trusts

Legal GroundworkBy Robert Moore

Attorney/Research Specialist

 

In the prior post, we explained partition and the risk it poses to family farmland.  Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can be implemented to avoid partition. 

One strategy that can prevent partition is the use of a Limited Liability Company (LLC).  The concept of using the LLC is to replace the multiple owners of the land with one LLC owning the land.  Then, those same owners own the LLC rather than the land.  Partition rights only apply to real estate, not to business entities.  So, instead of three people owning the land, three people own an LLC that owns the land.  Since there are no partition rights with an LLC, no one owner can force the sale of the land. 

Consider the following example.  Andy, Betty and Charlie are siblings and own a farm together.  Each is aware of partition rights and wants to prevent any of the owners, including future owners, from exercising their partition rights.  They establish an LLC and transfer the land into ABC Family Farms LLC.  The LLC operating agreement states that land can only be sold with the consent of all members. 

The three owners of the land have eliminated the threat of partition to the family farmland.  The legal owner of the farmland is now the LLC, not the three siblings.  Andy, Betty and Charlie are the owners of the LLC but Ohio law does not provide for partition rights of an LLC.  Additionally, as added protection, the siblings require unanimous consent before any of the land in the LLC can be sold.  By placing the land in the LLC, the three owners have ensured that the only way the farm will leave the family is by joint agreement of the family.  A well-designed LLC can make it nearly impossible for land to leave the family without the agreement of the family. 

The above example illustrates how an LLC prevents partition by the owners and family members, but LLCs also protect against creditors and lawsuits.  Let’s assume Andy has financial problems and creditors have filed and won lawsuits against him.  Without the LLC, the creditor could force the sale of the land through foreclosure on Andy’s share.  However, Ohio law only allows creditors to attach to an LLC owner’s interest.  This means that a creditor is entitled to an owner’s share of the LLC profits but cannot force the sale of the assets owned by the LLC.  In this example, Andy’s’s creditors are entitled to receive his share of the profits from the LLC but cannot force the sale of the land.  An LLC can prevent an owner’s financial problems or lawsuits from causing the sale of family farmland.  

LLCs are often used in estate and succession planning to protect the family farmland.  Instead of multiple family members inheriting land (and the risk of partition), mom and dad may establish an LLC for the farmland.  Then, the children inherit the LLC without the partition rights.  By transferring the land via an LLC, mom and dad do not need to worry that one child or their creditors will force the family farmland to be sold. 

Consider the following example.  Mom and Dad want their three children to inherit their farmland.  They would like their children to own the farmland together as it is too difficult to divide up the land equitably.  Mom and Dad are aware of partition rights and want to make sure that no co-owner can force the sale of land against the family’s wishes.  Mom and Dad transfer their land to an LLC.  Their three children will inherit the LLC with the land.  Because each child will own an interest in the LLC, and not an interest in the real estate directly, partition rights are not available.  Mom and Dad also established the LLC with the requirement that any transfers of land require unanimous consent of all the members. 

This example illustrates how LLCs can be incorporated into estate plans to minimize the risks of partition.  By having multiple heirs and beneficiaries inherit the LLC, and not the land itself, the land will not be transferred out of the family due to partition.  We often think of using LLCs for liability protection but LLCs may be even more valuable to protect against partition rights. 

Another way to protect against partition rights for heirs is to use a trust.  With this strategy, the land is owned by a trust rather than the beneficiaries. Since the beneficiaries do not legally own the land, they are not entitled to partition rights.  The disadvantage to this strategy is that the trust beneficiaries will not be able to use the assets as collateral nor to build their wealth. 

Consider the following example. Mom and Dad want their children to have the benefit of their land upon inheritance but want to be 100% sure that their children do not sell the land before their grandchildren can inherit it. Mom and Dad establish a trust that holds the land for their children’s lives. During the children’s lives, the children receive the rent but do not own the land. Thus, the children cannot take action to sell the land. Upon the death of the children, the grandchildren will receive the land. 

