Your estate plan may include a power of attorney for property that appoints another person to manage your investments, pay your bills, file your tax returns and otherwise handle your property if you’re unable to do so. But not all powers of attorney are created equal. Thus, it’s a good idea to periodically review your power of attorney with your advisor to ensure that it continues to serve its intended purpose. Questions to consider can include:

When does it take effect? If you live in a state that permits “springing” powers of attorney, your attorney-in-fact (that is, the person who holds your power of attorney) is authorized to act only on the occurrence of the event stated in the power of attorney. Typically, the power is designed to “spring” when you become incapacitated. If a power of attorney isn’t a springing power, the attorney-in-fact can act at any time after you’ve executed the document.

Is it durable? A durable power of attorney is one that continues in force after you’ve become incapacitated. Some states’ laws presume that a power of attorney is durable, but others don’t, in which case a power may be unenforceable unless it expressly states that it’s durable.

Is it powerful enough? Careful planning is required to ensure that your attorney-in-fact has the authority he or she needs to carry out your wishes. There are certain powers that you should expressly include to ensure such authority. For example, you must specify whether your attorney-in-fact has the power to make gifts or to make estate planning decisions, such as transferring assets to a trust.

Is it too old? Your attorney-in-fact’s ability to act on your behalf depends on whether third parties are willing to honor the power of attorney. Sometimes banks and others are reluctant to rely on a power of attorney that’s several years old. Therefore, consider signing a new one every two or three years.

If you have questions regarding power of attorney, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help answer your questions.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Business owners are regularly urged to create and update their succession plans. And rightfully so — in the event of an ownership change, a solid succession plan can help prevent conflicts and preserve the legacy you’ve spent years or decades building.

But if you want to take your succession plan to the next level, consider expanding its scope beyond ownership. Many companies have key employees, perhaps a CFO or an account executive, who play a critical role in the success of the business.

Your succession plan could include any employee who’s considered indispensable and difficult to replace because of experience, industry or technical knowledge, or other characteristics.

Look to the future

The first step is to identify those you consider essential employees. Whose departure would have the most significant consequence for your business and its strategic plan? Then, when you have a list of names, who might succeed them?

Pinpointing successors calls for more than simply reviewing or updating job descriptions. The right candidates must have the capability to carry out your company’s short- and long-term strategic plans and goals, which their job descriptions might not reflect.

Succession planning should take a forward-looking perspective. The current jobholder’s skills, experience and qualifications are only a starting point. What worked for the last 10 or 20 years might not cut it for the next 10 or 20.

Identify your HiPos

When the time comes, many businesses publicize open positions and invite external candidates to apply. However, it’s easier (and often advantageous) to groom internal candidates before the need arises. To do so, you’ll want to identify your “high potential” (HiPo) employees — those with the ambition, motivation and ability to move up substantially in your organization.

Assess your staff using performance evaluations, discussions about career plans and other tools to determine who can assume greater responsibility now, in a year or in several years. And look beyond the executive or management level; you may discover HiPos in lower-ranking positions.

Develop individual action plans

Once you’ve identified potential internal candidates, develop individual plans for each to follow. Consider your business’s needs, as well as each candidate’s personality and learning style.

An action plan should include multiple components. One example is job shadowing. It will give the candidate a good sense of what is involved in the position under consideration. Other components could include leadership roles on special projects, training, and mentoring and coaching.

Share your vision for the person’s future to ensure common goals. You can update action plans as your company’s and employees’ needs evolve.

Account for the job market

Succession planning beyond ownership is more important than ever in a tight job market. Vacancies for key employees are often difficult to fill — especially for demanding, highly skilled and top-tier positions. We’d be happy to help you review your succession plan and identify which positions may have the greatest financial impact on the continued profitability of your business.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Most business owners would likely agree that strategic planning is important. Yet many companies rarely engage in active measures to gather and discuss strategy. Sometimes strategic planning is tacked on to a meeting about something else; other times it occurs only at the annual company retreat when employees may feel out of their element and perhaps not be fully focused.

Businesses should take strategic planning seriously. One way to do so is to hold meetings exclusively focused on discussing your company’s direction, establishing goals and identifying the resources you’ll need to achieve them. To get the most from strategy sessions, follow some of the best practices you’d use for any formal business meeting.

