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News - March 9, 2020

Get to Know Corporate & Tax and Private Client Attorney William G. Smith

Bill Smith, Firm Shareholder and a member of the Corporate & Tax and Private Client teams, concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning, estate and trust administration, taxation, and corporate law.

We sat down with Bill to discuss his practice here at Jones Foster, as well as some current issues that may impact clients.

How do you describe your practice to non-attorneys?

I concentrate my practice in the areas of estate planning, estate and trust administration, taxation, and corporate law. I work with individual clients and families to transfer assets in preparation for the future, or to create documents that govern how assets will be transferred in the future. I work to minimize tax implications on their assets through the use of a variety of strategies, trust instruments, and exemptions. After a family member passes, I also work with executors and trustees to fulfill their responsibilities and preserve assets for beneficiaries.

Furthermore, I assist businesses, private foundations, and charities in matters that include business succession planning, transfers of business interests, LLC and S corporation creation, mergers, Treasury Regulation compliance, and more.

What aspects of your areas of specialty interest you most?

I enjoy the complexity of the rules of advanced transfer tax planning. Using a mastery of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and Treasury regulations to calculate the best strategies for minimizing federal gift taxes, estate taxes, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes is an interesting and perpetual challenge.

Although the process is technical, there is also creativity needed in the strategic planning of each client’s estate because a wide variety of strategies can be utilized based upon the client’s individual needs, wishes, financial situation, and charitable gifting desires.

My perspective on this practice area is that I am able to provide my clients with a degree of comfort and peace of mind knowing they have a solid plan in place for the future. There is a spectrum of simple to sophisticated strategies that look different for different people, but satisfying each client’s unique needs is what drives me.

What distinguishes you as a Trusts and Estates Attorney?

My client base and referral network appreciate the scope and depth of my knowledge of federal transfer tax laws, Florida specific rules such as the Florida Trust Code, the Florida Probate Code, Florida’s Homestead laws, and the resulting tax and planning implications.

I first listen and assess the client’s needs, and then I help them create a plan that will accomplish their objectives. This may include the creation of a trust structure that will provide asset protection from the client’s future creditors, a beneficiary’s creditors, a divorcing spouse, or estate taxes at death. It may also include signing a Power of Attorney or determining who will become a Guardian for minor children. These are steps that allow them to get out ahead of any life events (disability or death) that could compromise their security.

I realize that these topics are complex, so my client approach is one of patience. I explain the plan in layman’s terms so they have a comfort level with the entire process.

Having a plan in place allows a family to focus on each other during a challenging time, not on the legal aspects of the situation. It helps in avoiding unnecessary conflicts and family disputes that can magnify difficult circumstances. This process is a significant undertaking in their lives; they are taking action to create a legacy and ensure that their successes will be carried on to subsequent generations through wealth preservation.

What are the trends that are affecting your clients?

The legal industry is evolving at a rapid pace. Through the use of technology, continuing legal education, and organizational involvement, I make it a priority to stay abreast of news and developments in my specific areas of practice. I have identified the following changes and trends as potentially impactful to my clients and network:

  • High estate and gift tax exemptions: Over the past 7 years there has been a shift towards income tax planning because the unified federal gift and estate tax exemption is so high ($11.58 million per person in 2020, cumulative for life). By including assets in their taxable estate, individuals may eliminate income taxes on asset gains by obtaining a basis step-up at the individual's death.

  • In 2019, Florida enacted the “Electronic Legal Documents” bill allowing remote online notarization and included electronic wills as part of the legislation. Beginning in January of 2020, documents can be notarized online and beginning in July of 2020, fully-electronic wills can be executed without witnesses or notaries physically present in the room.

  • The SECURE Act was signed into law on December 20, 2019, and took effect on January 1, 2020. It affects how and when tax-deferred retirement savings, such as 401(k) plans and IRAs, are taxed and distributed to non-spouse beneficiaries.

What type of relationship do you have with your client’s other advisors?

We work closely with other professionals to ensure a comprehensive plan for our clients. Estate and Trust Administration often requires regular interactions with financial planners, CPAs, wealth management companies, insurance agencies, as well as state and federal agencies (IRS, state attorney general, county ad valorem tax appraiser’s office). This planning ensures proper administration of filings, updates, distribution of assets, and handling of creditor claims.

We are able to complement the services offered by CPAs or financial advisors through our areas of specialty, which may be crucial to an estate plan or gifting strategy. If a CPA has not previously handled transfer tax returns, we can step in to prepare the gift and estate tax returns and handle the GST tax portion of those returns. In addition, we work with out-of-state attorneys on issues involving income tax, real property, state filing requirements, residency, charitable trust modifications, and ancillary probate administration.

About Jones Foster

Jones Foster is a commercial and private client law firm headquartered in West Palm Beach, Florida. Established in 1924, the Firm has served as an integral part of South Florida’s growth and prosperity for nearly a century. Through a relentless pursuit of excellence, Jones Foster delivers original legal solutions that help clients, colleagues, and the community to move forward. The Firm’s attorneys focus their practice in Real Estate, Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Private Client Services, Corporate & Tax, and Land Use & Governmental. For more information, please visit www.jonesfoster.com.