By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
Thanksgiving is one of the best opportunities of the year to slow down before the rush of the holiday season and spend quality time with our loved ones. During this time of relaxation and reflection, many people also think about how to they want to plan for their future and the impact it may have on their loved ones. The holiday provides a chance to catch up with loved ones we may not see during the year and open the door to discussing important topics as a family.
While the majority of adults consider having an estate plan important, nearly half of all Americans do not have a will, and even fewer have other documents that plan for incapacity. Unfortunately, there are countless issues that could arise without proper estate planning.
Without a will or living trust, your assets would pass according to the intestacy laws of North Carolina. This takes away the control you have over who inherits what when you pass away and could have huge implications on your loved ones. Additionally, in North Carolina, a will is the only way to name a guardian for your minor children in the event that both parents pass away.
Furthermore, some people may require more complex estate planning depending on their family situation (such as second marriages, a child with special needs, or care of minor children) and the type and amount of their assets. Estate planning through devices such as living trusts allows you to put plans in place to address the specific needs of your beneficiaries, avoid the probate process, and address more complex tax issues depending on your assets.
Finally, a comprehensive estate plan not only plans for what happens after death, but also addresses who would be responsible for making decisions on your behalf if you became incapacitated during your lifetime. This includes naming someone to make financial decisions on your behalf and someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Without such a plan, your family may have to go through more drastic and expensive court proceeding to have you deemed legally incompetent by a judge.
While most people think of turkey, football, shopping, and the inevitable food coma when Thanksgiving comes to mind, it’s an opportunity to discuss planning for the future while everyone is gathered together in the spirit of family and gratitude. If you approach the topic with honesty, care, and thoughtfulness, it could help you get the ball rolling on making important decisions for your estate plan that will have a positive impact on your family for years to come.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
When creating an estate plan, people oftentimes consider their legacy and what they may be leaving behind for future generations. For many individuals, this legacy extends beyond their loved ones and includes considering donations to a charity they have given time or money to during their lifetime, a school or organization that has had a meaningful impact on their life, or a cause that they are passionate in supporting.
There are many methods of including a charity in one’s estate plan. One is naming a charity as a beneficiary in your will or trust. Just like any other asset that is left to an individual beneficiary, the terms of your will or trust designate how and when your assets are distributed for charitable purposes and your executor or trustee will be responsible for carrying out the distribution. When considering what to give to a charitable organization (often referred to as Section 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations), it is important to remember that your gift can go beyond cash in a bank account, but can include assets like a stock portfolio, artwork, a car, or real estate.
When deciding how to contribute to a charity, an estate plan may also provide you with more options in determining how the donation is used. For example, if your donation is to a charity that fights a certain disease, your estate plan can specify that you want your donation to be used for research. You can also leave the donation to the charity directly and they make the overall decision as to how the funds are allocated.
In addition to the benefits to the charity, there may also be financial benefits to your estate and loved ones by including charitable giving in your estate plan. Gifts, during life or at death, to Section 501(c)(3) charities do not count towards the total taxable value of your estate. Thus, naming a charity as a beneficiary will reduce the value of your estate at the time of death, which can lower or eliminate the amount of estate taxes owed by your estate.
Depending on the size of the donation you are planning to make, you may also be able to create a donor advised fund (DAF), which allows you to make irrevocable charitable gifts to Section 501(c)(3) charities while taking advantage of tax benefits during your lifetime. With a DAF, most donors are immediately eligible for a tax deduction upon making the initial donation, donor contributions to the DAF are tax-deductible, and investment growth in the DAF is tax-free. You can also donate long-term appreciated securities without paying capital gains tax.
Another way to include charitable giving in your estate plan is through updating beneficiary designations of life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, or other retirement plans. You can name a charity as a primary or contingent beneficiary and gift them all or a portion of the funds. While this option may be as simple as updating a beneficiary designation, whether or not is the best choice for charitable giving depends on a variety of factors, including what other assets an individual may have at the time of their death and the value of the asset being distributed through a beneficiary designation. For example, using charitable giving through retirement accounts may be a wise choice for some individuals as retirement accounts are some of the highest taxed assets in any estate. By gifting your retirement account, your estate tax burden is reduced because your estate will receive a federal estate tax charitable deduction on the value that is held in the account. Furthermore, the charity does not have to pay income taxes on this gift.
When considering your priorities in your estate planning, dedicating a portion of your assets to charitable giving is one of the ways to support causes that are important to you, even after death. Contact Jesson & Rains for assistance with considering your options for charitable giving in your estate plan.
By Attorney Kelly Rains Jesson and Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
Forming a corporation in the state of North Carolina is pretty easy to do yourself, but that may get business owners into trouble. Numerous corporations exist without any bylaws and without issuing any shares (especially those who do-it-themselves). Failing to complete all the steps can have negative consequences.
