Checklist of What Must be Done After Your Loved One Dies

Clipboard with checklist

  1. Locate original will, trust, insurance policies and deeds.
  2. Contact both the funeral home and church to make arrangements and publish obituary notice.
  3. Obtain 10 Certified Death Certificates from the Undertaker.
  4. Contact Social Security, the Veterans Administration, and any other payers of pensions to stop direct deposits.
  5. Contact life insurance company to determine death benefits.
  6. Contact utility companies, cable TV, cell phone, pest control and lawn care to cancel service or change billing status.
  7. Contact homeowners, auto and health insurance to cancel coverage or change policy.
  8. Remove your loved one’s name from the car registration if held jointly.
  9. Contact all three credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Experian and Equifax) and cancel all the credit cards in your loved one’s name.
  10. Cancel or change all memberships and magazine or newspaper subscriptions.
  11. Contact an attorney to see if probating the estate is necessary and bring a list of all the assets.
  12. Have the mail forwarded to the executor if needed.
  13. If probating the estate is not necessary, transfer title on all the jointly owned assets such as bank and brokerage accounts to the surviving owner and remove your loved one’s name and social security number. You may leave one joint account open for 8 months after the date of death in case you need to deposit a check in their name.
  14. Update your life insurance policy and retirement accounts to remove your loved one as beneficiary.
  15. If your spouse and yourself own any real property jointly you do not need to change the deeds but you will need their death certificate when the property is sold.

Feel free to contact Gregory J. Spadea, Esquire of Spadea & Associates, LLC online or at 610-521-0604 to help you probate your loved one’s estate.

Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) for 2015

Close up of female accountant making calculations

The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014 includes the new “Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE).” ABLE establishes a new type of tax-advantaged account for disabled individuals, allowing them to save money for future needs while remaining eligible for government benefit programs like Medicaid. Here is a quick summary of the most important tax changes-starting with those that affect individuals.

Beginning in 2015, the Act allows states to establish tax-exempt Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts to assist persons with disabilities in building an account to pay for qualified disability expenses. An ABLE account can be set up for an individual (1) who is entitled to benefits under the Social Security disability insurance program or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program due to blindness or disability occurring before the individual reached age 26 or (2) for whom an annual disability certification has been filed with IRS for the tax year.

Annual contributions are limited to the annual gift tax exclusion amount for that tax year which is $14,000 for 2015. Distributions are tax-free to the extent they don’t exceed the beneficiary’s qualified disability expenses for the year. Qualified disability expenses include housing, transportation, education, job training, health, financial management and legal fees.

Distributions that exceed qualified disability expenses are included in taxable income and are subject to a 10% penalty tax. However, distributions can be rolled over tax-free within 60 days to another ABLE account for the benefit of the beneficiary or an eligible family member. Similarly, an ABLE account’s beneficiary can be changed, as long as the new beneficiary is an eligible family member.

Except for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), ABLE accounts are disregarded for federal means-tested programs.

If you have any questions or would like help setting up an ABLE account feel free to contact Gregory J. Spadea online or at 610-521-0604, of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Understanding Pennsylvania Commercial Real Estate Tax Appeals

Upscale Shopping Center

If your Pennsylvania commercial property was built in the last 15 years in Montgomery, Chester or Delaware counties, there is a good chance the value of your property is over-assessed. Before deciding whether to do a real estate tax appeal, you should first speak with a commercial appraiser to do a preliminary analysis using one or more of the three valuation methods.

  1. The Income Approach to value is a method of converting your anticipated monthly rental income into present value by capitalizing net operating income by a market derived capitalization rate. Essentially, a capitalization rate is a rate of return on investment. Capitalization rates are taken from sales of similar investment properties and applied to the net income of the property to determine the market value of your property.

    There are several ways to estimate value using capitalization. The method used depends upon several factors such as the timing and regularity of the cash flows, period of time the investment is held, whether or not long term leases are involved. Direct capitalization is the most widely used and simplest approach to apply because it does not require explicit projections of income and assumes that expectations for future income are similar for all the properties compared. It is used when income is not expected to vary significantly over time. Direct capitalization typically involves an average of several years’ income. The net operating income is then capitalized by an overall capitalization rate to arrive at market value.

