Category: Assets

Houston Business Planning Lawyer: What Happens to Your Sole Proprietorship When You Die?

Sole proprietorships are a common type of business. For sole proprietorships, the business owner and the business are the same legal entity. The business owner of a sole proprietorship is personally responsible for any debts the business incurs. However, unlike a corporation, the sole proprietorship belongs to one person and is legally a business indistinct from that one person. Once the sole proprietor dies, the business does too, creating estate planning problems.

Problem: The business’s assets go into your estate. Your business is legally no different from you, even if you have a tax ID, even if your business has a storefront, employees, and assets that are clearly not personal, like manufacturing equipment. If you die with or without a will, the assets that you use in your business could go into Harris County probate for weeks, months, or years.

Problem: Your business creditors can go after any part of your estate. If you owe money to any entity, they will get first crack at your estate. Say you have a bad year. You are $30,000 in debt, and your business doesn’t have enough assets to cover the costs. If you die with this debt, almost anything in your estate may be liquidated to cover business debts, including your house if you are single.

Problem: If my heirs run the business, they may run into legal problems. Your heirs of your estate might be vulnerable to lawsuits if they try to wind down the business themselves. In Texas, your business dies with you, and there may be legal problems if your heirs run the business as if you had not died.

Solution: Create a trust to wind down the business. A Houston will lawyer can help you create a trust for your sole proprietorship so that upon your death, the trust gets the assets, and the administrator of the trust can wind down your business and have any remaining assets go to your estate. This may or not be available, depending on the type of business, so check with a Houston estate lawyer first.

Solution: Create a buy-sell agreement affective upon your death. In Texas, you may be able to create a buy-sell agreement with someone, like your adult children, to go into effect upon your death. Your estate lawyer can help you create this agreement. Essentially, you sell your business to someone, but you continue to run it in good faith. When you die, the sale is complete. They can stay in business, or they can shutter it.

Solution: Incorporate your business and will your shares to your heirs. A sure way to make sure your heirs get your business without losing an inheritance from your personal estate is to incorporate before you die. This makes your business a distinct legal entity, and you can own some or all the interest in the corporation. Your Houston estate lawyer can draft your will so you portion the corporation amongst your heirs as you see fit.

If you have questions about how to best plan for the eventual succession of your business, feel free to contact our Houston estate attorneys to schedule a consultation.

 

Complete a Complete Estate Plan

When it comes to planning, the focus is typically on making you better prepared for the future. That means limiting taxes, creating wiser investment strategies, knowing when it’s best to claim Social Security and developing sustainable retirement income plans. All of these help you on the path to your financial future and your long-term goals. But The Brainerd (MN) Dispatch reports in “3 common estate planning questions, answered,” that there is, however, one exception. That’s estate planning. While much of financial planning primarily benefits you, your estate planning primarily benefits your family and loved ones. 11-14-16

The basic component of your estate plan is your will but there may be other parts you need. Depending on your estate, you may want to consider a trust, in addition to healthcare directives, powers of attorneys and guardian designations. You should also remember that your will isn't necessarily the only instruction when it comes to distributing your assets. The beneficiary designations on your retirement and brokerage accounts, and the life insurance policies you own will take precedence over what you say in your will. Review beneficiary designations regularly to be sure the money in your accounts or the death benefit on a life insurance policy goes to the right person.

A trust can be complicated, so talk with an estate planning attorney to see if it makes sense and whether you'll actually benefit from using a trust. If most of your assets are covered by beneficiary designations or owned in joint tenancy, those assets are already exempt from probate, so they won’t necessarily benefit from a trust strategy.

The executor or the personal representative is the person who will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will, settling your debts and paying taxes on your estate. As far as selecting an executor, it should be someone with the capacity to carry out the needed tasks of the position. It also needs to be someone who is willing to serve and is familiar with your situation such as a family member or a close family friend.

If you don't spend every last dollar you have to your name on the day you die, you'll need to have an estate plan. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to develop one.

Reference: The Brainerd (MN) Dispatch (Sept. 23, 2016) “3 common estate planning questions, answered”

A Few Words of Advice for Getting Married in Your Golden Years

If you're in your senior years, you may want to think twice before tying the knot. The love bug can bite at any age, and that can include pain in your wallet. This advice comes from The Hartford (CT) Courant in its recent article “Fit to Be Tied? Think Twice About Marriage in Your Golden Years.”

A late marriage can mess up your previous plans for your estate, personal finances, as well as any advance directives for your end-of-life health care. It can also impact decisions you've made and will make, in addition to those of your spouse and heirs. 11-11-16

No one is saying that older folks shouldn’t marry. They just need to be aware of the impact it may have on their plans. Elder law attorneys advise that those thinking about marriage later in life, at the time when personal wealth is typically the highest, understand the laws on the property rights of both spouses.

Property owned jointly or exclusively by either spouse is deemed to be marital property when it comes to divorce settlement or settling an estate in many states. If you understand the applicable property rights before the marriage, it’ll let you modify your wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies and designated beneficiaries to avoid legal conflicts in the future. Those who marry later in life must face several estate planning issues younger couples don’t. For example, there may be an accumulation of considerable assets or both may have children from earlier relationships.

Marriage is a legal contract between two people that can only be ended by death, annulment or divorce. The laws concerning marriage typically aim to protect the rights and interests of both spouses. One spouse can’t entirely “disinherit" their surviving spouse, regardless of what he or she writes in a will. Under the law of some states, a surviving spouse is entitled to the income generated from a third of their late spouse’s estate for the rest of their life after all its liabilities are settled.

A good idea to eliminate possible hard feelings is a professionally drafted prenuptial agreement. This document details the legal course to be followed in the event of divorce and decreases the possibility of major disagreements.

Reference: The Hartford (CT) Courant (Sept. 24, 2016) “Fit to Be Tied? Think Twice About Marriage in Your Golden Years”

How Not to Do It: Spending the Inheritance on Royal Souvenirs and Strippers

For the Scripps family, who were heirs to a media fortune, they simply spent their millions. According to an article on CNBC.com, “The Greed Report: Not a billionaire? You still need an estate plan,” they took luxury cruises around the world and family outings to strip clubs. 11-10-16

Melissa Scripps bought Queen Elizabeth II's coronation chair and Queen Victoria's nightgown. Like his mom, son Michael liked to buy war memorabilia and guns. Oh, and he married a stripper.

When the well ran dry, the family started to fight. Mother and son turned on each other, one family member went to prison and tarnished a name once associated with entrepreneurship and philanthropy. This tragedy provides some lessons for the rest of us.

Everybody needs estate planning in some form or another—it doesn't need to be complex in many situations but everyone needs a plan, even those with social problems, financial problems and marital problems.

A good estate plan will consider all of those problems and keep your assets in the family and away from the government and taxes.

Estate planning doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. Estate planning is sometimes 95% social work and 5% legal, some attorneys say. The legal part they know—it's the social part that takes time. The Scripps family probably should have spent more time on the social part as well: Melissa Scripps' attorney said that at the time she inherited the family fortune, she had never held a real job and only had a high school education.

Maybe some more estate planning might have prevented the Scripps’ century-old legacy from turning into a gigantic family feud.

Reference:  CNBC.com (Sept. 22, 2016) “The Greed Report: Not a billionaire? You still need an estate plan”