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7 Ways To Save Big Money On Your 2020 Taxes—Part 1

2020 was a nightmarish year for many families. But thanks to recent legislation, you could see a silver lining in the form of major tax breaks when filing your income taxes this spring. First up, although it’s technically not a tax break, the IRS announced this week that the deadline for filing your 2020 federal income taxes has been pushed back from April 15 to May 17, 2021, which gives you an extra month to get your tax return handled. 

The postponement applies to individual taxpayers, including those who pay self-employment taxes. But the extension does not apply to the first-quarter 2021 estimated tax payments that many small business owners file. So if you file quarterly taxes, contact your tax advisor now if you haven’t already done so.

Additionally, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March 2020 provides individual taxpayers with several hefty tax-saving opportunities, many of which are only available this year. What’s more, President Biden’s new relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which went into effect in March 2021, not only offers additional stimulus payments to most Americans, but it also includes significant tax relief for those taxpayers who lost their job and had to rely on unemployment benefits in 2020.

While there are dozens of potential tax breaks available for 2020, here are 7 of the leading ways you can save big money on your 2020 tax return. 

  1. Stimulus Payments

As part of the CARES Act, millions of Americans received stimulus checks in 2020, and those payments were an advance refundable tax credit on your 2020 taxes. This means that no matter how much you owe (or get back) on your 2020 taxes, you get to keep all of the stimulus money and won’t have to pay any taxes on it.

Because the IRS didn’t have everyone’s 2020 tax returns when they issued the stimulus checks, they based the stimulus payments on your 2018 or 2019 returns, whichever one you had most recently filed. Using data from those years, the stimulus payments from 2020 phased out at an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 to $99,000 for singles and at $150,000 to $198,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Given that the stimulus payments were based on your AGI for 2018 or 2019 but technically apply to your 2020 AGI, you may find that your payment was either too much or too little. But there’s good news—even if your financial situation has improved since 2018 or 2019 and you received too much stimulus money based on your 2020 income, you get to keep the overage.

By the same token, if you received too little or only partial payment on your 2020 stimulus, you can claim what you missed in the form of a recovery rebate credit when you file your 2020 taxes. Not sure how this would work? Here are three scenarios where you may be entitled to additional stimulus money.

  • If your AGI for 2018/19 is higher than your AGI in 2020, you can claim the additional amount owed when you file your 2020 taxes this April.
  • If you had a child in 2020 but didn’t get the $500 credit for dependent children in your stimulus payment, you can claim the child when you file in 2021.
  • If someone else claimed the child based on 2018/19 returns, but you can legitimately claim that child on your 2020 return, you can get the $500 tax credit when you file in 2021, and the person who got it based on 2018/19 returns will not have to pay it back.
  1. Unemployment Benefits

When the pandemic stalled out the economy, many Americans lost their jobs and were forced to rely on unemployment insurance to pay the bills. That said, unemployment benefits are generally taxable, so if you took them, without having taxes automatically deducted, you were looking at having to pay income taxes on that money when you file your 2020 return.

However, taxpayers who received unemployment benefits in 2020 were provided with significant relief with the passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP). Under the ARP, the first $10,200 of your 2020 unemployment benefits are tax-free if your annual household income is less than $150,000. The ARP doesn’t provide a different threshold for single and joint filers, so both spouses are entitled to the $10,200 tax break, for a potential total of $20,400, if both spouses received the benefits.

Note that if your unemployment benefits exceed $10,200 in 2020, you’ll need to report the excess as taxable income and pay taxes on the amount over the limit. And if your household income is over $150,000, you’ll need to pay taxes on all of your unemployment benefits just like you would before the passage of the ARP.

If you already filed your 2020 return and paid taxes on your unemployment benefits before the passage of the ARP made those benefits tax-free, the IRS plans to automatically process your refund. This means you won’t have to tax any extra steps, such as filing an amended return, to secure the refund. The IRS will release further details on this issue in the coming weeks.

3. Waived RMDs

You are typically required to take an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from your IRA, 401(k), or other tax-deferred retirement account starting in the year when you turn 72, but the CARES Act temporarily waived the RMD requirement for 2020. The waiver also applies if you reached age 70½ in 2019, but waited to take your first RMD until 2020, as allowed under the SECURE Act.

RMDs generally count as taxable income, so taking this waiver means that you may have lower taxable income in 2020 and therefore owe fewer income taxes for 2020.

However, there are a number of factors to consider, including the state of the market and your living expenses, when deciding whether or not to waive your RMDs. Given this, consult with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, or your tax professional before making your final decision.

Next week, in part two of this, we’ll cover the remaining four ways you can save big money on your 2020 tax bill. 

This article is a service of Stephanie D. Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

Why Estate Planning is a Women’s Issue

A group of wealth strategists at CIBC Private Wealth Management noticed that the women in attendance at educational seminars for client couples were often mum. So, as part of the firm’s Women’s CIRCLE initiative, they started women-only seminars, including one called Finding Your Way. The idea is that if you take an inventory of your financial life, and know a little bit about how the estate administration process works, you’ll be more confident and better prepared to deal with a death in the family.

The surprise: It wasn’t just older women in their 60s and 70s who have been signing up, but Millennial women, wanting to know what they should be doing to manage their own wealth and make sure their parents (especially moms who will generally outlive dads) are in good shape in the event of a death or divorce.

