Upcoming Tax Changes: A Brief Overview

Posted by on Feb 19, 2021 in Legal News |

Well, we’re almost at April 15th again. “Tax Day” has been an unavoidable
“holiday” on the American calendar since 1861, when the Revenue Act of
1861 instituted federal income tax to help fund the Civil War. Though that Act was struck down, it got the ball rolling for what would become Tax Day. Though the date has changed over time, the purpose hasn’t. 

If you’ve filed your taxes already, good for you. If you haven’t, consider this your wake-up call to get going. As you can see, tax law has been changing since the Civil War. Though some years don’t bring new changes, others do, and 2020-2021 is absolutely a “new change” year, mainly thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Changes to Deductions

Standard

There have been a lot of changes to the standard deductions. For 2020, single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, and head of householder filers are all going to see their standard deductions increase. Single filers can take a $12,400 deduction, MFJ a $24,800 deduction, MFS a $12,400 deduction, and HOH an $18,650 deduction. These are all increases of $200-$400 dollars. 

Charitable

Thanks to the CARES Act, which was legislation instituted to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, you can deduct up to 100% of your AGI in charitable donations if you itemize deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can write off $300 cash in charitable giving.

Medical

You can deduct medical expenses that are above 7.5% of your AGI if you are taking the itemized deduction. 

Business

Self-employed individuals can take a bunch of deductions, including one for home office and travel expenses. But, note: if you were working remotely, like millions of workers, you won’t be able to claim a home office deduction because you don’t count as self-employed.

EITC

This Earned Income Tax Credit applies to workers who earned up to $56,844 during 2020. Depending on your filing status, income, and if you have kids, you’ll be able to save a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. Only 20% of taxpayers actually claim this credit, which is crazy, because it really can save you money.

Child

Families can claim up to $2,000 in tax credits per qualifying kid. This refundable credit means you can get up to $1,400 per kid as a tax credit. Depending on your situation, there might be other, small-print deductions you can (legally) squeeze in as well. 

Stimulus Checks, PPP, and Unemployment Benefits

Stimulus Checks

Did you get a stimulus check? Congrats! That is not taxable income. It is considered the same as a tax credit, for IRS purposes. 

PPP

Payment Protection Program loans helped small businesses stay afloat. With the PPP, as long as these loans were used for business expenses, they were forgiven. Expenses paid with PPP loans can, in fact, be deducted from your income, but you have to apply for loan forgiveness to the SBA. If you don’t apply, you won’t be off the hook.

Unemployment

The good news ends here, as you will need to pay income taxes on your unemployment benefits. If you chose to not have taxes withheld from the benefits, you’ll have to pay quarterly estimated tax. Or, you’ll have to pay it all on Tax Day. 

529 Plans and ESAs

Education was up in the air the past year, and money you took out of an education savings account of 529 plan might have been refunded by your college. If you got a refund, you have to put the money back in the account or use it to pay educational expenses. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay income tax on it and a penalty for withdrawal.

However, there are some new ways to use the ESA/529 for educational expenses. You can use your 529 to pay off fees, books, supplies, and even student loan debt.

Changes to Retirement Plans 

What the CARES Act Did

The CARES Act permitted people to tak
e up to $100K out of their IRAs and 401(k)s until the end of 2020, with no early withdrawal penalty. Though this is a bad idea—penalty or no penalty—a lot of people did it. Though there was no penalty, you still have to pay income tax on whatever you withdrew.

Traditional IRA Holders

Traditional IRA holders know that they have to take money out of their account when they reach a certain age, and these withdrawals are known as RMDs. The SECURE Act pushed back that “certain age” from 70 ½ to 72. The CARES Act went further and permitted seniors to skip RMDs with no penalty.

The SECURE Act’s Effects

Another thing the SECURE Act did for Traditional IRA holders was allow them to continue putting money in their account past 70 ½ years old. Note that you still have to pay taxes on the money when you withdraw it.

