resources that is administered by each state. Each state may call this program by a different name. In California, for example, it is referred to as Medi-Cal. This program is intended to help individuals and couples pay for the cost of health care and nursing home care.
Most people are surprised to learn that Medicare (the health insurance available to all people over the age of 65) does not cover nursing home care. The average cost of nursing home care, also called "skilled nursing" or "convalescent care," can be $8,000 to $10,000 per month. Most people do not have the resources to cover these steep costs over an extended period of time without some form of assistance.
Qualifying for Medicaid can be complicated; each state has its own rules and guidelines for eligibility. Once qualified for a Medicaid subsidy, Medicaid will assign you a co-pay (your Share of Cost) for the nursing home care, based on your monthly income and ability to pay.
At the end of the Medicaid recipient's life (and the spouse's life, if applicable), Medicaid will begin "estate recovery" for the total cost spent during the recipient's lifetime. Medicaid will issue a bill to the estate, and will place a lien on the recipient's home in order to satisfy the debt. Many estate beneficiaries discover this debt only upon the death of a parent or loved one. In many cases, the Medicaid debt can consume most, if not all, estate assets.
There are estate planning strategies available that can help you accelerate qualification for a Medicaid subsidy, and also eliminate the possibility of a Medicaid lien at death. However, each state's laws are very specific, and this process is very complicated. It is very important to consult with an experienced elder law attorney in your jurisdiction.
Monday, April 6, 2015
There are many reasons for retaining tax records. They can be a useful guide for business planning, for tracking receipts and expenses, and in cases where the company or shares are being sold to outside parties.
The IRS expects taxpayers to keep records for as long as they are needed to administer any part of the Internal Revenue Code. In other words, if you fail to keep records, and an item in a past return is questioned, you may not have the documentation you need to defend yourself and avoid taxes and penalties. In addition, insurance companies and creditors may wish to see tax returns even after the IRS no longer does.
What is the "Period of Limitations" for a Tax Return?
Generally, you must keep records that support income and deductions for a tax return until the "period of limitations" for that return elapses. This is the period during which you can still amend your return to get a refund or credit and during which the IRS can still assess more tax. It varies depending on the circumstances surrounding each return.
- If you owe additional tax, but you haven't seriously underpaid, committed fraud, or failed to file a return, the period is 3 years from the date taxes were filed.
- If you failed to report income that you should have reported, in excess of 25% of the gross income that you did report, the period is 6 years.
- If you filed a claim for credit or refund after you filed your return, the period is the later of 3 years after the return was filed or 2 years after tax was paid.
- If you filed a claim for a loss from worthless securities or a bad debt deduction, the period is 7 years.
- If you filed a fraudulent return or failed to file a return, the period is unlimited.
Note: Returns filed before taxes are due are treated as though they were filed on the due date.
Other Periods of Limitations
Additionally, if you are an employer, you must keep employee tax records for at least 4 years after the later of the date the tax becomes due or the date it is paid.
For assets, you should keep records until the period of limitations elapses for the year in which you sell the property in a taxable transaction. You will need records to compute depreciation, amortization, or depletion deductions and to add up your basis in the property for purposes of calculating gain or loss. A business law attorney experienced in tax matters can further guide you in relation to your specific situation
Monday, March 23, 2015
Corporate bylaws are a critical component in the foundation of any corporation, partnership or association. Generally speaking, the bylaws establish the rules for internal operations and governance. While business owners have a large degree of control when it comes to the bylaws, they must be in compliance with state law. Some states have strict mandates on what information must be included, while others may not specify exactly what must be covered and there may not be a set format. However, there are certain things that are typically covered in a company's bylaws.
Bylaws often set forth what officers the company is to have, what the responsibilities are for those officers, and how they are elected. It will also set forth the term of office such as a one, two, or three year term. Most companies also have a board of directors. The bylaws would also set forth how many board members are allowed or required and their term of office. Most of the time the shareholders will elect the board members, and then the board members will elect or appoint the officers of the company. So, the officers report to the board, and the board reports to the shareholders.
