2019 is here, and it's almost time to file your first tax return under the new law. But you probably sat around watching sports all weekend instead of talking taxes, didn't you. (Did Santa bring a new TV?) So, as we ring in the New Year, let's take a look at how the new tax bill affects some of those athletes you've been watching.
Washington sold the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as "tax simplification." And really, who can't raise a toast to that? Lower rates! Higher standard deductions! A 1040 you can fill out on a postcard! But many taxpayers, especially those in high-tax states like New York and California, can be forgiven if they feel like they woke up with a massive hangover. Deductions for state and local income and property taxes are now capped at $10,000, regardless of income. And employee business deductions are nixed entirely. That's going to be pricey for the Very Large Men we mentioned in the title.
Take 6'8" NBA superstar Lebron James. He's played in Cleveland, where state and local taxes total 7.5%. He's played in tax-free Miami. And now he's playing in Los Angeles, where he pays 13.3%. (13.3% going to California sure sounds like a technical foul.) Under the old rules, he could deduct whatever he actually paid. Now the refs limit him to the same $10,000 as the rookies earning the league minimum. Granted, that minimum is $838,464. But doesn't it make sense to let a guy paying tax on 43 times that amount actually deduct 43 times as much?
Income taxes won't be the only expense to bite King James under the new rules. He owns a $9 million house in his hometown of Akron (where $9 million buys a lot of house), a $21 million house in Brentwood (where $21 million still buys a pretty nice crib), and a $23 million house in Brentwood. (Not a typo.) Property taxes on those homes reach well into six figures, if not seven. But now he'll watch those deductions bounce off the rim and rebound into IRS hands.
Even athletes who play in states with no income tax used to be able to deduct non-employee business expenses: agents' and managers' fees, health club and training expenses, travel expenses, and players' union dues. But now those are gone, too. Agents typically take 10% of a client athlete's salary and endorsement income, which means losing that deduction alone can eliminate the benefit of lower overall rates.
The new law does give LeBron one potentially important break. Charitable deductions used to be capped at 50% of adjusted gross income. The new law raises that limit to 60%. LeBron is famously charitable, especially for educational causes, and may appreciate that change someday.
As for that postcard-sized tax return? Well, yes, the IRS has released a new Form 1040. And yes, you can print it on a postcard. But don't get too excited. They've just stripped out half of the information from the old 1040 and dumped it into six pages of Schedules. Have capital gains to report, or student loan interest to deduct? You'll have to file Schedule 1. Owe AMT? Schedule 2 is just four lines . . . but there goes your postcard. Need to pay self-employment tax? Welcome to Schedule 4. And who wants to report their income where the mailman can see it on its way to the IRS, anyway?
This New Year, millions of Americans will pick cliched resolutions like eating less, exercising more, crying less, or smoking more. (Possibly a typo.) We'd like to suggest something a little more profitable: minimizing the bite that taxes take out of your year. Call us to save, and make 2019 your best year ever!
Some of the greatest stories in America reach their dramatic finale in a courtroom. Who doesn't admire Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch standing up to racism in Jim Crow-era Alabama in To Kill A Mockingbird? Who can forget Tom Cruise baiting Jack Nicholson into bellowing out that yes, he did order the Code Red at the end of A Few Good Men? And who can't imagine the smile of relief on O.J. Simpson's face when the jury announced they had found him not guilty? (Good thing he's finally out of jail so he can pick up his search for the real killers!)
Funny thing about those stirring courtroom dramas, though . . . they never involve tax cases. Don't novelists see the conflict inherent in a "battle of the appraisers" debating golf course valuations in a conservation easement case? Can't Hollywood producers tease out the complex dramas underlying a typical multinational transfer pricing dispute? What playwright wouldn't dream of meditating on the cross-salient tankgrenuities raised by "Section 393 transfers" between counter-impactful entities after a Section 754 election? (Relax, we made that last one up. Those aren't even real words.)
But tax questions do occasionally sneak into an actual court. So join us now for this week's story, which begins on the banks of the Ohio River.
