Tax Reform – Intro
Tax Reform – Like it or lump it – it’s the law.
Late December 2017, Congress gave the American people the most far-reaching tax code changes since income taxes were first shoved down our throats created. They changed forms, rules, and thresholds. Some cherished provisions were wiped away, and new twists were created. Some changes are “permanent” while others are “temporary.” In my opinion, now that congress has a taste for tax-law tinkering, nothing in tax law will ever be permanent, and I fully expect each new administration – state and federal – to take a swipe at it. Be that as it may, our government is still issuing guidance on various provisions.
And so we begin a series on Tax Reform. Not everything…just the HIGHLIGHTS that impact my people, and just the broad strokes because if you really want all the details, you may as well read all 400 pages of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and then move on to the hundreds of additional pages of guidance issued (and still being issued) by the Internal Revenue Service.
Most people just want to know what it means in practice, and so that is our focus.
Estate Attorneys. Who needs them? (Not a rhetorical question!)
My own layman’s guide, born of my own experience and observations – Part 6
It is perfectly legal and acceptable for the executor to hire an estates attorney. Do you need an attorney? I don’t know. It would be good to at least have a consultation with an estates attorney before you decide to take the DIY approach. Planning the funeral and working through the assets could be headache enough without having to do the necessary paperwork to liquidate the assets, file the inheritance tax papers, prepare the accounting, and distribute the proceeds. Also, if you have an attorney, you won’t be “the bad guy” in the eyes of other heirs.
When you interview potential attorneys, ask how long it is likely to take to wrap things up. Then, keep them accountable. Some attorneys ask for a retainer up front, and invoice monthly as time and filing fees mount. Some attorneys will tell you a flat fee up front. When this is the case, be sure to ask what circumstances might require additional payment. Always ask exactly what will be required of you!
A good estates attorney can handle the liquidation of assets. This would include financial assets as well as real property or other assets. The attorney can also navigate the transfer of real property, even if the property is in other states. Your estates attorney will take care of all interaction with the Surrogate’s office. They can also engage an accountant to prepare the various tax forms, though some larger estate attorneys do this in-house with an on-staff accountant. Best of all, your attorney will handle any and all correspondence with the IRS and State of New Jersey.
Any trusts? Any long lost heirs? Any bad blood between heirs? Save the headache: Get an attorney.
First Ever SHREDDING EVENT
(Better than Cake Day)
Saturday, May 14, we held our first ever client appreciation SHREDDING EVENT. It was a huge success. Whether the person brought a truckload of boxes full of Granny’s old tax returns, or a simple armload of utility bills, they all came with broad grins of happiness.
One client said she just cannot keep up with it at home, and was delighted to know she could take care of everything in one fell swoop. Several people hauled boxes of paperwork out of their attics. Nearly everyone said they will prepare better for next year, and bring more!
And “more” would be fine by us. Not only does this event help my clients clean their homes and attics, but they also worry less about identity issues, because the paper is shred into tiny little bits, barely larger than a speck of dust. AND… then the shreds are recycled. Win-Win-Win.
And how is this better than Cake Day? Easy! No calories to count. No waistline to watch. No insulin to inject. No gluten to dodge. No snow to sidestep. Good for you, good for the environment.
We are definitely doing it again next year!
Our shredding partner is Pro-Shred Southern Jersey. If you missed our event, and can’t wait for next year, or you want to set up your own shredding event, call 856 . 336 . 2820 or you can find their website here.
What is Cake Day? (Plus, Cake Day Round Up 2016)
Our annual open house
Once again, we held a scrumptious, delicious, finger-licking, fun-filled open house…Cake Day! And the cakes were out-of-this-world awesome.
The winner? Sweet Eats! 2 of our 6 cakes were from Sweet Eats, and those 2 cakes ruled the day. Several people exclaimed the Vanilla Strawberry Cake was absolutely perfect because it was so fresh and not overly sweet. It featured 3 layers of yellow cake with 1 layer of fresh cut strawberries in a strawberry glaze, and 1 layer of vanilla pudding, iced with white whipped cream and vanilla cookie crumbles. And who doesn’t like chocolate?! The Chocolate Silk featured 4 layers of chocolate cake and 3 layers of chocolate mousse, with a chocolate buttercream icing and dark chocolate shavings.
The Apple Cinnamon Streusel from the local Dutch Wagon Market is always in demand! But the other entries could hardly keep up.
Folks enjoyed cake and coffee. Conversation ranged from exotic vacation cruises to a cute little Yorkie named Ruby who had her picture on the news during the recent blizzard – she was wearing pink snow boots! If only she’d been there to model them for us live… And some folks even dropped off their tax paperwork so we could get started on the work.
Sweet Eats is a Voorhees bakery with a new location in Marlton at the Crispin Square Shopping Center. They are not my client, but when you’re so good you win 1st place on Cake Day twice at the same time, you deserve a shout out!
If I had a hammer… (Or Cost vs. Value)
Why do services cost so much?
Did you hear the one about the heating contractor/washer repairman/lawn mower guy? The homeowners, at wit’s end, finally call for help to get the system back in action. The contractor shows up, listens to the tale of woe, inspects the equipment, considers the noises being made, then takes out a hammer, and whack! hits the equipment soundly in a particular place. The system immediately comes back online, no weird noises, no vibrations. The homeowners express amazement and gratitude. The contractor presents an invoice. The homeowners gasp. “But you’ve only been here 5 minutes!” they cry. “All you did was hit it with a hammer! We could have done that ourselves!” “Yes,” replies the contractor, “but I know where to aim.”
Experience. A large part of why a service costs so much is the sum total of the experience of the service provider.
New Year Resolutions: Stop! Don’t do it!
An alternative to New Year Resolutions
It’s that time again! Many of us are tempted to make a pile of well-intentioned resolutions. But I beg of you: please! Stop! Don’t do it!
Consider this: Has it worked in the past? Or are your resolutions gone and forgotten within anywhere from 10 days to 6 weeks as so many studies tell us? Remember Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.
Instead, I recommend a simple 2-step exercise. You can spend 5 minutes on it, or 20, or call me and ask me to walk you through it. You don’t need to write anything down, but I always think that helps.
Charity: Giving, American Style
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. – John F. Kennedy
What exactly is a 501c3 organization?
This is IRS code for a properly registered and functioning charitable organization here in the United States of America. You can look up most IRS qualifying charities with their Exempt Organizations Select tool. “Most” is as close as you can get because a) the list is ever-changing, b) not all churches are registered because they are automatically tax exempt, and c) governmental units don’t have to register.
Real charities issue receipts, or acknowledgement letters, often disguised as mushy thank you notes. The letter needs to specifically state the value of your charitable donation. It needs to state something like “no goods or services were received in exchange for the donation.” If possible, it will also state that the organization is a 501c3 organization. Oh – and it has to have a date, and be issued before the taxes are due.
What is a Veteran?
In honor of Veterans Day 2015, I am sharing an article written by Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC. It is reprinted in its entirety. And I say thank you.
What is a Veteran?
By Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity.
Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking.