The New Tax Bill

At the end of last year, Congress passed the most significant tax reform since 1986 and unsurprisingly, it aroused many controversies. Its supporters are convinced that the bill is a big success for workers, pointing out positive changes already in effect, such as Wal-Mart raising its employee’s hourly rate. On the other side of the barricade, the opponents fear that the bill will have quite the opposite effect —that it will better benefit the company shareholders rather than its employees (numerous buybacks were announced in December). In the following months, we may witness attempts on the state level to mitigate some of the effects of the new federal law. While it is too soon to evaluate whether the bill will bring about the desired economic growth long-term, it is the right time to get acquainted with the most significant changes. Importantly, none of these changes will affect the 2017 taxes.

Individuals:

The provisions applicable to individuals are temporary and will expire at the end of 2025, at which time the brackets will return to the old rates, unless Congress extends this period. The rates will still be distributed into seven brackets based on income. Rates for six of the brackets have been lowered and accordingly, most of us will benefit from this. However, some who were in the 33% bracket may now find themselves in the 35% bracket.

Old rates: 10% 15% 25% 28% 33% 35% 39.6%

 

New rates: 10% 12% 22% 24% 32% 35% 37%
Income from (Individuals): $0 $9,526 $38,701 $82,501 $157,501 $200,001 $500,001
Income from (Couples): $0 $19,051 $77,401 $165,001 $315,001 $400,001 $600,001

 

Another benefit is that the personal deductions were nearly doubled to: $12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for head of households, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. On the other hand, the $4,450 deduction you could claim for yourself, your spouse, and each of your dependents, was eliminated. In sum, this may completely negate the new benefits for some families. Deductions for the elderly and for those who are blind stay in place and the tax credit for children under 17 was doubled to $2,000. The new law also allows parents to take a $500 credit for each non-child dependent they’re supporting.

The deductions for state and local income and property taxes will be newly capped to $10,000 and foreign real property taxes will no longer be deductible at all. Also, the deductions for itemized interest expense from mortgage debt (to acquire a first or second residence) were lowered from $1 million to $750,000. This change will not affect old mortgages that will be refinanced under the new law, as long as the old loan balance is not exceeded at the time of refinancing. The current up to $100,000 deduction for the interest on home equity loans will no longer be allowed.

Corporations and Businesses

As opposed to the changes affecting individuals, most of the corporate provisions are permanent. The corporate tax rate has been slashed from 35% to 21%. This deduction will not apply to some specific service industries, such as health, law, and professional services. However, single filers with income below $157,500 and joint filers with income below $315,000 can claim this deduction fully on income from service business. This provision is, like in the case of individual tax rates, only temporary.

American corporations will no longer be required to pay corporate taxes on money earned abroad if the corporation stays abroad. Once the income is brought back to the United States, it will be taxed at a new, considerably lower, rate of 15.5% on cash assets and 8% on non-cash assets.

Pass-through businesses such as S corporations and limited liability companies will benefit from the tax deduction as well. This might motivate people to either incorporate their businesses or to disguise their personal income as business income. However, the incorporation may not be the right choice for everyone and people should be cautious, as the bill incorporates some provisions to prevent income mischaracterization. If the owner or partner in a business will draw salary from it, it would be subject to ordinary income tax. Moreover, the bill also limits the income, which qualifies for the deduction. Nevertheless, it seems that the system will not be bullet-proof and will benefit the passive owners over the active ones.

If you are interested in learning how the new tax bill may affect you or your estate please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are ready, willing, and able to assist you with your estate planning needs. Bart Chepenik, 305-613-3548. Brad Trushin, 305-321-4946. Offices 305-981-8889.

