Business Law

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

3 Reasons You'll Still Need Estate Planning Even if the Death Tax Disappears


The Motley Fool published an article by Dan Caplinger entitled, "3 Reasons You'll Still Need Estate Planning Even if the Death Tax Disappears" (Oct 21, 2017). Provided below is a brief summary of the article published at fool.
Read more . . .


Monday, June 19, 2017

When you should establish an IRA as a trust


Financial-Planning.com published an article by Ed Slott entitled, "When you should establish an IRA as a trust" (May 31, 2017). Provided below is a brief summary of the article published at Financial-Planning.
Read more . . .


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Business Succession Planning Tips

Business succession plans contemplate and instruct regarding any changes in future ownership and management of a business. Most business owners know they should think about succession planning, but few actually end up doing so. It is hard to think about not being in charge of the business you have built up, but a proper succession plan can ensure that your business continues long after you are there to run it, providing an enduring legacy.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you begin to think about putting a succession plan into place for your business.

  • Proper plans take time - often years - to develop and implement because there are many steps involved. It is really never too early to start thinking about how you want to hand off control of your business.

  • Succession plans are a waste of time unless they are more than a piece of paper. Involving attorneys, accountants and business advisors ensures that your plan is actually implemented.

  • There is no cookie-cutter succession plan that fits all businesses, and no one way to develop and implement a successful plan. Each business is unique, so each business needs a custom-made plan that fits the needs of all parties involved.

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but transferring a business between people who are familiar with the business - from one family member to another, or between business partners - is often more complicated than selling the business to a complete stranger. Emotional investments cannot be easily quantified, but their importance is real. Having a neutral party at the negotiating table can help everyone involved focus on what is best for the business and the people that are depending on it for their livelihood.

  • Once a succession plan has been established, it is critically important that the completed plan be continually reviewed and updated as circumstances change. This is one of the biggest reasons having an attorney on your succession planning team is important. Sound legal counsel can assist you in making periodic adjustments and maintaining an effective succession plan.

If you are ready to start thinking about succession planning, contact an experienced business law attorney today.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Should I Incorporate My Business?

The primary advantages of operating as a corporation are liability protection and potential tax savings. Like any important decision, choosing whether to incorporate involves weighing the pros and cons of the various business structures and should only be done after careful research.

Once incorporated, the business becomes a separate legal entity, and assets of the corporation are separated from the owner’s personal finances. As a result, the owner’s personal assets generally can be shielded from creditors of the business.

To maintain this legal separation and avoid “piercing the corporate veil,” the corporation must observe certain formalities, including:

  • Keeping corporate assets and personal assets separate (no commingling of funds)
  • Holding shareholder and director meetings at least annually
  • Maintaining a corporate record book including bylaws, minutes of shareholder and director meetings, and shareholder records
  • Filing annual information statements with the Secretary of State
  • Filing a separate tax return for the corporation

Many business owners are concerned about “double taxation” of income that affects certain types of corporations known as “C-Corporations”.   Double taxation results when the C-corporation has profit at the end of the year that is distributed to the shareholders. That profit is taxed to the corporation, at the corporate tax rate, and then the dividends are taxable income to the shareholders on their personal tax returns. However, the corporate tax and dividend rates can be lower than the individual tax rate that a sole-proprietor would pay on a 1040 Schedule C, and a knowledgeable accountant or tax attorney may be able to advise on how to minimize the burden of double-taxation and indeed pay an effective tax rate which is lower than what a sole proprietor would pay.

For example, a small C-Corporation will likely have a shareholder who is also an employee. Paychecks to the shareholder/employee are, of course, tax deductible to the business. To the shareholder/employee, they are taxable income (as would be the case with a paycheck from any employer). A bonus could be paid to the shareholder/employee in order to lower the corporation’s taxable profit, eliminating the double-taxation. These calculations should be performed by a tax advisor, but shifting income from the corporation to the shareholder/employee (or not, depending on which has the lower tax rate) can be an effective way to lower your overall tax liability. In addition, there are certain advantages that are only available with a C-Corporation, such as full tax-deductibility of medical benefits for a shareholder/employee.

The S-Corporation avoids the double-taxation by offering a tax structure similar to the Limited Liability Company. A corporation with 100 or fewer shareholders can elect to be treated as an S-Corporation. If the corporation is profitable, the shareholder/employee must draw a reasonable salary (and pay employment tax on it), but then all remaining corporate profits flow through to the shareholder’s personal tax return (thereby avoiding the FICA tax on the portion of profits that is taken as a dividend).