Set an agenda

Every strategy session should have an agenda that’s relevant to strategic planning — and only strategic planning. Allocate an appropriate amount of time for each agenda item so that the meeting is neither too long nor too short.

Before the meeting, distribute a document showing who’ll be presenting on each agenda topic. The idea is to create a “no surprises” atmosphere in which attendees know what to expect and can thereby think about the topics in advance and bring their best ideas and feedback.

Lay down rules (if necessary)

Depending on your workplace culture, you may want to state some upfront rules. Address the importance of timely attendance and professional decorum — either in writing or by announcement as the meeting begins.

Every business may not need to do this, but meetings that become hostile or chaotic with personal conflicts or “side chatter” can undermine the purpose of strategic planning. Consider whether to identify conflict resolution methods that participants must agree to follow.

Choose a facilitator

A facilitator should oversee the meeting. He or she is responsible for:

  • Starting and ending on time,
  • Transitioning from one agenda item to the next,
  • Enforcing the rules as necessary,
  • Motivating participation from everyone, and
  • Encouraging a positive, productive atmosphere.

If no one at your company feels up to the task, you could engage an outside consultant. Although you’ll need to vet the person carefully and weigh the financial cost, a skilled professional facilitator can make a big difference.

Keep minutes

Recording the minutes of a strategic planning meeting is essential. An official record will document what took place and which decisions (if any) were made. It will also serve as a log of potentially valuable ideas or future agenda items.

In addition, accurate meeting minutes will curtail miscommunications and limit memory lapses of what was said and by whom. If no record is kept, people’s memories may differ about the conclusions reached and disagreements could later arise about where the business is striving to head.

Gather ’round

By gathering your best and brightest to discuss strategic planning, you’ll put your company in a stronger competitive position. Contact our firm for help laying out some of the tax, accounting and financial considerations you’ll need to talk about.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

You’ve likely spent a lot of time working with your advisor to plan your estate. While documents such as your will, various trusts and a power of attorney are essential, consider adding a “road map” to your plan.

Plot it out

Essentially, the road map is an informal letter or other document that guides your family in understanding and executing your estate plan and ensuring that your wishes are carried out.

Your road map should include, among other things:

  • The location of your will, living and other trusts, tax returns and records, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, automobile titles, and other important documents,
  • A personal financial statement that lists stocks, bonds, real estate, bank accounts, retirement plans, vehicles and other assets, as well as information about mortgages, credit cards and other debts,
  • An inventory of digital assets — such as email accounts, online bank and brokerage accounts, online photo galleries, digital music and book collections, and social media accounts — including login credentials or a description of arrangements made to provide your representative with access,
  • The location of family heirlooms or other valuable personal property,
  • A list of important professional contacts, including your estate planning attorney, accountant, insurance agent and financial advisors,
  • Computer passwords and home security system codes,
  • Safe combinations and the location of any safety deposit boxes and keys, and
  • Information about funeral arrangements or burial wishes.

Explain your thinking

The road map may also be a good place to explain to your loved ones the reasoning behind certain estate planning decisions. Perhaps you’re distributing your assets unequally, distributing specific assets to specific heirs or placing certain restrictions on an heir’s entitlement to trust distributions. There are many good reasons for using these strategies, but it’s important for your family to understand your motives to avoid hurt feelings or disputes.

Finally, like other estate planning documents, your road map won’t be effective unless your family knows where to find it, so it’s a good idea to leave it with a trusted advisor and a copy in a place where your heirs will likely find it.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

It’s been a year like no other. The sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March forced every business owner — ready or not — to execute his or her disaster response plan.

So, how did yours do? Although it may still be a little early to do a complete assessment of what went right and wrong during the crisis, you can take a quick look back right now while the experience is still fresh in your mind.

Get specific

When devising a disaster response plan, brainstorm as many scenarios as possible that could affect your company. What weather-related, environmental and socio-political threats do you face? Obviously, you can now add “pandemic” to the list.

The operative word, however, is “your.” Every company faces distinctive threats related to its industry, size, location(s), and products or services. Identify these as specifically as possible, based on what you’ve learned.

