Most people are genuinely appreciative of inheritances. But sometimes it may be too good to be true. While inherited property is typically tax-free to the recipient, this isn’t the case with an asset that’s considered income in respect of a decedent (IRD). If you inherit previously untaxed property, such as an IRA or other retirement account, the resulting IRD can produce significant income tax liability.
IRD is income that the deceased was entitled to, but hadn’t yet received, at the time of his or her death. It’s included in the deceased’s estate for estate tax purposes, but not reported on his or her final income tax return, which includes only income received before death.
To ensure that this income doesn’t escape taxation, the tax code provides for it to be taxed when it’s distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries. Also, IRD retains the character it would have had in the deceased’s hands. For example, if the income would have been long-term capital gain to the deceased, it’s taxed as such to the beneficiary.
IRD can come from various sources, such as unpaid salary and distributions from traditional IRAs. In addition, IRD results from deferred compensation benefits and accrued but unpaid interest, dividends and rent.
What recipients can do
If you inherit IRD property, you may be able to minimize the tax impact by taking advantage of the IRD income tax deduction. This frequently overlooked write-off allows you to offset a portion of your IRD with any estate taxes paid by the deceased’s estate that was attributable to IRD assets.
You can deduct this amount on Schedule A of your federal income tax return as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. But unlike many other deductions in that category, the IRD deduction isn’t subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income floor. Therefore, it hasn’t been suspended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Keep in mind that the IRD deduction reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, IRD. And if the value of the deceased’s estate isn’t subject to estate tax — because it falls within the estate tax exemption amount ($11.18 million for 2018), for example — there’s no deduction at all.
Calculating the deduction can be complex, especially when there are multiple IRD assets and beneficiaries. Basically, the estate tax attributable to a particular asset is determined by calculating the difference between the tax actually paid by the deceased’s estate and the tax it would have paid had that asset’s net value been excluded.
IRD property can result in an unpleasant tax surprise. We can help you identify IRD assets and determine their tax implications.
You may have breathed a sigh of relief after filing your 2017 income tax return (or requesting an extension). But if your office is strewn with reams of paper consisting of years’ worth of tax returns, receipts, canceled checks and other financial records (or your computer desktop is filled with a multitude of digital tax-related files), you probably want to get rid of what you can. Follow these retention guidelines as you clean up.
Retain records that support items shown on your tax return at least until the statute of limitations runs out — generally three years from the due date of the return or the date you filed, whichever is later. That means you can now potentially throw out records for the 2014 tax year if you filed the return for that year by the regular filing deadline. But some records should be kept longer.
For example, there’s no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one. So you’ll generally want to keep copies of your returns themselves permanently, so you can show that you did file a legitimate return.
Also bear in mind that, if you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, the statute of limitations period is six years.
Some specifics for businesses
Records substantiating costs and deductions associated with business property are necessary to determine the basis and any gain or loss when the property is sold. According to IRS guidelines, you should keep these for as long as you own the property, plus seven years.
The IRS recommends keeping employee records for three years after an employee has been terminated. In addition, you should maintain records that support employee earnings for at least four years. (This timeframe generally will cover varying state and federal requirements.) Also keep employment tax records for four years from the date the tax was due or the date it was paid, whichever is longer.
For travel and transportation expenses supported by mileage logs and other receipts, keep supporting documents for the three-year statute of limitations period.
Regulations for sales tax returns vary by state. Check the rules for the states where you file sales tax returns. Retention periods typically range from three to six years.
When in doubt, don’t throw it out
It’s easy to accumulate a mountain of paperwork (physical or digital) from years of filing tax returns. If you’re unsure whether you should retain a document, a good rule of thumb is to hold on to it for at least six years or, for property-related records, at least seven years after you dispose of the property. But, again, you should keep tax returns themselves permanently, and other rules or guidelines might apply in certain situations. Please contact us with any questions.
Today, it’s not unusual for a family to include children from prior marriages. These “blended” families can create estate planning complications that may lead to challenges in the courts after your death.