While the land is in trust, the children do not own the land. Thus, they do not have partition rights and cannot force the sale of the land. The grandchildren are nearly certain to inherit the land. On the other hand, the land is not available as collateral for a loan and the other benefits of ownership are not available to the children. 

As the example shows, trusts are an excellent method to avoid partition. However, trusts also severely restrict the rights of the beneficiaries while the land is held in trust. A careful analysis of the benefits and disadvantages of using a trust to avoid partition must be carefully considered. 

In conclusion, before allowing land to be owned jointly, the owners should consider the risks of a forced sale of the land through partition. Partition can be avoided by using LLCs or trusts to hold the land. Be sure to consult an attorney to determine the best course of action to address the perils of partition. 

Posted In: Property
Tags: Partition, Forced Sale, LLC, trusts
Comments: 0
Peregrine Falcon flying straight at camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, October 15th, 2021

Did you know that the fastest animal in the world is the Peregrine Falcon?  This speedy raptor has been clocked going 242 mph when diving.

Like the Peregrine Falcon, this week’s Ag Law Harvest dives into supply chain solutions, new laws to help reduce a state’s carbon footprint, and federal and state case law demonstrating how important it is to be clear when drafting legislation and/or documents, because any ounce of ambiguity could lead to a dispute.      

Reinforcing the links in the supply chain.  President Joe Biden announced that ports, dockworkers, railroads, trucking companies, labor unions, and retailers are all coming together and have agreed to do their part to help reduce the supply chain disruption that has left over 70 cargo ships floating out at sea with nowhere to go.  In his announcement, President Biden disclosed that the Port of Los Angeles, the largest shipping port in the United States, has committed to expanding its hours so that it can operate 24/7; labor unions have announced that its workers have agreed to work the additional hours; large companies like Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot and Target have all agreed to expand their hours to help move product across the country.  According to the White House, this expanded effort will help deliver an extra 3,500 shipping containers per week.  Port and manufacturing disruptions have plagued retailers and consumers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Farming equipment and parts to repair farming equipment are increasingly in short supply.  The White House hopes that through these agreements, retailers and consumers can finally start to see some relief.  

California breaking up with gas powered lawn equipment.  California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a new bill into law that would phase out the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in California.  Assembly Bill 1346 requires that new small off-road engines (“SOREs”), used primarily in lawn and garden equipment, be zero-emission by 2024.  The California legislation seeks to regulate the emissions from SOREs which have not been as regulated as the emissions from other engines.  According to the legislation, “one hour of operation of a commercial leaf blower can emit as much [reactive organic gases] plus [oxides of nitrogen] as driving 1,100 miles in a new passenger vehicle.”  The new law requires the State Air Resources Board to adopt cost-effective and technologically feasible regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and emissions from new SOREs.  Assembly Bill 1346 is a piece of the puzzle to help California achieve zero-emissions from off-road equipment by 2035, as ordered by Governor Newsome in Executive Order N-79-20

U.S. Supreme Court asked to review E15 Vacatur.  A biofuel advocacy group, Growth Energy, filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal court’s decision to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) rule allowing for the year-round sale of fuel blends containing gasoline and 15% ethanol (“E15”).  Growth Energy argues that the ethanol waiver under the Clean Air Act for the sale of ethanol blend gasoline applies to E15, the same as it does for gas that contains 10% ethanol (“E10”).  Growth Energy also claims that limiting the ethanol waiver to E10 gasolines contradicts Congress’s intent for enacting the ethanol waiver because E15 better achieves the economic and environmental goals that Congress had in mind when it drafted the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy asks the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and instead interpret the ethanol waiver as setting a floor, not a maximum, for fuel blends containing ethanol that can qualify for the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy now awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not it will take up the case. Visit our recent blog post for more background information on E15 and the waivers at issue.  

