When Should You Use a Stay Bonus Agreement?

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Do you have certain key employees who help make your family business a success? Keeping those employees may be essential to a successful transition of ownership and management to your children or another new owner when you retire or pass away. A “stay bonus” (also called a retention bonus) is a strategy that is frequently used by large companies during mergers and acquisitions but can also be used to facilitate a smooth transfer of small family businesses to the next generation or to new owners.

What Is a Stay Bonus Agreement?
A stay bonus agreement is a contract between the business and a key employee providing that the employee will not leave the company for a specified period of time after a particular triggering event, for example, the death of the business owner. At the end of that period, the key employee will receive a bonus. The amount of the stay bonus could increase over time: The longer the employee stays, the larger the bonus will be.
Why Is a Stay Bonus Necessary?
According to the 2019 PricewaterhouseCoopers Family Business Survey, 62% of business owners plan to pass the business on to the next generation. However, only about 18% have a formal, documented plan in place to achieve this transition. This is likely one of the main reasons why only 30% of family businesses survive the transition to the second generation.

A stay bonus can be a vital part of a business’s succession plan because retaining key employees may be a determining factor in whether the business succeeds or fails during and after a transition. The expertise and experience of essential personnel are especially necessary if the transition occurs as a result of the sudden death of a business owner, which could cause a transfer to occur earlier than expected.
A stay bonus can help:
(1) Retain talented people who are essential to the successful day-to-day operations of the business. If you have personnel, like managers or salespeople, who add a lot of value to your business, offering them a stay bonus can provide them with enough financial security to persuade them to stay during and after the transition, particularly if they are concerned that their future with the company may be in jeopardy.

(2) Preserve relationships with customers or clients. If your salespeople have long-term relationships with your customers, they could take those customers with them if they leave. Similarly, the loss of other important employees possessing extensive knowledge about your business and its operations could leave a substantial vacuum that could endanger the future of the company. This could be especially damaging if they go to work for a competitor.

(3) Prevent the interruption of critical functions. Retaining key employees will provide continuity, which is essential for avoiding disruption in the services offered to customers and for ensuring adequate cash flow for the business.

How Are Stay Bonuses Funded?
There are a variety of strategies for funding stay bonuses. Often, business owners plan to provide funding for stay bonuses by purchasing a life insurance policy with the business as the beneficiary. Then, upon the owner’s death, the death benefits from the life insurance policy can be used to fund the stay bonuses for key employees. Another strategy is to purchase life insurance on the key employees whose cash value could be used to pay for the stay bonuses.

Call Us Today
If you want your business to survive after you leave—whether your departure is because of retirement, illness, or death—it is important to develop a plan to retain your key employees during the transition period. A stay bonus is an incentive that could persuade them to remain with your company, increasing the likelihood of its continued success. We can help you develop a business succession plan, including stay bonus agreements for your essential personnel, tailored to your particular circumstances. Please contact us to set up a meeting; (888) 450 -7999 or email us at info@bellehlaw.com.

Your 2018 Taxes – Get Started Now

4a283bcf-90e0-4357-8bc7-b865c6c65329While the end of the year is not quite here yet (but rapidly approaching), now is an opportune time to take a moment and start your year-end tax planning for 2018. This is particularly necessary this tax year because of the changes to the tax law that became effective in 2018. As a result of the significant changes in the law, your taxes may look different this year, so you should allow for some extra time in the preparation. Getting started early is even more essential if you are a business owner, have moved to another state, or plan to make charitable contributions before the year ends.

Things to Consider

Now is the best opportunity to make use of tax strategies to take advantage of tax-deferred growth opportunities, charitable-giving opportunities, as well as tax-advantaged investments among others. During this tax planning process, you will also want to make sure you maximize deductions and credits ahead of the busy tax season. As you consider your year-end options, make sure to sit down with your attorney or other advisors to review your investments to ensure they still align with your goals, the economic landscape, and the current tax law. This conversation can help you identify where adjustments may be necessary for the future.

What You Need

 Know that the “traditional” year-end planning we’ve recommended for years still applies to your 2018 taxes. Make sure you are harvesting losses to offset your gains, are contributing the appropriate amount to your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and/or Health Savings (HSA) accounts, and have taken the necessary required minimum distribution from your IRA (if this applies to you). Other things to consider is fully funding employer-sponsored retirement plan contributions such as 401(k, 403(b) or 457 plans before the end of the year. The same rings true for college savings plans, such as 529 plans. You may even want to consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

 

Beyond these important points, also make sure to start gathering the necessary documentation you may need for any deductions that you are claiming. These may include copies of statements or receipts regarding your property taxes, medical expenses, dental expenses, child care expenses, education expenses, moving expenses, and heating/cooling expenses. For business owners, the new 199A deduction for business income will have additional paperwork requirements. It’s best to work with your bookkeeper and accountant at gathering those records now, rather than waiting until the hectic tax season.