Fortunately, you can reduce the chances of family squabbles by using estate planning techniques designed to preserve wealth for your heirs in the manner you want, with a minimum of estate tax erosion, if any. Here are four examples:
1. Will. Your will generally determines who gets what, when, where and how. It may be combined with “inter vivos trusts” established during your lifetime or be used to create testamentary trusts, or both. While you can include a few tweaks for your blended family through a codicil to the will, if the intended changes are substantive — such as removing an ex-spouse and adding a new spouse — you should meet with your estate planning attorney to have a new will prepared.
2. Living trust. The problem with a will is that it has to pass through probate. In some states, this can be a costly and time-consuming process. Alternatively, you might transfer assets to a living trust and designate members of your blended family as beneficiaries. Unlike with a will, these assets are exempt from probate. With a revocable living trust, the most common version, you retain the right to change beneficiaries and distribution amounts. Typically, a living trust is viewed as a supplement to — not a replacement for — a basic will.
3. Prenuptial agreement. Generally, a “prenup” executed before marriage defines which assets are characterized as the separate property of one spouse or community property of both spouses upon divorce or death. As such, prenuptial agreements are often used to preserve wealth for the children of a first marriage before an individual enters into a second union. It may also include other directives, such as estate tax elections, that would occur if the marriage dissolved. Be sure to investigate state law concerning the validity of your prenup.
4. Marital trust. This type of a trust can be customized to meet the needs of blended families. It can provide income for the surviving spouse and preserve the principal for the deceased spouse’s designated beneficiaries, who may be the children of prior relationships. If certain tax elections are made, estate tax that is due at the first death can be postponed until the death of the surviving spouse.
These are just four estate planning strategies that could prove helpful for blended families. You might use others, or variations on these themes, for your personal situation. Consult with us to develop a comprehensive plan.
Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. The deadline for 2017 contributions is April 17, 2018. Deductible contributions will lower your 2017 tax bill, but even nondeductible contributions can be beneficial.
Don’t lose the opportunity
The 2017 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2017). But any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.
This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So to maximize your potential for tax-deferred or tax-free savings, it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.
3 types of contributions
If you haven’t already maxed out your 2017 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 17:
1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2017 tax return. If you or your spouse does participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) phaseout:
- For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:
- For a spouse who participates: $99,000–$119,000.
- For a spouse who doesn’t participate: $186,000–$196,000.
- For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $62,000–$72,000.
Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution; those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.
2. Roth. With Roth IRAs, contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:
- For married taxpayers filing jointly: $186,000–$196,000.
- For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $118,000–$133,000.
You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth.
Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.
Maximize your tax-advantaged savings
Traditional and Roth IRAs provide a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more about making 2017 contributions and making the most of IRAs in 2018 and beyond.
A traditional trust can sometimes create a conflict between the lifetime and remainder beneficiaries. For example, investment strategies that provide growth that benefits remainder beneficiaries can leave lifetime beneficiaries with little or no annual payouts. This makes it more difficult for your estate plan to achieve your objectives and places your trustee in a difficult position. A total return unitrust (TRU) may offer a solution.
A TRU frees the trustee to employ investment strategies that maximize growth (total return) for the remainder beneficiaries without depriving lifetime beneficiaries of income. Rather than pay out its income to the lifetime beneficiary, a TRU pays out a fixed percentage (typically between 3% and 5%) of the trust’s value, recalculated annually, regardless of the trust’s earnings.
Issues to consider when creating a TRU
It’s important to plan a TRU carefully, such as by projecting the benefits your beneficiaries will enjoy under various scenarios, including different payout rates, investment strategies and market conditions. Keep in mind that, for a TRU to be effective, it must produce returns that outperform the payout rate, so don’t set the rate too high.
Your state’s trust laws also must be considered. Some states don’t allow TRUs. Also, many states establish payout rates (or ranges of permissible rates) for TRUs, so your flexibility in designing a TRU may be limited. Finally, if a trust is required to pay out all of its income to a current beneficiary, be sure that unitrust payouts will satisfy the definition of “income” under applicable state and federal law.
Converting an existing trust into a TRU
If you’re concerned that an existing, irrevocable, income-only trust may be unfair to certain beneficiaries, it may be possible to convert it into a TRU. To do so, such a conversion must be permitted by applicable state law.
