Articles Posted in International Tax

I Already Have a Will; When Should I Update My Estate Planning Documents?

When someone executes a valid will, some people assume that if their wishes do not change, they should never have to revisit their estate plan. However, there are certain common events in life that should cause you to review or update your estate planning documents.

Marriage/Divorce: A surviving spouse is entitled to a percentage of a decedent’s estate, regardless of whether the decedent included the spouse in the decedent’s will. Interestingly, the amount that a surviving spouse is entitled to may vary depending on whether the will was executed before or after the marriage. If you execute a will and subsequently marry, the spouse will receive a share equal to what he or she would have had, had the testator died intestate. This typically amounts to either one-half of the estate (if there are children of the decedent who are not children of the surviving spouse), or the entire estate (if there are no surviving children, or if the surviving spouse and the decedent are the parents of the only surviving children). Fla. Stat, Sec. 732.301 and Sec. 732.102. In either case, this is more than the amount that a surviving spouse is entitled to under the “elective share” which is thirty percent (30%) of the decedent’s estate.

Legitimate Taxation or “Confiscation?”

Taxing Trust Income

Which states can tax a trust’s income? This exact question was taken up by the Supreme Court in their recent opinion North Carolina Department of Revenue v. Kimberly Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust. North Carolina was of the opinion that they could tax the trust income of any and all trusts with at least one beneficiary residing in their state. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed.

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.

Foreign Property, Divorce, and Florida Probate Proceedings: Do not Assume Anything

          In Florida, if for some reason your marriage ends, there are some instances where your ex-spouse’s rights to inheritance under your estate plan are automatically severed. In Florida, the ex-spouse is automatically cut out of any estate planning documents, reducing the need to amend a will in the event of a divorce. Also, if a couple owns a house in Florida as tenants by the entireties, that joint interest is severed upon divorce and they become tenants in common. The divorce changes the property interest, and allows that each ex-spouse inherits their half, but the other half does not automatically transfer to the surviving ex-spouse. However, all of these automatic changes happen when the property is located in Florida. What changes if the property is located in a foreign country? A case out of the Second District Court of Appeals addressed the issue in Ebanks v. Ebanks.

Arthur and Diane Ebanks were divorced in Florida in 2008. Arthur executed his will on the day he filed for divorce in 2006. The Ebanks jointly owned three water front properties in the Cayman Islands. In his will, Arthur provided that upon his death, the property jointly held will pass to the survivor. The property in the Cayman Islands was owned under “joint proprietorship,” which is a form of holding title in the Cayman Islands which is similar to joint tenancy with right of survivor ship. Under “joint proprietorship” the interest of the deceased proprietor would transfer to the surviving proprietor. There is no law in the Cayman Islands dissolving a joint proprietorship in the event of divorce.

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:

Great news for Creditors! Up to 20 years to enforce a domesticated foreign judgment

Over 30 years ago, Florida enacted the Florida Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (FEFJA) providing a simplified procedure for domesticating foreign judgments.  In other words, FEFJA allows a judgment from any other US state or the US federal government to be recognized and enforced as if it were a Florida judgment.  Until recently, Florida creditors remained uncertain as to one crucial aspect of this important mechanism – what is the “expiration date” of a domesticated foreign judgment?

To understand the implications of this issue, we must look to the applicable statute of limitations.  Under Florida law, the expiration date for a judgment or decree issued by a Florida court is 20 years.  Fla. Stat. 95.11(1).  Contrarily, a judgment or decree of any court of the United States, any other state or territory in the United States, or a foreign country, expires after only five years.  Fla. Stat. 95.11(2).  Therefore, the question as to which of these time limitations apply to a domesticated foreign judgment clearly bears far-reaching consequences.

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.

Florida Honors Foreign Wills

Florida is a prominent destination for immigrants.  Immigrants come from all over the world to live in Florida and hopefully become U.S. citizens.  Sunshine and beaches are not the only things that attract them to Florida, but also the hopes of providing a better life for their families.  Providing a better life for their family includes supporting them during life and after death.  A valid will ensures that immigrants have the ability to provide for their families after death by controlling the disposition of their property.

Accordingly, Florida Statute sections 732.502 and 734.104 have a significant impact on immigrants.  Section 732.502  states that, “any will, other than a holographic or nuncupative will, executed by a nonresident of Florida . . . is valid as a will in this state if valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed.”  A holographic will is a testator’s handwritten will.  A nuncupative will is an oral will whereby the testator states his wishes to someone and those wishes are never memorialized in writing.  Holographic and nuncupative wills are not valid in Florida even if valid in the person’s home jurisdiction.  Thus, Florida will respect foreign wills as long as the foreign wills are valid in the country in which they are executed and are not holographic or nuncupative wills.  People with foreign wills should be diligent to ensure that their foreign wills are not classified as holographic or nuncupative wills and that their wills were validly executed in their home jurisdiction.

Recently, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) promulgated new rules which require certain U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind companies used to pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

According to the 2015 Profile of International Home Buyers in the Miami Association of Realtor Business Areas, foreign real estate buyers account for 36% or $6.1 billion of total sales volume in the South Florida real estate market. Florida remains the top state for international buyers accounting for 21% of all foreign purchases in the United States. Miami in particular continues to have the most foreign buyers accounting for 74%, which is more than double than the national figure of 35%.

As a result, it is more important than ever for realtors with foreign buyer clients to have their clients engage an international tax attorney to ensure that the ownership of the property is structured with tax efficiency.  Foreign persons purchasing U.S. real estate without consulting an international tax attorney may be putting themselves in precarious tax positions if the tax implications are not considered.  Below is a high level discussion of some of the key issues.

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