An experienced attorney can help you decide which form of ownership is best for your business, help you establish the entity, and ensure the required formalities are observed.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Family Business: Preserving Your Legacy for Generations to Come

Your family-owned business is not just one of your most significant assets, it is also your legacy. Both must be protected by implementing a transition plan to arrange for transfer to your children or other loved ones upon your retirement or death.


More than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive the transition to the next generation. Ensuring your family does not fall victim to the same fate requires a unique combination of proper estate and tax planning, business acumen and common-sense communication with those closest to you. Below are some steps you can take today to make sure your family business continues from generation to generation.

  • Meet with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive plan that includes a will and/or living trust. Your estate plan should account for issues related to both the transfer of your assets, including the family business and estate taxes.
  • Communicate with all family members about their wishes concerning the business. Enlist their involvement in establishing a business succession plan to transfer ownership and control to the younger generation. Include in-laws or other non-blood relatives in these discussions. They offer a fresh perspective and may have talents and skills that will help the company.
  • Make sure your succession plan includes:  preserving and enhancing “institutional memory”, who will own the company, advisors who can aid the transition team and ensure continuity, who will oversee day-to-day operations, provisions for heirs who are not directly involved in the business, tax saving strategies, education and training of family members who will take over the company and key employees.
  • Discuss your estate plan and business succession plan with your family members and key employees. Make sure everyone shares the same basic understanding.
  • Plan for liquidity. Establish measures to ensure the business has enough cash flow to pay taxes or buy out a deceased owner’s share of the company. Estate taxes are based on the full value of your estate. If your estate is asset-rich and cash-poor, your heirs may be forced to liquidate assets in order to cover the taxes, thus removing your “family” from the business.
  • Implement a family employment plan to establish policies and procedures regarding when and how family members will be hired, who will supervise them, and how compensation will be determined.
  • Have a buy-sell agreement in place to govern the future sale or transfer of shares of stock held by employees or family members.
  • Add independent professionals to your board of directors.

You’ve worked very hard over your lifetime to build your family-owned enterprise. However, you should resist the temptation to retain total control of your business well into your golden years. There comes a time to retire and focus your priorities on ensuring a smooth transition that preserves your legacy – and your investment – for generations to come.


Monday, February 18, 2013

11 Important Issues Business Partners Should Consider

Many people decide to start their own businesses because they’re intrigued by the idea ofbeing their own boss.  All decisions, risks, and rewards are yours and yours alone.  This equation changes, however, when you decide to start and run a business in partnership with another person.  Many of the freedoms, risks and rewards are similar – but there are unique questions that business partners should ask each other to help ensure the relationship starts and continues smoothly.


Before and during the process of developing a business partnership, it is crucial to ask and answer the questions below.  

  1. What goals do I have for this business?  What goals does my partner have?  What if one partner wants to create a business that will provide income for his family for several years or decades and the other partner wants to build a company that will grow quickly and sell well?  These are not necessarily incompatible goals, but it is important to get these goals onto the table to discuss how to start and run a business that might meet both partners’ goals.
     
  2. What is each partner’s level of commitment in terms of time?  You can prevent a major source of partner conflict by being explicit about how much time each of you expects to spend working on running and developing the business.  Will either of you work full-time for your business at the beginning?  Will either of you have other work commitments?  If so, are there any situations in which that partner will close out other work or business commitments to focus more energy on this endeavor?
     
  3. How will cash invested by partners be treated?  Will cash investment be treated as debt to be repaid?  Will cash investment buy a higher level of company shares?  Will the debt be convertible?  These questions and answers also have tax implications, so it may be wise to consult a certified public accountant along with a qualified business law attorney during your start-up phase.
     
  4. How comfortable are we with change?  Change is the only constant in any business environment, and the most successful businesses are those that are highly adaptable to change – in the market, in the economy, in the personnel, etc.  That said, business partners should have a conversation about their “sticking points” – those aspects of the business that one or another partner does not want to change.  One partner may be fully committed to the specific product being produced, whereas another partner may be unwaveringly dedicated to a certain market segment.  Learn each other’s “sticking points” now to minimize conflict during the inevitable periods of change and adjustment as the business ages and grows.
     
  5. How much will we pay ourselves?  Who has the authority to change compensation amounts in the future?  This issue is related to the question of who is investing how much cash into the business during the start-up phase.  Compensation can be a volatile issue.  Regardless of how difficult the conversation may be, partners must thoroughly discuss pay structure at the very beginning of a business relationship to minimize conflict down the road.
     
  6. Who will own what percentage of the company?  In other words, how will we divide the shares?  The answer to this question often depends on whether one or both partners provided cash for start-up costs, as well as the time commitment each partner plans to make.
     
