How to Use an LLC to Transfer a Family-Owned Business

 Asset Protection, Estate Planning, Life Insurance No Comments


For many of my clients, a family-owned or closely held business forms a major part of their estate. While business exit and succession planning can be challenging because of tax issues, family dynamics and emotions, it can also be exceedingly gratifying for clients and their families.

In the discussion below, I will examine a case study that uses a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the transfer of a family business to the next generation.

[Please note: This discussion is technical in nature and therefore intended for my friends and colleagues in the legal, accounting, insurance and financial planning professions. I am not rendering legal advice. Please retain a lawyer before acting upon any of the matters discussed below.]

Case Study Facts

Frank (age 62) is married to Betty (age 58). Frank has an older son, Tom, from a previous marriage who is active in Frank’s business. Betty has a daughter, Susan, from her previous marriage. Together they have a son, Charlie, who is a minor. Betty, Susan and Charlie are not involved in Frank’s business.

Frank owns 100% of an S-corporation. It has a fair market value of $10 million and generates very good cash flow. Frank and Betty have significant other assets, including a home and investments. They own some jointly and Frank brought some into the marriage — they are held in his individual name. Their $5 million lifetime gift/estate/GSTT exemptions are fully available.

Consequences of No Planning
If Frank does nothing, according to the probate laws of the state in which they live, Betty will receive 50% of Frank’s estate including the business; his son Tom will receive 25% of Frank’s estate including the business; and Charlie will receive 25% of Frank’s estate including the business. Because Charlie is a minor, Betty will control his share until he is 18. So, in effect, Betty will control 75% of the business if Frank dies intestate. Susan, Betty’s daughter, will receive nothing.

Planning Objectives
Frank would like to ensure that ownership of the business will go to his son Tom, and Tom would like the security of knowing that one day the business will be his. Tom does not have the cash to buy the business. Frank would also like to control the timing of the transfer of the business and he would like to treat his stepdaughter and younger son fairly. He is concerned about maintaining enough cash flow to support himself and Betty now, and providing for Betty if he dies first. And he would like to minimize estate taxes.

Recommended Plan

Phase 1: Reorganize and Recapitalize the S-Corporation
In a tax-free reorganization, the S-corporation is converted to an LLC that is taxed as an S-corporation. The LLC is organized under the laws of a “charging order only” state. Frank’s ownership is changed from 100% voting shares in the corporation to 1% voting and 99% non-voting memberships in the LLC. Frank still effectively owns and controls 100% of the business, but now it is comprised of 10 LLC membership units (1%) that are voting units and 990 (99%) that are non-voting units.

Phase 2: Create Dynasty Trusts
Frank next establishes three irrevocable trusts, one for each child, in a jurisdiction that permits perpetual trusts. The trusts (irrevocable grantor trusts, aka intentionally defective grantor trusts) are disregarded by the IRS for income tax purposes, but not for estate and gift tax purposes. (Alternatively, one trust with three separate shares can be established.) The trusts are also designed to own life insurance on Frank’s life.

Frank makes an initial gift of $600,000 to each trust. These are taxable gifts that must be reported on Form 709, but no gift tax will be due because it will be applied to Frank’s and Betty’s lifetime gift tax exclusions. $600,000 of their generation skipping transfer tax (GSTT) exclusions will also be allocated to each trust, giving each a zero inclusion ratio – so that it is not subject to GSTT in the future.

The trustee of Susan’s and Charlie’s trusts uses their initial gifts to purchase life insurance policies on Frank and/or Betty, providing substantial assets upon Frank’s or their deaths.

Phase 3: Tom’s Trust Buys All Non-Voting Units with an Installment Note
A business valuation is performed to determine the fair market value of Frank’s business. As part of this process a qualified valuator first values the assets the business owns (real estate, equipment, good will, inventory, etc.). The valuator then determines whether and to what extent the value of the assets should be adjusted due to lack of control, liquidity and marketability.