There are some constants for nearly every plan. Seek out alternative suppliers who could fill in for your current ones if necessary. Fortify your IT assets and functionality with enhanced recovery and security capabilities.

Communicate optimally

Another critical factor during and after a crisis is communication, both internal and external. Review whether and how your business was able to communicate in the initial months of the pandemic.

You and most of your management team probably needed to concentrate on maintaining or restoring operations. Who communicated with employees and other stakeholders to keep them abreast of your response and recovery progress? Typically, these parties include:

  • Staff members and their families,
  • Customers,
  • Suppliers,
  • Banks and other financial stakeholders, and
  • Local authorities, first responders and community leaders (as appropriate).

Look into the communication channels that were used — such as voicemail, text messaging, email, website postings and social media. Which were most and least effective? Would some type of new technology enable your business to communicate better?

Revisit and update

If the events of this past spring illustrate anything, it’s that companies can’t create a disaster response plan and toss it on a shelf. Revisit the plan at least annually, looking for adjustments and new risk factors.

You’ll also want to keep the plan clear in the minds of your employees. Be sure that everyone — including new hires — knows exactly what to do by spelling out the communication channels, contacts and procedures you’ll use in the event of a disaster. Everyone should sign a written confirmation that they’ve read the plan’s details, either when hired or when the plan is substantially updated.

In addition, go over disaster response measures during company meetings once or twice a year. You might even want to hold live drills to give staff members a chance to practice their roles and responsibilities.

Heed the lessons

For years, advisors urged business owners to prepare for disasters or else. This year we got the “or else.” Despite the hardships and continuing challenges, however, the lessons being learned are invaluable. Please contact us to discuss ways to manage costs and maintain profitability during these difficult times.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

As the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” This certainly rings true in business, as those who best understand their industries and markets tend to have a knack for staying on top. If that person is a company’s owner, however, great knowledge can turn into a vulnerability when he or she decides to retire or otherwise leave the business.

As you develop your succession plan, consider how to mitigate the loss of pure know-how that will occur when you step down. One way to tackle this risk is to implement a knowledge management strategy.

Two types of knowledge

Knowledge management is a formal process of recognizing and treating knowledge as an asset that your company can identify, maintain and share. Generally, a business can subdivide knowledge into two types:

1. Explicit knowledge. This exists in the tangible world and typically includes company reports, financial statements and databases. These items are usually easy to access, extrapolate from and append. For your succession plan, however, you may need to dig deeper into your own confidential files, memos or emails.

2. Tacit knowledge. This is information that resides solely between the ears of a business’s leadership, employees and perhaps even service providers. As such, it’s not easily retrievable. In terms of succession planning, this may be the stuff that you haven’t written down or even talked about much.

Typical categories

Typical knowledge management categories include:

  • Taxes and accounting,
  • Financial management,
  • Strategic planning,
  • HR, payroll and employment practices,
  • Sales and marketing,
  • Customers,
  • Production, and
  • Technology.

In addition, knowledge management should account for your company’s intellectual property — trade secrets, for example. Many business owners keep such details close to their vests and even managers may not know the full value of the company’s intellectual property. This could put your business at risk following your departure.

A comprehensive knowledge management effort related to your succession plan will call on you to undertake a full inventory of every category listed above and perhaps others. Gathering your explicit knowledge may entail compiling years’, even decades’, worth of documents, files and writings. This may not be an easy task, but it’s still a matter of straight research.

You’ll likely find capturing your tacit knowledge somewhat more challenging. One idea is to ask a suitable employee or engage an outside consultant to interview you regarding all the pertinent categories. Many business owners find these conversations arduous at first but eventually enlightening and enjoyable.

A legacy preserved

A solid succession plan is imperative to maintaining the future stability and success of your company. Knowledge management can strengthen that plan and help preserve the legacy you’ve worked so hard to build. Contact us for further information and for help identifying knowledge related to your tax filings, accounting methods and other financial matters. 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

For many businesses, offering employees a 401(k) plan is no longer an option — it’s a competitive necessity. But employees often grow so accustomed to having a 401(k) that they don’t pay much attention to it.

It’s in your best interest as a business owner to buck this trend. Keeping your employees engaged with their 401(k)s will increase the likelihood that they’ll appreciate this benefit and get the most from it. In turn, they’ll value you more as an employer, which can pay dividends in productivity and retention.

