IRS Phishing Scams

douglas mcalpineIn  keeping with our ongoing effort to make you aware of security issues surrounding your tax returns and interaction with the IRS, we are posting the Service’s most recent bulletin regarding security.  Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns at 404-255-7400.

IRS, Security Summit Partners Remind Taxpayers to Recognize Phishing Scams

WASHINGTON –The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners cautioned taxpayers today to avoid identity theft by watching for phishing scams that can increase around the tax season.   The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry – all partners in the fight against identity theft- reminded taxpayers that the easiest way for an identity thief to steal taxpayer information is by simply asking for it. As a result, each day people fall victim to phishing scams through emails, texts, or phone and mistakenly turn over important data. In turn, cybercriminals try to use that data to file fraudulent tax returns or commit other crimes.

This is the second reminder to taxpayers during the “National Tax Security Awareness Week.” This week, the IRS, states and the tax community are sharing information to taxpayers and tax professionals as a part of the ongoing Security Summit effort to combat refund fraud and identity theft.

Surge in Email, Phishing and Malware Schemes

The IRS saw an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season.

Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. Emails can seek information related to tax refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts, verifying PIN information and asking people to verify their tax software account.

Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages, and the misleading communications can be seen in every section of the country.

When people click on these email links, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to help file false tax returns. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people’s computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.

For more details, see:

  • IR-2016-28, Consumers Warned of New Surge in IRS Email Schemes during 2016 Tax Season; Tax Industry Also Targeted
  • IR-2016-15, Phishing Remains on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2016 Filing Season

As part of the “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign aimed at encouraging taxpayers to take stronger measures to protect their financial and tax data, the IRS and its Security Summit partners urged people not to give out personal information based on an unsolicited email request.

The campaign calls for taxpayers take the time to examine, identify and avoid emails that:

  • Contain a link. Scammers often pose as the IRS, financial institutions, credit card companies or even tax companies or software providers. These scams may claim they need the recipient to update their account or request they change a password. The email offers a link to a spoofing site that may look similar to the legitimate official website. Taxpayers should follow a simple rule: Don’t click on the link. If in doubt, they should go directly to the legitimate website to access the account.
  • Contain an attachment. Another option for scammers is to include an attachment to the email. This attachment may be infected with malware that can download malicious software onto the recipient’s computer without their knowledge. If it is spyware, it can track the recipient’s keystrokes to obtain information about their passwords, Social Security number, credit cards or other sensitive data. Remember, taxpayers shouldn’t open attachments from unknown sources.
  • Are from a “government” agency or “financial institution.” Scammers attempt to frighten people into opening email links by posing as government agencies, financial institutions and even tax companies. Thieves often try to imitate the official organizations, especially tax-related ones during the filing season.
  • Are from a “friend.” Scammers also hack email accounts and try to leverage the stolen email addresses. Recipients may receive an email from a “friend” that just does not seem right. It may be missing a subject for the subject line or contain odd requests or language as the underlying content. If the email seems “odd,” taxpayers should avoid clicking on any links or opening attachments.
  • Contain a false “lookalike” URL. The sending email may try to trick the recipient with the URL or web address. For example, instead of www.IRS.gov, it may be a false lookalike such as www.irs.gov.maliciousname.com. To verify the authenticity, a recipient can place their cursor over the text to view a pop-up of the real URL.

Learning to recognize and avoid phishing emails – and sharing that knowledge with family members – is critical to combating identity theft and data loss.

2016 Post-Election Tax Update

mary g. daughteryAny change in Presidential Administration brings the possibility, indeed the likelihood, of tax law changes and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is no exception. During the campaign, President-elect Trump outlined a number of tax proposals for individuals and businesses. This article highlights some of the President-elect’s tax proposals.

Keep in mind that a candidate’s proposals can, and often do, change over the course of a campaign and also after taking office. This article is based on general tax proposals made by the President-elect during the campaign and is intended to give a broad-brush snapshot of those proposals.