Back in 1850, Cincinnati was the sixth-largest city in America, nicknamed "Porkopolis" for the area's meatpacking industry. (Can you imagine the smell?) Today, Cincinnati, along with rivertown rivals like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Kansas City, is navigating the transition to a 21st-century economy. But only Cincinnati is the home of professional baseball. And while today's Cincinnati Reds may be a pale shadow of the 1970s "Big Red Machine," fans still flock to the riverfront Great American Ballpark on game day — especially when the team gives away player bobblehead dolls.
That, in turn, brings us to the Titanic struggle that just reached its ninth inning in Ohio Supreme Court: do the Reds have to pay use tax on the value of those bobbleheads? The state tax commissioner argued the team had bought them to give away to fans, in which case the team owed the tax. The Reds responded that they had bought them to resell as part of the overall ticket, in which case they would qualify for the "sale-for-resale" exemption under ORC §5739.01(E). The Board of Tax Appeals called the Reds "out," and demanded $80,000 in back tax.
Naturally, the team challenged the ruling on the field. That's when the replay reviewers at the Court stepped in. Last month, they issued their call. By a 5-2 count, the Justices yanked the commissioner from the mound. Instead, as Chief Justice Fisher wrote, "the unique promotional items were an explicit part of the bargain, along with the right to attend the game, that the fans obtained in exchange for paying the ticket fee." That promise qualified the play as a resale. In the words of longtime radio announcer Marty Brennaman, "This one belongs to the Reds!"
We've said before that every financial choice you make has some tax consequence. This week's story proves that can be true even when you're not making a choice! And while nobody is getting rich by eliminating bobblehead taxes from their life, the lesson remains that proactive planning is the key to paying less. So enjoy the rest of 2018 and have a Happy New Year. And count on us to help you make the most of all your planning opportunities in 2019 and beyond!
These days it seems like every day brings new controversy to further divide Americans: red states squaring off against blue states and partisanship crossing the line into tribalism. And that's just as true with the holidays as with anything else. Is fruitcake really an abomination? Is Die Hard really a Christmas movie? Is Baby It's Cold Outside really a musical #MeToo violation in two-part harmony?
Fortunately, there are still some headlines that can bring us all back together. So this holiday season, we're especially delighted to remind you that A Visit From Saint Nick is a tax-free celebration. Santa won't be leaving a 1099 under your Christmas tree, and there won't be any Form 1040-GIFT to file after the tree comes down.
Taxable income generally includes all income, from whatever sources received. However, the tax code carves out several exceptions to that rule, much like Grandpa carves the drumsticks out of the holiday turkey. A "gift" is something of value, given without expecting anything in return. IRS Publication 525 states that "in most cases, property you receive as a gift, bequest, or inheritance isn't included in your income."
"But what about the milk and cookies?" you might ask. "That's the deal, right? Santa shows up with a bag of presents in exchange for cookies and milk (or maybe bourbon and eggnog). Doesn't that transform the whole occasion into a taxable exchange for value?" To which we might respond, "How did you get to be such a Grinch, anyway?"
"Ok, then, what about the gift tax?" you might challenge us next. Well, for starters, that's a levy on your right to give, not receive. So there's never any tax due to the recipient. You can give up to $15,000 each to as many people in a year as you like. If you're married, you and your spouse can join together to give up to $30,000 to every lucky winner. If you give more than $15,000 to a single recipient in a single year, you'll have to report the excess on Form 709. But even then, you won't owe actual tax until your lifetime taxable gifts exceed $11.18 million.
With those rules in mind, Santa's gotta be awfully generous before Christmas morning turns into a taxable event, even for him. (Granted, a trip to Tiffany's might do the trick.) But there's one last scenario to address — and one last loophole to highlight — before we finish our discussion. That's the Christmas Morning Car, an advertising staple since Lexus launched their "December to Remember" campaign back in 1998. What happens when Santa leaves a shiny new car wrapped in a big red bow in the driveway?