When these valuation adjustments are applied to non-voting interests in an LLC, the fair market value is often depressed by a significant amount when compared to the fair market value of the entire business: in this hypothetical case, 40%. In other words, the non-voting units will each have a value of $6,000, making the total value of the 990 non-voting units $5,940,000. Alternatively, voting units will have a premium value to reflect the control value. In this hypothetical case, the voting units have an appraised value of $12,000 per unit, making the total value of the 10 voting units $120,000.

Tom’s dynasty trust buys Frank’s 990 non-voting units for $5,940,000 using a 20-year installment note, payable annually. Based on the current IRS published interest rates, the trust will pay Frank $447,197 every year for 20 years. The note is adequately secured by the LLC units and the $600,000 of other assets in Tom’s trust. The cash flow from 99% of the business is more than sufficient to cover the note payments.

Planning Tip: The installment note should be handled just like an installment sale to a non-family member or a loan from a bank. A pledge or security agreement should be signed, required taxes should be paid, required filings should be made, etc. A fully documented paper trail should exist for the transaction and the payments made on the note. 

Why Reorganize the Corporation to an LLC?

Corporate stock is freely transferable, making it very easy for a judgment creditor to foreclose on corporate stock and become a shareholder. In most states, the percentage required for shareholder voting to liquidate a corporation is less than 100%, generally ranging from 51% to 80%. If a judgment creditor forecloses on enough shares of stock to allow the creditor to liquidate the corporation, the creditor would be able to seize the assets of the corporation to satisfy the claim.

Alternatively, LLC interests are usually not transferable without the consent of all members. Due to this limitation on transferability, an LLC offers much greater asset protection from creditors. Many states limit a creditor’s remedy to a “charging order” on distributions to LLC members. (Only when a distribution is made will it go to the creditor; when the claim has been repaid, the charging order is stopped.) The creditor can never become a substitute member, and will only become an assignee with no ability to vote on admission of new members or the liquidation of the LLC. In most states, it takes a 100% vote of all members to liquidate an LLC. Because a creditor can never become a member, it can never vote on liquidation of the LLC.

Outcome of the Planning

Frank owns the 10 voting units, giving him 100% control of the business and 1% of the equity. Tom’s dynasty trust owns 990 non-voting units, giving Tom no control over the business and 99% of the equity. Tom’s trust also has $600,000 in cash that Frank gifted to it as seed capital. This cash is invested, and the income tax attributes of income, gains and losses are passed through to Frank to be reported on his tax return, as is the income, gains and losses attributable to Tom’s trust’s 99% ownership in the business.

Income Tax Reporting
As long as Frank is deemed the owner of Tom’s dynasty trust for purposes of reporting trust income, the dynasty trust does not have to file a Form 1041 fiduciary income tax return. A corporate income tax return (1120S and K-1) is filed for the business and Frank reports the trust’s income on his tax return.

Income Tax Effect of Sale of Units
Because Frank is the deemed owner of the trust for income tax purposes, the sale of the LLC units to Tom’s trust is a non-recognition event; i.e., a sale by Frank to himself. No gain or loss is recognized on the sale. No interest income is recognized on the installment note payments and no interest deduction is allowed to the trust.

Planning Tip: Include a “toggle” provision to turn each dynasty trust’s grantor status off or on as needed, so that the income being taxed to Frank can be stopped if that should become undesirable later. Consider giving this power to a trust protector. 

Pass Through Dynasty Trust Income
Income from the LLC will be allocated to the unit holders based on their ownership percentages. Let’s assume the business has $500,000 in net income. Frank owns 10 voting units, equal to 1% of the equity, so he will be allocated $5,000 on the 1120S as K-1 income. Tom’s dynasty trust owns 990 non-voting units, which is equal to 99% of the equity. So Frank, on behalf of the trust, will also be allocated $495,000 on the 1120S as K-1 income.

Because the dynasty trusts are grantor trusts for income tax purposes, Frank must pay the income tax on all their income, including the S-corporation income that is allocated to Tom’s trust. But that is what he was doing before the sale, so he is paying the same income tax before and after.

Planning Tip: Frank’s payment of income taxes in dynasty trust income is not an additional gift to the trusts, so every year he is effectively transferring additional estate assets to the trusts for the children without additional transfer tax. 

