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.

Read more

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.

Revocable Living Trust

hoffmankimcolorAs Georgia based attorneys, we are very comfortable with the Will-based Estate plan.  Georgia probate courts are friendly and easy to work with, and Georgia law allows a Testator to waive the requirements of a bond, inventory and reporting to the court.  We cannot overlook the importance of a Revocable Living Trust, however, for those clients with out of state assets or where avoidance of probate is simply a desirable goal.

A Revocable Living Trust is, as its name implies, revocable or amendable at will by the Grantor, and living, which means it is funded and used during the lifetime of the Grantor as opposed to solely at death like a Will.  Generally, the Grantor funds the Living Trust with all of his or her assets, and the Grantor is generally the sole Trustee and the primary beneficiary of the Trust.  Though this all sounds somewhat circular, the Trust provides a very legitimate legal solution:  having the trust own all of your assets means you do not need a legal process to change title to those assets upon your passing.

For states like Florida, the Revocable Living Trust is a common estate planning document simply to avoid the probate process.  There, unlike Georgia, courts require the Personal Representative to post a bond, an inventory of the decedent’s assets must be provided to the court, and various accountings are also required to be filed.  The result is a generally a significantly more expensive and time-consuming probate process than in Georgia.   The Living Trust is not just for Florida residents though.  A Georgia resident owning a vacation condo in Florida will be subject to Florida’s probate process at death.  Thus, not only will the Estate be subject to Georgia probate proceedings, but it will need to file ancillary probate proceedings in Florida too.  This rule is applicable to ownership of assets in any other state, not just Florida, as each individual state has their own laws about transferring title at death.  Having a Living Trust own your out of state assets forecloses the necessity of multiple probate proceedings.

Another significant advantage to the Living Trust based Estate Plan is privacy.  Despite Georgia’s ‘friendly’ probate laws, the original Will must still be filed with the Court and it becomes public record.  This means anyone can review the terms of your Will at death.  In addition, all of your heirs at law are entitled to notice of the filing of the Will and a copy thereof.  For those that prefer their bequests remain private, or who perhaps have made an uneven distribution among their beneficiaries, the Living Trust may be a better choice.  A Living Trust can even help avoid a Will contest where certain heirs may be left out of an inheritance.

Revocable Living Trusts can also be significantly beneficial to a Grantor who becomes incapacitated.  Incapacity proceedings are becoming some of the most common probate court proceedings as people live longer but do not necessarily have all of their faculties.  When you form and fund a Living Trust, you name a successor Trustee to take over management of the Trust assets upon either your death or incapacity, again, entirely skipping the court process for doing so.  This provides a seamless, and immediate, transition of control from you to someone else in the event you can no longer manage your affairs.  And, it is a person of your choosing.  Your Trust document can even be very specific as to who and how you are determined to be incapacitated, thus giving you a great amount of control even where you would no longer have the ability to have such control.

The key to an effective Living Trust is fully funding the trust.  Funding the trust is legally transferring title to all of your assets to the Trustee of the Trust.  There are no tax consequences to such transfer as the trust is revocable, the IRS ‘looks through’ the trust and treats the assets as though they were still yours for income and transfer tax purposes.  Funding is accomplished by changing the title on bank accounts and investment accounts and recording deeds to real property.  Your attorney should go through specific funding instructions with you after a detailed analysis of your assets.

Finally,  a Living Trust will contain all of the testamentary decisions and dispositions of a Will, including trusts as needed for the surviving spouse and descendants, charitable bequests and other gifts you want made upon your passing.

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.

Hoffman & Associates Announces its Newest Partner, Kim Hoipkemier

hoffmankimcolorHoffman & Associates is proud to announce that Kim Hoipkemier has become a partner of the firm effective January 1, 2015.  Kim joined H&A in 2011 bringing with her extensive experience in estate planning and representation of high end clients.  She currently specializes in the areas of wills, trusts, estate administration and probate.

“Kim has become engaged in our practice in a relatively short period of time and helps define our compelling brand to clients, vendors and other professionals”, commented Mike Hoffman, founding and managing partner.  “Kim has built a solid foundation in estate planning and her contributions make us a better firm.”

Mrs. Hoipkemier is a magna cum laude undergrad from the University of Georgia and a cum laude graduate from the University of Georgia School of  Law.  She is a member of the Fiduciary Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia and a member of the Wills Clinic through the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division.

