How a Family Limited Partnership Can Power an Estate Plan

One challenge faced by family-run businesses involves transitioning both the ownership and operations from one generation to the next. A family limited partnership (FLP) is a legal agreement that enables business owners and their heirs to address succession, estate, and tax planning needs all at once.

Business owners who want family members to inherit their businesses in the future could use FLPs to transfer assets out of their taxable estates during their lifetimes. And to do so, the owners of a valuable business might begin this process many years before they intend to give up operational control.

Estate tax threat

The IRS calculates the estate tax due on an individual’s gross taxable estate by adding the value of all owned assets, including a home and a business, and subtracting any applicable exemptions. Even if the taxable estate falls below the current generous federal estate tax exemption level ($13.61 million or $27.22 million for a married couple in 2024), the family might not be entirely out of the woods, especially if they live in a state that has an estate tax or an inheritance tax with a lower exemption amount. Perhaps more concerning, the federal estate tax exemption is scheduled to revert to inflation-adjusted 2017 levels in 2026.

When business owners fail to consider that federal and state estate taxes could be due upon their passing, the funds needed to pay the taxes may not be available, and their heirs may be forced to borrow the money or liquidate the business.

72% = Share of U.S. business owners who want to ensure their business stays in the family

Source: US Family Business Survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2023

Family discount

With an FLP, general partners run the business. Limited partners (such as the children of general partners) have no vote and no say about day-to-day operations, and they are not liable for the debts of the FLP.

A general partner (or a corporation or limited liability company controlled by the general partner) can gift ownership shares to limited partners in installments that conform to the annual gift tax exclusion of $18,000 per recipient (in 2024). Because limited partners have restricted rights, these annual gifts may be valued at a discount — typically 30% or more — from fair market value. For example, more than $25,000 worth of property or business shares (currently valued at $18,000 for gift tax purposes) could potentially be transferred to each limited partner without triggering gift taxes. Of course, every family’s situation is different, and actual results will vary.

Setting up a family limited partnership can involve complex tax rules and regulations, and there are up-front costs as well as ongoing fees and operating expenses to consider. Be sure to consult with your tax and estate planning professionals.