Musings from the CEO (Fall 2013)

Mike_Hoffman_17Here’s a dire prediction. You will remember 2013 as the year your taxes really went up! There has been a perfect storm of tax law changes that take effect in 2013, combined with the expiration of a number of recession tax relief measures, and the general prognosis that earnings and investment income are finally moving up in 2013 and into 2014.

In 2011 and 2012, those of you with earned income noticed a reduction in your Social Security withholding from 6.2% to 4.2%. That reduction is gone for 2013. You will also notice a Medicare tax increase of .9% that kicks in on earned income for those married taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $200,000 for single taxpayers and $250,000 for married filing joint. This was part of Obamacare.

Also related to Medicare is a new Obamacare tax on net investment income, which includes capital gains (even taxable gain on the sale of a personal residence) of an additional 3.8% for those individual taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of over $200,000 and married taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of over $250,000.

The personal exemption phase outs (PEP) were eliminated during the recession over the last several years, but come back for 2013. This means that the deduction you would normally get for personal exemptions is phased out again, starting for those with adjusted gross income of over $250,000 for individual taxpayers or $300,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

Similarly, the limitations on itemized deductions, which had been suspended over the last several years, come back with a vengeance in 2013. These so-called Pease limitations reduce your itemized deductions up to 80% starting with individual taxpayers with adjusted gross income exceeding $250,000 or married taxpayers with adjusted gross income of over $300,000.

The threshold or floor for deducting medical expenses has been increased by 33 1/3% for 2013. In 2012, qualified medical expenses in excess of 7½% of adjusted gross income were deductible as an itemized deduction, and that threshold/floor has been increased to 10% for 2013.

Tax rates in general have gone up as a result of legislation taking effect in 2013. The top individual income tax rate has increased from 35% to 39.6%. The dividends and capital gains tax rate has increased by 1/3 from 15% in 2012 to 20% in 2013.

The Social Security wage base increased from 2012 to 2013 up to $113,700. That is the amount of earned income which is subject to the Social Security tax of 6.2% for an employee or 12.4% on earnings considered as from self employment.

What does all this mean? Tax rates on earned income have increased from potentially 52.1% (46.1% federal income tax, social security, Medicare, and 6% Georgia) to 61.8% (55.8% federal income tax, social security, Medicare, Obamacare and 6% Georgia). That’s 18.6% increase, and that’s the best scenario. Dividends and capital gains tax has increased 41.9%, from 21% (15% federal, 6% Georgia) to 29.8% (20% federal, 3.8% Obamacare, 6% Georgia).

Primarily, it means get your year-end planning done soon to mitigate any surprises. The need and the benefit of accelerating deductions or deferring income could be the most significant you have ever witnessed. Caution is advised to determine if you are in an alternative minimum tax situation, as this will have a significant effect on some year-end tax maneuvers that you might employ.

Examine your withholding and estimated payments to determine that you have eliminated or minimized any under-payment penalty. Explore the use of a plethora of state tax credits that are available, particularly in Georgia, to pay your state taxes. This could result in saving anywhere from 10% to 40% of your state tax liability, combined with the elimination of any potential under payment penalties.

Most tax preparers have software available to run a mock-up of your 2013 tax returns. This could come in handy to guide you as to whether it is advisable for you to accelerate certain deductions, harvest some capital losses to offset capital gains, convert traditional IRA assets to Roth IRAs, or confirm that your judgment to do nothing is rational.

In addition to being a full service law firm, Hoffman & Associates maintains a stand-alone tax practice area dedicated to the preparation and filing of all types of tax returns. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any of us if we can arrange to assist you in achieving some significant income tax savings for 2013.

For more information regarding this or any other estate or tax 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.

Sopranos Star’s Will Creates Windfall for IRS

James Gandolfini, the actor best known for his years as Mob boss, Tony Soprano, on HBO’s The Sopranos, died of a massive heart attack at age 51 in June.  The actor’s unexpected death leaves estate planners wondering if Mr. Gandolfini had any legal advice when making his Last Will and Testament, as the largest stakeholder of his estate will be the U.S. Government.

