Time Is Running Out to Use The Lifetime Gifting Rules That Can Really Help Family Businesses

The president signed a new tax law back in December of 2010 giving the owners of family businesses probably the biggest tax break to come in several years.

However, that tax break, the lifetime gift exemption, $5 Million ($10 Million for a married couple), is in effect for only two years (2011 & 2012).

While the estate tax exemption amount had been increasing year to year, the lifetime gift exemption had stayed at $1 Million over the past 10 years.

But, the current law “sunsets” on December 31, 2012, and on January 1, 2013, the lifetime gift exclusion amount and the estate tax exemption will both decrease to $1 Million.

Even if you had previously used up your $1 Million lifetime gift tax exemption in prior years, you still have time to shift an additional $4 Million out of your estate to your family.

This two year window allows the owners of family businesses to transfer the stock of their closely held companies to the children or other family members and reduce the size of their estates, all tax free up to the exemption amount.

This strategy raises difficult questions for those now in charge as to how to maintain control and/or stream of income from the company they currently work in and manage. How do they protect their interests and maintain their retirement while passing wealth down to the family?

Experienced estate planning lawyers can develop “salary continuation plans”, “consulting agreements”, and other legal mechanisms to protect the owner’s financial stake in the family company.

Other difficult questions include how to treat other beneficiaries fairly when only one of the beneficiaries is going to eventually lead the business.

This may mean an amendment to the estate plan. The timing, nature and size of the gifts have to be considered in the context of the overall estate plan.

Time is of the essence in view of the fact that the $5 Million lifetime gift exclusion will disappear at the end of 2012, and go back to $1 Million.

“It is wise to consult with your estate planning attorney before making any kind of gift transfer” said Orange County Estate Planning Attorney Dwight E. Tompkins.

For additional information on the latest estate planning law contact Attorney Dwight E. Tompkins or visit www.Tompkins-law.com.

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RJW Joins Forces With Slater & Gordon In The UK Following ABS Licence Approval

RJW has been acquired by Slater & Gordon – the world’s first publicly listed law firm – for £53.8 million (approximately $AUD80 million). The acquisition took place on 30 April 2012 following the approval of an Alternative Business Structures (ABS) licence by the UK Solicitors Regulation Authority. The law firm notified the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) of its ABS licence approval on the same day.

Slater & Gordon was amongst the first organisations to be granted an ABS licence by the UK regulatory authority.

RJW and Slater & Gordon and announced their plans to join forces and capitalise on changes in the UK legal landscape in January of 2012, following 12 months of negotiations and due diligence.

RJW Chief Executive Officer Neil Kinsella said his team knew that changes were required to stay “at the forefront of a changing legal landscape” and Slater & Gordon was the “perfect partner” law firm.

Mr Kinsella said: “This is an exciting new chapter in our history, and an important step towards us achieving our ambition to become the largest and most trusted brand for personal legal services in the UK.

“We are in the midst of a changing landscape in the UK and we want to be at the forefront of that change – both in a regulatory sense and in service delivery.

“One thing that will not change is our commitment to make access to justice available and affordable to all, because that’s a common goal that we share with Slater & Gordon and it’s one of the things that attracted us to them in the first place.”

Slater & Gordon Managing Director Andrew Grech said it was the optimum time to enter the UK market because of the changes in ownerships laws and impending changes to the personal injury sector.

Mr Grech said: “Firms which do not adapt will simply not be able to compete effectively over the long term.

“This partnership gives RJW security so that they can continue providing a first class legal service, but it also gives them the resources needed to develop and grow whilst retaining and attracting talented people in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.”

Mr Grech said Slater & Gordon would support its UK business to continue to grow and meet the needs and expectations of their clients into the future.

He continued: “We have jointly identified the opportunities that will come as a result of the changes in the UK market and have already benefited from sharing our knowledge.

“The potential to share technology and have greater resources to retain and attract additional talented people will underpin our future success.”

RJW equity partners have exchanged ownership of a traditional partnership for share-ownership in Slater & Gordon Ltd. The partners will hold Slater & Gordon shares for a minimum of four years. RJW has traded as ‘Russell, Jones & Walker part of Slater & Gordon Lawyers’ from Monday 30 April, 2012. The acquisition includes RJW’s Claims Direct brand.

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Access Legal From Shoosmiths Announces £10.8m Payout For 11-Year-Old Left Disabled From Birth

Access Legal from Shoosmiths has announced that Milly Evans, an 11-year-old-girl left severely disabled from birth, was awarded £10.8 million compensation.

The national law firm Access Legal and its team of medical negligence solicitors helped secure the amount – believed to be one of the largest ever in the UK – at a High Court hearing.

The injury to Milly happened during her birth at Lincoln County Hospital. Milly’s mother, Kate Evans, was already in established labour when she was admitted to hospital at 7pm on 1 March 2001. Her baby’s heart was initially monitored, but later heart rate monitoring was totally inadequate. By 10pm it was discovered that the baby had an abnormal heart rate and was suffering fetal distress.

