Thursday, March 12, 2015

Using LLCs to Expand Lifetime Gifting

So far, our discussion regarding the use of gifting an estate plan has revolved primarily around cash gifts, it is important to understand that gifts can consist of any type of property, including interests in real estate and business entities. A family owned Limited Liability Company is an excellent tool for transferring a variety of assets from one generation to the next, often at a reduced value, while allowing parents to retain control of the assets during their lifetime.

     While the use of cash gifts provides clients with a tool for reducing their potential estate tax liability, clients may be able to gain greater benefits through by using a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in their estate planning. The client can establish an LLC with two classes of Membership Interest, voting and nonvoting, and can retain control over assets by keeping the voting interests and gifting the nonvoting interests to beneficiaries..
     To make use of this gifting strategy, clients first establish a LLC (or modify an existing LLC) with a 1% Voting Member Interest and a 99% Nonvoting Member Interest. This allows the owner of the 1% Voting Member Interest to control the company regardless of who owns the 99% Nonvoting Member Interest. Clients then transfer ownership of other assets, such as real estate or business interests, to the LLC. Now the client is able to make gifts of the Nonvoting Member Interest, without giving up control of the assets. This allows clients to begin transferring highly appreciating assets during their lifetime, reducing any potential estate tax liability because the appreciation of the assets is now out of the Estate, and providing a potential source of income to their loved ones. Clients can transfer these  Nonvoting Member Interests in the LLC using either their lifetime estate exemption and/or their annual gift tax exemption, further reducing potential tax liability. These nonvoting member interests can be given to adult children as well as minor children and grandchildren, with trust holding the interest for these minors. These trusts can then be used to provide funds for education for the minors as income is distributed from the LLCs
     Another benefit of including an LLC in an estate plan is the potential to receive a valuation discount when making gifts of Nonvoting Member Interests. The IRS recognizes that a member interest in an LLC which does not allow the owner control over the company and which restricts the owner's ability to sell or transfer the member interest has less value than an unrestricted interest. Thus, a properly structured LLC may allow clients to transfer larger portions of the Nonvoting Member Interest as part of an annual gifting plan. While using an LLC in this manner is a well-established practice, it is important to acknowledge that without proper appraisals and planning, and such transfers may be subject to IRS scrutiny.
     In order to comply with the law and IRS regulations is important to manage and operate the family-owned LLC as a separate entity, and not just an extension of the client’s own affairs. The LLC should not contain all of the client assets, especially not the client’s residence, because the IRS argues that the LLC is necessary to maintain the client’s lifestyle and therefore, under estate tax rules, the IRS may deem the LLC's assets part of the client’s estate.
     For many clients the use of an LLC as part of their estate planning is an excellent strategy to increase the value of annual gifting. It is also an excellent tool for transferring ownership of family-run businesses to the next generation while ensuring that the clients retain control of the business operation. It is important to remember that this is a complex planning technique that clients should not attempt without consulting qualified professionals for assistance in reviewing the tax and legal implications.

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