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Tax Law

Monday, January 16, 2017

Guard Yourself Against Scam Artists


At least once a week, and oftentimes more frequently, I get a call on my cell phone from someone claiming I have won a cruise. While sailing to the Bahamas sounds appealing this time of year, I know this call is from a scam artist trying to get me to buy something or steal my credit card information, so I just hang up. The pre-recorded message (complete with seagulls crying in the background) and the fact that I have no reason to anticipate someone would offer me a free cruise, are clear indicators that there is something fishy about these calls. Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to spot a scam.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

It’s Time For End Of The Year Gifting


The countdown is on! The holidays and the end of the year are just around the corner. If you have not done so already, it is time to finish making any gifts and donations necessary to minimize your tax burden this year and at the time of your death.

Why Gift?

During the recent election it was revealed that president-elect Donald Trump had used very aggressive tactics in order to minimize his tax burden. Not all of us have millions of dollars in business loses that we are able to carry forward for years on end, but most of us do make charitable contributions throughout the year that can reduce our tax burden. By working with a tax professional now, you can figure out whether you are likely to owe taxes for the year, and if so, whether you can offset those taxes by making a charitable donation.


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Monday, August 29, 2016

How to calculate estate tax

In order to predict how much your estate will have to pay in taxes, one must first determine the value of the estate. To determine this, many assets might have to be appraised at fair market value. The estate includes all assets including real estate, cash, securities, stocks, bonds, business interests, loans receivable, furnishings, jewelry, and other valuables.

Once your net worth is established, you can subtract liabilities like mortgages, credit cards, other legitimate debts, funeral expenses, medical bills, and the administrative cost to settle your estate including attorney, accounting and appraisal fees, storage and shipping fees, insurances, and court fees. The administrative expenses will likely total roughly 5% of the total estate. Any assets that is bequeathed to charity through a trust escapes taxation, and the value of those assets must be subtracted from the total. Any assets transferred to a surviving spouse are not subject to taxation as long as your spouse is a US citizen.

If the net worth of an estate is less than the Federal and state exemptions, no taxes must be paid. However, the value of assets over the exemptions will be taxed. The amount over the exemptions is referred to as the taxable estate. A testator’s assets are taxed by the state in which the will is probated. Taxes paid by the estate to the state may be deducted for Federal tax purposes. The Federal exemption was $5.43 million in 2015 and is slated to increase in 2016. The top Federal estate tax rate in 2015 was 40%.

If an estate earns money while it is being administered and distributed, for example, if real estate is rented or businesses continue to operate, it will be necessary for the estate to complete a tax return and pay taxes on the income it receives. The net income of the estate can be added to the taxable portion of the estate if it is over the federal or state exemption. It is important to be aware that the laws surrounding estate taxes change frequently and require seasoned professionals to navigate, and to notify you if changes in the laws will affect your estate plan. 


Monday, May 2, 2016

What is a tax basis and how will it affect my estate plan?

A tax basis is essentially the purchase price of a piece of property. Whenever that property is sold, the seller must pay taxes on the difference between the sale price and the original purchase price. This concept applies to all property, including stocks, bonds, vehicles, mechanical equipment, and real estate. If debts are assumed along with the purchase price, the principal amount of the debt will be included in the basis. The basis can be adjusted downwards when a person deducts depreciation costs on his or her income tax returns, and may be increased for capital investments towards improving the property that are not deducted for income tax purposes. Selling a property that has been held for a long time can carry a serious tax burden because of inflation, particularly when real estate prices have increased.

When an individual receives property as an inheritance, the tax basis is reset to whatever the fair market value is at the time of the transfer of title. This means that the heir would pay significantly less taxes if that property is sold by the beneficiary than if the original owner were to sell it and devise the money to his beneficiaries. Most simple wills provide that all of a testator’s assets are placed into a residual estate to be divided equally among the heirs. This means that an executor must liquidate the assets of the estate and divide the proceeds among the heirs. However, because there is no transfer of title before the property is sold, the heirs are stuck with the grantor’s basis and they lose an opportunity for a sizeable tax break.