About Hoffman & Associates

Hoffman & Associates is a boutique law firm established in 1991 specializing in estate planning and probate and tax and business law. Expertise in these areas comes from a dedicated staff of both attorneys and CPAs delivering personalized service and sound financial guidance.   Hoffman & Associates prides itself in having a standalone tax practice and attorneys licensed in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Musings from the CEO – Summer 2014

Mike HoffmanI saw a headline the other day that declared “Why You Should Update Your Estate Plan”. Now, there is a topic that I could write a book about!

I have heard statistics that up to 80% of Americans either have no Will, or some attempt at a Last Will and Testament that is sorely inadequate. The basic core documents that everyone needs are a Will, a General Power of Attorney (that kicks-in upon disability or incapacity), and a Health Care Directive. Once these documents are in place, they need to be reviewed periodically. Obviously, tax laws and family circumstances change. Also, more and more people move because of job changes, they retire to another part of the country, or they move closer to their kids and grandchildren.

A little over two years ago, the $5,000,000 estate tax exemption became “permanent”. This does not mean that it won’t change, and in fact, it does change by going up a little bit each year. Going from $600,000 (the exemption in the ‘90’s) to $5,000,000 took most of us off the estate tax paying rolls and did change the focus of a lot of estate planners. We generally pay more attention to income tax matters than we did before. For instance, if a married couple has over $10,000,000 of exemption available, rather than trying to get everything out of their taxable estates, we would like for at least that much property to go to their heirs from their estates (after death), therefore, with a brand new income tax basis.

I read that one commentator expressed that an estate plan is not meant to be put in a time capsule and to be opened and dissected at death. An estate plan will change and evolve. There are many things that can be accomplished with a comprehensive estate plan. Not only are we saving estate taxes, income taxes, and probate costs, we are protecting assets, providing sound management of assets, and taking care of other responsibilities.

How are we leaving assets to our spouse and descendants? Can we be better stewards of our wealth by considering appropriate planning techniques, such as trusts?

It is important to periodically check the ownership and beneficiary designations of life insurance policies to make sure that these liquid assets will be handled appropriately. It is extremely important to review beneficiary designations on IRA accounts and other retirement plan assets. Not only do you want to make sure the assets go where you intend, but you want to maximize potential tax savings.

The ownership of all assets ought to be reviewed periodically. There are several types of joint ownership that have different consequences for estate planning and tax purposes. It is not just deeds for real property that should be checked, but it’s also important to understand how the titling of your investment accounts can affect the treatment of your assets at death.

If you own property in other jurisdictions, such as a house at the beach or in the mountains, this can complicate probate matters for the family. It is a relatively simple matter to use one of several techniques to remove that particular asset from your probate estate, potentially saving a great deal of time, money and aggravation for your spouse and descendants.

Most family/closely-held businesses do not have a succession plan or an exit strategy. This is particularly concerning when it is that family business that created the wealth. Will the business suffer a potential loss of value to the family when the patriarch or matriarch is no longer in the picture?

There are countless reasons why you should update your estate plan. First and foremost, make sure you have an estate plan. A failure to plan is a plan to fail.

 

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.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Musings from the CEO (Spring 2013)

Estate Planning has evolved significantly over the last several years.  In recent months, we have seen the estate tax exemption become “permanent” at $5,250,000 per person, and it will continue to adjust with inflation.  We have also seen the lifetime gift tax exemption and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption be permanently increased to keep pace with the “new” estate tax exemption.  An obvious effect of this development is that a significant number of estates will be able to pass to the next generation without transfer taxes.  A married couple can now pass at least $10,500,000 of wealth to their children before their estates are hit with the still significant 40% tax rate.

Congress has also made “portability” permanent, which means that any unused exemption when the first spouse dies is carried over to the estate of the surviving spouse.  Prudent planning generally does not rely on portability, since it is sabotaged by the subsequent marriage of the surviving spouse and does not apply to generation-skipping transfer tax.

