Law News and Tips

Henry’s Legacy

Fred Vilbig - Tuesday, May 05, 2015

One of the things I enjoy about my job is learning about people’s lives. As my wife says, everyone has a story. The problem is that not everyone has someone to tell their stories to. Henry was one of those people.

Henry was born and raised on a farm in Florissant, Missouri. Although he was raised near two of the biggest rivers in America, he never learned to swim. When World War II broke out, he was drafted early on, into the Navy, of course. Sink or swim! And he swam.

Henry was assigned to the admiral’s battleship in the Pacific. He had a good voice, so he became the radio operator. The radio room was near the bottom of the ship. Even during the roughest storms, he just rocked gently back and forth.

The captain heard his voice and decided he needed to be on the bridge piping orders to the crew. When an officer told him to report to the bridge, Henry explained that he liked his job. Evidently that isn’t relevant in the Navy.

The first thing Henry noticed on the bridge was that his chair had a seat-belt. When he asked what that was for, the officer said with an evil grin, “Oh, you’ll find out.” Henry found out. In bad storms that gentle rocking in the radio room became the worst roller coaster ride you could imagine on the bridge. That seat-belt came in very handy.

On a Navy ship, the bridge gives you a view of a lot of what happens on the deck. Henry watched incredible scenes of bravery from the sailors during battles. He saw men coming onto the ship from transports fall from their rope ladders and get eaten by sharks. And he saw the cursing kamikaze pilots after their wing controls had been shot out as they flew past the ship only to crash into the ocean. He was usually the last person any of them ever saw. Henry had incredible stories to tell.

But Henry didn’t have any children to tell the stories two. When he got back to the states after the war, he married, but he and his wife couldn’t have children. So he ended up telling the stories to me.

But more than that, Henry left a legacy in another way. As they were nearing the end of their lives, he and his wife decided to give their estate to a university to set up an endowed scholarship. I had the privilege to help them plan their estate and worked with the successor trustee to fund the scholarship on the death of the second of them to die.

As my wife says, everyone has a story. The problem is that upon our deaths, our stories can go silent. One way to continue the story is through an endowment to a charity. It’s just something to think about.

Long Distance Family

Fred Vilbig - Sunday, April 26, 2015

I got a call from a woman. She lived out-of-state and had found me on the internet. She had just heard that her father had died. He had lived in St. Louis. He had told her recently that he was going to name her as his personal representative in his estate. She thought he owned a house and had some bank accounts. She hired us to probate his will.

Once we got hired, we started doing some investigating. We found nothing, literally. We called the banks our client had told us about, and they told us that there were not any accounts that needed to be probated. We then checked the real estate records and found that his house had gone to some woman we had not heard about. When we asked the client who she was, she told us it was her father’s “caregiver” at the time of his death. I started to smell a rat.

It turns out that the dad had an extended family. He had been married several times and had had children by several women, some of whom he had not married. He had grown distant from most of the kids, but he had at least stayed in touch with our client, mainly through her efforts.

When the father grew older, he had become bed-ridden. With his kids and his ex-wives out of the picture, he had turned to caregivers. Since he didn’t have much money, we assume that he offered to pay them from his estate. We found a series of beneficiary deeds naming a succession of people to get his house on his death. We assumed that these were the people he had hired as caregivers over time. The house ended up going to the last in this series. We assume that she got the bank accounts too. We know that she got the life insurance that was supposed to pay for his funeral. It was only after a fight that she agreed to use it to pay for the cheapest funeral possible.

The sad thing about this story is how the father ended up dying. He was admitted to a hospital for infections he had contracted from bed sores he got from laying in his bed for days without being moved. An untreated infection is a very painful way to die.

My client wanted to go after this “caregiver.” The problem was that this would be an expensive and uncertain case. We don’t know what kind of an agreement she had made with the father or if he had just given her his assets as a gift. I told the client that without more information (which no one seemed to have), there would at best be a 50/50 chance of success.

In the end, the caregiver made off with the estate of a man who died a painful death from lack of care. It’s sad and ironic at the same time. Keep up with your parents. It’s the right thing to do.

Giving Your Cake and Eating It Too

Fred Vilbig - Saturday, April 25, 2015

I was approached by a client several years ago about a piece of real estate he owned out in the country. A neighbor of his had approached him about selling it, but he had a problem. The land had been gifted down to him through the several generations of his family. As a result of this, if he sold the land, he would have had a big capital gains tax. The property wasn’t generating any income, so he liked the idea of selling it, but he didn’t want to lose a fourth of it in taxes.

I asked him if he had any charities he favored. He said that he did, and he had remembered one of them in his trust. That was perfect.