At the same time, the end of the year may bring some tax law changes before President Obama leaves office. This letter also highlights some of those possible changes with an eye on how late tax legislation could impact your year-end tax planning.

Campaign proposals

During the campaign, President-elect Trump called for reducing the number of individual income tax rates, lowering the individual income tax rates for most taxpayers, lowering the corporate tax rate, creating new tax incentives, and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (including presumably the ACA’s tax-related provisions). The President-elect, in his campaign materials, highlighted several goals of tax reform:

  • Tax relief for middle class Americans
  • Simplify the Tax Code
  • Grow the American economy
  • Do not add to the debt or deficit

President-elect Trump also identified during the campaign a number of tax-related proposals that he intends to pursue during his first 100 days in office:

  • The Middle Class Tax Relief and Simplification Act: According to Trump, the legislation would provide middle class families with two children a 35 percent tax cut and lower the “business tax rate” from 35 percent to 15 percent.
  • Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act:  A proposal described by Trump during the campaign that would allow individuals to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes, incentivize employers to provide on-site childcare and create tax-free savings accounts for children and elderly dependents.
  • Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act: A proposal made by Trump during the campaign to fully repeal the ACA.
  • American Energy & Infrastructure Act: A proposal described by Trump during the campaign that “leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years.”

Individual income taxes

The last change to the individual income tax rates was in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), which raised the top individual income tax rate. Under ATRA, the current individual income tax rates are 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 39.6 percent. During the campaign, President-elect Trump proposed a new rate structure of 12, 25 and 33 percent:

  • Current rates of 10% and 15% = 12% under new rate structure.
  • Current rates of 25% and 28% = 25% under new rate structure.
  • Current rates of 33%, 35% and 39.6% = 33% under new rate structure.

This rate structure mirrors one proposed by House Republicans earlier this year. During the campaign, President-elect Trump did not detail the precise income levels within which each bracket percentage would fall, instead generally estimating for joint returns a 12% rate on income up to $75,000; a 25% rate for income between $75,000 and $225,000; and 33% on income more than $225,000 (brackets for single filers will be half those dollar amounts) and “low-income Americans” would have a 0% rate. As further details emerge, our office will keep you posted.

Closely-related to the individual income tax rates are the capital gains and dividend tax rates. The current capital gains rate structure, imposed based upon income tax brackets, would presumably be re-aligned to fit within President-elect Trump’s proposed percent income tax bracket levels.

AMT and more

President-elect Trump proposed during the campaign to repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The last time that Congress visited the AMT lawmakers voted to retain the tax but to provide for inflation-adjusted exemption amounts.

During the campaign, Trump proposed to repeal the federal estate and gift tax. The unified federal estate and gift tax currently starts for estates valued at $5.49 million for 2017 (essentially double at $10.98 million for married individuals), Trump, however, also proposed a “carryover basis” rule for inherited stock and other assets from estates of more than $10 million. This additional proposal has already been criticized by some Republican members of Congress, while some Democrats have raised repeal of the federal estate tax as a non-starter.

Other proposals made by President-elect Trump during the campaign would limit itemized deductions, eliminate the head-of-household filing status and eliminate all personal exemptions. President-elect Trump also has called for increasing the standard deduction. Under Trump’s plan, the standard deduction would increase to $15,000 for single individuals and to $30,000 for married couples filing jointly. In contrast, the 2017 standard deduction amounts under current law are $6,350 and $12,700, respectively, as adjusted for inflation.

Possible new family-oriented tax breaks were discussed by President-elect Trump during the campaign. These include the creation of dependent care savings accounts, changes to earned income tax credit and enhanced deductions for child care and eldercare.

Health care

The Affordable care Act (ACA) created a number of new taxes that impact individuals and businesses. These taxes range from an excise tax on medical devices to taxes on high-dollar health insurance plans. The ACA also created the net investment income (NII) tax and the Additional Medicare Tax, both of which generally impact higher income taxpayers. The ACA also made significant changes to the medical expense deduction and other rules that affect individuals. For individuals and employers, the ACA created new mandates to carry or offer insurance, or otherwise pay a penalty.