The focus of seasoned estate planning techniques will continue for the more wealthy.  Estate planning should become less costly and complicated for most Americans, however, Hoffman & Associates will still focus on a significant use of dynasty trusts for a plethora of reasons.  These include not only potential estate tax savings, but also income tax flexibility, asset protection from creditors, preservation of family wealth in the bloodline, protection from divorce, and simplifying probate.  Dynasty trusts, however, are under scrutiny and threat as the Obama Administration pushes its agenda.  While most states are extending the period of time that trusts can hold property, there are proposals to limit that duration for transfer tax (and other?) purposes.

Joe Nagel’s article in this Newsletter is a good reminder to us of the many reasons for estate planning, most of which are not focused on taxes.  We want to be good stewards of our assets.

At Hoffman & Associates our practice will continue to focus on estate planning techniques and working with clients to accomplish their estate planning objectives, with significant focus on succession planning for family businesses and asset protection.

We are seeing an increased focus on elder law matters.  As our client base gets older and the imminent demographics of the country are affected by the baby boomers and their parents, medical technology and a focus on general health issues constantly increase our life expectancies.

As income tax rates continue increasing, we are witnessing a rekindling of our clients’ focus on income tax planning.  This is “back to the basics” for a tax planning firm like Hoffman & Associates.  We continue to focus on important decisions about retirement plans, social security, tax deductions, and the tax sensitive nature of investments on behalf of our clients.

Kim Hoipkemier’s article this month highlights a focus area of Hoffman & Associates, namely, Estate Planning for Women.  Again, demographics, the economy, education and corporate America recognizes that women continue to live longer, earn more, and prosper, with the ever increasing responsibility to juggle and manage family and wealth.

Finally, at Hoffman & Associates we have begun a new area of service for our clients, as their situations demand new and flexible assistance to help them manage their daily financial lives.  The Hoffman Family Office (HFO) services include record keeping, bill paying, bookkeeping, budgeting, investment analysis, insurance analysis/shopping, and family philanthropy matters.  Whether it is the overwhelmed widow, the busy corporate executive, or the family that wants to responsibly out-source some of their financial tedium to their trusted advisors, we want to fill the vacuum by providing such help from the Firm they have trusted with so many other important areas of their planning and financial well-being.  Carolina Gomez of our office has been busy defining the areas where HFO can make a difference, and is ready to talk to you about any area you think HFO may be of assistance.

These are interesting times, and I choose to believe we are at the beginning of good times.  While we are clawing out of a recession, and Washington, DC has us constantly on pins and needles, the economy is generally getting better, unemployment is generally not increasing, and our clients generally are in an upswing in their attitudes and well-beings.  We want to be here for those who need assistance, whether it is planning for them or an elderly family member, assisting with the growth and success of their business, or simply to put their mind at ease that they have satisfactorily addressed planning considerations within their realm of influence.  Let us hear from you!

 

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

What the New Tax Law Means to You

As you probably know, Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff by passing – at the 12th hour –the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), signed into law by the President on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Tax Act makes several important revisions to the tax code that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. What follows is a brief description of some of these revisions – and their impact:

  • The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news for all Americans; for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained built in expiration dates. And while “permanent” in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have more certainty with which to plan.
  • The federal gift and estate tax exemptions will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains. So if you did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012, you can still do so – and there are advantages to doing so sooner rather than later. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, you can expect to be able to transfer even more each year in the future.
  • The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at your death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than you; in other words, transfers that “skip” a generation. Having this exemption be “permanent” allows you to take advantage of planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
  • Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
  • The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
  • The “portability” provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up a trust specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to proper estate planning using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
  • Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased from $13,000 to $14,000, meaning you can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary, per year ($28,000 for a married couple) free of federal gift,  estate and GST tax – in addition to the $5 million gift, estate, and GST tax exemptions. By making annual tax-free transfers while you are alive, you can transfer significant wealth to your children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries, thereby reducing your taxable estate and removing future appreciation on assets you transfer. And, you can significantly enhance this lifetime giving strategy by transferring interests in a limited liability company or similar entity because these assets have a reduced value for transfer tax purposes, allowing you to transfer more free of tax.  Gifting to Family Trusts allows the tremendous advantage of gifting to one destination, while using the annual gift exclusions for all of your descendants.

For most Americans, the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on planning for worst case scenarios and put it back on the real reasons we need to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. This includes:

  • Protecting you, your family, and your assets in the event of incapacity;
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want;
  • Protecting your legacy from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
  • Providing for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits; and
  • Helping protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits; and from estate depletion to fund nursing home costs.