  2. The Sales Comparison Approach to value looks at comparable commercial properties that have similar use and square footage that were sold in the area in the last year. This is the same method used in residential tax appeals.
  3. The Cost Approach is typically used for vacant land or property that does not generate income. The cost approach is performed by valuing the land at its highest and best use. The fundamental premise of the cost approach is that a potential user of the property would not pay more for the property than it would cost to build an equivalent property. The value of the land plus the depreciated cost of the improvements should equal the total market value estimate.

    The appraiser would take an average of all methods that apply to arrive at the fair market value and multiply it by the common level ratio to arrive at the correct assessed value. If that correct assessed value is less than the actual assessed value of your property you should contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 or online of Spadea & Associates, LLC. The deadline to file an annual real estate tax appeal is August 1. Keep in mind the appraiser may need four to six weeks to complete an appraisal so you need to contact the appraiser in May or June to meet the August 1, filing deadline.

Five Reasons Why Joint Accounts May Be a Poor Estate Plan

Writing A Check

Many people view joint ownership of bank or brokerage accounts as an easy and inexpensive way to avoid probate since joint property passes automatically to the joint owner at death. Joint ownership can also be an easy way to plan for incapacity since the joint owner of accounts can pay bills and manage investments if the primary owner gets sick or becomes incapacitated. Although joint accounts make sense for some assets like a primary residence for married couples, there are five drawbacks as well such as:

  1. Creditor Risk. Joint owners of accounts have complete access and the ability to use the funds for their own purposes. In addition, the funds are available to the creditors of all joint owners. If a senior applies for Medicaid or other public benefits half the joint account could be considered as belonging to them as well as the other joint owners.
  2. Inequity Regarding Other Beneficiaries. If a parent has one child on certain accounts, but not all children, at death that one child may end up inheriting more than the others. While the parent may expect that all of the children will share equally, and often they do in such circumstances, there’s no guarantee.
  3. Unexpected Death of Joint Owner. A system based on joint accounts can fail if a child passes away before the parent. Then it may be necessary to set up a trust to manage the funds or they may ultimately pass to the surviving siblings with nothing or only a small portion going to the deceased child’s family. For example, a mother put her house in joint ownership with her son to avoid probate and Medicaid’s estate recovery claim. When the son died unexpectedly, her daughter-in-law was left high and dry despite having devoted the prior four years to caring for her husband’s mother.
  4. Loss of Control. If a parent adds a child to an account making it a joint account, that parent may lose control over the account and decisions may be made without his consent. The problem with that is the child can withdraw all of the money, regardless of their contribution to the account.
  5. Income Tax Considerations. The beneficiaries do not get the full stepped up basis for income tax purposes when they inherit jointly owned real estate. Therefore if they later
    sell the house they will have to pay federal and state income taxes on the capital gain which is 14% to 19% higher than Pennsylvania inheritance taxes.

Joint accounts do work well in two situations. First, if you have only one child and want everything to go to him or her, joint accounts can be a simple way to provide for succession. It has some of the risks described above, but for most people the risks are outweighed by the convenience of joint accounts. Second, if you put one or more children on your primary checking account to allow them pay the recurring monthly bills and have access to funds in the event of incapacity or death. However, for the rest of your assets, wills, trusts and durable powers of attorney are much better planning tools. They do not put your assets at risk. They provide that the estate will be distributed according to your wishes or in the event of a child’s incapacity or death. In addition they provide for asset management in the event you become incapacitated. If you do not have these documents or have any questions please contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

12 Tips to Help Landords Audit Proof Their Tax Return

Tax return paper

The IRS does not audit too many returns due to inadequate staffing and poor management. However, to truly audit proof your return, I would advise you and all my landlord clients to:

  1. Make the election under Treasury Regulation 1.469-9(g) to aggregate all real estate activities as one activity for passive loss rules if you have more than one rental property. This makes meeting the 750 hour rule for all you rental properties much easier than having to meet it for each individual rental property.
  2. Keep a log on Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendars of the work you do as a Landlord to meet the 750 hour test such as:
    1. working or improving the property;
    2. researching and bidding on properties;
    3. finding and screening tenants;
    4. collecting rent;
    5. performing maintenance.
  3. Never use round numbers on your return because it looks like you are estimating your expenses.
  4. If you pay a contractor or any unincorporated person more than $600 during the year you must issue them a 1099. Therefore you should have them fill in a W-9, before you pay them so you will have their information and can prepare a 1099.
  5. Reconcile the mortgage interest and real estate taxes reported on your 1098 to the amount deducted on your return to ensure the numbers match.
  6. Do not deduct capital improvements under repairs but instead depreciate them or use Internal Revenue Code Section 179 to expense them in the tax year they are placed in service.
  7. Use Quickbooks if you have multiple properties to track rental income and expenses for each property. Deposit all your rental income into a separate bank account.
  8. Never deposit rental income into your personal account and never pay personal expenses from your rental account. Transfer money from your rental account to your personal account and then pay personal expenses from your personal account.
  9. Have a separate credit card that you use only for your rental properties and pay the monthly bill from your rental bank account. At the end of the year the credit card company will give you a summary of all your expenses making your record keeping that much easier.
  10. Make sure all your deposits into your rental bank accounts reconcile to the amount of rental income reported on your tax return.
  11. Keep your leases current and make sure the monthly rent that you deposit is the amount listed on the lease.
  12. Keep security deposits in a separate trust account and only disburse those funds when the tenant moves out.

If you have any questions about audit proofing your return or need help preparing your tax return call Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 or contact him online, of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Qualifying for the Family-Owned Business Exemption from Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

Beginning July 1, 2013, the transfer at death of certain family owned business interests are exempt from the Pennsylvania inheritance tax. Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is currently 4.5% for linear descendants, 12% for siblings and 15% for everyone else. To qualify for the family-owned business exemption, a family-owned business interest must:

  1. Have been in existence for five years prior to the decedent’s death;
  2. Have less than 50 full time equivalent employees and a net book value of assets totaling less than $5,000,000 at the date of the decedent’s death;
  3. Be engaged in a trade or business, the principal purpose of which is not the management of investments or income producing assets;
  4. Be transferred to one or more qualified transferees – the decedent’s husband or wife, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, or children, siblings or their children. Children include natural children, adopted children; and stepchildren;
  5. Owned by a qualified transferee for a minimum of seven years after the decedent’s death;
  6. Reported on a timely filed Pennsylvania inheritance tax return and filed within 9 months of the decedents date of death, or within 15 months of the decedent’s date of death if the estate or person required to file the return was granted the six month statutory extension.

The transferee must file an annual certification and notify the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue within thirty days of any transaction or occurrence causing the qualified family-owned business to fail to qualify for the exemption. Failure to comply with the certification or notification requirements results in a total loss of the exemption.

If you feel you qualify for the family-owned business exemption please contact Gregory J. Spadea online or at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

What To Do If You Receive An IRS Summons

Notepad with sign Owe Taxes

A summons requires you to provide the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with information that is relevant to your tax. The IRS will summon information after it has already informally requested the information using form 4564 – Information Document Request. The IRS uses a summons to determine whether a tax return is correct, to prepare a substitute for return when none was filed or to collect tax. To obtain this information, the IRS may serve a summons directly on the subject of the investigation or any third party who may possess relevant information. In doing so, the IRS may examine books and records including documents such as invoices or bank statements. The IRS may also summon the testimony of the person possessing the records.

In many cases, the IRS is required to notify the taxpayer about other persons or entities receiving the third-party summons. Two significant exceptions to this notice rule are: (1) the summons was issued in connection with a criminal investigation to a person who is not a third party record keeper such as a bank, an accountant, broker, enrolled agent or investment company, (2) the summons was issued in aid of collection of an assessment made or judgment rendered against the person with respect to whose tax liability the summons is issued. In other words, there has already been a judgment or tax assessment made against the taxpayer and the summons is an effort to collect monies from the taxpayer.

