Thinking of the Unthinkable: Plan your estate transition or it will be planned without you.

Author:Barbour, Tracy

Regardless of net worth, everyone should have a plan for how they want the money, property, and other assets in their estate to be transferred after--or even before--they die. Estate planning is especially vital for business owners, whose untimely death, incapacity, or illness can threaten the legacy they intended to leave behind.

Estate planning provides business owners with the best means of continuing their legacy when they no longer can, says Laura Bruce of Alaska Permanent Capital Management (APCM). "If you don't make a plan, one will be made for you at your death, and it will likely be different than the one you imagined for your loved ones or legacy," she says.

All businesses will transition at the death of the owner either by the state or by their heirs. Sometimes this transition will result in a viable enterprise shuttering. In that scenario, long-time employees who could have otherwise continued the business may not have any options. A well-executed estate plan for business can provide a framework for the next owners. "If done well in coordination with a tax advisor, attorney, and financial advisor, the owner who invested so much personal capital can be rewarded financially and emotionally in seeing the transition or knowing that the plans are in place for a smooth transition," Bruce says.

It's an interesting time of transition for businesses in Alaska, Bruce says. Numerous firms started in the '80s with Alaska's growth in oil and gas. Accordingly, many of those business owners are now at the age where they might want or need to transfer those entities to the next generation. Those business owners were often so busy growing the business and creating wealth that they didn't have the time or energy to do the detailed planning needed for successful succession and distribution of the business' equity and other assets. "The key is to make the time to make a plan and recognize that plans can be changed and amended if needed," she says. "Alaska has excellent estate planners with creative solutions available to business owners."

Indeed, Alaska--which is known for its favorable asset protection laws--has a variety of professional resources that can assist business owners with estate planning. APCM, for example, helps clients facilitate different facets of the estate planning and eventual settlement process by assisting with the selection and coordination of the client's advisory team, typically consisting of a tax advisor, attorney, and investment expert. Likewise, Wells Fargo has a wealth planning and business transition planning group that partners with lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who can help guide the decision-making process. Peak Trust Company administers or manages estate plans after they have been finalized, picking up where a company like Wells Fargo leaves off. And the law firm of Foley, Foley & Pearson works with clients in various areas of estate planning, estate administration, and business succession planning.

A Blueprint for Businesses

Most people view an estate plan as a tool that isn't activated until after they die. But nothing could be further from the truth, says Bob Petix, a Wyoming-based senior wealth planning strategist for Wells Fargo who works closely with clients in Alaska. In fact, the best results can be achieved with planning...

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