Other Sources

Introduction:

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/17/how-democrats-can-neutralize-gop-tax-law-commentary.html

https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2018/01/15/tax-law-bonuses-wages-trump-000617

Individuals:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertberger/2017/12/17/the-new-2018-federal-income-tax-brackets-rates/#fd26309292a3

http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/15/news/economy/gop-tax-plan-details/index.html?iid=EL

http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/20/news/economy/republican-tax-reform-everything-you-need-to-know/index.html

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-tax-law-2017-12-20

Corporations:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/12/22/what-tax-reform-means-for-small-businesses-pass-through-entities/#68335fd66de3

https://www.fool.com/taxes/2018/01/03/heres-who-got-the-biggest-tax-rate-break-from-corp.aspx

https://www.marketplace.org/2018/01/16/business/ive-always-wondered-tax-bill-2017/corporations-pay-effective-rate-corporate-tax

https://www.vox.com/2017/12/20/16790040/gop-tax-bill-winners

https://www.inc.com/zoe-henry/final-tax-bill-impacts-businesses-2017.html

https://hbr.org/ideacast/2017/12/breaking-down-the-new-u-s-corporate-tax-law

Guardianship:  When No Less Restrictive Alternative is Available

What is guardianship?

The simple answer: court intervention to safeguard the property and care of an individual unable to make such decisions themselves.

IRREVOCABLE SPENDTHRIFT TRUSTS

Trusts are popular estate planning instruments that may bring many benefits both during lifetime and in the case of death. Some common reasons for setting up a trust include the avoidance of costs and time consumption of probate proceedings, property management for those who cannot or do not wish to manage the property themselves, continuance of property management after death or during disability, and saving of taxes and protection of the assets against the claims of creditors. However, there are several types of trusts and not all of them provide these benefits to the same extent.

The revocable trust is the most flexible one as the creator (settlor) can at modify the terms of the trust or completely revoke it at any time. See Fla. Stat. § 736.0602. However, the assets transferred into such trust are still considered personal assets of the settlor and accordingly, can be reached by his or her creditors. See Fla. Stat. § 736.0505(1)(a). Therefore, the revocable trust is not an ideal solution for asset protection purposes. Upon death of the settlor, this trust becomes irrevocable, meaning that the rules for asset distribution can no longer be changed. It is also possible to make a trust irrevocable from the outset and to afford protection against creditors by adding a spendthrift provision. See Fla. Stat. § 736.0502.

How to comply with formal requirements of Will execution

Florida law places great emphasis on compliance with its statutes regarding execution of wills. This is to assure the authenticity of such an important document profoundly affecting many lives, and prevent fraud and imposition in its execution. The statutory provisions, which appear in Florida Statute §735.502, set out four main requirements for executing a will. Failure to comply with the formal requirements can invalidate the will and force the estate to pass through intestate succession. It is therefore important to comply with and understand these formal requirements.

Firstly, the will must be in writing. This means that the document can be handwritten, typed, or printed. Florida does not recognize oral wills (nuncupative wills) or wills without witnesses (holographic wills). Nuncupative wills are allowed in only few jurisdictions and typically require witnesses and some exigent circumstances such as a car accident or a heart attack. Contrarily, many states recognize holographic wills and have different requirements as to their validity.

When devises are actually not part of the estate

Many unexpected things can happen in the period between the execution of a will and the actual death. For example, a decedent may devise the family house in Key West to her granddaughter. Several years after executing the will, the decedent gets into financial troubles and sells the Key West house. With other matters on her mind, the decedent never gets to adjust the will and passes away. Does the granddaughter still have a right to the house? Does she get money instead? Does she get any value at all?

The legal term describing a situation when a particular asset devised in the will is not part of the estate is ademption by extinction. The Florida statutes cover ademption in Section 732.606 for specific devises, and Section 732.605 for securities. Ademption is not uncommon; the decedent may have owned the asset and later sold it, or could have never owned it all. The situation would be different if the grandmother gave the granddaughter the Key West house as a gift before passing away. In that case, the granddaughter’s devise would have been satisfied during the grandmother’s lifetime. Accordingly, this legal concept is called ademption by satisfaction and is not discussed in this blog post.

Legal Capacity and Estate Planning- How to Help Safeguard a Will from Future Litigation

When a loved one grows older, their caretakers’ ever growing to-do list can be overwhelming. After dealing with the basic, everyday needs of an aging family member, it may sometimes be easy to overlook the fact that your loved one does not have a valid will. By not addressing this issue, the task of handling final affairs and estate distribution after their death becomes increasingly more difficult. If you are responsible for someone who is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other disease that can affect their mental capacity, it is important that you consult with an estate planning lawyer who can ensure that a proper will is drafted in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida.

