- Accelerate Deductions and Defer Income – It sometimes makes sense to accelerate deductions and defer income. There are plenty of income items and expenses you may be able to control. Consider deferring bonuses, consulting income or self-employment income. On the deduction side, you may be able to accelerate state and local income taxes, interest payments and real estate taxes.
- Bunch Itemized Deductions – Many expenses can be deducted only if they exceed a certain percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching itemized deductible expenses into one year can help you exceed these AGI floors. Consider scheduling your costly non-urgent medical procedures in a single year to exceed the 10 percent AGI floor for medical expenses (7.5 percent for taxpayers age 65 and older as of the end of 2016). This may mean moving a procedure into this year or postponing it until next year. To exceed the 2 percent AGI floor for miscellaneous expenses, bunch professional fees like legal advice and tax planning, as well as unreimbursed business expenses such as travel and vehicle costs.
- Make Up a Tax Shortfall with Increased Withholding – Don’t forget that taxes are due throughout the year. Check your withholding and estimated tax payments now while you have time to fix a problem. If you’re in danger of an underpayment penalty, try to make up the shortfall by increasing withholding on your salary or bonuses. A bigger estimated tax payment can leave you exposed to penalties for previous quarters, while withholding is considered to have been paid ratably throughout the year.
- Leverage Retirement Account Tax Savings – It’s not too late to increase contributions to a retirement account. Traditional retirement accounts like a 401(k) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) still offer some of the best tax savings. Contributions reduce taxable income at the time that you make them, and you don’t pay taxes until you take the money out at retirement. The 2016 contribution limits are $18,000 for a 401(k), 12,000 for a SIMPLE IRA and $5,500 for a traditional/Roth IRA (not including catch-up contributions for those 50 years of age and older).
- Reconsider a Roth IRA Rollover – It has become very popular in recent years to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. This type of rollover allows you to pay tax on the conversion in exchange for no taxes in the future (if withdrawals are made properly). If you converted your account this year, re-examine the rollover. If the value went down, you have until your extended filing deadline to reverse the conversion. That way, you may be able to perform a conversion later and pay less tax.
- Get Your Charitable House in Order – If you plan on giving to charity before the end of the year, remember that a cash contribution must be documented to be deductible. If you claim a charitable deduction of more than $500 in donated property, you must attach Form 8283. If you are claiming a deduction of $250 or more for a car donation, you will need a contemporaneous written acknowledgement from the charity that includes a description of the car. Remember, you cannot deduct donations to individuals, social clubs, political groups or foreign organizations.
- Give Directly from an IRA – Congress finally made permanent a provision that allows taxpayers 70½ and older to make tax-free charitable distributions from IRAs. Using your IRA distributions for charitable giving could save you more than taking a charitable deduction on a normal gift. That’s because these IRA distributions for charitable giving won’t be included in income at all, lowering your AGI. You’ll see the difference in many AGI-based computations where the below-the-line deduction for charitable giving doesn’t have any effect. Even better, the distribution to charity will still count toward the satisfaction of your minimum required distribution for the year.
- Zero out AMT – Some high-income taxpayers must pay the alternative minimum tax (AMT) because the AMT removes key deductions. The silver lining is that the top AMT tax rate is only 28 percent. So you can “zero out” the AMT by accelerating income into the AMT year until the tax you calculate for regular tax and AMT are the same. Although you will have paid tax sooner, you will have paid at an effective tax rate less than the top regular tax rate of 39.6 percent. But be careful, this can backfire if you are in the AMT phase-out range or the additional income affects other tax benefits.
- Use Your Gift Tax Exclusion – You can give up to $14,000 to as many people as you wish in 2016, free of gift or estate tax. You get a new annual gift tax exclusion every year, so don’t let it go to waste. You and your spouse can use your exemptions together to give up to $28,000 per beneficiary.
- Leverage Historically Low Interest Rates – Many estate and gift tax strategies hinge on the ability of assets to appreciate faster than the interest rates prescribed by the IRS. An appreciating market and historically low rates create the perfect atmosphere for estate planning. The past several years presented a historically favorable time, and the low rates won’t last forever.
