10 Down … Many, Many More to Go!

Sivia Law

Todd Sivia Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services


It’s official. This month marks the 10th anniversary of Sivia Business & Legal Services! It’s hard to wrap my head around, honestly. We’ve come a long way–from a lone lawyer space to a four-attorney firm. I was once an army of one, but now we have our own office building(s) and a full time support staff. I am beyond grateful to all the wonderful clients. It’s been an honor that you’ve allowed us to work with you and advocate for you. I thank my colleagues who have used us as a resource and referred business to us. We continue to learn, grow and hone our skills thanks to you. Last but not least, all the staff members that have been with us throughout the years. You hold it all together and keep the practice running smoothly. We wouldn’t have made it to this point without everyone’s trust and support. It’s been an exciting journey and I look forward to the future. Cheers to many, many more successful years. Thank you.


A “Trust”ed Twist on Buy/Sell Agreements

Sivia Law

Todd Sivia Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

A Cross Purchase buy/sell agreement is a popular strategy used in succession planning. In a typical cross purchase agreement, each owner purchases a life insurance policy for each of the other owners. So, for example, in a business with three partners, six life insurance policies are purchased. Naturally, the more owners involved, the more complicated and expensive this type of agreement can be.

But there is another option—a twist on the typical buy/sell. It’s called a Trusted Cross Purchase agreement. In a Trusted Cross Purchase agreement, only one insurance policy is purchased per person and the policies are then held by a trust, until such time as the policies are paid out.

There are other advantages, too, aside from purchasing fewer policies. The insurance company takes on the risk of early death or disability—thereby initiating an early buy out. This type of agreement also ensures there will be the necessary funds to purchase the business, and the policies typically benefit from the tax-free “inside build-up” of the monies invested in the policies.

Of course, disadvantages do exist. Using current funds to purchase the life insurance polices take away from capital that could be used to grow the business now. Plus, should one of the partners decide to terminate employment for any reason beside death, the life insurance policies are only worth the cash surrender value.

In reality, there is no one-size-fits all buy/sell agreement. Each business situation is different, and an experienced attorney should evaluate each business by its unique circumstances. If you would like to learn more about a Trusted Cross Purchase agreement, or any other buy/sell agreement, contact me at 618-659-4499 or info@sivialaw.com.

New Year + New Laws = Outdated Estate Plan

Sivia Law

Todd Sivia, Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

As 2016 begins, we reflect upon the joys and challenges we faced throughout the past year. Unfortunately, many people overlook how these joys and challenges affect estate planning. Often, the events that shape our lives the most also influence how we would want to take care of our loved ones. For example, have you experienced changes such as these in 2015:

  • Birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Child turned 18
  • Divorce or marriage
  • Change in named guardians, beneficiaries, trustees or personal executors
  • Approaching age 70
  • State-to-state move
  • Own your own business

Of course, even if you haven’t had any major changes take place in your life, it is still a good idea to have your estate plan reviewed every three years. Laws change periodically so it is important to find out if any legislative revisions impact your estate plan. After all, an out-of-date can add to the stress and pain affecting loved ones during a difficult time.

It is important to us that our clients are always prepared for the unexpected. If you wish to set up a review of your current estate plan or establish a new one, our firm is offering you a free estate planning consultation now through January 31, 2016. You can reach our office at 618-659-4499 or email us at info@sivialaw.com. In the meantime, check  our free Estate Planning Resources Page here.

We hope you transition into 2016 knowing you have safeguarded your loved ones from unintentional consequences through intentional planning.

Happy New Year!




What is Probate?

Sivia Law

Todd Sivia
Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

Probate process is often misunderstood. Probate is basically the process of administering the will of a deceased person. The process includes resolving any claims, paying remaining debts and the distribution of property.

It can also be costly and time consuming—and completely avoidable.

  1. What Is Probate?

Probate is a court process required when you are unable to manage your affairs. It involves a lot of paperwork and court appearances (i.e. lawyer fees). All of these costs are paid from the estate—monies that would otherwise go to the beneficiaries.

Probate is also a public process. Therefore, all of your assets, as well as their estimated value, become a part of the public record.

  1. Can I Avoid Probate If I Have a Will?

No. A will is merely a guide map directing assets through probate process.

