Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Child from Prior Marriage / Relationship

Question: I have a child from a prior relationship but am now married to another woman. My wife is pregnant. I want to provide for my eldest child in case I die. Do I need a trust?
Response: Perhaps. The standard estate planning template for a married couple is for each spouse to leave everything to the other spouse with the kids as contingent beneficiaries in cases where both the husband and wife die. That template does not necessarily work for blended families (i.e., one where at least one child of the couple has a parent other than the husband and wife). Taking your case as an example, if you die and everything is left to your wife, can you rely on her to provide for your child by another woman? That is the crux of the problem with blended families. So you are left with trying to balance the needs of children by different mothers as well as your wife in your estate planning decisions.

One option is life insurance. Perhaps there is a child support order in effect in your case already requiring that you maintain life insurance payable to the mother of your eldest child. Let's assume you have not been ordered to maintain life insurance for the mother of your child. The first priority is to ensure the basics of life are covered for your eldest child. If you are a younger man (which I assume from the question), term life insurance is a cost effective approach to cover necessary living expenses and education until the child reaches adulthood. Another administratively simple option is to name the child a transfer on death beneficiary of one of your financial accounts (in lieu of life insurance). Most states allow this type of designation for financial accounts and it's easy to put in place.

But a minor cannot take control of his or her own finances. If you die leaving your child the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, the child's mother mostly likely will be named guardian to hold and spend that money for the child's benefit. If you do not trust the mother to do the right thing, then a revocable trust that remains unfunded until you die can be useful. What a revocable trust does is allow you to name a successor trustee for after your death to administer any assets that have been set aside for your eldest child. The successor trustee, as opposed to a court appointed guardian (who would most like be the child's mother), will be the one to take control of investing and disbursing the trust funds for your child's benefit.

The foregoing are just general observations on a few fragmentary facts. An attorney must sit down with your and go over your entire family and financial situation to give a recommendation on whether or not a trust is right for you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Death of Sole Shareholder With Revocable Trust

Question: My father, sole stockholder of his architectural business and corporation, passed away. He had a revoable living trust with pour-over will leaving everything equally to my brother and I. His business has no activity and any remaining funds were disbursed to pay business debts. We want to dissolve the corporation. I am trustee and executor of trust and will. Is it correct that my brother and I can as heirs to the stock - have a shareholders meeting, appoint ourselves to the board and as officers and then vote for and file for dissolution of the corporation? William, California
Response: The first issue that comes to mind is whether or not your father's revocable trust owned the shares of stock in his architectural corporation (or the shares were subject to a transfer on death designation to the trust). How do you tell? Try and locate the share certificate and / or the corporate minute book. A trust only possesses those assets transferred to its ownership.

Let's assume there is no record of the shares being transferred to the trust during your father's life. The provisions of a pourover will can only be used to transfer property by opening up a probate estate and transferring assets via the probate process. Obviously, you wish to avoid this but this might not be possible. One suggestion is to call the general information number of the California Secretary of State's business entities office and tell them you have a legal question regarding the mechanics of dissolving a California corporation. In some states, the secretary of state's office will field questions of this nature. I'm not sure whether California does or not. It can't hurt to ask and see if they will route you to a staff attorney or paralegal who will at least attempt to answer the question. The secretary of state's office might have an internal policy of accepting articles of dissolution from the executor of the estate of a deceased sole shareholder (but I wouldn't bet on it).

As always, your best source of information is a local attorney experienced in California probate and corporate law.

p.s. If all your father's other assets are properly titled in the name of the trust and this is the last asset to deal with, you won't have to go through a full estate probate cycle to take care of dissolving the corporation to my knowledge. You would file in the California probate court for letter of administration formally making you the administrator of your father's estate. List the shares of the architectural corporation as the sole assets of the estate. Once that is accomplished, I believe you can vote the shares as executor. Next, sign a resolution appointing you sole director. Next, sign resolutions as sole shareholder and, also, as sole director approving dissolution of corporation. File the required documents with the secretary of state's office. Once completed, close the probate estate as it no longer possesses any assets. Again, local counsel can walk you through this process and prepare the necessary documents.