A trust can own almost any kind of asset except for retirement plans. The types of assets that can be retitled in the name of the trust include cash accounts such as checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs; brokerage accounts; non-qualified annuities (and the trust can also be named as the primary or secondary beneficiary); monies owed to you; oil, gas and mineral rights; and royalties, copyrights, trademarks, and patents.
Tangible personal property such as jewelry, clothing, books, household goods, furniture, antiques, collectibles, artwork and pets can also be owned by a trust.
Business interests including shares of stock in a closely held corporation, partnership interests, and membership interests in limited liability companies can also be transferred to a trust, but you should consult any shareholder agreements, partnership agreements, and operating agreements for restrictions on transfers and specific procedures to retitle the shares in the name of the trust.
Finally, real estate can be retitled (or purchased) in the name of the trust, but the transfer requires recording a new deed in the locality where the real property is located.
The Amount of Assets Required To Establish A Trust
There is no minimum amount of money or type of asset required to establish a trust. Although a trust can be funded with a small amount of money, whether or not to create one is a financial decision based on the overall benefits and the estate plan, and not on the amount of the trust itself.
Trusts are discussed in more detail in my book “Nothing But The Truth About Estate Planning, Probate And Living Trusts”. Download your copy here: Nothing But The Truth About Estate Planning, Probate And Living Trusts by Larry Israeloff CPA & tax attorney.
Business succession – what happens to your business once you no longer choose to or are able to run it – is one of the most important and often overlooked issues small business owners face. As you launch your business and get it up and running, your focus is on maintaining and growing that business. Like many issues that involve planning for later in life, it can be unpleasant to think about what will happen when you are no longer able to do what you are doing now.
Unfortunately, a failure to plan can result in the unnecessary end to your business, cost you money and impact the security of future income. Creating your “exit strategy” by establishing a strong plan for succession ensures your business is protected and is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner. A strong exit strategy ensures:
- Business partners are not left dealing with complicated issues if your exit comes suddenly or prematurely.
- Insurance benefits are immediately available to pay for your share of the business, so there is no risk of external takeover or a need to force the sale of the business.
- A timely settlement of your estate, saving your family inconvenience, cost, and further emotional trauma.
Creating Your Business Succession Plan
According to the Family Business Institute, despite the assumption of nearly 90% of current business owners that their family will take over the business, only about 30% of these businesses survive into the second generation. Creating a succession plan ensures your family has the option of taking over the business, but it also allows them the freedom to choose not do so without losing money or forcing the business to fail. How can you create a realistic succession plan?
First, choose a successor. If you want your business to continue on in the hands of a family member, employee, or someone else, put a plan in place now. This gives you an opportunity to discuss succession with the appropriate people and determine if what you envision is also what your successor wants.
Next, choose the legal arrangement for succession. Your options include cross-purchase agreements or entity-purchase agreements. The former is structured so that all of the owners buy and own separate life insurance policies on each of the other owners. Each owner is a policy holder and beneficiary. Should one die, the life insurance proceeds are used to purchase the share of the business that belonged to the deceased. This arrangement only makes sense in businesses where there are few owners.
An entity-purchase agreement is less complicated because it usually involves the purchase of fewer life insurance policies. Such an agreement is structured so that only the business purchases separate life insurance policies on each of the owners. The business acts as both policy holder and beneficiary. If any owner dies, the business uses the proceeds of that owner’s insurance policy to purchase the share of the business that belonged to the deceased.
Your business does not need to end with you, but careful planning on your part is required while you are still here. The sooner you put a plan in place, the better for everyone involved.
It is never too early to begin retirement planning. Unfortunately, many people put it off. If you are wondering what you can do now to ensure you are set for retirement – even if it is decades into the future – consider these five tips.
Consider Your Retirement Activity Plans
People dream of their retirement, expecting to be comfortable. But many are unsure how to make the transition to a “life of leisure” once the time arrives. In order to make sure you have enough money to truly have leisure time, you need to determine how that time will be spent.
