By Attorney Kelly Jesson
We previously wrote about the importance of keeping good business records in order to avoid personal liability for business debts. However, did you know that certain business records can act as estate planning tools?
Your interest in your business, whether an LLC interest or corporate stock, is personal property that you can leave to a family member when you pass away. Unfortunately, it will go through probate unless you transfer it to a trust or enter into a transfer-upon-death (TOD) or joint with rights of survivorship agreement with your heir. The court collects a fee based on the amount of personal property that goes through probate, so if your business is worth some money, you want to avoid this.
What if you have a business partner? Perhaps you don’t want to do business with his/her spouse or child if your partner passes away? That’s where an operating agreement or a shareholder’s agreement comes in handy—in either of these agreements, the owners can agree that if one of them passes away, the other will buy out their interest. This is helpful for the survivor, who will remain in control of the company, and this is helpful for the deceased owner’s family, who will get a sum of money. These agreements (also called buy-sell agreements) are oftentimes funded with life insurance, to ensure that there is liquid cash available to pay the family.
In either of these agreements, the owners can promise the other not to transfer their business interest to third parties while they’re alive, which is also helpful for control purposes. The parties can agree to buy the other out when other “triggering events” happen, such as a partner’s bankruptcy or divorce. You don’t want one of these events to cause the forced sale of all or part of the business. It is important to put a plan in place to prepare for the unexpected (that frequently happen).
If you or someone you know needs assistance putting an operating agreement or shareholder agreement in place, or incorporating their business into their estate plan, please give Jesson & Rains a call! We offer flat fee packages for these formation documents. We also offer flat fee annual plans that include preparing annual meeting notices and minutes, filing annual reports with the Secretary of State’s office, and other legal services. More information can be found here.
By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
August is National Make-A-Will Month! While it may not be as fun as celebrating one of August’s other “holidays,” like National S’mores Day (August 10) or National Dog Day (August 26), it is a reminder of the importance of having a will in place to ensure that your loved ones are provided for at your passing.
Some of the most important components of a will are:
1) Naming Beneficiaries to Inherit Your Assets. A will allows you to specifically provide for the persons or charities of your choosing at your passing. If you pass away without a will in North Carolina, the North Carolina Intestacy Statutes will determine where your assets will go based on your next-of-kin. For any property that was owned joint with rights of survivorship, which is frequently the case with many assets owned by spouses, the asset will pass automatically to the surviving party. As will assets that have a designated beneficiary via a beneficiary designation.
However, this is not the case for any assets that are just in your name when you pass away, even if you are survived by your spouse. Under the North Carolina Intestacy Statutes, most people are surprised to learn that your spouse does not automatically inherit everything. Sometimes parents or half-siblings inherit. Thus, without a will, you may be inadvertently leaving your assets to people who do not need them, or you may be leaving assets to minor children instead of your spouse, who may need the funds to care for your children. A will also allows you to leave assets to more distant relatives, friends, or charities that would be ineligible to inherit through intestacy.
2) Naming an Executor. Your will allows you to name an Executor to manage your assets and distribute them to your beneficiaries at the time of your death. Without a will, you will not have any control over naming the person to manage your affairs at your death and a family member or friend will have to volunteer and seek the court’s approval before being allowed to serve. If someone has a higher degree of kinship than the prospective Executor, they must sign a waiver of their right to serve as Executor (i.e., creating more paperwork for your loved ones). If the person will not waive their right to serve, this may result in a person who is not as well-suited for the job serving as an Executor just because they have a higher degree of kinship than the prospective Executor.
3) Waiving the Executor’s Bond. In North Carolina, an Executor has to pay a bond based on the value of the assets unless (1) it is waived in a will or (2) all heirs sign a waiver to waive the requirement (again, more paperwork for your loved ones). If there are minors or incompetent heirs, they cannot consent, and the bond will be required. Any Executor who is not a North Carolina resident must pay a bond, regardless of the waiver. By planning with a will, you can waive the requirement altogether and make sure your desired Executor is capable of serving.
