Estate & Wealth Transfer Planning

What is estate planning?

Some people view estate planning solely as tax planning; our view is more encompassing.  Proper estate planning focuses on people first, and assets second.  Our first step is to ascertain your wishes and desires for you and your family.  Then we determine how and to whom you wish to leave your assets.  Next, we assist you in selecting the persons who will carry out your wishes and desires when you are disabled or deceased.  Only then do we develop a plan that will accommodate your wishes while minimizing your transfer taxes.

Our “people first” focus leads to your core estate plan, around which we build strategies to minimize transfer taxes.  A core estate plan typically includes documents like Living Trusts, Pour-Over Wills, and Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Property.

Minimizing Transfer Taxes

Once the core is established, we can employ a multitude of sophisticated estate planning techniques to minimize taxable estates and preserve your wealth for future generations.  For example, we project savings for one client of nearly $85 million in estate tax, preserving nearly $157 million for the client’s family, while also fulfilling the client’s charitable desires.  We accomplish these savings through various estate freeze and discount techniques, such as Family Limited Liability Companies, sales to Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGTs), gifts to GRATs, QPRTs, and Dynasty Trusts, outright gifts, and gifts to charitable trusts and charitable foundations.  We also use irrevocable trusts (e.g. ILITs) to move life insurance proceeds out of your estate, protect assets from creditors, and ensure liquid assets are available shortly after death.  Whether your estate is $100 million or on the cusp of the federal estate tax exemption amount, we can help maximize the amount passing to your family.

The Family Business

Planning for the succession of family businesses can be fraught with intra-family disputes and dilemmas.  Studies show that only about one-third of family owned businesses survive to the second generation, and only 10-15% survive to the third generation.  We are fortunate to represent several generations of business owners, helping each to prepare the way for the next generation.  In addition, we have assisted clients in planning for their business when no one in the next generation wants to continue the family business.

Perhaps you are that second generation, nervously eyeing that 10-15% survivorship statistic.  Perhaps you are the first generation founder, having spent your entire life building your business into what it is today.  No matter how you built or acquired your family business, our estate planning attorneys can help devise a strategy to preserve it and/or maximize its financial power for you and your family.

The Family Cottage

Planning for the succession of the family cottage or vacation home can be even more complicated than planning for the succession of the family business.  The vacation home is great when the children are young, but now they are grown, have their own families, and some like the family cottage more than others.  When planning your estate, the vacation home often requires special consideration.

You may want to preserve the vacation cottage as a family gathering place, ensuring future family harmony.  However, maintaining the vacation home after you are gone can actually lead to disharmony.  Who pays the taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance expenses, etc.?  Who maintains the vacation home and regulates its usage?  Our estate planning attorneys can help you implement a plan to avoid disputes that could dampen the wonderful memories of family gatherings at the vacation cottage.

Family Financing/Gifts

Some of our clients are financing their children’s homes or business ventures.  Some of these clients expect to be repaid; others intend the money as a gift.  And sometimes those intentions change over time.  If not properly structured and documented, those loans and gifts could generate unexpected gift taxes and family disputes.  A frequent dispute when a parent dies is whether money transferred to a child during life was intended as a gift or a loan.

Our estate planning attorneys can help you proactively diffuse these family disputes, document your intentions, and avoid unexpected gift taxes.  In addition, we can help you maximize your gift by leveraging your lifetime gift tax exclusion as well as your annual gift tax exemption.