Tag: Planning

22 Nov

Encouraging Your Parents to Discuss Their Financial Matters

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Having an open conversation with your parents about their financial matters and the importance of estate planning is never an easy task. Medical studies have indicated that people who have lived through the Great Depression prefer to keep their financial affairs to themselves. This presents a challenging task for loved ones trying to discuss with their parents financial matters and particularly who is best equipped to handle their finances if they are unable or how they expect to pay for long-term care should the need arise.

The New York Times recently published an article entitled, “Talking with Depression-Era Parents About Money”. In this article, Tara Siegel Bernard, the author, suggests the different ways that adult children could broach the topic with their parents such as:

Show and Tell: “Adult children could talk about their own estate plans – a show and tell”. This forces the parent to give thought to their children’s estate plan and opens the door for the child to ask how the parents have handled their own affairs.

Parental Duty: “Appeal to their duties as parents.” 

Bring in a Pro: “Some parents may also feel more comfortable discussing their financial situation in front of a disinterested party, like a long time accountant, lawyer, or financial planner.” It appears that Ms. Bernard suggests having a disinterested party present could help the parent feel more secure, which likely would have the effect of the parent opening up about their financial matters. This sounds like a good idea; however, a word of caution, this suggestion also could lead to estate litigation, as arguments of undue influence could be advanced in the circumstances.

Timing: “Make sure you choose a good time and place to bring up the topic”. Obviously, having this sort of discussion at the family holiday party is not a good idea.  

Thank you for reading and have a good day.

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


20 Aug

The Importance of Having a Will

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For my final blog for the week, I want to discuss an article recently featured in Forbes.com, which considers the importance of having a Will. 

If an individual dies without a Will, he is said to have died intestate. When a person dies intestate, their assets are distributed pursuant to the intestate provisions contained in the Succession Law Reform Act.

If a person dies with a Will, he is said to have died testate. In such circumstances, the deceased’s assets are distributed in accordance with his last wishes as set out under his Last Will and Testament.

Under Glenn Curtis’s article, “Why You Should Draft a Will” he sets out the benefits of having a Will, such as:

1.                  Limiting family disputes;

2.                  Wills can outline personal preferences; and

3.                  Wills make quantifying and distributing assets easier.

By comparison, Curtis argues that not having a Will could place significant burdens on loved ones, such as it could take a very long time to compile an accurate list of an individual’s assets; it could also take a prolonged period of time to identify and locate potential beneficiaries. “Unfortunately, until this process is complete, money may not be distributed, even to legitimate and known beneficiaries.”

Curtis concludes his article with some wise words: “Individuals seeking to prevent family infighting, and who want to ensure that their spouses, children and other relatives are properly taken care of after they die would be wise to consider drafting a will.”

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great weekend,

Rick Bickhram –  Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


15 Jul

Life’s 2 Certainties for George Steinbrenner: Death and Championships

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George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, passed away yesterday.  During his 37-year ownership, the flagship franchise won 7 World Series Titles.   Steinbrenner bought the Yankees with a group of investors for $10 million from CBS in 1973.  His personal investment was $160,000, which has grown to an estimated $880 million under his ownership and management.

Because of the timing of his death, George Steinbrenner’s estate (estimated by Forbes at US$1.15 billion) could escape the U.S. federal estates tax.  Steinbrenner died during a temporary 1-year lapse period – the tax lapsed at the beginning of 2010, and could not be revived in time to apply to the year 2010.  At 55% on estates worth $3.5 million or more, the straight tax hit would have been about $600 million. 

Of course, his estate’s exposure to the estates tax would depend on his estate planning, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article.  But Steinbrenner’s death is free of the 55% estates tax, unlike the death of Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, whose family had to sell that franchise to fund the tax liability on his death in 1977.  That’s fortunate, because according to the Wall Street Journal, the franchise is 95% leveraged in debt to finance the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. 

Steinbrenner’s heirs are his wife and children, and the franchise will be apparently be spared succession issues.  Steinbrenner’s sons have been managing the franchise since 2007 according to the New York Times.  Steinbrenner’s succession plan, which he openly discussed in 2003, appears to be succeeding as with everything else he did. 

Have a great day,

Christopher M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.


17 Jun

The Need to Plan our Estates

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I recently read an article named “The Lessons of Famously Bad Estate Planning”, authored by Steven Morelli. This article looks at disasters that have followed celebrities because of the absence of a properly planned Will.

Jimi Hendrix died without a Will which started a family war that would end up in court for more than 30 years.

Sonny Bono, an American record producer, singer, actor, and politician, died without a Will. It is mind blowing that someone so successful would not have a carefully planned Will. Of course, numerous people lined up to advance claims against his estate, which included Cher, and the inevitable love child. Sonny could have saved his widow and everyone else involved a lot of grief and aggravation if he had taken the time to do some simple estate planning.

