Whether I’m working on a business transaction or assisting business owners with their estate planning, I always look at how the ownership of the LLC is structured. While many business owners have set up a revocable living trust in order to direct how their assets are managed and to avoid probate, it is common to find that their LLC interests have not been put into the trust. This means that even if everything else in the estate plan were done perfectly, the family would still likely need to open up probate to access and manage the LLC interests. Obviously, this is not ideal in any situation.
Fortunately, putting an LLC interest into a trust is often a simple and affordable solution. If the LLC is a single-member LLC, including an LLC owned by a married couple, the change can be made by signing an Assignment of Membership Interest and filing Articles of Amendment with the Arizona Corporation Commission. If there is more than one member, the operating agreement will control the steps necessary to transfer the LLC interest into the trust. Often there are provisions in the operating agreement allowing a member to make such a transfer. However, if there is no provision, or no operating agreement, the consent of the other members would be necessary to make the transfer. With either a single-member LLC or a multiple-member LLC, the operating agreement should be updated to reflect the change of membership. This is most often not a big change, and can be done by updating a Schedule which lists current members and their addresses. As a side note, if you do not have a written operating agreement for your LLC – get one!
Since I am a lawyer, I must include a few caveats. First, if the LLC is treated as an S-Corporation for federal income tax purposes, or could be in the future, it is imperative that the trust contain language necessary to qualify the trust as an S-Corporation shareholder in the event the business owner becomes incapacitated or passes away. Second, you want to make sure that the transfer of the membership interest is not prohibited in any financial or other agreements that have been entered into by the LLC. Third, I really mean it about the operating agreement – you really do need one, but I’ll save that for another blog post.