A financial power of attorney can be a valuable planning tool. The most common type is the durable power of attorney, which allows someone (the agent) to act on the behalf of another person (the principal) even if the person becomes mentally incompetent or otherwise incapacitated. It authorizes the agent to manage the principal’s investments, pay bills, file tax returns and handle other financial matters if the principal is unable to do so as a result of illness, injury, advancing age or other circumstances.

However, a disadvantage of a power of attorney is that it may be susceptible to abuse by scam artists, dishonest caretakers or greedy relatives.

Watch out for your loved ones

A broadly written power of attorney gives an agent unfettered access to the principal’s bank and brokerage accounts, real estate, and other assets. In the right hands, this can be a huge help in managing a person’s financial affairs when the person isn’t able to do so him- or herself. But in the wrong hands, it provides an ample opportunity for financial harm.

Many people believe that, once an agent has been given a power of attorney, there’s little that can be done to stop the agent from misappropriating money or property. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

If you suspect that an elderly family member is a victim of financial abuse by the holder of a power of attorney, contact an attorney as soon as possible. An agent has a fiduciary duty to the principal, requiring him or her to act with the utmost good faith and loyalty when acting on the principal’s behalf. So your relative may be able to sue the agent for breach of fiduciary duty and obtain injunctive relief, damages (including punitive damages) and attorneys’ fees.

Take steps to prevent abuse

If you or a family member plans to execute a power of attorney, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of abuse:

  • Make sure the agent is someone you know and trust.
  • Consider using a “springing” power of attorney, which doesn’t take effect until certain conditions are met, such as a physician’s certification that the principal has become incapacitated.
  • Use a “special” or “limited” power of attorney that details the agent’s specific powers. (The drawback of this approach is that it limits the agent’s ability to deal with unanticipated circumstances.)
  • Appoint a “monitor” or other third party to review transactions executed by the agent and require the monitor’s approval of transactions over a certain dollar amount.
  • Provide that the appointment of a guardian automatically revokes the power of attorney.

Some state laws contain special requirements, such as a separate rider, to authorize an agent to make large gifts or conduct other major transactions.

Act now

If you’re pursuing legal remedies against an agent, the sooner you proceed, the greater your chances of recovery. And if you wish to execute or revoke a power of attorney for yourself, you need to do so while you’re mentally competent. Contact us with questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Many of today’s businesses employ workers from across the generational spectrum. Employees may range from Baby Boomers to members of Generation X to Millennials to the newest group, Generation Z.

Managing a workforce with a wide age range requires flexibility and skill. If you’re successful, you’ll likely see higher employee morale, stronger productivity and a more positive work environment for everyone.

Generational definitions

Definitions of the generations vary slightly, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation defines them as follows:

  • Members of the Baby Boomer generation were born from 1946 to 1964,
  • Members of Generation X were born from 1965 to 1979,
  • Members of the Millennial generation were born from 1980 to 1999, and
  • Members of Generation Z were born after 1999.

Certain stereotypes have long been associated with each generation. Baby Boomers are assumed to be grumbling curmudgeons. Gen Xers were originally consigned to being “slackers.” Millennials are often thought of as needy approval-seekers. And many presume that a Gen Zer is helpless without his or her mobile device.

But successfully managing employees across generations requires setting aside stereotypes. Don’t assume that employees fit a certain personality profile based simply on age. Instead, you or a direct supervisor should get to know each one individually to better determine what makes him or her tick.

Best practices

Here are just a couple best practices for managing diverse generations:

Recognize and respect value differences. Misunderstandings and conflicts often arise because of value differences between managers and employees of different generations. For example, many older supervisors expect employees to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done, including working long hours. However, some younger employees place a high value on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Be sure everyone is on the same page about these expectations. This doesn’t mean younger employees shouldn’t have to work hard. The key is to find the right balance so that work is accomplished satisfactorily and on time, and employees feel like their values are being respected.

Maximize each generation’s strengths. Different generations tend to bring their own strengths to the workplace. For instance, older employees likely have valuable industry experience and important historical business insights to share. Meanwhile, younger employees — especially Generation Z — have grown up with high-powered mobile technology and social media.