4) Name a Guardian and Trustee for Minor Children. In North Carolina, the only way to name a guardian for your children if both parents pass away is to name the guardian in a will. Without a will, multiple family members may seek to be appointed a child’s guardian, which may result in fighting or someone serving that you would not have chosen yourself for that role. You can also create a testamentary trust in your will, which allows you to have more control over the age when your children inherit. With this trust, your named Trustee will manage and distribute assets for your children’s benefit until they reach the age where you designate that they can manage the funds on their own. Without a will, any person eighteen years or older can inherit any type of asset without the benefit of a Trustee’s oversight.
If you do not have a will, or your existing will does not accurately reflect your current wishes, use Make-A-Will Month to get a plan in place so that your loved ones are not left with questions or complications if you pass away. Please call Jesson & Rains if you would like to discuss how a will can be tailored to your specific needs and wishes!
By Meg Abney, Jesson & Rains PLLC Intern
If you are a professional, like a therapist, CPA, or attorney, you know exactly how your business should be run. But what happens when incapacity or death intervenes? Who will pick up where you left off?
A “Professional Will” can help provide guidance and critical instruction for what comes next.
While not a true legal document, like a Last Will and Testament, a “Professional Will” is essentially a roadmap explaining how to terminate or continue operations at your business or practice. Unlike your Last Will and Testament, which concerns distribution of assets, a Professional Will names a trusted individual or emergency response team to handle business affairs like:
Depending on your profession, you may be obligated to provide some form of advance planning for your business or practice. In North Carolina, psychologists, LPCs, NCCs, and LMFTs are required to make advance plans for the transfer of clients and to protect the confidentiality of records and data. A Professional Will satisfies this ethical responsibility.
Even if not specifically required in your industry, all professional business owners can benefit from a Professional Will. Professionals often have an obligation to protect the interests of their clients, and a Professional Will can help avoid a breach of duty. Individuals whose clients rely on continued care or service should strongly consider a Professional Will to help prevent disruptions.
Ideally, you should create your Professional Will alongside your personal will since your Last Will and Testament supersedes all other testamentary documents. Therefore, it is best to work with an experienced attorney to ensure that there are no discrepancies between these two documents.
Please call Jesson & Rains PLLC if you have questions about whether your business could benefit from a Professional Will or want to learn more about protecting your business’s future.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
With estate planning, like many other things, cheaper is normally not better. With online, fill-in-the blank options, the question assumes you understand it and know the answer. If you do not, you could be filling it in incorrectly. One top DIY legal document company used to have a note on its website that said “80% of people do not complete online forms correctly” (trying to get people to upgrade to a “live attorney” package). Specific words have meanings, and if you do not understand the law in your state, there can be some unintended consequences when doing it yourself. For example, you could unintentionally disinherit a child. You could accidentally leave money to someone you didn’t know was included in a class of people.
Most do-it-yourself forms leave out provisions that makes things easier and less expensive to manage, like extra powers in the Durable Power of Attorney that can help your loved ones if you are incapacitated or including the power to sell real estate in a will (saving your estate thousands of dollars). You may also accidentally leave assets in the wrong hands, such as having minors inheriting property, resulting in costly court proceedings to fix. Many companies rely on documents and laws that are not always up to date or they may not be state-specific (although advertised to be), and the remedies may be expensive and require an attorney or court proceeding to fix.
Additionally, estate planning attorneys are not just document drafters. There’s a reason why it is called “estate planning” and not “will drafting.” We counsel our clients as to their choice of guardian and executors, leaving money to kids, helping ensure that ex-spouses don’t inherit, etc. We help our clients plan for death or incapacity utilizing real estate deeds, beneficiary designations on retirement and life insurance policies, and business agreements. Did you know that your will could leave everything to one person, but if you have someone else named as a beneficiary on a policy, that trumps your will? Some surviving spouses are sad to learn that they do not inherit real estate outright due to the owners on the title. We update titles for our clients if they want to, in advance. If you wait until someone has passed, it is too late.
If something goes wrong with an online legal document, you are SOL (so out of luck). Just look at LegalZoom’s terms of service: “. . . LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all of the information on the Site or Applications is completely current. The law is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be subject to interpretation by different courts. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance. Furthermore, the legal information contained on the Site and Applications is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Therefore, if you need legal advice for your specific problem, or if your specific problem is too complex to be addressed by our tools, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area.” If an attorney does something wrong that results in damages, you or your family can sue them for malpractice.
