LLCs in the Bay State
By Benjamin M. Coyle, Esq.
Many families have homes or other real estate that parents hope to pass along to the next generation. In the world of estate planning, there are a variety of ways to achieve the movement of a family home from parents to children — sometimes through a trust, sometimes through a will after death, or even sometimes by outright gift.
While all these methods have their place, another option that should be considered is the formation of a limited-liability company (LLC) to hold title to real estate.
In Massachusetts, a limited-liability company is a business entity, formed with the secretary of the Commonwealth, and offering great flexibility in its management. This flexibility is very appealing, particularly when a home or other real estate is to be owned, used, and managed by a group.
For example, parents may want their four children to inherit a property equally. By using an LLC, rather than deeding each child a 25% interest in the property outright, parents would be able to transfer shares in the LLC to their children. Doing things this way is beneficial for several reasons.
One of the most important advantages of an LLC is the ability to work under an operating agreement — a formal, written document that clearly states the owners/members of the LLC, their respective interests, and the manner in which the LLC is operated and governed. The operating agreement can also allocate profits and losses to various members (which can be different than their ownership interest). Most importantly, the operating agreement also clearly states rules for use of the property by the members, and allocation of expenses.
“One of the most important advantages of an LLC is the ability to work under an operating agreement — a formal, written document that clearly states the owners/members of the LLC, their respective interests, and the manner in which the LLC is operated and governed.”
This gives everyone involved a crystal-clear understanding of their privileges and responsibilities relative to the property.
Once an LLC is formed and an operating agreement established, the real estate in question would be transferred into the LLC by deed, and the LLC would then be the owner of the property. By transferring the property to the LLC, the grantor has essentially converted real estate into tangible personal property, thereby avoiding many of the probate complexities of real estate.
Additionally, an LLC offers continuity in the property’s title, while still providing for the flexibility of changing ownership interests and membership shares (in contrast to multiple deeds divvying up the property, which could cause significant title confusion).
In the event the property is rented, the LLC provides limited-liability protection for its members, either short term or long term. Further, LLCs often offer tax advantages (over outright ownership) with respect to rental income, repair costs, renovations, and other expenses associated with the property. Additionally, since the LLC is a recognized business entity, it may often be easier for the LLC to obtain insurance or borrow money from a bank, in contrast with the banking difficulties that can be experienced by individuals with a shared interest via deed, or if the property were held in a trust.
Although there are significant advantages to the LLC, there are also startup costs and recurring annual expenses associated with the formation and continued maintenance of the LLC. Initial formation costs include a filing fee of $500 with the secretary of the Commonwealth, and any legal fees associated with the completion of articles of organization and the operating agreement.
Massachusetts requires that LLCs file an annual report with the secretary of the Commonwealth. For LLCs formed outside of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth requires a foreign LLC to register in Massachusetts and comply with the state’s annual filing requirements.
It is good practice (and may even be required by the operating agreement) for the members of an LLC to hold regular meetings, at least annually, where they discuss the business of the prior year and the upcoming year as it pertains to the LLC and the operation of the property. The LLC should maintain a corporate book that includes the minutes of each membership meeting, as well as minutes for any special meetings that may occur throughout the year. Since the LLC is a business entity, it will require its own tax-identification number and annual tax return. Depending upon the tax election chosen by the LLC, if there is any associated tax liability, those costs can potentially be passed on to each member to be addressed on their individual tax returns, and the expenses associated with annual fees and costs can be deducted from any LLC income.
An LLC is an excellent option to consider when determining the best way to address transferring real estate from one generation to the next. The transfer can occur during the lifetime of the current owners with relative ease and can be added to many existing estate plans, thereby providing families with effective ownership transitions and limited liability for the members of the LLC.
Benjamin M. Coyle is a shareholder with Bacon Wilson, P.C. He specializes in matters of estate planning and administration, and also has extensive experience with real estate, business, corporate, and municipal law; (413) 781-0560; [email protected]