Florida courts have held that a will can be properly admitted to probate if the testator was competent at the time the will was executed.  Jervis v. Tucker, 82 So.3d 126 (FL 4th DCA 2002).  A testator will be found to have been competent if they possessed the ability to “mentally understand in a general way the nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, and the testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from the will, as well as a general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed.” American Red Cross v. Estate of Haynsworth, 708 So.2d 602, 605 (FL 3rd DCA 1998). Florida courts will apply these standards and also evaluate the facts specific to a particular case in order to determine if a testator was of “sound mind” when they created the will. Estate planning lawyers play an important role in this process and have the responsibility of ensuring that the testator is legally competent at the time the will is created.

Where There’s a Will, There May Not Always Be a Way for Attorney-Client Privilege

Attorney-client privilege may not always apply in probate litigation. In fact, the Third District Court of Appeal has held that under the Florida Evidence Code, a lawyer may not invoke attorney-client privilege under certain circumstances.

Attorney-client privilege is a key hallmark of the attorney-client relationship. The privilege prevents disclosure of confidential communications pertaining to legal advice between a client and her attorney. Attorney-client privilege therefore promotes candor and better representation. Rule 4-1.6(a) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct states that “[a] lawyer must not reveal information relating to representation of a client . . . unless the client gives informed consent.” https://www.floridabar.org/rules/rrtfb/rule/?num=4-1.6. Further, under the official comments to Rule 4-1.6, a lawyer has an ethical obligation to assert attorney-client privilege on a client’s behalf, including during proceedings involving evidentiary matters.

Expanding Florida’s Homestead Exemption

Florida voters will have an important decision to make for the 2018 election—whether to raise the Florida homestead exemption. At first glance, the legislation offers a substantial property tax break for homeowners; however, if approved, the homestead exemption bill may cost counties and cities enormous revenue.

The Florida legislature created the homestead exemption in 1934 to aid residents affected by the Depression. The homestead exemption—then $5,000.00—allowed residents to keep their homes despite inability to pay property taxes. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/florida-homestead-exemption-increase-closer-to-ballot/2322311. In 1980, under Democratic Governor Bob Graham, Florida voters raised the exemption to $25,000.00, and again in 2008 to $50,000.00 under Republican Governor Charlie Crist. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/legislature/florida-homestead-exemption-increase-closer-to-ballot/2322311. Now, the November 2018 ballot will give Florida voters the choice to raise the exemption even higher.

Do you own a home health care agency or nurse registry? Safeguard your referral sources through a non-compete agreement and enforce it!

The home health care industry generally includes businesses that provide skilled nursing, physical therapy, and other health-related services to homebound patients.  If you run a home care company, you know that referrals are crucial.  This is because patients typically seek out home care services after a referral from a “middle man,” such as a physician, hospital, or skilled nursing facility. As a result, home care companies hire marketing representatives to promote the companies and cultivate relationships with the middle men in hope of securing future patient referrals for their business.

Imagine that you hire such a marketing representative, train her, and give her access to your company’s internal referral source database, preferences, and strategies.  Naturally, you want to protect your sources, so the representative signs a confidentiality and non-compete agreement as part of her employment contract.  After some time, the representative quits, and all of a sudden you start receiving significantly less referrals from the sources that the representative worked on while employed by you.  Coincidence?  It turns out that the representative started working for your direct competitor and used her relationship with your precious referral sources to your competitor’s benefit, in direct violation of the non-compete agreement.  Surely the law is on your side, right?

Do incapacitated wards need prior court approval to marry? Subsequent ratification is enough

Already in 1888, the United States Supreme Court first recognized the right to marry as one of the fundamental rights of all individuals.  Describing marriage as “the most important relationship in life,” the Court went on upholding that marriage is “the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”  Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888).

Regretfully, when it comes to marriage of incapacitated persons, they are sometimes the victims of emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.  For this reason, a guardianship court may remove an incapacitated person’s right to marry if there is clear and convincing evidence that he or she is incapacitated with respect to that right.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a); 744.331(6).  However, even when a guardianship court does not remove the right to marry, an incapacitated person’s right to marry becomes “subject to court approval” when his or her right to contract has been removed.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a).  This legal framework aims at protecting the ward by allowing a court to assess the risks of abuse and exploitation, while upholding the ward’s fundamental right to marry, to the greatest extent possible.