Tag Archives: tax planning

Asset protection is just as important as tax planning

Like many financially savvy individuals, you’re probably already thinking about filing your tax return next year. But don’t overlook another critical and equally important aspect of financial planning: asset protection. Here are some fundamental strategies to consider.

Buy liability insurance

Liability insurance policies help protect your assets from the financial risks associated with personal liability that results from an adverse legal judgment. Auto and homeowner’s policies, for example, usually include some liability coverage. Increasing your liability coverage beyond the standard amounts will provide additional asset protection.

Personal liability umbrella insurance can give you even more liability coverage above the limits of your auto and homeowner’s policies. For instance, if you were sued for causing a car accident or found liable for injuries suffered by a visitor to your home, umbrella insurance could provide coverage up to the policy limits (such as $1 million).

Look to statutory protection

Federal or state law exempts certain kinds of property and assets from creditor liens. Thus, some assets you own may automatically be protected due to statutory guidelines. Qualified retirement plans are this type of asset, as are IRAs and 401(k) plans, life insurance proceeds and Section 529 college savings plans. But keep in mind that inherited assets may not have the same degree of protection.

The amount of home equity that’s protected (generally called the “homestead exemption”) depends on state law. In some states, it’s very generous, but in others it’s extremely limited, given the value of homes today. In a couple of states, there’s no protection. Consult with an attorney about your state’s laws.

Establish a trust

Assets placed in an irrevocable trust can’t be removed, nor can the trust terms be changed. Thus, you’ve effectively relinquished control over the assets and put them out of reach of your creditors. The asset transfer must be done in advance of the act that created the liability, or the transfer could be nullified. In other words, the time to think about setting up such a trust is before you need to take advantage of it.

An irrevocable trust also can help you protect assets for your children and grandchildren. Consider structuring the trust in a way that effectively gives future generations the benefit of the assets without transferring ownership of them to your heirs. This can shield those assets from your descendants’ future creditors.

If you decide to use trusts as part of your asset protection strategy, remember that they may be subject to higher income tax rates and additional tax filing requirements. Trusts also may be costly to set up and require expert legal counsel to administer and maintain.

Obtain expert assistance

The details involved in implementing asset protection strategies can be complex. We can offer you guidance in your case.

Sidebar: Asset ownership structure is key

Ownership of your assets plays an important role in whether they can be seized by creditors. Thus, it might be wise in some situations to transfer ownership of certain assets to your spouse. If you’re at a high risk of liability — for example, you’re a business owner — one strategy might be to retain ownership of assets with statutory protection, as mentioned in the main article, and transfer ownership of all other assets to your spouse.

© 2019

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Year-end tax and financial to-do list for individuals

With the dawn of 2020 on the near horizon, here’s a quick list of tax and financial to-dos you should address before 2019 ends:

Check your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) balanceIf you have an FSA for health care expenses, you need to incur qualifying expenses by December 31 to use up these funds or you’ll potentially lose them. (Some plans allow you to carry over up to $500 to the following year or give you a 2½-month grace period to incur qualifying expenses.) Use expiring FSA funds to pay for eyeglasses, dental work or eligible drugs or health products.

Max out tax-advantaged savingsReduce your 2019 income by contributing to traditional IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans or Health Savings Accounts to the extent you’re eligible. (Certain vehicles, including traditional and SEP IRAs, allow you to deduct contributions on your 2019 return if they’re made by April 15, 2020.)

Take required minimum distributions (RMDs)If you’ve reached age 70½, you generally must take RMDs from IRAs or qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans before the end of the year to avoid a 50% penalty. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2020, to take your first RMD. But keep in mind that, if you defer your first distribution, you’ll have to take two next year.

Consider a qualified charitable distribution (QCD)If you’re 70½ or older and charitably inclined, a QCD allows you to transfer up to $100,000 tax-free directly from your IRA to a qualified charity and to apply the amount toward your RMD. This is a big advantage if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a charitable deduction (because you don’t itemize, for example).

Use it or lose itMake the most of annual limits that don’t carry over from year to year, even if doing so won’t provide an income tax deduction. For example, if gift and estate taxes are a concern, make annual exclusion gifts up to $15,000 per recipient. If you have a Coverdell Education Savings Account, contribute the maximum amount you’re allowed.

Contribute to a Section 529 planSec. 529 prepaid tuition or college savings plans aren’t subject to federal annual contribution limits and don’t provide a federal income tax deduction. But contributions may entitle you to a state income tax deduction (depending on your state and plan).

Review withholdingThe IRS cautions that people with more complex tax situations face the possibility of having their income taxes underwithheld because of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Use its withholding estimator (available at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/tax-withholding-estimator) to review your situation.

If it looks like you could face underpayment penalties, increase withholding from your or your spouse’s wages for the remainder of the year. (Withholding, unlike estimated tax payments, is treated as if it were paid evenly over the year.)

For assistance with these and other year-end planning ideas, please contact us.

© 2019

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