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Your role as an executor or personal administrator of an estate involves a number of responsibilities. Did you know that part of your responsibility involves making sure the necessary tax returns are filed? And there might be more of those than you expect.

Here's an overview:

  • Personal income tax. You may need to file a federal income tax return for the decedent for the prior year as well as the year of death. Both are due by April 15 of the following year, even if the amount of time covered is less than a full year. You can request a six-month extension if you need additional time to gather information.
  • Gift tax. If the individual whose estate you're administering made gifts in excess of the annual exclusion ($14,000 per person for 2017), a gift tax payment may be required. Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, is due April 15 of the year following the gift. The filing date can be extended six months.
  • Estate income tax. Income earned after death, such as interest on estate assets, is reported on Form 1041, Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. You'll generally need to file if the estate's gross income is $600 or more, or if any beneficiary is a nonresident alien. For estates with a December 31 year-end, Form 1041 is due April 15 of the following year.
  • Estate tax. An estate tax return, Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, is required when the fair market value of all estate assets exceeds $5,490,000 (in 2017). One thing to watch for: Spouses can transfer unused portions of the $5,490,000 exemption to each other. This is called the "portability" election. To benefit, you will need to file Form 706 when the total value of the estate is lower than the exemption.
  • Form 706 is due nine months after the date of death. You can request a six-month extension of time to file.

Give us a call if you need more information about administering an estate. We're here to help make your task less stressful.

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Running a business is like going on a road trip — and a detailed business plan that includes a set of pro forma financials can serve as a road map or GPS app that improves your odds of arriving on time and on budget. If your plan doesn’t cover the prospective quantitative details in pro formas, expect to hit some bumps along the road to achieving your strategic goals.

What to include

Investors and lenders may require business plans from companies that are starting up, seeking additional funding, or restructuring to avoid bankruptcy. Beyond all of the verbiage in the executive summary, business description and market analysis, comprehensive business plans include at least three years of pro forma:

  • Balance sheets (projecting assets, liabilities and equity),
  • Income statements (projecting expected revenue, expenses, gains, losses and net profits), and
  • Cash flow statements (highlighting sources and uses of cash from operating, financing and investing activities).

Pro forma financial statements are the quantitative details that back up the qualitative portions of your business plan. Pro formas tell stakeholders that management is aware of when cash flow and capacity shortages are likely to occur and how sensitive the results are to changes in the underlying assumptions.

How to crunch the numbers

Unless you’re launching a start-up, historical financial statements are the usual starting point for pro forma financials. Historical statements tell where the company is now. The next step is to ask, “Where do we want to be in three, five or 10 years?” Long-term goals fuel the assumptions that, in turn, drive the pro formas.

For example, suppose a company with $5 million in sales wants that figure to double over a three-year period. How will it get from Point A ($5 million in 2016) to Point B ($10 million in 2019)? Many roads lead to the desired destination.

Management could, for example, hire new salespeople, acquire the assets of a bankrupt competitor, build a new plant or launch a new product line. Attach a “statement of assumptions” to your pro forma financials, which shows how you plan to achieve your goals and how the changes will flow through the financial statements.

Need help?

Running a company following a business plan that doesn’t include pro forma financials is like going on a road trip with an unreliable GPS app or a bad map: Pro formas help you monitor where you are, what alternate routes or side trips exist along the way, and how close you are to the final destination. We can help you prepare pro forma financial statements, compare expected to actual results and adjust your assumptions as needed.

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Many business owners use a calendar year as their company’s tax year. It’s intuitive and aligns with most owners’ personal returns, making it about as simple as anything involving taxes can be. But for some businesses, choosing a fiscal tax year can make more sense.

What’s a fiscal tax year?

A fiscal tax year consists of 12 consecutive months that don’t begin on January 1 or end on December 31 — for example, July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The year doesn’t necessarily need to end on the last day of a month. It might end on the same day each year, such as the last Friday in March.

Flow-through entities (partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies) using a fiscal tax year must file their return by the 15th day of the third month following the close of their fiscal year. So, if their fiscal year ends on March 31, they would need to file their return by June 15. (Fiscal-year C corporations generally must file their return by the 15th day of the fourth month following the fiscal year close.)

When a fiscal year makes sense

A key factor to consider is that if you adopt a fiscal tax year you must use the same time period in maintaining your books and reporting income and expenses. For many seasonal businesses, a fiscal year can present a more accurate picture of the company’s performance.

For example, a snowplowing business might make the bulk of its revenue between November and March. Splitting the revenue between December and January to adhere to a calendar year end would make obtaining a solid picture of performance over a single season difficult.

In addition, if many businesses within your industry use a fiscal year end and you want to compare your performance to your peers, you’ll probably achieve a more accurate comparison if you’re using the same fiscal year.