Promote positive awareness

Throughout the year, remind employees that a 401(k) remains one of the most tax-efficient ways to save for retirement. Regardless of investment results, the pretax advantage and any employer match make a 401(k) plan an ideal way to save.

For example, point out that, for every $100 of pay they defer to the 401(k), the entire $100 is invested in the plan — not reduced for taxes as it would be if it were paid directly to them. And any employer match increases investment potential.

At the same time, make sure employees know that your 401(k) plan operates under federal regulations. Although the value of their accounts may go up and down, it isn’t affected by the performance of your business, because plan assets aren’t commingled with company funds.

Encourage patience, involvement

The fluctuations and complexities of the stock market may cause some participants to worry about their 401(k)s — or to try not to think about them. Regularly reinforce that their accounts are part of a long-term retirement savings and investment strategy. Explain that both the economy and stock market are cyclical. If employees are invested appropriately for their respective ages, their accounts will likely rebound from most losses.

If a change occurs in the investment environment, such as a sudden drop in the stock market, present it as an opportunity for them to reassess their investment strategy and asset allocation. Market shifts have a significant impact on many individuals’ asset allocations, resulting in portfolios that may be inappropriate for their ages, retirement horizons and risk tolerance. Suggest that employees conduct annual rebalancing to maintain appropriate investment risk.

Offer help

As part of their benefits package, some businesses provide financial counseling services to employees. If you’re one of them, now is a good time to remind them of this resource. Employee assistance programs sometimes offer financial counseling as well.

Another option is to occasionally engage investment advisors to come in and meet with your employees. Your plan vendor may offer this service. Of course, you should never directly give financial advice to employees through anyone who works for your company.

Advocate appreciation

A 401(k) plan is a substantial investment for any company in time, money and resources. Encourage employees to appreciate your efforts — for their benefit and yours. We can help you assess and express the financial advantages of your plan. Call us at 205-345-9898 or email us at info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) offer closely held business owners an exit strategy and a tax-efficient technique for sharing equity with employees. But did you know that an ESOP can be a powerful estate planning tool? It can help you address several planning challenges, including lack of liquidity and the need to provide for children outside the business.

An ESOP in action

An ESOP is a qualified retirement plan, similar to a 401(k) plan. But instead of investing in a selection of stocks, bonds and mutual funds, an ESOP invests primarily in the company’s own stock. ESOPs are subject to the same rules and restrictions as qualified plans, including contribution limits and minimum coverage requirements.

Typically, companies make tax-deductible cash contributions to the ESOP, which uses the funds to acquire stock from the current owners. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up control, though. The owners’ shares are held in a trust, and the trustees vote the shares.

An ESOP’s earnings are tax-deferred: Participants don’t recognize taxable income until they receive benefits — in the form of stock or cash — when they leave the company, die or become disabled.

Retirement and estate planning benefits

If a large portion of your wealth is tied up in a closely held business, lack of liquidity can create challenges as you approach retirement. Short of selling the business, how do you fund your retirement and provide for your family?

An ESOP may provide a solution. By selling some or all of your shares to an ESOP, you convert your shares into liquid assets. Plus, if the ESOP owns 30% or more of the company’s outstanding common stock immediately after the sale, and certain other requirements are met, you can defer or even eliminate capital gains taxes. How? By reinvesting the proceeds in qualified replacement property (QRP) — which includes most securities issued by U.S. public companies — within one year.

QRP provides a source of retirement income and allows you to defer your gain until you sell or otherwise dispose of the QRP. From an estate planning perspective, a simple but effective strategy is to hold the QRP for life. Your heirs receive a stepped-up basis in the assets, eliminating capital gains permanently.

If you want more investment flexibility, you can pay the capital gains tax upfront and invest the proceeds as you see fit. Or you can invest the proceeds in qualifying floating-rate long-term bonds as QRP. You avoid capital gains, but can borrow against the bonds and invest the loan proceeds in other assets.

If estate taxes are a concern, you can remove QRP from your estate, without triggering capital gains, by giving it to your children or other family members. These gifts may be subject to gift and generation-skipping transfer taxes, but you can minimize those taxes using traditional estate planning tools.

