new tax law estate planning
Estate Planning

New Bill is Potential Game Changer for Your Family’s Tax Strategy

If you follow the mainstream or social media news, you likely know the new Republican tax bill, which recently passed both the House and Senate, is a potential game changer for tax planning. Known as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” both houses of Congress passed different versions of the bill, so it’s unclear what the final legislation will include, or if it will even pass. If passed, the new bill is a potential game changer for your family's tax strategy.

That said, both versions include some common elements, and since we’re close to year end, it’s important to understand what these potential changes might mean for your family’s tax planning. For example, if you are a W-2 employee, you may want to start a side-line business in 2018 to offset some of the potential negative impact of the tax law changes, and we may be able to help you with that.  If you have specific questions on personal impact to you, contact us prior to year-end so we can discuss.

You can use this knowledge to implement tax-saving strategies—by potentially deferring income to 2018 or accelerating deductions into 2017—if you take action before year end. 

But keep in mind: None of this is set in stone, yet. By the time this article is published, we’ll certainly have more information. And one thing is for sure, knowledgeable, proactive planning is always wise, especially when supported by a trusted advisor who can guide you.

Higher Standard Deduction

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill increase the standard deductions to nearly identical levels: $12,200 for singles and $24,400 for joint filers in the House and $12,000 and $24,000 in the Senate. Both plans eliminate personal exemptions, though, so those with dependents won’t see quite as much savings. And if you’ve deducted medical expenses and/or charitable donations in the past, that would be eliminated. So if you donate to charity and are able to write off your donations because you itemize your expenses rather than take the standard deduction, consider increasing your charitable donations this year, as they may not be deductible next year.

Changes to Mortgage Interest Deduction

The bill keeps the mortgage interest deduction, but adds some new limits. Current homeowners can continue deducting mortgage interest up to $1 million. For new home buyers, however, the deduction will be capped at $500,000. And the bill only allows homeowners to take the deduction for their primary residence, not vacation and/or second homes. What’s more, the bill no longer permits taxpayers to deduct the interest on home equity loans or lines of credit.

Increased Child Tax Credit

Those with young children will see an increase in the child tax credit, too. The House raises the credit to $1,600 per child, with a phase-out for joint filers with an income of $230,000. The Senate plan boosts the child credit to $2,000 per child and sets the phase-out at $500,000.

Expanded Estate Tax Exemption

The House bill sets in motion a full repeal of the estate tax  by 2024, but it boosts the exemption from its current $5.49 million to $10 million starting in 2018. The Senate doesn’t repeal the estate tax, but it does significantly raise the exemption to $11.2 million. Chances are you aren’t impacted by the current estate tax, but if you are, contact us so we can take advantage of potential opportunities to save going into 2018, as it’s likely that the estate tax exemption amount will be rolled back after future elections.

Eliminated State and Local Income Tax Deductions

Both bills repeal deductions for state and local income taxes. However, they do still allow for up to a $10,000 deduction for state and local property taxes.

Changes to Medical Expense Deduction

In terms of the itemized medical expense deduction, the House plans to totally eliminate it, while the Senate’s bill keeps it and reduces the income threshold above which medical expenses are deductible from 10% to 7.5%

To review your tax strategies and possibly benefit from these potential changes, contact us right away—time is of the essence! And, at the same time, it’s never too late to start planning for next year. So even if it’s after the 1st, contact us to begin planning for next year now. Schedule online.

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estate planning for high school graduates and college students
Estate Planning

Pay For a Loved One’s Education With an Education Trust Fund

Pay For a Loved One's Education With an Education Trust Fund

Today’s parents are all too familiar with the budget-busting cost of funding a child’s college education. It can be challenging enough to put aside sufficient savings for a single child’s education, but for multiple kids, the price tag can make donating a kidney for extra cash seem downright reasonable! Can you pay for a loved one's education with an education trust fund?

In fact, a survey by The College Board found that the “moderate” cost for all expenses (tuition, fees, books, room and board) for a year of in-state public college averaged $24,610 in 2016-2017. A similarly moderate budget for a private college averaged $49,320.

But don’t freak out just yet! If you’re savvy about estate planning, you can use an education trust fund to save for your child or grandchild’s education expenses and specify exactly how you want those funds used.

You can create an education trust that is payable during your lifetime (living trust) or upon your death (testamentary trust). The disbursements from the trust are designated for a beneficiary's education, and you can specifically designate how and when the funds are to be distributed—meaning the beneficiary can only receive the funds if they’re compliant with your terms.

Education trusts can be used to fund not only a traditional university education, but any type of  learning institution, such as trade schools, educational workshops, community colleges, and private academies. Or even alternative education, such as travel, workshops, retreats, business building programs, and the like. You get to decide exactly how broad or how limited the use of the funds can be.