For those of us who have taken the time to prepare our Wills, Mr. Morelli reminds us of the importance of updating our Will. For instance, Anna Nicole Smith died with a Will; however, her Will contained a provision which specifically excluded “future children” from benefiting from her estate. This clause had the effect of leaving her entire estate to her now deceased son, and disinheriting her five month old daughter. A judge eventually fixed this estate mess, but it came at an unnecessary expense.

Mr. Morelli puts it perfectly: “The essence of estate planning: control. Whether it involves celebrities maintaining their image for all posterity, or wealthy land-owners keeping their families’ holdings intact, estate planning protects clients’ control. Quite often people don’t want to discuss estate planning because it involves their death. But clients should understand that it is essential to maintaining their family’s stability and dignity.”

Thank you for reading,

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

16 Apr

Digital Assets and Estate Planning

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Estate planners now have yet another issue to address: how to deal with a testator’s digital assets. 

The term "digital assets" (wikipedia entry) generally refers to email, social media, and other online accounts, protected by a password and right to use a specific account.  People are now commonly storing huge amounts of unique data such as photographs, emails and any form of document.  The Michigan case where a court ordered Yahoo to allow executors to access a deceased’s email account notwithstanding that Yahoo’s terms of use and privacy policy did not allow for a transfer of access, is already five years old.

This may already be a professional liability issue.  The information stored in relation to the "digital assets" is arguably no less important than their predecessor "physical assets".  I say "predecessor" because for many people, physical forms of these assets are already quaint.  Other digital assets could have objective financial value; for instance, a PayPal account with a substantial balance, as Michael Panchieri points out.

Without addressing the swamp of legal issues associated with digital assets (even scratching the surface in a meaningful way would require many blogs), I recommend you peruse the following list of sources from Ontario and other jurisdictions to get a sense of how digital assets might fit into an estates plan:

-> mybangalore article expanding on how digital assets fit into estates

-> Dennis Kennedy’s article in the American Bar Association’s online e-zine Law Practice Today (attribution

-> Florida lawyer David Goldman has a must-read blog on what may be a fundamental planning challenge inherent to the nature of the digital asset (hint: it is a license that expires on death…)  

-> a general FT.com (UK) article on companies that offer services to store and pass on passwords and login credentials, link to this example of one such service provider, Entruset.

Thanks for reading,

Christopher M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.




15 Mar

Succession Planning Crisis Looming Over Canadian Businesses

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Sara Crosbie, a writer with the Globe and Mail, recently published an article on the succession planning crisis looming over Canadian family businesses. In her article, Ms. Crosbie refers to a study completed by Deloitte and Touche, which indicates that two-thirds of Canadian families have no written contingency plans to guide them through a disability or death.

To understand the importance of family businesses to the Canadian economy consider the following study which was completed by Deloitte and Touche and found that “family businesses have 4.7 million full-time employees, 1.3 million part-time workers and sales of around $1.3 trillion.”

Ms. Crosbie states that the lack of succession planning could be attributed to the idea that most parents think, “there’s nothing here to pass on”, but the children think, “actually, I’m quite interested in taking it on.” 

Dr. Pramodita Sharma attributes the lack of succession planning to the fact that “money and mortality conversations don’t usually take place until the head of a business is gravely ill. By then, it’s too late to start talking.”

Regardless of the cause, the consensus on resolving this looming crisis is rather simple, communication. Dr. Sharma says “Succession planning is either passing to the next generation of your family, passing to employees … selling it, to be merged or acquired by someone or it could be closing the business down.  That needs preparation, too. You want to get the maximum value out of the business so it has to be a pro-active succession plan. You don’t want death to be the succession plan.”

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

11 Feb

The U.S. Death Tax is Dead! Will it be Resurrected?

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The United State’s federal estate tax, more commonly known as the “Death Tax” is a tax applied to the transfer of a person’s assets at death. It is defined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as “a tax on your right to transfer property at your death.”

The Death Tax is paid by the recipients of an inheritance and is due within 9 months of the decedent’s death.   If there is not sufficient cash in the estate, personal property and business assets must be sold to pay the tax. 

As noted in one of our prior blogs, due to changes made by Congress during the George Bush administration back in 2001, the Death Tax was due to fall from 45% to 0% on January 1, 2010.  Many thought this loophole would be addressed before the start of the year. However, due to a Congressional tax standoff, no action was taken in time and the Death Tax has been repealed. However, the repeal is not permanent and the Death Tax is scheduled to be resurrected on January 1, 2010, at a rate of 55% on all assets above $1 million (the current exemption amount). 

It remains to be seen which way the political winds will blow, as Congress will likely address the issue this year. In the interim, estate planners in the U.S. are in uncharted territory, as no one can predict whether/when the Death Tax will be resurrected and if so, whether Congress will make it retroactive to the beginning of the year. This may ultimately be a matter for the courts to decide. Stay tuned!