“These concepts are really daunting and quite scary,” says Becky Milliman, a managing director with CIBC Private Wealth Management in Chicago, noting that it takes courage for the less financially sophisticated family member to speak up, and that tends to be the woman.

Here are some top lessons.

Keep a list of trusted advisors. Many of the adult children couldn’t name their parents’ attorney or accountant. You shouldn’t just know their names, you should meet them or at least make a quick introductory phone call. Ditto for financial advisors, bankers, and/or insurance brokers. Keep an updated list with your will. More wealth management firms are rolling out “emergency contact forms” as a backstop for elder abuse. Fill them out.

Use a thumb drive. There were real concerns over digital assets, says Amanda Marsted, a managing director of CIBC Private Wealth Management in New York. Would you know the login information to access your spouse or parents’ accounts? Consider using a password manager, or store password information (and documents) on a thumb drive.

Have the conversation. What if mom or dad (or your spouse) says: “When you need to know, you’ll get the information.” Tell them: You don’t have to share balances, but at a minimum, you should share advisors, bank account numbers, and such. That will prevent much bigger problems down the line.

Keep important documents secure. Are your original wills and trusts at the lawyer’s office? Your real estate deed in your bank safe deposit box? Your insurance policies in one filing cabinet and income tax returns in another? The list goes on: retirement plan statements, birth/marriage certificates, Social Security cards. Make a list of these documents, including where you keep them. “You need to be prepared,” Milliman says.

Plan ahead if you have a family business. If you have a family business, do you have a succession plan in place? In one case, a widow was left with a business her late husband founded that she had no interest in carrying on. Luckily, it turned out to be an opportunistic time to sell, and Milliman helped the widow create a family foundation to minimize taxes from the sale and help her make a difference.

 Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2018/07/10/why-estate-planning-is-a-womens-issue/#35fdba54536e

New Developments Transform the Role Life Insurance Plays in Your Estate and Financial Planning

Within the past year, a combination of new legislation and the recent change of leadership in the White House and Congress stands to dramatically increase the income taxes your loved ones will have to pay on inherited retirement accounts as well as increasing the income taxes you owe on your taxable investments. However, purchasing life insurance may offer you the opportunity to minimize the effect of these developments.

To this end, if you hold assets in a retirement account, you need to review your financial plan and estate plan as soon as possible to determine if investing in life insurance or some other strategy may offer tax-saving benefits for you and your family. To help you with this process, here we’ll discuss how these new developments might affect the taxes owed by you and your heirs, and how investing in life insurance may help offset the tax impact of these new changes.

The SECURE Act

At the start of 2020, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) went into effect, and the new law effectively put an end to the so-called “stretch IRA.” Under prior law, beneficiaries of your retirement account could choose to stretch out distributions of an inherited retirement account over their own life expectancy to minimize the income taxes owed on those distributions. 

For example, an 18-year-old beneficiary expected to live an additional 65 years could inherit an IRA and stretch out the distributions for 65 years, paying income tax on just the portion withdrawn each year. In that case, the income tax law would encourage the child not to withdraw and spend the inherited assets all at once.

Under the new law, however, most designated beneficiaries of inherited IRAs and similar tax-deferred qualified retirement accounts are now required to withdraw all of the assets from the inherited account—and pay income taxes on those withdrawals—within 10 years of the account owner’s death. Those who fail to withdraw funds within the 10-year window face a 50% tax penalty on the assets remaining in the account.

But this is just the first development that stands to affect the amount of taxes your heirs might face in the near future on inherited investments.

Democrats Take Control

As we highlighted in a previous article, the recent election of Joe Biden as President and subsequent Democratic takeover of the Senate will likely result in the passage of new tax legislation that could have a significant impact on your family’s financial and estate planning considerations. 

Specifically, it’s likely that within the next two years Democrats will pass legislation aimed at eliminating many of the tax cuts enacted through the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As part of this legislation, we’re expected to see significantly lower federal estate tax exemptions, the elimination of the step-up in cost basis on inherited assets, as well as an increase in the top personal income and capital gains tax rates. 

One way you may be able to minimize the new taxes on both your tax-deferred retirement accounts and taxable investments is by investing in cash-value life insurance. Let’s break down exactly what this strategy might look like.

The New Role of Life Insurance In Your Estate and Financial Planning

Given the new distribution requirements for inherited IRAs, you should consider whether it makes sense to withdraw funds from your retirement account now, pay the tax, and invest the remainder in cash-value life insurance. From there, you can access the accumulated cash-surrender value of the life insurance policy income-tax-free during your lifetime via tax-free withdrawals and/or loans. And upon your death, the death benefit of your life insurance policy would be income-tax-free for your heirs.

By annually investing what you would otherwise put into tax-deferred retirement accounts into a cash-value life insurance contract, or by taking taxable withdrawals from your tax-deferred retirement accounts over time and reinvesting them in cash-value life insurance, you can effectively move these funds into a tax-free, rather than tax-deferred, investment vehicle.

This strategy could not only minimize the income taxes you pay over your lifetime, but it could also significantly reduce the tax bill imposed on your designated beneficiaries after your death since life insurance proceeds are income-tax-free.

Additionally, by investing a portion of your investable assets in cash-value life insurance, you can offset the effects of the proposed loss of income tax basis step-up upon your death, which we’re likely to see enacted through Democrat-backed legislation. What’s more, this strategy would also minimize your current income taxes on what otherwise would have been taxable income from your investments, as growth on investments inside a life insurance policy is not subject to income tax, including any capital gains.

