Using a revocable trust — sometimes referred to as a “living trust” — is a common estate planning strategy to manage one’s assets during life and to avoid probate at death. For the trust to be effective, you must “fund” it, meaning transferring ownership of your assets to the trust.
Perhaps you have collectible automobiles or other vehicle types. Should you consider transferring them to your revocable trust? If you still owe money on an auto loan, the lender may not allow you to transfer the title to the trust. But even if you own the vehicle outright (whether you paid cash for it or a loan has been paid off), there are risks in making such a transfer.
Steer clear of pitfalls
As the vehicle’s owner, the trust will be responsible in the event the vehicle is involved in an accident, exposing other trust assets to liability claims that aren’t covered by insurance. So you need to name the trust as an insured party on your liability insurance policy.
On the other hand, because you’re personally liable either way, owning a vehicle through your revocable trust may not be a big concern during your life. After your death, when the trust becomes irrevocable, an accident involving a trust-owned vehicle can place the other trust assets at risk.
Keeping a vehicle out of the trust eliminates this risk. The downside, of course, is that the vehicle may be subject to probate. However, some states offer streamlined procedures for transferring certain vehicles to heirs.
Turn to us for directions
Are you considering transferring automobiles or other vehicles to your revocable trust so they can avoid probate? Before taking action, it’s important to understand the pitfalls of such a move. Contact us with for additional details.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
A natural place to turn when disaster strikes is insurance. The very reason you pay premiums and deal with the paperwork is to have these risk management policies in place when necessary. But, when it comes to business interruption coverage, you may have to adjust your expectations if you intend to file a claim because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Business interruption insurance generally provides cash flow to cover revenues lost and expenses incurred while normal operations are suspended because of an applicable event. So, many business owners are now asking an unavoidable question: Is the COVID-19 pandemic an applicable event?
Many insurers are saying no, claiming the “force majeure” legal defense. This refers to situations in which unexpected external circumstances prevent a party to a contract — in this case, the insurance company — from meeting its obligations.
Insurers are also citing policy language that stipulates coverage applies only when a policyholder suffers a loss of income as a result of physical loss or damage to covered property. COVID-19 doesn’t qualify as a physical loss, they argue. In addition, insurers contend their policies don’t cover loss of income because of market conditions or an economic slowdown.
Lawsuits have already been filed challenging the insurance companies. Attorneys, representing business owners, are arguing that the recent rise of SARS, MERS and the Avian flu have given insurance companies ample opportunity to anticipate a global pandemic.
Attorneys have additionally pointed out that the virus can attach itself to physical surfaces. Thus, they contend, it does result in a physical loss as businesses are losing revenue and incurring expenses for disinfection and prevention.
As these lawsuits play out, you may wonder whether it’s worth your time to file a business interruption claim related to the pandemic. The answer depends on your policy’s language, as well as the facts and circumstances of your company’s situation.
To decide whether and how to proceed, review your policy carefully. Look at the type of losses covered, as well as exclusions and limitations. You may want to consult an attorney, as insurance policy language and structure can be confusing.
If you decide to move ahead with a claim, you’ll need to document the adverse financial impact of the pandemic, including:
- Loss of income, as defined under your policy,
- Customer attrition rates, and
- Incremental expenses incurred, such as site security or cleaning services.
Many policies require policyholders to notify the insurer of a loss within a certain period, so you may need to move quickly.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, receiving a payout for a business interruption claim was typically not a cut-and-dried affair. Suffice to say, doing so hasn’t gotten any easier. We can help you assess and document financial losses and expenses before deciding whether to file a claim.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
If you have a life insurance policy, you probably want to make sure that the life insurance benefits your family will receive after your death won’t be included in your estate. That way, the benefits won’t be subject to the federal estate tax.
Under the estate tax rules, life insurance will be included in your taxable estate if either:
- Your estate is the beneficiary of the insurance proceeds, or
- You possessed certain economic ownership rights (called “incidents of ownership”) in the policy at your death (or within three years of your death).
