Dividing a marital estate is rarely easy. But it’s made much harder if a divorcing spouse owns a private business and attempts to artificially deflate its profits or hide assets. If you or your attorney suspects this type of deception, engage a forensic accountant to investigate.

Key questions

When working on divorce cases, fraud experts ask several questions about private business interests. For example, does a spouse own a cash business that may have unreported income? Does the owner receive special (or excessive) perks or tax write-offs that affect the business’s profitability? Are numbers intentionally reported incorrectly to affect the business’s value?

n addition, experts investigate whether the company has any subsidiaries or is part of any other business ventures. Sometimes, a business owner may be a silent partner in an entity where ownership isn’t obvious.

Readily transferable.

Anomalies in a business’s income statements may reveal possible deception, particularly:

  • Excessive write-offs,
  • Withheld revenue deposits,
  • A large one-time expense, or
  • A decrease in revenue with no related decrease in variable expenses.

Sudden changes that occur when a spouse is contemplating divorce may suggest unreported income or overstated expenses. However, these changes could also be due to external forces, such as the loss of a major salesperson or adverse market conditions.

When evaluating expenses, experts often focus on the amounts paid to owners and other related parties. These may include payments for compensation, benefits, rent, management fees, and company vehicles and other perks. The owner-spouse also might try to flush personal expenses through the business.  

Balance sheet secrets

Balance sheets may reveal whether an owner is trying to hide assets (for example, in an offshore account) or transfer them to a related party for less than market value. Inventory is particularly susceptible to manipulation. Although notes payable to shareholders can be legitimate transactions, they also may be used to conceal income being distributed to an owner.

Experts review the equity section for any changes in the business’s ownership after the parties filed for divorce. They also search for suspicious withdrawals or distributions from capital accounts. Controlling owners may sometimes attempt to transfer ownership of business interests to close friends or associates to deprive their spouses of portions of the assets or portions of the business income.

Distorted value

Although divorce can give rise to angry actions, most business owners would never stoop to falsifying financial records simply to deprive their ex-spouses of a fair division of marital assets. But if the value of a business seems distorted, contact us for help identifying the causes and to suggest reasonable adjustments.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, which is of interest to employers. It clarifies the duration of certain COVID-19-related deadline extensions that apply to health care benefits plans.

Extensions to continue

The DOL and IRS issued guidance last year specifying that the COVID-19 outbreak period — defined as beginning March 1, 2020, and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 national emergency — should be disregarded when calculating various deadlines under COBRA, ERISA and HIPAA’s special enrollment provisions.

The original emergency declaration would have expired on March 1, 2021, but it was recently extended. Although the agencies defined the outbreak period solely by reference to the COVID-19 national emergency, they relied on statutes allowing them to specify disregarded periods for a maximum of one year. Therefore, questions arose as to whether the outbreak period was required to end on February 28, 2021, one year after it began.

Notice 2021-01answers those questions by providing that the extensions have continued past February 28 and will be measured on a case-by-case basis. Specifically, applicable deadlines for individuals and plans that fall within the outbreak period will be extended (that is, the disregarded period will last) until the earlier of:

  • One year from the date the plan or individual was first eligible for outbreak period relief, or
  • The end of the outbreak period.

Once the disregarded period has ended, the timeframes that were previously disregarded will resume. Thus, the outbreak period will continue until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency, but the maximum disregarded period for calculating relevant deadlines for any individual or plan cannot exceed one year.

Communication is necessary

The DOL advises plan sponsors to consider sending notices to participants regarding the end of the relief period, which may include reissuing or amending previous disclosures that are no longer accurate. Sponsors are also advised to notify participants who are losing coverage of other coverage options, such as through the recently announced COVID-19 special enrollment period in Health Insurance Marketplaces (commonly known as “Exchanges”).

Notice 2021-01 acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances may disrupt normal plan operations. The DOL reassures fiduciaries acting in good faith and with reasonable diligence that enforcement will emphasize compliance assistance and other relief. The notice further states that the IRS and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concur with the guidance and its application to laws under their jurisdiction.

Challenges ahead

Plan sponsors and administrators will likely welcome this clarification but may be disappointed in its timing and in how it interprets the one-year limitation. Determinations of the disregarded period that depend on individual circumstances could create significant administrative challenges.

In addition to making case-by-case determinations, plan sponsors and administrators must quickly develop a strategy for communicating these complex rules to participants. Contact us for further information and updates.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Dissecting the contents of a will

For many people, the first thing they think of when they hear the words “estate plan” is a will. And for good reason, as it’s the cornerstone of any estate plan. But do you know what provisions should be included in a will and what are best to leave out? The answers to those questions may not be obvious.

