Estate and Trust Services

Estate Tax Compliance

Long before estate tax is due, Brannen Shirley helps clients anticipate and plan for the numerous issues involved.

First and foremost is working to create liquidity sufficient to pay the estate tax. Estate tax can be difficult to pay for many high-net-worth families, especially those with a family office, family business, real estate operation, or farm.

Proactive estate tax planning usually starts when the first spouse passes on.

Although in many cases no estate tax is due when the first spouse dies, even in very large estates, the estate representative is still required to file an estate tax return. Properly reporting and presenting this first return is a crucial first step. It lays the foundation for minimizing the estate tax due upon the death of the second spouse.

The estate tax is usually payable only when the second spouse passes on, normally nine months after the date of death. There are many important factors to consider at this time. These include timely communication with family and other professional advisors.  Family members and other beneficiaries should be familiar with the process.

More than simply preparing accurate estate tax returns, Brannen Shirley researches and evaluates a variety of estate tax saving opportunities.  These may include valuation issues, allocation of the generation-skipping exemption, the prior transfer credit, and delayed payment of estate taxes, if applicable. We also specialize in defending the estate tax return (Form 706) against an IRS audit.

Trust and Estate Accounting

Our CPAs routinely prepare trust accountings. We assist clients by ensuring that distributions of Trust Accounting Income are properly taken and accounted for each year. The accounting protects the trustee and the beneficiaries.  We ensure that the IRS receives only the information it is entitled to receive.

Every Irrevocable Trust should have a formal accounting.  Also, every trust in which the trustee is different from the beneficiary should have a formal accounting.


First, having a formal accounting is the only way to assure all parties involved that the trust assets are being handled appropriately. Most trusts have one person (usually the surviving spouse) as the income beneficiary, and someone else (usually the children) as the remainder beneficiary.

Second, this accounting requirement is usually included in trust documents and is required by the Probate Code.

Third, the accounting may come in very handy after the surviving spouse passes on and the IRS wants to review the estate plan. A good accounting can preserve the estate tax-free status of the trust created when the first spouse passed on.

Lifetime Estate Planning

Brannen Shirley helps individuals and families lower estate taxes through strategic lifetime planning. We specialize in estate planning programs that reduce a high-net-worth family’s estate taxes. We also prepare Gift Tax Returns and Trust Income Tax Returns.

Among the strategies we use are case designs for family limited partnerships and trusts, and planning with life insurance. We can work with your estate planning team or we can bring in our trusted resources of attorneys, trustees and valuation experts.