Milly was born at 10.20pm and transferred to the neo-natal unit, where she underwent resuscitation and suffered a seizure. Mrs Evans said that if the baby’s heart had been properly monitored, the midwife would have spotted the fetal distress sooner and Milly would have been delivered earlier and not suffered catastrophic injury.

After many years, United Lincolnshire Hospital NHS Trust, which runs Lincoln County Hospital, eventually admitted liability for its mistakes, but national law firm Access Legal from Shoosmiths had to fight to secure adequate compensation for Milly.

Milly suffers from cerebral palsy and requires 24-hour care. In addition to being confined to a wheelchair, she is unable to speak and is dependent on others for all daily activities. Milly’s intellect has remained fairly well intact, and she communicates through an eye-gaze system.

Milly’s parents will use the money to pay for past and future full-time carers, plus ongoing treatment, education, special equipment, transport, and loss of future earnings. Additionally, the compensation amount takes into account general damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

Mr and Mrs Evans have had to make many sacrifices for their daughter over the last 11years. Milly’s father, Andy, was an RAF Squadron Leader and a former member of the famous Red Arrows display team. He was not able to continue with his career as a consequence of Milly’s disabilities.

Milly will now be able to have a specially-adapted home featuring hoists and a hydrotherapy pool, and it will be big enough for Milly to access all rooms in her wheelchair.

Mrs Evans said: “We’ve all been through a very difficult time. The money will never make up for the mistake that condemned Milly to a lifetime of dependency on others. However, it will ensure that Milly is provided with full-time care and equipment throughout her life. We now want to build a loving and secure life for Milly in a new adapted home.”

Access Legal partner and medical negligence specialist Denise Stephens said: “Milly is an amazing girl, with a beautiful smile and a sense of humour. She requires round-the-clock care and attention, and will do so for the rest of her life. It was crucial, therefore, that we were able to secure a compensation award of this size to provide for Milly’s needs.”

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Western European Study Highlights Key Selection and Retention Factors Used by In-House Counsel

LexisNexis (www.lexisnexis.com), a leading provider of content and technology solutions, today announced results from the latest LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® study on law firm and client relationships in Western Europe. The report, ‘The Selection and Retention of Law Firms in Western Europe’, reinforced the view that in initial selection processes, in-house counsel want their law firms to understand their business needs, objectives and culture, whereas the quality of the team overall has the most weight in determining whether firms are retained.

Conducted during January and February 2012 in association with The Global Legal Post, the survey reflects the views of 219 in-house counsel across 16 Western European countries, half of which have revenues of at least €1.3 billion.

The top five factors that in-house counsel use in the selection and re-hiring of law firms are:

Selection Factors (% of respondents, rated ‘very important’)
Understanding of business needs, objectives and culture (72%)
Speed of response (56%)
Client service/responsiveness/communication (56%)
Lawyer expertise (54%)
Trusted advisor and not just a legal technician (51%)

Retention Factors (% of respondents)
Quality of the team (80%)
Knowledge of my business (76%)
Cost (71%)
Approach to matter at hand (66%)
Lawyer expertise (62%)

The most important factor – by no means a surprise – is understanding the client’s business needs, with 72% of respondents rating this as ‘very important’. Speedy response times, client service and communication skills and expertise and reputation of the individual lawyer are regarded as the next group of favoured attributes. Interestingly, cost is not a key factor in initial selection processes.

Common ‘magic ingredients’ of relationships are dedication and chemistry, alongside expertise, quality of ability/competence and cost/fees. Proficiency in business and legal skills alone are only part of the picture. The ‘people buy people’ adage is borne out in the results, with over one in four companies prioritizing this factor on their list of requirements, whilst one in two want a trusted advisor.

“These trends in selection and retention factors are consistent with similar surveys that we have undertaken in other world regions,” Derek Benton, director of International Operations at Martindale-Hubbell commented.

“From a business development perspective, the message is simple. To get noticed in the identification and selection stages – whether communicating via their own or third party website, blogs, articles, social media or tender documents – firms need to engage buyers by firstly showing that they understand their sector and how that impacts their day-to-day business.”

Law firms also need to focus on building their relationships with the Chief Legal Officer (CLO), as over two-thirds of respondents state CLOs had primary responsibility for making decisions to appointment firms. Surprisingly, procurement departments are only involved in appointing firms for one in 20 companies surveyed.

Getting on panels seems to be a key objective for many law firms, but surprisingly the survey finds that 72% do not use law firm panels and, of these, 78% are not planning to put a panel in place. If a firm has not made it onto a panel, the findings suggest that they are not excluded indefinitely from selection as panels tend to be reviewed every two or three years.

When asked what factors would lead a law firm to be selected for a second time, respondents cite the quality of the team as a whole (80%), followed by their knowledge of the business (76%) and cost/approach to billing (71%). Overall standard of service remains critical, as poor service is the fastest route to being removed from a preferred list, according to 93% of survey respondents. Firms still need to keep an eye on costs, and ‘unfair or unclear billing’ can lead to relationships being terminated. Indeed, achieving better value for money has been the main driver to review panel firms in recent years.