An IRS private letter ruling clarifies that converting a trust into a TRU according to state law shouldn’t have any negative federal tax implications. It doesn’t cause the trust to lose its grandfathered status for generation-skipping transfer tax purposes.
Is a TRU right for you?
By aligning your beneficiaries’ interests, a TRU can relieve tension among your loved ones and allow your trustee to concentrate on developing the most effective investment strategy. We can project TRU benefits for you under various scenarios, help you find out what’s permitted in your state and provide additional details about TRUs.
Classifying workers as independent contractors — rather than employees — can save businesses money and provide other benefits. But the IRS is on the lookout for businesses that do this improperly to avoid taxes and employee benefit obligations.
To find out how the IRS will classify a particular worker, businesses can file optional IRS Form SS-8, “Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding.” However, the IRS has a history of reflexively classifying workers as employees, and filing this form may alert the IRS that your business has classification issues — and even inadvertently trigger an employment tax audit.
Contractor vs. employee status
A business enjoys several advantages when it classifies a worker as an independent contractor rather than as an employee. For example, it isn’t required to pay payroll taxes, withhold taxes, pay benefits or comply with most wage and hour laws.
On the downside, if the IRS determines that you’ve improperly classified employees as independent contractors, you can be subject to significant back taxes, interest and penalties. That’s why filing IRS Form SS-8 for an up-front determination may sound appealing.
But because of the risks involved, instead of filing the form, it can be better to simply properly treat independent contractors so they meet the tax code rules. Among other things, this generally includes not controlling how the worker performs his or her duties, ensuring you’re not the worker’s only client, providing Form 1099 and, overall, not treating the worker like an employee.
Be prepared for workers filing the form
Workers seeking determination of their status can also file Form SS-8. Disgruntled independent contractors may do so because they feel entitled to health, retirement and other employee benefits and want to eliminate self-employment tax liabilities.
After a worker files Form SS-8, the IRS sends a letter to the business. It identifies the worker and includes a blank Form SS-8. The business is asked to complete and return it to the IRS, which will render a classification decision. But the Form SS-8 determination process doesn’t constitute an official IRS audit.
Passing IRS muster
If your business properly classifies workers as independent contractors, don’t panic if a worker files a Form SS-8. Contact us before replying to the IRS. With a proper response, you may be able to continue to classify the worker as a contractor. We also can assist you in setting up independent contractor relationships that can pass muster with the IRS.
IRAs and employer-sponsored plans such as 401(k)s are powerful retirement savings tools, but they also provide valuable estate planning benefits. If you hold a traditional IRA for life, for example, your children or other heirs can stretch out distributions over their lifetimes, maximizing the IRA’s tax-deferred growth and preserving more wealth for the family. If, however, you receive a distribution from an employer plan (such as when you change jobs or retire) and you don’t roll over the funds into an IRA or new plan within 60 days, you can lose these benefits.
What are the tax consequences?
If you miss the 60-day deadline, you’ll be hit with ordinary income taxes plus a 10% penalty (if you’re under age 59½), taking a significant bite out of your estate. The IRS has provided some relief by streamlining procedures for obtaining a waiver of the 60-day time limit.
Previously, the only option was to apply to the IRS for a private letter ruling — a costly and time-consuming process. Now, if you miss the deadline, you can self-certify your eligibility for a waiver by sending a letter to the trustee or administrator of the plan.
Do you qualify for a waiver?
To qualify, you must have missed the deadline for one of 11 reasons. They include errors by the financial institution distributing or receiving the funds, misplaced distribution checks, post office errors, a death or serious illness in the family, and deposits into an account you mistakenly thought was an eligible retirement plan.
You must complete the rollover “as soon as practicable” (30 days is deemed sufficient) after the reasons for missing the deadline are no longer an obstacle. Even if you can’t (or don’t) self-certify, the IRS can still grant a waiver for these or other reasons in a subsequent examination.
Self-certification allows you to report a deposit as a valid rollover. But it doesn’t prevent the IRS from auditing your return and denying a waiver if it determines that you didn’t meet the requirements. Contact us with questions regarding how to maximize the estate planning benefits of your retirement accounts.
Perhaps. It depends on several factors, such as your parent’s income and how much financial support you provided. If you qualify for the adult-dependent exemption on your 2017 income tax return, you can deduct up to $4,050 per qualifying adult dependent. However, for 2018, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the dependency exemption is eliminated.