April 15, 2021. That is the date that you have to have your information in. If you make a mistake, don’t panic, as the IRS will try to work with you to correct the error. However, don’t be afraid to hire a tax professional or tax lawyer to help you get your taxes done properly the first time. 

Visit our website and learn about all of our services and how we can help you secure your assets. 

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Valentine’s Day: Love Can Be Blinding

Posted by on Feb 12, 2021 in Legal News |

valentine's dayValentine’s Day is a day of romance, chocolate, and roses. Named after Saint
Valentine, Valentine’s Day has been around since the year 496 A.D, but it wasn’t until the 1300s and 1400s that the holiday became associated with courtly love. In the 1700s, the trend of greeting cards, flowers, and confectionery as gifts began. Though it’s not a public holiday in America, Valentine’s Day is still one of the most-celebrated, grossing more than $20 billion in spending a year. 

Though love is beautiful, it is also blinding. And don’t feel bad about it either, because you can’t help it. Medical Daily reported on research studies that took brain scans of people “in love,” and researchers found that, though being in love activated some regions of the brain that had been dormant, there was another effect. When researchers showed test subjects pictures of their significant other and recorded their brain activity on an MRI, the MRI showed that the frontal cortex shut down upon seeing their beloved. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that is essential for judgment. 

Concerning news aside, you can take steps, right now, to ensure that you’re not blinded by love. We’ll talk about these legal tools, which will pick up the slack when your frontal cortex takes a vacation. 

To Whom Does This Article Apply?

This article will serve as a guide for people who are in the process of getting a divorce (or thinking about a divorce). Your frontal cortex took a vacation, but it has hopefully woken up again, and, now, you need to know how to protect your assets from your ex-beloved.

Hire a Lawyer 

Step one, get a lawyer. Every state’s laws differ on what is and isn’t marital property, and every state’s laws differ on the deadlines and processes required to get a divorce. You want to know what you’re walking into, and you can’t do that if you don’t know the law, which is complex, confusing, and ever-changing. Get a lawyer, and don’t try to go it alone. 

Identify What’s Yours

Something the lawyer can help you with is identifying what is and isn’t yours. Before you proceed with anything, you must know how much money you have and where it is. What’s in your name? Your property can include assets, mortgages, bank accounts, and more. A judge will care a lot more about a detailed financial record than he or she will about a picture of your spouse having dinner with someone else. 

Get Everything in Writing 

Courts might not be as shocked and awed at proof of your spouse cheating, but, again, what they really want to see is proof of assets. Be careful to have everything in writing, especially financial statements, documents relating to your home and business, and pretty much anything that could come up in the asset division. 

Don’t rely solely on electronic copies, either. Senior V.P. of Investments at Raymond James, Shelly Church, warns that it’s not unheard of for a vindictive spouse to change passwords on joint accounts, locking you out. Fire up the printer and get moving. 

Secure Liquid Assets

According to Church, the aforementioned financial guru, it’s also not unheard of for a spouse to take out all the money from your account and leave you penniless. If the two of you have a joint account, set up an account in your name and move your portion of the assets to it. Do not wipe out the account. 

In addition to being a not nice thing to do, wiping out the account will make you look really bad in the eyes of the court. It will backfire on you down the road. Just move enough assets to cover your bills and living expenses until lawyers and the court get involved.

Possibly a Financial Adviser

If you can afford it, it will help to have a financial adviser in your corner, especially if you’re not good with money. Jacqueline Newman, a NYC divorce lawyer at one of the top firms in the city, said that “non-financially-savvy” spouses need to go to a financial adviser who will “understand” and “connect” with you. That way, you’re not getting taken advantage of because of your lack of knowledge.

What You Want vs. What You Need 

At the end of the day, lawyers try to reach the best settlement they can for their client. You’ll hear a lot of, “Can you live with this?” and “Can you deal with this?” from your lawyer. Settlements will not be perfect, but if you have what you need, you should accept that you won’t get everything you want. Your lawyer will get as close as he or she can, but there will have to be compromises on your end, no matter how much you hate your ex-spouse.