Before deciding to change your fiscal year, be aware that the IRS requires businesses that don’t keep books and have no annual accounting period, as well as most sole proprietorships, to use a calendar year.

It can make a difference

If your company decides to change its tax year, you’ll need to obtain permission from the IRS. The change also will likely create a one-time “short tax year” — a tax year that’s less than 12 months. In this case, your income tax typically will be based on annualized income and expenses. But you might be able to use a relief procedure under Section 443(b)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code to reduce your tax bill.

Although choosing a tax year may seem like a minor administrative matter, it can have an impact on how and when a company pays taxes. We can help you determine whether a calendar or fiscal year makes more sense for your business.

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Each year, millions of taxpayers claim an income tax refund. To be sure, receiving a payment from the IRS for a few thousand dollars can be a pleasant influx of cash. But it means you were essentially giving the government an interest-free loan for close to a year, which isn’t the best use of your money.

Fortunately, there is a way to begin collecting your 2017 refund now: You can review the amounts you’re having withheld and/or what estimated tax payments you’re making, and adjust them to keep more money in your pocket during the year.

Reasons to modify amounts

It’s particularly important to check your withholding and/or estimated tax payments if:

  • You received an especially large 2016 refund,
  • You’ve gotten married or divorced or added a dependent,
  • You’ve purchased a home,
  • You’ve started or lost a job, or
  • Your investment income has changed significantly.

Even if you haven’t encountered any major life changes during the past year, changes in the tax law may affect withholding levels, making it worthwhile to double-check your withholding or estimated tax payments.

Making a change

You can modify your withholding at any time during the year, or even several times within a year. To do so, you simply submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. Changes typically will go into effect several weeks after the new Form W-4 is submitted. For estimated tax payments, you can make adjustments each time quarterly payments are due.

While reducing withholdings or estimated tax payments will, indeed, put more money in your pocket now, you also need to be careful that you don’t reduce them too much. If you don’t pay enough tax during the year, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you file your return, even if you pay your outstanding tax liability by the April 2018 deadline.

If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the rest of the year, please contact us.

 

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Picking someone to lead your company after you step down is probably among the hardest aspects of retiring (or otherwise moving on). Sure, there are some business owners who have a ready-made successor waiting in the wings at a moment’s notice. But many have a few viable candidates to consider — others have too few.

When looking for a successor, for best results, keep an open mind. Don’t assume you have to pick any one person — look everywhere. Here are three hot spots to consider.

1. Your family. If yours is a family-owned business, this is a natural place to first look for a successor. Yet, because of the relationships and emotions involved, finding a successor in the family can be particularly complex. Make absolutely sure a son, daughter or other family member really wants to succeed you. But also keep in mind that desire isn’t enough. The loved one must also have the proper qualifications, as well as experience inside and, ideally, outside the company.

2. Nonfamily employees. Keep an eye out for company “stars” who are still early in their careers, regardless of their functional or geographic area. Start developing their leadership skills as early as possible and put them to the test regularly. For example, as time goes on, continually create new projects or positions that give them responsibility for increasingly larger and more complex profit centers to see how they’ll measure up.

3. The wide, wide world. If a family member or current employee just isn’t feasible, you can always look externally. A good way to start is simply by networking with people in your industry, former employees and professional advisors. You can also try placing an ad in a newspaper or trade publication, or on an Internet job site. Don’t forget executive search firms either; they’ll help screen candidates and conduct interviews.

At the end of the day, any successor — whether family member, employee or external candidate — must have the right stuff. Please contact our firm for help setting up an effective succession plan.

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Estate planning is all about protecting your family and ensuring that your wealth is distributed according to your wishes. So the idea that someone might challenge your estate plan can be disconcerting. One strategy for protecting your plan is to include a “no-contest” clause in your will or revocable trust (or both).

What’s a no-contest clause?

A no-contest clause essentially disinherits anyone who contests your will or trust (typically on grounds of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity) and loses. It’s meant to serve as a deterrent against frivolous challenges that would create unnecessary expense and delay for your family.

Most, but not all, states permit and enforce no-contest clauses. And even if they’re allowed, the laws differ — often in subtle ways — from state to state, so it’s important to consult state law before including a no-contest clause in your will or trust.

Some jurisdictions have different rules regarding which types of proceedings constitute a “contest.” For example, in some states your heirs may be able to challenge the appointment of an executor or trustee without violating a no-contest clause. And in some states, courts will refuse to enforce the clause if a challenger has “probable cause” or some other defensible reason for bringing the challenge. This is true even if the challenge itself is unsuccessful.

Are there alternative strategies?