President-elect Trump made repeal of the ACA one of the centerpieces of his campaign. During the campaign, the President-elect said he would call a special session of Congress to repeal the ACA. At this time, how repeal may move through Congress remains to be seen. Lawmakers could vote to repeal the entire ACA or just parts. Our office will keep you posted of developments as they unfold.

Business tax proposals

On the business front, President-elect Trump highlighted small businesses, the corporate tax rate, and some international proposals during his campaign. Along with simplification, and the reduction, of taxes for small business.

Particularly for small businesses, Trump has proposed a doubling of the Code Sec. 179 small business expensing election to $1 million.  Trump has also proposed the immediate deduction of all new investments in a business, which has also been endorsed by Congressional tax reform/simplification advocates.

The current corporate tax rate is 35 percent. President-elect Trump called during the campaign for a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. He also proposed sharing that rate with owners of “pass through” entities (sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations), but only for profits that are put back into the business.

Based on campaign materials, a one-time reduced rate would also be available to encourage companies to repatriate earnings of foreign subsidiaries that are held offshore. Many more details about these corporate and international tax proposals are expected.

Year-end 2016

More immediately, the calendar is quickly turning to 2017. Congress will meet for a “lame duck” session and is expected to take up tax legislation. Exactly what tax legislation Congress will consider before year-end remains to be seen. Every lawmaker has his or her “key” legislation to advance before the year-end. They include:

  • Legislation to renew some expiring tax extenders, especially energy extenders.
  • Legislation to fund the federal government, including the IRS, through the end of the 2017 fiscal year.
  • Legislation to enhance retirement savings for individuals.
  • Legislation to help citrus farmers, small businesses and more.

Some of these bills, if passed and signed into law, could impact year-end tax planning. The expiring extenders include the popular higher tuition and fees deduction along with some targeted business incentives.  If these extenders are renewed, or made permanent, our office can assist you in maximizing their potential value in year-end tax planning.

Another facet of year-end tax planning is looking ahead. President-elect Trump has proposed some significant changes to the Tax Code for individuals and businesses. If these proposals become law, especially any reduction in income tax rates, and are made retroactive to January 1, 2017, your tax planning definitely needs to be reviewed. Our office will work with you to maximize any potential tax savings.

Working with Congress

When the 115th Congress convenes in January 2017, it will find the GOP in control of both the House and Senate, therefore allowing Trump to move forward on his proposals more easily. It remains to be seen, however, what compromises will be necessary between Congress and the Trump Administration to find common ground. In particular, compromise will likely be needed to bring onboard both GOP fiscal conservatives who will want revenue offsets to pay for tax reduction, and Senate Democrats who have the filibuster rule to prevent passage of tax bills with fewer than 60 votes. Beyond considering tax proposals one tax bill at a time, it remains to be seen whether proposals can be packaged within a broader mandate for “tax reform” and “tax simplification.”

The information generally available now about President-elect Trump’s tax proposals is based largely on statements by him during the campaign and campaign materials. President-elect Trump will take office January 20, 2017. Between now and then, more details about his tax proposals may be available. Please contact our office if you have any questions.

For more information regarding this or any other tax related concern, please contact us at 404-255-7400 or at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

ESTATE TAX REPEAL? LET’S KEEP PLANNING!

michael w. hoffmanDonald Trump’s surprise election gives us a tremendous amount of hope that the federal estate tax might finally be repealed. This concept runs in the face of candidate Clinton’s proposal to reduce the estate and gift tax exemption amounts and increase the tax rates from 40% to 65%.

While we do not want to celebrate too early, a critical message is that estate planning should continue with fervor! The Donald Trump phenomenon, which results in a Republican Presidency and a Republican Congress, gives us a great deal of confidence that tax reform will be among the items addressed early in Trump’s administration. Tax reform could and should include the repeal of the federal estate and gift taxes, and the elimination of the generation skipping transfer tax that has been hanging over our heads since 1976.