Understanding the basics

Typically, a will begins with an introductory clause, identifying yourself along with where you reside (city, state, county, etc.). It should also state that this is your official will and replaces any previous wills.

After the introductory clause, a will generally explains how your debts and funeral expenses are to be paid. Years ago, funeral expenses were often paid out of the share of assets going to an individual’s children, instead of the amount passing to his or her spouse under the unlimited marital deduction. However, now that the inflation-adjusted federal gift and estate tax exemption has increased to $11.7 million for 2021, this may not be as critical as before.

A will may also be used to name a guardian for minor children. To be on the safe side, name a backup in case your initial choice is unable or unwilling to serve as guardian or predeceases you. 

Making specific bequests

One of the major sections of your will — and the one that usually requires the most introspection — divides up your remaining assets. Outside of your residuary estate, you’ll likely want to make specific bequests of tangible personal property to designated beneficiaries.

If you’re using a trust to transfer property, make sure you identify the property that remains outside the trust, such as furniture and electronic devices. Typically, these items aren’t suitable for inclusion in a trust. If your estate includes real estate, include detailed information about each property and identify the specific beneficiaries.

Finally, most wills contain a residuary clause. As a result, assets that aren’t otherwise accounted for go to the named beneficiaries.

Addressing estate taxes

The next section of the will may address estate taxes. Remember that this isn’t necessarily limited to federal estate tax; it can also apply to state death taxes. You might arrange to have any estate taxes paid out of the residuary estate that remains after assets have been allocated to your spouse.

Naming an executor

Toward the end of the will, the executor is named. This is usually a relative or professional who’s responsible for administering the will. Of course, the executor should be a reputable person whom you trust. Also, include a successor executor if the first choice is unable to perform these duties. Frequently, a professional is used in this backup capacity.

Turn to the professionals

Regardless of your age, health and net worth, if you want to have a say in what happens to your children and your wealth after you’re gone, you need a will. Contact us for assistance with tax-saving estate strategies and contact your attorney to help you draft your will.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The U.S. economy is still a far cry from where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit about a year ago. Nonetheless, as vaccination efforts continue to ramp up, many experts expect stronger jobs growth and more robust economic activity in the months ahead.

No matter what your business does, you don’t want your sales staff hamstrung by overly complicated procedures as they strive to seize opportunities in the presumably brighter near-future. Here are five ways to streamline and energize your sales process:

1. Reassess territories. Business travel isn’t what it used to be, so you may not need to revise the geographic routes that your sale staff used to physically traverse. Nonetheless, you may see real efficiency gains by creating a strategic sales territory plan that aligns salespeople with regions or markets containing the prospects they’re most likely to win.

2. Focus on top-tier customers. If purchases from your most valued customers have slowed recently, find out why and reverse the trend. For your sales staff, this may mean shifting focus from winning new business to tending to these important accounts. See whether you can craft a customized plan aimed at meeting a legacy customer’s long-term needs. It might include discounts, premiums and extended warranties.

3. Cut down on “paperwork.” More than likely, “paperwork” is a figurative term these days, as most businesses have implemented electronic means to track leads, document sales efforts and record closings. Nevertheless, outdated or overly complicated software can slow a salesperson’s momentum.

You might conduct a survey to gather feedback on whether your current customer relationship management or sales management software is helping or hindering their efforts. Based on the data, you can then make sensible choices about whether to upgrade or change your system.

4. Issue a carefully chosen challenge. What allows a business to grow is not only retaining top customers, but also creating organic sales growth from new products or services. Consider creating a sales challenge that will motivate staff to push your company’s latest offerings. One facet of such a challenge may be to replace across-the-board commission rates with higher commissions on new products or “tough sells.”

5. Align commissions with financial objectives. Along with considering commissions tied to new products or difficult-to-sell products, investigate other ways you might revise commissions to incentivize your team. Examples include commissions based on:

  • Actual customer payments rather than billable orders,
  • More sales to current customers,
  • Increased order sizes,
  • Delivery of items when customers prepay, or
  • Number of new customers.

Again, these are just ideas to consider. Ultimately, you want to set up a sales compensation plan based on measurable financial goals that allow your sales staff to clearly understand how their efforts contribute to the profitability of your business. Contact us for help evaluating your sales process and targeting helpful changes.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

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