Articles Posted in Estate Tax

Fiduciary Exception for Attorney-Client Privilege is Extinct in Florida

If you are an attorney hired by a fiduciary, whether it be a trustee, a guardian, or a personal representative, you not only are working for the fiduciary, but you are also working for the best interests of the third party ward or beneficiary. However, can the beneficiary come forward and demand access to privileged communications between the fiduciary and the fiduciary’s attorneys? The “fiduciary exception” to the attorney-client privilege would allow beneficiaries to demand access, as long as the information is related to the normal administration issues of the trust or estate. Because the beneficiary is the intended third party beneficiary of the trust or estate, they are entitled to the information related to the trust or estate.

The original rule created confusion and uncertainty for fiduciaries and their attorneys, so Florida legislatively abolished the “fiduciary-exception” rule by adopting Fla. Stat. § 90.5021. Specifically § 90.5021(2) states that any communication between a lawyer and client acting as a fiduciary is privileged and protected to the same extent as if the client was not a fiduciary. However, there was still much litigation over this issue, and the Supreme Court of Florida on more than one occasion expressed concerns over its constitutionality. However, the Supreme Court of Florida finality resolved the issue in In re Amends. to Fla. Evidence Code, No. SC17-1005 (Fla .Jan. 25, 2018), in which it upheld the constitutionality of the statute.

FLORIDA CHARITABLE TRUSTS: ALTERNATIVE BENEFICIARIES AND CY PRES DOCTRINE

Due to applicable tax exemptions and tax deductions, charitable trusts are a great tool for preserving the value of your property intended for charitable purposes and for reducing taxes payable by your remaining estate (intended for purposes other than charitable ones). Naturally, the main goal when setting up a charitable trust will be the fulfillment of the philanthropic objective of your choice. While the law comes to aid with mechanisms to fill in the blank spaces in the will or trust agreement, well-meant but poorly executed provisions in the documents may defend these mechanisms and obstruct the desired purpose.

Charitable purposes may include relief of poverty; advancement of arts, sciences, education, or religion; promotion of health, governmental, or municipal purposes. Fla. Stat. 736.0405(1).  This list is, of course, non-exhaustive. A specific charitable purpose and beneficiary organization will usually be designated in the document. Even if it is not, the court will select one or more charitable purposes or beneficiaries that will be consistent with the settlor’s original intent, at least to the extent it can be ascertained. Fla. Stat. 736.0405(2). But what if the agreement names a purpose and a beneficiary, but the beneficiary does not exist? Or exists at the time the agreement is made, but ceases to exist before it is supposed to take the bequest? Or what if the stated purpose is impossible to fulfill? In those situations the cy pres doctrine applies to help execute the bequest in accordance with the general spirit of the will or trust agreement.

ESTATE PLANNING: CRYPTO CURRENCIES AND DIGITAL ASSETS

Although we all unquestionably live in a digital age at least for the past two decades and the legislatures are adopting new laws every day to reflect this reality, digital estate planning remains one of the areas where relying on state-made laws might not be enough. Laws in this area are scarce and only of a general nature. What happens with our digital assets after we die is usually controlled by private companies that store the data. For that reason, and because of the specific nature of digital assets, it is advisable to take these matters in your own hands.

What is a digital estate planning? It is a estate planning that covers any of your digital assets, including cryptocurrencies, websites, email accounts, social network accounts, cloud accounts, and all content stored or communicated trough these tools. What sets these assets apart from the more traditional ones is the fact that there might not be any person other than you who is aware of those assets or who could access them. In other words, no official register, no tax records, no bills, no paper contracts. Yet these assets may have a great value, both personal and monetary.

HOW THE NEW TAX BILL MAY AFFECT DIVORCES

In one of our previous posts we informed about the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) and the major changes it brings, including the various adjustments in tax deductions. This article focuses on deductions applicable to alimony, as the new system may significantly affect and expedite divorce settlements in the months to come.

Alimony is a form of spousal support awarded by agreement or by court decision to the lower-income spouse after divorce, typically referred to as the “dependent” spouse. The courts have wide discretion in establishing the amount of alimony and the time period during which the higher-income spouse is obligated to pay. The purpose of alimony is to help the dependent spouse overcome the divorce and to at least partially maintain the standard of living the spouses shared during their marriage. To ease the burden of splitting one household into two, the alimonies were tax deductible – at least until now.

