Is an Inheritance Taxable?

A frequent question is whether inheritances are taxable. This is a frequently misunderstood question related to taxation and can be complicated. When someone passes away, all of their assets will be subject to inheritance taxation, and whatever is left over after paying the inheritance tax passes to the decedent’s beneficiaries.

Sound bleak? Don’t worry, very few decedents’ estates ever pay any inheritance tax, primarily because the code exempts a liberal amount of the estate from taxation; thus, only very large estates are subject to inheritance tax. In fact, with the passage of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (tax reform), the estate tax deduction has been increased to $11,180,000* for 2018 and is inflation adjusted in future years. That generally means that estates valued at $11,180,000* or less will not pay any federal estate taxes and those in excess of the exemption amount only pay inheritance tax on amounts in excess of the exemption amount. Of interest, there are less than 10,000 deaths each year for which the decedent’s estate exceeds the exemption amount, so for most estates, there will be no estate tax and the beneficiaries will generally inherit the entire estate.

* Note that, as with anything tax-related, the exemption is not always a fixed amount. It must be reduced by prior gifts in excess of the annual gift exemption, and it can be increased for a surviving spouse by the decedent’s unused exemption amount.

Because the value of an estate is based upon the fair market value (FMV) of the assets owned by the decedent on the date of their death (or in some cases, an alternative valuation date six months after the decedent’s date of death, which is rarely used), the beneficiaries will generally receive the inherited assets, with a basis equal to the same FMV determined for the estate. What this means to a beneficiary is if they sell an inherited asset, they will measure their gain or loss from the inherited basis (FMV and date of death).

Example #1: Joe inherits shares of XYZ Corporation from his father. Because XYZ Corporation is a publically traded stock, the FMV can be determined by what it is trading for on the stock market. Thus, if the inherited basis was $40 per share and the shares are later sold for $50 a share, the beneficiary will have a taxable gain of $10 ($50 – $40) per share. In addition, the gain will be a long-term capital gain, since all inherited assets are treated as being held long-term by the beneficiary. On the flip side, if the shares are sold for $35 a share, the beneficiary would have a loss of $5 per share.

Example #2: Joe inherits his father’s home. Like other inherited property, Joe’s basis is the FMV of the home on the date of his father’s death. However, unlike the stock, whose FMV could be determined from the trading value, the home needs to be appraised to determine its FMV. It is highly recommended that a certified appraiser do the appraisal. This is something that is frequently overlooked and can cause some problems if the IRS challenges the amount used for the basis.

This FMV valuation of inherited assets is frequently referred to as a step-up in basis, which is really a misnomer because the FMV can, under some circumstances, also be a step-down in basis.

If the decedent was married at the time of death and resided in a community property state, and if the property was held by the couple as community property, the beneficiary spouse will generally receive a 100% basis equal to the FMV of the property, even though the spouse will have only inherited the deceased spouse’s share.

Not all inherited assets received by the beneficiary fall under the FMV regime. If the decedent held assets that included deferred untaxed income, those assets will be taxable to the beneficiary. Examples of those include inherited:

  • Traditional IRA Accounts – These are taxable to the beneficiaries, but the special rules generally allow a beneficiary to spread the income over five years or take it over their lifetime.
  • Roth IRAs – Qualified distributions are not taxable to the beneficiary.
  • Compensation – Amounts received after the decedent’s death as compensation for his or her personal services.
  • Pension Payments – These are generally taxable to the beneficiary.
  • Installment Sales – Whoever receives an installment obligation as a result of the seller’s death is taxed on the installment payments the same as the seller would have been, had the seller lived to receive the payments.

This is just an overview of issues related to being the beneficiary of an inheritance. If you have questions related to the tax ramifications of a potential or actual inheritance, please give us a call.

Credit for Family and Medical Leave Benefits

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed last year included a new tax credit for employers that allows them to claim a credit based on wages paid to qualifying employees while they are on family and medical leave.

To qualify for the credit, an employer must have a written policy that provides at least two weeks of paid family and medical leave annually to all qualifying employees who work full time, which can be prorated for part-time. The wages paid during the leave period cannot be less than 50 percent of what the employee is normally paid.

The credit is variable. It begins at 12.5% and increases by 0.25%, up to a maximum of 25%, for each percentage point that the rate of payment exceeds 50% of the employee’s normal pay.

Example: ABC, Inc. has qualifying written policy to pay an employee 70% of their normal wage while on family or medical leave. The rate of 70% is 20 percentage points above the 50% credit threshold. Thus the credit is increased by 5% (.25 x 20), which when added to the base credit of 12.5% results in a credit percentage of 17.5% (12.5% plus 5%). Assuming the total leave wages paid for the year were $15,000, the credit would be $2,625 (.175 x $15,000).