A corporation is owned by its shareholders. Shortly after a business is incorporated, it should issue shares to the owner(s). If there are no shares issued, there are no shareholders, and thus no owners. Why do so many business owners fail to complete this step? Probably for two reasons: (1) they don’t know this is the way it works and (2) in order to incorporate, all the Secretary of State’s office requires is that Articles of Incorporation be filed with its office. It does not require proof of bylaws or shares.
Shareholders do not manage the business just because they are shareholders. The Board of Directors manages the business. For small, family businesses, the shareholders and the directors are often the same people. However, these are still two distinct roles. Most business owners that have not issued themselves shares are simply acting like directors of the corporation.
To incorporate, the incorporator (could be a future director, shareholder, or third party, like an attorney) files Articles of Incorporation. North Carolina law states that if no directors are named in the Articles of Incorporation, the incorporator shall hold a “meeting” (can be informal) to name the initial directors. “The incorporators or board of directors of a corporation shall adopt initial bylaws for the corporation.” N.C.G.S. § 55-2-06 (emphasis added). The law states that there SHALL be bylaws, not that there MAY be bylaws. The bylaws govern the management and affairs of the corporation. The bylaws state how shares will be issued, how directors will be named/replaced, and how the company is managed.
So why should you care?
First, the liability protection corporation owners enjoy is at risk if you do not follow the corporate formalities required by North Carolina law. You risk having a creditor ask a court to “pierce the corporate veil,” making you personally liable for debts and judgments of the corporation. When a court “pierces the corporate veil,” it determines that the corporation and owner are basically the same, with the corporation serving as merely a shell for the owner to act. If this finding occurs, your personal assets can be used to satisfy corporate debts, which defeats one of main purposes of owning a corporation in the first place.
Second, you will probably not be able to obtain an SBA loan if you do not have bylaws. These loans are backed by government guarantees. The government wants to make sure it is not lending to an entity that has not been set up properly. The SBA wants to make sure the bylaws do not contain provisions that make the loan risky.
Finally, another reason why we talk to our clients about shares and bylaws is for estate planning purposes. When a person passes away, they leave their property to beneficiaries. Shares of corporations are personal property. If a business owner has not issued himself or herself shares of the corporation, what is there to pass to their beneficiaries?
Further, as we explained above, corporations are managed by the board of directors and not the shareholders. Therefore, even if a shareholder owner passes their shares to their beneficiaries, that does not mean that the beneficiary now suddenly starts managing the company as a new director. If you are the sole director of your corporation, who will take over management when you pass away or are sick? The bylaws of a corporation will govern what happens when a director passes away or otherwise becomes unable to act.
We can do some pretty creative estate planning with owners of corporations. We can help them restrict management or ownership of shares to family members. We can ensure that their shares stay out of probate through using trusts, saving their families money.
For assistance with drafting bylaws, issuing shares, and implementing an estate plan, give Jesson & Rains a call!
By Kelly Rains Jesson
529 plans are named after IRS Code Section 529. A person can make “gifts” into an investment account that is then used, in the future, by minors or young adults to attend college or a private K-12 school. There are a few benefits. First, the money that goes into the investment account grows and earns interest income that is not taxed when it is withdrawn in the future per the account terms. Theoretically, if a parent started early, they could gift a small amount to a 529 account and have a much larger amount available for their child when the child enters college. Second, the value of the account is not considered part of your taxable estate. A 529 account offers the ability to control what a beneficiary spends the money on instead of gifting it to them directly. Plus, someone can make gifts to a beneficiary via a 529 account when they’re under the age of 18. You wouldn’t want to give a ten-year-old a few thousand dollars!
North Carolina 529 plans allow the owner (also called a “participant”) to designate a successor owner, who will take over the account in the event the primary owner dies or is incapacitated. If the primary owner does not make this designation, North Carolina allows the estate to become the owner. The estate can then transfer to another owner. We typically recommend our clients designate a successor owner so they can have peace of mind that the new owner is someone who they’d want to take over. Give Jesson & Rains a call if you have any questions!
A few weeks ago, it was reported that three handwritten wills were located in Aretha Franklin’s home months after she died, after it had previously been reported that she died without a will. The 2014 handwritten will was found in between couch cushions as part of a spiral notebook. It’s hard to read. Pages can be seen here: AP News Story
Two 2010 handwritten wills were found locked in a cabinet after the key was discovered. Her attorney filed all three and asked the probate court to determine their validity.
What if this happened in North Carolina? Handwritten wills (also called holographic wills) can be valid in North Carolina. They must be almost entirely in the handwriting of the testator (all of the substance must be in handwritten), signed by the testator, and “found after the testator's death among the testator's valuable papers or effects, or in a safe-deposit box or other safe place where it was deposited by the testator or under the testator's authority, or in the possession or custody of some person [or business] with whom . . . it was deposited by the testator or under the testator's authority for safekeeping.” Finally, it must be clear from the writing that the testator meant for the writing to serve as their Last Will and Testament.