Finally, if you stand to be affected by the proposed decrease of the federal estate tax exemption, which is currently set at $11.7 million, by placing the life insurance policy inside an irrevocable life insurance trust, you can remove the death benefit paid out to your beneficiaries from your taxable estate. In doing so, you would still be able to access the cash value of the insurance policy during your lifetime, either via a so-called “spousal access trust,” if you are married, or via a traditional irrevocable life insurance trust, if you are not married. 

Rethink Your Planning

Although the SECURE Act and the proposed new legislation stand to have an adverse effect on the tax consequences for your retirement and estate planning, investing in life insurance may offer you a valuable tax-saving opportunity. That said, you can only take advantage of this opportunity if you plan for it.

If you fail to revise your plan to address the SECURE Act’s new requirements and/or the proposed legislation that’s likely to be passed by the Democratic administration, you and your family could face a significantly higher tax bill. To prevent this from happening, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ or an existing estate-plan review today.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll work with you and your financial advisor to analyze all of the ways your retirement accounts might be impacted by the SECURE Act and the new proposed legislation and come up with the most effective planning strategies for passing your assets to your loved ones in the most tax-advantaged manner possible, while ensuring your current tax liabilities are similarly minimized. To learn more, contact us right away.

This article is a service of Stephanie D. Hon, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. 

 

What You Should Know About Long-Term Care Insurance

With people living longer than ever before, more and more seniors require long-term healthcare services in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. However, such care is extremely expensive, especially when it’s needed for extended periods of time.

Traditional healthcare insurance doesn’t cover such services, and though Medicare does pay for some long-term care, it’s quite limited, difficult to qualify for, and requires you to deplete nearly all of our assets before being eligible (or do proactive planning to shield your assets, which we can support you with). To address this gap in coverage, long-term care insurance was created.

Intensive Care

First introduced as “nursing home insurance” in the 1980s, long-term care insurance is designed to cover expenses associated with long-term skilled nursing services delivered in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or other senior care setting, though some of today’s policies cover care delivered in your own home as well.

Such intensive care is required when you are no longer able to care for yourself, often at the end of your life. These policies cover the cost of skilled nursing services that support you with basic self-care tasks, such as bathing, feeding, and using the bathroom.

These are known as activities of daily living (ADLs) and generally include:

  • Ambulating (walking or getting around)
  • Feeding
  • Bathing
  • Dressing and grooming
  • Using the toilet
  • Continence management
  • Getting in and out of bed or a chair

Before your coverage kicks in, most policies require that you demonstrate you have lost the ability to engage in at least two or three ADLs. Most policies also have a deductible, or elimination period, which is a set number of days that must elapse between the time you become disabled (eligible for benefits) and the time your coverage kicks in.

Many policies offer a 90-day elimination period, but others can be longer, shorter, or even have no elimination period at all. Of course, the shorter the elimination period, the more expensive the premium.

Additionally, long-term care policies typically come with a predetermined benefit period, which is the number of years of care it will pay for. A benefit period of three to five years, for example, is a quite common duration for such policies. Most policies also come with a cap on the dollar amount of coverage that will be paid for care on a daily basis, known as a daily benefit amount.

Getting Covered

Obviously, the younger and healthier you are when you buy the policy, the cheaper the premiums will be, so the sooner you invest in coverage, the better. In fact, most policies exclude certain pre-existing conditions, so if you wait until you become ill, it can be impossible to find coverage.

For example, if you have any of the following conditions, it generally disqualifies you from obtaining coverage:

  • You already need help with ADLs
  • You have AIDS or AIDS-Related Complex (ARC)
  • You have Alzheimer’s Disease or any form of dementia or cognitive dysfunction
  • You have a neurological disease, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease
  • You had a stroke within the past year to two years or have a history of strokes
  • You have metastatic cancer
  • You have kidney failure

Increasing Premiums, Decreasing Benefits

With the elderly population booming, there has been a surge in demand for long-term care services, which has led to a marked increase in the cost of such policies. At the same time, many insurers have been cutting back on the benefits their policies offer.

Given this, other types of hybrid policies are springing up. One increasingly popular type of hybrid policy combines long-term care insurance with life insurance. With this type of policy, if you don’t use the long-term care benefits, the policy pays a death benefit to your family when you pass away.

If you are looking to purchase long-term care insurance, you should speak with multiple insurance providers and compare their benefits, care options, and premiums. Different companies may offer the same coverage and benefits, but they can vary dramatically in price. Always ask about the insurance company’s history of rate increases, including the amount of the most recent increase.

Choose Wisely

For the best chances of success when shopping for a policy, get help from a fee-only planner, who is not compensated based on your choice of coverage. Or, if you are working with a commissioned agent, meet with a lawyer like us with experience in elder law, who can review the policy terms to ensure it’s a good fit for you before you sign on the dotted line.

When meeting with an insurance provider, you must get answers to following three questions about your policy:

  1. How long is the elimination period before the policy begins paying benefits?
  2. What capacities, or ADLs, must you lose before coverage kicks in?
  3. How many years of care are covered?

Buying long-term care insurance should be a family affair, because you are going to need your family members to advocate for you and file a claim for the policy when you need to use it. Given this, make sure your family knows what kind of policy you have, who your agent is, and how to make a claim.

