Shari A. Levitan is a partner in Holland & Knight's Boston office and chairs the firm’s New England Private Wealth Services Group. She is widely regarded as an authority on wealth and tax planning and business succession planning matters and has been interviewed by NPR, Reuters, Financial Times and the Associated Press. Ms. Levitan’s work involves counseling high-net-worth individuals, developing and implementing tax-efficient wealth transfer strategies that are consistent with their personal philosophies and objectives, advising private company owners and public company executives in business matters related to their personal planning, and representing institutions and individuals who serve as trustees in disputes with co-fiduciaries and beneficiaries. Drawing upon the vast capabilities of Holland & Knight's platform, Ms. Levitan counsels clients with multijurisdictional asset issues, such as tax planning and substantive law matters in multiple domestic and foreign jurisdictions. She has extensive experience advising clients in the areas of bioethics issues related to estate planning issues involving children born through assisted reproductive technologies (ART), and planning for same-sex couples.
Complex Structures for High Net Worth Families. Sometimes what appears to be fine legal advice is inappropriate for the circumstances of a particular family. With great sensitivity to family dynamics and a deep understanding of the complex structures often needed to accomplish wealth preservation and wealth shifting goals, Ms. Levitan works with high-net-worth families to devise and implement comprehensive plans that match and can adjust along the family's planning continuum. Because family members and their other advisors may not understand the intricacies of complicated family plans and the administration required to make sure the plans are effected correctly, Ms. Levitan is a resource for the family office to ensure they understand and are prepared to carry out the routine administration of the plan.
Practical Trust Dispute Resolution Strategy and Counseling. Ms. Levitan helps clients evaluate what an optimal result is in a trust dispute. While it is easy to file a complaint or answer, it is imperative that parties consider the long-term effects of their demands. Focusing on the family, and economic and tax results, she guides clients through the important decision-making process.
Representation of Fiduciaries in Dispute Resolution. Trustees are called upon to administer complex trusts funded with assets that may or may not match the cash flow wishes or needs of beneficiaries. With the goal of avoiding litigation, Ms. Levitan assists corporate fiduciaries to establish policies and procedures for trust administration. With changes in the economy, trust laws and ever more complex tax laws, however, trustees are often faced with threat of litigation, or actual litigation, from beneficiaries or co-trustees. Responding to potential and actual claims requires not only knowledge of the law and familiarity with the trust, but a practical sense of what the true issues are at the heart of the dispute and how to resolve them economically in a manner consistent with the trust instrument and applicable law. Ms. Levitan understands that in most cases, neither side in these disputes has the goal of engaging in protracted litigation, and while litigation may be necessary in some cases, it often is not required to solve the dispute.
Donor and Fiduciary Incapacity. Longer life expectancies and the creation of long duration trusts and business entities increases the likelihood that donors who retain powers over the trust and/or the individual trustees and managers they have named will at some point have diminished capacity to exercise powers over the trust, leaving beneficiaries, co-trustees and financial institutions unsure how best to proceed to administer the trust or business entity. Thoughtful drafting can assure smooth succession without the need to resort to court, though in some cases, if documents do not provide instructions or a trustee resists the call for resignation, court action is required. Ms. Levitan has extensive experience in these issues and is a frequent speaker on these issues.
Family Office Services. Ms. Levitan works extensively with single family offices and multifamily offices to coordinate advice and the administration of complex plans for clients. She leads family meetings that include trustees and other advisors, to explain the structure of existing plans and facilitate discussion about the role of the plan for beneficiaries. She also advises trustees on how to address questions from beneficiaries, including second and third generation beneficiaries. Ms. Levitan advises on the structure of family offices, including compensation structures to incentivize management, as well as consideration of forming a private trust company.
Business Divorce and Dispute Resolution. Planning for dissolution of a private business is just as important as planning for growth. Disputes that arise between family and non-family members who are joint owners of a business must be carefully addressed to avoid what can be a catastrophic loss of value. Competing personal needs can be addressed and resolved in a manner that is economically productive, and with the least disruption to the business enterprise. Ms. Levitan collaborates with other advisors to preserve the economic viability of a business where possible; however, not all business owners have the same interest or passion for the business at the same time. What may begin as a shared vision may change due to life circumstances.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial agreements, and Tax Planning in Connection with Divorce. Prenuptial agreements and planning at the time of divorce is planning for the unwinding of a business partnership. By focusing on the business and tax planning aspects of the agreement, Ms. Levitan approaches these sorts of agreements for high net worth individuals in a manner that addresses not only the economic goals of the parties, but also the practical aspects of administering the agreement if necessary. Prenuptial, postnuptial and divorce agreements provide opportunities for careful tax planning particular to the client's assets, family circumstances and can be comprehensive or limited to particular assets, such as the private business, inherited assets and assets with special tax and business consideration, such as stock options and carried interest. Ms. Levitan consults often with matrimonial attorneys to achieve tax efficient solutions in these situations.
In the Community. Ms. Levitan is active in local, nonprofit organizations where she serves in a number of leadership roles. Her experience includes membership on various boards, strategic long-range planning committees, President of a large organization, Chair of the governance committee that rewrote the by-laws, and she served on the search committee for a new organization head. Her experience provides a special perspective of how organizations should operate, derived from years of counseling clients with complex needs. She was the co-chair of Holland & Knight's 2012 Holocaust Remembrance Project.