Gandolfini’s Will leaves 80% of his estate to be split equally among his two sisters and his infant daughter.  The remaining 20% is payable to his wife. Though a formal inventory is not due to be filed in the New York Courts until later this year, most estimate Gandolfini’s estate to be worth approximately $70 million.  That sounds like everyone gets a nice piece of the pie, but the government gets first bite.  The New York and U.S. government’s combined share is up to 55%, meaning the IRS could get approximately $25 million.  While Gandolfini’s wife’s 20% share is not subject to such taxes, her portion is determined after taxes are paid, leaving her with about $9,000,000.

The IRS’ share is to be paid in cash, and it is due within 9 months of death.  Gandolfini, like many wealthy celebrities, has mostly illiquid assets.  So, his family will likely be forced to sell certain assets to meet this tax liability.

The lesson here is that tax planning could have saved the Gandolfini family millions.  Assets pass tax free to spouses, so there were ample planning opportunities for a marital trust.  Gandolfini could have taken advantage of gifting strategies during his lifetime to reduce the size of his taxable estate.  A Revocable Trust could have been created to avoid the public knowing these details of his estate plan.  And, the property left to his infant daughter could have been placed in trust so she does not receive her entire inheritance in one lump sum upon attaining age 21.

 Alas, we are only left to wonder if this estate plan meets Gandolfini’s wishes.  With such a disproportionate amount of his estate being distributed to the IRS versus his wife and two children, it leaves an unsettling feeling that he just didn’t get the right plan in place before his untimely death.

For more information regarding estate planning, 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.

Estate Planning for Women

Women are a powerful financial force in today’s economy as they independently earn, manage, and distribute more wealth than ever before.  That’s why at Hoffman & Associates we  feel it’s important for women to take control of their long term financial security and develop a proper estate plan.  A successful estate plan is one that helps protect and preserve your wealth, gives you control over financial matters, ensures children and elders are taken care of, and honors your strong charitable passions.

Today, women face many challenges whether married, divorced, single or widowed, including a possible lack of financial know-how, lower lifetime wages and compensation, and greater responsibility for caretaking of children and elders.  Why are women unique when it comes to estate planning?  First, because women generally outlive men by five to seven years, and the average age of a widow is merely 56 years young.  Some of these single women are faced with managing thousands and even millions in assets without ever balancing a checkbook.  For single working women, compensation is also a major obstacle as women tend to earn less over their lifetime as compared to men and many take time off during child-bearing years, which may affect social security and pension benefits.   Another challenge unique to women is their tendancy to be the main caregivers in the family, making it critical to develop a comprehensive plan for the care of minor and special needs children, as well as elderly parents.  Finally, women generally harbor more charitable inclinations than men making it a priority for them to consider philanthropy and giving as part of their estate plan.

Here is a  checklist women can use in developing a successful estate plan:

  • Become educated in the importance of tax planning, know the current tax laws, become familiar with exclusions and how to take advantage of them, investigate advanced estate planning tools and techniques, including trusts, gifting, and college savings plans.
  •  Create an itemized list of all property and debts, including, but not limited to, insurance policies, securities, bank accounts, real estate, jewelry and artwork, business interests, pension plans, IRAs, and other retirement benefits.
  •  Consult with appropriate advisors (estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor) and execute a Will to direct the disposition of your estate, designate who should be in charge, simplify probate, and name guardians for minor children.
  •  Consider a Trust for the protection of children and assets and to reduce the tax liability (income, gift and estate).
  •  Get general powers of attorney and advanced directives for healthcare in place.
  •  Create a viable plan to manage and preserve your estate, keeping in mind the changing exemption limits for passing assets.  Currently the permanent estate and gift tax exemption is $5,250,000.
  •  Consider having adequate life insurance in place to pay taxes if necessary and to help preserve your family’s lifestyle by paying for children’s education, mortgage expenses, taxes or other needs after your death.
  •  Record where a safe deposit box is located and maintain all important documents in an organized manner.  Maintain a written list of all current advisors and keep it with your  list of property and debts.
  •  Provide instructions regarding your funeral wishes and any prepaid funeral plans to whomever may be involved in making such arrangements.
  •  Consider charitable transfers to accomplish your estate planning goals. A charitable remainder trust, charitable lead trust, charitable gift annuity or outright gifts to any number of charities.
  •  If you are a business owner, plan for your business’ succession, so you are deciding who will manage your entity during illness, disability, or after death.

