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Buffalo Bills' future hinges upon Wilson's estate planning, taxes

When any Monroe County resident with significant assets passes away, the future of their estate is never completely foolproof, even with careful planning. One of the reasons for this uncertainty is that tax laws change from year to year, and many people do not regularly assess evolving tax law implications on their estate with their estate attorney, accountant and financial advisor.

Sometimes we can neglect to keep our estates up to date, with expensive consequences. Right now, many Monroe County football fans may be concerned about the future of their favorite team after learning that Ralph Wilson, the Buffalo Bills' sole owner, passed away on March 25. However, estate planning professionals may be especially concerned with the future of Wilson's estate. The owner of this $870 million football team never publicly disclosed his intentions about the franchise, so it's unclear whether he will transfer its ownership to family members, sell the team, or a combination of both.

One of the concerns about Wilson's estate revolves around estate taxes. While few Rochester area residents are lucky enough to own the type of assets a professional football team's owner accumulates over a lifetime, everyone needs to be concerned about the impact of estate taxes. If not carefully planned and timed, an estate can be responsible for 40 percent -- in this case, hundreds of millions -- in federal estate taxes in 2014.

There are a few possible scenarios for Wilson's estate. If his wife was designated as the franchise's beneficiary, estate taxes may be completely avoided. The same is true if he had left the franchise to a charitable organization. There are other options that may not spare him completely from estate taxes, but can reduce them or make them more manageable. An irrevocable life insurance trust could cover the estate tax payment, or he could have arranged for the federal taxes to be paid over an extended time period. If he arranged to sell the team right after his passing, he could avoid capital gains taxes, but will owe a little more in estate taxes.

Most likely, Wilson has planned his estate carefully to avoid sacrificing half of his assets to Uncle Sam. However, this case study of possibilities is a good example of how vast the diversity of financial outcomes can be depending on how well an estate is managed and regularly updated.

Source: Buffalo Business First, "Estate taxes may hold key to Bills' future after Wilson's death" Allissa Kline, Mar. 25, 2014

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