Our business clients are seldom just businesses – they are people, families, whose ultimate motivators often have as much to do with love, duty, and gratitude as with profit and loss. They are justly proud of their success, but the ability to provide for their spouses, children, and grandchildren – as well as the causes and institutions they support – anchors their pride.
We serve as counsel to executors and trustees in handling the many required notices, court filings, accountings, and tax returns required following a death, or creation of a trust during one’s lifetime. We employ experienced non-attorney personnel to make certain these details are handled efficiently and at low cost to the relevant estate or trust.
As headline-grabbing reports of jury verdicts proliferate, successful businesspeople often worry that they could lose everything to a rapacious plaintiff’s lawyer. Asset-protection trusts provide a useful bulwark against that type of attack. And even if a billion-dollar lawsuit is not a realistic possibility, there may be a risk that creditors or ex-spouses may appropriate assets meant to assure the future of a loved one. We guide clients through the often dizzying variety of choices in domestic and foreign trusts designed to put wealth beyond the reach of creditors.
Transition from one generation of leadership to the next is a key challenge for any business, but especially for family-owned and middle market businesses. In family businesses, federal estate, state inheritance and gift taxes affect strategies for passing the business to the next generation, as well as making certain that children not active in the business are treated fairly. In non-family-owned businesses, the goal is often to let future owners accumulate equity at the lowest tax cost possible, while providing a tax-efficient exit strategy for current owners. We can advise clients on the plethora of means for transferring business assets and control, while maintaining equity between family members in and out of the business.
The qualities that make our clients successful business leaders often make them community leaders as well. They devote time, as well as money, to an impressive range of charities, from universities and hospitals to churches and synagogues, arts organizations, and social service agencies. We advise them on using tax leverage to provide maximum benefit from their generosity, as well as to enhance their community and business profile. Charitable trusts, family foundations, and donor-advised funds can be powerful tools for doing good and for keeping control of the money one has earned, but they are subject to many technical rules that require careful attention to legal details.
Clients’ planning needs often change over time, as businesses and investments grow and mature, and as children do the same. College, marriage, grandchildren, careers, illness and recovery can all have major impacts on how clients deploy their wealth to enhance the lives of the people they love. These issues are as likely to keep them awake at night as any business challenge.
The most effective planning for estate allocation and death tax minimization starts at the height of people’s careers, not at their retirements. We work closely with clients to devise effective and tax-efficient wealth transfer plans that protect their own lifestyles and keep adequate safeguards over family assets. We also prepare and file annual gift tax returns to ensure proper reporting and to take advantage of the relatively new statute of limitations for gift taxes.
Successful business executives and professionals often accumulate significant wealth in tax-qualified retirement accounts, either 401(k) plans or similar employer-sponsored plans, or in individual retirement accounts (traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs). We guide clients through the choices those plans present, especially when the plan participant changes jobs or retires, or when the plan participant dies and executors and beneficiaries face decisions.
Individuals with permanent disabilities present special challenges for their family members and estate planners. What to most people would be a comfortable level of wealth may be wholly inadequate to give them a good quality of life, and may keep them from receiving public support that is crucial for developing a long-term, sustainable life plan. Special needs trusts harmonize the needs of the disabled and their families with the strictures of Medicaid, Social Security, and other governmental programs, so that assets or income intended to benefit a disabled individual actually improve his or her life, as opposed to becoming a revenue source for state government.
The centerpiece of a lawyer’s toolkit is careful drafting and the judgment to know which issues can be dealt with using off-the-rack boilerplate, and which need custom tailoring of legal language. Every day, we translate clients’ wishes – and the tax planning that goes with them – into formal legal documents that will assure as much as possible that their desires are carried out in the intended way.