 

Although some women feel uncomfortable taking on financial responsibility for their  future and that of their heirs, we strongly urge every woman, whether married, single, divorced or widowed to take a careful look at their financial situation and plan accordingly. Married women should ensure their estate plan coincides with that of their husbands to adequately take advantage of tax considerations.  And since married women are more likely to outlive their husbands, they must be prepared to ultimately be responsible for the protection and distribution of all assets.  For many working women, their main concerns include retirement planning and long term financial security, guardianship for minor children, caretaking for elderly parents, lowering tax liability, and ensuring assets remain in the family bloodline. We encourage all women to consult with professional advisors to ensure adequate financial and estate plans are in place while also incorporating lifetime goals and wishes.  Hoffman & Associates has created specialized estate planning services  for women designed to address these specific needs.  For more information on our targeted services, please visit www.hoffmanestatelaw.com.

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.

Federal Estate Tax Planning

In order to keep the estate tax burden from continually growing in your estate with further appreciation, you may want to do what many other clients have done: introduce some discounting and freezing techniques to your overall estate plan.  Gifting is also important, as each individual can make annual and lifetime gifts tax-free and decrease the size of his or her estate.

A popular freeze technique is where a client’s interest in limited liability companies, corporations, partnerships or real estate (the “Property”) is sold to a defective grantor trust (DGT) in exchange for an installment note. The beneficiaries of the DGT will be the client’s children and their descendants.  It is called a “defective” trust because the trust is a grantor trust, meaning the IRS ignores it for income tax purposes, but not for estate tax purposes (i.e., the grantor trust is “defective” for income tax purposes).

A DGT allows the value of the assets in such trust to be removed from your estates for estate tax purposes; however, the trust and any transaction(s) between the grantor (you) and the trust is disregarded for income tax purposes. For example, you would still pay income taxes on taxable income of the DGT.  This is a good tax result.  Your assets are being used to cover tax liabilities attributable to a DGT. This “tax haircut” is, in essence, gifting (paying someone else’s tax liability), but the IRS does not interpret this activity as gifting.

Your interest in the Property will be sold to the DGT in return for an installment note payable to you.  This will “freeze” the entire value of the Property; for estate tax purposes the unpaid balance of the installment note remains in your taxable estate, while the Property is not.  An income stream is generated for you from the DGT via payments on the installment note.  The payments from the DGT to you are ignored by the IRS since the payments are coming from a grantor trust.  The only “leakage” is the unusually small interest rate we are able to put on the promissory note to you. As discussed, payments on the installment note are typically interest only but we can work with that number based on the income and cash flow generated by the LLC property.  However, keep in mind that it is advisable to pay the interest yearly as the IRS may frown upon a balloon note with the interest and principal payable at the end of the term of the note.

The sale to the DGT allows you to not only freeze the value of the Property in your taxable estate, but to also reduce the size of your taxable estate based on the income taxes paid by you for the DGT’s income taxes, again, the “tax haircut”.  Also, you are able to take advantage of significant discounting in valuing the fractional LLC interests being sold to the DGT.

The non-voting membership interest in the LLC would be partially gifted and partially sold to the DGT in exchange for an installment note.  This way you freeze most of the value of the LLC in your taxable estate, but retain control of the LLC via your continued ownership of the voting membership interest. The underlying property in the LLC would need to be appraised.  The fees for these appraisals can vary depending on the appraiser.  Once those appraisals are received, the non-voting membership interest of the LLC would be valued.  After the non-voting membership interest is valued, we would use this number to determine the sale price for the non-voting membership interest.

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.