However, this will take some time, and the reality is that the U.S. still has huge deficits that must be serviced with tax revenue. Granted, the percentage of the federal revenue coming from death taxes is minimal, but there is also the argument that the tax on the transfer of wealth is “fair” in a system that allowed the accumulation of such wealth. This theory is combined with the tempering affect that the death tax has on the growth of family dynasty wealth (taking from the rich to provide for the poor).

It is likely that the current federal estate and gift tax laws will be replaced by a system more popular in other parts of the world, such as the capital gains calculation that takes place in Canada, Great Britain and other western civilizations. In those countries, at death, the difference between the tax basis of property and its fair market value will be subject to a tax similar to the capital gains tax that would have occurred had the decedent sold the appreciated assets. This accomplishes the practical role of allowing tax basis to be stepped up to fair market value at the death of an owner, and replaces the estate and gift tax revenue with a fair method of taxing growth as it is done in the income tax arena. Of course, there will have to be exemptions and exceptions made for family farms and businesses so these types of assets would not have to be leveraged or sold in order to pay Uncle Sam. All of these details, and many more, will have to be worked out by Congress and the U.S. Treasury Department (IRS).

In the meantime, it appears that some of the more popular techniques that we have been implementing over the last 20 or so years will become even more popular. The use of trusts has long been an important aspect of estate planning. Trusts can own property outside of a taxable estate, trusts can allow an orderly transition of control through the naming and choice of trustees, trusts can protect property from creditors and divorce, trusts avoid probate, and trusts provide significant income tax savings flexibility for current and future beneficiaries.

An important trust that we use in estate planning is the Family Trust, where parents set up trusts for their kids while they are alive, as opposed to waiting until both parents are deceased, and begin funding those trusts with assets by way of gift and otherwise, to remove property from the parents’ taxable estates.

One type of Family Trust that we often use is to make the trust a grantor trust for federal income tax purposes. That means for income tax purposes the IRS ignores the existence of the trust and all the taxable income and deductions associated with the Family Trust continue to be reported on the grantor’s individual income tax return. In our practice, we refer to these Family Trusts as “Defective Grantor Trusts”, or DGTs.

One of the features that allows a trust to be a grantor trust during the grantor’s lifetime is the ability to substitute property in the trust with other property from the grantor. This has been a popular benefit of using DGTs because the trust can hold appreciating assets, removing the appreciation from the grantor’s estate, but those appreciated assets can be swapped for cash or other assets, allowing the low-basis, highly-appreciated assets to come back into the grantor’s estate before death, in order to allow a step-up in tax basis at death for income tax purposes. This has always been kind of “have your cake and eat it too”, removing appreciating assets out of your estate, but retaining the ability to get those assets back in order to achieve an increase in tax basis at death. So, one of the things that we have tried to accomplish with our estate planning clients is to assist them in monitoring the assets in their Family Trusts, to determine if and when it would be desirable to substitute those highly appreciated assets for other assets out of our clients’ taxable estates. Of course, timing is everything, and there is always the risk that the substitution might not occur timely, but at least our clients have retained that flexibility.

Now, with the chance of repeal of our federal estate tax, the strategy with these same grantor trusts might change. In other words, since only appreciated assets would be subject to a capital gains tax at death, it may become more important than ever to remove these appreciated assets from the estate, put them in a grantor trust, and leave liquid, high basis assets in the parents’ taxable estates. Then, if the next President and/or Congress were to reinstate a federal estate tax, we can easily shift strategy and look to exercise the substitution power that exists with the DGTs.

Remember that we still have the evil overhang of the proposed 2704 regulations (see prior articles) which will eliminate much of the discounting that we have enjoyed for valuation purposes when gifting or selling hard to value assets to Family Trusts. These proposed rules will become effective, according to the IRS, 30 days after they become final. While we don’t know when these proposed regs will become final, it does take typically 12 to 18 months for these regulation projects to become completed. The regs were proposed in early August, so we are still “under the gun” for those clients who have situations that warrant this type of estate planning.