How the Dynasty Trust Makes the Required Note Payments
In this case study, we assume that the LLC will have $500,000 per year of cash flow to distribute to the unit holders. Tom’s dynasty trust will receive a cash distribution of $495,000 ($500,000 times 99% = $495,000). At the end of the first year, it will have $1,095,000 in cash ($495,000 from the LLC plus $600,000 that Frank gifted to it as seed capital). The trustee uses this money to pay the $447,197 note payment to Frank.

Planning Tip: If the business does not make enough income to pay the note, the payment can be deferred until the business recovers or the term or interest rate of the note can be adjusted. 

Results after One Year

At the end of the first year, the note has been reduced to $5,745,847 and Tom’s trust has a cash balance of $647,803. This cash can be invested and saved, distributed to Tom (gift tax-free), or used to buy and pay for a life insurance policy on Frank’s life.

Frank has received $5,000 from the LLC and $447,197 from the note payment for a total of $452,197 in income. He pays income taxes on the full $500,000 of S-corporation income. If, after all deductions, he has a 25% effective income tax rate, he would pay $125,000 in income taxes, leaving him with $327,197 in income to support his and Betty’s lifestyle.

Planning Tip: A higher income tax rate means less net income, but the client can also receive additional (reasonable) compensation as an LLC manager or as a Director. If he needs less income, his salary can be reduced, but ensure that it is not so much that he loses benefits. 

When Frank Dies

Frank and Betty also establish estate plans, so the assets in Frank’s estate will pass as planned, not according to the state’s default rules.

If Frank and Betty have consumed or gifted the net after-tax proceeds of each note payment from Tom’s dynasty trust, only the unpaid balance of the note will be included in the value of his taxable estate. Tom’s dynasty trust is GSTT exempt, so its assets will never be subject to estate, gift or GST taxes. Frank’s estate plan leaves the 10 voting units to Tom’s dynasty trust, giving Tom 100% ownership of the business. The dynasty trusts for Susan and Charlie are also GSTT exempt, and the life insurance proceeds will be exempt from probate and income, estate and GST taxes. Betty will continue to receive the remaining note payments for her support.

Estate Tax Results
Frank has removed 0.99 x $10,000,000 + 3 x $600,000 = $11,700,000 of appreciating assets from the value of his gross estate that, at his death, would have been subject to estate taxes. He and Betty have used $1,800,000 of their lifetime gift/estate/GST exemptions. (Remember, unless Congress acts before the end of 2012, the top estate tax rate in 2013 is scheduled to go back to 55% with a $1 million exemption.)

Frank has received an asset (the $5,940,000 note) that, in his estate, may have a discounted value due to lack of marketability, etc., and that will not appreciate; in fact, the note is depreciating because the principal will decrease over the 20-year term.

If Frank does not accumulate the note payments, at the end of the note term he will have completely removed the $10,600,000 and all future appreciation from his gross estate without making a taxable gift other than the initial $600,000 seed capital gifts to the dynasty trusts.

The trust assets are not subject to generation-skipping transfer tax, will be protected from creditors, and will not be included in the children’s or grandchildren’s or great-grandchildren’s gross estates at their deaths.

Objectives Met

All of Frank’s objectives have been met. His son Tom will receive the business without having to buy it, and Frank can control the timing of the business transfer. He was able to provide for his other children and his wife, and he saved substantial estate taxes.


While this kind of planning can be complicated, the above example demonstrates that the rewards are many. I enjoy helping my clients solve their problems, strengthen their family relationships, save money and have peace of mind. This type of planning is truly a win-win opportunity.

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Parents of Kids with Special Needs: Avoid These Common IRA and Life Insurance Mistakes

 Estate Planning, Life Insurance, Retirement Planning, Special Needs Planning No Comments


Private retirement savings plans, like IRAs and 401(k)s, have become the main way for American families to save for retirement. But parents of children with special needs need to be vigilant when signing up for a retirement plan or company life insurance program.