What’s more, you should pre-authorize the right person to speak to the insurance company on your behalf, and not just rely on a power of attorney. That said, you should definitely have a well-drafted, updated, and regularly reviewed power of attorney on file as well.

Keep Your Policy Updated

Once you are in your 40s, your long-term care policy should be reviewed annually to evaluate new insurance products on the market and update your policy based on your changing needs. Whatever you do, once you have a policy in place, make sure you don’t miss a premium payment, because if you stop paying, even for a short period of time, you’ll lose all of the money you invested and will have no access to the benefits when you need them.

Reach out to us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, for support in finding the right long-term care policy for your particular situation. Long-term care insurance, along with life insurance, are key components in your estate plan. When combined with the right estate planning vehicles, you can rest assured your family will be protected and provided for no matter what happens to you. Contact us todayto learn more.

5 Steps For Adding Digital Assets To Your Estate Plan

Although digital technology has made many aspects of our lives much easier and more convenient, it has also created some unique challenges when it comes to estate planning.

If you haven’t planned properly, for example, just locating and accessing all of your digital assets can be a major headache—or even impossible—for your loved ones following your death or incapacity.And even if your loved ones can access your digital assets, in some cases, doing so may violate privacy laws and/or the terms of service governing your accounts. You may also have some online assets that you don’t want your loved ones to inherit, so you’ll need to take measures to restrict and/or limit access to such assets.

​Given the unique nature of your online property, there are a number of special considerations you should be aware of when including online property in your plan. Here are a few of the steps you should take to help ensure your digital assets are properly accounted for, managed, and passed on.

1. Make an inventory:

Create a list of all your digital assets, along with their login and password information. Some of the most common digital assets include cryptocurrency, online financial accounts, online payment accounts like PayPal, websites, blogs, digital photos, email, and social media.

Store the list in a secure location, and provide your fiduciary (executor, trustee, or power of attorney agent) with detailed instructions about how to locate and access your accounts. To make them easier to manage, back up any cloud-based assets to a computer, flash drive, or other physical storage device. Review this list regularly to account for any new digital property you acquire.

2. Include digital assets in your estate plan:

Just like any other property you want to pass on, detail in your plan who you want to inherit each digital asset, along with your wishes for how the asset should be used or managed. If you have any assets you don’t want passed on, include instructions for how these accounts should be closed and/or deleted.

Do NOT include passwords or security keys in your planning documents, where they can be read by others. This is especially true for your will, which becomes public record upon your death. Instead, keep this information in a separate, secure location, and provide your fiduciary with instructions about how to access it. Consider using digital account-management services, such as Directive Communication Systems, to help streamline this process.

If you have particularly complex or highly encrypted digital assets like cryptocurrency, consider including provisions in your plan allowing your fiduciary to hire an IT consultant to deal with any technical challenges that might come up.

3. Restrict access:

Include terms in your plan detailing the level of access you want your fiduciary to have to your digital accounts. For example, do you want your fiduciary to be allowed to view your emails, photos, and social media posts before passing them on or deleting them? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary provisions in your plan to ensure your privacy is respected.

4. Include relevant hardware: 

Don’t forget to include the physical devices—smartphones, computers, tablets—upon which your digital assets are stored in your plan. Having quick access to these devices will make it much easier for your fiduciary to manage your digital assets. And since the data can be transferred or deleted, you can even leave these devices to someone other than the individual who inherits the digital property stored on them.

5. Review service providers’ access-authorization functions:

Some service providers like Google, Facebook, and Instagram allow you to give specific individuals access to your accounts upon your death. Review the terms of service for your accounts, and if these functions are available, use them to document who you want to access your accounts.

Double check that the people you named to inherit your digital assets using these access-authorization tools match those you’ve named in your estate plan. If not, the provider will likely give priority to the person named with its tool, not your plan.

Keep pace with technology

As technology evolves, you’ll need to adapt your estate plan to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of your assets. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we know just how valuable your online property can be, and our planning strategies are specifically designed to ensure these assets are preserved and passed on seamlessly in the event of your death or incapacity. Contact us today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

4 Tips For Talking About Estate Planning With Your Family Over the Holidays

With COVID-19 still raging, your 2020 holiday season may not feature the big family get-togethers of years past, but you’ll still likely be visiting with loved ones in some fashion, whether via video chat or in smaller groups. And though the holidays are always a good time to bring up estate planning, given the ongoing pandemic, talking about these issues is particularly urgent this time around.

That said, asking your dad about his end-of-life wishes while he’s watching football isn’t the best way to broach the subject. In order to make the talk as productive as possible, consider the following four tips.


1. Set aside a time and place to talk

Discussing planning while opening Christmas gifts most likely won’t be very productive. Your best bet is to schedule a time, when you can all gather to talk without distractions or interruptions.

Be upfront with your family about the meeting’s purpose, so no one is taken by surprise and people come prepared for the talk. Choose a setting that’s comfortable, quiet, and private. The more relaxed everyone is, the more likely they’ll be comfortable opening up.

2. Create an agenda, and set a start and stop time

Create a list of the most important points you want to cover, and do your best to stick to them. You should encourage open conversation, but having a list of items you want to cover can help ensure you don’t forget anything.

Also, set a start and stop time for the conversation. This will help keep the discussion on track and prevent people from veering too far off topic. If anything important comes up that’s not on the list, you can always continue the discussion later. Remember, the goal is to simply get the conversation started, not work out all of the details or dollar amounts.

