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Five Hidden Reasons You Need a Will
Most people don't appreciate the full importance of a will, especially if they think their estate is too small to justify the time and expense of preparing one. And even people who recognize the need for a will often don't have one, perhaps due to procrastination or a disinclination to broach this sensitive subject with loved ones.
The truth is, almost everyone should have a will. Here are the five basic reasons why:
Reason 1. To Choose Beneficiaries
The intestate succession laws of the state in which you live determine how your property will be distributed if you die without a valid will. For example, in most states the property of a married person with children who dies intestate (i.e., without a will) generally will be distributed one-third to the spouse and two-thirds to the children, while the property of an unmarried, childless person who dies intestate generally will be distributed to his or her parents (or siblings, if the parents are deceased).
These distributions may be contrary to what you want. In effect, by not having a will, you are allowing the state to choose your beneficiaries. Further, a will allows you to specify not only who will receive the property, but how much each beneficiary will receive.
Reason 2. To Minimize Taxes
Many people feel they do not need a will because their taxable estate does not exceed the amount allowed to pass free of federal estate tax. These assumptions, however, should be reviewed given the current state of change in the federal estate tax laws. It is important to review and update your will on a regular basis. Most wills were written with the existence of a federal estate tax at a certain level.
Further, your taxable estate may be larger than you think. For example, life insurance, qualified retirement plan benefits, and IRAs typically pass outside of a will or estate administration. But retirement plan benefits and IRAs (and sometimes life insurance) are still part of your federal estate and can cause your estate to go over the threshold amount. Also, in some states, the estate or inheritance tax differs from the federal laws. A properly prepared will is necessary to implement estate tax reduction strategies.
Reason 3. To Appoint a Guardian
If for no other reason, you should prepare a will to name a guardian for minor children in the event of your death without a surviving spouse. While naming a guardian does not bind either the named guardian or the court, it does indicate your wishes, which courts generally try to accommodate.
Reason 4. To Name an Executor
Without a will, you cannot appoint someone you trust to carry out the administration of your estate. If you do not specifically name an executor in a will, a court will appoint someone to handle your estate, perhaps someone you might not have chosen. Obviously, there is peace of mind in selecting an executor you trust.
Reason 5. To Help Establish Domicile
You may wish to firmly establish domicile (permanent legal residence) in a particular state, for tax or other reasons. If you move frequently or own homes in more than one state, each state in which you reside could try to impose death or inheritance taxes at the time of death, possibly subjecting your estate to multiple probate proceedings. To lessen the risk of this, you should execute a will that clearly indicates your intended state of domicile.
If you need guidance with your will, just give us a call.
Is Your Sales Force Meeting Your Needs?
With today's downsized staff, you need to get the most out of your sales staff.
If goals are being met and revenue is where you want it to be, you may not need to use any measuring devices. But if there is a problem, the following ratios, if applicable to your particular business, may help you pinpoint the problem, analyze it, and take action.
The ratios can be applied to your entire business, to a division or department, or to one employee. Progress can be measured by comparing numbers from one month to the next.
Ratio 1: Total sales compensation/gross sales = direct selling costs (%).
Ratio 2: Gross sales/total hours worked by salespeople = sales dollars per hour.
Ratio 3: Number of sales/number of full-time-equivalent salespeople = number of sales per salesperson.
Ratio 4: Gross sales/number of full-time-equivalent salespeople = sales dollars per salesperson.
Ratio 5: Gross sales/number of sales transactions = average sales dollars per transaction.
How to Avoid Identity Theft During Tax Season
Consumers should protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams that increase during and linger after the filing season. Such scams may appropriate the name, logo, or other appurtenances of the IRS or U.S. Department of the Treasury to mislead taxpayers into believing the communication is legitimate.
Scams involving the impersonation of the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets, or other online messages to consumers. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach intended victims. Some scammers set up phony Web sites.
The IRS and E-mail
Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. The IRS does not request financial account security information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers.
Object of Scams
Most scams impersonating the IRS are identity theft schemes. In this type of scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate institution to trick consumers into revealing personal and financial information - such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers - that can be used to gain access to their bank, credit card, or other financial accounts.
Attempted identity theft scams that take place via e-mail are known as phishing. Other scams may try to persuade a victim to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a larger gain. These are known as advance fee scams.