I talked to him about a lifetime charitable remainder trust. So long as he didn’t already have a binding contract to sell the land, he could transfer the property to a trust and get a tax deduction (he could even be his own trustee), sell the property out of the trust without incurring any immediate capital gains taxes, invest 100% of the sales proceeds, and earn a “unitrust amount” (a percentage of the trust principal’s fair market value) for the rest of his life and the life of his wife. On death, the remainder would pass to his charity.

He thought about it for a little while and asked a bunch of questions. In a way, it sounded too good to be true. In the end though, he created the trust, sold the property, and started receiving income he hadn’t been expecting. In this day and age, a little extra income can go a long way.

He also became a hero at his church. They were going to receive a substantial gift at some point in the future, and they were grateful.

The client got to give away his cake and have it too. This was a win, win, lose result. The client won; the church won; and the IRS lost which is always a good thing.

Qualifying Longevity Annuity Contracts

Fred Vilbig - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It is common knowledge that through advances in medicine and (in some cases) better living habits, we are all living longer than in prior generations. For a person who made it to 65 in 1900, they could reasonably hope to live to 77. For a person who makes it to 65 now, they can reasonably hope to live to 83. And more people are making it to 65 now than ever before. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that we are not really prepared. One-third of Americans reaching 65 have no retirement savings. They were led to believe that Social Security would take care of them. The other two-thirds have saved something, but according to studies, not nearly enough.

Many baby boomers had dreamed of early retirement, but after the Great Recession, that is now a pipe dream. Instead, people are working later and later in life. For many, this is a real burden, but they have no real option.

For those lucky enough to have some retirement savings, one concern is whether the money will last long enough. You have to start taking your required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) at 70 and 1/2, but you may still have some other sources of income you can use. For instance, you may still be in reasonably good health and can work a few more years. Maybe it would make sense to defer some of your retirement income? But how?

Last year, the IRS addressed this issue by modifying the Regulations that apply to RMDs. They did this by allowing what are called Qualified (or qualifying) Longevity Annuity Contracts (“QLACs”). If you reach 70 and 1/2 in reasonably good health and don’t need your full RMD’s right away, you can defer (but not beyond age 85) up to 25% of your retirement account (not to exceed $125,000). Depending on your situation, this may or may not make sense. You’ll need to talk to your financial advisor about that.

QLACs may not be for everyone. However, they are one more weapon in our arsenal for retirement planning. Talk to your financial advisor about whether this would make sense for you. If you don’t already have one, give me a call, and I can give you some recommendations. I just thought this would be good for you to know.

IRA Beneficiary Designations

Fred Vilbig - Saturday, March 14, 2015

When you open an IRA, your financial advisor will ask you who you want to name as your beneficiary. Typically for a married couple it will be the employee’s spouse. If the employee were to die before the complete distribution of the IRA, then the surviving souse can roll the IRA over into his or her own name. In a way this creates a new IRA, and distributions will be based on the surviving spouse’s life.

If the emplyee or surviving spouse were to die without naming a beneficiary, then the IRA will typically be distributable to a probate estate. This results in probate fees. In addition, it accelerates the taxes that haven’t been paid on the remaining balance in the IRA. The entire balance will have to be taxed within five years. Your heirs would lose the tax deferral.

So the question then is who to name as the contingent beneficiary or beneficiaries?

What I have seen from people more often than not is that after their spouse, they name their children. On the death of the IRA recipient, the IRA gets divided among the children. They each get what is called an inherited IRA, and it will be paid out over their own life expectancies beginning immediately. Distributions are not delayed until they reach 70 1/2. If they die in the meantime, they can name a beneficiary, but the distributions are locked in place and cannot be changed.

One problem with an inherited IRA is that they can be attached in bankruptcy. That is a pretty recent decision from the US Supreme Court. If they can be attached in bankruptcy, then I wonder how long before a judge decides they can be attached in any lawsuit.

Another problem with an inherited IRA is that a young beneficiary (whether a child or a grandchild) would be able to withdraw all of the IRA principal at any time. When they do that, they will lose the tax deferral benefit. In addition, large sums in young hands often lead to ruin.

In order to protect against the poor judgement of youth and lawsuits and bankruptcies, I tell clients to have their IRAs flow through a trust. By putting a trustee between the beneficiary and the IRA principal, it makes it hard for a young person to get their hands on the money for something they really don’t need or that might even hurt them. In the case of litigation, although a judge can order the beneficiary to pay a judgement, the trustee is not a party to the lawsuit and has duties to multiple beneficiaries. Judges typically respect this distinction.

So after setting up a trust, I tell clients that they need to name their spouse as the initial benefidiary on their IRA to allow for the maximum flexibility and tax planning, but to name their trust as the contingent. That is the best of both worlds to me.

Powers of Attorney Revisited

Fred Vilbig - Tuesday, February 03, 2015

I recently met with a couple who came in to update their estate planning documents. They asked me to review their current documents that had been prepared by another attorney almost ten years earlier. What I found kind of surprised me.

