May 30

Livestock liability protection

The Oklahoma legislature took a great step forward this past session to offer more liability planning flexibility for Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers. With the passage of HB 3110, the State of Oklahoma now permits ad valorem tax exemption for livestock owned by closely held entities, but only if the entities are owned only by members of the same family.

First, a little background: The Oklahoma State Constitution provides for the exemption from ad valorem taxation of household goods and livestock employed in the support of a family. Okla. Const. Art. X, Sec. 6(b). A previous Attorney General issued an opinion on this provision that stated “in support of a family” was limited to farmers and/or ranchers that owned the livestock in their individual name or as sole proprietorships. If livestock were owned through a limited liability company, a family partnership or a corporation, the livestock should have been subject to the county’s ad valorem taxes.

The conflict which arises here is that all of the forms of ownership that allowed for exemption from property taxes would subject the farmer or rancher to unlimited liability in the event a lawsuit arose. For example, if a fence went down and cattle were out at night and caused a significant automobile accident, the rancher and his insurance would have to pay all judgments that arose from that accident; even to the point of having to sell land, if the judgment far exceeded liability coverage. Under the previous Attorney General ruling, there was no way to limit the liability to just the cattle unless you wanted to pay ad valorem taxes on the all cattle.

The new law, which can be found at Title 68 Okla. Stat. §2807.1, approves the use of family limited liability entities, trusts, and estates. The law interprets the clause (in the state Constitution) “in support of the family” to include any entity where a family unit, consisting of common descendents and surviving spouses, (e.g. father/son, siblings, cousins, or widows) to be exempt from ad valorem taxation on livestock if no one outside of the family owns interests. The new law would allow a rancher to separate points of liability, meaning he could own his land in one entity and his cattle in a different entity, without increasing his property tax burden. Using the same scenario of cattle out at night, as above, with proper planning the rancher above might still lose his investment in his cattle, but his land would not have to be sold to cover a judgment over his liability coverage.

The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2013 and would apply to personal property taxes from then forward.

May 29

Harvest complete

It was a pretty good year for us on Howard Farms. We only had one major breakdown (Ryan’s combine) and about three minor ones. Our wheat averaged around the mid-30s in bushels per acre and we are getting a decent price. We finished up yesterday around 2:00 p.m. and took the rest of the day to enjoy Memorial Day.

I would speculate that harvest is about 90% complete in Altus and the surrounding area of southwest Oklahoma.

May 18

Wheat harvest is here

estate planning for farmers
The combine I run for harvesting our 1,600 acres of wheat.

Although a few other farmers have been harvesting wheat for a about a week already, we just started on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. This is the earliest harvest I ever remember. Early reports that I have seen show an above average crop with good weights.

So, if you call the office and I am not able to answer, it is because I am out on the combine, but do not worry, I use my time to think of estate planning strategies and ways to save taxes.
Happy Harvest, everyone!
May 16

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

A palliative nurse who has counseled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. Bronnie Ware is an Austrailian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called the Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I work with people that are doing their estate planning, because they want to ensure that things are settled smoothly after they pass away, but this book helped me to see that, while planning for taxes and death is a great thing, we should not forget to enjoy ourselves and our loved ones while we are alive.

May 14

Strategies for moving wealth

One of the big announcements on Wall Street this summer is the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Facebook. Some of the estimates that I have seen say it is possible that the IPO may bring in more than $100 billion for the company. That is a lot of cash for a new company and one that is founded and ran by people less than 30 years old.

But, as this is an estate and tax planning blog, the pertinent part I would like to discuss is the strategies of the founders to shift their wealth to their family without incurring excessive taxation. According to TaxProf Blog, some of the founders are using Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs) to shift some of their stock to benefit other family members before the IPO.

The GRAT works by holding the property for the benefit of others, while still being income tax reported by the Grantor. When the Grantor sells his pre-IPO shares of Facebook to the GRAT, he takes a discounted value and a low rate of interest on the installment note. When the stock is offered at IPO and increases vastly in value, the other family members benefit from the appreciation.

The headline I read stated that the combined strategies would save an estimated $200 million in taxes for these young entrepenuers!

So, the pertinent question for you here in Altus and southwest Oklahoma, is if a 30 year-old has already taken steps to protect his wealth for future generations, have you taken the necessary steps for your own family and your legacy?