Using online forms gives the drafter / purchaser a false sense of security. While they may have saved a few thousand dollars, the true price may be far greater and paid by undeserving family members. Investing in estate planning is investing in your family’s future, and who can put a price on that? If you’re ready to get your estate plan in order, give Jesson & Rains a call.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
This year, make a resolution to prioritize estate planning. Estate planning allows you to gain control and peace of mind over difficult and unpredictable situations. We have previously written about the difficulties caused by dying without a will in North Carolina and the pitfalls of the probate process in North Carolina; however, many of the “worst-case” scenarios can be avoided with proper planning. Let us help you make 2021 the year you plan for emergency scenarios and protect your business and personal assets for the benefit of your loved ones through estate planning.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has shown us that there are no guarantees, but it has also highlighted what is most important to each of us: family. Estate planning allows you to plan for what happens when you pass away, including naming a trusted person to handle your final affairs, name guardians for minor children, and distribute your assets according to your wishes. In addition to planning for death, our office drafts durable and health care powers of attorneys, where you can name agents to make both financial and medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated and cannot communicate.
There is no reason to wait to do planning, and as the pandemic continues to be a part of our “new normal,” you should get a plan in place before it is ever needed. If you do become incapacitated or ill, it may be more difficult or impossible to get documents in place, as you must have testamentary capacity to create valid estate planning documents.
Our office has created new procedures due to COVID-19. Our office staff wears masks, and masks are required by every person entering the office. We also social distance as much as possible, with witnesses watching you sign the documents through the conference room windows. We do not share or reuse pens that may be used by clients and we wipe down all surfaces before someone comes in to do a document signing. We are also meeting our clients in the parking lot, where they can remain in the car while signing documents, which limits their exposure to germs in the building. For all appointments prior to the signing appointment, we offer virtual appointments so we can still “meet” our clients while reducing risks of exposure.
Some of our clients delay estate planning because they do not have any friends or family members they trust to serve in fiduciary roles. In some circumstances, members of the firm may serve in these roles for the client if the client feels comfortable. It is better for you to take control and name someone yourself than to have the government appoint someone in an emergency or when you pass away.
We want to help you take CONTROL in 2021! Please call Jesson & Rains if you have questions about getting your estate plan in order or updating an existing estate plan. While You Build, We Protect.
By Attorney Kelly Jesson
What happens when you get married, but you don’t update your will?
The good news is that North Carolina law will prevent a surviving spouse from getting nothing with their spouses passes away. In North Carolina, we have what is called “an Elective Share.” That means that a spouse, whether or not there is a will, and whether or not they are omitted from a will, can elect to take a share.
The amount of the share is determined by statute. I will not go into specifics here, but if a spouse is omitted from a will, they can take a percentage of the deceased spouse’s estate (not just their probate estate, but everything, including life insurance proceeds, stocks and bonds, etc.), and the percentage is based upon the number of years they have been married.
So this is good – if you have a will and you get married, but you pass away before you can revise your will, your surviving spouse will not be left out in the cold. However, if you intend for your spouse to inherit 100% of your estate, you may need to revise your will.
Now, let’s say you have a will, you’ve left property to your spouse, but then you get divorced:
What happens if you do not update your will after a divorce?
Well, there’s good news here, too. In North Carolina, the divorced spouse will get nothing under the will, and if you have the spouse listed as an executor, trustee, or guardian, the spouse will not be permitted to serve as one of those, either. However, we still recommend that a divorced person revise their will. There may be other provisions in the will indirectly
impacted by the divorce that are not automatically revoked. For example, maybe your wife’s sister was to serve as your successor executor, and you’d prefer someone from your own family to serve now? Maybe you had provided for your husband’s step-child in your will and you would like to remove the step-child? These provisions are not automatically revoked upon divorce.
So, as you can see, North Carolina law does a great job protected spouses from unintentional disinheritance and from their ex-spouses inheriting. However, a revised Will will do an even better job at making sure your wishes are carried out. Give Jesson & Rains a call if you need to draft or update your documents!
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