Tag: estate planning

How Will Tax Reform Impact Seniors and Persons with Disabilities?

estate planning lawyer to assist with the effect of new tax law, and estate planning for tax purposes compared to estate planning goals and objectivesThe Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) is now officially law. Both the House and Senate passed the new tax reform bill in December with straight party-line votes and no support from Democrats. President Trump signed it into law right before Christmas. It is the first overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years.

It’s Good News for Most Americans

Retirees, most of whom are on relatively fixed incomes, are probably the most concerned about what the new tax law will mean for them. But, generally, they will be less affected than others because the changes do not affect how Social Security and investment income are taxed. In fact, many will benefit from the doubling of the standard deduction and, with the new individual tax brackets and rates, will be paying less in taxes when they file their tax returns in April, 2019. (Most of the changes will apply to 2018 income, not 2017 income.)

Key Individual Provisions to Know

Here are main provisions in the tax law that could particularly affect retirees and persons with disabilities. These individual provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025 so Congress will need to act before then if they are to continue.

(Mostly) Lower Individual Income Tax Rates and Brackets

There are still seven individual tax brackets and rates, but most are lower. Current rates are 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35% and 39.6%. Here are the new rates and how much income will apply to each:

Rate                 Individuals                               Married, filing jointly

10%                 Up to $9,525                           Up to $19,050
12%                 $9,526 to $38,700                   $19,051 to $77,400
22%                 $38,701 to $82,500                 $77,401 to $165,000
24%                 $82,501 to $157,500               $165,001 to $315,000
32%                 $157,501 to $200,000             $315,001 to $400,000
35%                 $200,001 to $500,000             $400,001 to $600,000
37%                 $500,001 and over                  $600,001 and over

Standard Deduction is Almost Doubled

For single filers, the standard deduction is increased from $6,350 to $12,000. For married couples filing jointly, it increases from $12,700 to $24,000. Under the new law, fewer filers would choose to itemize, as the only reason to continue to itemize is if deductions exceed the standard deduction.

 

Personal and Elderly Exemptions

Currently, you can claim a $4,050 personal exemption for yourself, your spouse and each dependent, which lowers your taxable income and resulting taxes. The new law eliminates these personal exemptions, replacing them with the increased standard deduction.

The blind and elderly deduction has been retained in the new law. People age 65 and over (or blind) can claim an additional $1,550 deduction if they file as single or head-of-household. Married couples filing jointly can claim $1,250 if one meets the requirement and $2,500 if both do.

Medical Expenses Deduction

Currently, people with high medical expenses can deduct the portion of those expenses that exceeds 10% of their income. For example, a couple with $50,000 in income and $10,000 in medical expenses can deduct $5,000 of those medical expenses.

The new law increases this to medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of income. In the example above, the couple would be able to deduct $6,250 of their expenses. Note that this part of the new law applies to medical expenses for 2017 and 2018.

State and Local Tax (SALT) Deduction

The amount you pay in state and local property taxes, income and sales taxes can be deducted from your Federal income taxes—and the amount you can currently deduct is unlimited. The new law limits the deduction for these local and state taxes to $10,000.

Residents in the vast majority of counties in the U.S. claim an average SALT deduction below $10,000. Most low- and middle-income families who currently itemize because of their SALT deduction will likely take the much higher standard deduction unless their total itemized deductions (including SALT) are more than $12,000 if single and $24,000 if married filing jointly.

Originally lawmakers in the House and Senate wanted to repeal SALT entirely, to help pay for the tax cuts, but lawmakers in high-tax states (specifically CA, IL, NY and NJ) fought to keep it in. Those in higher income households in high-tax states will benefit from the SALT deduction.

Lower Cap on Mortgage Interest Deduction

Currently, if you take out a new mortgage on a first or second home, you can deduct the interest on up to $1 million of debt. The new law puts the cap at $750,000 of debt. (If you already have a mortgage, you would not be affected.) The new law also eliminates the deduction for interest on home equity loans, which is currently allowed on loans up to $100,000.

Temporary Credit for Non-Child Dependents

Under the new law, parents will be able to take a $500 credit for each non-child dependent they are supporting. This would include a child age 17 or older, an ailing elderly parent or an adult child with a disability. It is temporary because it is set to expire at the end of 2025 along with the other individual provisions.