  7. Who has what kinds of decision-making authority?  The answer to this question often is related to the division of shares between the partners, but this is not a requirement.  You can designate shares as voting shares or non-voting shares, and you can also choose to set up a board of directors.  The partners will have to decide which areas, if any, they each have individual authority over, which areas they must agree on, and which areas the board of directors will control.  Common areas of decision making authority include human resources (hiring and firing), capitalization, issuance of shares, and mergers and acquisitions.
     
  8. Will we sign contractual terms with the company in addition to the shareholder agreement and partnership agreement?  Two common examples of additional contractual terms are the non-compete agreement and the confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement.  If founding partners are going to sign such contracts, what will the terms of each agreement be?
     
  9. What if one or both of us wants to leave the company?  It is better to define exit procedures in the early stages of the business start-up.  If no guidelines are in place, one partner’s desire to depart can cause high conflict as formerly aligned partners try to come to agreements about ending their relationship.
     
  10. Can either of us be fired?  If so, what are the grounds for termination and who has the authority to make that decision?  What is the procedure?  Discuss and commit to writing your strategy for terminating the operational role of a co-founder if necessary.
     
  11. What is our business succession plan?  While it is not necessary to have a fully developed and executed business succession plan before starting a business endeavor, it should at least be a topic for discussion in the early stages.  Partners may have different ideas about how control over the business will pass to others in the future, and a conversation about succession planning can reveal these differences and give each partner food for thought as a plan is developed.

Have several conversations about these topics, and you will find yourself well prepared when it comes time to put your partnership agreement into writing.
 


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Family Business: Preserving Your Legacy for Generations to Come

Your family-owned business is not just one of your most significant assets, it is also your legacy. Both must be protected by implementing a transition plan to arrange for transfer to your children or other loved ones upon your retirement or death.

More than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive the transition to the next generation. Ensuring your family does not fall victim to the same fate requires a unique combination of proper estate and tax planning, business acumen and common-sense communication with those closest to you. Below are some steps you can take today to make sure your family business continues from generation to generation.

  • Meet with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive plan that includes a will and/or living trust. Your estate plan should account for issues related to both the transfer of your assets, including the family business and estate taxes.
  • Communicate with all family members about their wishes concerning the business. Enlist their involvement in establishing a business succession plan to transfer ownership and control to the younger generation. Include in-laws or other non-blood relatives in these discussions. They offer a fresh perspective and may have talents and skills that will help the company.
  • Make sure your succession plan includes:  preserving and enhancing “institutional memory”, who will own the company, advisors who can aid the transition team and ensure continuity, who will oversee day-to-day operations, provisions for heirs who are not directly involved in the business, tax saving strategies, education and training of family members who will take over the company and key employees.
  • Discuss your estate plan and business succession plan with your family members and key employees. Make sure everyone shares the same basic understanding.
  • Plan for liquidity. Establish measures to ensure the business has enough cash flow to pay taxes or buy out a deceased owner’s share of the company. Estate taxes are based on the full value of your estate. If your estate is asset-rich and cash-poor, your heirs may be forced to liquidate assets in order to cover the taxes, thus removing your “family” from the business.
  • Implement a family employment plan to establish policies and procedures regarding when and how family members will be hired, who will supervise them, and how compensation will be determined.
  • Have a buy-sell agreement in place to govern the future sale or transfer of shares of stock held by employees or family members.
  • Add independent professionals to your board of directors.

You’ve worked very hard over your lifetime to build your family-owned enterprise. However, you should resist the temptation to retain total control of your business well into your golden years. There comes a time to retire and focus your priorities on ensuring a smooth transition that preserves your legacy – and your investment – for generations to come.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Legal Mistakes That Cost Entrepreneurs Time, Money and Headaches…And How to Avoid Them

Entrepreneurs must navigate through a maze of legal issues and decisions when launching a new business. At the outset, you may think some seem inconsequential – but, tragically, that would likely be your first of many mistakes. The choices you make today will have lasting effects on the viability and profitability of your new business venture. Below are some of the most common mistakes made by first-time entrepreneurs, and what you can do to avoid making them yourself.

 

Choosing the Wrong Business Structure

The type of business entity you select will affect your liability exposure, income tax obligations and opportunities to raise capital throughout the duration of your venture. Sole proprietorships, C-corporations, S-corporations and limited liability companies (LLC) all have their advantages and drawbacks. Sole proprietorships are simple to start up, but leave your personal assets vulnerable and offer few tax advantages. C-corporations and S-corporations shield your personal assets, and each afford different tax advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, maintaining the protection afforded by the corporate business structure requires a certain amount of record-keeping and forms which must be filed with governmental agencies. LLCs offer you liability protection, but may not be the best choice depending on various factors, including taxes, ownership structure and, in some states, professional licensure. Often, the corporate structure is the most advantageous, but this decision really should be made in consultation with a business or tax attorney.

