6 Tips on How to Handle the Responsibility and Potential Liability of Being a Trustee (Part 1) by Rob Cohen

Trusts are popular estate planning tools to ensure that families and assets are taken care of when someone passes away. Whether it’s providing for children, endowing charities, or managing real estate, those who create trusts have specific wishes that they expect to be followed, and they expect the trustee to carry out their plans.

But, being a trustee can be a thankless job, not to mention one that can thrust a person with good intentions into the cross hairs of litigation. Courts are filling to over-capacity with cases against trustees, and the matters can get quite complex.

If you are asked to be a trustee, first understand that someone held you in very high esteem and had confidence that you could oversee his or her legacy and assets. Second, be sure you know what being a trustee entails. It can get very complex, very fast.

With this in mind, here are a few tips that might help make your trustee-ship progress more smoothly.

1) Read the trust. Seems pretty basic, but you might be surprised at the level of detail and complexity contained within a trust. The trustee is obligated to administer the trust strictly by its terms. Not all trusts are the same; if possible, read the document with an attorney familiar with trust administration.

2) Keep track of your time. Some trusts are specific as to how much the trustee is to be paid (e.g., a fixed fee or percentage of the value of the assets). But some trusts, especially those drafted several years ago, may permit the trustee to receive “reasonable” compensation. What is reasonable? Ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different answers. To avoid possible confusion or challenges, track your hours spent acting as trustee. If there is a dispute as to the trustee’s compensation, at least you’ll be able to demonstrate the actual time spent on trust matters.

3) Provide annual accountings. Every year, be sure to provide the beneficiaries with clear written accountings, which explain the income and expenses of the trust. Why is this important? First, it is required by statute. Second, once the accounting is served on the beneficiaries, the statute of limitations begins to run on claims challenging the accounting. If you don’t serve the accounting, the statute of limitations to file a challenge doesn’t start and you can be on the hook for a long time.

To continue reading: BEING A TRUSTEE IS A THANKLESS JOB: Six Tips on How to Handle the Responsibility and Potential Liability (Part 2)

For more information speak with our Trust Attorney in Los Angeles today.

Understanding Living Trusts: How You Can Avoid Probate, Save Taxes and More FAQ

In this blog series, we will be going through frequently asked questions regarding various aspects of estate planning including living trusts, probate, taxes and more.

I have a will. Why would I want a living trust?

Contrary to what you’ve probably heard, a will may not be the best plan for you and your family – primarily because a will does not avoid probate when you die. A will must be verified by the probate court before it can be enforced.  Also, because a will can only go into effect after you die, it provides no protection if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. So the court could easily take control of your assets before you die – a concern of millions of older Americans and their families.

Fortunately, there is a simple and proven alternative to a will–the revocable living trust. It avoids probate, and lets you keep control of your assets while you are living – even if you become incapacitated – and after you die.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process through which the court sees that, when you die, your debts are paid and your assets are distributed according to your will. If you don’t have a valid will, your assets are distributed according to state law.

What’s so bad about probate?

It can be expensive. Legal/executor fees and other costs must be paid before your assets can be fully distributed to your heirs. If you own property in other states, your family could face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state. Because these costs can vary widely, be sure to get an estimate.

It takes time, usually nine months to two years, but often longer. During part of this time, assets are usually frozen so an accurate inventory can be taken. Nothing can be distributed or sold without court and/or executor approval. If your family needs money to live on, they must request a living allowance, which may be denied.

Your family has no privacy. Probate is a public process, so any “interested party” can see what you owned and who you owed. The process “invites” disgruntled heirs to contest your will and can expose your family to unscrupulous solicitors.

Your family has no control. The probate process determines how much it will cost, how long it will take, and what information is made public.

For additional questions about trust law, speak with our experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Los Angeles today.

Continue to: Understanding Living Trusts: How You Can Avoid Probate, Save Taxes and More FAQ (Part 2)


What’s NOT in The 2010 Tax Act

There are two key provisions that many commentators feared would be in the 2010 Tax Act, but which were not included in it.