This guide isn’t the be-all, end-all. Divorce is a tough time, but you’re going to feel even worse if you don’t get your financial situation squared away. The emotional process will take time, but the clock is ticking when it comes to defending your finances and future.

Care for your assets? Get more details from our website

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Super Bowl: Keep the Shocks in the Arena

Posted by on Feb 7, 2021 in Legal News |

super bowlWho doesn’t love the Super Bowl? Millions and millions of viewers watch
the Super Bowl every year, and it has been a national pastime in America since 1967. While the ups and downs of the famous game draw us in, you probably want to keep your real life shock-free. 

One of the most unpleasant surprises in life is being faced with a lawsuit. Hopefully, you have never been sued, but those who have know that it is an extremely stressful event. In this article, we’ll talk about ways you can “lawsuit-proof” your estate plan. 

Note that none of these tips is 100% foolproof. Like with what we might see at the Super Bowl, someone could get past your defense. But, as they say, the best offense is a good defense.

Wait…You’re Saying Someone Might Sue Me?

People fight. That’s the hard truth. It’s not unheard of for heirs to fight over an estate plan. And, in the legal world, a “fight” almost always means a “lawsuit.” Whether driven by grief or a misguided belief that they’re being swindled, heirs slap each other with lawsuits all the time.

This could have disastrous consequences. Your estate could be tied up in court battles for years, and litigators’ fees aren’t cheap. Not to mention, depending on the court where you live, your “dirty laundry” could be made public record. All this is added on to the toll that family drama takes on your loved ones. 

To lower the risk of lawsuits, there are some simple precautions you can take. This might not lower the risk of someone being unhappy, of course, but it could stop that unhappiness from turning into a lawsuit. 

Trusts Instead of Wills 

This first tip is more a case of problem prevention than problem-solving. A trust doesn’t need to go through probate court after you die, but a last will and testament does. 

The probate process can give rise to all types of thorny issues regarding the executor’s duties, asset division, splitting the expenses, and more. Basically, probate gives an already fragile family dynamic a stick of dynamite. Trusts bypass this process, which is unpleasant even for the most cordial of families. 

Estate Planning Letter(s) of Instruction 

An heir might contest on the grounds that your estate plan isn’t “what [you] would have wanted.” There’s an easy way to avoid such a contest, and it is to create a detailed “estate planning letter of instruction.” This letter will give your executors all the information they need to administer your estate. 

Topics covered in the letter can include passwords to accounts, subscriptions you need canceled, keys to safe deposit boxes, people to contact in the event of your death, and how your personal effects should be divided. 

If you feel it’s necessary, you can even explain why you want your family to end life support if you’re in a coma. Some letters of intent even go so far as to explain unevenness or “favoritism” in the will. A letter of intent will clear up confusion that could lead to a lawsuit.

Provide for Disinheritance

Essentially, disinheritance is when you leave a family member—who would have expected to get something in a will—absolutely nothing. There are some limits. First, in Florida, you cannot disinherit a minor child. Florida doesn’t want kids left homeless and penniless, and family disputes with minors aren’t usually serious enough to warrant as drastic a step as disinheritance.

Secondly, you can’t automatically disinherit your spouse. Your spouse must agree to get nothing from your estate, either in a Pre- or Postnuptial agreement. This probably won’t surprise you, but spouses usually don’t agree to that. 

Any legal disinheritance should be provided for in your estate plan, but be careful giving a “why” for the disinheritance. A court could find the reason you give is contrary to public policy and re-inherit the person.

Check Ownership of Assets

This is a simple one. You can’t give away something you don’t own. Make sure to check and re-check that you own the assets you’re giving away in your will or trust. Checking ownership will avoid a lot of legal tangles. 

Establish Mental Competency

In Florida, you must have “testamentary capacity” to create a will (among other requirements). Heirs will sometimes challenge testamentary capacity, claiming that the writer didn’t know what he or she was doing at the time. 

If this sounds like something your family might do, consider agreeing to an examination by a geriatric psychiatrist. That way, there will be no doubt of your competency.

