With most tax planning, there are certain strategies that are generally effective and shouldn’t be ignored. The same holds true for estate planning. Here are three essential estate planning strategies to consider that may help you achieve your goals.

1. Use an ILIT to hold life insurance 

Do you own an insurance policy on your life? Then be aware that a substantial portion of the proceeds could be lost to estate taxes if your estate is large enough to be liable for them. The exact amount will depend on the estate tax exemption available at your death as well as the estate tax rates that apply.

However, if you don’t own the policy, the proceeds won’t be included in your taxable estate. One effective strategy for keeping life insurance out of your estate is to set up an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to buy and hold the policy.

If you already own your life insurance policy, you can transfer the policy to an ILIT. But watch out for the “three-year rule,” which provides that certain assets, including life insurance, transferred within three years of your death are pulled back into your estate and potentially taxed.

2. Place assets in a credit shelter trust

Designating your spouse as your sole beneficiary may seem like a good strategy. But doing so can waste your estate tax exemption.

Suppose you leave everything to your spouse. There will be no current estate tax at your death because of the unlimited marital deduction (assuming your spouse is a U.S. citizen). When your spouse dies, however, the assets transferred to him or her at your death will be included in his or her taxable estate (assuming the assets remain intact). A portion of your spouse’s estate could be subject to estate tax, depending on a variety of factors such as the size of your spouse’s total estate and the estate tax exemption available at his or her death.

You can preserve your exemption and reduce or even eliminate estate taxes by placing assets in a credit shelter trust. If properly structured, the trust provides your spouse with income for life — and access to the principal as needed — but the assets aren’t included in his or her estate. Plus, your own exemption shields the trust assets from estate tax.

3. Take advantage of a gifting strategy

Don’t underestimate the tax-saving power of making gifts. Currently, the annual exclusion is $15,000 per recipient ($30,000 if you split gifts with your spouse).

Annual exclusion gifts can be more effective because, unlike lifetime exemption gifts, they don’t reduce the amount of wealth you can transfer tax-free at death under your estate tax exemption. Gifting, whether under the annual exclusion or lifetime exemption, also removes future appreciation from your taxable estate.

Work with a pro

There’s much you need to consider when developing or reviewing your estate plan. Contact us so you can keep your plan on the right track.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Commercial loans, particularly small business loans, have been in the news over the past year or so. The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program has been helpful to many companies, though fraught with administrative challenges.

As your business pushes forward, you may find yourself in need of cash in the months ahead. If so, more traditional commercial loan options are still out there. Before you apply, however, think like a lender to be as prepared as possible and know for sure that the loan is a good idea.

4 basic questions

At the most basic level, a lender has four questions in mind:

  1. How much money do you want?
  2. How do you plan to use it?
  3. When do you need it?
  4. How soon can you repay the loan?

Pose these questions to yourself and your leadership team. Be sure you’re crystal clear on the answers. You’ll need to explain your business objectives in detail and provide a history of previous lender financing as well as other capital contributions.

Lenders will also look at your company’s track record with creditors. This includes business credit reports and your company’s credit score.

Consider the three C’s

Lenders want to minimize risk. So, while you’re role-playing as one, consider the three C’s of your company:

1. Character. The strength of the management team — its skills, reputation, training and experience — is a key indicator of whether a business loan will be repaid. Strive to work through natural biases that can arise when reviewing your own performance. What areas of your business could be viewed as weaknesses, and how can you assure a lender that you’re improving them?

2. Capacity. Lenders want to know how you’ll use the loan proceeds to increase cash flow enough to make payments by the maturity date. Work up reasonable cash flow and profitability projections that demonstrate the feasibility of your strategic objectives. Convince yourself before you try to convince the bank!

3. Collateral. These are the assets pledged if you don’t generate enough incremental cash flow to repay the loan. Collateral is a lender’s backup plan in case your financial projections fall short. Examples include real estate, savings, stock, inventory and equipment.

As part of your effort to think like a lender, use your financial statements to create a thorough inventory of assets that could end up as collateral. Doing so will help you clearly see what’s at stake with the loan. You may need to put personal assets on the line as well.

Gain some insight

Applying for a business loan can be a stressful and even frustrating experience. By taking on the lender’s mindset, you’ll be better prepared for the process. What’s more, you could gain insights into how to better develop strategic initiatives. Contact our firm for help.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If you’re a business owner and you’re getting a divorce, tax issues can complicate matters. Your business ownership interest is one of your biggest personal assets and in many cases, your marital property will include all or part of it.

Tax-free property transfers

You can generally divide most assets, including cash and business ownership interests, between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse without any federal income or gift tax consequences. When an asset falls under this tax-free transfer rule, the spouse who receives the asset takes over its existing tax basis (for tax gain or loss purposes) and its existing holding period (for short-term or long-term holding period purposes).