When in doubt, trust the trust.  A farm family in Preble County may finally be able to find some closure after the 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed the Preble County Court of Common Pleas’ decision to prevent a co-trustee from selling farm property.  Dorothy Wisehart (“Dorothy”), the matriarch of the Wisehart family established the Dorothy R. Wisehart Trust (the “Trust”) in which she conveyed a one-half interest in two separate farm properties, both located within Preble County to the Trust.  Dorothy retained her one-half interest in the two farms which passed to her son, Arthur, upon her death.  Furthermore, upon Dorothy’s death, the Trust became an irrevocable trust with Arthur as the sole trustee.  The Trust had five income beneficiaries – Arthur’s wife and four kids.  The Trust specifically allowed for removal and replacement of the trustee upon the written request of 75% of the income beneficiaries.  In 2010, four of the five income beneficiaries executed a document removing Arthur as the sole trustee and instead placed Arthur and Dodson, Arthur’s son and one of the income beneficiaries, as co-trustees.  Arthur, however, argued that only Dorothy had the power to remove and appoint a new trustee and once Dorothy passed, no new trustee could be appointed.  In 2015, Dodson filed suit against his father after Arthur allegedly tried to sell the two farms and further alleged that Arthur breached his fiduciary duty by withholding funds from the Trust.  Dodson also asked the court to determine the issue of whether Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee.  The common pleas court sided with Dodson and found that (1) the Trust held an undivided one-half interest in the farms, (2) Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee, and (3) Arthur wrongfully withheld funds from the Trust, breaching his fiduciary duty as a trustee.  Arthur appealed, arguing that the case was not “justiciable” because the harms alleged by Dodson were hypothetical and no real harm occurred.  However, the 12th District Court of Appeals disagreed with Arthur.  The court found that the Trust expressly provided for the removal and appointment of trustees by 75% of the income beneficiaries.  Further, the court ruled that this case was justiciable because Dodson’s allegations needed to be resolved by the courts or else real harm would have occurred to the income beneficiaries of the Trust.  This case highlights perfectly the importance of having well drafted estate planning documents to help clear up any disputes that may arise once you’re gone.  

No need to cut the “GRAS” today.  Consumer advocates, Center for Food Safety (“CFS”) and Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”), brought suit against the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) asking the court to overturn the FDA’s rule regarding “Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (the “GRAS Rule”).  According to the plaintiffs, the GRAS Rule subdelegated the FDA’s duty to ensure food safety in violation of the United States Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”).  In 1958, Congress enacted the Food Additives Amendment to the FDCA which mandates that any food additive must be approved by the FDA.  However, the definition of “food additive” does not include those substances that are generally recognized as safe.  Things like vinegar, vegetable oil, baking powder and many other spices and flavors are generally recognized as safe to use in food and not considered to be a food additive.  Under the GRAS Rule, anyone may voluntarily, but is not required to, notify the FDA of their view that a substance is a GRAS substance.  There are specific guidelines and information that must be presented to back up a manufacturer’s claim that a substance is GRAS.  In any case, the FDA retains the authority to issue warnings to manufacturers and to stop distribution when the FDA believes that a substance is not a GRAS substance.  Plaintiffs claim that under the GRAS Rule, the FDA is subdelegating its duty by allowing manufacturers to voluntarily notify the FDA of a GRAS substance rather than requiring it.  However, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the FDA did not subdelegate its duties because the FDCA does not require the FDA provide prior authorization that a substance is GRAS.  Further, the court held that the FDA has done nothing more than implement a process by which manufacturers can notify the FDA of GRAS determinations and the FDA can choose to agree or disagree.  The court reasoned that even if a mandatory GRAS notification procedure or prior approval process were in place, manufacturers could simply lie about what’s in their products and the FDA would be none the wiser.  The court also noted that mandatory submissions would consume the FDA’s resources which would be better spent evaluating higher priority substances.  The court ultimately concluded that the FDA’s GRAS Rule does not highlight a constitutional issue, nor does it violate the FDCA or APA.