A qualifying employee for this credit is any employee who has been employed for one year or more and who had compensation that did not exceed a specified amount for the preceding year. For 2018, the employee must not have earned more than $72,000 in 2017. Thus leave benefits for higher income taxpayers will not qualify for this credit.

For the purposes of this credit, “family and medical leave” is leave for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Birth of an employee’s child and to care for the newborn.
  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
  • Care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition.
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her position.
  • Any qualifying event due to an employee’s spouse, child or parent being on covered active duty — or being called to duty — in the Armed Forces.
  • Care for a service member who is the employee’s spouse, child, parent or next of kin.

The credit only applies to qualified leave wages paid to a qualifying employee for up to 12 weeks per taxable year, and the employer must reduce its deduction for wages or salaries paid or incurred by the amount determined as a credit. Any wages taken into account in determining any other general business credit may not be used toward this credit.

CAUTION – CREDIT TIME LIMITED
The credit is generally only effective for wages paid in taxable years of the employer beginning after December 31, 2017. It is not available for wages paid in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019

The credit is part of the general business credit, where business incentive credits are combined into one “general business credit” for purposes of determining each credit’s allowance limitation for the tax year. A general business credit is generally limited to the taxpayer’s tax liability for the year (excluding self-employment tax), and any excess over the tax liability is carried back one year and forward 20 years. “Carrying back” means, in most instances, amending the return of the year to which the credit is carried; if no return was filed for that year, then the carryback credit would be claimed on an original late-filed return for that year.

If you have any questions relating to this credit, please give us a call.

Summer Employment For Your Child

Summer is just around the corner, and your children may be looking for summer employment. With the passage of the most recent tax reform, the standard deduction for single individuals jumped from $6,350 in 2017 to $12,000 in 2018, meaning your child can now make up to $12,000 from working without paying any income tax on their earnings.

In addition, they can contribute the lesser of $5,500 or their earned income to an IRA. If they contribute to a traditional IRA, they could earn up to $17,500 tax free, since the combination of the standard deduction and the maximum allowed contribution to an IRA for 2018 is $5,500. However, looking forward to the future, a Roth IRA with its tax-free accumulation would be a better choice.

Even if your child is reluctant to give up any of their hard-earned money from their summer or regular employment, if you have the financial resources, you could gift them the funds to make the IRA contribution, giving them a great start and hopefully a continuing incentive to save for retirement.

With vacation time just around the corner and employees heading out for their summer vacations, if you are self-employed, you might consider hiring your children to help out in your business. Financially, it makes more sense to keep the family employed rather than hiring strangers, provided, of course, that the family member is suitable for the job.

Rather than helping to support your children with your after-tax dollars, you can instead hire them in your business and pay them with tax-deductible dollars. Of course, the employment must be legitimate and the pay commensurate with the hours and the job worked. A reasonable salary paid to a child reduces the self-employment income and tax of the parents (business owners) by shifting income to the child.

Example: You are in the 25% tax bracket and own a self-employed business. You hire your child (who has no investment income) and pay the child $15,000 for the year. You reduce your income by $15,000, which saves you $3,750 of income tax (25% of $15,000), and your child has a taxable income of $3,000 ($15,000 less the $12,000 standard deduction) on which the tax is only $300 (10% of $3,000).

If the business is unincorporated and the wages are paid to a child under age 18, the pay will not be subject to FICA (Social Security and Medicare taxes) since employment for FICA tax purposes doesn’t include services performed by a child under the age of 18 while employed by a parent. Thus, the child will not be required to pay the employee’s share of the FICA taxes, and the business won’t have to pay its half either.

Example: Using the same information as the previous example, and assuming your business profits are $130,000, by paying your child $15,000, you not only reduce your self-employment income for income tax purposes, but you also reduce your self-employment tax (HI portion) by $402 (2.9% of $15,000 times the SE factor of 92.35%). But if your net profits for the year were less than the maximum SE income ($128,400 for 2018) that is subject to Social Security tax, then the savings would include the 12.4% Social Security portion in addition to the 2.9% HI portion.

A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA, which exempts from federal unemployment tax the earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting solely of his or her parents. However, the exemptions do not apply to businesses that are incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners. Even so, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work that you would pay someone else to do anyway.

If you have questions related to your child’s employment or hiring your child in your business, please give us a call.

Not-Being-Insured Penalty Eliminated

Note: This is one of a series of articles that explains how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family—both in 2018 and in future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, imposed a “share-responsibility payment” on taxpayers who did not sign up for minimum essential health coverage. This payment is essentially a penalty for not being insured.