This is the part where we're going to have to shatter some precious childhood illusions. Sorry, boys and girls, but that's not really Santa leaving that Lexus in the driveway. It's just Mom buying the car for Dad, or Dad buying it for Mom. And transfers between spouses are tax-free up to any amount. Which means, once again, that the IRS won't be taking a bite out of your Christmas cheer.
Like everyone else, we wish you the best this holiday time, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or even Festivus. But we want to offer something a little more tangible. Help us give you the gift of proactive planning. Call us when you're ready to save, and together we'll make the season even brighter!
If you pay attention to financial news, you can't escape hearing about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is just like country music, Justin Bieber, and pineapple on pizza — people either love it, or hate it, but there's no middle ground. The billionaire Warren Buffet dismisses it as a "mirage," a "Buck Rogers" phenomenon, and "rat poison squared." But legions of fans see it someday replacing government-backed currencies. Odds are good that one of the millennials at your holiday table believes in Bitcoin as hopefully as they used to believe in Santa Claus.
Just as Pinocchio always wanted to be a real boy, Bitcoin wants to be real money. That means accomplishing two goals. First, it has to serve as a store of value. You have to be confident that if you put something in, you'll be able to get the same value out. And second, it has to serve as a medium of exchange. That means you have to be able to use it to pay for things just like you would use cash.
So far, Bitcoin's record in both areas is spotty. If you were one of the unfortunates who jumped into the market a year ago at $17,900, you're probably not feeling the love now that it's collapsed to $4,000. Similarly, if you've tried to use it to pay for gas or groceries, you've probably gotten blank stares from the cashier.
And so, at least until now, Bitcoin and its blockchain-based peers like Ethereum have made news mainly for their wild price fluctuations. But last month, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel announced the Buckeye State would become the first to accept Bitcoin for tax payments. For now, the program is limited to business filers, although they can use Bitcoin to pay for any type of tax. However, the state plans to expand the program to individuals down the road. (We're not sure if that will happen before or after Ohio finally gets a decent professional football team.)
Treasurer Mandel, who at age 41 is young enough to consider himself an honorary millennial, is a longtime fan of the currency. But last month's move is part of a broader effort to attract software engineers and tech startups to the state. "We're doing this to plant the flag in Ohio as a national and international leader in blockchain technology," said Mandel.
Ohio has set up a website (of course) at OhioCrypto.com to accept payments. They've engaged a company called Bitpay to process the transactions and convert the coins into cash. The fee for that service is just 1%, which is cheaper than using a credit card.
Will virtual currencies someday break through into the mainstream? At this point, who knows? (We're still waiting for the flying cars we saw on The Jetsons — although Rosie the robot housekeeper is almost here, and you can buy a watch to make video calls with Mr. Spacely for $279). And while Bitcoin itself is grabbing most of the cryptocurrency headlines, it may not be the ultimate winner. (Google wasn't the first online search engine, either.) If recent trends are any guide, Bitcoin will remain a punchline until suddenly, one day, it's not.
Here's the real bottom line of last month's news. The world is changing — and, like it or not, we have to change with it. That's true for tax professionals, too. The Flintstones may have been perfectly happy with someone telling them how much they owe. But the Jetsons want to know how to pay less. That's where we come in — and we're looking forward to helping you through 2019 and beyond!
Wall Streeters have a lot to give thanks for this holiday season. Earnings are up, so bonuses are up. And that, in turn, means taxes are up, too. The New York Post just reported that Wall Street Bankers Are Throwing Excessive Parties To Dodge Taxes. But will the wining and dining actually put money back in their pockets? Or is the tax angle just a convenient excuse to party up a storm on the company tab?
Wall Street culture rewards bankers for results. They generally start out with low fixed salaries, at least as a percentage of their overall pay. Then, around this time of year, the bosses get together to count their profits, and shower producers with whatever bonuses it takes to keep them from jumping ship to the competition. In 2017, Wall Street pay jumped 13% to average $422,500 per head. And one consultant predicts sales and trading pros could see 20% more this year in their stockings.