3. Explain why planning is important

Assure everyone that the conversation isn’t about prying into anyone’s finances, health, or relationships—it’s about providing for the family’s future security and wellbeing no matter what happens. It’s about ensuring everyone’s wishes are clearly understood and honored, not about finding out how much money someone stands to inherit.

Talking about these issues is also a good way to avoid future conflict and expense. When family members don’t clearly understand the reasoning behind one another’s planning choices, it’s likely to breed conflict, resentment, and even costly legal battles.

4. Discuss your planning experience

If you’ve already created your plan, start the talk by explaining the planning documents you have in place and why you chose them. If you’ve worked with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, describe how the process unfolded and how we supported you to create a plan designed for your unique wishes and needs.

Mention any questions or concerns you initially had about planning and how we worked with you to address them. If you have loved ones who’ve yet to do any planning and have doubts about its usefulness, discuss their concerns in a sympathetic and supportive manner, sharing how you dealt with similar issues whenever possible.

If you have not yet worked with us on your estate plan, consider watching this brief training that discusses what you need to do, what you can do yourself, and what you need a lawyer to help you with. You may even want to watch it with your family, and outline the actions steps together. And if one of your action steps is to enlist the support of a lawyer to get your planning done, call us for a Family Wealth Planning Session™.

For the love of your family

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide and support you in having these intimate discussions with your loved ones. When done right, planning can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and offer peace of mind knowing that the people you love most will be protected and provided for no matter what. Contact us today to learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 2

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services the lawyer offers and how they run their business.

To gather this information and get a better feel for who the individual is at the human level, we suggest you ask the prospective lawyer five key questions. Last week in part one, we listed the first two of these questions, and here, we cover the final three.


​ 3. How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?

The sad truth is most lawyers do a terrible job of staying in regular communication with their clients. Unfortunately, most lawyers don’t have their business systems set up for ongoing, proactive communication, and they don’t have the time to really get to know you or your family.

If you work with a lawyer who doesn’t have systems in place to keep your plan updated, ensure your assets are owned in the right way (throughout your life), and communicate with you regularly, your estate plan will be worth little more than one you could create for yourself online—and it’s likely to fail when your family needs it most.

Think of it this way: Yes, your estate plan is a set of documents. But more importantly, it’s who and what your family will turn to when something happens to you. You want to work with a lawyer who has systems in place to keep your documents up to date and to ensure your assets are owned in the right way throughout your lifetime. Ideally, the lawyer should get to know you and your family over time, so when something happens, your lawyer can be there for the people you love, and there will already be an underlying relationship and trust.

Your lawyer should proactively communicate with you and keep you and your family educated on an ongoing basis. We think sending out a weekly (at least) email is best. I prefer to hear from the professionals with whom I work on a monthly basis by regular mail and on a weekly basis by email, but depending on the relationship, it could be even more frequent than that.

If you are considering hiring a lawyer who doesn’t take the time to proactively communicate with his or her clients, this should be a red flag. That’s a sign that the lawyer may be stuck in an old, outdated mindset that won’t address your ongoing needs in the way you deserve.

4. Can I call about any legal problem I have, or just about matters within your specialty?

Given the complexity of today’s legal world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, wills and trusts, personal injury, business, criminal matters, or employment law. You definitely do NOT want to work with a lawyer who professes to be an expert in whatever random legal issue walks through the door.

That said, you do want your personal lawyer to have broad enough expertise that you can consult with him or her about all sorts of different legal and financial issues that may come up in your life—and trust he or she will be able to offer you sound guidance. Moreover, while your lawyer may not be able to advise you on all legal matters, he or she should at least be able to refer to you to another trusted professional who can help you.

Trust me, you wouldn’t want the lawyer who designed your estate plan to also handle your personal injury claim, settle a dispute with your landlord, and advise you on your divorce. But you do want him or her to be there to hear your story, refer you to a highly qualified lawyer who specializes in that area, and overall, serve as your go-to legal consultant.

In this capacity, you can call your personal lawyer before you sign any legal documents, any time you have a legal or financial issue arise, or whenever anything that might adversely affect your family or business comes up, and know that you’ll get excellent guidance.

With this in mind, look for a lawyer who has an ongoing service program or membership program, in which you can pay a low monthly fee and be able to call with all of your legal and financial questions, without being charged hourly for the consultation. And be sure that when you call, you get to schedule time to talk with your own lawyer, who you know and trust. We love the idea of legal insurance plans, but we don’t love that you don’t get your own personal lawyer with them. You need to know your lawyer, and know that your lawyer has your back.

5. What happens if you die or retire?

This is a critically important—and often overlooked—question to ask not only your lawyer, but any service professional before beginning a relationship. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to ask, but a truly excellent, client-centered professional will have a plan in place to ensure their clients are taken care of no matter what happens to the individual lawyer managing your plan.

Look for a lawyer who has their own detailed plan in place that will ensure that someone warm and caring will take over your planning without any interruption of service. If your lawyer prepared a will, trust, and other estate planning documents for you, or if you are in the middle of a divorce or lawsuit, you want to make certain your lawyer has such a contingency plan in place, so you won’t be forced to start over from scratch should your lawyer die, retire, or become otherwise unavailable.

Finally, if your lawyer offers a membership program, you’ll want to make sure he or she has a relationship with another lawyer or a network of lawyers who can continue to service you under that program.