Other matters that are often found in the bylaws include the procedure for notifying the board of an upcoming meeting and the timeline for doing so. In addition, the bylaws can establish the number of board members that are required to be present at a meeting for there to be a “quorum” in order to do business and how many votes are needed for something to be approved. One thing that likely will not be in the bylaws but you might want to consider if there will be multiple owners of the business, is a buy-sell agreement. That agreement would outline rights and responsibilities for each owner and generally would provide the right or option to buy out a one of the co-owners’s shares.
It’s important to consult with a business law attorney to make certain that your bylaws are in compliance with all applicable state statutes. Your attorney may also help you identify potential pitfalls and minimize any future risks that might harm your company down the line.
Monday, March 16, 2015
If your estate plan and related documents are properly and carefully drafted, it is highly unlikely that the court will disregard your wishes and award the excluded child an inheritance. As unlikely as it may be, there are certain situations where this child could end up receiving an inheritance depending upon a variety of factors.
To understand how a disinherited child could benefit, you must understand how assets pass after death. How a particular asset passes at death depends upon the type of asset and how it is titled. For example, a jointly titled asset will pass to the surviving joint owner regardless of what a will or a trust says. So, in the unlikely event that the disinherited child was a joint owner, that child would still inherit the asset because of how it was titled.
Similarly, if you left that disinherited child as a named beneficiary on a life insurance policy or retirement plan asset, such as an IRA or 401k, that child would still receive some of the benefits as the named beneficiary even if your will stated they were to take nothing. Another way such a "disinherited" child might receive a benefit is if all other named beneficiaries died before you.
So, assume you have three children and you wish to disinherit one of them and you state you want all of your assets to go to the other two, and if they are not alive, then to their descendants. If those other two children die before you and do not have any descendants, there may be a provision that in such a case your "heirs at law" are to take your entire estate and that would include the child you intended to disinherit.
If you wish to disinherit a child, all of these issues can be addressed with proper and careful drafting by a qualified estate planning lawyer.
Monday, March 9, 2015
When deciding who will inherit your assets after you die, it is important to consider that you might outlive the beneficiary you choose. If you have added someone to your financial accounts to ensure that he or she receives this asset after you die, you might be concerned about what will happen should you outlive this person.
What happens to a joint asset in this situation depends upon the specific circumstances. For example, if a co-owner that was meant to inherit dies first, the account will automatically become the property of the other co-owners and will not be included in the decedent’s estate. However, whether it is somehow included in this person’s taxable estate, and is therefore subject to state death tax, also depends on state law. Assuming the other co-owners were the only ones to contribute to this account, and that the decedent did not put any of his or her money into the account, there may be state laws that provide that these funds are not taxed. The other co-owners might have to sign an affidavit to that effect and submit it to the state department of revenue with the tax return. Also, if the decedent’s estate was large enough to require the filing of a federal estate tax return ($5,340,000 in 2014) the same thing may be needed in order to exclude this money from his or her taxable estate. You would generally state that this person’s name was placed on the account for convenience, and that the money was contributed by the other co-owners.
If you are considering adding someone to your financial accounts so that they inherit it when you die, you should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your options.
Monday, February 23, 2015
If you are a parent and you are considering estate planning, one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make is choosing a guardian for your minor children. It is not easy to think of anyone else, no matter how loving, raising your child. Yet, you can make a tremendous difference in your child’s life by planning ahead.
The younger your child, the more crucial this choice is, because very young children cannot form or express their own preferences about caregivers. Yet young children are not the only ones who benefit from careful parental attention to guardianship. Children close to 18 years old will be legal adults soon, but, as you well know, may still need assistance of a parental figure after the fact.
By naming and talking about your choice of guardian, you can encourage a lifelong bond with a caring family. The nomination of guardians is a straightforward aspect of any family’s estate plan. It can be as basic or detailed as you want. You can simply name the guardian who would act if both you and your spouse were unable to or you can provide detailed guidance about your children and the sort of experiences and family environment you would like for them. Your state court, then, can give strong weight to your expressed wishes.
There are essentially four steps to this process. First, make a list of anyone you know that might be a candidate for guardian of your children. It is important to think beyond your sisters and brothers and consider cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, child-care providers and business partners. You might also want to consider long-time friends and those you’ve gotten to know at parenting groups as they may share similar philosophies about child-rearing. Second, make a list of factors that are most important to you. Here are some to consider:
- Child-rearing philosophy
- Presence of children in the home already
- Interest in and relationship with your children
- Ability to meet the physical demands of child care
- Presence of enough “free” time to raise children
- Religion or spirituality
- Marital or family status
- Potential conflicts of interest with your children
- Willingness to serve
- Social and moral habits and values
- Willingness to adopt your children
You might find that all or none of these factors are important to you or that there are others that make more sense in your particular situation. The third step is to, match people with priorities. Use the factors you chose in step two to narrow your list of candidates to a handful.