Specifically, there have been several proposals to place limits on Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (“GRATs”), which allow individuals to transfer wealth out of their estates with as little as a zero estate or gift tax cost that would have made GRATs less valuable from an estate planning perspective.  There have also been several proposals to limit valuation discounts in connection with certain estate planning techniques such as family limited partnerships. There were no such provisions included in the Act.  Therefore, these techniques continue to be available to move wealth to lower generations.

Temporary Relief Does Not Extend to Non-US Citizens Who Are Not Residents for Estate Tax Purposes

The Act reinstates federal estate taxes on United States-situs property of non-US citizens who are not residents.  The increase of the applicable exclusion amount to $5 million per person does not apply to non-US citizens who are not residents. US situs property exceeding $60,000 in value is currently subject to US estate taxes beginning at graduated marginal rates starting at 18 percent.  Accordingly, particular vigilance needs to be exercised in structuring the acquisition of US assets such as real property, so as to avoid imposition of US estate taxes at pre-2010 levels.

Contact our Estate Planning Lawyer in Los Angeles today to review your estate plan.

Continue to final post in blog series:

Summary of The 2010 Tax Act

Why (almost) Every Estate Plan in the U.S. Needs to be Rewritten Immediately

Almost every estate plan in the United States needs to be rewritten immediately.  Before the 2010 Tax Act, the federal estate tax was gradually reduced over several years and then eliminated for decedents dying in 2010.  Prior law provided that the estate tax, with a maximum tax rate of 55 percent and a $1 million applicable exclusion amount, would be reinstated after 2010.  Additional changes scheduled for years after 2010 affected the gift and generation- skipping transfer (“GST”) taxes.

The Act reinstates the estate tax for decedents dying during 2010, but at a significantly higher applicable exclusion amount of $5 million, and a lower maximum tax rate of 35 percent.  The exemption will be indexed for inflation, beginning in 2012.  This estate tax regime continues for decedents dying in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, this new regime is itself temporary and will sunset on December 31, 2012 and the prior estate tax regime, with a 55 percent maximum estate tax rate and a $1 million applicable exclusion amount, will be reinstated at that time.  There is no guarantee that the rules will remain in place permanently.  Among the range of possibilities is another complete repeal (highly unlikely) or a tightening of the rules.  However, Congress has shown that it has a difficult time generating a consensus on tax issues, so the status quo could continue beyond the next two years.

The Act also eliminates the modified carryover basis rules for 2010 and replaces them with the stepped-up basis rules that had applied before 2010. Property with a stepped-up basis generally receives a basis equal to the property’s fair market value on the date of the decedent’s death. Under the modified carryover basis rules that applied during 2010 before the Act, executors could increase the basis of estate property only by a total of $1.3 million (plus an additional $3 million for assets passing to a surviving spouse, for a total increase of $4.3 million), with other estate property taking a carryover basis equal to the lesser of the decedent’s basis or the property’s fair market value on the decedent’s death.

Leave it to Congress to create a “ginormous” loophole, a historic rift in the entire time-space continuum through which several billionaires waltzed on their way out of this mortal coil, even while TSA agents were frisking, x-raying, and imaging elderly people boarding airplanes.  The Act gives estates of decedents dying during 2010 the option to apply (1) the estate tax based on the new 35 percent top rate and $5 million applicable exclusion amount, with stepped-up basis, or (2) no estate tax and modified carryover basis rules under prior law.

The Act also provides for “portability” between spouses of the estate tax applicable exclusion amount for estates of decedents dying in 2011 and 2012 if both spouses die before 2013. Generally, portability allows surviving spouses to elect to take advantage of the unused portion of the estate tax applicable exclusion amount (but not any unused GST tax exemption) of their predeceased spouses, thereby providing surviving spouses with a larger exclusion amount.   Special limits apply to decedents with multiple predeceased spouses.  To preserve the first deceased spouse’s unused applicable exclusion amount, the executor for such spouse must file an estate tax return and make an election on such return, even if such an estate tax return would otherwise not be required.

Now is the time to take advantage of the increased exclusion amount. Contact our Estate Tax Planning Attorney in Los Angeles today.

