Estate planning checkup: why you don’t, why you should

Why you don’t:

We have written previously stressing the need to have an estate plan, so you do not leave a mess, and why you may need life insurance to protect others.  Few people will disagree with the need to have a current plan and to provide for survivors, but not everyone acts.  

So, why is it that people fail to take action?  Rick Kahler wrote recently about Overcoming Client Procrastination with Financial Planning.  In his post, he lists factors that cause people to put off action that agree is important to address: 

  1. Avoidance.  Feelings of self-doubt, fear of pain or anxiety around the task, depression, fear of asking for help, lack of trust.
  2. Perfectionism.  Fear of failure, fear of being criticized (both externally by others and – often more powerfully – internally by parts of yourself).
  3. Ambiguity.  Lack of clarity about the task, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty prioritizing in the absence of a crises, being focused on immediate tasks.
  4. Narcissism.  Over-confidence in getting it done at the last minute. Needing chaos or pressure to provide adrenaline, the ability to focus to the exclusion of everything else, and a feeling of being fully alive.
  5. Physical Issues.  Fatigue, illness.
  6. Lack of knowledge.  Not knowing what you don’t know, unsure how to get needed help and information.
  7. Financial.  Not having the funds to take the necessary action.   

Do any of these apply to you?  If so, we can help so please contact us. 

Why you should:

One reason to review your estate plan is that the Biden administration may seek changes to the estate and income tax laws; you want to make sure your documents have the flexibility to address these changes.  The current federal gift and estate tax credit is close to $12 million.  However, it is scheduled to drop to between $5.5 and $6 million in 2025 and the administration may push for a lower credit to be imposed sooner.  Also, the administration may try to eliminate the step-up in basis at death.  We will continue to monitor any proposed law changes and post updates. 

There are other tax law changes to address, such as the elimination of the “stretch IRA.”  You may need to revise your beneficiaries.  Also, you will want your executor or personal representative to elect portability of your federal credit to minimize taxes and may want your documents to address the generation skipping transfer tax credit.

Another reason to act is to provide for your digital assets, something old documents may not address.  For example, you can give your attorney-in-fact under your durable power of attorney access to your digital assets and you can assign your digital assets to your revocable trust so your trustee has access.  Digital assets include e-mail and text messages, photographs, videos and other files on your computer, on-line accounts such as your investments and social media, or even intellectual property and patent rights.  You may also have collectibles that need to be addressed,

Another reason to act is to ensure that someone knows how to access all your passwords if something happens to you.  Create your own “Rosetta Stone,” a document telling them how to access your digital life, with IDs and passwords, and then make sure an immediate family member or close friend knows where to find it.  This way, they can locate all your important documents, find assets and insurance, and handle your social media if something happens.  You may also want to provide a memorandum to your personal representatives and trustees detailing your wishes, including thoughts on when to distribute to children, protecting from creditors, and even burial or cremation.

If you to take the time now to review and update your plan, be sure:

  • that you have documents that are in order,
    • that the documents are correctly executed,
    • that you provided adequate resources for survivors, including life insurance, and
    • that your beneficiary designations and asset ownership all coordinate with your documents.

When you do, you will have improved matters for you and your family! 

Contact our office if you have any questions or comments. And be well!

2017 year-end tax planning – a year of uncertainty (updated)

(as also seen online at IRIS)

The Republican Congress is in the process of passing the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, a new tax law. President Trump is expected to sign it by Christmas.

The law was created and passed hastily and affects many aspects of the federal tax code, so many details are still not clear. Furthermore, regulations have yet to be issued. Also, while the provisions affecting corporations are permanent, most affecting individuals expire in 2026. Thus, tax planning is complicated.

How do you plan? Very carefully – you need to augment your traditional year-end planning by anticipating the impact of the many changes.

Note: many proposed changes did not make the final law, so be sure you are referring to the final version when making your planning decisions!

Planning steps

First, be practical:

  • Determine what income and deductions you can move from 2017 to 2018 or vice versa.

Second, review the impact:

  • What happens if you shift any of these amounts of income and deductions to the other year?

Finally, watch for the impact of the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”):

  • The exemption for the AMT and the threshold above which that exemption gets phased out both rise next year, so some deductions lost to the AMT in 2017 could have value in 2018. Others simply vanish next year, so you need to plan carefully!

Income

The new law lowers the tax brackets, so income will be generally subject to less tax in 2018.

Conclusion: You probably want to move income to next year if you can.

Exemptions and standard deduction

The new law eliminates personal exemptions and raises standard deductions to $12,000 for single filers and to $24,000 for married couples. These amounts will be indexed for inflation. The increased standard deduction may offset deductions that you lose, as discussed below. If you have children and others who are dependents, those tax credits are increased, which may help as well.

Conclusion: You probably want to move itemized deductions to 2017.

Itemized Deductions and Credits

The deduction for property taxes and for state and local income taxes is capped at $10,000.