Here's the problem for all those Masters of the Universe glamming it up in their Manhattan condos. Last year's tax bill cut the top federal rate from 39.6% to 37%. However, it also capped deductions for state and local taxes to a flat $10,000. That's a real punch in the gut for Manhattanites paying 13% to the state and city. Throw in 3.8% more for Medicare, and that brings the total skim up to 54%. That's not as bad as the "one for you, nineteen for me" the Beatles sang about in Taxman. But it's hard to get rich if tax collectors are taking home more than you do!
And so, concludes the Post, "Bankers and traders will be celebrating the prospect of massive, multimillion dollar payouts — and they'll use the mega-expenses of year-end blowouts as write-offs for their inflated tax bills, according to industry sources."
It turns out, though, writing off a pricey dinner isn't a very tasty tax shelter. Let's say you treat yourself and three colleagues to the $795/person "white truffle" extravaganza at Daniel, an Upper East Side mainstay. (Relax, your wine pairings are already included in that price!) $3,200 sounds like a lot to shell out for dinner. But after you deduct 50% and multiply it by the 54% tax you save, Uncle Sam covers $864 of that bill.
Now, $864 might cover the sales tax and tip. But in the end, it's a subsidy, not a savings. Nobody puts money in their pocket by splurging on Florida frog leg mousseline with porcini mushrooms in a white truffle white wine sauce. It's delicious, if you're into that sort of thing, and it looks great in your Instagram feed. But you can't retire on it (unless you're the celebrity chef selling it.) You'd think seven-figure financial wizards would be smart enough to figure that out! (Or maybe they're making so much it doesn't really matter?)
While bankers are out celebrating, they should raise a toast to a different blessing. The law that capped deductions for state and local taxes also eliminated them altogether for business entertainment. But Washington did such a clumsy job writing it that tax pros across the country worried it might have killed writeoffs for meals, too. Last month, the IRS clarified that meals are still deductible, so long as they're not "lavish or extravagant." So you tell us — does $795 for five courses of white truffles pass the test?
Nobody likes paying more tax than they have to, especially when they're paying 54%. But we understand the best tax plans are the ones that help you accomplish financial goals beyond a night out on the town. So call us when you're ready to save, and we'll give you something to celebrate!
If you were coaching your kid's basketball team, you wouldn't win many games if you told them to aim for the backboard. Your opponents might love you, but there would be at least one dad in the stands screaming at you the entire time. So why have some tax collectors given up aiming for the hoop and settled for rebounds?
At first glance, the tax code looks like 70,000+ pages of incomprehensible gobbledygook. (Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover.) But scratch the surface hard enough and you'll find a semblance of order. Add up total income from various sources. Subtract adjustments to gross income and standard or itemized deductions. Calculate the tax based on the remaining net income. Finally, subtract any available credits for doing things Washington is willing to subsidize, like having kids, sending them to college, or driving your kids to college in an electric car.
Easy peasy, right? (Yeah, sure.) In practice, of course, it's a lot harder, and leads to complications like "partnership capital account revaluations," "tentative alternative minimum taxable income," and "auditors crawling up your you-know-what for a week and asking for every Staples receipt from the last three years."
The lane to the net can be even twistier on the corporate side. Multinational corporations have crafted strategies like the "double Irish with a Dutch sandwich" (yes, that's really a thing) to shift income from high-tax countries like the U.S. (35%), to low-tax countries like Ireland (12.5%). Clever lawyers save their clients millions of dollars with these sorts of gyrations, which explains why they wear antique Swiss watches and drive pricey German sports cars.
But what if we didn't have to jump through all those hoops? What if we could just bounce the ball off the backboard and call it good? It turns out that some governments are finding ways to do just that.
In London, Treasury chief Phillip Hammond is proposing a "digital services tax" of 2% of gross revenue on U.S. companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The new levy would raise £400 million per year, regardless of where those companies ultimately send their net to be taxed. The European Union and Spain have proposed similar taxes of 3%, and several more countries are eyeing that bandwagon. Those small percentages may not sound like much. But applying them over a broader base can quickly mean enormous revenue for those countries.