Don’t “DIY” It

We might sound biased, but attempting to create a legal document without the help of an attorney is a bad idea. Don’t do it yourself, as there are a lot of minor technical aspects of the law that are easy to miss. Any little error could provide basis to challenge the will, depending on the situation. Contact an attorney to make sure it’s done properly the first time. 

Talk to Your Family 

A lot of knock-down, drag-em’-out lawsuits happen because the family is shocked at the results of the will. The shock and disappointment, compounded with feelings of grief, is a powerful combination. It’s best to make sure your family is not surprised by the terms of your will or trust. Talk to them beforehand so that they know what to expect. They don’t have to like it, but they should at least be prepared.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, they provide a few ways to soften the blow, especially if your estate plan contains news that your family might find unwelcome. Note that there is no “No Contest” clause in Florida (§732.517), and such a clause is unenforceable. Talk to an attorney to learn more. 

Visit our website to learn more about estate planning, trusts, wills and everything you need to know to keep your assets secure. 

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What Should You Trust? Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts

Posted by on Jan 19, 2021 in Legal News |

You’ve likely heard the word “trust” before, at least in some legal sense. A trust is a tri-party fiduciary relationship. A grantor transfers legal title to an asset to a trustee. The trustee then holds the asset for the benefit of the beneficiary until the grantor allows the trustee to transfer title to the beneficiary. During the time in which the trustee holds the property, they must manage the property or asset for the benefit of either grantor or beneficiary (or both).

Trusts have existed since the year 400 B.C. From what archaeologists have been able to find, early records of Roman law contain examples of “testamentary trusts,” a term discussed later in this article. By the 1500s, British common law would adopt those examples and add “inter vivos trusts.”

Centuries later, we have a body of law that contains dozens of types of trusts, all with their own legal requirements. In this article, we’ll be talking about two specific characteristics of trusts: irrevocable and revocable. 

Terms to Know 

There are three terms to know, in addition to the definition of a trust that is discussed above. These terms are: (1) grantor, (2) trustee, and (3) beneficiary. 

A grantor is also called a “creator,” “settlor,” or “donor.” This is the person or entity (such as a company, charity, museum, etc.) who is conveying the property in the first place. It is the person or entity that creates the trust. 

A trustee is the person or entity designated in the trust to hold equitable and legal title to the property conveyed by the grantor in the trust. 

A beneficiary is the person or entity that has the beneficial interest in the trust. This is the person for whom, at the end of the day, the trust was created. 

Irrevocable Trusts 

The Definition 

In an irrevocable trust, the terms of the trust (conditions, specifications, etc.) cannot be modified, terminated, or amended unless the named beneficiary gives permission to make changes. The grantor has effectively transferred their ownership, which legally removes their right to make modifications or cancellations. 

Types of Irrevocable Trusts 

There are really two main types of trusts that can be irrevocable. These include testamentary and living trusts. A testamentary trust arises when the grantor dies. It is specified in the grantor’s will, so it must go through probate. A trustee is appointed to manage the testamentary trust, which contains assets of the deceased. This trust reduces estate taxes.  

A living trust can be revocable or irrevocable. An irrevocable living trust is created during the grantor’s lifetime. A trustee is responsible for managing the grantor’s assets for the eventual beneficiary’s benefit. 

Reasons for This Trust 

Estate and tax purposes are the two main reasons that an irrevocable trust is set up. When this trust is made, the asset is removed from the grantor’s taxable estate. The grantor no longer owns it, so they do not have to pay taxes on it. The grantor is relieved of the tax burden, but they are also often relieved of any income the asset generates. 

Who is this Trust For? 

“Trust funds” have always been thought of as tools for the super-rich, but that isn’t the case. People who work in professions that might make them subject to lawsuits—lawyers, doctors, accountants, contractors, etc.—can use these trusts to shield their assets from lawsuits. A creditor can’t take what you don’t legally own. However, the loss of control and rigid terms are two disadvantages that often discourage people from forming them. These characteristics are not found in revocable trusts. 