Weigh the pros and cons

ESOPs offer significant benefits, but they aren’t without their disadvantages. Contact us to help determine if an ESOP is right for you at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

A good marketing plan should be like a network of well-paved, clearly marked roads shooting out into the world and leading back to your company. But, all too easily, a business can get stuck in the mud while trying to build these thoroughfares, leaving its marketing message ineffective and, well, muddled. Here are a few indications that you might be spinning your wheels.

Still the same

If you’ve been using the same marketing materials for years, it’s probably time for an update. Customers’ demographics, perspectives and expectations change over time. If your materials appear old and outdated, your products or services may seem that way too.

Check out the marketing and advertising of competitors, as well as perhaps a few companies that you admire. What about their efforts grabs you? Discuss it with your team and come up with a strategy for refreshing your look. You might need to do something as drastic as a total rebranding, or a few relatively minor tweaks might be sufficient.

Overreliance on one approach

While a marketing plan should take many avenues, sometimes when a business finds success via a certain route, it gets overly reliant on that one approach. Think of a company that has advertised in its local phonebook for years and doesn’t notice when a competitor starts pulling in customers via social media.

This is where data becomes key. Use metrics to track response rates to your various initiatives and regularly reassess the balance of your marketing approach. Unlike the business in our example, many companies today become too focused on social media and ignore other options. So, watch out for that.

Inconsistent message

Ask yourself whether your various marketing efforts complement — or conflict with — one another. For example, is it obvious that an online ad and a print brochure came from the same business? Are you communicating a consistent, easy-to-remember message to customers and prospects throughout your messaging?

In addition, be careful about tone and taking unnecessary risks — particularly when using social media. It’s a difficult challenge: You want to get noticed, and sometimes that means pushing the envelope, but you don’t want to end up being offensive. Generally, you shouldn’t run the risk of alienating customers with controversial material. If you do come up with an edgy idea that you believe will likely pay off, gather plenty of feedback from objective parties before launching.

Reconstruction work

A marketing plan going nowhere will likely leave your sales team lost and your bottom line suffering. Maybe it’s time to do some reconstruction work on yours. Contact us at 205-345-9898 for more information and further suggestions.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Estate planning aims to help individuals achieve several important goals — primary among them, transferring wealth to loved ones at the lowest possible tax cost. However, if you have creditors, you need to be aware of how fraudulent transfer laws can affect your estate plan. Creditors could potentially challenge your gifts, trusts or other estate planning strategies as fraudulent transfers.

Creditor challenges

Most states have adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA). The act allows creditors to challenge transfers involving two types of fraud.

The first is actual fraud. This means making a transfer or incurring an obligation “with actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud any creditor,” including current creditors and probable future creditors.

The second type is constructive fraud. This is a more significant risk for most people because it doesn’t involve intent to defraud. Under UFTA, a transfer or obligation is constructively fraudulent if you made it without receiving a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the transfer or obligation and you either were insolvent at the time or became insolvent as a result of the transfer or obligation.

“Insolvent” means that the sum of your debts is greater than all of your assets, at a fair valuation. You’re presumed to be insolvent if you’re not paying your debts as they become due. Generally, constructive fraud rules protect only present creditors — those whose claims arose before the transfer was made or obligation incurred.

Avoid mistakes

When it comes to actual fraud, just because you weren’t purposefully trying to defraud creditors doesn’t mean you’re safe. A court can’t read your mind, and it will consider the surrounding facts and circumstances to determine whether a transfer involves fraudulent intent. So before you make gifts or place assets in a trust, consider how a court might view the transfer.

Constructive fraud is risky because of the definition of insolvency and the nature of making gifts. When you make a gift, either outright or in trust, you don’t receive reasonably equivalent value in exchange. So if you’re insolvent at the time, or the gift you make renders you insolvent, you’ve made a constructively fraudulent transfer. This means a creditor could potentially undo the transfer.

To avoid this risk, calculate your net worth carefully before making substantial gifts. We can help you do this. Even if you’re not having trouble paying your debts, it’s possible you might meet the technical definition of insolvency.

Finally, remember that fraudulent transfer laws vary from state to state. So you should consult an attorney about the law where you live. Call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA