March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024
Owners of closely held businesses typically have a significant portion of their wealth tied up in their enterprises. If you own a closely held business with your relatives involved, and don’t take the proper estate planning steps to ensure that it lives on after you’re gone, you may be placing your family at financial risk.
Differences between ownership and management succession
One challenge of transferring a family-owned business is distinguishing between ownership and management succession. When a business is sold to a third party, ownership and management succession typically happen simultaneously. But in a family-owned business, there may be reasons to separate the two.
From an estate planning perspective, transferring assets to the younger generation as early as possible allows you to remove future appreciation from your estate, minimizing any estate tax liability. However, you may not be ready to hand over the reins of your business or you may feel that your children aren’t yet ready to take over.
There are several strategies owners can use to transfer ownership without immediately giving up control, including:
- Placing business interests in a trust, family limited partnership (FLP) or other vehicle that allows the owner to transfer substantial ownership interests to the younger generation while retaining management control,
- Transferring ownership to the next generation in the form of nonvoting stock, or
- Establishing an employee stock ownership plan.
Another reason to separate ownership and management succession is to deal with family members who aren’t involved in the business. Providing heirs outside the business with nonvoting stock or other equity interests that don’t confer control can be an effective way to share the wealth while allowing those who work in the business to take over management.
Conflicts may arise
Another unique challenge presented by family businesses is that the older and younger generations may have conflicting financial needs. Fortunately, several strategies are available to generate cash flow for the owner while minimizing the burden on the next generation. They include:
An installment sale of the business to children or other family members. This provides liquidity for the owners while easing the burden on the younger generation and improving the chances that the purchase can be funded by cash flows from the business. Plus, as long as the price and terms are comparable to arm’s-length transactions between unrelated parties, the sale shouldn’t trigger gift or estate taxes.
A grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT). By transferring business interests to a GRAT, owners obtain a variety of gift and estate tax benefits (provided they survive the trust term) while enjoying a fixed income stream for a period of years. At the end of the term, the business is transferred to the owners’ children or other beneficiaries. GRATs are typically designed to be gift-tax-free.
Because each family business is different, it’s important to work with your estate planning advisor to identify appropriate strategies in line with your objectives and resources.
Plan sooner rather than later
Regardless of your strategy, the earlier you start planning the better. Transitioning the business gradually over several years or even a decade or more gives you time to educate family members about your succession planning philosophy. It also allows you to relinquish control over time and implement tax-efficient business transfer strategies.
March 4, 2024
A recent report shows that post-pandemic global business travel is going strong. The market reached $665.3 billion in 2022 and is estimated to hit $928.4 billion by 2030, according to a report from Research and Markets. If you own your own company and travel for business, you may wonder whether you can deduct the costs of having your spouse accompany you on trips.
Is your spouse an employee?
The rules for deducting a spouse’s travel costs are very restrictive. First of all, to qualify for the deduction, your spouse must be your employee. This means you can’t deduct the travel costs of a spouse, even if his or her presence has a bona fide business purpose, unless the spouse is an employee of your business. This requirement prevents tax deductibility in most cases.
If your spouse is your employee, you can deduct his or her travel costs if his or her presence on the trip serves a bona fide business purpose. Merely having your spouse perform some incidental business service, such as typing up notes from a meeting, isn’t enough to establish a business purpose. In general, it isn’t enough for his or her presence to be “helpful” to your business pursuits — it must be necessary.
In most cases, a spouse’s participation in social functions, for example as a host or hostess, isn’t enough to establish a business purpose. That is, if his or her purpose is to establish general goodwill for customers or associates, this is usually insufficient. Further, if there’s a vacation element to the trip (for example, if your spouse spends time sightseeing), it will be more difficult to establish a business purpose for his or her presence on the trip. On the other hand, a bona fide business purpose exists if your spouse’s presence is necessary to care for a serious medical condition that you have.
If your spouse’s travel satisfies these requirements, the normal deductions for business travel away from home can be claimed. These include the costs of transportation, meals, lodging, and incidental costs such as dry cleaning, phone calls, etc.
What if your spouse isn’t an employee?
Even if your spouse’s travel doesn’t satisfy the requirements, however, you may still be able to deduct a substantial portion of the trip’s costs. This is because the rules don’t require you to allocate 50% of your travel costs to your spouse. You need only allocate any additional costs you incur for him or her. For example, in many hotels the cost of a single room isn’t that much lower than the cost of a double. If a single would cost you $150 a night and a double would cost you and your spouse $200, the disallowed portion of the cost allocable to your spouse would only be $50. In other words, you can write off the cost of what you would have paid traveling alone. To prove your deduction, ask the hotel for a room rate schedule showing single rates for the days you’re staying.
And if you drive your own car or rent one, the whole cost will be fully deductible even if your spouse is along. Of course, if public transportation is used, and for meals, any separate costs incurred by your spouse aren’t deductible.
You want to maximize all the tax breaks you can claim for your small business. Contact us if you have questions or need assistance with this or other tax-related issues.
March 4, 2024
When creating or revising your estate plan, it’s important to take into account all of your loved ones. Because each family has its own unique set of circumstances, there are a variety of trusts and other vehicles available to specifically address most families’ estate planning objectives.
Special needs trusts (SNTs), also called “supplemental needs trusts,” benefit children or other family members with disabilities that require extended-term care or that prevent them from being able to support themselves. This trust type can provide peace of mind that your loved one’s quality of life will be enhanced without disqualifying him or her for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
Preserve government benefits
An SNT may preserve your loved one’s access to government benefits that cover health care and other basic needs. Medicaid and SSI pay for basic medical care, food, clothing and shelter. However, to qualify for these benefits, a person’s resources must be limited to no more than $2,000 in “countable assets.” Important note: If your family member with special needs owns more than $2,000 in countable assets, thus making him or her ineligible for government assistance, an SNT is useless.
Generally, every asset is countable with a few exceptions. The exceptions include a principal residence, regardless of value (but if the recipient is in a nursing home or similar facility, he or she must intend and be expected to return to the home); a car; a small amount of life insurance; burial plots or prepaid burial contracts; and furniture, clothing, jewelry and certain other personal belongings.
An SNT is an irrevocable trust designed to supplement, rather than replace, government assistance. To preserve eligibility for government benefits, the beneficiary can’t have access to the funds, and the trust must be prohibited from providing for the beneficiary’s “support.” That means it can’t be used to pay for medical care, food, clothing, shelter or anything else covered by Medicaid or SSI.
Pay for supplemental expenses
With those limitations in mind, an SNT can be used to pay for virtually anything government benefits don’t cover, such as unreimbursed medical expenses, education and training, transportation (including wheelchair-accessible vehicles), insurance, computers, and modifications to the beneficiary’s home. It can also pay for “quality-of-life” needs, such as travel, entertainment, recreation and hobbies.
Keep in mind that the trust must not pay any money directly to the beneficiary. Rather, the funds should be distributed directly — on behalf of the beneficiary — to the third parties that provide goods and services to him or her.
Consider the trust’s language
To ensure that an SNT doesn’t disqualify the beneficiary from government benefits, it should prohibit distributions directly to the beneficiary and prohibit the trustee from paying for any support items covered by Medicaid or SSI. Some SNTs specify the types of supplemental expenses the trust should pay; others give the trustee sole discretion over nonsupport items.
Alert family and friends
After creating or revising your estate plan, discuss your intentions with your family. This is especially important if your plan includes an SNT. To ensure an SNT’s terms aren’t broken, family members and friends who want to make gifts or donations must do so directly to the trust and not to the loved one with special needs. Contact us with any questions regarding an SNT.
February 13, 2024
Businesses basically have two accounting methods to figure their taxable income: cash and accrual. Many businesses have a choice of which method to use for tax purposes. The cash method often provides significant tax benefits for eligible businesses, though some may be better off using the accrual method. Thus, it may be prudent for your business to evaluate its method to ensure that it’s the most advantageous approach.
Eligibility to use the cash method
“Small businesses,” as defined by the tax code, are generally eligible to use either cash or accrual accounting for tax purposes. (Some businesses may also be eligible to use various hybrid approaches.) Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) took effect, the gross receipts threshold for classification as a small business varied from $1 million to $10 million depending on how a business was structured, its industry and factors involving inventory.
The TCJA simplified the small business definition by establishing a single gross receipts threshold. It also increased the threshold to $25 million (adjusted for inflation), expanding the benefits of small business status to more companies. For 2024, a small business is one whose average annual gross receipts for the three-year period ending before the 2024 tax year are $30 million or less (up from $29 million for 2023).
In addition to eligibility for the cash accounting method, small businesses can benefit from advantages including:
- Simplified inventory accounting,
- An exemption from the uniform capitalization rules, and
- An exemption from the business interest deduction limit.
Note: Some businesses are eligible for cash accounting even if their gross receipts are above the threshold, including S corporations, partnerships without C corporation partners, farming businesses and certain personal service corporations. Tax shelters are ineligible for the cash method, regardless of size.
Difference between the methods
For most businesses, the cash method provides significant tax advantages. Because cash-basis businesses recognize income when received and deduct expenses when they’re paid, they have greater control over the timing of income and deductions. For example, toward the end of the year, they can defer income by delaying invoices until the following tax year or shift deductions into the current year by accelerating the payment of expenses.
In contrast, accrual-basis businesses recognize income when earned and deduct expenses when incurred, without regard to the timing of cash receipts or payments. Therefore, they have little flexibility to time the recognition of income or expenses for tax purposes.
The cash method also provides cash flow benefits. Because income is taxed in the year received, it helps ensure that a business has the funds needed to pay its tax bill.
However, for some businesses, the accrual method may be preferable. For instance, if a company’s accrued income tends to be lower than its accrued expenses, the accrual method may result in lower tax liability. Other potential advantages of the accrual method include the ability to deduct year-end bonuses paid within the first 2½ months of the following tax year and the option to defer taxes on certain advance payments.
Even if your business would benefit by switching from the accrual method to the cash method, or vice versa, it’s important to consider the administrative costs involved in a change. For example, if your business prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, it’s required to use the accrual method for financial reporting purposes. That doesn’t mean it can’t use the cash method for tax purposes, but it would require maintaining two sets of books.
Changing accounting methods for tax purposes also may require IRS approval. Contact us to learn more about each method.
February 9, 2024
Typically, an estate plan includes accommodations for your spouse, children, grandchildren and even future generations. But some members of the family can be overlooked, such as your parents or in-laws. Yet the older generation may also need your financial assistance.
How can you best handle the financial affairs of parents in the later stages of life? Incorporate their needs into your own estate plan while tweaking, when necessary, the arrangements they’ve already made. Here are five critical steps:
Open the lines of communication. Before going any further, have an honest discussion with your elderly relatives, as well as other family members who may be involved, such as your siblings. Make sure you understand your parents’ wishes and explain the objectives you hope to accomplish. Understandably, they may be hesitant or too proud to accept your help or provide information, so some arm twisting may be required.
Identify key contacts. Just like you’ve done for yourself, compile the names and addresses of professionals important to your parents’ finances and medical conditions. These may include stockbrokers, financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents and physicians.
List and value their assets. If you’re going to be able to manage the financial affairs of your parents, having knowledge of their assets is vital. It would be wise to keep a list of their investment holdings, IRA and retirement plan accounts, and life insurance policies, including current balances and account numbers. Be sure to add in projections for Social Security benefits. When all is said and done, don’t be surprised if their net worth is higher or lower than what you (or they) initially thought. You can use this information to formulate the appropriate estate planning techniques.
Execute documents. The next step is to develop a plan incorporating several legal documents. If your parents have already created one or more of these documents, they may need to be revised or coordinated with new ones. Some elements commonly included in an estate plan are:
- Wills. Your parents’ wills control the disposition of their possessions, such as cars and jewelry, and tie up other loose ends. (Of course, jointly owned property with rights of survivorship automatically passes to the survivor.) Notably, a will also establishes the executor of your parents’ estates. If you’re the one providing financial assistance, you’re probably the optimal choice.
- Living trusts. A living trust can supplement a will by providing for the disposition of selected assets. Unlike a will, a living trust doesn’t have to go through probate, so this might save time and money, while avoiding public disclosure.
- Powers of attorney. This document authorizes someone to legally act on behalf of another person. With a durable power of attorney, the most common version, the authorization continues after the person is disabled. This enables you to better handle your parents’ affairs.
- Living wills or advance medical directives. These documents provide guidance for end-of-life decisions. Make sure that your parents’ physicians have copies so they can act according to your parents’ wishes.
Make monetary gifts. If you decide the best approach for helping your parents is to give them monetary gifts, it’s relatively easy to avoid gift tax liability. Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can give each recipient up to $18,000 in 2024 without paying any gift tax. Any excess may be sheltered by the generous $13.61 million gift and estate tax exemption amount in 2024. Contact us with any questions.
February 9, 2024
When launching a small business, many entrepreneurs start out as sole proprietors. If you’re launching a venture as a sole proprietorship, you need to understand the tax issues involved. Here are nine considerations:
1. You may qualify for the pass-through deduction. To the extent your business generates qualified business income, you’re currently eligible to claim the 20% pass-through deduction, subject to limitations. The deduction is taken “below the line,” meaning it reduces taxable income, rather than being taken “above the line” against your gross income. However, you can take the deduction even if you don’t itemize deductions and instead claim the standard deduction. Be aware that this deduction is only available through 2025, unless Congress acts to extend it.