Seek Professional Advice

 With changes to the U.S. tax code now in effect, it is especially important to make the right decisions when it comes to your year-end financial moves. A skilled tax attorney or financial advisor can help explain your options under the law and provide you with guidance so that you can make the best decisions for you, your family, and your future. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

Retirement Planning for Business Owners

business_maze_challengeFor many employees, saving for retirement is usually a matter of simply participating in their employer’s 401(k) plan and perhaps opening an IRA for some extra savings.

But, when you’re the owner of a business, planning for retirement requires proactivity and strategy. It’s not just the dizzying array of choices for retirement accounts, there’s also planning for the business itself. Who will run the business after your retirement? Additionally, your estate plan must integrate into your retirement and business transition strategy.

Owners of businesses (like employees and everyone else) want to make sure they will have enough money in retirement. Business owners recognize the value of their businesses, so they are often tempted to reinvest everything into the enterprise, thinking that will be their “retirement plan.” However, this might be a mistake.

Retirement Accounts for Business Owners

Rather than placing all your eggs in one basket, it makes sense to have some “backup” strategies in place. There are many retirement account options open to business owners. Although the number of options can make things confusing, a tax and financial professional can often quickly make a recommendation for you.

For example, you may consider opening a 401(k), SEP-IRA, SIMPLE, or pension plan. This can reduce your income taxes now, while simultaneously placing some of your wealth outside your business. From a financial perspective, these account are tax-deferred, so the investment growth avoids taxation until you retire, which greatly boosts returns. The “best” plan really depends on how much income your business earns, how stable your earnings are, how many employees you have, and how generous you want to be with those employees. You must consider how generous you’ll be with employees because the law requires most tax-deferred plans to be “fair” to all employees. For example, you can’t open a pension or 401(k) for yourself only and exclude all of your full-time employees. When making this decision, consider that many employees value being able to save for their retirement and your generosity may be repaid with harder work and loyalty from the employees.

Depending on how many employees you have, you may even consider “self-directed” investment options, which can allow you to invest some or all of your retirement funds into “alternative” investments, such as precious metals, private lending arrangements, real estate, other closely held businesses, etc. These self-directed accounts are not for everyone, but for the right person, they open up a wide world of investment opportunities. The tax rules surrounding self-directed tax-deferred accounts are very complex and penalties can be incredibly high. So, if you choose to do self-directed investments, always work with a qualified tax advisor.

Outside of your business, you can likely contribute to an IRA or a Roth IRA. This can allow you to add more money to your retirement basket, especially if you’ve maximized your 401(k), SEP, or SIMPLE plan. Like the other tax-deferred accounts, self-directed IRAs are also an option, opening up a broad world of investment options.

As a business owner, you likely have a great deal of control over your health insurance decisions. If you’re relatively young and healthy or otherwise an infrequent user of health care services, consider using a high deductible health plan (HDHP) and a health savings account (HSA) to add additional money to your savings. These plans let you set aside money in the HSA which can be invested in a manner similar to IRAs. At any time after you setup the account, you can withdraw your contributions and earnings, tax-free, to pay for qualified medical expenses. And, after you turn 65, the money can be used for whatever purpose you want, although income tax will need to be paid on the distributions.

Selling or Transferring the Business

Many business owners dream of a financially lucrative “exit” when a business is sold, taken public, or otherwise transferred at a significant profit for the owner. This does not happen by accident – a business owner must first create and sustain a profitable enterprise that can be sold. Then, legal and tax strategies must be coordinated to minimize the burdensome hit of taxes and avoid the common legal risks that can happen when businesses are sold. When a business is sold, the net proceeds can form a significant component of the owner’s retirement. When supplemented by one or more of the retirement accounts discussed above, this can be a great outcome for a business owner.

On the other hand, other businesses are “family” businesses where children or grandchildren will one day become owners. Like their counterparts who will sell their businesses, these business owners must also focus on creating and sustaining a profitable enterprise, but the source of retirement money is a little less clear. In these cases, clearly thinking through the transition plan to the next generation is essential. Although the business can be given to the next generation through a trust or outright, there are also transition options to allow for children, grandchildren, or even employees to gradually buy-out the owner, if the owner needs or wants to obtain a portion of the retirement nest egg from the business.

