Business Owners Need Estate Plan and a Succession Plan

Business owners get so caught up in working in their business, that they don’t take the time to consider their future—and that of the business—when sometime in the future they’ll want to retire. Many business owners insist they’ll never retire, but that time does eventually come. The question The Gardner News article asks of business owners is this: “Do you have a business succession strategy?”

It takes a very long time to create a succession plan that works. Therefore, planning for such a plan should begin long before retirement is on the horizon. That’s because there are as many different ways to map out a succession plan, as there are types of business. A business owner could sell the business to a family member, an outsider, a key employee or to all the employees. The plan could be implemented while the business owner is still alive and well and working, or it could be set up to take effect, only after the owner passes.

The decision of how to handle a succession plan needs to be made with a number of issues in mind: family dynamics and interest in the business (or lack of interest), the nature of the business, the success of the business and the owner’s overall financial situation.

Here are a few of the more popular strategies:

Selling the business outright. There are business owners who don’t need the money and feel that no one else will care as much as they do about their business. Therefore, they sell it. There needs to be a lot of planning to minimize tax liability, when this is the choice.

Using a buy-sell arrangement to transfer the business. This can be structured in whatever way works best for both parties. It allows a slower transition to new ownership. Some families use the proceeds of a life insurance policy to fund the buy-sell agreement, so family owners could use the death benefit to buy the owner’s stake.

Buying a private annuity. This permits the owner to transfer the business to family members, or someone else, who then makes payments to the owner for the rest of their life, or maybe their life and another person, like a surviving spouse. It has the potential to provide a lifetime stream of income and removes assets from the owner’s estate, without triggering gift or estate taxes.

The plan for succession needs to align with the business owner’s estate plan. This is something that many estate planning attorneys who work with business owners have experience with. They can help facilitate the succession planning process. Talk with your estate planning attorney when you have your regular meeting to review your estate plan about what the future holds for your business.

Reference: The Gardener News (June 4, 2019) “Do you have a business succession strategy?”

Suggested Key Terms: Business Owner, Succession Plan, Estate Plan, Retirement, Private Annuity, Buy-Sell Agreement, Life Insurance Policy

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Retirement Minimum Distribution (RMDs) Fundamentals

Most people don’t know the rules about required minimum distributions. Also known as “RMDs,” these are the rules that require investors to make withdrawals from their retirement accounts the year that they turn 70½. However, says Forbes in the article “5 Things to Know About RMDs,” these withdrawals can have a major impact on cash flow, taxes and financial planning during retirement. They are legally required to be taken, even if you don’t need them.

If the RMD is not taken at the correct age, there will be a 50% tax on the amount that should have been withdrawn. Add to that the amount of regular income tax on the sum of money withdrawn, and you have an expensive mistake.

There are ways to soften the impact of RMDs. However, you have to know the rules before you can create your strategy. Having a game plan for RMDs will help save the money you saved for many years, and allow that retirement nest egg more time to grow.

Note that there may be some changes coming as a result of the SECURE Act and the RESA Act, if approved.

Distribution rules that you need to know. The year you mark your 70½ birthday, that is, six months after you turn 70, you have to start taking RMDs from retirement accounts, including 401(k)s. That rule does not apply to Roth IRAs, which generally do not have any RMDs, until the owner dies.

The exception is if you are still working at a company and participating in the company’s 401(k) plan. If that is the case, you may want to roll over all your previous eligible savings into that account, to delay taking an RMD. However, there are also exceptions to this rule. They depend on your ownership stake in the company, so speak with an estate planning attorney to be sure what the requirements are for your situation.

While you’re at it, make sure that the beneficiaries listed on your accounts are correctly documented. If it’s been more than a few years since you last reviewed your beneficiaries, there may be some time bombs hidden in your IRA accounts. Divorce, death and changes of circumstances may make it necessary for you to change your beneficiaries. Do it now, while it’s on your mind. Once you die, there’s no recourse for your heirs.

When do I take my first RMD? RMDs must be taken by December 31st of each calendar year. However, the first RMD must be taken for the year in which you turn 70½. You can delay that payment until April of the following year. If you end up taking two big distributions, will it throw your tax planning off? Will you be bumped into a higher tax bracket? This is why you need to plan your RMD out carefully. It may be better for your overall situation to take the RMD, as soon as you are eligible.

Accuracy counts. You can’t rely on an online calculator, since the rules are not one size fits all. Let’s say your spouse is ten years younger than you and is your sole beneficiary. You’ll need to use the Joint Life and Last Survivor Table. There’s also the Uniform Lifetime Table, but that doesn’t apply here. Check with professionals to be sure you are taking the right amount.

Where does your RMD come from? Even if 70½ is a few years away, it’s good to have a plan for how RMDs will impact the distribution of your investment portfolio. You have options, so you want to make a good choice. For example, do you want distributions to be made in proportion to the percentage of each of your holdings in your portfolio? Let’s say 40% of your retirement investment is in short-term bonds, then you would take out 40% from your investment holdings. Or do you want to take a percentage from specific holdings?

What about charitable giving? Once you turn 70 ½, you can directly transfer funds from a traditional IRA to a charity, which can reduce your tax burden. However, this must be done properly, directly to the charity.

The rules of RMD are complicated, and mistakes can be expensive. Think about your strategy early on, to make sure it’s done right.

Reference: Forbes (May 14, 2019) “5 Things to Know About RMDs”

Suggested Key Terms: Roth IRA, Roth 401(k), Required Minimum Distribution, RMDs, Retirement, Investment Portfolio, Charitable Giving, Estate Planning Attorney

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Is My Spouse Responsible for My Auto Lease When I Die?

A recent nj.com article asks “What happens to my car lease when I die?” According to the article, in New Jersey the laws are not on the side of the wife. She may be at the mercy of the car dealership and its financing company.

Remember that a vehicle lease is a contract, so if you’re the executor who’s managing the deceased person’s affairs, you should review the terms of the vehicle lease. In some instances, death may be classified as an “early termination” of the lease, and payment obligations may continue.

If there is a co-signer on the lease, such as the deceased’s spouse, he or she may be liable for future payments. If not, typically they’re likely to be the responsibility of the deceased’s estate.

In 2017, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that would permit early termination of an auto lease upon the death of the lessee and prohibit the imposition of fees as a result. However, that piece of legislation didn’t make it out of the state Senate. There are plans to reintroduce the bill this session, but nothing has been done as of this date.

As a result, there is no law in New Jersey that keeps a car company from charging fees for early termination upon the death of the lessor.

While some car companies have policies allowing for early termination upon death, in many instances, because a lease is a contract, it continues. The deceased lessee’s estate is liable for making the payments. Therefore, if the written lease doesn’t have a clause dealing with early termination without fees, the lessee’s estate may be required to continue making the payments.

California and New York laws say the same thing: leasing companies can legally claim unpaid obligations from the estate of the deceased.

The car dealer isn’t required to, but it’s not unheard of for a sympathetic car company to be compassionate and just put the car up for sale, so actual losses would be minimal.

The executor should speak to an experienced estate planning attorney to see what options they might have in their specific situation.

Reference: nj.com (May 24, 2019) “What happens to my car lease when I die?”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Executor, Asset Protection, Financial Planning

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