2. You report income and expenses on Schedule C of Form 1040. The net income will be taxable to you regardless of whether you withdraw cash from the business. Your business expenses are deductible against gross income and not as itemized deductions. If you have losses, they’ll generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules related to hobby losses, passive activity losses and losses from activities in which you weren’t “at risk.”
3. You must pay self-employment taxes. For 2024, you pay self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare) at a 15.3% rate on your net earnings from self-employment up to $168,600, and Medicare tax only at a 2.9% rate on the excess. An additional 0.9% Medicare tax (for a total of 3.8%) is imposed on self-employment income in excess of $250,000 for joint returns, $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns and $200,000 in all other cases. Self-employment tax is imposed in addition to income tax, but you can deduct half of your self-employment tax as an adjustment to income.
4. You generally must make quarterly estimated tax payments. For 2024, these are due April 15, June 17, September 16 and January 15, 2025.
5. You can deduct 100% of your health insurance costs as a business expense. This means your deduction for medical care insurance won’t be subject to the rule that limits medical expense deductions.
6. You may be able to deduct home office expenses. If you work from a home office, perform management or administrative tasks there, or store product samples or inventory at home, you may be entitled to deduct an allocable part of certain expenses, including mortgage interest or rent, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance and depreciation. You may also be able to deduct travel expenses from a home office to another work location.
7. You should keep complete records of your income and expenses. Specifically, you should carefully record your expenses in order to claim all the tax breaks to which you’re entitled. Certain expenses, such as automobile, travel, meals, and home office expenses, require extra attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping rules or deductibility limits.
8. You have more responsibilities if you hire employees. For example, you need to get a taxpayer identification number and withhold and pay over payroll taxes.
9. You should consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantages are that amounts contributed to it are deductible at the time of the contributions and aren’t taken into income until they’re withdrawn. You might consider a SEP plan, which requires minimal paperwork. A SIMPLE plan is also available to sole proprietors and offers tax advantages with fewer restrictions and administrative requirements. If you don’t establish a retirement plan, you may still be able to contribute to an IRA.
Turn to us
Contact us if you want additional information regarding the tax aspects of your business, or if you have questions about reporting or recordkeeping requirements.
February 9, 2024
A will or revocable trust may form the core of your estate plan, but for many people, a substantial amount of wealth bypasses these traditional estate planning tools and is transferred to their loved ones through beneficiary designations. These “nonprobate assets” may include IRAs and certain employer-sponsored retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and some bank or brokerage accounts.
Too often, people designate a beneficiary when they first acquire a nonprobate asset and then forget about it. But over time, these beneficiary designations may become inappropriate or obsolete as a result of changes in life circumstances, estate planning goals or tax laws. So, it’s a good idea to review beneficiary designations periodically — or when circumstances change — and update them if necessary.
As you conduct this review, consider the following best practices and potential pitfalls:
Name a primary beneficiary and at least one contingent beneficiary. Without a contingent beneficiary for an asset, if the primary beneficiary dies before you — and you don’t designate another beneficiary before you die — the asset will end up in your general estate and may not be distributed as you intended. In addition, certain assets, including retirement accounts, offer some protection against your creditors, which would be lost if they’re transferred to your estate. To ensure that you control the ultimate disposition of your wealth and protect that wealth from creditors, it’s important to name both primary and contingent beneficiaries and to avoid naming your estate as a beneficiary.
Update beneficiaries to reflect changing circumstances. Designating a beneficiary isn’t a “set it and forget it” activity. Failure to update beneficiary designations to reflect changing circumstances creates a risk that you will inadvertently leave assets to someone you didn’t intend to benefit, such as an ex-spouse.
It’s also important to update your designation if the primary beneficiary dies, especially if there’s no contingent beneficiary or if the contingent beneficiary is a minor. Suppose, for example, that you name your spouse as primary beneficiary of a life insurance policy and name your minor child as contingent beneficiary. If your spouse dies while your child is still a minor, it’s advisable to name a new primary beneficiary to avoid the complications associated with leaving assets to a minor (court-appointed guardianship, etc.).
Consider the impact on government benefits. If a loved one depends on Medicaid or other government benefits (a disabled child, for example), naming that person as primary beneficiary of a retirement account or other asset may render him or her ineligible for those benefits. A better approach may be to establish a special needs trust for your loved one and name the trust as beneficiary.
Keep an eye on tax developments. Changing tax laws can easily derail your estate plan if you fail to update your plan accordingly. For instance, the SECURE Act, passed in late 2019, changed the rules for inherited IRAs.
To avoid unintended consequences, review your beneficiary designations regularly to make sure they’re still appropriate and that they align with your overall estate planning goals. We’d be pleased to answer any of your questions.