Are there dreams you have postponed until after you stop working? Do you want to travel? Are you hoping to stay active in your community? Will you be sharing the activities of your retirement with an also-retired spouse? The important thing is to get a handle on your retirement activity plans, so you can do what it takes now to make these dreams a reality.
Create a Savings Goal
Once you know how you intend to spend your retirement years, you can begin planning how much money it will take to live that way without a steady employment income.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Realistically, how much will it take to maintain your current lifestyle?
- Do you plan to drastically change that lifestyle once you retire?
- What will you add and subtract from the way you live now?
- What does your retirement income future look like, including savings, social security, pensions, etc?
Your goal is to create a ballpark figure you can work toward that will allow you to make your retirement dreams a reality. Once you have a number range in mind, you can better plan to accomplish that savings nest egg goal.
In addition to saving money for healthcare costs as you get older, there are a few specific things you can do now and in the years leading up to retirement that will help you ease the financial burden of your health as you get older. Investing in long-term care insurance is one of the best moves you can make now to protect you in the future. Some say it can be costly, but should you become seriously ill in your senior years long-term care insurance will help protect your savings by paying for a large part of the medical expenses. Plans vary so shop around.
The sooner you begin to pay down your debts the better your retirement funds will be. Avoid taking on any high-interest debt as you near retirement and focus on paying your higher interest loans as soon as possible. Ideally, you will have no debt by the time you reach retirement, but if this is unreasonable, focus on reducing it as much as possible.
Hire a Financial Advisor
If you are not already working with an expert to help you plan for retirement, now is the time to find someone. Your investment needs are going to change over the years and having a professional in your corner can really make things easier. Discuss the plans you have for retirement with your financial planner and let him or her help you create a plan that will get you to the point you want to be by retirement age.
The most important thing to remember about retiring is there are very few rules that are hard and fast that apply to every situation. Some people don’t even want to retire because they enjoy working and fear they will get bored with no job. Others want to retire earlier than usual or are willing to work just a few extra years to build up additional savings. Every individual has his or her own unique situation and should plan accordingly so retirement can be an exciting life transition.
Estate planners are often asked whether trusts are only for the wealthy. Though it is not necessary for some people of modest means to establish a trust, it can be a useful estate planning tool, even if you are not rich.
Trusts establish a legal relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another. Trusts offer peace of mind that your assets will be dispersed according to your wishes once you are gone. Like a will, trusts can be used for any type of property and allow flexibility in the distribution of this property.
When you create a trust, you transfer ownership of some or all of your property to the trustee, who holds that property for the trust’s beneficiaries. For instance, if you want to place real estate in a trust, you would have that property titled in the name of the trustee. Trustees can be family members, friends, a trust company, a law firm, or a specific attorney or advisor.
Who Needs a Trust?
Anyone can avoid court administered probate upon death with use of a trust, but you should carefully consider if the expense connected with forming a trust is worth the investment. You should consider a trust if you have:
• Privacy or probate concerns
• Substantial real estate assets
• Large life insurance policies
• Specific instructions for how your estate is to be distributed once you are gone
• Desire to minimize estate taxes
• Need to protect your estate from creditors or lawsuits
If your accounts are held in joint tenancy or you have named beneficiaries for specific accounts or property, a trust might not be necessary. These assets automatically become the property of the beneficiaries upon your death without probate. For instance, if you own a home jointly with your spouse and both of your names are on the deed, your spouse will automatically become the full owner once you are gone.
An attorney can help you determine if a trust is the best option for you and your family.
What are the Benefits of a Trust?
The primary benefit of using a trust is to provide direction for managing your assets if you become incapacitated and upon your death.
A trust offers a great deal of flexibility. It can be revocable, which means you can make changes to any part of it or terminate it until the moment you are no longer capable of making decisions or communicating.
A trust also ensures your beneficiaries avoid dealing with probate at your death, thus saving time and money. Probate is the court process by which your will is proved valid, and through which your estate is administered after your death.
Finally, trusts are private, so the value and contents of the trust do not become a matter of public record once you die.
Have questions about your personal need for a trust? Then just call us to discuss your situation.