A Lasting Relationship

Although hiring the right estate planning lawyer may not seem like a super important decision, it’s actually one of the most critical choices you can make for both yourself and your family. After all, this is the individual you are trusting to serve on your behalf to protect and provide for your loved ones in the event of life’s most traumatic experiences.

Should you choose the wrong person for the job, your family could potentially face all manner of unnecessary conflicts, expenses, and legal entanglements during a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In the end, estate planning is about far more than having a lawyer create a set of documents for you, and then never seeing you again, or only seeing you when something goes wrong.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we develop a relationship with you and with your family that lasts not only for your lifetime, but for the lifetime of your children and their children, if that’s your wish. Our unique, family-centered legal services are specifically tailored to provide our clients with the kind of love, attention, and trust we’d want for our own loved ones.

To learn Schedule Online more about our one-of-a-kind systems and services, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today.

5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Estate Planning Lawyer—Part 1

Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services your potential lawyer offers and how they run their business.

To this end, here are five questions to ask to ensure you don’t end up paying for legal services that you don’t need, expect, or want. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing a planning professional, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney who will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.


1. How do you bill for your services?

There’s no reason you should be afraid to ask a lawyer how he or she bills for the work they do on your behalf. In fact, questions about billing and payment should be among the very first subjects you bring up when you first contact them. No one wants surprises, especially when it comes to the bill.

If you call a lawyer’s office and they are reluctant or refuse to give you clear answers to questions about how they charge for their services, determine your fees, or what they expect certain services will cost, this is a big red flag. When someone is hesitant to discuss their billing or business practices, you could be in for some major surprises about what things cost down the road.

Find an estate planning lawyer who bills for all of their services on a flat-fee, no surprises, basis—and never on an hourly basis—unless it’s required by the court for limited purposes. And ideally, you want a lawyer who will guide you through a process of discovery in which they learn about your family dynamics, your assets, and they educate you about what would happen for your family and to your assets if and when something happens to you, and then support you in choosing the right plan for you that meets your budget and your desired outcomes.

Our process for your planning begins with a Family Wealth Planning Session™, in which we educate you about the law and you educate us about your family dynamics and assets, and then you choose the right plan, at the right cost, for the people you love.

2. How will you respond to my needs on an ongoing basis?

One of the biggest complaints people have about working with lawyers is that they are notoriously unresponsive. Indeed, I’ve heard of cases in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. This is all too common, but totally unacceptable, especially when you’re paying them big bucks.

That said, in most cases, these lawyers aren’t blowing you off—they simply don’t have enough support or the systems in place to be able to be responsive. Far too many lawyers believe they can take care of everything themselves. From paperwork and client meetings to scheduling and returning phone calls to connecting their clients with other advisors, there are just too many responsibilities for one person to manage all on their own.

The truth is, if a lawyer is a complete solo practitioner without support or works for a firm that doesn’t provide adequate support, sooner or later, they are almost certain to become overwhelmed and unresponsive. Given this, it’s vital that you ask your lawyer about how they will respond to your needs if you decide to become their client.

Ask them how quickly calls are typically returned in their office, ask them if there will be someone on-hand to answer quick questions, and ask them how they will support you to keep your plan up to date on an ongoing basis and be there for your loved one’s when you can’t be.

A great way to test this is to call your prospective lawyer’s office and ask for him or her. If you get put through right away—or even worse, your call gets sent to a full voicemail—think twice about hiring this lawyer. This means they don’t have effective systems in place for managing and responding to calls or answering quick questions.

Instead, what you want is for the person who answers the phone—or another team member—to offer to help you. And if that individual cannot help you, then he or she should schedule a call for you to talk with your lawyer at a future date and time.

Your lawyer simply can’t be effective or efficient if he or she is taking every call that comes through. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled with a clear agenda, so you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.

Later in part two, we’ll talk more about the ways in which your attorney should communicate with you and list the remaining three questions to ask before hiring your estate planning lawyer.

Start Planning Now to Prepare Your Estate for a Possible Democratic Sweep—Part 2

No matter who you vote for on November 3rd, you may want to start considering the potential legal, financial, and tax impacts a change of leadership might have on your family’s planning. As you’ll learn here, there are a number of reasons why you may want to start strategizing now if you could be impacted, because if you wait until after the election, it could be too late.

While we don’t yet know the outcome of the election, Biden could win and the Democrats could take a majority in both houses of Congress. If that does happen, a Democratic sweep would have far-reaching consequences on a number of policy fronts. But in terms of financial, tax, and estate planning, it’s almost certain that we’ll see radical changes to the tax landscape that could seriously impact your planning priorities. And while it’s unlikely that a tax bill would be enacted right away, there’s always the possibility such legislation could be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2021.


This two-part series is aimed at outlining the major ways Biden plans to change tax laws, so you can adapt your family’s planning considerations accordingly. Last week in part one, we detailed Biden’s plan to raise roughly $4 trillion in revenue by implementing a variety of measures designed to increase taxes on individuals earning more than $400,000.

Specifically, we discussed the former Vice President’s proposals to increase the top personal income tax rate and capital-gain’s tax rates, reinstitute the Social Security tax on higher incomes, and reduce the federal gift and estate-tax exemption to levels in place during the Obama administration. If you haven’t read that part yet, do so now.