In looking at their powers of attorney, the maker of the power had appointed his or her spouse as her or his attorney-in-fact. On the death or disability of the other spouse, the eldest daughter would become the attorney-in-fact. On the death of the eldest daughter, the youngest daughter would become the attorney-in-fact.

The problem was that these powers of attorney were immediate, and not springing powers. In an earlier newsletter I linked to an article that talked about the difference between these two types of power of attorney. As that article pointed out, a springing power of attorney is not effective until a doctor certifies that you (the maker of the power) are incompetent. You retain complete control of your affairs until you really can’t handle things. With an immediate power of attorney, you immediately give the designated person the listed powers.

The powers of attorney that my clients had were not a problem as they sat across from me in our meeting. I had two competent, loving spouses facing me. The problem that I foresaw was what would happen when one of them became incompetent. When one of them became incompetent, then the powers he or she had over the competent spouse’s property would then immediately pass to the oldest daughter. So what happened on the incompetency of one of the clients was the eldest daughter would gain control of the assets of the competent spouse. It was a strange result. When I pointed this out to my clients, there were more than a little disturbed which was understandable. It was not what they had been led to believe they were doing when they signed the documents several years earlier. Fortunately, we still had time to fix things.

This is not the first time that I have had clients come to me to review the work of other attorneys. Every once in a while I come across things like this where the documents don’t do what the client wants. Fixing them when the clients are alive and competent is costly but doable. Once a person is incompetent or dead, it becomes much more difficult. The regular review of documents is important.

Letters of Intent

Fred Vilbig - Monday, February 02, 2015

When buying a business, you want to try to minimize your costs throughout the process. In the best of all possible worlds, you would prefer to just write a simple contract from the get-go and not have to go through the song and dance of negotiating.

That’s not realistic. The initial contract can be expensive to put together, go through several variations, and ultimately be rejected.

The alternative a lot of clients use is the letter of intent. With a letter of intent, you hit the high points to make sure you know the deal before you go to the expense of investigations and writing a contract. Letters of intent can vary significantly, depending on the deal, but several things should be covered:

1. Identify the assets you are buying with adequate specificity.

2. State what you are willing to pay, and how. If you are going to need to get financing, you need to state that.

3. Require the Seller to continue business as usual.

4. If the Seller will stay on as an employee or consultant, briefly state the terms of the agreement of continued employment.

5. Some letters of intent include warranties and representations and conditions to close, but that is typically with larger deals. However, even in smaller deals, it may be worth giving some thought to these issues.

6. Agree to work towards a definitive agreement.

7. Agree on generally when closing is to occur.

8. Have the Seller agree that while you are doing your investigation, the Seller can’t negotiate with anyone else.

9. Agree that any information obtained during the investigations and negotiations will be maintained in strict confidence.

10. State whether any brokers are involved, and if so, who, what’s their fee, and who’s paying.

11. Generally, a letter of intent is nonbinding, but typically certain provisions are. You need to state what provisions are binding. In the above list, typically numbers 3, 9, and 10 would be binding.

Once the parties agree to the contents of a letter of intent, you can start moving toward your investigations, preparing the definitive agreement, and ultimately the closing. The tricky part with a letter of intent, is making sure that you state the critical deal points and make them binding if that would be appropriate. And these deal points can vary significantly.

Starting off with a letter of intent can help you find out if the Seller is serious and if the deal points are realistic. If neither of these are true, then you need to walk on by and look for the next opportunity. No need for you to waste your time or money.

Protecting the Kids

Fred Vilbig - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bill and Sandy came into see me several months ago. They had four young kids, including a couple of teenagers. Two were very good with money. One was okay, though, Bill had his concerns. The fourth never saw a nickel he couldn’t spend.

Bill’s dad had died several years ago, and he left his mom pretty well-off. His mom had just recently died. Although she had spent a couple of years in a nursing home, Bill still inherited a nice sum. Between that and what Bill and Sandy had saved, their kids stood to inherit quite a bit of money as well. Bill and Sandy were worried.

When Bill was in high school and college, one of his best friends was Joe. Joe’s mom had died when he was young, and Joe’s dad had been pretty frugal and saved a lot of money. Because of his mother’s early death, Joe had no brothers or sisters. His dad never remarried.

Soon after college, Joe’s dad died tragically. He’d been young, so he had never thought to do any estate planning. Everything went outright to Joe, and his life began a steep downhill spiral. I refer to these kids as trust babies. They have no real direction or goal in life except to get more money out of their trust. I recently had a probate case where one of the sons had a drug habit. By law, we had to give him the money, but we know that this is not going to end well. Bill and Sandy did not want that to happen to their kids.