You should not ignore a summons because a federal court may find and hold you in contempt or, worse, you may be subject to criminal prosecution for a failure to obey a summons. If you fail to comply with a summons the IRS may petition the Federal District Court to enforce the summons. The IRS must establish that (1) the investigation will be conducted pursuant to a legitimate purpose; (2) the inquiry may be relevant to that purpose; (3) the information sought is not already in the IRS’ possession; and (4) the administrative steps required under the Internal Revenue Code have been followed. If the IRS does so you will have to contest the summons. You can contest a summons on substantive grounds, technical or procedural grounds, or on Constitutional or other privilege grounds. Substantive defenses typically include arguments over whether a particular matter is part of a legitimate investigation, or whether the persons or documents summoned are relevant to an IRS investigation. Technical or procedural defenses usually are not worth litigating because the IRS can simply issue another summons to correct the procedural errors. You can also assert privileges under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the US Constitution to prevent the summons from being enforced. These rights and privileges are asserted where the information sought is incriminating and protected from disclosure under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, or where the summons itself is so broad that it constitutes an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

If you receive a IRS summons you should contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. Mr. Spadea worked for the IRS for over 13 years and has extensive experience responding to the IRS and will determine when, and on what basis, you might refuse to answer the questions. Mr. Spadea will also help you evaluate which documents are relevant and, more importantly, which documents should be produced.

Why I Should Consider Using a Qualified Personal Residence Trust

A house

If you own a residence or a second home and expect to pay federal estate tax and want to pass the property to your children, then you should consider a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT). You transfer your personal residence or vacation home into the QPRT in exchange for continued rent-free use of the property for a specific number of years (trust term). Assuming you survive the trust term, the residence either passes outright to the beneficiaries of the trust or can remain in trust for their benefit. It is important that you understand that you can continue to use the property once the title has been transferred to the QPRT, but when the term ends you will have to pay rent to the new owners.

A QPRT is valuable because it reduces your taxable estate and freezes the gifted property value so all the appreciation is excluded from your estate. The valuation of this transfer is dependent upon several factors including the trust term, life expectancy of the grantor and the IRS §7520 interest rate for the month of the transfer.

For example if Regina, age 65, on September 15, 2014, transfers her beach home with $1 million market value to a QPRT, she retains the right to use the home for a term of 10 years. Assuming she outlives the 10-year trust term, the house would pass to her three children. The Internal Revenue Code §7520 rate in the month of the gift (September 2014) is 2.2% so the initial taxable gift would be valued at approximately $425,000. So long as Regina’s lifetime taxable gifts have not exceeded $5.34 million which is the 2014 limit, no federal gift tax would be payable, although she would have to file a federal gift tax return. In any event, if Regina survives for the full trust term, the residence will pass to her three children with no additional gift or estate tax inclusion. Assuming the beach home was worth $2.5 million at the end of the 10 year term, Regina would have been able to transfer a $2.5 million beach home to her three children at a transfer tax inclusion of $425,000. Because a QPRT is a future interest gift, the $14,000 annual gift exclusion is not available. However, if Regina does not outlive the ten year trust term then fair market value of the beach home is brought back into her estate while the earlier taxable gift of $425,000 is removed. If the beneficiaries inherit the house before the trust term ends they will get a step up in basis to the fair market value of the property for federal income tax purposes. However, if the beneficiaries sell the house after the trust term they get the grantor’s basis. So if Regina’s basis is $550,000 and the beneficiaries sell the house for $2,500,000, they would have to pay federal income tax on the capital gain of $1,950,000.

After the 10 year trust term Regina could lease the beach home from her three children. Lease payments are another means to benefit heirs without any further gift or estate tax consequences. However, the children would have to pay income tax on the net lease income.

The older you are and the longer the trust term, the smaller the taxable gift. However, you must outlive the trust term. Therefore, your current health and family medical history should be a major focus of QPRT planning. In addition you should ensure the beneficiaries have the same opinion of what to do with the property after the trust term ends. If you have any questions please contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604, of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

Preparing for the IRS Trust Fund Recovery Penalty Interview

Stop, pay your taxes!