The penalty was phased in during 2014 and 2015, and it became fully effective in 2016. The penalty also began to be inflation adjusted after 2017.

The penalty for 2018 is the greater of the sum of the family’s flat dollar amounts or 2.5% of the amount by which the household’s income exceeds the income-tax filing threshold.

For 2018, the flat dollar amounts are $700 per year ($58.33 per month) for each adult and $350 per year ($29.17 per month) for each child; the maximum family penalty using this method is $2,100 per year ($175 per month).

As an example, say that a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) has a household income that exceeds the income-tax filing threshold by $100,000. This family would have a maximum penalty equal to the greater of the flat dollar amount ($700 + $700 + $350 + $350 = $2100) or 2.5% of the income amount (2.5% × $100,000 = $2,500). Thus, the maximum penalty would be $2,500. However, the penalties are applied separately in each month, and they do not apply in a given month if certain exceptions are met.

Because of the Act, in 2019, the shared responsibility payment will no longer exist, thus allowing taxpayers the discretion of choosing to not have any coverage without the fear of being subject to a substantial penalty. However, the penalty still applies for 2018.

This does not impact the health care subsidy for low-income families, which is known as the premium tax credit and which is available for policies that are acquired through a government insurance marketplace. It also does not affect the penalties assessed on employers that do not offer affordable insurance to employees and that have 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact us.

You May Not Get a Tax Refund Next Year

With all of the tax reform changes and the corresponding reductions in most taxpayers’ income tax withholding, there are serious concerns that the reduction in withholding, although providing more take-home pay now, could end up resulting in unexpected taxes due at tax time next year. For that reason, taxpayers should be overly cautious about their payroll withholding for 2018. One need only look at the W-4 instructions to realize that an individual without any substantial tax training can quickly become lost when filling out the worksheets. It is not business as usual.

What adds to the problem is that many taxpayers count on a refund to pay property taxes, insurance, and other large expenses. The W-4 worksheets are designed to withhold the correct amount of tax with no substantial refund, and many tax practitioners are reporting that clients’ withholdings for 2018 have been reduced to seriously low amounts.

In other years, most taxpayers can look at the tax from their prior year’s return and compare it to their projected payroll withholding to see if their current withholding amount is appropriate. But that’s not the case for 2018, since the tax computation has been substantially altered. Taxpayers with multiple jobs, a working spouse, or complicated returns will find it difficult to adjust their withholding to achieve the desired results.

The same problem exists for retirees with pension income, the difference being that they use a W-4P instead of a W-4.

If you would like us to project your 2018 taxes and suggest how to adjust your payroll withholding so you might achieve the outcome you want, please give us a call.

Is Bunching Right for You?

 Note: The is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

The Act increased the standard deduction and placed new limitations on itemized deductions. Beginning with 2018 tax returns, the standard deductions will be:

  • $12,000 for single individuals and married people filing separately,
  • $18,000 for heads of household, and
  • $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

If your deductions exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status, you are allowed to itemize the following deductions:

  • Medical expenses, to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI);
  • Taxes paid during the year (for state or local income or sales tax and for real property or personal property taxes), limited to $10,000;
  • Home mortgage interest;
  • Investment interest;
  • Charitable contributions;
  • Gambling losses, to the extent of your gambling winnings; and
  • Certain infrequently encountered tier-1 miscellaneous deductions.

Are your itemized deductions typically roughly equal to the new standard deduction amount? If so, think about using a tax strategy known as bunching. In this technique, you take the standard deduction in one year and then itemize in the next. This is accomplished by planning the payment of your deductible expenses so as to maximize them in the years when you itemize deductions. Commonly bunched deductible expenses include medical expenses, taxes, and charitable contributions.

To clearly illustrate how bunching works, here are a few examples of deductible payments that generally provide enough flexibility:

