A Gift You Do Not Want to Unwrap

I recently received the following question from a Certified Public Accountant. It was a question posed to him by a client in their year-end planning meeting.

“We were reviewing our life insurance needs, and the insurance agent suggested that we consider investing more of our reserves into a life insurance contract. Presently, we have $100,000 invested with Fidelity. The insurance agent’s argument was: one, investing in a life insurance contract would guarantee at least a 1% return even during bad market years (maximum earnings capped at 13.5%); and two, you do not have to pay taxes when money is withdrawn from a life insurance contract. [Read more…]

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Without fail, every December for the past 27 years, I have received requests at the last minute for a tax deduction to help offset income for the current year.  I follow up the request with two questions: how much would you like to contribute and to what would you like to make the contribution?  My questions are usually followed by a deafening silence and a true deer in the headlight look.

Charitable gifts are best not rushed, and I encourage clients to direct their charitable giving to causes in which they understand and have an interest.  Last minute charitable gifts and tax deductions often conflict with deliberate and purposeful giving.  Is there a solution?  Indeed there is a solution; the answer is a Donor-Advised Fund. [Read more…]

Tis the Season . . .

December 31, 2013 is fast approaching and the deadline for making charitable gifts and receiving an income tax deduction is fast upon us. I often wonder who is giving and how much is being given. One source for such statistics is the National Philanthropic Trust.

Some of the numbers are encouraging, especially in light of the Recession of 2007 – 2009. The percentage of U.S. households which give to charity is 88%.  Charitable giving is up 3.9% which exceeds the consumer price index. Of total giving, the largest source is from individuals (73%), followed by foundations (14%), bequests (8%), and corporations (5%) [Yes, there are rounding errors—not my issue]. [Read more…]

It’s Almost “That” Time!

Well, it’s that time of year, and everyone is preparing their list of tax deductions in hopes that the jolly Internal Revenue Service will provide them with tax breaks. Between now and year-end I will be addressing year-end tax planning, and hopefully, filling everyone’s stockings with deductions.

A perennial question is the deductibility of legal fees. I have received a request from an attorney, whose primary practice is the sale of businesses.  He wrote:

“We have a client who has asked whether our legal expenses for Trust and Estate planning could be run through his company (he is the sole owner). I am curious as to the accounting basis for doing this deduction. I will obviously have the client double check any course of action with his CPA, but I’m curious as to your thoughts on this matter. Any help or advice you can offer would be very much appreciated.” [Read more…]

Follow the Money

Wisdom counts and appearances can be deceiving! For decades the phrase “Follow the money” had been attributed to the character Deep Throat in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book All The President’s Men. It had been reported that this phrase was whispered to reporter Bob Woodward by Deep Throat as a path to cut through the lies and deceptions, and to discover the truth about the Watergate scandal.

In 2012, the writers of the screenplay for All The President’s Men, Bob Woodward and William Goldman, admitted this phrase was not in the book and that it was never spoken by Deep Throat. Yet today “Follow the Money “continues to be misattributed to Deep Throat and the book.

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Major Tom to Ground Control!

“Once again, please check to make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, your seat back and tray table are in the full upright and locked position, and all carry-on luggage is placed completely underneath the seat in front of you.” At some point, everyone who travels by air has heard this familiar refrain. There’s even a feeling of comfort in this familiar routine of flight. But what if the next time the Emergency Briefing Public Announcement said, “Once we reach our cruising altitude we will engage the auto pilot and return to the cabin and begin our cabin service.”

I’m fairly certain fear would break into our “comfort bubble.” Feelings of unbelief and incredulity probably would surface and maybe even some anger. We might think, I’m paying for a service: air transportation. For this service I expect flight attendants in the cabin to provide safety and a snack. I also expect the flight crew to pilot the aircraft! These feelings and responses are entirely appropriate and natural, and yet . . . .

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The Truth about Health Care Reform

I have held my tongue, bided my time, and hoped that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, like some bad dream would just go away. This singularly momentous act illustrates, quite clearly, the meaning of ‘absurd.’

Absurd is a Latin word meaning “out of tune.” In today’s English it may be either used as a noun or as an adjective. As an adjective it means wildly unreasonable, illogical or inappropriate.  As a noun it is an object which arouses derision or is ridiculous. It is patently ridiculous to assert that government intervention into health care is going to miraculously make it affordable. The proponents of the law have completely ignored an essential quality of human nature: free will. [Read more…]

Don’t Let the Bogeyman Get You!

An adviser forwarded the following email string along to me—you can’t make this stuff up!  Only in America. . . .

The adviser’s clients had landscaping work accomplished at their home. After the work was completed a final bill was sent by the landscaping firm.  At the bottom of the invoice was the following handwritten note:

“P.S.  I know I quoted you $635.00 for the project. However, being a business owner I don’t mind asking if you can pay in cash, or write a check out to me in my name. If you do so, I will reduce the price for my services to $600.00.  My taxes are horrible.  If you don’t want to, I will not be upset at all and will understand 100%.  Please let me know.  I can stop by and pick up the check at your convenience.”

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Social Security Benefits for Same-sex Couples – Officially, still un-official

The bureaucracy continues to move slowly in regards to Social Security benefits for same-sex couples. The various government agencies and departments continue in a state of chaos as they try to understand the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Presently, the Social Security Administration is studying the ruling in light of applicable law with the Justice Department.

The Social Security Administration’s response to the DOMA decision falls into two broad categories. Category A individuals are same-sex couples, who were married in a jurisdiction which recognizes same-sex marriage. The jurisdiction may be in another country, like Canada, or in one of the 13 states which recognize same-sex marriage.  Additionally, Category A individuals must also reside in one of the 13 states which recognize same-sex marriage.  If both of these criteria are met, than the spouse is eligible for Social Security survivor and retirement benefits.

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DOMA Update & The Department of Defense

I have selected to review the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DoVA) response to the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) ruling (June 26, 2013) on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) first, because the DoD was an early riser and was the first department with a response to the DOMA ruling. As a matter of fact, it was on February 11, 2013, that the then Secretary Defense, Leon E. Panetta, first issued a memorandum on extending benefits to same-sex domestic partners of military members—predating the SCOTUS ruling.

The memorandum reviewed 20 programs available to military members in which they could designate benefits to someone other than a spouse. These programs cover education, survivor, travel and transportation benefits. The memorandum then identified additional benefits that would be provided “to same-sex domestic partners of Military Service members and their children through changes in Department of Defense policies and regulations.” The memorandum ended with a list of benefits which could not be made available to same-sex spouses because of statute. Health care and housing allowances are examples of two of those benefits.

[Read more…]