The first situation is easy to avoid. You can just make sure your estate isn’t designated as beneficiary of the policy.
The second situation is more complicated. It’s clear that if you’re the owner of the policy, the proceeds will be included in your estate regardless of the beneficiary. However, simply having someone else possess legal title to the policy won’t prevent this result if you keep so-called “incidents of ownership” in the policy. If held by you, the rights that will cause the proceeds to be taxed in your estate include:
- The right to change beneficiaries,
- The right to assign the policy (or revoke an assignment),
- The right to borrow against the policy’s cash surrender value,
- The right to pledge the policy as security for a loan, and
- The right to surrender or cancel the policy.
Keep in mind that merely having any of the above powers will cause the proceeds to be taxed in your estate even if you never exercise the power.
If life insurance is obtained to fund a buy-sell agreement for a business interest under a “cross-purchase” arrangement, it won’t be taxed in your estate (unless the estate is named as beneficiary). For example, say Andrew and Bob are partners who agree that the partnership interest of the first of them to die will be bought by the surviving partner. To fund these obligations, Andrew buys a life insurance policy on Bob’s life. Andrew pays all the premiums, retains all incidents of ownership, and names himself as beneficiary. Bob does the same regarding Andrew. When the first partner dies, the insurance proceeds aren’t taxed in the first partner’s estate.
Life insurance trusts
An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is an effective vehicle that can be set up to keep life insurance proceeds from being taxed in the insured’s estate. Typically, the policy is transferred to the trust along with assets that can be used to pay future premiums. Alternatively, the trust buys the insurance with funds contributed by the insured person. So long as the trust agreement gives the insured person none of the ownership rights described above, the proceeds won’t be included in his or her estate.
The three-year rule
If you’re considering setting up a life insurance trust with a policy you own now or you just want to assign away your ownership rights in a policy, contact us to help you make these moves. Unless you live for at least three years after these steps are taken, the proceeds will be taxed in your estate. For policies in which you never held incidents of ownership, the three-year rule doesn’t apply. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions about your situation.
© 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.
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
You may think your business has enough insurance already. But if it’s vulnerable to employee theft and fraud — and most businesses are — you may want to consider adding more coverage. Some insurance companies offer policies to protect against loss of money and property due to criminal acts by employees. Here’s how to decide whether your business needs one.
Employee dishonesty insurance can cover not only theft of money, property and securities, but also willful damage to property. If, for example, an employee smashes a computer or kicks a hole in a wall, it’s likely covered. And this type of policy covers losses from all employees. However, coverage generally is based on occurrences. So if more than one employee is involved in a single theft, the payout will be based on that single occurrence.
Rates and deductibles typically depend on a business’s level of risk. But separate employee dishonesty insurance policies are likely to have higher loss limits and more customized coverage than is available with coverage offered as part of a business insurance package.
Employee dishonesty insurance covers only property your business owns, holds for others or is legally liable for. It usually doesn’t cover theft or damages caused by employees of businesses that provide services to your company. (For coverage related to third parties, such as contract workers, you may need to add “endorsements” or buy a broader business crime policy.)
Employee dishonesty insurance also generally won’t cover loss of:
- Intangible assets such as trade secrets or electronic data,
- Loss of employees’ property,
- Damage covered by another insurance policy, or
- The unexplained disappearance of property.
The burden of proof for employee dishonesty claims is solely on the policy owner. Insurance companies will pay claims only if there is conclusive proof that an employee caused the loss.
Finally, employee dishonesty insurance isn’t a substitute for a fidelity bond if a bond is required by a funding source or other contractual agreement. And such bonds can offer advantages. For example, Federal Bonding Program bonds, intended to encourage employers to hire hard-to-place applicants, reimburse employers with no deductible for loss due to employee theft.
Consider your options
Before buying employee dishonesty insurance, look closely at what your general liability or business owner’s policy covers so that you don’t pay for the same coverage twice. And keep in mind that some businesses — such as restaurants and retail stores, where employees often handle cash — may benefit from it more than others. For help determining what your company needs and finding affordable coverage, contact us.