Let’s say that under the terms of your divorce agreement, you give your house to your spouse in exchange for keeping 100% of the stock in your business. That asset swap would be tax-free. And the existing basis and holding periods for the home and the stock would carry over to the person who receives them.

Tax-free transfers can occur before a divorce or at the time it becomes final. Tax-free treatment also applies to post-divorce transfers as long as they’re made “incident to divorce.” This means transfers that occur within:

  1. A year after the date the marriage ends, or
  2. Six years after the date the marriage ends if the transfers are made pursuant to your divorce agreement. 

More tax issues

Later on, there will be tax implications for assets received tax-free in a divorce settlement. The ex-spouse who winds up owning an appreciated asset — when the fair market value exceeds the tax basis — generally must recognize taxable gain when it’s sold (unless an exception applies).

What if your ex-spouse receives 49% of your highly appreciated small business stock? Thanks to the tax-free transfer rule, there’s no tax impact when the shares are transferred. Your ex will continue to apply the same tax rules as if you had continued to own the shares, including carryover basis and carryover holding period. When your ex-spouse ultimately sells the shares, he or she will owe any capital gains taxes. You will owe nothing.

Note that the person who winds up owning appreciated assets must pay the built-in tax liability that comes with them. From a net-of-tax perspective, appreciated assets are worth less than an equal amount of cash or other assets that haven’t appreciated. That’s why you should always take taxes into account when negotiating your divorce agreement.

In addition, the beneficial tax-free transfer rule is now extended to ordinary-income assets, not just to capital-gains assets. For example, if you transfer business receivables or inventory to your ex-spouse in a divorce, these types of ordinary-income assets can also be transferred tax-free. When the asset is later sold, converted to cash or exercised (in the case of nonqualified stock options), the person who owns the asset at that time must recognize the income and pay the tax liability.

Plan ahead to avoid surprises

Like many major life events, divorce can have major tax implications. For example, you may receive an unexpected tax bill if you don’t carefully handle the splitting up of qualified retirement plan accounts (such as a 401(k) plan) and IRAs. And if you own a business, the stakes are higher. We can help you minimize the adverse tax consequences of settling your divorce. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

In recent weeks, some Americans have been victimized by hurricanes, severe storms, flooding, wildfires and other disasters. No matter where you live, unexpected disasters may cause damage to your home or personal property. Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), eligible casualty loss victims could claim a deduction on their tax returns. But there are now restrictions that make these deductions harder to take.

What’s considered a casualty for tax purposes? It’s a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, fire, act of vandalism or a terrorist attack.

More difficult to qualify 

For losses incurred through 2025, the TCJA generally eliminates deductions for personal casualty losses, except for losses due to federally declared disasters. For example, during the summer of 2021, there have been presidential declarations of major disasters in parts of Tennessee, New York state, Florida and California after severe storms, flooding and wildfires. So victims in affected areas would be eligible for casualty loss deductions.

Note: There’s an exception to the general rule of allowing casualty loss deductions only in federally declared disaster areas. If you have personal casualty gains because your insurance proceeds exceed the tax basis of the damaged or destroyed property, you can deduct personal casualty losses that aren’t due to a federally declared disaster up to the amount of your personal casualty gains.

Special election to claim a refund

If your casualty loss is due to a federally declared disaster, a special election allows you to deduct the loss on your tax return for the preceding year and claim a refund. If you’ve already filed your return for the preceding year, you can file an amended return to make the election and claim the deduction in the earlier year. This can potentially help you get extra cash when you need it.

This election must be made by no later than six months after the due date (without considering extensions) for filing your tax return for the year in which the disaster occurs. However, the election itself must be made on an original or amended return for the preceding year.

How to calculate the deduction

You must take the following three steps to calculate the casualty loss deduction for personal-use property in an area declared a federal disaster:

  1. Subtract any insurance proceeds.
  2. Subtract $100 per casualty event.
  3. Combine the results from the first two steps and then subtract 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year you claim the loss deduction.

Important: Another factor that now makes it harder to claim a casualty loss than it used to be years ago is that you must itemize deductions to claim one. Through 2025, fewer people will itemize, because the TCJA significantly increased the standard deduction amounts. For 2021, they’re $12,550 for single filers, $18,800 for heads of households, and $25,100 for married joint-filing couples.

So even if you qualify for a casualty deduction, you might not get any tax benefit, because you don’t have enough itemized deductions.

Contact us

These are the rules for personal property. Keep in mind that the rules for business or income-producing property are different. (It’s easier to get a deduction for business property casualty losses.) If you are a victim of a disaster, we can help you understand the complex rules.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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