Here in the U.S., several states impose revenue-based taxes instead of traditional corporate income taxes. In Texas, businesses pay 1% of gross receipts over $1 million, or 0.575% over $10 million. In California, LLCs pay a fee of up to $11,790 depending on gross revenue. And in Ohio, businesses pay a flat Commercial Activity Tax of 0.26% on Ohio gross receipts over $1 million. Those amounts may look like small potatoes, but they add up fast. Plus, it's easier for businesses to calculate revenue-based taxes and for auditors to verify them.
The good news is that our old-school income tax raised about half of our federal revenue last year. It would take a Herculean effort to change that system, especially when Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer can't even agree on naming a post office. And that means all your favorite tax breaks are still safe, at least for now. So call us to make sure you're not missing out on any free throws!
Reality television has introduced us all to the joy of the "big reveal." HGTV specializes in this sort of story. The perky couple, handsome brothers, or plucky first-time homeowners spend most of an episode covered in plaster dust and paint. Then after the final commercial break, they pull back the curtain on the dream interior so viewers can feel inadequate about their own homes. (VH1's Dating Naked did things a little backwards, with the "big reveal" up front, but still managed to wring some drama out of the format.)
In Finland, tucked between the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Circle, they do things a little differently. For starters, they love reindeer sausage! They play host every year to the World Wife-Carrying Championship, where whoever crosses the Finnish line first takes home his wife's weight in beer. But on a more sober note, the Finns have decided to discourage the sort of income inequality that's growing across the world. So, in the interest of transparency, they publish everyone's income tax returns!
The Finnish Tax Administration schedules their big reveal for 8:00 AM on November 1. The New York Times calls it "National Jealousy Day," which seems appropriate, and Finnish newspapers assign up to half of their staff to covering the event. This year, taxpayers reported earning a total of €140 billion and paying €46.8 billion in tax, making Finland one of the highest-taxed countries in the world. But of course the real fun lies in snooping through the individual returns: your bosses, your neighbors, and your friends and family.
Back in 2013, a pair of video game developers named Ilkka Paananen and Miko Kodisoja set the record for the highest capital gains. That's the year they sold 51% of their company Supercell, which makes games for mobile phones. The $62 million they paid on the gains from that sale boosted the entire country's capital gain total by 20%. And they became folk heroes for not taking advantage of any planning strategies to pay less.
Two years later, one reporter discovered that several executives had relocated to Portugal to avoid tax on their pensions. It's hard to blame them for wanting someplace warmer, of course, even if it means leaving the reindeer sausage behind. But the story caused such an uproar that Finland rewrote its tax treaty with Portugal to close that particular loophole.
Last year, Supercell's Paananen and Kodisoja took home the gold and silver at €65.2 million and €57.5 million, respectively. (That sounds even better than winning your wife's weight in beer, right?) Aleksander Hanhikoski, founder of a real-time payments company, picked up the bronze with €24.6 million. Three more Supercell execs helped round out the top ten. There were 12 women among the top 100, with Ulla Riitta Sjöström ringing the bell at number 28 after selling her family's civilian shelter equipment business.
Revealing everyone's income isn't the only way Finns use tax returns. If you get caught speeding, your fine is based on your income. In 2015, the polissi clocked hotelier Reima Kuisla doing 64 in a 50-mph zone. They looked up his income right on the spot, and issued a ticket for roughly $62,000! (Kuisla's car probably has the latest charcoal scrubber system to filter out the smell of poverty, but that $62,000 still had to stink!)
What do you think would happen if our IRS revealed everyone's income? Would you be willing to pay more tax to impress your neighbors? If not, then call us to help you fly under the radar. We bet we'll save you enough for all the reindeer sausage you can eat!