Here, in part two, we’ll cover three additional ways the Biden administration plans to raise taxes, along with offering steps you might want to consider taking to offset the bite these proposed tax hikes could have on your family’s financial and estate planning.

Elimination of step-up in basis on inherited assets

In addition to raising the capital-gains tax rate, Biden has also proposed repealing the step-up in basis on inherited assets. Under the current step-up in basis rule, if you sell an inherited asset that has appreciated in value, such as real estate or stock, the capital gains tax you owe on the sale is pegged to the value of the asset at the time you inherited it, rather than the value of the asset when it was originally purchased.

This can minimize, or even totally eliminate, the capital gains you would owe on the sale. For example, say your mother originally bought her house for $100,000. Over the years, the house grows in value, and it’s worth $500,000 upon her death. If you inherit the house, the step-up would put your tax basis for the house at $500,000, so if you immediately sold the house for $500,000, you would pay zero in capital-gains.

Alternatively, if you held onto the house for a few more years and then sold it for $700,000, you would only owe capital gains on the $200,000 difference on the house’s value from when you inherited it and when it was sold.

However, if the step-up in basis is repealed and you sell the house, you would owe capital gains tax based on the difference between the home’s original purchase price of $100,000 and the price at which you sell it. And whether you sell it right away or wait for it to increase in value, you’d be on the hook to pay exponentially more in capital gains, compared to what you’d owe with step-up in basis in effect.

At this point, it isn’t clear exactly how the new rules would work under Biden’s plan, or what, if any, exceptions would apply. That said, if step-up in basis is repealed, your loved ones most likely won’t be able to avoid paying capital gains on appreciated assets they inherit from you, but if you have highly appreciated assets, meet with us to discuss options for reducing your loved one’s tax bill as much as possible.

Capping the value of itemized deductions at 28%

Another way Biden plans to bring in more tax revenue is by capping the value of itemized deductions at 28% for those earning more than $400,000. This means taxpayers in the highest bracket would get a 28%—rather than 39.6%—reduction for every deductible dollar they itemize.

Given the proposed cap, if you earn more than $400,000 and plan to itemize, you should meet with us and your CPA together to discuss alternative ways to save on your taxes to offset the new cap on itemized deductions. For example, if you would be limited by the itemized deduction cap in 2021 or later, you may want to consider increasing charitable donations in 2020.

If you’d like to make a big charitable gift this year, but aren’t yet sure which charities you would want to benefit, we have strategies that could work for you. Contact us as soon as possible to get started.

Increased taxes on businesses

If you own a business, it’s likely a primary source of your family’s income. And depending on its revenue and entity structure, your business could see a tax hike should Democrats sweep the election.

One of the hallmarks of the TCJA was a lowering of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Biden proposes to raise the corporate rate to 28%. Additionally, under the TCJA pass-through entities—sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and S corporations—were given a potential 20% deduction on Qualified Business Income (QBI). Biden plans to eliminate the 20% QBI deduction, but only for those businesses with pass-through income exceeding $400,000.

Although we don’t specialize in business tax law, if your family business stands to be affected by these proposed changes, we can work with you and an experienced business lawyer we trust to develop strategies to reduce the sting of these tax increases. Call us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, today if you have a business and would like our support with this planning.

Start Strategizing Now

Regardless of how you feel about Trump, the TCJA offers a number of highly valuable tax breaks that may disappear for good should a so-called “blue wave” occur in the upcoming election. To this end, if your family has yet to take advantage of the TCJA’s favorable provisions, you still have a chance to do so, but you have to act immediately.

Given the time needed to analyze your options, create a plan, and finalize your transactions, waiting until the election is over to get started will almost certainly be too late. While you don’t need to immediately make any actual changes, we suggest you at least start strategizing now. And this means contacting us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, right away.

Whether you need to transfer assets out of your estate to lock in the enhanced gift and estate tax exemptions, accelerate large transactions to reap favorable capital-gains rates, or would like to increase your charitable donations for 2020, we can help you get the ball rolling. Schedule your appointment today, so you don’t miss out on massive savings that may never come again.

Start Planning Now to Prepare Your Estate for a Possible Democratic Sweep—Part 1

No matter who you are voting for on November 3rd, you may want to start considering the potential legal, financial, and tax impacts a change of leadership might have on your family’s planning. And as you’ll learn here, there are a number of reasons why you should start strategizing now, because if you wait until after the election, it will very likely be too late.

Although the election outcome is impossible to predict, some polls show Joe Biden with a healthy lead over Donald Trump and the Democrats could be poised to take a majority in both houses of Congress. Such a Democratic sweep will likely have far-reaching consequences on a number of policy fronts. But in terms of financial, tax, and estate planning, it’s almost certain that we’ll see radical changes to the tax landscape that could seriously impact your planning priorities. And while it’s unlikely that a major tax bill would be enacted right away, there’s always the possibility that when legislation does pass it could be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2021.



With that in mind, in this two-part series, we’ll outline the major ways Biden plans to change tax laws, so you can adapt your family’s finances and estate planning considerations accordingly. Although you may decide to put off any actual changes to your estate plan until after the election, if you have any big transactions on the horizon, or if you have an estate that could be worth $1 million or more when you die, we suggest you at least start strategizing now. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to take the appropriate action before the end of the year, which will undoubtedly be a chaotic period regardless of who wins the election.