Higher Exemptions for Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

The AMT was created almost 50 years ago to prevent the very rich from taking so many deductions that they paid no income taxes. It requires high-income earners to run their numbers twice (under regular tax rules and under the stricter AMT rules) and pay the higher amount in taxes. But because the AMT wasn’t tied to inflation, it has gradually been affecting a growing number of middle-class earners. The new tax law reduces the number of filers who would be affected by the AMT by increasing the current income exemption levels for individuals from $54,300 to $70,300 and for married couples from $84,500 to $109,400.

Federal Estate Tax Exemptions Doubled

The new law does not repeal the Federal estate tax, but it eliminates it for almost everyone by doubling the estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for married couples. Amounts over these exemptions will be taxed at 40%. The new rates are effective starting January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2025.

Eliminates Individual Mandate to Buy Health Insurance

With the elimination of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, there will no longer be a penalty for not buying insurance. This is expected to help offset the cost of the tax bill and save money by reducing the amount the federal government spends on insurance subsidies and Medicaid.

The Congressional Budget Office expects that fewer consumers who qualify for subsidies are expected to enroll on Obama Care exchanges and fewer people who are eligible for Medicaid will seek coverage and learn they can sign up for the program. (Estimates of those who are expected to have no health insurance by 2027 are all over the place, ranging from 3-5 million to 13 million.)

Critics, including AARP, claim that eliminating the individual mandate will drive up health care premiums, result in more uninsured Americans and add $1.46 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years, which could trigger automatic spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs unless Congress votes to stop them.

Some claim the individual mandate helps to encourage younger and healthier Americans to sign up for coverage. Without it, the individual market might lean more toward sicker and older consumers, which might lead some insurers to drop out of the market. 29% of current enrollees on the federal exchange already have only one option in 2018. Others maintain that the mandate is not a key driver for obtaining insurance. About 4 million taxpayers paid the penalty in 2016.

Inflation Adjustments Slowed

The new tax law uses “chained CPI” to measure inflation, which is a slower measure than that currently used. This means that deductions, credits and exemptions will be worth less over time because the inflation-adjusted dollars that determine eligibility and maximum value would grow more slowly. It would also subject more of your income to higher rates in the future.

529 Plans Expanded

529 plans have been a tax-advantaged way to save for college costs. The new tax law expands the use of tax-free distributions from these plans, including paying for elementary and secondary school expenses for private, public and religious school, as well as some home schooling expenses. Educational therapies for children with disabilities are also included. There is a $10,000 annual limit per student.

ABLE Accounts Adjusted

ABLE accounts, established under Section 529A of the Internal Revenue Code, allow some individuals with disabilities to retain higher amounts of savings without losing their Social Security and Medicaid benefits. The new tax law allows money in a 529 education plan to be rolled over to a 529A ABLE account, but rollovers may count toward the annual contribution limit for ABLE accounts ($15,000 in 2018). The new law also changes the rules on contributions to ABLE accounts by designated beneficiaries who have earned income from employment.

What to Watch

Expect some clarifications and strategies as the experts weigh in. There will also undoubtedly be some adjustments as the new tax bill goes into effect.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions about these new provisions and how they may impact you or those you work with.

If you would like to have professional assistance determining how the provisions of the TCJA might affect you, then you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you evaluate the impact on you and your loved ones, as well as how you can plan around the TCJA to maximize the benefit to you and your family.

 

Differences between Lifetime and Deathtime Planning… Why a Comprehensive Estate Plan Must Include Both

According to a March 2017 survey by Caring.com, six out of ten Americans have no will or any other kind of estate planning. Many said they’d get around to it, eventually. When they’re old. (The survey did find that the elderly are much more likely to have some plan in place.) It’s all too clear that most of us think “estate planning” is a euphemism for “deathtime” planning. Indeed, in the Caring.com survey, one-third said that they didn’t need an estate plan because they didn’t have any assets to give someone when they’d died.