Big-league baseball players like the ones who just wrapped up the World Series enjoy careers that last 5.9 years on average, and with 162 games per year, they enjoy lots of chances to be heroes. But eventually, even the best of them hang up their cleats and join the rest of us in the real world. The lucky ones find high-profile gigs running car dealerships or calling games from the broadcast booth. But every once in a while, a former player manages to makes headlines where you'd least expect them — like working as an accountant!
Ben Hendrickson started out looking like he'd become one of the greats. In 2004, the promising right-hander went 11-3 for the International League Indianapolis Indians and won league MVP honors. Then he got his start in the big leagues. Wearing #40, he pitched 11 games for the Milwaukee Brewers, finishing 1-10 with a 7.41 ERA. (If you're not familiar with baseball stats, those numbers are no bueno.) Milwaukee sent him down to their Nashville farm team and eventually traded him away. But Hendrickson never made it back to "the show," and his bright light faded away.
Fast forward to 2018. Hendrickson is working as an accountant for Floors Northwest in Fridley, Minnesota, just north of Minneapolis. Like all too many Americans, he's working paycheck to paycheck and not getting ahead. How can he throw some heat and escape the grind? Hey, here's an idea! Baseball runners who want to advance to the next base don't have to wait for the batter to hit the ball . . . they can just take off running and steal it! So, if Hendrickson wants more money so badly, why not just steal it from the company?
Last week, Anoka County District Court charged Hendrickson with four counts of "theft by swindle," totaling about $250,000. That's a refreshingly blunt description for the charges against Hendrickson, which can mean trading him away for up to 20 years in a place with no organized baseball whatsoever.
Here's how the Minneapolis Star-Tribune described the criminal mastermind's evil plan:
"While working for Floors Northwest in Fridley, where Hendrickson worked for several years until he left his job last year, he would alter the amount of cash received to make it look like less was collected from sales staff. Hendrickson deposited the lower amount and kept the rest. Nearly $160,000 of the money he stole was taken in the final two years of his employment. He also allegedly shifted $10,000 of the company's money to a personal health care account that paid his medical bills."
Hendrickson admits he stole the money . . . but says he thought he took between $50,000 and $75,000. Which begs the question, just how bad an accountant do you have to be to not count how much you stole? After failing at baseball and bookkeeping, Hendrickson may find that a few years in the metalworking field (specifically, stamping license plates for 11 cents/hour) may be just the vocational training he needs!
We all understand wanting to get ahead. Fortunately, there's an easy way to do it, without risking a trip to the pokey. Call us for a tax plan, and see how many dollars we can advance into your pocket. We think of your average tax rate as your financial "earned run average," and we do everything legal to keep it as low as possible. So call us to take a swing, and watch us bring the heat!
Legend holds that in 1494, an Italian friar named Luca Pacioli was sitting under an apple tree when an apple bounced off his head. In a flash of insight, he invented the "double-entry bookkeeping" system where each entry has a corresponding and opposite entry to a different account. Those entries, called debits and credits, help accountants avoid headaches — if the debits and credits don't balance, there's a mistake somewhere. (Some of you may be thinking that was Sir Isaac Newton with the apple inventing gravity, but this is our story and we're sticking to it.)
Double-entry bookkeeping has ruled accounting for over 500 years. We see it everywhere today, including in our tax code. Revenue flows in, balanced by expenses flowing out. Anything left over eventually winds up in the "taxable income" account.
Sometimes, with taxes, that balance breaks down, and many of those disconnects spell opportunity. Real estate investors, for example, can depreciate the price of their properties over time. (We can help you with "cost segregation" strategies to do it even faster.) In the IRS's ideal world, you'll repay those breaks by "recapturing" them as income when you sell. But with tax-free exchanges, stepped-up basis, and other strategies to avoid that reckoning, most of those depreciation deductions never get recaptured at all.
Now it's Halloween: America's second-favorite, and second-priciest, holiday. The National Retail Federation reports we dropped $9.1 billion on the spooky season last year, including $2.7 billion on candy. (Fun fact: Halloween candy is cheapest exactly four days before the 31st.) How does all that fit into Luca Pacioli's neat little boxes? Well, it gets scary the minute the greedy little trick-or-treater on the other side of your door goes running down your sidewalk with their loot!