For those with estates less than the $5.25 million exemption amount, trusts should still provide much valued asset protection.  However, those who are less concerned about asset protection may want to review options for unwinding previous transactions to the extent possible and, at a minimum, review their estate plan to ensure proper income tax planning (see below).

For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax free to future generations, but it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. With Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated.   REVENUE RAISING PROPOSALS INCLUDE 1) LIMITING THE BENEFITS OF GRANTOR TRUSTS, 2) LIMITING THE DURATION OF ALLOCATION OF GST EXEMPTION, 3) IMPOSING A MINIMUM 10 YEAR TERM FOR GRANTOR RETAINED ANNUITY TRUSTS (“GRATS”), AND 4) REDUCING THE AVAILABILITY OF ENTITY BASED VALUATION DISCOUNTS.  These are all tools that can reduce your estate tax exposure but that may not be available much longer.  Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.

Further, as is well publicized, the 2012 Tax Act included several income tax rate increases on those earning more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).  Combined with the two additional income tax rate increases resulting from the healthcare bill, income tax planning for individuals is obviously now more important than ever.

What hasn’t been as publicized is that trusts (only those trusts not taxed as grantor trusts) and estates will be subject to these new taxes and higher tax rates on income above $11,950.   Proper income tax/distribution planning for trusts and estates will be essential going forward to minimize these burdensome tax increases.

Income tax basis planning will also be more important.  Many trusts hold highly appreciated, low tax basis assets. Reverse DGT transactions – purchasing low basis assets back from grantor trusts – can be used to obtain a step up in basis at death.  Trusts may be able to be amended and/or restated to allow a Trust Protector to identify low basis assets and take certain actions that would cause them to get a step up in tax basis at your death.   For assets not already in trust, Alaska Community Property Trusts can be utilized to get a double step up in tax basis at both spouse’s deaths.

The good news is that if you have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over.  We have increased certainty with “permanent” laws and you can have some comfort that the rules won’t drastically shift from year to year.  Unfortunately, for those of you with larger estates, planning techniques that can be utilized to reduce estate tax exposure are still on the chopping block – so don’t wait to plan.  For all clients, income tax planning, including income tax basis planning, should be a focus this year.  As always, the ultimate goals of estate planning, including protecting family assets and providing for loved ones, do not change.  Make sure you have a good plan to meet these goals. Schedule an appointment today by calling us at (404) 255-7400.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

2012 Year End Newsletter

Dear Tax Clients:

With the year coming to an end, as always, there becomes a heightened sense of emphasis on financial and tax planning. This is true now more than ever with the future of America’s tax code being so uncertain and with many tax cuts taxpayers have taken for granted for over a decade set to expire in 2012.  Knowing this, we at Hoffman & Associates, would like to help you by providing some general reminders, items of interest for the current tax year and some valuable planning tips for changes we are likely to see in the future. We hope these notes, as well as some general estate planning and business items that are of importance, will help you prepare for your 2012 taxes as well as for the future. However, as every taxpayer paints a different picture, we recommend contacting one of our tax and legal experts for reassurance or with any question you may have.

Individuals

Tax planning for individuals for both the 2012 year-end and forward will be complicated for a multitude of reasons, with the most important being that most of the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at year end.  This casts doubts about the renewal of many tax extenders, like the AMT patch, and makes the possibility of across-the-board tax hikes, including the new 3.8 percent “medicare” tax on investment income and .9 percent increase one earned income, a likelihood. Individual taxpayers will want to be sure to make the most of the favorable tax savings opportunities while they are available in 2012 because they may not see such favorable tax rules in the coming years.  Although Congressional action between now and the end of the year may cause more tax changes, we have summarized below some year-end tax reminders and tips.

Annual Reminders

  • Estimated Payments – Make your 4th Quarter Georgia estimated payment in December instead of waiting until January 2013, unless you are in an AMT situation (see “Current Year Items of Interest”).
  • Tax Withholdings – If you have not had enough withheld from your 2012 pay, or you have missed an estimated payment, you can opt to have more tax withheld from your paycheck before year end in order to cover this potentially costly mistake.
  • Sell Your “Losers” – Don’t forget to offset any 2012 capital gains. Married taxpayers can take up to a $3,000 capital loss ($1,500 for single filers). Be careful to avoid “wash sale” rules by not buying the same stock within 30 days before or after the original sale; otherwise the losses won’t count.
  • Retirement Plan Contributions – Have you made your contributions to your retirement plans for 2012? The deadline for all types of IRA contributions is April 15th, 2013, you can make these contributions before the end of the year.

