What to do When you Suspect Your Spouse is Concealing Marital Assets from You

No one likes to imagine that someone is purposely deceiving them or hiding information from them, especially if such actions involve concealing assets in a marriage.  If your spouse is becoming more secretive, erasing trails of certain shared finances and concealing marital assets, it could be a sign that he/she is preparing for a pending separation or divorce.  Such actions are unethical and potentially illegal.  Whether or not you believe your spouse is capable of such wrongdoings, consider the chance that he/she is doing such and take a proactive approach to getting a definitive answer.

There are some simple signs to look out for.  If the lifestyle your family leads over a period of time doesn’t correlate with what you see as inflows and outflows from bank and investment accounts or from cash on hand during that same period, that may mean that assets may exist elsewhere that you’re not considering or, worse yet, that you’re not aware of! This is typical with many couples when one spouse manages the family finances while the other consciously chooses not to be involved at all or to the extent of the other.  With a future divorce on the horizon as the motive, this opportunity could change the persona of your spouse to someone who you once thought would never do such a thing to one who is “capable.”

If you don’t feel comfortable investigation things for yourself or it’s too complex due to numerous transactions or accounts, you can always hire a certified forensic accountants who is well-versed at performing these functions. While you may not feel psychologically ready to take these steps, at a minimum protecting financial records is a must. If you’re already aware that divorce is on the horizon, you need to switch into protection mode by consulting with an attorney who will advise you what should be done.

What is the Importance of a Business Valuation?

Unless a business valuation is required by agreement (as in the case of a buy-sell) or by law (such as when a gift is made by a business owner to his/her child) where its necessity is obvious, I am often asked why a business valuation is so important. Business owners often believe that they can determine the value of a business by merely applying a multiple of revenue, net income, EBITDA or some other industry standard. Such generalizations often swing and miss at the true value, not only when it is needed for purposes already mentioned but also when negotiating a value, such as when buying or selling an interest in a business or determining its value for settlement of marital assets in a divorce.

So why do these simple calculations miss the boat on determining value? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Business owners often rely on historical information instead of applying potential future growth rates. If a product or service is expected to trend toward higher or lower growth or profitability, a value can be greatly skewed by ignoring this forecast, which valuations based upon multiples do.
  • The market place has a mind of its own and, like it or not, information about private transactions is publicized and affects perceived as well as actual value. The buyer or seller of a business, the working spouse and soon-to-be ex-spouse, and even the IRS, has access to this information and will use it when calculating their own value. Therefore, market data cannot be ignored but often impacts value to the extent that it lands far from the results of simplified calculations.
  • One size does not fit all when it comes to valuing a business and the associated risks may be substantial. Factors such as the size and depth of a management team, the availability and reliability of financial information, the amount and severity of competition, the position within the industry and its stability, all individually and collectively affect the risk of ownership and, therefore, the value of a business interest. The weight of each of these factors, and many more, are considered in a valuation but are not included in the use of basic multiples.
  • If a transaction involves less than a controlling interest in the business, doesn’t it make sense that it’s worth less than an interest that provides control? This control provides the owner with the ability to make management decisions affecting the future of the business, compensation, distributions, etc. A lack of control prevents an owner from such decisions. Typical calculations cannot incorporate such differences in control into determined value.
When preparing a valuation, all of these factors (and more) are considered and often pulled into the calculation – future growth rates, market data, company risks, and the lack or presence of control. When comparing the sophistication of utilizing numerous factors in a professional valuation versus the oversimplification of using a multiple to determine value, it is easy to see why the outcome may be drastically different and why the cost of swinging and missing may be huge.

If you want further information about why a business valuation would be important in your particular situation, feel free to contact me.

Timing the Gift of Company Stock

Consider yourself lucky if you sold a stock at or near its high point or jumped in when it was near its bottom. As difficult as that is to accomplish, taking action at the ideal time is much easier to do when you’re considering the gift of your own company stock.

Some business owners are not aware that gifts of their company stock to their children or siblings need to be reported to the IRS. In most cases, those gifts do not result in any current tax being owed because the gifts are below the annual thresholds or the donors have plenty of lifetime gift and estate exclusion remaining, but the gifts could have future tax implications to the donors or recipients. In most situations, it is more advantageous for the value of a gift to be as low as possible, but sometimes the opposite is true. Therefore, not only should donors recognize which applies to them but they should also understand how best to time their gifts.

Those that will likely never fully utilize their lifetime exclusion and expect the value of their company stock to grow should hold on to it, if possible, and let it pass to the intended beneficiaries upon death and with a stepped-up basis. Lower gift values might be sought if such growth is not expected, the exclusion will likely be fully utilized, or if the donor prefers to make gifts while alive. With that in mind, timing those gifts should be considered. How is that done?

Business owners have the luxury of hindsight. They can look back to determine when the company was performing at its best or worst. Changes in ownership via gifts can be done as long as the corporate tax return for the year of the gift has not been filed. If the year started off poorly but ended strong, a gift can be made effective at the beginning of the year to capitalize on the lower value. If the year started off well but ended poorly, an end of year gift should be considered. Conditions that occurred after the effective date of the gift and were not known or knowable when the gift was made are not factored into the determination of the stock value.

If this still seems complicated, don’t struggle through your options. Reach out to a qualified tax or valuation professional for advice.
Steven Fultonberg CPA / CVA, PLLC