Most retirement accounts allow the owner to choose a designated beneficiary to receive the funds in the account if the owner dies. This beneficiary designation is especially useful because it allows the funds in the retirement account to pass to the owner’s heirs without the cost and hassle of probate. In general, an owner names a so-called “primary” beneficiary who is first in line to receive the benefits, as well as a “secondary” or “contingent” beneficiary who would get the funds if the primary beneficiary has died or refused to accept the account. Account owners can usually name multiple people as beneficiaries, and they can often name a class of people, like “my surviving children” or “my nieces and nephews,” instead of designating people by name.

This ability to name a class of beneficiaries often leads to trouble when a member of the particular class has special needs. Problems also arise when parents name account beneficiaries when they first join a company, often before having a child with special needs. The retirement account grows over time, but the owner never revisits the beneficiary designation she created when she was just starting out. Many years later, when the account owner dies, the old beneficiary designation springs up and creates havoc for the child with special needs. For instance, if an employee fills out her IRA beneficiary designation form to give her $200,000 IRA to “her children” on her death, and she dies with four surviving children, each child will receive a $50,000 retirement account. If one of these children has special needs and is receiving needs-based government benefits, like Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid or Affordable Housing, her receipt of her share of her mother’s IRA could compromise her access to benefits. This is not just a problem for large retirement accounts; given the strict income and asset limits for many government programs, even an inheritance of a few thousand dollars can lead to the loss of health insurance worth a great deal more.

There are several ways to deal with this problem. The easiest way is to avoid class designations by specifically naming the beneficiaries of the retirement account and not including a relative with special needs as a beneficiary. The obvious drawback of this strategy, especially when the retirement account makes up the majority of a family’s net worth, is that the child with special needs loses his inheritance. A better option for families who want to leave a share of a retirement account to a person with special needs is to create a special needs trust and name it as a designated beneficiary. If properly drafted, the special needs trust can receive the retirement funds without negative income tax implications, and the funds will assist the person with special needs without compromising his benefits. If the family has other assets outside of the retirement plan, it may make sense to fund the special needs trust with those assets while leaving the retirement plan to other beneficiaries.

Employer-sponsored life insurance can be essential, especially for younger families. In many cases, companies will provide small policies that pay a death benefit equal to a year or two of salary. Employees usually have the option to purchase additional insurance, often at a discount, through their employer’s benefit program. The same concerns regarding retirement account beneficiaries apply when naming beneficiaries of life insurance policies. However, life insurance can often be a great option for funding a special needs trust, because it provides a relatively low-cost way to provide a much larger benefit to the person with special needs. In some cases, employees who have children with special needs may consider naming a special needs trust as the primary beneficiary of their company life insurance policy, and they will often purchase additional insurance to guarantee that funds will be available for their child with special needs if they were to pass away.

If you’re saving for retirement or if you have life insurance, come see us to make sure you’re maximizing the value of these assets for your family and not inadvertently interfering with public benefits for your child with special needs.

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Funding a Special Needs Trust With Life Insurance

 Estate Planning, Life Insurance, Special Needs Planning No Comments


Funding a special needs trust (SNT) with enough money to pay for the living expenses of a child with special needs can be a daunting task for many families. The costs of providing a home and care, as well as a care manager to take the place of the parents when they are no longer around, exceed the resources of most families. A solution for many parents is to fund a special needs trust with life insurance. In these instances, a parent will take out a life insurance policy on his or her life to ensure that once the parent is gone, monies will be available to care for the child with special needs.

There are many benefits to funding a SNT with life insurance. For example, life insurance proceeds can be paid to a SNT free of taxation. Life insurance also typically pays proceeds in a short time period and so can ensure that the special needs child has the cash needed to provide for his or her long-term care. Further, a paid-up life insurance policy will guarantee future funding of a SNT while keeping the parents’ estate intact for other family members.

The various types of life insurance that can be used to fund a SNT include:

Term Life Insurance: Term life insurance provides coverage for a defined period of time, normally the time in which premiums are paid. After that period ends, the policyholder can choose to continue to pay for the policy or end coverage. A term policy pays a benefit should the policyholder die within the period covered under the policy. The premiums for term policies typically increase each year as the insured gets older or are level for a specified number of years, such as 20, after which the policies are typically dropped due to the steep increase in premiums at the end of the guaranteed term.