However, comprehensive estate planning isn’t just deathtime planning. It’s lifetime planning, too. It’s about ensuring that your medical and financial decisions can be made by someone that you trust when you are unable to make those decision for yourself. Lifetime planning can help you address potential tax liabilities, find you benefit programs you may eligible for, and protect your family from costly guardianship or conservatorship court. It can make sure that a trusted party looks after and protects your affairs, if and when you’re not able to.

Lifetime Planning Tools

As estate planners, we have an arsenal of lifetime planning tools to benefit our clients, and we custom-tailor such plans to meet each individual’s needs. Here are a couple of the most common (and necessary) lifetime planning tools you should discuss with us.

Revocable living trusts

When people hear the word “trust,” they may think of “trust fund babies” or think that trusts are something only for the super-rich.

However, a trust is simply a legal tool that can help almost anyone with property – not just the wealthy. In a trust, assets you own are re-titled and transferred into the trust. When this happens, technically, you no longer own your real estate, stocks, bonds and similar properties. Instead, the trust owns them all. But you still control everything in the trust: You can buy and sell these assets as if they were still in your name. In fact, revocable living trusts don’t even change your income taxes while you’re alive. You continue to file your tax returns as you always have, making them very easy to administer while you’re alive. As the creator (grantor or settlor) of the trust, you can continue to make changes to the trust as long as you’re competent to do so.

When you die, the trust becomes irrevocable, meaning its terms can’t generally be changed. At this point, your chosen successor trustee distributes assets to beneficiaries (the people, such as your spouse, children, a church, or other charity, you named to inherit from you). In many respects, the role of the trustee is similar to that of the executor of a will. But, a trustee of a fully funded trust doesn’t have to go through the both public and expensive probate process. Trusts are private, unlike wills, which can also provide valuable privacy to your family and ultimately help preserve your assets for the people you want to benefit from your estate.

Durable power of attorney

Durable powers of attorney come in two forms. With a standard durable power of attorney, a person is legally designated to act on your behalf, in the ways specified in the document. You can make the durable power of attorney broad in scope or quite limited, and it becomes active as soon as you sign it. Under this document, the person may sign checks for you, enter contracts on your behalf, even buy or sell your assets. What they can do depends on what you authorized in the document.

For those who ultimately may need long term care, having a durable power of attorney in place before the need for the long term care arises, can allow for eligibility for Medicaid benefits that otherwise may be beyond reach of the incapacitated person. If the power of attorney is not already in place when dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, or other debilitating diseases arise, the lack of a durable power of attorney could cost your family thousands of dollars a month.  A properly drafted and signed power of attorney can bring those funds back to the family – legally and ethically.

In the case of a “springing” power of attorney (POA), also known as a conditional power of attorney, the person only has this authority if you become incapacitated. At that point, the POA “springs” into action.  Florida law does not allow the use of springing powers of attorney any longer, but those signed prior to October 1, 2011 are deemed to be legally effective.  However, there is no statutory basis for forcing a third party to honor a power of attorney signed before October 1, 2011, so if you have such a power of attorney you may want to seriously consider having it updated to comply with the statute that became effective on that date.

There is no “best” power of attorney. We’ll work with you to determine which is the best fit for your needs and goals.

Health Care Power of Attorney

In an instant, an accident can change a healthy, vigorous person into someone who can’t make her healthcare decisions. Others face a long decline in mental capacity because of a disease like Alzheimer’s. In either case, you want to empower those you trust to make medical decisions for you. Though health care legal documents vary somewhat by state, the general principle is that, through this document, you authorize someone to make medical decisions for you, if and when you no longer have the capacity to do so. You can also communicate your desired treatment and end-of-life care. However, those instructions may not be valid in every state.

A Holistic Approach

Lifetime planning is a comprehensive approach to estate planning. And while it addresses needs of the living, comprehensive planning may also improve the after-death part of your plan as well, because it can reduce family conflict and preserve assets against court control or interference in the event of incapacity.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

For insight into how to establish a trust, whether it be a revocable trust or an irrevocable trust, and implement other lifetime planning options, call us today to schedule a consultation.

Not Just Death and Taxes: 5 Essential Legal Documents You Need for Incapacity Planning

Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes. Good estate planning includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself.

What happens without an incapacity plan?