Items Set to Expire in 2012

  • Consider Converting Your IRA – With an expected tax increase post-2012 and into the future, you may want to consider converting your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. You would owe tax on the IRA amount currently, to the extent it exceeds basis, but upon retirement when tax rates are expected to be higher, all the distributions from the Roth, if the holding period is met, would be tax free.   The conversion of traditional IRA’s to Roth IRA’s is not an all or nothing proposition.  Also, the maneuver is particularly attractive if you are experiencing an extraordinary low income or loss year.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax – Unless action is taken in Congress, the exemption for AMT in 2012 will decrease to $33,750 for individuals and $45,000 for married couples. Favorable legislation passed in the House and Senate earlier in the year indicating action will be taken to increase these amounts has yet to be enacted. Therefore, taxpayers should not assume this change will take place and should be prepared if there is no increase.
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit – This enhancement to the Hope Education Credit that allows for a credit of up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of post-secondary education expires after 2012.  If not made permanent by Congress in 2013, it will revert back to the less generous Hope Scholarship credit (maximum credit of $1,950 and available for only two years).  In contrast, the still available Lifetime Learning Credit is a per taxpayer per year credit and can be claimed for an unlimited number of years.
  • Student “Above-the-Line” Expense – The Qualified Higher Education Expense deduction for tuition and fees expired last year.  For those who will are paying off student loans, the student loan interest deduction after 2012 will be limited to five years and phased out at lower AGI levels.
  • Social Security Payroll – Most taxpayers can expect a smaller paycheck in 2013 due to Social Security Payroll taxes withheld reverting back to their normal amounts. The social security wage base for this additional 2 percent is $113,700 in 2013 (up from $110,100 in 2012) and also applies to self-employed individuals, whose self-employment tax on social security will revert back to 15.3 percent in 2013 (up from 13.3 percent in 2012).

Tax Planning Opportunities

  • Child Tax Credit – The child tax credit for 2012 is $1,000 per eligible child, but going forward will be reduced to $500. Taxpayers should plan ahead for this reduction as the refundable amount also will be limited for those with at least three qualifying children in 2013.
  • Increasing Tax Rates – The current percentage rates of 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 are set to  revert to the pre-Bush tax cut rates of 15, 28, 31, 36 and 39.6 percent. President Obama has  proposed to keep the current structure, but replace the 33 and 35 percent rates with the 36 and 39.6 percent rates for higher income tax payers. Because of potential tax hikes across the board, taxpayers should discuss their income projections and tax plan for 2013 with both their financial advisor and tax preparer to ensure adequate estimates and withholdings, especially since the 39.6 percent top rate does not include the 3.8 and .9 percent Medicare taxes.
  • Capital Gains/Losses and Dividends – Beginning in 2013, the tax rates for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends will change. The rates will move from zero percent for taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent brackets and 15 percent for everyone else to 10 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket and 20 percent for everyone else, respectively. Dividends will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates (top rate of 39.6 percent, or 43.4 percent if the 3.8 percent Medicare tax applies.  Individuals should consider accelerating capital asset sales and C Corporations may want to declare and distribute special dividends before year-end).
  • 3.8 Percent Medicare Contribution Tax – 2013 also brings a new 3.8 percent “unearned income Medicare contribution” tax. The tax will target higher-income individuals, estates and trusts and will be assessed on the smaller of net investment income (NII), which is investment income minus allocable expenses, or the amount by which  an individual taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is over $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples). For estates and trusts, this tax applies to the lesser of undistributed NII or adjusted gross income (AGI) in excess of $11,950 for 2013. Estates and trusts should consider distributing NII to beneficiaries whose MAGI threshold is much higher.  Individual taxpayers, and certain estates with passive rental income, whose NII exceed MAGI and AGI thresholds, should re-do their triple net leases so they can actively participate in the management of their rental properties and avoid this 3.8 percent tax.  Income from taxable IRAs, social security and alimony is not investment income, but increases MAGI and could subject your NII to this tax.  Consider investing in tax-exempt bonds or funds which are neither included in AGI nor MAGI for investment income purposes.
  • Personal Exemption Phaseout and Pease – The personal exemption phaseout (PEP) and Pease (a limitation on itemized deductions) were repealed through 2012, but could be reinstated in 2013. A reinstatement of the PEP and Pease means taxpayers that have an adjusted gross income of certain amounts (estimates of the phaseout are said to begin at $178,150 for singles and $267,200 for those married filing jointly) will lose any advantage of personal exemptions and itemized deductions. Note that medical and investment interest expenses, gambling and casualty or theft losses are not subject to the Pease limitation.  Therefore, taxpayers should consider making additional gifts to charity this year.  Paying state income or real estate taxes in 2012 is a good idea too, unless you are subject to the AMT.
  • Medical Expense Deductions – As provisions for personal exemption phaseouts and limitations on itemized deductions are set to kick in, so is an increase to the threshold for the itemized medical deduction. Currently, medical expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) before they qualify as a subtraction to AGI. Beginning in 2013, the threshold will increase to 10 percent of AGI; however, individuals who are age 65 and older will be exempt from this increase through 2016.  If possible, taxpayers under 65 years old should take advantage now of the current 7.5 percent of AGI threshold by accelerating elective unreimbursed qualifying medical expenses.