  • Medical Expenses – Say that you contract with a dentist for your child’s braces. This dentist offers you the option of an up-front lump-sum payment or a payment plan. If you make the lump-sum payment, the entire cost will be credited in the year you paid it, thereby dramatically increasing your medical expenses for that year. If you do not have the cash available for the up-front payment, then you can pay by credit card, which is treated as a lump-sum payment for tax purposes. If you do so, you must realize that the interest on that payment is not deductible; you need to determine whether incurring the interest is worth the increased tax deduction. Another important issue related to medical deductions is that only the amount of medical expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your AGI is actually deductible. In addition, this 7.5% floor will increase to 10% after 2018. There is thus no tax benefit to bunching medical deductions if the total will be less than 7.5% of your AGI (or 10% beginning in 2019).
    If you have abnormally high income in the current year, you may wish to put off medical expense payments until the following year (e.g., if 10% of the following year’s income will be less than 7.5% of this year’s income).
  • Taxes – Property taxes are generally billed annually at midyear; most locales allow for these tax bills to be paid in semiannual or quarterly installments. Thus, you have the option of paying them all at once or paying them in installments. This provides the opportunity to bunch the tax payments by paying only one semiannual installment (or 2 quarterly installments) in one year and pushing off the other semiannual (or 2 quarterly) installments until the next year. Doing so allows you to deduct 1½ years of taxes in one year and half a year of taxes in the other. However, if you are thinking of making late property tax payments as a means of bunching, you should be cautious. Late payment penalties are likely to wipe out any potential tax savings.
    If you reside in a state that has a state income tax, any such tax that is paid or withheld during the year is deductible on federal taxes. For instance, if you are making quarterly estimated state tax payments, the fourth quarter estimated payment is generally due in January of the subsequent year. This gives you the opportunity to either make that payment before December 31 (thus enabling you to deduct the payment on the current year’s return) or pay it in January before the due date (thus enabling you to use it as a deduction in the subsequent year).
    Here is a word of caution about itemized tax deductions: Under the Act, a maximum of $10,000 is allowed under itemized tax deductions, so there is no benefit gained by prepaying taxes when your tax total is already $10,000 or more. In addition, taxes are not deductible at all under the alternative minimum tax, so individuals under that tax generally derive no benefits from itemized deductions.
  • Charitable Contributions – Charitable contributions are a nice fit for bunching because they are entirely at the taxpayer’s discretion. For example, if you normally tithe to your church, you can make your normal contributions during the year but then prepay the entire subsequent year’s tithe in a lump sum in December of the current year. If you do this for all contributions that you generally make to qualified organizations, you can double up on your contributions in one year and have no charitable deductions in the next year. Normally, charities are very active in their solicitations during the holiday season, which gives you the opportunity to make forward-looking contributions at the end of the current year or to simply wait a short time and make them after the end of the year. Charitable deductions do have a limit, but for most types of contributions, it is high: 60% of AGI, beginning in 2018.

If you have questions about bunching your deductions, or if you wish to do some in-depth strategizing about how this technique could benefit you, please call for an appointment.

Tax Reform Limits Sec 1031 Exchanges to Defer Taxes

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes made by the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as the “Act” in the article), passed late in December 2017, might affect you and your family in 2018 and future years, and offering strategies you might employ to reduce your tax liability under the new tax laws.

Whenever you sell business or investment property and have a gain, you generally have to pay tax on the gain at the time of sale. In the past, the tax code provided an exception and allowed you to postpone paying tax on the gain if you reinvested the proceeds into similar property as part of a qualifying like-kind exchange. These types of exchanges are commonly called Sec. 1031 exchanges (referring to the tax code section that allows them). These rules have applied to real estate, cars, farm animals and other business and investment items that are like-kind property.

However, under the Act, and beginning in 2018, Sec. 1031 exchanges will only be allowed for exchanges of real property that is not held primarily for sale. It is important to note that real property located in the U.S. and real property located outside of the U.S. are not like-kind property for the purposes of these rules. Thus, exchanges of personal property and intangible property will no longer qualify for tax-deferred treatment.

Transition Rule – The provision generally applies to exchanges completed after December 31, 2017. However, an exception is provided for any exchange if the taxpayer disposes of the property disposed in the exchange on or before December 31, 2017, or if the taxpayer receives the property in the exchange on or before this date.

An example of this law change’s impact is when a business property such as a vehicle or machinery is traded in for a replacement. In the past, it was a tax strategy to sell the old property if its disposition resulted in a deductible tax loss and trade it in toward the new property if the disposition would result in a gain, thereby deferring the gain into the future. The Act has taken away that option, and now even trade-ins will result in a taxable transaction, whether it is a gain or loss.

Another example is investors in virtual currency who trade one type of virtual currency for another. They will be required to report their trades as capital gains/losses and won’t be able to use the 1031 tax-deferral rules.

If you have questions about how this change will impact your business or investment transactions, please give us a call.

Living Abroad? Here Is How Tax Reform May Affect You

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which was passed in late December 2017, could affect you and your family, in both 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

If you are an expatriate living abroad, you may be wondering how the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) will impact you. This is the most extensive tax change in over 30 years, and although it was touted as tax simplification when it was in the planning stages, nothing was simplified related to U.S. citizens and resident aliens working abroad. The following is an overview of how things will play out for you beginning in 2018.

