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!

Some IRS suggestions on 2020 tax filings

Here is a good news release from the IRS site worth reviewing

Important reminders before filing 2020 tax returns

WASHINGTON — Following an unpredictable year with many changes and challenges, the Internal Revenue Service today shared important reminders for taxpayers who are about to file their 2020 federal tax returns.

Choose direct deposit
The safest, most accurate and fastest way to get a refund is to electronically file and choose direct deposit. Direct deposit means any tax refund is electronically deposited for free into a taxpayer’s financial account.

Eight out of 10 taxpayers get their refunds by using direct deposit. It is simple, safe and secure. This is the same electronic transfer system used to deposit nearly 98% of all Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits into millions of accounts.

Earned Income Tax Credit 
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) can give qualifying workers with low-to-moderate income a substantial financial boost. EITC not only reduces the amount of tax someone owes but may give them a refund even if they don’t owe any taxes or aren’t required to file a return.

People must meet certain requirements and file a federal tax return in order to receive this credit. The EITC assistant on IRS.gov can help people determine if they qualify.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that they may elect to use their 2019 earned income to figure the EITC if their 2019 earned income is more than their 2020 earned income. For details, see Publication 596, Earned Income Credit. Taxpayers also have the option of using their 2019 income to figure the Additional Child Tax Credit for 2020.

Taxable unemployment compensation
Millions of Americans received unemployment compensation in 2020, many of them for the first time. This compensation is taxable and must be included as gross income on their tax return.

Taxpayers can elect to have federal taxes withheld from their unemployment benefits or make estimated tax payments, but many do not take these options. In that case, taxes on those benefits will be paid when the 2020 tax return is filed. Taxes can be paid throughout the year. For safe and secure ways to pay taxes electronically go to IRS.gov/payments.
 
Taxpayers can find more details on taxable unemployment compensation in Tax Topic 418, Unemployment Compensation, or in Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, on IRS.gov.

Interest is taxable income
Many individual taxpayers who received a refund on their 2019 tax returns also received interest from the IRS. The interest payments were largely the result of the postponed filing deadline of July 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 refund interest payments are taxable, and taxpayers must report the interest on their 2020 federal income tax return.

The IRS will send a Form 1099-INT to anyone who receives interest totaling at least $10. The average refund interest amount is $18, but the amount for each taxpayer varies based on the tax refund that the taxpayer received. Form 1099-INT will be issued no later than Feb. 1, 2021.

Home office deduction 
The home office deduction is available to qualifying self-employed taxpayers, independent contractors and those working in the gig economy.

However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the business-use-of-home deduction from 2018 through 2025 for employees. Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home. IRS Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, provides more on the home office deduction.

Workers moving into the gig economy
Many people found different employment in 2020, including jobs in the gig economy. Taxpayers must report income earned in the gig economy on their tax return. However, gig-economy workers generally do not have taxes withheld from their pay as salaried workers normally do. The IRS encourages people earning income in the gig economy to consider making quarterly estimated tax payments to stay current with their federal tax obligations.

Charitable donation deduction for people who don’t itemize
Individuals who take the standard deduction generally cannot claim a deduction for their charitable contributions. However, the CARES Act permits these individuals to claim a limited deduction on their 2020 federal income tax returns for cash contributions made to certain qualifying charitable organizations and still claim the standard deduction. Nearly nine in 10 taxpayers now take the standard deduction and could potentially qualify.

Before making a donation, the IRS reminds people they can check the special Tax Exempt Organization Search (TEOS) tool on IRS.gov to make sure the organization is eligible for tax-deductible donations.

Under this change, individuals can claim a deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made to qualifying charities during 2020. This deduction does not apply to donated property. The maximum deduction is $150 for married individuals filing separate returns. More information is available in Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, on IRS.gov.

Disasters such as wildfires, flooding or hurricanes 
Special tax law provisions may help taxpayers and businesses recover financially from the impact of a disaster, especially when the federal government declares their location to be a major disaster area. Some 2020 tax deadlines in certain counties have been extended into 2021 due to recent wildfires, hurricanes or flooding.

Impact of New Tax Law, Part I of III on year-end tax planning

New Tax Law

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act made substantial changes to tax rates, deductions and credits for individuals, corporations and other entities. It also affected changes to estate taxes. For a summary of all changes, please see our post from December in 2017 year-end tax planning – a year of uncertainty.  Please also see the other parts of this series:  in the second part, we discussed planning for small businesses; in the third part, we provided a practical guide for year-end action; and in Tax Planning Hacks, we discussed planning ideas for your Itemized Deductions and more.

The purpose of this post is to get you started on year-end planning to take advantage of the TCJA changes.

What is the Impact of New Tax Law?

We have been reviewing the impact of the new law with projections in our CCH ProSystem Fx tax software. While many individuals lose deductions in 2018 that they were previously allowed, that does not mean that their taxes increase as much they feared. Here are some reasons why:

  • They probably do not owe the AMT as they have in the past.
  • The change in rates lowers total taxes for many.
  • The passthrough deduction discussed below can make a big change.

If you want us to review the impact on your taxes, please let me know.

Clarifications on New Tax Law

Mortgage interest remains deductible even on an equity line of credit (ELOC), provided proceeds from the ELOC were used to purchase or substantially improve your home. However, if the proceeds were used for consumption, then the interest is not deductible.

The deduction for state and local income taxes (SALT) and property taxes is capped at $10,000. However, property taxes for rental properties are still fully deductible against rental income on Schedule E. And farmers and self-employed taxpayers can still deduct the business portion of the taxes on Schedules F and C. Finally, you may be able to use a trust to share ownership of a property with beneficiaries so that they can deduct a portion of the property taxes.

Change for Small Businesses

One of the biggest changes is the qualified business income deduction (“QBID”) under section 199A, also know as the pass-through deduction. This deduction reduces taxable income from qualifying businesses by 20% for taxpayers under the income limitations. This is, net profits form the business after any W-2 salary paid to the owners is reduced.

Pass through businesses include sole proprietors, S corporations, LLCs and partnerships. They also include real estate investment trusts (“REITs”) and certain publicly traded partnerships (“PTP”). But there are income limits and thresholds that eliminate the QBID service companies. Here is a good chart on that may help you see if you qualify for the 20% deduction. Also, watch for more in our next post.

Planning under 199A for QBID

If you have a pass-through business and your year-end planning shows that you may hit the income limits that reduce or eliminate the deduction, you can move income and deductions for Schedule A to change that. Push income into next year and bring any deductions from next year into this year. If you succeed in getting back under the income the limitation, you get a 120% benefit for the right offs – that is, 100% deduction value on Schedule A and 20% QBID value.

The income limits are toughest on service companies. If your small business is a service company, you may want to break out any non-service business to get the benefit of QBID. A professional office that does billing, debt collection or operates a professional building may be able to put those activities in separate entities that qualify for QBID. Furthermore, if your small business is considering buying an office, keep that in a separate entity from the business.

Conclusion

Watch for Part II coming soon. In the meantime, please contact us if you have any questions.

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.