Enzo the Eurasian Eagle Owl staring
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, August 20th, 2021

Did you know that the “wise old owl” saying is a myth?  Generally speaking, owls are no wiser than other birds of prey.  In fact, other bird species like crows and parrots have shown greater cognitive abilities than the owl.  An owl’s anatomy also helps dispel the myth because most of the space on an owl’s head is occupied by their large eyes, leaving little room for a brain. 

This week’s Ag Law Harvest brings you EPA bans, Ohio case law, USDA announcements, and federal case law which could make your head spin almost as far as an owl’s.  

EPA banning use of chlorpyrifos on food crops.  The EPA announced that it will stop the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on all food to better protect producers and consumers.  In its final rule released on Wednesday, the EPA is revoking all “tolerances” for chlorpyrifos.  Additionally, the EPA will issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) to cancel all registered food uses of chlorpyrifos.  Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used for a variety of agricultural uses, including soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower, and other row crops, in addition to non-food uses.  The EPA’s announcement comes in response to the Ninth Circuit’s order directing the EPA to issue a final rule in response to a petition filed by opponents to the use of chlorpyrifos.  The petition requested that the EPA revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances because those tolerances were not safe, particularly because of the potential negative effects the insecticide has on children.  For more information about chlorpyrifos and the EPA’s final rule, visit the EPA’s website.

Trusts aren’t to be used as shields.  An Ohio appeals court recently reinforced the concept that under Ohio law, trusts are not be used as a way to shield a person’s assets from creditors.  Recently, a plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a bank alleging breach of contract and conversion, among other things.  Plaintiff, an attorney and real estate developer, claimed that the bank removed money from his personal account and a trust account in violation of Ohio law and the terms of the loan agreement between the parties.  Prior to the lawsuit, plaintiff established a revocable trust for estate planning purposes and to acquire and develop real estate. This dispute arose from a $200,000 loan from the bank to the plaintiff to help establish a restaurant.  A provision of the loan agreement, known as the “Right to Setoff” provision, allowed the bank to “setoff” or effectively garnish all accounts the plaintiff had with the bank.  The setoff provision explicitly prohibited any setoff from any IRA or trust accounts “for which setoff would be prohibited by law.”  Plaintiff made all monthly payments but failed to make the final balloon payment on the loan.  Plaintiff argued that the bank broke the loan contract and violated Ohio law by taking funds from the trust account to pay off the remaining balance of the loan.  The court disagreed.  The court noted that under Ohio law, a settlor’s property in a revocable trust is subject to the claims of the settlor’s creditors.  A settlor is a person who creates or contributes property to a trust.  In this case, plaintiff was the creator, settlor, and sole beneficiary of the revocable trust.  Because of that, the court concluded the bank did not violate Ohio law when using the trust account to setoff the balance of the loan.  Additionally, the court found that the bank did not violate the terms of the loan agreement because a setoff from the trust account was not prohibited by law.  The court noted that Ohio law did not intend to allow a settlor who is also a beneficiary of the trust to use a trust as a “shield” against creditors.  Although trusts can be a useful estate planning tool, there are limits to what a trust can do, as evidenced by this case. 

Renewable fuel supporters file appeal on E15 summer sales. Corn farmers have joined forces with the biofuel industry (“Petitioners”) to ask the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for a new hearing on a ruling that struck down the EPA’s 2019 decision to allow year-round E15 sales.  Earlier this year, the same D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that ruled the legislative text in the law supporting the biofuel mandate does not support the Trump administration’s regulatory waiver that allowed E15 to be sold during the summer months. In their petition, Petitioners argue that the D.C. Circuit Court made “significant legal errors.”  Petitioners contend that the court should rehear the case because the intent behind the nation’s biofuel mandate is better served by the sale of E15 through the summer months because it is less volatile, has less evaporative emissions, and is overall better for the environment than other fuel sources.  Petitioners also believe the court’s original decision deprives American drivers the choice of lower carbon emitting options at the gas pump.