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Is Still Alive and Well – The inflation-adjusted maximum exclusion for 2018 is $104,100 (up from $102,100 in 2017). However, the Act did change the measure of inflation so that the inflation adjustments in future years will be lower. The housing exclusion was also retained, and for 2018, the maximum is $14,574 (up from $14,294 in 2017). For certain high-cost areas, the IRS allows higher housing exclusions.

Foreign Information Reporting Remains the Same – The troublesome burden of reporting foreign financial relationships continues unchanged. So if the aggregate value of the foreign financial accounts that you have a financial interest in or signature authority over exceeds $10,000 any time during the year, you are generally required to file Form 114 (commonly referred to as FBAR) with FinCEN. If you have specified foreign financial assets generally having a year-end value of $200,000, or $300,000 at any time during the year (double those amounts for married taxpayers), you are required to file Form 8938 with your tax return. Other reporting requirements include Form 5471 to report ownership or voting power in a foreign corporation, Form 3520 for ownership or transactions with foreign trusts and for reporting foreign gifts or bequests and Form 3520-A when a foreign trust has a U.S. owner.

Ownership in a Foreign Corporation – The Act transforms the U.S. into a territorial system of taxation for corporations instead of a worldwide system. As a result, all U.S. taxpayers who own at least 10% of a foreign corporation must include in their income pro rata shares of all accumulated post-1986 deferred foreign income that has not previously been taxed. After all of the adjustments, this deferred foreign income is generally taxed at an effective rate of 15.5%. The TCJA allows, by election, for this tax to be spread over a period of 8 years.

Foreign Tax Credit – The foreign tax credit remains unchanged, although the TCJA does not allow it to offset the tax on accumulated post-1986 deferred income, as previously discussed.

Other 1040 Changes – It seems that the Act’s only attempts at simplification were eliminating personal exemptions (which were $4,050 each for taxpayer, spouse and dependent in 2017); limiting itemized deductions (or suspending some deductions through 2025); and increasing the standard deduction to $12,000 for single taxpayers, $18,000 for head-of-household filers and $24,000 for those filing married joint. The Act also suspended the deduction for foreign property tax as itemized deduction.

The new tax law increased the child tax credit to $2,000, and up to $1,400 is refundable. However, if you exclude foreign earned income or the foreign housing allowance, you are prohibited from claiming the refundable part of the child tax credit. You must include the Social Security number of each qualifying child on your return for whom you claim the credit, and the Social Security number must be issued before the due date of your return. The Act added a new $500 nonrefundable credit for qualifying dependents other than qualifying children. The AGI threshold at which the child tax credit begins to phase out was substantially raised: to $400,000 for those filing a married joint return and $200,000 for others.

Moving Deduction – If you are planning a move in the future, the Act did deal you a bad hand. The deduction for moving expenses is suspended until after 2025, and to make matters worse, any moving reimbursement provided by your employer is taxable.

There have been, of course, many other changes brought about by the Act. If you have questions related to taxes and living abroad, please give us a call.

Tax Reform Puts a Cap on Deducting Business Losses

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

Under the Act, deductible business losses of noncorporate taxpayers will be limited beginning in 2018. Many have misconstrued this new law to mean that no losses are allowed.

Fortunately, that is not the case. The Act does not allow “excess business losses” to be deducted. An “excess business loss” is the excess of the taxpayer’s aggregate trade or business deductions for the tax year (determined without regard to whether the deductions are disallowed for that tax year) over the sum of the taxpayer’s aggregate gross income or gain for the tax year from those trades or businesses, plus $250,000 (200% of that amount for a joint return (i.e., $500,000)). This amount will be adjusted for inflation after 2018.

More simply put, deductible losses for the year are generally limited to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly).

Example: A single taxpayer, in 2018, has two businesses. The combined deductions from the two businesses total $500,000. The taxpayer’s gross income from those two businesses is $200,000. After netting the income and deductions, there is a net loss of $300,000 ($200,000 – $500,000). Prior to the Act, the deductible loss would have been $300,000. However, under the Act the excess business loss is equal to $50,000 ($500,000 – ($200,000 + $250,000)). And since excess business losses are not deductible, the taxpayer can only deduct $250,000 ($300,000 – $50,000) in 2018.
On the bright side, the nondeductible excess business loss ($50,000 in our example) is treated as a net operating loss (NOL) carried forward to the next year’s return, where it is deductible from the taxpayer’s gross income, including nonbusiness income. Under the Act, an NOL is carried forward indefinitely until it is used up. The Act did, however, limit NOLs in the future to offsetting only 80% of a taxpayer’s income for any year.

If you have questions related to “excess business loss,” please give us a call.