By: Brandy Natalzia- Published in the BizWest Thought Leader column in June 2018
What happens to a member’s membership interest in a limited liability company (LLC) upon his death? Generally, a death should be treated as nothing more than a transfer of interests between the deceased member and the person who is that member’s rightful heir. But what about any restrictions on transfer spelled out in the Operating Agreement? There is case law that holds that the express language in contracts (here, the Operating Agreement) addressing the disposition of the membership interest trumps contrary language in a testamentary instrument, such as a will or trust.
And what if the LLC is a single-member LLC and that sole member dies? When the decedent operates a viable business in a single-member LLC, significant value can be lost to the estate if the LLC is dissolved upon the death of the member. If there is no provision within the single-member LLC’s Operating Agreement for the transfer of ownership to someone else, the LLC can become an asset of the decedent’s estate. As such, it may encounter tax and probate problems. The LLC may be divided among family members, dissolved, or even sold off to people the decedent did not choose.
Consider the use of and effect of a Transfer on Death (TOD) registration of the LLC interest under the Uniform TOD Security Registration Act. Arguably, this can be used to name a TOD beneficiary of the LLC interest within the Operating Agreement. Although the TOD designation may be a powerful estate planning tool for the members, it may be difficult procedurally for the remaining members when a member passes away. It is important for the members to discuss whether they want to allow TOD designations when the Operating Agreement is being drafted and then to work with an experienced business lawyer who can help ensure that any TOD designations for the membership interests are recognized.