  1. How Can I Avoid Probate?

The only way to avoid probate is to ensure all of your assets, upon your death, will automatically pass into an alternative to a will. A living trust, for example, holds title to all assets or the assets automatically pour into the trust upon death, thereby circumventing the probate process.

In the case of disability, you may eschew probate by legally authorizing a proxy with regards to property and/or health decisions. Examples of legal means to avoid probate in the face of a disability include financial power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, and coordinated living trust.

  1. Is Probate Expensive?

Absolutely. Probate can be a complicated process so most people hire and attorney—which can cost $2,000-$5,000 for a simple estate. For estates exceeding $100,000, the costs can be between $5,000-$10,000. Why? The executor must be paid. The probate case has to be filed with the state and the filing fee is typically around $300. Probate cases must be published in the local newspaper, so publishing costs are also incurred by the beneficiaries.

And since the details of the estate do become public, there is also an increased likelihood that someone will come forward to contest the will. Should that occur, the attorney’s time and your expenses would also increase.

The good news is that probate is avoidable with proper planning. Yes, a good estate plan will cost money. But it pays for itself several times over in the long run. If you have questions regarding the probate process or estate planning, you can contact me at 618-659-4499 or by email at info@sivialaw.com. You can also learn more about our estate administration and probate services online at www.sivialaw.com/estateplanning.html.

Is Deeding Property Protection Against Estate Tax?

Sivia Law

Todd Sivia
Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

Estate Planning is a topic no one wants to think about. But, unfortunately, estate planning requires a lot of thinking and careful preparation. Often, a seemingly harmless act has catastrophic, rippling effects on other family members. For example, aging parents are looking for ways to protect their children’s inheritance from probate or estate taxes. Unfortunately, all to often parents are deeding their homes to their children, thinking it is a less expensive and easy way to transfer ownership. However, there are several reasons to avoid this alternative.

First, let me define what it means to “deed your residence.” Simply put, it means transferring the title to your children’s name without a formal sale. If the parents are ready to down size to an assisted living facility or prefer to remain in the home but are concerned about future estate taxes, deeding property appears ideal.

But, if the transfer is completed within five years before the parents require nursing home care or government benefits, it can cause a delay in Medicaid eligibility.

Additionally, if the property is in Illinois, there are property tax exemptions for owner-occupied property and senior-occupied property. So unless the children are moving in with the parents, or the children are over 65, the property tax bill will go up.

And what happens if the property is deeded to an adult child, and that child subsequently gets divorced? The ex-spouse is entitled to half of the property. If the parents’ intention was to stay in the home, this divorce could significantly alter those plans.

Finally, if aging individuals sells their property, its exempt from capital gains tax. However, if the property is deeded to the children and they sell it, the children may be looking a substantial capital gains tax liability.

No, estate planning isn’t fun. It can be stressful. But, mostly, estate planning needs to be strategic.

If you have questions regarding a contract for deed, or any other estate planning options, you can contact me at 618-659-4499 or e-mail me at info@sivialaw.com. You can also visit our website and learn more about our estate planning strategies at www.sivialaw.com/estateplanning.

Top Tips For Preparing a Personal Injury Case

Todd Sivia Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

Todd Sivia
Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

If you have been involved in an accident, and you think you may have a valid PI case, your actions immediately following the incident can have a critical impact on the outcome of your case. Even if you are unsure if you want to pursue legal action, I recommend following these few simple steps and protect yourself—just in case.

#1. Start a Journal

Write down everything you can remember about the accident—date, time, location, who was present, describe every ache or pain you experience, etc. Be sure to date each entry if you recall additional details a day or two later. It’s a good idea to record the financial impact of your injuries and doctor visits, as well. It can take months or years for a personal injury case to get to trial. Having notes will help keep the incident fresh in your memory. Remember–even the smallest, seemingly insignificant detail can prove vital to your case.

#2. Preserve Evidence

You may want to return to the scene of the accident on the same day of the week and the same time of day as your accident. Write down everything you see. It is also helpful to take photos from several different angles.

If there were witnesses to your accident, talk to them, too. Ask if you can record your conversations and be sure to state the date of the interview.

