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Being able to transfer wealth from one generation to the next is a good thing, especially now, when a big change is coming to the federal estate tax exemption amount, says a recent article titled “The Pros and Cons of Family Limited Partnerships” from The Wall Street Journal.
In 2022, estates valued at up to $12.06 million are exempt from federal taxes. However, on January 1, 2026, the exemption sinks to around $6 million, with adjustments for inflation. As a result, wealthy Americans are now re-evaluating their estate plans and many are turning to the Family Limited Partnership, or FLP, as a tax saving strategy.
An FLP can be tailored to suit every family’s needs. You don’t have to be ultra-wealthy for an FLP to make sense. An upper-middle class family owning a small business or real estate properties they’re not ready to sell could make good use of an FLP, as well as a real estate mogul owning properties in multiple states.
There are some caveats. The cost of setting up an FLP ranges from $8,000 to $15,000. However, it can go higher depending on the state of residence and the complexity of the partnership. There are annual operating costs, tax filings and appraisal fees. The IRS isn’t always fond of FLPs, because there is an institutional belief that FLPs are subject to abuse.
The FLP needs to be drafted with an experienced estate planning attorney, working in consultation with a CPA and financial advisor. This is definitely not a Do-It-Yourself project.
What makes these partnerships different from traditional limited partnerships is that all partners are family members. There are two kinds of partners: general and limited. The parents or grandparents are usually the general partners. They contribute the bulk of the assets, typically a small business, stock portfolio or real estate. Children are limited partners, with interests in the partnership.
The general partners control all of the investment and management decisions and bear the partnership liability, even though their ownership of assets can be as little as 1% or 2%. They make the day-to-day business decisions, including funds allocation and income distribution. The ability of the general partner to maintain control of the transferred assets is one of the FLP’s biggest advantage. The FLP reduces the taxable estate, while maintaining control of the assets.
Once the entity is created, assets can be transferred to the FLP immediately or over time, depending on the family’s plan. The overall goal is to get as much of the property out of the general partners’ taxable estate as possible. Assets in the FLP are divided and gifted to limited partners, although this is often a gift to a trust for the limited partners, who are the general partners’ descendants. Placing the assets in a trust adds another layer of protection, since the gift remains outside of the limited partner’s taxable estate as well.
To avoid a challenge by the IRS, the partnership must be conducted as a business entity. Meetings need to be scheduled regularly, with formal meeting minutes recorded properly. General partners are to be compensated for their services, and limited partners must pay taxes on their share of income from the partnership. The involvement of professionals in the FLP is needed to be sure the FLP remains compliant with IRS rules.
An alternative is to create a Family Limited Liability Company instead of a Family Limited Partnership. These can be created to operate much like an FLP, while also protecting partners from liability.
Partnerships are not for everyone. Your estate planning attorney will advise regarding whether an FLP or an FLLC makes more sense for your family.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 3, 2022) “The Pros and Cons of Family Limited Partnerships”
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