The estate plan, we developed for Bill and Sandy used a trust to avoid probate. Their assets were completely under their control during their lives. On the death of the second of them to die, everything would be divided equally between their kids, but not distributed to them outright. Instead, Sandy’s brother would be in control of the inheritance, and they could only get distributions for health, education, and maintenance in their standard of living. When the kids turn 35, they would get control. Bill and Sandy hoped that by then even the spender would have some money sense. In order to protect the kids from divorce claims and possible from lawsuits, they decided to leave the kids money in trust while making the kids their own trustees at that time.

Bill and Sandy were relieved. It was the best plan they could put in place to protect their kids.

Women in Business & Privacy

Fred Vilbig - Friday, January 09, 2015

There are several ways that a person can go into business, but all involve some loss of privacy. For women, in particular, this may be a critical issue.

Sole Proprietor: The easiest way to go into business is just to start your business. This is a sole proprietorship. One problem with this is that you are fully exposed from a liability perspective. Another problem is that if you use a fictitious name, you will have to list a business or home address. Also, any tax forms that are needed will have your Social Security number. That is a bad thing. You could get an employer identification number (and “EIN”), but that doesn’t solve your problems.

Partnership: If you going into business with someone else, you are in a partnership. Typically you will get an EIN. Assuming you adopt a business name, you’ll have to register it as a fictitious name. The fictitious name registration requires a physical address.

Corporation: Another option is to form a Corporation. Again, you’ll need to get and EIN, so your personal tax information will not be exposed. However, there are several places we may have to list your home address. If you are doing this by yourself, when you file your articles of incorporation you may have to list your physical home address both as the incorporator and as the registered agent. In addition, you’ll have to file an annual report with the Missouri Secretary of State that lists the names and physical addresses of your officers and directors.

Limited Liability Company: The other form of business is a limited liability company. Like a Corporation, the articles of organization require the name and a physical address of the organizer and the registered agent. The good thing, though, is that you don’t have to file an annual report.

Some people mistakenly think that these forms that are filed with the Secretary of State’s office are private. In fact, they are publicly available. With a few internet searches, anyone can find the name and address of a business incorporator/organizer, the fictitious name registrant, the registered agent, and the officers and directors of a corporation. For some people, that’s more public exposure than they want.

To me, the best privacy solution is to work with an attorney to establish an LLC. The attorney can be the organizer and the registered agent using his or her office address. The attorney will prepare an operating agreement (this is a required document), identifying you as the owner. This is a private document. The attorney or your CPA can apply for an EIN for the company.

By doing this, your name, address, and other confidential information remains private. You can disclose as much information as you want (or none) in your marketing material, but that is within your control. For women in business (and others), this seems to make a lot of sense.

THE MYSTERIOUS LLC

Fred Vilbig - Tuesday, December 09, 2014

LLCs are funny little creatures. In America, they originated out of Wyoming (of all places) in 1977. One of the last states to pass, LLC legislation was Hawaii in 2010. Now all 50 states have laws authorizing LLCs, and it is fair to say that most new small businesses are formed as LLCs. But what is an LLC?

To answer that question, we need to consider the pre-LLC landscape of business entities. Before LLCs, if you wanted to start a business, you had three basic options: sole proprietorship; partnership; or incorporation.

With a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you had a lot of flexibility. Any structure you had was self-imposed. Aside from taxes, there was very little required state reporting. It’s the easy way to run a business. But in both of these situations, all of your assets were exposed to lawsuits. You could lose your house and all your savings if someone slipped in your store.

To limit liability, people went with a corporation. But with corporations, there is structure and reporting. Generally, you need a board of directors, a president, and a secretary. You have to have annual meetings of your shareholders and directors. You have to file annual reports with the state. But at least your assets are safe.

The lawmakers in Wyoming (and later every other state) thought there had to be a better way. They decided to blend the flexibility of a partnership with the limited liability of a Corporation, and they came up with limited liability companies.

To form a limited liability company, the business owner(s) (who is called a member(s)) has to file articles of organization in a state, typically the state where the business is located. To organize the LLC (and this is required for all LLCs), the member(s) generally has to execute an operating agreement. Operating agreements can be very simple in the case of a single member LLC, but they can be fairly complicated for multimember LLCs. For multimember LLCs, the members generally need to agree on who runs things; whether a member can sell his or her interest; and what happens when a member dies.

Members can form LLCs in two basic ways: member-managed; and manager-managed. Member-managed LLCs are like general partnerships where each member usually has equal authority to run the business, although even here the members can provide for officers with different duties. In the case of manager-managed LLCs, the manager (who may or may not be a member) will run things. The non-manager member is like a limited partner, but generally with certain reserved powers.

So if you’re thinking about starting a business, you’ll probably want to consider an LLC. They provide limited liability and maximum flexibility, but that flexibility means that you have to provide the structure. With some advice and planning, you can form the right LLC for your business.