It is also important to protect physical evidence. If you were involved in a car crash, the damage to the car may demonstrate how hard the collision was. Torn or bloodied clothing shows the extent of your injuries. If you cannot preserve the actual object, be sure to take photos from several angles.

#3. Notify Responsible Parties

It is important that you notify anyone you feel may be responsible for your accident. You do not have to know who was at fault, just whom you suspect might be at fault. All you need to do is send a simple letter to each party(ies) with your name, the time, date and place you were injured, and your intention to file a claim.

Be sure not to provide any detailed information about the accident or the extent of your injuries.

It is also important not to delay sending these notification letters. Although the law does not specify a set time period, submitting notification within 2 weeks of the accident is a good rule of thumb.

Now, you are by no means required to file a claim because you send a notification letter. However, it will help your case if you do send the letters in a timely manner prior to filing suit.

Memories fade quickly, so the sooner you begin documenting your accident, the better. If you need assistance with a PI case or you are unsure if you have a valid PI claim, you can reach me at 618-659-4499 or email me at info@sivialaw.com. For more information on personal injury, visit our website at www.sivialaw.com.

Top Reasons to Have a Living Trust

Todd Sivia Managing Partner, Sivia Business & Legal Services

Todd Sivia
Managing Partner  

Have you have heard the old adage “Only two things that are certain in this life are death and taxes”? Naturally, both of these reasons are often cited as motive for using a Living Trust instead of a simple Will. However, the increase of the estate tax exemption allows most of us to avoid estate taxes. So, is avoiding the expense of probate worth the upfront costs associated with creating a trust? The simple answer is yes. But let me explain.

  1. Revisions are a snap With a living trust, the trust itself is named the beneficiary of all of your assets—including IRAs and life insurance policies.  If you decide to make changes how you want to distribute your assets, you only need to change your living trust and that automatically changes everything on down the line. A Will, however, only covers assets that do not have a beneficiary designation. So changing the terms of your Will means having to also change the beneficiary information for your IRA, life insurance policy, etc., individually.
  1. Executors or Administrators Receive Immediate Authority. A power of attorney dies with the person who gave it.  The Executor or Administrator of an estate is only authorized to act upon being appointed by the court. This means if you have minor or beneficiaries with special needs, funds may not be immediately available. This also means no one is managing financial investments and, if the deceased owned a small proprietorship business, no one is legally in charge.
  1. Financial Information Stays Private.  In any probate proceeding, the name and address of each beneficiary becomes a matter of public record, as does the value of your estate. Often, the court requires a full inventory of every asset within the estate. The inventory, eventually, becomes a matter of public record so that everyone knows the value of the estate.
  1. Avoid a Contested Will.  If a Will contest is filed, the estate cannot be settled or distributed until it has been resolved. With a Living Will, a separate lawsuit must be filed to formerly contest. Since the terms of a Living Trust are generally not public record, the lawsuit would have to be filed blindly.
  1. Protect Estates from Creditors and Ex-Spouses. A Living Trust provides avenues for you to protect the inheritance left for your loved ones from creditors and/or ex-spouses. This protection alone is a compelling reason to have a Living Trust.  
  1. Controlling Your Estate After Your Primary Beneficiary Dies. If you are divorced and remarried with children from the previous marriage, what happens if you die first? Your spouse’s Will is going to control the rest of your estate. Will your children still receive the inheritance you wanted to provide them? You can ensure your children receive that inheritance with a Living Trust. The same holds true if you want to make sure that whatever is left of an inheritance you leave for an adult child goes to your grandchildren, rather than an in-law (or ex-in-law) should your child divorce.
  1. Providing for Special Needs Beneficiaries Without Causing Them to Lose Benefits Eligibility.While a large inheritance is often well intended, receiving an inheritance outright usually causes a person with special needs to immediately lose eligibility for government benefits. A Living Trust can include appropriate provisions for a person with special needs to guarantee your ability to help meet his or her other needs, such as clothing, education, transportation, or recreation, without causing a loss of government benefits. 

If you would like more information on the benefits of a Living Trust, or any other Estate Planning tool, feel free to contact me at 618-659-4499 or e-mail me at info@sivialaw.com. Be sure to check out the Estate Planning tab on our website, www.sivialaw.com.