© 2020 Covenant CPA
For years, life insurance has played a critical role in estate planning, providing a source of liquidity to pay estate taxes and other expenses. Today, the gift and estate tax exemption has climbed to $11.4 million, so estate taxes are no longer a concern for the vast majority of families. But even for nontaxable estates, life insurance continues to offer estate planning benefits.
Replacing income and wealth
Life insurance can protect your family by replacing your lost income. It can also be used to replace wealth in a variety of contexts. For example, suppose you own highly appreciated real estate or other assets and wish to dispose of them without generating current capital gains tax liability. One option is to contribute the assets to a charitable remainder trust (CRT).
As a tax-exempt entity, the CRT can sell the assets and reinvest the proceeds without triggering capital gains tax. In addition, you and your spouse will enjoy an income stream and charitable income tax deductions. Typically, distributions you receive from the CRT are treated as a combination of ordinary taxable income, capital gains, tax-exempt income and tax-free return of principal.
After you and your spouse die, the remaining trust assets pass to charity. This will reduce the amount of wealth available to your children or other heirs. But you can use life insurance (a cost-effective second-to-die policy, for example) to replace that lost wealth.
You can also use life insurance to replace wealth that’s lost to long term care (LTC) expenses, such as nursing home costs, for you or your spouse. Although LTC insurance is available, it can be expensive, especially if you’re already beyond retirement age. For many people, a better option is to use personal savings and investments to fund their LTC needs and to purchase life insurance to replace the money that’s spent on such care. One advantage of this approach is that, if neither you nor your spouse needs LTC, your heirs will enjoy a windfall.
Finding the right policy
These are just a few examples of the many benefits provided by life insurance. We can help determine which type of life insurance policy is right for your situation. 205-345-9898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019 CovenantCPA
Protecting your company through the purchase of various forms of insurance is a risk-management necessity. But just because you must buy coverage doesn’t mean you can’t manage the cost of doing so.
Obviously, the safer your workplace, the less likely you’ll incur costly claims and high workers’ compensation premiums. There are, however, bigger-picture issues that you can confront to also lessen the likelihood of expensive payouts. These issues tend to fall under the broad category of employee wellness.
When you read the word “wellness,” your first thought may be of a formal wellness program at your workplace. Indeed, one of these — properly designed and implemented — can help lower or at least control health care coverage costs.
Wellness programs typically focus on one or more of three types of services/activities:
- Health screenings to identify medical risks (with employee consent),
- Disease management to support people with existing chronic conditions, and
- Lifestyle management to encourage healthier behavior (for example, diet or smoking cessation).
The Affordable Care Act offers incentives to employers that establish qualifying company wellness programs. As mentioned, though, it’s critical to choose the right “size and shape” program to get a worthwhile return on investment.
Beyond promoting physical well-being, your business can also encourage mental health wellness to help you avoid or prevent claims involving:
- Wrongful termination,
- Sexual harassment, or
- Other toxic workplace issues.
If you’ve already invested in employment practices liability insurance, you know that it doesn’t come cheap and premiums can skyrocket after just one or two incidents. But, in today’s highly litigious society, many businesses consider such coverage a must-have.
Controlling these costs starts with training. When employees are taught (and reminded) to behave appropriately and understand company policies, they have much less ground to stand on when considering lawsuits. And, on a more positive note, a well-trained workforce should get along better and, thereby, operate in a more upbeat, friendly environment.
To take mental health wellness one step further, you could implement an employee assistance program (EAP). This is a voluntary and confidential way to connect employees to outside providers who can help them manage substance abuse and mental health issues. Although it will call for an upfront investment, an EAP can lower insurance costs over the long term by discouraging lifestyle choices that tend to lead to accidents and lawsuits.
Hand in hand
Happy and healthy — there’s a reason these two words go hand in hand. Create a workforce that’s both and you’ll stand a much better chance of maintaining affordable insurance premiums. We can provide further information on how to reduce potential liability and lower the costs of various forms of business insurance. Call us today at 205-345-9898.
© 2018 Covenant CPA