Revocable Trusts 

The Definition 

As you may have guessed from the name, a revocable trust can be changed or amended, and terms can be eliminated without the permission of the named beneficiary or beneficiaries. These changes can be made by the grantor during his or her lifetime. A revocable trust offers a degree of flexibility that an irrevocable trust does not. Grantors maintain control. They can even get rid of the trust during their lifetime, if they want. 

Types of Revocable Trusts 

A revocable living trust is the main type of trust to know when it comes to revocable trusts. This trust is created by the grantor during his or her lifetime, and it is during that period that he or she can make changes. There are dozens of other types of trusts that can be revocable as well, but the concept of a living trust is the main one to know.

Reasons for this Trust 

A main reason people enter into a revocable trust is for privacy. A revocable living trust ensures that your estate, when you die, doesn’t enter probate court. Your estate’s possessions and assets are not dragged through the court system and publicized. A revocable living trust bypasses probate court

Additionally, revocable trusts adhere to a grantor’s wishes. They offer flexibility, and a grantor can change the terms of the trust if needed. They are not bound to their original decision-making. 

Visit our website to learn more about trusts.

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Why Partnerships Can Be Beneficial for Your Business

Posted by on Jan 12, 2021 in Legal News |

business planning

There’s no denying that 2020 was been tough on businesses. Nearly everyone’s business sustained some form of loss, and the governmental assistance, though helpful for many, could only do so much. Looking forward to the future, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This means that it’s time to talk about things that don’t involve mitigating or preparing for disaster. 

Namely, this article will discuss partnerships. This structure might be beneficial for your business, and, if you think a partnership is something that interests you, you should contact an attorney about filing any necessary paperwork. 

What is a Partnership? 

A business partnership shares the business between multiple owners (two or more). The partnership is a formal arrangement by the parties to share the business’ profits and manage and operate the business together. In a partnership business, partners might share in the losses and profits together. Or, they might have limited liability. 

What are the Main Types of Partnerships? 

General 

General partnerships are the most informal arrangement that you can have in Florida. A general partnership means that each partner is personally liable for not only the debts of the business, but also the actions of their fellow partners. In Florida, it is not difficult to start a general partnership. Choose a business name, trade name, draft a partnership agreement and sign it, and then apply for the appropriate licenses, permits, zoning clearances, and EID.

Limited

A limited partnership is similar to a general partnership, though it does have a few distinctive features. For example, a limited partnership must have at least one general partner. This partner must be personally liable for the business’ debts and claims, and the GP must manage the business. Other partners can be “limited” partners, who contribute capital and investments to the business but are not involved in management. If the limited partner is not involved in management, they aren’t liable for debts or claims. 

Limited Liability

A limited liability partnership is often preferred by medical, legal, or accounting practices. These LLPs are distinctive because, though they have the same basic structure and tax advantages as other partnerships, they have liability protection. An LLP partner’s personal assets are protected if there are claims against one of their partners. An LLP partner is not personally responsible for their business partners’ actions. Though assets held in the partnership can be liable for claims or debts, the LLP offers more personal protection to its partners. 

Advantages of a Partnership 

A good partner can bring things that you might lack, including specialized expertise and cash. A partner also allows you to share the capital expenditures and expenses necessary for your business, lessening the financial burden on you. Additionally, a partner can provide access to new business opportunities and inroads with investors or communities to which you alone might not have been connected. 

There are tax advantages to certain types of partnerships. According to the IRS partnership page, a general partnership might not have to pay income tax, as it “passes through” its profits and losses to the partners themselves. Partners might be able to deduct certain business losses from their tax returns. Note: it is important to contact an attorney for more information on what, if any, tax benefits you can get through a partnership. 

Disadvantages of a Partnership 

As with anything, there are drawbacks, even in the face of benefits. A partnership does somewhat involve a loss of autonomy, as you now have to consult with another person about at least some decisions (especially true in a general partnership, where everyone’s involved in management). 