Nevertheless, most law firms are seen as being sensitive to the budgetary pressures of legal departments (60%) and offer value-added services, with free training topping the list. However, the survey suggests they need to do more to listen and learn from feedback. Nearly all surveyed (93%) said they would be willing to participate in formal client satisfaction surveys, yet only half have actually been asked to participate.

The biggest challenges facing in-house lawyers in the next year are cost control, (62%), increased workload (52%) and litigation/risk managements (44%). The research shows mixed fortunes ahead for law firms with 20% of companies decreasing legal budgets, whilst 22% expected to increase spend.

Download the full report
To download a free copy of the full report: “The Selection and Retention of Law Firms in Western Europe”, visit http://bit.ly/JirRjR.

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Top-Shelf Attorney, Howard Fensterman, Claims Liquor Served at Morrell Kosher Caterers Was Anything But — Howard Fensterman Morrell

Howard Fensterman, the well respected Long Island, New York attorney and successful businessman and investor, is feeling the pain of a victim as he deals with the unpleasant realization that his long-time friend and former investment associate, Scott Morrell, head of Morrell Kosher Caterers, fraudulently deceived him by serving less expensive brands of liquor instead of the premium, top – shelf brands contracted and paid for by Fensterman for a function he hosted on May 29th, 2010 [Howard Fensterman Morrell].

Howard Fensterman Morrell

Howard Fensterman Morrell — Fensterman is accusing Morrell of breach of contract and fraud in that Morrell’s kosher catering establishment charged Fensterman for premium, top-shelf scotch and vodka, but instead served lower price brands.

While Fensterman refuses to guess how long the alleged “bait-and-switch” practice has been going on under Morrell’s watch, Fensterman has been advised that this has been a long standing practice at Morrell Kosher Caterers.

•  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/morrell-caterers-accused-violating-kosher-laws-long-island_n_1265199.html

•  http://www.newsday.com/columnists/james-bernstein/caterer-morrell-sued-again-by-wait-staff-1.3539312

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Access Legal from Shoosmiths announces that it will provide free wills for Marie Cure Cancer Care charity

Access Legal from Shoosmiths has announced that it will become the national free wills provider for end of life care charity Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Access Legal will support Marie Curie’s Free Wills Scheme by writing wills for anyone over the age of 55. The service will be provided with the hope that some people will include a gift in their wills to the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity; however, there is no obligation to do so.

In addition to Access Legal from Shoosmiths, other law firms and will-writing providers will continue to work for the charity as well.

Tevor George, Partner and Head of Access Legal’s Wills, Family and Wealth Team said: “We feel privileged and very proud to be associated with such a highly respected UK charity in this way.

“We’ll work closely with Marie Curie Cancer Care to ensure that both the charity and its supporters benefit from the free Will writing service our knowledgeable legal advisers are able to provide.

“This is a new and exciting relationship, and one we hope will last for many years to come.”

Marie Curie Cancer Care is dedicated to providing quality end of life care to patients and their family members. In addition to its home nursing service and nine hospices, it also supports terminally ill patients with more logistical advance care planning- often with the help of its partners. Advance care planning may include making advanced funeral arrangements, setting up an advance directive and writing a living will.

Access Legal is highly qualified to take on this charitable endeavour, as it devotes a large portion of its consumer services to wills, family and wealth. It offers legal advice on probate, making a will, contesting a will, inheritance tax and estate administration. The Access Legal website features will-related case studies, useful legal guides and an extensive FAQ section on wills and family law.

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PLS Secures Law Society Quality Mark

Cheshire-based law firm PLS Solicitors has been granted membership to the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS), having been adjudged to have met a number of standards as laid out by the Society.

The CQS was established to provide consumers with a guide of quality for residential home-buying practices, thereby reducing fraud and driving up standards by enabling consumers to make more informed decisions when entering into the conveyance process. Law Society president John Wotton explained that with so many solicitors offering conveyancing services, it can sometimes be difficult for consumers to find a suitable firm.

“CQS improves efficiency with common, consistent standards and service levels and enables consumers to recognise practices that provide a quality residential conveyancing service,” he said. “Buying a home is one of the largest purchases anyone will make in their lifetime, so it is essential that it is done to the highest standard by a solicitor.”

Aashim Dhand, Managing Partner of PLS Solicitors welcomed the development, citing it as evidence to his company’s commitment to providing would-be homebuyers with a consistently high standard of service and helping to ensure that property transactions pass through as smoothly as possible. He also noted the difference quality conveyancing can make to alleviate much of the stress that so often goes with buying property.

Solicitors have to undergo a strict assessment in order to earn CQS accreditation – which is only open to members of the Law Society – and the initiative is backed by bodies including the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Association of British Insurers, the Legal Ombudsman and the Building Societies Association. Compulsory training, random audits and self-assessments are all essential elements of securing CQS status, and must also undergo annual reviews in order to maintain it.

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