Here's the disconnect. The candy company sells sweets to a retailer. That's a taxable transaction. The retailer sells them to you. That's another taxable transaction. But then you just give it to the little goblins, pirates, and princesses on your porch. No deduction for you, no income for them, no 1099s for the IRS. (Ugh. Can you imagine the 1099s?) That removes everything from the IRS's world of debits and credits. Seriously, if the IRS taxed kids on their Halloween candy, they could collect millions of dollars to cover free dental care for everyone.
It's all very ironic because, as any parent knows, Halloween is an exercise in managing the waste of assets. Your kids come home with bulging bags of candy and dreams of sugar highs lasting until Thanksgiving. But pretty soon the good stuff is gone. No more Kit-Kats or Snickers! They're left with a couple of "fun-size" Milky Ways, some of those Jolly Ranchers nobody really likes, and a few stale candy corns. At that point, you "charge off the goodwill" by throwing out the dregs while they're at school and hoping the kids don't even notice.
Today, your average accountant or tax professional focuses their effort on making sure the debits match the credits. But we don't just stop there. We take the time to look for those tax "disconnects" that can rescue thousands in taxes. There's nothing scary about it at all. So call us when you're ready to pay less. You'll think the savings are pretty sweet!
Life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes the downs can be so low that it doesn't feel like there's ever going to be an up again. How many people have dreamed of faking their own death and disappearing under a new identity, never to return to their problems again? It's called "pseudocide," and it's popular enough that novelists have a field day writing thrillers about it. John Grisham pulls some variation of that stunt in half a dozen books, and J.K Rowling, Tom Clancy, and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) have all joined him in that theme.
Faking your death doesn't always work. In sixteenth-century Verona, a young nobleman named Romeo tried it with a deathlike potion, and we all know what happened to him. But that doesn't keep the occasional scammer from trying. Most famously, rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley faked his death, and supported himself by entering Elvis impersonator contests. (He always laughed when he didn't win.) And if you have really valuable information on a really bad guy, the witness protection program will even establish your new identity for you!
There's no law that says you can't fake your death to go ride off into the sunset. But we got to wondering . . . what would our friends at the IRS think about that plan?
Let's start with your life insurance benefits. Code Section 101 says gross income doesn't include amounts your beneficiaries receive "if such amounts are paid by reason of the death of the insured." We're splitting hairs here, but wouldn't they still owe the tax if you aren't really dead? Or would they be safe because the insurance company paid them by reason of your death, even if you're not? (You can be sure that somewhere in America, there's an underemployed lawyer ready to bill by the hour to answer that question!)
Next, let's look at estate tax. Assuming your gross estate is over $11.18 million, and the rest of the world really believes you're dead, at some point your executor will file a return and pay 40% of the taxable amount above that threshold. What's for the IRS to complain about? But come on, folks. While it's true that money can't buy happiness, it can solve a lot of the problems that cause unhappiness. So how many people with $11.18 million are really going to fake their own death in the first place?
(While we're on the topic of estate taxes, it's worth mentioning that the current threshold means that the IRS gets only a couple thousand returns per year now anyway. As recently as 1997, when the threshold was just $600,000, they got 90,000 of them. That's one perk of working in the trusts and estates field: just because the client dies doesn't mean you have to stop billing them.)
Finally, let's talk about anything you make after you pull your David Copperfield act. You'll earn it under a new name and social security number . . . but as long as you've set up your new identity properly, the IRS should be happy getting their usual share. Of course, there's that whole "identity fraud" problem. But hey, nobody said this would be easy!
Look, if life throws you a beanball, we understand the temptation to start fresh. But you will wind up crossing the line into fraud at some point. So if you're having a really bad day, can we suggest an easier (and perfectly legal) alternative? Come to us for a plan to pay less tax, and see if we can give you more reasons to enjoy the life you already have.
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