The Importance of Estate Planning

Regardless of which retirement accounts (401(k), SEP, SIMPLE, IRAs, HSAs) you select, it is wise to integrate them into your estate planning. You’ve probably already considered who you want to take over your business after you retire (perhaps a son or daughter or a sale to a third party). For your retirement accounts, an IRA trust is a special trust designed to maximize the financial benefit, minimize the income tax burden, and provide robust asset protection for your family. These trusts integrate with the rest of your comprehensive estate plan to fully protect your family, provide privacy, all while minimizing taxes and costs.

Leverage the Team Approach

Let us work with you, your business advisors or consultants, your tax advisor, and your financial advisor to develop a comprehensive retirement, business transition, and estate planning strategy. When we work collaboratively, we can focus on setting aside assets for retirement, saving as much tax possible, while freeing you to do what you do best – build your business!

Give us a call today so we can help you craft a retirement, business transition, and estate planning strategy. The Belleh Law Group, PLLC, (888) 450-7999, visit our website at www.bellehlaw.com or email us at info@bellehlaw.com.

How You Can Build an Estate Plan that Includes Asset Protection

business1Much of estate planning has to do with the way a person’s assets will be distributed upon their death. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From smart incapacity planning to diligent probate avoidance, there is a lot that goes into crafting a comprehensive estate plan. One important factor to consider is asset protection.

One of the most important things to understand about asset protection is that not much good can come from trying to protect your assets reactively when surprised by situations like bankruptcy or divorce. The best way to take full advantage of estate planning in regards to asset protection is to prepare proactively long before these things ever come to pass — and hopefully many of them won’t. First, let’s cover the two main types of asset protection:

Asset protection for yourself:

This is the kind that has to be done long in advance of any proceedings that might threaten your assets, such as bankruptcy, divorce, or judgement. As there are many highly-detailed rules and regulations surrounding this type of asset protection, it’s important to lean on your estate planning attorney’s expertise.

Asset protection for your heirs:

This type of asset protection involves setting up discretionary lifetime trusts rather than outright inheritance, staggered distributions, mandatory income trusts, or other less protective forms of inheritance. There are varying grades of protection offered by different strategies. For example, a trust that has an independent distribution trustee who is the only person empowered to make discretionary distributions offers much better protection than a trust that allows for so-called ascertainable standards distributions. Don’t worry about the complexity – we are here to help you best protect your heirs and their inheritance.

This complex area of estate planning is full of potential miscalculation, so it’s crucial to obtain qualified advice and not solely rely on common knowledge about what’s possible and what isn’t. But as a general outline, let’s take a look at three critical junctures when asset protection can help, along with the estate planning strategies we can build together that can set you up for success.

Bankruptcy

It’s entirely possible that you’ll never need asset protection, but it’s much better to be ready for whatever life throws your way. You’ve worked hard to get where you are in life, and just a little strategic planning will help you hold onto what you have so you can live well and eventually pass your estate’s assets on to future beneficiaries. But experiencing an unexpected illness or even a large-scale economic recession could mean you wind up bankrupt.

 Bankruptcy asset protection strategy: Asset protection trusts

bankAsset protection trusts hold on to more than just liquid cash. You can fund this type of trust with real estate, investments, personal belongings, and more. Due to the nature of trusts, the person controlling those assets will be a trustee of your choosing. Now that the assets within the trust aren’t technically in your possession, they can stay out of creditors’ reach — so long as the trust is irrevocable, properly funded, and operated in accordance with all the asset protection law’s requirements. In fact, asset protections trusts must be formed and funded well in advance of any potential bankruptcy and have numerous initial and ongoing requirements. They are not for everyone, but can be a great fit for the right type of person.

Divorce

One of the last things you want to have happen to the nest egg you’ve saved is for your children to lose it in a divorce. In order to make sure your beneficiaries get the parts of your estate that you want to pass onto them — regardless of how their marriage develops — is a discretionary trust.

 Divorce asset protection strategy: Discretionary trusts

When you create a trust, the property it holds doesn’t officially belong to the beneficiary, making trusts a great way to protect your assets in a divorce. Discretionary trusts allow for distribution to the beneficiary but do not mandate any distributions. As a result, they can provide access to assets but reduce (or even eliminate) the risk that your child’s inheritance could be seized by a divorcing spouse. There are a number of ways to designate your trustee and beneficiaries, who may be the same person, and, like with many legal issues, there are some other decisions that need to be made. Discretionary trusts, rather than outright distributions, are one of the best ways you can provide robust asset protection for your children.