If you fail to pay over the federal employment tax you withhold from your employees’ salaries the IRS will eventually come knocking on your door. This problem generally occurs when a business runs short of cash to pay both operating expenses and payroll. There may be enough cash to pay vendors and pay net payroll, but not enough to pay the federal government the employer and employee withholding taxes. Employer withholding taxes are 7.65% of gross payroll which consists of 6.2% social security tax and 1.45% medicare tax. The employee withholding consists of federal income tax and state income withheld in addition to the 6.2% social security tax and 1.45% medicare tax.

When the quarterly 941 federal employment tax return is filed with the IRS, the Government gives the employee credit for the tax withheld listed on the quarterly 941 returns whether the employer pays over the employer and employee withholdings or not. That is why the tax withholdings are called trust fund taxes because the employer is holding the money in trust for the federal government. The funds do not belong to the employer and if the employer uses the money for something else he is in essence stealing from the federal government.

If you fail to pay over the employer tax withholding every month or quarter a Revenue Officer will show up at your business unexpectedly and want to interview you. You should hire a tax attorney before speaking with the Revenue Officer. I have handled many trust fund recovery interviews and have been able to reduce the proposed assessments dramatically if I was involved before the IRS Form 4180 interview took place. IRS Form 4180 is the form the Revenue Officer completes during the interview. The Revenue Officer will try to determine if you are the responsible party by asking:

  1. Did you make deposits or sign the business checks;
  2. Did you determine what bills were paid;
  3. Did you have ability to hire and fire employees;
  4. Did you sign the federal employment and income tax returns;
  5. Did you sign loans on behalf of the business;
  6. Were you involved in the day to day operations of the business;
  7. Did you make or authorize payment of federal tax deposits.

If the Revenue Officer determines that you are the responsible party he will issue Form 2751 which is a Proposed Assessment of the Trust Fund Penalty. I will help you determine If you do not agree with the proposed liability you can submit an appeal request within 60 days of the issuance of the notice. If the case is not resolved in IRS Appeals you can file a complaint in federal district court.

If a Revenue Officer does call or visit your business, please call Gregory J. Spadea of Spadea & Associates, LLC at 610-521-0604, in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

What Happens to Your Debts When You Die?

When you die, your executor has responsibility to pay all your remaining debts if your estate has enough probate assets to pay them. Probate assets are assets that were in your name alone and pass by your will. Before your executor pays any creditors he or she must first pay the estate administration expenses such as funeral costs, grave marker, probate fees, medical bills, attorney fees and rent for the previous six months prior to your death. After the administrative expenses are paid, the secured creditors are paid and any probate assets remaining will go to pay unsecured creditors.

If the estate is not solvent, and a creditor is paid more than he is entitled to receive, the executor can be held personally responsible to the extent of the overpayment. The executor also may be personally liable if he or she distributes estate property without having given proper notice to those having a claim against the estate.

As a general rule, debt collectors may not try to collect from your heirs. However, there are several exceptions. The first exception is if an heir was a co-signer of a particular debt in which case they would be responsible for that debt or if someone held property jointly with you, they would be responsible for any debts on the joint property. The third exception is if an heir inherits a car or a boat that had an outstanding loan, they would have to pay the loan off or the car or boat would be repossessed by the lender.

Creditors cannot be paid from any assets that pass directly to a beneficiary. Assets that pass directly to a beneficiary are called non-probate assets and include jointly owned bank accounts and any account or life insurance policy with a named beneficiary. Therefore a jointly held bank account would pass directly to the joint owner, and the funds in that account could not be used to pay creditors. Similarly, life insurance policies pass directly to the beneficiaries, so creditors do not have access to those funds. In addition creditors cannot access funds held in an irrevocable trust.

A debt collector may not contact your heirs or relatives to try to collect payment unless they were co-signers of the debt or the debt was a jointly owned debt. Debt collectors are allowed to contact the executor of your estate, or your spouse, or your parents if you were a minor, to discuss the debts but may not discuss the debts with anyone else.

Contact Gregory J. Spadea

If you have any questions or need help probating an estate please contact Gregory J. Spadea at 610-521-0604 of Spadea & Associates, LLC in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

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