For many families, it is as easy as it looks. For others, however, these three steps are fraught with conflict. One common source of difficulty is disagreement between spouses. But, consensus is important. Explore the disagreements to see what information about values and people is important to one another and use all of your strongest communications skills to understand each other’s position before you try to find a solution that you can both feel good about. Step four is to make it positive. For some parents, getting past this decision quickly is the best way to achieve peace of mind and happiness. For others, choosing a guardian can be the start of an intensive relationship-building process. An attorney who understands where you and your spouse fall on that spectrum can counsel you appropriately.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Whether you are an owner considering whether or not you should sell your small business or an individual thinking about buying a business that is on the market, it is important to determine how much the business is worth. This can be a daunting task. Every business is different and for that reason no single method can be used in every case. Below are the most common methods used to determine the approximate value of a small business.
The assets a business holds can be used to determine its approximate value. Generally, a business is worth at least as much as its holdings, so looking to tangible and intangible assets can provide a baseline amount. If you choose to use this method, the business’ balance sheet should provide all of the information you need. This method may be too simple to be used for all businesses, especially those that are doing well and generating a lot of profits.
Another way to determine a business’ worth is to look at its revenue. Of course, revenue is not profit a business makes. When using this method, a multiplier is applied to the revenue amount to determine the business value. The multiplier used is dependent upon the industry in which the business is operating. Another method is to apply a multiplier to the business’ earnings or profits, instead of total revenue. This is usually a more accurate way of determining what the business value actually is.
When using these methods, it is important to understand that the market is constantly fluctuating. The value of assets can go up or down depending on the day, and revenue and earnings can change drastically from year to year. Also, when trying to determine what a business is worth, you might consider what the business may be worth if it had better management or more optimal business execution. The current managers may not be taking advantage of various opportunities to make the business more profitable.
Before entering into any purchase or sale agreements, it’s essential that you consult a qualified business law attorney and a business appraiser who can assist in the valuation of a small business and help you understand whether it makes sense to proceed with the transaction.
Monday, February 9, 2015
An executor's fee is the amount charged by the person who has been appointed as the executor of the probate estate for handling all of the necessary steps in the probate administration. Therefore, if you have been appointed an executor of someone’s estate, you might be entitled to a fee for your services. This fee could be based upon a variety of factors and some of those factors may be dependent upon state, or even local, law.
General Duties of an Executor
- Securing the decedent's home (changing locks, etc.)
- Identifying and collecting all bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, bonds and mutual funds
- Having all real estate appraised; having all tangible personal property appraised
- Paying all of the decedent’s debts and final expenses
- Making sure all income and estate tax returns are prepared, filed and any taxes paid
- Collecting all life insurance proceeds and retirement account assets
- Accounting for all actions; and making distributions of the estate to the beneficiaries or heirs.
This list is not all-inclusive and depending upon the particular estate more, or less, steps may be needed.
As you can see, there is a lot of work (and legal liability) involved in being the executor of an estate. Typically the executor would keep track of his or her time and a reasonable hourly rate would be used. Other times, an executor could charge based upon some percent of the value of the estate assets. What an executor may charge, and how an executor can charge, may be governed by state law or even a local court's rules. You also asked whether the deceased can make you agree not to take a fee. The decedent can put in his or her will that the executor should serve without compensation but the named executor is not obligated to take the job. He or she could simply decline to serve. If no one will serve without taking a fee, and if the decedents will states the executor must serve without a fee, a petition could be filed with the court asking them to approve a fee even if the will says otherwise. Notice should be given to all interested parties such as all beneficiaries.
If you have been appointed an executor or have any other probate or estate planning issues, contact us for a consultation today.
John P. Rosenblatt, Attorney at Law assists clients in Nassau County, Suffolk County, the Five Boroughs, the NY Metro Area, Westchester County, Putnam County, Orange County, Dutchess County and Rockland County.