Mortgage interest on new home purchases is deductible only for loans of up to $750,000 used to purchase your primary residence. Interest on home equity loans will not be deductible. (It is not clear if converting any part of home equity indebtedness that was used to purchase or improve your primary residence to a mortgage would make that interest deductible, subject to the cap.)

All miscellaneous deductions are eliminated. This includes investment and tax preparation fees, safe deposit box charges and unreimbursed employee expenses.

The casualty loss deduction is also eliminated and the bike to work exclusion ends.

Moving expenses will no longer be allowed (except for military personnel in certain cases).

The deduction of alimony will be eliminated for divorces occurring after 2018.

What survived? The deduction of student loan interest and medical expenses survived. The latter is subject to a 7.5% rather than a 10% floor. And, the new law repeals the reduction applied to itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers, which may help with some deductions.

Here are several items that were considered for limitation or elimination that remain unchanged:

Dependent care accounts, adoption expenses, tuition waivers and employer paid tuition, capital gains on the sale of your personal residence, the teacher deduction, electric car credit, Archer medical accounts and designating shares of stock or mutual funds sold.

Conclusion: you will want to move any of the eliminated deductions that you can prepay into 2017.

Note: a last-minute provision added to the new law makes prepaying 2018 income taxes in 2017 non-deductible.

Pass-through businesses

If you have income from a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership or S Corporation, you may be able to deduct 20% of that income, subject to certain rules on wages and a phaseout beginning at $157,500 for singles and $315,000 for married taxpayers. These rules are designed to avoid abuse seen when Kansas enacted a similar law.  (Watch for a post on this soon.)

Conclusion: read the fine print (e.g. rules for personal service firms) to see if there are any opportunities you can exploit.

Estate taxes

The credit before estate or gift taxes are due is doubled to $10,000,000, indexed for inflation.

Conclusion: you may want to postpone your year-end gift planning.

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2017 and 2018.

Good luck and best wishes for the holidays!

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Tax Law change under the new Trump Administration? Maybe, but too soon for planning

Enacting Major Changes Will Take Time

(as also appeared online in IRIS.xyz)

President Trump made tax reform a key issue in his campaign. He is now president and Republicans are in charge of the House and Senate, so the likelihood of overhauling the federal tax system is better than they have been for decades.

However, President Trump and Congress are trying to enact changes to the Affordable Care Act as well as addressing budget issues and foreign relations. Also, dealing with all the recent hearings involving the FBI have diverted attention. Finally, there are many details that need to be worked out, making it unlikely that major changes will happen until 2018.

Change in IRS Regulations

President Trump has already made changes in IRS regulations. On his first day in office, he temporarily froze tax regulations and then shortly thereafter, ordered that two existing regulations had to be removed for each one that was added. What is the impact?

  • The Trump administration has stated that the two-for-one exchange rule only applies to significant regulatory actions. The rule may not affect the many IRS regulations that are procedural in nature or are needed by taxpayers.
  • One new regulation that has been threatened is the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rules for retirement advisers. This updated regulation requires retirement advisers to act in their clients’ best interests, which is a stricter standard than was previously required.
  • Also affected are the new partnership audit procedure. A 2015 law streamlined the exam process of large partnerships. The IRS released proposed regulations which implemented the regime on January 18. However, it later pulled the regulations in response to the freeze.

Possible Tax Law Changes – Lower Corporate Tax Rate

Currently, the corporate tax rate tops out at 35%. House Republicans want to lower it to 20% with 25% for businesses that pass income through their owners and for those that are self-employed. President Trump is calling for a 15% corporate tax. In 2014, nearly 25 million Americans filed taxes as sole proprietors (Schedule C), so the change affects many taxpayers.

Tax strategy: Under this change, individuals who are high-earning could become independent contractors or set up LLCs to shift income and advantage of the lower corporate tax rate. Additionally, those who own pass-through businesses could reduce their salaries and take higher profits.

This is how residents of Kansas responded to a similar state law. The state is now working to repeal a law passed in 2012 that exempted pass-through firms from state income tax. The result was that many individuals and businesses in the state restructured their business as pass-through entities or created new businesses to take advantage of the tax break. In just a few years, the number of pass-throughs in the state almost doubled. The state is now facing a large budget deficit as a result because the pass-through exemption is estimated to have cost the state $472 million in 2014 alone. The cost for 2015 was even higher.

The impact of this tax strategy on the 15% tax at the federal level would be expensive. It is estimated to cost up to $1.95 trillion in lost tax revenues over the next ten years. The Trump administration is considering ways to prevent abuse of this low tax rate but any attempt to prevent gaming the system will likely add more complexity to the tax code. Tax-savvy practitioners will likely still be able to find loopholes.

Tax only on Income Earned inside the US

Worldwide income is taxed presently, with credits for foreign taxes paid. The proposed law would generally tax only income that is earned within U.S.

Multinational Tax: A new, low tax on multinationals is part of the proposed tax, added to raise revenue to fund other rate reductions.