Continue reading blog series:

Gift Taxes, GST and Misc Effects of The 2010 Tax Act

Important Estate Tax Aspects of the 2010 Tax Act (the “Act”)

Was that the sound of another volcanic eruption from Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland?  Was it a lingering echo of vuvuzelas from the World Cup of 2010 in South Africa?  Or was it an enthusiastic cheer from the Bronx at the news that no estate tax would apply to the estate of billionaire George Steinbrenner?  No, that “thud” was the sound of Congress closing the book on its experiment with estate tax repeal.  The estate tax is back.

On December 17, 2010 President Obama signed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (the “Act”). The Act substantially modifies federal taxation of income, gifts and estates, which impacts estate planning for many of our clients, and presents significant estate planning opportunities.  The Act temporarily reinstates and modifies the estate and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes retroactive to the beginning of 2010, and modifies the gift tax beginning in 2011.  Importantly, while the new estate tax regime will be effective in 2010, estates of decedents dying in 2010 can elect out of the Act’s regime and use former 2010 estate tax law – a zero rate and modified carryover basis rules.

This blog series summarizes the Act’s key changes and provides you with our observations about the Act’s impact from an estate planning perspective.   Please note that there are several important changes made by the Act that this blog series does not summarize.

Continue reading blog series:

Why (almost) Every Estate Plan in the U.S. Needs to be Rewritten Immediately
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Deduction Limitations of the Corporation and Individual

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This is the third section of Anker Reed HSC’s blog series entitled “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate? That is the Question” regarding deduction limitations of the corporation and individual.

The corporation, on the other hand, is not affected by the § 67 limitation. A corporation will be allowed a one hundred percent deduction on itemized deductions. Therefore, in the foregoing example, the corporate taxpayer will be able to deduct the full amount of $50,000 without limitation. The corporation has effectively just saved the individual taxpayer approximately $4,000 in federal taxes and $1,000 in state taxes.

The subject of deduction limitations becomes more significant when addressing the issue of deductions allowed for medical expenses. An individual taxpayer can deduct the expenses for medical care of the taxpayer, his spouse, or a dependent to the extent that the expenses exceed 7.5% of the adjusted gross income. Using the previous example, if the individual had medical expenses of $25,000, they are not deductible because only those expenses that exceed 7.5% of the adjusted gross income are deductible. With an adjusted gross income of $500,000, the individual would need to have medical expenses of at least $37,500 before any deductions may be taken. In applying the applicable federal and state tax rates, the individual with $25,000 of medical expenses would pay a tax of approximately $12,500 ($10,000 to the federal government and $2,500 to the state government).

* For specific inquiries regarding a tax planning legal matter that you may have, you are welcome to visit our Los Angeles Business Attorney services page.

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The Tax Benefits of Incorporation to the Entertainer (Part 2)

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This is the part 2 of the second section of Anker Reed HSC’s blog series entitled “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate? That is the Question” regarding the tax benefits of incorporation to the entertainer.

The only difference between a corporation and an individual taxpayer is the application of the rate of tax to the taxable income.” Section 1(c) applies to the individual taxpayer and requires taxation at the highest level of 39.6%. Section 11, which applies to the corporate taxpayer, requires taxation at the highest level of 35%. While it may seem that the 4.6% difference in maximum taxation rates is inconsequential, the §1(c) rate of 39.6% is applied to taxable income over $250,000. The §11 tax rate of 35% is applied to taxable income exceeding $10,000,000.

The foregoing analysis, though, is altered when applied to a personal service corporation (“PSC”) (also known as a loan-out corporation). Section 11(b)(2) states that the qualified PSC will be taxed at a rate of 35%.  “The [Internal Revenue] Code provides for the taxation of the taxable income of certain personal service corporations at the highest corporate [tax] rate, thereby depriving these corporations of the benefit of lesser, graduated tax rates on taxable income not in excess of $75,000″ (Ness and Vogel, 1991).  The corporation with very little taxable income will be taxed at the same rate as large corporation with a large amount of taxable income. Section 11(b)(2) only applies to those PSCs that are qualified as defined by Internal Revenue Code § 448(d)(2).