Whole Life Insurance: Unlike term insurance, a whole life policy lasts for the policyholder’s entire lifetime and provides both death benefit protection and cash value. Part of the premium paid by the policyholder goes into a cash account which accumulates over time. The cash value tends to accumulate at a higher rate when the policyholder is younger and lessens as she ages. Further, many of these policies pay dividends, which add additional value to the policy. Policyholders may withdraw money from their whole life policy but will be charged a fee or, in the case of a loan, the holder will be obligated to pay back the borrowed amount with interest.

Universal Life Insurance: A universal life policy permits the policy holder to adjust death benefits and premium payment to fit any change of circumstances for the holder. Premiums can be credited to an accumulation fund from which premium costs are deducted and to which interest is credited.

Variable Life Insurance: The variable life insurance policy’s cash value is tied to the performance of financial markets.

Survivorship Life Insurance: Also known as a second-to-die life insurance, this policy is taken out on the lives of two people and provides benefits only upon the death of the second insured person.

Some insurance advisors and financial planners recommend survivorship life insurance for funding a SNT trust due to:

  • The lower cost of the policy;
  • The funds become available upon the death of the second insured, when the funds would be most needed;
  • Underwriting (i.e., the process by which an insurance company determines the insurability of the policyholder and rate of premiums) of the policy is less strict since two lives are being insured;
  • Policies are available as either whole or universal life; and
  • Estate taxes can be delayed until both parties die.

Is a Survivorship Policy a Good Idea?

Some insurance advisors and financial planners advise their clients to use care when funding a SNT with survivorship life insurance. For those families that have financial constraints, a survivorship policy could leave the living spouse with significant financial hardship.

Some insurance advisors and financial planners recommend against survivorship insurance. They point out that there is no guarantee that the survivor will provide for the SNT beneficiary. The survivor may dilute the assets, give them to another favored party, and may not have the ability or inclination to set up a SNT.

While funding a SNT with life insurance may be the best bet for many families, it is essential to ensure that all factors are considered by consulting with an insurance advisor, financial planner and attorney, each of whom is experienced in working with individuals with special needs and their families.

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Make Sure Your Life Insurance Is Not Taxed at Your Death

 Estate Planning, Life Insurance No Comments


Although your life insurance policy may pass to your heirs income tax-free, it can affect your estate tax. If you are the owner of the insurance policy, it will become a part of your taxable estate when you die. While the federal estate tax is currently zero, that won’t last long — the exemption will be $1 million and the rate will increase to 55 percent on January 1, 2011, if Congress fails to act in the interim. And state estate taxes are still in effect now. You should make sure your life insurance policy won’t have an impact on your estate’s tax liability.

If your spouse is the beneficiary of your policy, then there is nothing to worry about. Spouses can transfer assets to each other tax-free. But if the beneficiary is anyone else (including your children), the policy will be a part of your estate for tax purposes. For example, suppose you buy a $200,000 life insurance policy and name your son as the beneficiary. When you die, the life insurance policy will be included in your taxable estate. If the total amount of your taxable estate exceeds the estate tax exemption, then your policy will be taxed.

In order to avoid having your life insurance policy taxed, you can either transfer the policy to someone else or put the policy into a trust. Once you transfer a policy to a trust or to someone else, you will no longer own the policy, which means you won’t be able to change the beneficiary or exert control over it. In addition, the transfer may be subject to gift tax if the cash value of your policy (the amount you would get for your policy if you cashed it in) is more than $13,000. If you decide to transfer a life insurance policy, do it right away. If you die within three years of transferring the policy, the policy will still be included in your estate.

If you transfer a life insurance policy to a person, you need to make sure it is someone you trust not to cash in the policy. For example, if your spouse owns the policy and you get divorced, there will be no way for you to get it back. A better option may be to transfer the life insurance policy to a life insurance trust. With a life insurance trust, the trust owns the policy and is the beneficiary. You can then dictate who the beneficiary of the trust will be. For a life insurance trust to exclude your policy from estate taxes, it must be irrevocable and you cannot act as trustee.

If you think you want to transfer a current life insurance policy to someone else or set up a trust to purchase a policy, call us first and we’ll help you handle the transaction properly.

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