Estate Planning

Estate planning is another important aspect of your financial well-being. This is an area of tax that is often convoluted and constantly changing. Some important and potentially drastic changes are set to expire in 2012. We have listed below the changes that we believe will have the most impact on our clients.

  • Estate and Gift Tax – The 2012 estate and gift tax rate is 35 percent with an exemption of $5.12 million. This will revert back to $1 million in 2013 as the maximum tax rate reverts back to 55 percent. Also, the portability rule allowing an individual’s estate or spouse to make the election on a timely filed federal estate tax return to utilize the “deceased spouse’s unused exclusion” amount (DSUE Amount) is set to expire.  If made, the surviving spouse’s unused estate and gift tax exemption amount available for gifting before the 12-31-12 expiration date, could be in excess of $10,000,000.  Therefore, individuals with significant assets should consider taking advantage of the higher gift and generation-skipping exclusions now.
  • 2012 Annual Gift Tax Exclusion – The annual exclusion for gifts free of any gift tax is $13,000 this year ($14,000 beginning in 2013) (married couples can gift up to $26,000) to each individual. Married donors can gift up to $26,000 in 2012 ($28,000 in 2013) per donee.
  • Year End Donations – When gifting to charitable organizations consider gifting securities that have appreciated. As long as you have held the securities more than a year, you take a deduction for their market value.

Business Planning

Business tax planning, like individual tax planning, will become just as difficult to plan for in the coming years because of the expiring tax incentives. The tips and changes we believe will be the most significant to our clients are listed below.

  • 2012 Section 179 Expense – Typically, for business property with a useful life of more than one year, the cost must be depreciated (deducted ratably over several tax years).  IRC Section 179 allows the business to fully expense the cost of eligible-tangible personal property in the year purchased.  The maximum amount in 2012 that may be expensed is $139,000 with a $560,000 investment ceiling placed on the purchase of all otherwise qualifying expenses.  In 2013, both the Section 179 expense and investment ceiling are scheduled to drop to $25,000 and $200,000, respectively.
  • Bonus Depreciation – Fifty percent first year bonus depreciation is allowed for the cost of new qualified property with a recovery period of 20 years or less placed in service (i.e., ready for use and not merely purchased) in 2012, but will expire at year end. Businesses should take advantage of these favorable expensing rules now while they are still available.
  • Dividends – Closely-held C Corporations may want to declare and distribute special dividends this year so shareholders may take advantage of the lower expiring tax rates and to avoid the 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income.

Additional Items to Note

  • IRS “Phishing” Scams – As was noted in last year’s letter, the IRS continues to battle cons taking advantage of taxpayers. They stress that the IRS does not solicit taxpayer information via e-mail and that any emails received from the “IRS” requesting personal information should be deleted immediately.
  • Audits – Taxpayer audits continue to be a problem for individual taxpayers. As the Federal government continues to struggle financially, the automatic notices for audits and penalties are sent out at a staggering rate. Please let us know if you receive any notice from the IRS as we are prepared to help you if you have any issues.