Therefore, a corporation which is substantially involved in the performing arts (among other specified industries, including accounting, law, and engineering), and where substantially all of the stock in the corporation is held either directly or indirectly by an employee performing the services in which the corporation is substantially involved, then the corporation is a qualified PSC.

* For specific inquiries regarding a tax planning legal matter that you may have, you are welcome to visit our Woodland Hills Tax Lawyer services page.

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The Tax Benefits of Incorporation to the Entertainer (Part 1)

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This is the second section of Anker Reed HSC’s blog series entitled “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate? That is the Question” regarding the tax benefits of incorporation to the entertainer.

“In general, the tax benefits available to loan-out corporations compare favorably with those available to individuals under their two unincorporated alternatives:

  1. providing services as a direct employee of the unrelated party consuming the services
  2. providing services as a sole proprietor

“(La France, 1995)

The concepts employed to determine a corporation’s tax liability are the same broad principles of gross income, deductions, assignment of income, timing, and characterization of the income employed by the individual taxpayer. Taxable income is gross income less certain authorized deductions. Gross income is all income from whatever source derived. Internal Revenue Code § 61 provides a non-exclusive list of sources of income which qualify as gross income under that section, including compensation for services, gains derived from dealings in property interest, and dividends.

From gross income, deductions are made if specifically allowed by the Internal Revenue Code as properly deductible. Such deductions include those ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business, deductions on interest paid during the taxable year and ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year for the production of income.

* For specific inquiries regarding a tax planning legal matter that you may have, you are welcome to visit our Los Angeles Tax Planning Attorney services page.

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To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate? THAT is the Question (Part 4)

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This is part 4 of Anker Reed HSC’s blog series entitled “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate? That is the Question”.

“The desire to avoid employee classification, and to obtain the benefits of the corporate form and independent contractor status, often motivates workers to create an employee loan-out corporation.” (La France, 1995)

Primarily, though, an entertainer will be considering the formation of a business entity for the purpose of creating a more beneficial tax structure. By filtering income through a business entity and with proper Tax Planning advice, different tax advantages arise. Yet, the structures of a limited liability company (“LLC“) and a partnership will not provide the desired tax benefit to an entertainer.

A partnership includes a syndicate, group, pool, joint venture, or other unincorporated organization through or by means of which any business, financial operation, or venture is carried on, and which is not, within the meaning of this title, a corporation or a trust or estate.

* For specific inquiries regarding a business legal matter that you may have, you are welcome to visit our Business Organization and Business Formation legal services page.

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To Incorporate or not to Incorporate? THAT is the Question (Part 3)

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This is part 3 of Anker Reed HSC’s blog series entitled “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate? That is the Question”.

Which Business Entity Should the Entertainer Choose?

The analysis of which business entity will be most advantageous for an entertainer is no different from the analysis done with regard to which business entity will be optimal in any other industry. An analysis of the benefits and detriments with regard to liability, tax consequences, and control issues all factor in the decision of which business entity to employ. Over time, though, this analysis has been refined in that attorneys and accountants have recognized that certain business entities are more favorable in certain industries while other business entities more appropriately pertain to other industries.

The general analysis of the benefits and detriments of the various business entities have led attorneys and accountants to conclude that incorporating is more advantageous to an entertainer than forming a limited liability company, partnership, or other business entity. This is because the purposes for the formation of a business entity by an entertainer will not be served by any of the alternative business entities. The other attributes of incorporation, namely liability protection and control issues, become irrelevant.  Usually a corporation’s directors and shareholders will be shielded from liability in that a corporation and its owners are separate entities. This is untrue, though, when the shareholders have personally guaranteed the liability. This was a major teaching of the Basinger case, in that had Ms. Basinger signed the contract on her own behalf, this effectively would have been a personal guarantee of the contract. Additionally, the control issues are not important to analyze in that an entertainer is usually the sole shareholder of the loanout corporation.

* For specific inquiries regarding a business legal matter that you may have, you are welcome to visit our Business Organization Formation legal services page.

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