Monsanto asks Supreme Court to review Ninth Circuit’s Roundup Decision.  In its petition to the Supreme Court of the United States Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) asked the Supreme Court to review the $25 million decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In that decision, the Ninth Circuit held that the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) did not preempt, or otherwise prevent, the plaintiff from raising California failure-to-warn claims on Roundup products and allowed plaintiff to introduce expert testimony that glyphosate causes cancer in humans.  In trial, the plaintiff argued that Monsanto violated California’s labeling requirements by not including a warning on the Roundup label that glyphosate, which is found in Roundup, causes cancer.  Monsanto argues that FIFRA expressly preempts any state law that imposes a different labeling or packaging requirement.  Under FIFRA, Monsanto argues that the EPA did not require Monsanto to include a cancer warning on its Roundup label.  Therefore, Monsanto maintains, that because California law differed from FIFRA, Monsanto was not required to follow California law when it came to labeling its Roundup product.  Secondly, the Ninth Circuit allowed plaintiff to present expert evidence that glyphosate could cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the general public and that glyphosate caused the plaintiff’s lymphoma.  Monsanto contends that the lower courts have distorted established precedent by allowing the expert testimony because the testimony is not based on generally accepted scientific principles and the scientific community has consistently found that glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans.    

USDA working to protect nation’s dairy industry.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (“AMS”) has struck a deal with the European Union (“EU”) to satisfy the EU’s new import requirements on U.S. dairy.  The EU will require new health certificates for U.S. dairy products exported to the EU to verify that the U.S. milk used for products exported to the EU is sourced from establishments regulated under the Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance or the USDA AMS Milk for Manufacturing Purposes.  Officials representing the U.S. Dairy Export Council and International Dairy Foods Association claim that the deal will allow U.S. producers to comply with the EU’s mandates while also satisfying the concerns within the American dairy industry.  The deal pushes back the EU’s deadline for new health certificates to January 15, 2022, to allow U.S. producers and exporters enough time to bring their products into compliance.  The USDA also announcedthat it is providing around $350 million to compensate dairy producers who lost revenue because of market disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a change to the federal pricing formula under the 2018 farm bill.  Additional details are available at the AMS Dairy Program website.

Tale as old as time.  An Ohio appeals court recently decided a dispute between neighbors about a driveway easement.  The driveway in dispute is shared by both neighbors to access their detached garages. Defendants used the driveway to access their garage and then the driveway extends past the Defendants’ garage onto Plaintiff’s property and ends at Plaintiff’s garage.  The dispute arose after Defendants built a parking pad behind their garage and used parts of the driveway they never used before to access the parking pad.  The original easement to the driveway was granted by very broad and general language in a 1918 deed, when the property was divided into two separate parcels.  In 1997, a Perpetual Easement and Maintenance Agreement (“Agreement”) was entered into by the two previous property owners.  The Agreement was much more specific than the 1918 deed and specifically showed how far the easement ran and what portions of the driveway could be used by both parties.  The 1997 Agreement did not allow for Defendants to use the portion of the driveway necessary to access their parking pad.  Plaintiffs argue that the 1997 Agreement controls the extent of the easement, whereas Defendants argue that the broad general language in the 1918 deed grants them authority to use the whole length of the driveway.  The Court found the more specific 1997 Agreement to be controlling and ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs.   The Court reasoned that the 1918 deed creates an ambiguity as to the extent of the easement and there is no way of knowing what the original driveway looked like or how it was used.  The Court concluded that the 1997 Agreement does not contradict or invalidate the 1918 deed, rather the 1997 Agreement puts specific parameters on the existing easement and does not violate any Ohio law.  The Defendants were found liable for trespass onto the Plaintiffs’ property and is expected to pay $27,500 in damages.  The lesson to be learned from all of this?  Make sure your easements are as specific and detailed as possible to ensure that all parties are in compliance with the law.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, April 09th, 2021

You can count on tax law to generate interest in the agricultural community and that’s certainly the case with several tax bills recently introduced in Congress.  Within the last month, members of Congress proposed a flurry of tax proposals that could impact agriculture if enacted.  Of course, passing tax legislation is always difficult and subject to partisanship, and we expect that to be the case with these bills. 