A no-contest clause can be a powerful deterrent, but it’s also important, wherever you live, to design your estate plan in a way that minimizes incentives to challenge it. To avoid claims of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity, have a qualified physician or psychiatrist examine you — at or near the time you sign your will or trust — and attest in writing to your mental competence. Also choose witnesses whom your heirs trust and whom you expect to be able and willing to testify, if necessary, to your freedom from undue influence. Finally, record the execution of your will.

Of course, you should also make an effort to treat your children and other family members fairly, remembering that “equal” isn’t necessarily fair, depending on the circumstances.

Protect yourself

As you develop or update your estate plan, it’s important to think about ways to protect yourself against challenges by disgruntled heirs or beneficiaries. We can help you determine if a no-contest clause can be an effective tool for discouraging such challenges.

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Interest in not-for-profits’ governance practices from lawmakers, watchdog groups and the general public has been growing in recent years. If your board hasn’t reviewed its roles and responsibilities recently, now is a good time.

3 primary responsibilities

Nonprofit board members — whether compensated or not — have a fiduciary duty to the organization. Some states have laws governing the responsibilities of nonprofit boards and other fiduciaries. But, in general, a fiduciary has three primary duties:

  1. Duty of care. Board members must exercise reasonable care in overseeing the organization’s financial and operational activities. Although disengaged from day-to-day affairs, they should understand its mission, programs and structure, make informed decisions, and consult others — including outside experts — when appropriate.
  2. Duty of loyalty. Board members must act solely in the best interests of the organization and its constituents, and not for personal gain.
  3. Duty of obedience. Board members must act in accordance with the organization’s mission, charter and bylaws, and any applicable state or federal laws.

Board members who violate these duties may be held personally liable for any financial harm the organization suffers as a result.

Conflicts of interest

One of the most challenging components of fiduciary duty is the obligation to avoid conflicts of interest. In general, a conflict of interest exists when an organization does business with:

  • A board member,
  • An entity in which a board member has a financial interest, or
  • Another company or organization for which a board member serves as a director or trustee.

To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, your nonprofit should also treat a transaction as a conflict of interest if it involves a board member’s spouse or other family member, or an entity in which a spouse or family member has a financial interest. 

The key to dealing with conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived, is disclosure. The board member involved should disclose the relevant facts to the board and abstain from any discussion or vote on the issue — unless the board determines that he or she may participate. 

Meet obligations

The rules concerning the liability of fiduciaries are complex. But your board members can meet their obligations by acting in good faith, putting the organization’s best interests first, making informed decisions and disclosing any potential conflicts of interest. Contact us for more information.

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The IRS has published depreciation limits for business vehicles first placed in service this year. These limits remain largely unchanged from 2016 limits. Because 50% bonus depreciation is allowed only for new vehicles, these limits are different for new and used vehicles.

* For new business cars, the first-year limit is $11,160; for used cars, it's $3,160. After year one, the limits are the same for both new and used cars: $5,100 in year two, $3,050 in year three, and $1,875 in all following years.

* The 2017 first-year depreciation limit for trucks and vans is $11,560 for new vehicles and $3,560 for used vehicles. The limits for both new and used vehicles in year two are $5,700, in year three $3,450 (up $100 from 2016), and in each succeeding year $2,075.

For details relating to your 2017 business vehicle purchases, contact us.

 

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The Trump administration has unveiled their proposal for tax reform. The proposal is NOT formal legislation but is an outline composed of broad principles.In order to become reality, the proposal will now have to be crafted into a bill, which would have to pass in the U.S. House and the Senate before going to the President to be signed into law. Proposed changes include:

For individual taxpayers:

  • Currently there are seven individual income tax rates. These would be reduced to three: 10%, 25%, and 35%. Tax brackets, or income levels where these rates would apply, have not yet been determined.
  • With the goal that fewer taxpayers would itemize, the standard deduction would be doubled.
  • The alternative minimum tax (AMT) would be repealed.
  • No specifics were provided, however there would be some sort of tax relief for child and dependent care expenses.
  • The 3.8% net investment income tax would be repealed. It was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.
  • The estate tax would be repealed.
  • Most “tax breaks” would be repealed. Exceptions would be made for certain provisions involving home ownership, charitable giving, and retirement savings. In taking questions from the press, Secretary Mnuchin said specifically that the mortgage interest deduction would be retained.

Business and Individual:

  • There would be a shift from a worldwide system of taxation (under which a U.S. taxpayer is generally taxed on its worldwide income regardless of where earned) to a territorial system (under which income would generally be taxed in the country where it is earned).

For business taxpayers:

  • The business tax rate would decrease from 35% to 15% for corporations, and the top tax rate for pass-through businesses (e.g., partnerships, sole proprietorships) would be reduced from 39.6% to 15%.
  • There would be a one-time repatriation tax on offshore earnings. The exact percentage of the tax rate is still being negotiated. 
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