So, let’s be happy with the potential repeal of the estate tax but be realistic in what that means. If anything, as new rules evolve, we should be focusing on flexible estate planning now, more than ever, as future tax reform will create new tax regimes. For instance, if the new tax rules no longer encompass the concept of a $5,500,000 exemption per person, will all that exemption that was not used before the estate tax is repealed be lost forever? So, while President-Elect Trump goes about changing our tax system to make us more competitive in the world, and he is ”draining the swamp”, let us pay attention to details and reap the benefits of continuous planning.

For more information about this or any other estate planning topic, please contact us directly at 404-255-7400 or email us at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

Estate Planning Is in a Pressure Cooker!

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Not only has the IRS threatened to change the rules of valuing gifts, which will have a significant impact on many estate planning techniques used over the last several decades, the presidential elections will have a huge impact over whether the estate and gift tax law survives, or becomes extremely more expensive and complicated.

After an agonizing wait, the IRS issued Proposed Regulations on August 4th that will eliminate many of the valuation discounts applicable for family-owned businesses and wealth in general. These new rules will become effective thirty days after publication of final regulations, which are expected in the next 12 months.

That means gifts prior to the effective date of the regulations may continue taking into account all applicable valuation discounts and used over the last several decades, and those family business owners who postpone these estate planning techniques of transferring wealth to trusts for future generations will be hurt economically under the new rules. While we do not know for sure what the final regulations will say, the question is obvious, is any further postponement worth the risk?

Additionally, there is a substantial difference between the two presidential candidates’ tax policy proposals, particularly relating to the estate and gift tax. Donald Trump proposes to eliminate the estate and gift tax. Mrs. Clinton, however, proposes to reduce the estate tax exemption (which will be $5,490,000 in 2017) to $3,500,000 (per person) with no adjustment for inflation. She proposes to reduce the lifetime gift tax exemption from $5,490,000 (2017) to $1,000,000, with no adjustment for inflation.

This situation is reminiscent of the concern in 2012 when we feared the exemptions may go from $3,500,000 to $1,000,000. Many clients scurried to take advantage of estate and gift tax advantages before year-end. Those clients, by the way, are generally laughing all the way to the bank as not only have they moved significant wealth out of the gift tax system, but the statute of limitations on the IRS’ ability to review the substance of those transactions has just about expired.

Mrs. Clinton is not done there! She proposes to raise the current estate tax rate from a flat 40% to 45% on estates under $10,000,000, 50% for estates from $10,000,000 to $50,000,000, 55% for estates from $50,000,000 to $500,000,000, and 65% for estates for over $500,000,000. While this seems shocking, the maximum estate tax margin rates when I began practicing in 1976 was technically 77%!

Obviously, the double attack from the IRS and the potential Clinton Administration will raise havoc in the estate planning circles. Be ready to react relatively quickly as these proposals threaten to become reality.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please contact us at 404-255-7400 or email us at info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.

Changes in Overtime Pay Regulations

IAN M. FISHERSmall business owners may be in for a shock later this year when new Department of Labor Regulations governing overtime go into effect. On December 1, 2016, a Final Rule by the Wage and Hour Division will go into effect, causing approximately 4.2 million currently exempt workers to have a right to time and a half pay from their employers.

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A Lesson Learned from the Bobbi Kristina Tragedy

We have all seen the headlines about Bobbi Kristina Brown, the daughter of the illustrious Whitney Houston, and her tragic death.  After being found unconscious in the bathtub of her Roswell, Georgia townhome, she was admitted to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma for months before being transferred to hospice and subsequently passing away.  Her death is tragic for many reasons: her young age, the eerie similarities between her death and her mother’s, the allegations of domestic abuse, and the immediate fight among family members to gain control over her care and her assets.  With proper estate planning, at least the last tragedy would have been avoided.

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Update On The IRS Regulations Project

michael w. hoffmanLast July, I wrote in my column that the IRS made it known that it would issue proposed regulations as early as September (2015) which would severely restrict valuation discounts for transfers among related entities (such as transfers of limited partnership or LLC interests to other family members or trusts).  Not surprisingly, here we are in the spring of 2016 and there are no regulations.