Here’s a look at the tax proposals receiving the most attention.

Death Tax Repeal Act of 2021.  Sen. Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Smith (R-MO) are the primary sponsors of S. 617 and H.R. 1712, companion bills introduced March 9 that propose to repeal the federal estate tax, which the sponsors claim to be “the most unfair tax on the books.”  The Act would also repeal the generation-skipping tax and make modifications to the computation of the federal gift tax, beginning at 18% under $10,000 and incrementally increasing by an additional 2%.  Cosponsors of the Senate proposal includes 30 other Republicans, and the House bill has 137 cosponsors including one Democrat.  The bills were referred to committee but have yet to see any further action.

For the 99.5 Percent Act.  Introduced March 25 by Senators Sanders (D-VT), Gillibrand (D-NY), VanHollen (D-MD), Reed (D-RI) and Whitehouse (D-RI) to “tax the fortunes of the top 0.5% and reduce wealth inequality,” this bill would reduce the federal estate tax exemption from its current level of $11.7 million per individual.  Under the proposal, estates in excess of $3.5 million per individual and $7 million per couple would pay the estate tax, which would begin at 45% for estates between $3.5 and $10 million.  The tax would increase incrementally, reaching 65% for estates over 1 billion.  The proposal would also reduce the lifetime gift tax exemption from its current level of $11.7 million to $1 million but would not reduce the annual $15,000 per person per year gift tax exemption for cash gifts.  It would limit the exemption for gifts to trust at $20,000 per year.  Protections for farmland include allowing farmland value to be lowered by up to $3 million for estate tax purposes and increasing the maximum exclusion for conservation easements to $2 million.  The bill would also prohibit reduced valuation for assets held in a pass-through entity, affecting the 35% valuation discount that is typical for farmland LLCs.

Sensible Tax and Equity Promotion (STEP) Act.  A group of Democrats in the Senate introduced the STEP Act on March 29 in an effort to “close the stepped-up basis loophole by taxing unrealized capital gains when heirs inherit huge fortunes on which the original owner never paid income taxes.”  The proposal would tax the transfer of property that has a net gain either during lifetime or at death.  During lifetime, a completed transfer to a non-grantor trust or individual other than spouse would be subject to tax but the first $100,000 of cumulative gain would be exempt.  At death, the first $1 million of appreciated assets would pass without taxation.  Transfers to charity, spouses, charitable trusts, qualified disability trusts would be exempt, as would gains on residences up to $250,000 per individual or $500,000 for married couples.  Taxes on illiquid property such as farms and some farm assets could be paid in installments over a 15-year period, and any taxes paid under the Act would be deductible from the federal estate tax.  The bill would also require gains on non-grantor irrevocable trusts to be reported every 21 years.

Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act.  Another bill by Sen. Sanders (D-VT) would go after the corporate tax rate.  The bill would restore the top corporate tax rate to 35%, its level prior to the reduction to 21% by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  It also includes a number of provisions to reduce the ability of corporations to avoid paying federal taxes by moving income and profits offshore.

We are likely to see several more tax proposals in Congress in the coming year and time will tell whether any of them will have traction.  Some may merely be bargaining chips among the many legislative agendas in Washington.  One thing is certain--tax bills will continue to generate interest in the agricultural world, so we’ll keep readers updated on these and future proposals.

 

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