A person planning his or her estate may also reset the basis in his or her property by giving it as a gift directly to his or her heirs or by gifting the property to an inter vivos trust. These actions can have their own tax related consequences, or create other unintended problems for the beneficiaries. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can advise you on the most efficient way to pass your assets on to your heirs.


Monday, March 28, 2016

What is an Estate Tax?

While the terms "estate tax" and "inheritance tax" are often used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Let's try to clarify the difference.

Estate Tax

Estate tax is based on the net value of the deceased owner's property.  An estate tax is applied to these assets when they are transferred to the beneficiary. It is important to remember that an estate tax doesn't have anything to do with the beneficiary or that person's resources.

Federal estate tax only affects individuals who die with more than $5.45[s1]  million in assets and individuals with such large estates can leave that amount to their beneficiaries without being subjected to a  tax liability. Ninety-nine percent of the population will not owe federal estate tax upon their death.

In most circumstances, no federal estate tax is levied against spouses. As of the Supreme Court's recent ruling, this includes gay married couples as well as heterosexual couples. Federal estate taxes can, however, be charged if the spouse who is the beneficiary is not a citizen of the U.S. In such cases, though, a personal estate tax exemption can be used.  Even where remaining spouses have no liability for federal estate tax, they may be charged with state taxes in some states, taxes which cannot be avoided unless the couple relocates.

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax, as distinguished from estate tax, is imposed by state governments and the tax rate depends on the person receiving the property, and, in some locations, on how much that person receives. Inheritance tax can also vary depending upon the relationship between the testator and the benefactor. In Pennsylvania, for example, a spouse is not taxed at all; a lineal descendant (the child of the deceased) is taxed at 4.5 percent; a sibling is taxed at 12 percent, and anyone else must pay 15 percent.

Exemptions

There are exemptions that can reduce the amount of inheritance tax owed by significant amounts, but it is important that there be proper documentation of such exemptions for them to be applicable. Any part of the inheritance that is donated to charity does not require inheritance tax payment on the part of the beneficiary. Because of the inherent complexities of tax law and the variations from state to state, working with a tax attorney who has expertise with state tax laws s the best way to make sure you take advantage of any possible tax exemptions or avoidance.

 

Friday, March 20, 2015

How Does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Impact My Taxes?

Will I be penalized this year if I do not have health insurance?

Tax season can always be stressful, and now the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) add another element to be considered. This year's tax season is the first time filers will be asked to provide basic information about their health care coverage.

The ACA, or Obamacare as it is sometimes referred to, uses tax laws to encourage signing up for medical coverage through health care insurance marketplaces. The ACA contains tax credits for those who purchased medical insurance through a marketplace and a penalty for those without coverage. Some taxpayers might qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage.

The Obama Administration created a special enrollment period for this year only. It allows those subject to the penalty for 2014 ($95 per adult or up to 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater) to purchase coverage on an exchange before April 30. This will prevent having to pay the penalty (also known as a shared responsibility payment) again next year. The fee for 2015 is expected to be $325 per adult or 2 percent of income.

The penalty is supposed to encourage people to enroll, but there are timing issues. If open enrollment ends in February (like this year) or in January (which is a White House proposal for next year), the penalty's incentives diminish. For example, if you file your taxes in March and discover you need to pay a penalty because you are uninsured, you also learn you will most likely owe another higher penalty for 2015. For most people, this cannot be avoided unless they find a job with medical benefits or qualify for Medicaid.

The Winters Law Firm handles tax planning as well as all aspects of estate administration. We help individuals, families and businesses plan for the future and preserve assets. We are based in Valparaiso, Indiana, and serve clients throughout Northwest Indiana. Call today at (219)307-4373 for a consultation.


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