Early this month, an IRS representative spoke at the ABA Tax Section meeting and spoke about upcoming IRS guidance.  She predicted that in the next couple of months the IRS would issue 5 or 6 new regulations, the first of these being the proposed regulations under Section 2704, which would place further restrictions on valuation discounts.  While we don’t know what the scope of these new restrictions will be, we are certain that they will have a significant impact on valuing property transferred between related family entities.  As I expressed last year, our concern is exacerbated by the fact that the IRS will likely make these rules effective retroactively to the date of the proposed regulations.

The judicious use of valuation discounts has long been a responsible tenant in estate planning.  Whether it’s getting the “biggest bang for the buck” out of annual gift tax exclusions, use of your one-time lifetime applicable exclusion amount (currently $5,450,000 in 2016), or reducing actual estate or gift taxes, applying appropriate discounts has always been pertinent to accurately determine the fair market value of the property being transferred.

For instance, if Father owned a piece of property worth $100 and gifted 50% of that property to Daughter, the valuation of the undivided one-half interest might only be $40, as opposed to the mathematical value of $50.  In a similar vein, if gifts of limited partnership interest or non-voting LLC membership interests in family enterprises are gifted, appropriate valuation discounts for things like lack of control and lack of marketability are applicable.

If the new regulations change the rules and re-define how property is valued for gift and estate tax purposes, the impact will be huge.

As one of my colleagues recently wrote, “The first (regulation project issued this spring) will be new proposed regulations under Section 2704, with time estimates of ‘very, very shortly’ and ‘this spring, before summer’.”  If you have put off any estate planning concerning freezing or gifting, time is of the essence.  If you are planning to include the many benefits of family limited partnerships and family limited liability companies, or merely gifts of fractional interests, as illustrated in the example above, you may want to get with your advisor immediately.

For further information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit Hoffman & Associates at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400, or send us an email.

IRS Warns of 2016 Tax Scams

douglas mcalpineWe posted last year about bogus phone calls claiming to be from the IRS.  The article below highlights the more recent techniques being used as the scammers adapt their methods and provides information on what you should do if contacted. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns at 404-255-7400.

Consumer Alert: Scammers Change Tactics, Once Again

WASHINGTON — Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain a major threat to taxpayers, but now the IRS is receiving new reports of scammers calling under the guise of verifying tax return information over the phone.

The latest variation being seen in the last few weeks tries to play off the current tax season. Scam artists call saying they have your tax return, and they just need to verify a few details to process your return. The scam tries to get you to give up personal information such as a Social Security number or personal financial information, such as bank numbers or credit cards.

“These schemes continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t be calling you out of the blue asking you to verify your personal tax information or aggressively threatening you to make an immediate payment.”

The IRS reminds taxpayers to guard against all sorts of con games that continually change. The IRS, the states and the tax industry came together in 2015 and launched a public awareness campaign called Taxes. Security. Together. to help educate taxpayers about the need to maintain security online and to recognize and avoid “phishing” and other schemes.

The IRS continues to hear reports of phone scams as well as e-mail phishing schemes across the country.

“These schemes touch people in every part of the country and in every walk of life. It’s a growing list of people who’ve encountered these. I’ve even gotten these calls myself,” Koskinen said.

This January, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced they have received reports of roughly 896,000 phone scam contacts since October 2013 and have become aware of over 5,000 victims who have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of the scam. Just this year, the IRS has seen a 400 percent increase in phishing schemes.

Protect Yourself

Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pay a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via a phishing email. They’ve even begun politely asking taxpayers to verify their identity over the phone.

Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. They may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money.

Scammers often alter caller ID numbers to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use the victim’s name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Here are some things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam.

The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
  • Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or email.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or to verify your identity, here’s what you should do:

If you don’t owe taxes, or have no reason to think that you do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

If you know you owe, or think you may owe tax:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you.

Stay alert to scams that use the IRS as a lure. Tax scams can happen any time of year, not just at tax time. For more, visit “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” on IRS.gov.

Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

 

 

No Kids? An Estate Plan is Still Important

hoffmankimcolorThere are certain times in life where the need for a proper estate plan is so clear, its like the wail of a newborn at 3AM.  How will that child be cared for if something happened to you?

But what if you do not have children?  The answer may not be as clear, but it is no less important.

If you do not specify in a proper Will or Trust to whom and how your want your assets disposed of at your death, the State will do so for you.  Generally, the State will find your closest heirs and divide your assets among them.  Sound ok since that’s where you would send your assets anyway?  Then you should know that intestate (without a will) probate proceedings tend to be much more costly and time consuming than proceedings with a properly drafted Will.  The urgency is even greater when you do not want your brother and his kids to inherit your assets.  To direct otherwise requires an estate plan.

An estate plan is more than just a will though.  A Healthcare Directive and a well-drafted Power of Attorney are key components to a basic estate plan.  A Healthcare Directive names someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot do so, it grants such person authorization to access your medical records under HIPAA, and it may include preferences for end of life care in the event of a terminal condition.  These directives make it much easier on loved ones to properly care for you in the event you can no longer communicate your medical preferences.  Anyone over the age of 18 needs a Healthcare Directive.  A parent no longer has automatic access to the medical records of their children after age 18, but so often an 18 year old is still under the care (financially, and otherwise) of their parent.

The last leg of the stool is a properly drafted General Power of Attorney.  These may be drafted to be “springing”; so that they spring into effect only upon incapacity.  Then, in the event of incapacity, you have previously named a trusted individual to manage your financial and personal affairs.  Should incapacity occur without a Power of Attorney in place, a court may appoint a Guardian or Conservator after an administrative process.

These Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Directives are essential documents, even for those individuals who do not feel a will is necessary because they have no children.  We, of course, still disagree with that notion, and we will be glad to discuss how each of these components of a good estate plan fit your specific needs.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

 

Estate Planning with Retirement Accounts

CassandraOne estate planning nuance is “beneficiary designation assets.”  These are assets that are distributed at death to the person named on a beneficiary designation form, and do not follow the direction of the will.  These assets may be life insurance, joint or pay-on-death bank accounts, joint or pay-on-death investment accounts and retirement accounts.  During the initial meeting, it is important to discuss the client’s assets and these accounts in particular.  If family dynamic has changed, be it from a divorce, death in the family or simply the fact that once small children are now adults, these beneficiary designations may need to be updated.  These assets pass outside of probate.  Essentially when the account holder dies, upon confirmation of death, the entity which holds the account simply distributes the assets to the named beneficiary.

Retirement accounts (IRAs, 401k plans and the like) are special, however, because they typically allow beneficiaries to prolong withdrawal if properly handled.  If the plan allows, beneficiaries may elect to use their own life expectancy in calculating the minimum amount of money which must be distributed each year (this is also called “minimum required distributions”).  This is beneficial because it allows a beneficiary to prolong to amount of time the money is in the retirement account, allowing additional potentially tax free growth.

While many individuals choose to leave their retirement accounts to an individual beneficiary, i.e. their spouse or children, there may be good reason to leave such assets in trust.  Trusts offer many benefits, including asset protection, especially with the recent Supreme Court decision in Clark v. Rameker, 134 S. Ct. 2242 (2014), in which the Court found that a non-spouse beneficiary’s inherited IRA was not exempt from the beneficiary’s creditors in his bankruptcy estate.

In order to fully take advantage of both the protection a trust offers and the beneficiary’s life expectancy, the trust must be carefully drafted.  Such trusts are referred to as “see-through” trusts because the language directs the retirement plan to look through the trust at the beneficiary individually to determine life expectancy.  If the trust runs afoul of the rules, however, the consequences are harsh.  The trust and its beneficiary’s life expectancy are disregarded and the “5-year rule” applies, requiring a full distribution of the retirement plan assets within 5 year.

This is one of the many reasons it is important to have an attorney who is familiar with these rules to assist you with carefully drafting your estate plan.  We would be happy to work with you and your family to craft an estate plan which achieves your goals.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

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