Focus on high net-worth taxpayers

While Trump has yet to release any formal economic proposals for a second term, Biden’s proposed economic agenda is essentially focused on raising some $4 trillion of new revenue over the next 10 years. The vast majority of this revenue would come from increasing taxes on high net-worth individuals.

Under Biden’s plan, “high net-worth individuals” are taxpayers earning more than $400,000. Those earning less than that would generally not see an increase—and perhaps even a decrease—in taxes, at least in the short-term. At this point, however, it’s not clear if the $400,000 threshold would apply equally to singles, heads of households, and/or married joint-filing couples.

Although the specifics haven’t been fully ironed out yet, Biden’s plan would boost tax revenue in a handful of ways:

  • Increasing the top personal income and capital-gains tax rates
  • Reinstating the payroll tax on higher incomes
  • Returning the federal estate and gift tax exemption to prior levels
  • Eliminating the step-up in cost basis on inherited investments
  • Capping itemized deductions
  • Increasing the corporate tax rate

Increased personal income tax rates on the wealthy

Starting in 2018, Trump’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced the top federal income tax rates on individuals from 39.6% to 37%. Biden’s tax plan would put the top income tax rate back to 39.6% on personal income in excess of $400,000.

This means that everyone earning more than $400,000 a year would see a tax hike. On the other hand, those making less than $400,000 would see no change in their personal income tax rate.

Higher maximum tax rate for capital gains

One of the most dramatic changes proposed under Biden’s plan involves the way capital gains are taxed. Short-term capital gains (assets held for a year or less) are taxed at the ordinary income tax rates, and under Biden’s proposal, those rates would max out at 39.6%. But the tax rates for long-term capital gains would see an even bigger hike.

Long-term capital gains (assets held for more than a year) are taxed at lower rates than short-term gains to encourage long-term investment. Those rates are currently set at 0% for individuals with annual incomes up to $40,000, 15% for incomes between $40,001 and $441,450, and max out at 20% for incomes above $441,451.

The Biden plan, however, would create an entirely new tax bracket just for long-term capital gains in which gains for individuals with incomes higher than $1 million would be taxed at 39.6%. So if you’re making more than $1 million a year, you’d no longer see the benefit of lower capital gains rates.

Given the potential for an increased capital gains tax rate, if you earn more than $1 million a year and are considering a sale of capital-gains qualified assets, or if a sale will bump up your income, you may want to consider accelerating any large transactions, so they’re finalized before the end of the year.

If this is the case for you, consult with us, along with your tax and financial advisors, right away for guidance about which transactions should be prioritized and how to maximize your tax savings on each one. Keep in mind, if you wait to contact us about such transactions until mid-November, it’s unlikely we are going to be able to accommodate your needs, so be sure to act now.

Increased Social Security tax on high-income earners

Another way Biden’s plan would raise tax revenue is by subjecting incomes above $400,000 to the Social Security tax. Currently, the 12.4% Social Security tax—also known as the payroll tax—applies only to the first $137,700 of your income. Earnings above that amount aren’t subject to the tax, and the cap goes up annually with inflation.

Biden proposes applying the 12.4% tax to wages and self-employment income starting at $400,001. This means the first $137,700 of your earnings will continue to be taxed at 12.4%, but you will pay no Social Security tax on additional earnings up to $400,000. However, any additional earnings exceeding $400,000 would be taxed at 12.4%.

The untaxed gap, or “doughnut hole,” on earnings between $137,700 and $400,001 would close over time with the annual increases for inflation. This change is designed to bolster the Social Security system by ensuring that the highest income levels are eventually subject to the full payroll tax.

In light of this proposed change, if you are expecting a bonus or other special end-of-the-year compensation, you should consider arranging for the money to be paid out by the end of 2020, rather than waiting until the start of 2021.

Increased estate and gift tax exposure

When it comes to estate planning, the most critical aspect of Biden’s proposed tax increases would be a major reduction in the federal gift and estate tax exemption. Starting in 2018, the TCJA doubled the gift and estate tax exemption from prior levels, increasing to $11.58 million for single taxpayers and $23.16 million for married couples. Any amounts above this exemption you give away during your lifetime or transfer upon your death are subject to a flat 40% tax.

The increased exemption amounts under the TCJA will sunset at the end of 2025, but if Biden wins the presidency, the enhanced exemption could be repealed much sooner. Indeed, Biden proposes to reduce the exemption back to at least the 2017 level of $5.45 million for individuals and $11.58 for couples.

There are others who suggest the federal gift and estate tax under Biden might even return to 2009 levels, when the individual exemption was set at $3.5 million and the estate tax rate was 45%. What’s more, seeing that in the past lawmakers have made estate tax rates retroactive, it’s possible that these changes could be applied retroactively and go into effect as early as Jan. 1, 2021.

Whatever the final outcome, it’s clear that if you have assets valued between $3.5 and $11 million, you need to seriously consider taking steps now to take advantage of favorable estate-tax exemption rates that may never be seen again. To this end, you should consider opportunities to transfer assets out of your estate now in order to lock in the higher exemption amounts.

That said, transferring assets out of your estate, whether done via gifting or other means, can take several weeks to plan, set up, and finalize, so avoid the temptation to wait until after the election to start planning. In fact, you should immediately meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to discuss your options and get things started.

By setting your plan in motion now, you can have your strategies in place and ready to go, so you can pull the trigger (if needed) once election results are in.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on how to prepare your estate plan for a Biden presidency.

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