Without a comprehensive incapacity plan in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered when considering incapacity planning: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.  If you are a young couple with small children, an even more important reason for incapacity planning is for you to designate the person or persons you want to provide care and make decisions for your children’s benefit if both you and your spouse are unable to provide care for your children.

  • Finances during incapacity

If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.  If you own and operate a small business, you should designate someone to preside over the company’s operations if you have become incapacitated.

  • Healthcare during incapacity

If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).

You must have these five essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:

  1. Financial power of attorney: This legal document gives your agent the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.

Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.

  1. Revocable living trust: This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustmaker,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustmaker, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust. But if you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).
  1. Medical power of attorney: This legal document, also called a medical or health care proxy, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated and are unable to communicate with your healthcare providers.
  1. Living will: This legal document shares your wishes regarding end of life care if you become incapacitated. Although a living will isn’t necessarily enforceable in all states, it can provide meaningful information about your desires even if it isn’t strictly enforceable.
  1. HIPAA authorization: This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to an agent selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release, even for your spouse.

Is your incapacity plan up to date?

Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.

 

Four Provisions People Forget to Include in Their Estate Plan

Even if you’ve created an estate plan, are you sure you included everything you need to? There are certain provisions that people often forget to put in in a will or estate plan that can have a big impact on your family.

1. Alternate Beneficiaries

One of the most important things your estate plan should include is at least one alternative beneficiary in case the named beneficiary does not outlive you or is unable to claim under the will. If a will names a beneficiary who isn’t able to take possession of the property, your assets may pass as though you didn’t have a will at all. This means state law will determine who gets your property, not you. By providing an alternative beneficiary, you can make sure that the property goes where you want it to go.

It’s also a good idea to name a “remote contingent beneficiary.”  A remote contingent beneficiary is the persons or organizations you designate to receive your assets if all of the beneficiaries named in your will or trust do not survive you.  Though in most cases that won’t happen, it is not a total impossibility.  By naming remote contingent beneficiaries to take in the event none of the other named beneficiaries survive you, you can choose which persons or organizations receive your assets rather than the assets going to remote relatives you never knew existed, or worse, going to the state where you live at the time of your death.

When naming alternate beneficiaries, be sure to take into account the alternate beneficiary’s age and condition, so that protective trusts can be used for minor children or grandchildren, or those with any form of incapacity.

2. Personal Possessions and Family Heirlooms

Not all heirlooms are worth a lot of money, but they may contain sentimental value. It is a good idea to be clear about which family members should get which items. You can write a list directly into your will, but this makes it difficult if you want to add items or delete items. A personal property memorandum is a separate document that details which friends and family members get what personal property. In some states, if the document is referenced in the will, it is legally binding. Even if the document is not legally binding, it is helpful to leave instructions for your heirs to avoid confusion and bickering. Often, it is the tangible personal property items that causes the greatest disagreements when an estate settles and is distributed to the beneficiaries.

3. Digital Assets

More and more we conduct business online. What happens to these online assets and accounts after you die? There are some steps you can take to help your family deal with your digital property. You should make a list of all of your online accounts, including e-mail, financial accounts, Facebook, Mint, and anywhere else you conduct business online. Include your username and password for each account.  Also, include access information for your digital devices, including smartphones and computers. And then you need to make sure the agent under your durable power of attorney and the personal representative named in your will have authority to deal with your online accounts.

Florida has specifically provided for access to digital assets by fiduciaries, including agents pursuant to a durable power of attorney, personal representatives of probate estates, and trustees of trust estates, in Chapter 740, Florida Statutes.

4. Pets

pet trusts, animal trusts, trust for pets, pet trust lawyerPets are beloved members of the family, but they can’t take care of themselves after you are gone. While you can’t leave property directly to a pet, you can name a caretaker in your will and leave that person money to care for the pet. Don’t forget to name an alternative beneficiary as well. If you want more security, in some states, you can set up a pet trust. With a pet trust, the trustee makes payments on a regular basis to your pet’s caregiver and pays for your pet’s needs as they come up.

We have a special interests in pets and pet trusts, and have provided continuing legal education programs to other Florida Bar members regarding the proper structuring of pet trusts.

Contact us to make sure your will, trust, or other estate planning takes care of all your needs, and your pets.