Consider initiatives such as company retreats and mentoring programs in which employees from diverse generations can work together and share their knowledge, experiences and strengths. Encourage them to communicate openly and honestly and to be willing to learn from, rather than compete with, one another.

A competitive advantage

Having a multigenerational workforce can be a competitive advantage. Your competitors may not have the hard-fought experience of your older workers nor the fresh energy and ideas of your younger ones. Our firm can help you develop cost-effective strategies for hiring, retaining and maximizing the productivity of employees.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Many people who launch small businesses start out as sole proprietors. Here are nine tax rules and considerations involved in operating as that entity.

1. You may qualify for the pass-through deduction. To the extent your business generates qualified business income, you are 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.

2. 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 will generally be deductible against your other income, subject to special rules related to hobby losses, passive activity losses and losses in activities in which you weren’t “at risk.”

3. Pay self-employment taxes. For 2020, you pay self-employment tax (Social Security and Medicare) at a 15.3% rate on your net earnings from self-employment of up to $137,700, 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. Make quarterly estimated tax payments. For 2019, these are due April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15, 2021.

5. 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 portion of some costs of maintaining your home. And if you have a home office, you may be able to deduct expenses of traveling from there to another work location.

6. 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.

7. 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 office-at-home expenses, require special attention because they’re subject to special recordkeeping rules or deductibility limits.

8. If you hire employees, you need to get a taxpayer identification number and withhold and pay employment taxes.

9. Consider establishing a qualified retirement plan. The advantage is that amounts contributed to the plan are deductible at the time of the contribution and aren’t taken into income until they’re are withdrawn. Because many qualified plans can be complex, you might consider a SEP plan, which requires less paperwork. A SIMPLE plan is also available to sole proprietors that 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.

Seek assistance

If you want additional information regarding the tax aspects of your new business, or if you have questions about reporting or recordkeeping requirements, please contact us.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

When Dan received a large shipment of highlighter markers, he was confused. He didn’t remember ordering them — and he was the company’s sole office supplies buyer. Yet when he received an invoice for the markers a week later, he approved it for payment. After all, employees were already using the highlighters.

Dan fell for a typical office supply scam — and his company paid for the mistake. Here’s how to protect your business from this type of fraud.

Common features

Office supply scams typically begin as telemarketing fraud, with someone calling your business to obtain your street address and the name of an employee. Callers may ask for the person in charge, claim to need information to complete an order or pretend to verify an office machine’s serial number. The goal is to get a name that will lend legitimacy to bogus shipments and invoices.

The fraudster then attempts to perpetrate an office supply scheme, including one of the following:

Phony invoices. A supplier ships poor quality products and then, a week or two later, sends a pricey invoice. The delay is intentional: The fraudster hopes you won’t notice that the final price is much higher than you’d pay for better quality products. The person is also hoping you’ve used some of the products and feel obligated to pay for them.

Promotional items. Some pretenders offer to send you a promotional item. Before they hang up, however, they’ll mention in passing that they’re going to throw some ink cartridges in with the free coffee mug. What they don’t mention is that they’ll also throw in a bill for the ink.

Gift horses. A perpetrator sends a promotional item to an employee and follows up by sending unordered merchandise to you. When you receive the bill with the employee’s name on it, you question the employee. The scammer is hoping the employee will be so nervous about accepting the promotional item that you’ll end up believing the worker mistakenly ordered the merchandise.

Stop supply fraud

To keep your business safe from office supply fraud:

  • Tell employees to transfer all telemarketing calls to one or two designated buyers.
  • Provide buyers with procedures for documenting and approving purchases.
  • Set up a system for generating purchase order or internal reference numbers.
  • Instruct vendors to include those numbers on their shipment documents.
  • When you receive merchandise, inspect it and verify that you ordered it and that the packing list matches the box’s contents.

If everything’s in order, receiving employees should send copies of the bills of lading to accounts payable for reconciliation with the order.

Legal rights

Know that you aren’t legally required to pay for anything you didn’t order. Unless there’s a legitimate mistake on an order, you may treat any unrequested merchandise as a gift and use it as you like. If suppliers hassle you, discuss the matter with your legal and accounting advisors.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

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