Also, a partnership entails sharing losses. Though LPs and LLPs prevent personal losses, there is still always at least some extent of loss incurred together. In the future, you could also have issues if you want to sell your business and your partner(s) refuse. 

Lastly, there is always the chance of conflict. Though states have some laws about this (in the event of fraud or “insanity,” usually), these regulations are only put into use in extreme situations. Bickering and disagreement could be enough to sink a business, but it likely won’t be actionable in court. Choose your partner wisely.

As you can see, a lot goes into a partnership, and this article serves as only a brief overview. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or confused by this information, that’s perfectly normal. Law isn’t easy, but, luckily, lawyers exist. If you want to learn more about partnerships, consider booking a consultation with an attorney to talk about your options and visit our website.

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New Year, Old Habits

Posted by on Jan 5, 2021 in Legal News |

Well, we can finally say (with no small amount of relief) that 2020 is over! The bar is low, which means that all 2021 has to do is be better than 2020—an easy feat. Now that the New Year is starting, everyone is making New Years’ resolutions. Though these resolutions might be as simple as, “Survive,” they are still an important commitment to avoid falling into bad habits. Just making the resolution is the first step.

In this article, we’ll talk about some of the bad habits that often affect the legal aspects of your life, especially your estate plan. Being aware of these habits is the first step to changing them. 

Bad Habits to Watch 

Procrastination

Procrastination is a problem for a lot of people. It might be a small comfort to know that probably over half the population struggles with putting things off that they shouldn’t. In estate planning, procrastination can be really damaging. 

The damage in this field is caused by the fact that you can wait too long to do something. If you procrastinate on picking a power of attorney or setting up a healthcare directive, and you get sick, things will become much more difficult for you than they would have been, had you gotten around to it earlier. 

Here are five tips from Inc.com to beat procrastination: 

1. Start easy. That helps you build momentum, and you’re more likely to finish a job if you get over the beginning hump than if you never start at all. 

2. Break it down. Big tasks get easier when you disassemble them into smaller steps. 

3. Be nice to yourself. Strictness doesn’t always help—what’s done is done, it’s time to move on. Don’t beat yourself up for past procrastination.

4. Know “why.” Is there a particular reason you’re procrastinating this task? Getting an answer to that question might make it easier to finish. 

5. Be mindful. Don’t dwell on perfectionism or fear of failure. Doubt the doubts.

Don’t Ignore Your “Future Self” 

Particularly if you’re currently in good health, it can be easy to ignore a future where you are sick or bedridden. That is not a good idea. As 2020 taught us, you can’t disregard the unexpected by assuming it won’t happen to you. Picking a power of attorney and getting together an estate plan will benefit a “future” you…but that future you might not be so far off as you think.

“Wait and See” Attitude

A good example of this one relates to marriage and divorce. If you have an estate plan and someone marries into your family, you might decide to wait and see if the marriage works before you add them into your asset division. 

While that is a sensible approach, we have a word of caution. “Wait and see” can easily lead to forgetting or procrastinating. Ten or fifteen years down the line, you might forget that you planned to return to the estate plan, and that could leave your new family member in a bind. 

Not Taking Estate Planning Seriously

This habit is commonly seen among younger people. If you’re under fifty, you might view estate planning as something that’s only good for older generations. However, that’s not the case. As we have said earlier in this article, 2020 proved that anything can happen. Betting on your current healthy status is not quite such a sure thing as you may think. It’s best to spend the money necessary to meet with an attorney and get an estate plan together. This is doubly important if you have or are planning to have kids.  

DIY-ing It

Sites that allow you to fill out your own legal paperwork are, arguably, convenient, but are they accurate? The law is filled with little technicalities. On these websites themselves, they acknowledge that, often stating at the bottom (in small print), that they’re “not a substitute” for an actual attorney’s legal advice. 

These main bad habits might not be too hard to break, but, if you’re not aware of them, they definitely will be. In estate planning, these five are all too common. In 2021, let’s leave these back with the rest of 2020.

Want to learn more about planning? Visit our website and get more details. 

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