 As always, we encourage you to feel free to contact us with any concerns or questions you may have about your taxes.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

HOFFMAN & ASSOCIATES, ATTORNEYS-AT-LAW, L.L.C.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Procrastination: What Are The Consequences?

Currently, there are approximately 70% of Americans without a Will.  Without this basic estate planning document, your loved ones may pay the highest possible taxes upon your death, lose some of the assets you have earned during your lifetime, and will have to handle a much more complex administration of your estate.

By way of example, consider these famous deaths: Elvis Presley died suddenly at the age of 42 with an estate worth an estimated $10 million.  Of that amount, his daughter only received $3 million, as the other 70% was spent on estate taxes, administration costs and legal fees.  With a proper estate plan, Elvis’ daughter certainly would have received more than a mere third of her father’s wealth.

Famous for their chewing gum, the Wrigley family is another great example of a missed opportunity.  Both of William Wrigley’s parents died in 1977.  Their death gave Mr. Wrigley controlling interest in the Wrigley company, but it also left a significant estate tax burden due to the IRS.  The Wrigley’s had to sell their 80% stake in the Chicago Cubs for $20.5 million in 1981 to satisfy this debt.

Finally, Steve McNair, the famous NFL MVP, died in 2009 with an estate estimated to be worth $19 million but without even a simple will.  In attempts to settle his estate, his wife tried to sell his interest in a Nashville restaurant, his ranching and farming business as well as his Nashville home.  Not only did his murder shroud any hope of a amicable resolution of his estate, but the lack of any planning whatsoever left his wife and his children in a heated legal battle over the estate assets.

Although the most basic tenet of estate planning is a Will, the estate plan may and should encompass other aspects of your financial situation for when you pass.  Estate planning is thoughtful foresight that protects your family, provides for their future, and makes your wishes known.  If you pass without a Will in place, your assets will be distributed in accordance with State law in a process known as intestate succession.

Under the intestate succession laws in Georgia, a personal representative of the deceased is appointed by the Probate Court in order to marshal the assets, pay the debts and then distribute anything left over to the heirs.  Heirs are the closest relatives of the deceased, including the spouse, if living, and the children, including adopted and those born out of wedlock.  Stepchildren are not heirs.  Heirs of other degrees are determined if necessary.  A determination of the heirs is made by the Court, while your estate pays court fees, lawyer fees and other costs associated with probate handled by the Court and state law, rather than pursuant to your directions set forth in a Will. The Court and personal representative (which may or may not be a family member) may charge hefty fees (sometimes 5-15% of the value of the estate) to administer your estate.  Above all, this process takes time.  The probate of an estate handled by the court may take months longer than if you had clear, specific instructions regarding the distribution of your estate in a Will.

Having a Will does not avoid the probate process; rather, a Will is followed by the Court to determine who receives what property, who is appointed guardian of any minor children and who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the Will.

In order to ease the administrative burden on your family at your death and to save time and money on court costs and fees, you should plan accordingly now by contacting professionals who can help, such as an estate planning attorney, a financial planner, a CPA, and an insurance agent.  All can work together to help you prepare a plan that fits your family’s needs.  An exhaustive plan put in place by each of these professionals can also ensure you are taking advantage of any and all tax savings’ tools available to you.

Consider the following goals when thinking about your estate plan:

  • Determining who receives what share of your assets.
  • Deciding who will manage your estate and be responsible for distribution of the assets.
  • Selecting a guardian for your children.
  • If you own or control a business, providing for a smooth transition of management into the hands of persons who will effectively manage the business.
  • Arranging your affairs so that the chance for disputes among your heirs is minimized.
  • Making sure that your heirs can live with the estate plan. A plan that cannot respond to changes in the economy, or to unanticipated events, can burden the family.
  • For individuals with charitable wishes, making sure that your vision will be fulfilled.

With these overall goals in mind, it is important to move forward in developing an estate plan that fits your family’s needs.  At Hoffman & Associates, we define a basic estate plan as having the following essential components:

For individuals and families who are of higher net-worth, additional planning techniques may be introduced in order to reduce the estate taxes due upon death and take advantage of other tax savings strategies during your life.  Some of these techniques include:

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.