Therefore, it’s unlikely that the 2014 will would be considered valid. It’s part of a spiral notebook found in couch cushions unlike the 2010 versions that were locked up. Also, it’s not clear from the writing that she intended for that document to be her will.
It’s not recommended to handwrite your own will for numerous reasons. First, you’re probably not an attorney – what if you use the wrong language? Forget important legal terminology? Second, it is more difficult to probate. Most typed wills, written by attorneys, are witnessed and notarized. The executor should have little trouble submitting the will to probate. The executor of a handwritten will will have to provide additional proof to the court, causing them stress and possibly costing more money. Finally, handwritten wills are asking to be challenged. If someone claims it is not the testator’s handwriting, handwriting experts will be called in to testify. Your estate could be reduced due to legal fees.
If you’re interested in having a will drafted by a professional, give Jesson & Rains a call!
Written by Danielle Nodar, Associate Attorney
Estate planning can be a daunting process for many people. Whether it is the stress of making decisions that will impact loved ones when we are gone or avoiding thinking about death or incapacity, many people are hesitant to create an estate plan. The confusion and anxiety surrounding this process have lead to some pervasive myths relatied to estate planning, which we have addressed below.
1. My estate is not big enough to require any estate planning.
There is a widespread myth that only the very wealthy need estate plans and that the average person does not have an “estate” to begin with. This is not true! When someone passes away, all of their assets become part of their estate; there is no minimum threshold of assets that make up an estate. Thus, at death, we all have an estate, it just varies in size and complexity based on the amount and types of assets you have. Oftentimes, people with fewer assets have the most issues during probate and could have really used the help of an attorney.
2. Estate Planning only deals with distributing property at my death.
Another myth is that your estate plan only deals with who will inherit your property when you pass away. This is also incorrect! A will also allows you to name people who may serve important roles when you pass away. In a will you will name an Executor to manage your assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries in your will at the time of your death. Without a will, you will not have any control over naming the person to manage you affairs at your death. Additionally, in North Carolina, the only way to name a guardian for your children in the event that both parents pass away while the children are still minors is to name the guardian in a Last Will and Testament. You can also name a trustee who is the money manager for inheriting children until they reach a certain age.
Additionally, estate planning involves planning for incapacity through durable powers of attorney and health care directives. With a durable power of attorney, you can name an agent to make business, legal, and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. You can also name an agent to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated and include specific instructions for them about your healthcare wishes. There is also the advance directive or “living will,” which includes your wishes relating to the withdrawal or withholding of life support if you are incapacitated and suffering from a medical condition where you will not likely recover.
3. If I have a will, I can avoid probate.
Having a will drafted will not always prevent your estate from having to go through probate to pass assets to your loved ones. If you pass away with a will, depending on the circumstances, your executor may have to file your will at the courthouse along with the initial probate application and then must comply with all the requirements of the probate process. This includes providing the court with an inventory of all of your assets at the time of your death, providing notice to any of your potential creditors existing at the time of death, handling creditor claims and paying creditors with estate assets, and making distributions of any remaining assets to your beneficiaries. While there are ways to avoid probate (for example, owning property joint with rights of survivorship, the surviving spouse allowance, and utilizing revocable trusts), sometimes merely having a will is not enough.
4. I do not need a will because my spouse will inherit everything.
In North Carolina, this is oftentimes false. The surviving spouse will remain owner of all joint property or accounts with right of survivorship. Also, every surviving spouse (regardless of the existence of a will) is entitled to a year’s allowance of $60,000 worth of the decedent’s personal property. If there are any other assets, a surviving spouse does not automatically inherit everything according to the North Carolina Intestacy Statute. For example, if you do not have a will and are survived by a spouse and only one child (or grandchildren, if that one child is deceased), the surviving spouse takes ½ of your real property, the first $60,000 of your personal property, and ½ the remaining balance of your personal property while the child inherits the remainder. If you do not have children but are survived by a spouse and parent(s), your spouse will inherit ½ of your real property, the first $100,000 of your personal property, and ½ the remaining balance of your personal property. Your parent(s) will inherit ½ of your real estate and any personal property remaining after the spouse’s share
Thus, without a will, you may be inadvertently leaving your assets to people who do not need them and leave your spouse in need. For example, if your children are minors, you may want your spouse to inherit your full estate to take care of your children.
Overall, all of these options are more complicated and involve more court oversight. It is much easier to create an estate plan with an attorney that ensures that your spouse inherits everything or is adequately taken care of when you pass away. If you or anyone you know have any questions regarding estate planning, please give Jesson & Rains a call.
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