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By Nathan Vinson, attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

estate debtWhen a spouse, parent or child passes away, it’s incredibly difficult to handle. Beyond your own grief, planning the funeral and handling a thousand different tasks, you may receive calls or letters from creditors who try to convince you that you should pay the debt of the person who died.

In one recent case, a widow received a collection letter from an agency that specializes in collecting debt for creditors of deceased people. The estate had been closed for about a year. She didn’t owe that debt, but the collection agency tried to convince her that she did.

Collecting decedent debts

By law, you don’t owe a debt for someone who died (unless, of course, you owed the debt jointly with the decedent or as a guarantor). Once the person passes away and the proper steps have been taken to handle the probate estate, the opportunity for a creditor to collect unsecured debt is gone.

Credit agencies, especially the less reputable ones, may use all manner of intimidation and even threats to get people to pay debts. These calls can be troubling and confusing for people, especially those who are older or who don’t know the law. It’s important to understand how debt is collected to protect yourself and the people you love.

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By Nathan Vinson, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

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Photograph 047 by Lauren Mancke found on minimography.com

Each year, the IRS sets dollar amounts for specific types of exemptions. Usually, these don’t change much – $100 here, $50 here, etc. You’ll need these numbers as you do your taxes this year.

The personal exemption amount for 2016 taxes is $6,300 for an individual or for a married couple filing separately (so that’s per person). As you’d expect, married filing jointly is twice that at $12,600. Head of households can claim $9,300, and surviving spouse $12,600. For anyone who takes the standard deduction and doesn’t itemize, that is the amount you’ll claim.

However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $259,400 ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $381,900 ($433,800 for married couples filing jointly.)

Forbes published an extensive piece that goes into more detail, including tax tables, which you can read here.

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adoptionIf you’ve adopted a child recently or plan to adopt a child soon, congratulations! We help families adopt as part of our family law practice. Expanding your family through adoption is joyful, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.

Adoptive parents may have some tax advantages that could help now that it is time to start preparing 2016 taxes. One big advantage is the federal adoption tax credit, which allows many adoptive parents to receive a credit to recover some of the costs of adoption. One note, though: the tax credits are not extended to step-parents adopting the child of their spouse. The tax credits are only available if you are adopting a child under the age of 18 or a child who is physically or mentally unable to care for himself or herself.

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By Nathan Vinson, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

You’d think giving money away would be easy, wouldn’t you? And for the most part, it is. But it’s important to pay attention to some of the details so you don’t end up getting socked with a tax bill or missing out on a tax deduction in return for your generosity.

In our last post, we discussed how to give money to your children, grandchildren or anyone else you’d like without much complication (such as having to file a gift tax return).  Now, let’s turn to gifting that can net you a tax deduction on your income tax return (in addition to just making you feel good).

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By Nathan Vinson, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

giftsIt’s a generous time of year.

There are donations making their way to non-profits, and checks being written in lieu of gifts to family members. If you prefer to give money rather than gifts to children, grandchildren or others on your list, there are a few things you need to know before you write that check.

We’ll address just giving to your children in this blog post; we’ll address giving to charities in part two later this month.

The main point: your gift can trigger your obligation to file a gift tax return if you aren’t careful. We’ll walk you through who you can give to, how you can give and how much you can give. Here’s the official information from the IRS.

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By Nathan Vinson, Attorney

English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley

business womanOwning a business is the American dream for many. It’s building something from your own hands that you’ve shaped and created. It’s long hours, and a labor of love – but in the end – it’s yours. And that’s a fantastic feeling if you’ve got an entrepreneurial streak.

But that feeling of ownership is what keeps a lot of business owners from planning for the future. It’s hard to envision a time when your business will go on without you. Your failure to plan for that inevitability is your biggest vulnerability as an entrepreneur, and can rob you of the equity you’ve built over the years of business ownership.

The best succession plan is one that you make before you need it. It’s on the shelf, ready to go, should something happen to you or other key business owners or managers. It is also a living plan, though, that you should review at least annually and update as needed, just as you would with any other estate documents such as a will or trust.

Even if you don’t see yourself ever leaving your business, creating a plan is a good exercise in thinking about the strategy and purpose of your business, your role in it and the importance of having key people to help you execute your vision. You may find this article from the Small Business Administration on how to exit your business helpful.

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By Nathan Vinson, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

Everyone who owns a home gets a bill from their local municipality for property taxes. It’s not a surprise that it’s coming. Most of us sigh, write the check (or let your mortgage holder do it) and move on, wondering what that money really does, anyway. (Short answer: it funds governments and schools.)

But every now and then, you get a property tax bill that makes you do a double-take because it is larger than you expected. There are a few reasons this can happen.

  • Your local government entity increased its tax rate.
  • Your property was recently re-assessed, and the value has increased.
  • A new tax referendum passed, increasing your rate.
  • Someone made a mistake.

You don’t have to accept the tax bill you’re sent if you truly believe the tax rate or assessment is wrong. You can protest – and I’ll walk you through how to do that.

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By Nathan Vinson

IRA, taxesThe IRS recently enacted a new IRA rollover rule that’s actually good for consumers, and something that can really help you – but it is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. Essentially, the IRS is now giving you a year to roll your old retirement account into a new account or IRA, but only if you’ve faced difficult circumstances that delayed you from making the transaction.

In the past, once you leave a job, you may have received a check for the balance of the funds in your 401(k) (or 403(b) or 457 plan, which are used by non-profits and government agencies, respectively). Once the check is in the mail, you’ve traditionally had 60 days to roll that money into an IRA or other qualifying retirement account.

The administrator of the retirement plan is required to withhold taxes plus a penalty from your check, and will report that to the IRS. You won’t see the withheld money again, unless you roll over the funds within that 60-day time period.

The basic concept is that Uncle Sam wants you saving for retirement, and penalizes you if you don’t keep up with it. Plus, 401(k) money goes into the account pre-tax, so it’s their chance to tax the money – and as we all know, the government never misses a chance to grab some dollars.

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By Nathan Vinson, attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

flag, Olympics, taxesAn interesting question popped up in social media during the 2016 Summer Olympics: will U.S. athletes taking home a medal be taxed on the value of it – particularly those who win the gold?

News accounts have confirmed that yes, U.S. medal-winning athletes will be taxed, but not on the value of the medal itself. It’s the cash prize that comes with each medal that is taxed.

Swimmer Michael Phelps, who has broken all kinds of records this year, may owe the government $55,000 in taxes for the cash prizes that go along with his five gold medals and one silver medal, reports USA Today. Each gold medal is accompanied by a check for $25,000, while each silver earns $15,000 and each bronze $10,000. If Phelps is taxed at the highest income tax rate of 39.6 percent, he would owe around $55,000, the newspaper reports. I checked the math, and yes, that’s about right.

Ouch.

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