Trusts can be created for multiple beneficiaries, whether through separate trusts for each individual or a single trust that funds all beneficiaries. If a single trust is established for multiple beneficiaries, you can require the assets to be distributed in a number of ways: equally, using a set amount, by percentage, or the decision as to how much each beneficiary receives can be left to the trustee’s discretion.  

Education trusts aren’t generally set up as tax-saving vehicles, as would be the case with a traditional 529 Plan (which does provide tax savings, but has much more restrictive use). That said, there could be some tax savings if the income of the trust is taxed at your beneficiary’s tax rate, which could be lower than your personal tax rate on income. 

The only part of the trust that will be taxable is income earned by the investments in the trust (interest and dividends). The trust owes yearly income taxes on income above $600; however, if the trust distributes that income, the beneficiary is responsible for paying taxes at their rate.

The trust is only responsible for taxes on income not distributed by year’s end. And that income is taxed at trust tax rates, which could be higher than the beneficiary’s rate—and possibly even higher than your personal tax rate, so make sure you are clear about whether income should be distributed before year’s end for each year the trust earns income.

If the education trust is irrevocable, meaning that the gift cannot be taken back, and the amount contributed is less than the annual gift tax exemption amount ($14,000 in 2017), then no gift-tax return is required. If the gift exceeds that amount, then it would be necessary to file a gift-tax return, reporting the gift and using up part of your lifetime exemption of $5.49 million. A married couple can exempt $10.98 million in their lifetime.

If you’re interested in funding your children’s or grandchildren’s education using an education trust, we can walk you step-by-step through the process. Schedule online.

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tax benefits of second home
Estate Planning

Tax Benefits of Buying a Second Home

Buying a second home can provide you with a place to relax, unwind, and escape from it all. It can also provide you with substantial savings if you take advantage of these tax benefits of buying a second home.

Mortgage Interest

Mortgage interest paid on up to $1.1 million in debt on your first and second homes is fully deductible. Typically, this rule only applies if you treat your second home as a home and not a rental property. But some mortgage interest may still be deductible if you occasionally rent out your second home. To benefit from this deduction, you must use the property for 14 days or more than 10% of the number of days you rent it out a year, whichever is longer.

Tax-Free Profit

You can take up to $500,000 in profit from the sale of a home tax-free if it is your primary residence and you meet the two-year ownership and use requirement. Typically, you do not get the same tax benefit from the sale of a second home. But people have taken advantage of this rule by converting their second home to their primary residence before the sale, thus reaping the tax-free profit.

But in 2009, Congress added a few more restrictions to limit the amount of tax-free profit you can take from a second home. Now, a portion of the profit from the sale of a second home is taxable. The portion is determined by the ratio of the amount of time after 2008 you treated the residence as a second home or rental property and the amount of time you owned it.

Buying a second home can offer many benefits. But to maximize the value of your investment, work with a lawyer to make sure you are not overlooking any potential legal, insurance, financial, or tax problems or opportunities. You must meet other requirements—such as living in the home for two years before you sell it—to take advantage of some of these tax benefits. We can help you ensure you meet the requirements, so you can reap all the benefits of owning a second home. Schedule online.

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celebrity estate planning mistakes
Estate Planning

Tax Lessons to be Learned from Celebrity Estate Plans

A celebrity's image and likeness can continue to produce considerable income after death. This type of intellectual property is considered part of your estate, and the IRS can tax its value. In the case of pop star Michael Jackson’s estate, that recently meant an IRS bill to the tune of $64.5 million, years after his death, which is about 40% of his likeness’ valuation of $161 million. We can all learn tax lessons from celebrity estate plans.

Michael Jackson’s estate planning fail could certainly have been avoided by using one of these estate-planning strategies that minimize the taxable value of a person’s image and likeness.

Charitable Bequests

Robin Williams made a charitable bequest of his image and likeness to a foundation. It was set up in his name, allowing his estate to get a charitable deduction against the estate tax.

Time Bans

Williams also established a 25-year time ban to prevent any future exploitation of his image. A time restriction lowers the value of a celebrity’s name and likeness because the value is typically lower at the end of the ban than at the date of death.

State of Residence

Some states don’t recognize inheritable postmortem rights to likeness. This means the estate can’t profit from it. Consider your state’s laws when estate planning so you can benefit from any available tax breaks.

Consult with Multiple Appraisers

Get one appraisal and have another appraiser act as a consultant to point out where there might be room to argue against the valuation.

Celebrity estate planning fails grace the cover of tabloids and news sites as soon as weeks after their deaths. Fortunately, they provide valuable estate planning lessons for the rest of us. While their fails may be more expensive, even a small fail can have a huge impact on your family’s future and well-being. Don’t leave your family holding the bag, especially an empty one. 

Your family is worth the time for you to have a Family Wealth Planning Session with us so you can make empowered, informed choices for the people you love. We can walk you step by step through a process that will minimize your tax liability and keep your family out of court and out of conflict.

Our Family Wealth Planning Session guides you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of and you’ll leave the Session with absolute clarity about how to make the best choices for your life and death. Schedule online.

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