Bianca La Neve

Bianca V. la Neve – Click here for more information on Bianca La Neve.

12 Jan

The 8 Life Stages of Estate Planning

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As we are in the beginning of a new year, a quote from one of my favourite poets, T.S. Eliot, comes to mind:  “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”  

I recently came across an article entitled "The 8 Life Stages of Estate Planning", authored by G.M. Filisko.  In his article, Mr. Filisko points out the obvious – during our life we will go through different phases and our estate plans should reflect these changes. Mr. Filisko lists the following stages to consider regardless of the phase one may be currently in:

1.      Young, single and carefree
2.      Single, but committed
3.      We’re Engaged
4.      Just Married
5.      The Joys of Parenting
6.      Divorce (if unfortunately applicable)
7.      The Middle Ages
8.      The Golden Years

Regardless of where one may fall in this spectrum, it is never to late to get started.

Since making New Year’s resolutions seems to be the theme around this time of the year, let’s make a resolution to be more organized this year and spend some time considering our estate plans.

Thank you for reading.

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


23 Sep

Future Changes to U.S. Estate Tax?

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Yesterday I wrote about Edward Kennedy – I began to wonder about the tax implications on his estate.

Assuming he held $75 million in assets, his estate would have been taxed at a rate of 45% and the bill owing would be $33,750,000. But this is unlikely because much of his wealth was held by trusts which, in Ontario, are separate taxable entities. 

My colleague, Sarah Fitzpatrick wrote in July 2008 about the upcoming changes to the U.S. tax law.  That time is four months away. Congress must act soon; if it does not, taxes on nearly everyone will soar under a plan enacted in 2001 called the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) which provides that in 2011 the tax law that had been in effect in 2000 will reappear.

The estate tax is set to vanish for a year if nothing happens before the end of 2009 as the EGTRRA sunsets in 2010. In 2011, an effective rate of 55% on estates would come into effect.

Only a small number of individuals pay the estate tax each year. In 2007, there were 36,458 estate tax filers – out of 235 million total tax filers that same year in the United States.  . Smaller estates (under $3.5 million) make up the bulk of filers – over 60 percent in years 2002-2007. Large estates (over $10 million), however contributed between 18 and 30 percent of the total revenue in the same time frame.

During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama supported permanent extension of the 2009 law – effectively a permanent 45 percent top rate with $3.5 million exemption per individual ($7 million for couples).

Either side of the political spectrum will present different numbers, but what seems certain is that if there is no legislative action in the U.S. in the next few months, 2010 will be a good year for estates. My bet is that the large loophole will be filled quickly, especially as the U.S. operates with a large deficit.

Thank you for reading. Please remember that Hull & Hull is hosting another breakfast seminar tomorrow morning.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.

22 Sep

Nurturing Legacies: Edward M. Kennedy

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The death of Edward M. Kennedy on August 25, 2009 marked the end of era. The Lion of the Senate received much praise for his 47-year contribution to American politics.

In his memoir – True Compass –  “Teddy” provides a posthumous review of his life and of his famous family.  It is a reminder that people leave a range of legacies when they die. Several of his siblings left their own mark, including his sister Eunice.  Edward Kennedy’s political accomplishments are a great part of his legacy. (I have read about JFK and Bobby and will enjoy this read.)

There is the financial side of Edward Kennedy’s life (and of each Kennedy) which presumably continues to back many of the endeavours of the current generation. Edward Kennedy, apparently, reported a net worth  in 2008 between $15 million and $72.6 million, but a year earlier the range was between $46.9 and $157 million. As a U.S. senator, Kennedy earned a base salary of $165,200 a year.

The main source of Kennedy’s wealth was his father and family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, whose fortune stemmed from banking, real estate, liquor, films and Wall Street holdings that eventually grew to an estimated $500 million by the 1980s.

A big portion of that wealth came from Kennedy Sr.’s purchase of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart  in 1945 for $12.5 million. Spanning two city blocks and rising 25 stories, the sprawling limestone and terra-cotta mart had its own zip code. It was the world’s largest building until the Pentagon was built in the 1940s. The Kennedy family sold its interest in the Merchandise Mart in 1998 for $450 million in cash and a $100 million interest in the purchasing trust. The holdings of Edward Kennedy included a string of publicly and non-publicly traded trusts and assets.

The Kennedy family contributed a great deal to public service. Liberal projects and public service work by the family is supported in part, I expect, by the resources available to them through family investments.

While we did not know the patriarch of the Kennedy family, we can glimpse the satisfaction he likely felt that his investments – in his family and businesses – contributed to the greater good.

The scale may be far different, but within our own families, each of us can support the work and the dreams of the next generation with careful planning and wise investments of our time, energy and financial resources.

Thank you for reading.

Jonathan Morse

Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.


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