Estate Tax Repeal

Republicans would like to repeal the estate tax. President Trump would impose a tax on pre-death appreciation of assets, with a $10 million per couple exemption. There would be no step up in basis at death. And it is likely that gift tax rules would be retained.

Even if the federal estate tax law is repealed, many states will continue to impost a tax. Massachusetts only exempts $1 million of assets passing to someone other than a spouse, such as a trust. New York and other states have higher exemptions. Thus, planning is still important for most people.

Planning Opportunities

With the uncertainty of any change being enacted, this is not an easy year for planning. For example, this may not be the year for a Roth conversion, if tax rates will go down next year. It may not be the time for complex estate planning techniques involving irrevocable transfers, if the estate tax is eliminated in 2018.

We will keep monitoring this to assess any moves that do make sense and update this post when the likelihood of real changes becomes clear.

Massachusetts enacts the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code (“MUPC”) Many other states have or will do the same

(While the following applies to Massachusetts, there are many other states that have recently made the same changes)
Massachusetts adopted the “MUPC” on March 31, 2012. It affects almost every aspect of the law of wills and the administration of estates including changes outlined below:
• Personal Representative: The law does away with classifications of executors, temporary executors, administrators, special administrators and the like by adopting the one-size-fits-all title of “personal representative.” The personal representative acts for people with a will (“testate”) or people without (“intestate”).
• Descendants: Any portion of the estate which passes to the decedent’s descendants will pass under a new system of distribution called “per capita at each generation.” Under this rule, living children inherit equally. If a child pre-deceases the parents, and has living children, the shares of all deceased children are combined and divided equally among all the surviving children.
• Effect of Divorce on the Estate Plan: The impact of divorce is broadened from partially revoking wills and unfunded revocable trusts to expressly apply to non-probate transfers, such as life insurance policies and trusts, whether funded or unfunded, in the case where an individual has the sole power to make certain changes to at the time of the divorce or annulment. The new law also operates to revoke bequests to relatives of the ex-spouse, as well as appointments of such relatives of executor or trustee under certain situations.
• Effect of Marriage on Will: Where marriage used to automatically revokes a prior will, the MUPC does not provide for such automatic revocation. Instead, the will survives, and any legacy to descendants of the decedent (who are not descendants of the new spouse) is preserved. If any part of the estate is left to persons other than such descendants, the new spouse would receive his or her intestate share under law, to be satisfied from the assets left to such other persons (and from any bequests made to the surviving spouse, if any, in the premarital will). The testator’s choice of personal representative and guardian of minor children is also preserved. Note that this rule can be avoided by updating the will after marriage.
Because of these changes to the MUPC, it is important that your estate planning documents are up to date. If you have not updated your estate plan recently, be sure to do so as soon as possible.

Tax Law Changes Coming, including raised capital gains and dividend tax rates

This month, President Obama released his proposed FY 2014 budget which contains new taxes, limits on deductions, and other changes intended to meet the goal of raising more than $580 billion in revenue.
The most significant of these is the termination of capital gains breaks and qualified dividend treatment, causing them both to be taxed as ordinary income. The Kiplinger Tax Letter suggests taking capital gains before 2015 to lock in the lower rate. However, as always, do not let a tax strategy override a good investment plan.
Here is a summary of other changes that may affect you:
The 28% Limitation:
• Affects married taxpayers filing jointly with income over $250,000 and single taxpayers with income over $200,000.
• Limits the tax rate at which these taxpayers can reduce their tax liability to a maximum of 28%.
• Applies to all itemized deduction including charitable contributions, mortgage interest, employer provided health insurance, interest income on state and local bonds, foreign excluded income, tax-exempt interest, retirement contributions and certain above-the-line deductions.
The “Buffet Rule”
• Households with income over $1 million pay at least 30% of their income (after charitable donations) in tax.
• Implements a “Fair Share Tax,” which would equal 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income, less a charitable donation credit equal to 28% of itemized charitable contributions allowed after the overall limitation on itemized deductions. The Fair Share Tax would be phased in, starting at adjusted gross incomes of $1 million, and would be fully phased in at adjusted gross incomes of $2 million.
Estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) Tax
• Reintroduce rules that were in effect in 2009, except that portability of the estate tax exclusion between spouses would be retained.
• This change would take effect in 2018.
• Top tax rate would be 45% and the exclusion amount would be $3.5 million for estate and GST taxes, and $1 million for gift taxes.
The Kiplinger Tax Letter anticipates the changes being acted on as early as 2014. On April 23, 2013, Max Baucus (D-MT), the head of the Senate Finance Committee, announced he would retire from the U.S. Senate at the end of his term in 2015. In The Kiplinger Tax Latter, Vol. 88, No. 9, Kiplinger predicts that “he’ll push to make revamping the tax code his legacy.”
You may feel as though you are done with taxes and do not need address them for another year. Resist that urge and schedule a meeting with us so we can review the potential impact of proposed tax changes on your portfolio and investments. We can also discuss the best strategies for saving money on your 2013 and 2014 tax returns.