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:

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.

MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS? 6 DO’S AND DONT’S OF ESTATE PLANNING AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

At the end of last year it seemed as if every day there was a new report of a celebrity dying unexpectedly. As fans around the world mourned the death of some of Hollywood’s most iconic figures, reports of their estate planning, or lack thereof, also filled the headlines.

Prince: Intestacy and streaming music rights collide

Estate Planning: Income Tax Strategies

            Law firms have had to take a spike in income tax rates, a decline in the estate tax rate, and an increasing annual estate tax exemption threshold into account in devising estate planning strategies. There has been a decreasing gap between the income tax rates and estate tax rates: estate tax has moved to a maximum rate of 40% and a $5.45 million exclusion in 2016, from a 55% percent tax rate and a $675,000 exclusion in 2001; the maximum tax rate on ordinary income is 39.6%, up from a low of 35 percent in 2003; the maximum long-term capital gains tax rate increased to 20% from 15% in that same time frame. Furthermore, in 2013 an additional 3.8% surtax was added for net investment of individuals, estates, and trusts over statutory threshold amounts in certain cases. While these numbers might make you think that estate planning is only necessary for the super wealthy, financial planners advise that it is not. Taxes are just one consideration of estate planning: it is critical to plan for an orderly transfer of assets or for other circumstances such as incapacitation.

The capital gains tax rate – the long-term rate of 20% plus the 3.8% surtax – is significant because it affects the basis of assets. When a decedent dies, her beneficiaries get the benefit of a step-up in basis, which is appreciated assets held in the decedent’s estate are readjusted to fair market value at the time of inheritance. Through this mechanism, the beneficiary receives an income tax advantage because she is not liable for the capital gains tax on any appreciation that occurs up to the point she inherits the asset.

The importance of a Semicolon – Does property partially used as primary residence and partially for business purposes qualify as Homestead?

Does property partially used as primary residence and partially for business purposes qualify as homestead under Article X, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution? Surprisingly, the answer apparently rests on a semicolon.

This question was addressed in 2003 by the Florida Court of Appeal for the First District in Davis v. Davis, 864 So. 2d 458 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003). The facts of this case are as follows: Mr. Horace Davis lived with his wife Carolyn on a contiguous piece of property measuring less than 160 acres outside of municipality in an unincorporated portion of Nassau County. The property included the couple’s residence and on a portion separate from the residence, Mr. Davis operated a mobile home park generating profit through rent. Mr. Davis died in 2000 having written a will.

FIRPTA: Increased Withholding and Other Changes

Most professionals have familiarity with the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (“FIRPTA”), especially those that have foreign clients investing in U.S. real estate. On December 18, 2015, the President signed into law the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (“PATH Act”).  The PATH Act significantly alters FIRPTA withholding for foreign persons disposing of investments in U.S. real estate.  Realtors, accountants, closing agents and title companies need to familiarize themselves with the changes.

The PATH Act increases the FIRPTA withholding rate from 10 percent to 15 percent on certain dispositions and distributions of United States Real Property Interests (“USRPIs”).[1]  Similarly, the withholding rate for the transfer of a partnership interest or the beneficial interest in a trust or estate has been increased from 10 percent to 15 percent.[2]  The new withholding rate applies to all such dispositions that take place after February 16, 2016.[3]  However, the new FIRPTA rules allow for a 10 percent withholding rate where the amount realized on the disposition of property being used as a residence is between $300,000.00[4] and $1 million.[5]  In other words, if a foreign person sells his or her personal residence for $999,000.00 the amount to be withheld shall be $99,900.00.  However, if the foreign person sells his or her personal residence for $1,000,100.00, the amount to be withheld on the sale shall be $150,015.00.  The amount withheld is offset by the gain on the disposition of the USRPI and is refundable to the extent the amount withheld exceeds the underlying tax liability.[6]  The increased FIRPTA withholding rate is not an actual increase in tax, but a means of ensuring compliance with U.S. tax law.  An exemption found in the old rule remains in place, providing that a foreign person is not subject to FIRPTA withholding where the property sold is used as a residence and the amount realized does not exceed $300,000.00.[7]

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