 

The “Gentlemen’s Agreement” – A Handshake and Your Word

Your word may be your honor, but a written contract is the only way to be sure all parties share a mutual understanding regarding their obligations. Whether it is your best client, that independent contractor you’ve been courting, or vendors you have known for years, do not assume everything will go according to plan. Putting your agreement in writing not only ensures that everyone’s expectations are clear, it is also valuable evidence in the courtroom, should things not proceed according to plan. Bottom line – get it in writing!

 

Adding Partners Without a Written Agreement

It’s easy to sweep this one aside when you are passionately focused on the work of getting your business off the ground. And those new partners likely share your same passion. However, until a detailed written Partnership Agreement is drafted and signed, you may be unclear about each other’s expectations in the short term, or, if your business is wildly successful, tied up in protracted, long-term litigation, to establish who owns what (Facebook comes to mind). Redirect some of that passion, and benefit from the goodwill it creates, to negotiate a Partnership Agreement early on that covers responsibilities, ownership structure, provisions for transferring ownership, and what happens when there’s a disagreement about the direction of the company.

 

Sharing Ownership 50/50

Establishing equal percentages of ownership in the company sounds like a fair and reasonable arrangement. However, this type of situation makes it difficult to bring on investors, and can bring the company to a standstill if the partners cannot agree on a decision. Instead, issue shares in the company in such a manner that investors can be added later; and make sure those shares are distributed to the founders with at least a 51/49 split, giving the majority shareholder the authority to make executive decisions even if there is a stalemate.

 

 

Note: LegalJourney Blog posts are designed to provide informational summaries, but do not include all aspects, issues, statutes or legal rulings. If you have additional questions based on what you read on the LegalJourney Blog, please contact the LegalJourney Law Firm or seek the advice of another qualified Florida attorney


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Avoid Piercing the Corporate Veil

Many business owners establish corporations to shield themselves from personal liability for business debts and protect their personal assets from creditors of the company. When established and maintained properly, a corporation is treated under the law as an independent entity, with many of the rights afforded to individuals. Such rights include the ability to own and transfer property, enter into contracts, obtain funding and to initiate legal action. A corporation is a separate, distinct entity, apart from its shareholders; as a result, only the corporation’s assets can be seized to pay judgments or satisfy other debts owed by the company.

However, the liability protection afforded by the corporate business structure is only available if the integrity of the corporation as a separate entity is respected by the courts and taxing authorities. Certain corporate formalities must be observed in order to preserve the corporation’s status as a separate entity apart from its owners. Failure to comply with these requirements may permit creditors to “pierce the corporate veil” and seek payment from the individual shareholders directly. To ensure the corporate veil remains intact, the corporation must act like a separate and distinct entity, and the shareholders must treat it as such. If certain corporate formalities are not consistently observed, a court may find that the corporation is merely an “alter ego” of the individual owner(s), and the corporate structure may be “disregarded”. When this occurs, the corporate veil is pierced and the individual shareholders can be held personally liable for the debts of the company.

Formalities that must be observed in order to preserve the integrity of the corporation and ensure the protection afforded by the corporate veil remains intact include:
    
Corporate Records
The corporation’s financial and corporate records must be documented. Most states also require that the shareholders and the directors meet at least once per year. A record of these meetings, in the form of minutes or written resolutions must be properly executed and maintained by the company.

Commingling of Assets
The corporation and the shareholders must treat themselves as separate entities. The corporation should have its own bank and credit card accounts.  Business owners should clearly document and account for expenditures made from corporate accounts if they were for personal benefit.

Capitalization
The corporation must be fully capitalized, or funded. This is typically accomplished by selling shares. Even in a one-person corporation, that individual shareholder must purchase his or her shares of stock in the company.  The corporation should also avoid becoming intentionally insolvent by transferring assets to the shareholders if it is likely that such transfer will inhibit the corporation’s ability to meet its financial obligations.

Failure to Pay Dividends
Payment of dividends is neither required, nor appropriate in every situation. However, if the payment of dividends is appropriate, or required, and the corporation fails to pay them, this could suggest that the corporation is actually an alter ego and not a separate legal entity.
 

Note: LegalJourney Blog posts are designed to provide informational summaries, but do not include all aspects, issues, statutes or legal rulings. If you have additional questions based on what you read on the LegalJourney Blog, please contact the LegalJourney Law Firm or seek the advice of another qualified Florida attorney

 

 


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