Family Succession Planning--a Hot Topic in 2012!

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I can say without question that  family wealth succession planning is a 2012 “hot topic”. The 2010 Tax Relief Act, including numerous income and estate tax provisions, is due to expire by its terms January 1, 2013. So the year 2012 is the year of Affirmative Planning Action by clients, with positive planning advice from their CPAs and other advisors.

In spite of there being many estate planners active in working with high wealth clients, it has been shown that many families hold back on succession planning. The usual statement is that the law is uncertain, so let’s wait! However, often the real reason for inaction involves the difficult family dynamics, potential for family conflicts, and absence of advisor initiatives. People and their concerns, fears and goals are the central issue in family succession planning.

The issues of property (“you can’t take it with you”!) and what will happen on the death of the estate owner must be considered, whether or not there is any estate tax liability. Certainly, for many families, this year’s $5 million estate tax exemption will eliminate any tax liability. However, absent new legislation, the exemption drops way down to $1 million January 1, 2013! Title and property ownership issues should be considered in any succession plan. In addition, flexible provisions must be added into the plan documents to account for changed circumstances, changes in tax law and other uncertainties. Having a plan, and discussing it within the family, also is the best way to avoid expensive litigation among heirs.

The CPA often is in an excellent position as a trusted advisor to the client to provide a stimulus for succession planning. With the April initial deadline for 2011 income tax returns past, now should be the time for actively proceeding to engage clients in succession planning within the family. This not only is the right thing to do for clients; but also it is an effective method of practice development for the CPA or other advisor. Go for it, and do your best for clients – they deserve it!

Guest Blogger, Owen Fiore, JD


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