Income and support
For you to qualify for the adult-dependent exemption, in most cases your parent must have less gross income for the tax year than the exemption amount. (Exceptions may apply if your parent is permanently and totally disabled.) Generally Social Security is excluded, but payments from dividends, interest and retirement plans are included.
In addition, you must have contributed more than 50% of your parent’s financial support. If you shared caregiving duties with a sibling and your combined support exceeded 50%, the exemption can be claimed even though no one individually provided more than 50%. However, only one of you can claim the exemption.
Keep in mind that, even though Social Security payments can usually be excluded from the adult dependent’s income, they can still affect your ability to qualify. Why? If your parent is using Social Security money to pay for medicine or other expenses, you may find that you aren’t meeting the 50% test.
Don’t forget about your home. If your parent lived with you, the amount of support you claim under the 50% test can include the fair market rental value of part of your residence.
If the parent lived elsewhere — in his or her own residence or in an assisted-living facility or nursing home — any amount of financial support you contributed to that housing expense counts toward the 50% test.
Other savings opportunities
Sometimes caregivers fall just short of qualifying for the exemption. Should this happen, you may still be able to claim an itemized deduction for the medical expenses that you pay for the parent. To receive a tax benefit on your 2017 (or 2018) return, you must itemize deductions and the combined medical expenses paid for you, your dependents and your parent for the year must exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
The adult-dependent exemption is just one tax break that you may be able to employ to ease the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent. For 2018 through 2025, while the exemption is suspended, you might be eligible for a $500 “family” tax credit for your adult dependent. We’d be happy to provide additional information. Contact us to learn more.
For a variety of estate planning and asset management purposes, many affluent families hold their assets in trusts, family investment vehicles or charitable foundations. If assets held in this manner include interests in hedge funds, private equity funds or other “unregistered” securities, it’s important to ensure that the entity is qualified to hold such investments.
Certain exemptions under the federal securities laws require that investors in private funds and other unregistered securities qualify as “accredited investors” or “qualified purchasers.”
What is an accredited investor?
Accredited investors include financial institutions and other entities that meet certain requirements, as well as certain officers, directors and other insiders of the entity whose securities are being offered. They also include individuals with either 1) a net worth of at least $1 million (excluding their primary residences), or 2) income of at least $200,000 in each of the preceding two years, and with a reasonable expectation of meeting the requirements in the current year.
A trust (including a foundation organized as a trust) can qualify as an accredited investor in one of three ways:
- Its assets are greater than $5 million, it wasn’t formed for the specific purpose of acquiring the securities in question and a sophisticated person directs its investments.
- A national bank or other qualifying financial institution serves as trustee.
- The trust is revocable and the grantor qualifies as an accredited investor individually.
Family investment vehicles are accredited investors if their assets exceed $5 million and they weren’t formed for the specific purpose of making the investment in question. Alternatively, they can qualify as accredited if all of their equity owners are accredited.
What is a qualified purchaser?
Individuals are qualified purchasers if they have at least $5 million in investments. Other qualified purchasers include:
- An entity that has at least $5 million in investments, with all of its beneficiaries being either closely related family members; estates, foundations, or charitable organizations of such family members; or trusts created by or for the benefit of the family member described,
- A trust that doesn’t meet the family exception above, so long as the trust wasn’t established solely for the purpose of making the investment, and every individual associated with the trust as either creator, contributor or investment decision-maker is considered a qualified investor, or
- An entity with not less than $25 million in investments.
Determining whether a family entity is an accredited investor or a qualified purchaser can be complex, as there are nuances in the definitions. The information provided is intended to be a guideline — your specific circumstances could vary from the general rules. Contact us with any questions.
Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
- Electronically file 2017 Form 1096, Form 1098, Form 1099 (except if an earlier deadline applies) and Form W-2G.
- If a calendar-year C corporation, file a 2017 income tax return (Form 1120) or file for an automatic six-month extension (Form 7004), and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.
- If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the first installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2018 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below under “May 10.”)
- Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for first quarter 2018 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
- If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the second installment of 2018 estimated income taxes.