Family LLCs or partnerships are another way to keep your assets safe in divorce proceedings. Although discretionary trusts are advisable for people across a wide spectrum of financial means, family LLCs or partnership are typically only a good fit for very well-off people.

 Judgment

moneyWhen an upset customer or employee sues a company, the business owner’s personal assets can be threatened by the lawsuit. Even for non-business owners, injury from something as small as a stranger tripping on the sidewalk outside your house can end up draining the wealth you’ve worked so hard for. Although insurance is often the first line of defense, it is often worth exploring other strategies to comprehensively protect against this risk.

Judgment asset protection strategy: Incorporation

Operating your small business as a limited liability company (commonly referred to as an LLC) can help protect your personal assets from business-related lawsuits. As mentioned above, malpractice and other types of liability insurance can also protect you from damaging suits. Risk management using insurance and business entities is a complex discipline, even for small businesses, so don’t only rely on what you’ve heard online or “common sense.” You owe it to your family to work with a group of qualified professionals, such as us as your estate planning attorney and an insurance advisor, to develop a comprehensive asset protection strategy for your business.

 These are just a few ways we can optimize your estate plan in order to keep your assets protected, but every plan should be tailored to an individual’s exact circumstances. Give us a call today to discuss your estate plan’s asset protection strategies.

3 Asset Protection Tips You Can Use Now

moneyA common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan.  But in reality, anyone can be sued.  A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can result in a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances.  Below are three tips that you can use right now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

 What Exactly is Asset Protection Planning?

Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about.  In basic terms, asset protection planning is the use of legal structures and strategies to transform property that creditors might snatch away into property that is completely, or, at the very least, partially, protected.

Unfortunately, this type of planning cannot be done as a quick fix for your existing legal problems.  Instead, you must put an asset protection plan in place before a lawsuit is imminent, let alone filed at the courthouse.  So, now is the time to consider implementing one or more of these tips.

Now, on to the three tips.

Asset Protection Tip #1 – Load Up on Liability Insurance 

The first line of defense against liability is insurance, including homeowner’s, automobile, business, professional, malpractice, long-term care and umbrella policies.  Liability insurance not only provides a means to pay money damages, it often also includes payment of all or part of the legal fees associated with a lawsuit. If you do not have an umbrella policy, then now is the time to get one since it is relatively inexpensive when compared with more advanced ways to protect your assets.  You should also check all of your current insurance policies to determine if your policy limits are in line with your net worth and make adjustments as appropriate.  You should then review all of your policies on an annual basis to confirm that the coverage is still adequate and benefits have not been stripped to keep premiums the same.

Asset Protection Tip #2 – Maximize Contributions to Your 401(k) or IRA

Under federal law, tax-favored retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs (but excluding inherited IRAs) are protected from creditors in bankruptcy (with certain limitations).  Therefore, maximizing contributions to your company’s 401(k) plan is not only a smart way to increase your retirement savings, but it will also keep the investments away from creditors, predators and lawsuits.  On the other hand, if your company does not offer a 401(k) plan, then start investing in an IRA for the same reasons.

Asset Protection Tip #3 – Move Investment Real Estate into a Multi-Member LLC or Land Trust

If you are a landlord or a real estate flipper or investor, then aside from having good liability insurance, moving your real estate into a multi-member limited liability company (LLC) or land trust can be a great way to help protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

There are two types of liability that you should be concerned about with rental or investment property: (1) inside liability (where the rental or investment property is the source of the liability, like a slip and fall on the property, and the creditor wants to seize an LLC owner’s personal assets) and (2) outside liability (where the creditor of an LLC owner wants to seize LLC assets to satisfy the owner’s debt).

An LLC will limit your inside liability related to the real estate, such as a slip and fall accident on the front stairs of the property or a fire caused by faulty wiring located at the property, to the value of the property.  In addition, in many states the outside creditor of the member of an LLC cannot get their hands on the member’s ownership interest in the company (in some states this will only work for multi-member LLCs, while in others it will also work for a single member LLC).  This type of outside creditor protection is often referred to as “charging order” protection.  This means that a creditor will have to look to your liability insurance and any unprotected assets to collect on their claim.

If you are interested in asset protection planning for your investment real estate using an LLC, then you will need to work with an attorney who understands the LLC laws of the state where your property is located to insure that your LLC will protect you from both inside and outside liability. Contact our law firm today for a consultation www.bellehlaw.com or (888) 450-7999 or email us at info@bellehlaw.com