How an Identity Theft Scam Works
Most of the scams that impersonate the IRS are identity theft scams. Typically, a consumer will receive an e-mail that claims to come from the IRS or Treasury Department. The message will contain an enticing or intimidating subject line, such as "Tax Refund," "Inherited Funds," or "IRS Notice." Usually, the message will state that the recipient needs to provide the IRS with information to obtain the refund or avoid some penalty. The message will instruct the consumer to open an attachment or click on a link in the e-mail. This may lead to an official-looking IRS Web site. The look-alike site will then contain a phony but genuine-looking online form or interactive application that requires personal and financial information, which the scammer then uses to commit identity theft.
Alternatively, the clicked link may secretly download malware to the consumer's computer. Malware is malicious code that can take over the computer's hard drive, giving the scammer remote access to the computer, or it could look for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.
Phony Web or Commercial Sites
In many IRS-impersonation scams, the scammer sends the consumer to a phony Web site that mimics the appearance of the genuine IRS Web site, IRS.gov. This allows the scammer to steer victims to phony interactive forms or applications that appear genuine but require the targeted victim to enter personal and financial information that will be used to commit identity theft.
The official Web site for the Internal Revenue Service is IRS.gov, and all IRS.gov Web page addresses begin with https://www.irs.gov/.
In addition to Web sites established by scammers, there are commercial Internet sites that often resemble the authentic IRS site or contain some form of the IRS name in the address but end with a .com, .net, .org, or other designation instead of .gov. These sites have no connection to the IRS. Consumers may unknowingly visit these sites when searching the Internet to retrieve tax forms, publications, and other information from the IRS.
Frequent or Recent Scams
There are a number of scams that impersonate the IRS. Some of them appear with great frequency, particularly during and right after filing season, and recur annually. Others are new.
Other Known Scams
The contents of other IRS-impersonation scams vary but may claim that the recipient will be paid for participating in an online survey or is under investigation or audit. Some scam e-mails have referenced Recovery-related tax provisions, such as Making Work Pay, or solicited for charitable donations to victims of natural disasters. Taxpayers should beware an e-mail scam that references underreported income and the recipient's "tax statement," since clicking on a link or opening an attachment is known to download malware onto the recipient's computer.
How to Spot a Scam
Many e-mail scams are fairly sophisticated and hard to detect. However, there are signs to watch for, such as an e-mail that:
What to Do
Taxpayers who receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should take the following steps:
If you've received an email claiming to be from the IRS, call us to talk it over before taking any action. We don't want you to fall victim to a scam.
Tax Deadline - April 18, 2011
In the 2011 tax filing season, taxpayers have until Monday, April 18 to file their 2010 tax returns and pay any tax due. Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in the District of Columbia, falls this year on Friday, April 15. By law, District of Columbia holidays impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do; therefore, all taxpayers will have three extra days to file this year. Taxpayers requesting an extension will have until October 17 to file their 2010 tax returns.
Who Must Wait to File
For most taxpayers, the 2011 tax filing season starts on schedule. However, tax law changes enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama in December mean some people need to wait until mid to late February to file their tax returns in order to give the IRS time to reprogram its processing systems. The IRS recently announced February 14, 2011 as the start date for processing these delayed tax returns.
Some taxpayers, including those who itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A, will need to wait until February 14, 2011 to file. This includes taxpayers impacted by any of three tax provisions that expired at the end of 2009 and were renewed by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 enacted December 17, 2010. Those who need to wait to file include:
In addition to extending those tax deductions for 2010, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act also extended those deductions for 2011 and a number of other tax deductions and credits for 2011 and 2012, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the modified Child Tax Credit. The Act also provides various job creation and investment incentives, including 100% expensing and a 2% payroll tax reduction for 2011. Those changes have no effect on the 2011 filing season.
If you're unsure how the new tax laws affect you, give us a call. We can help sort through the details.
7 Tips for Preparing Your Taxes Without the Stress
Many people find preparing their tax return to be stressful and frustrating. But it doesn't have to be! Here are 7 tips for how to do your taxes without pulling out your hair:
And remember, if you run into any problems or you have any questions, call us. We are more than happy to help.
Missing Your Form W-2?
You should receive a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, from each of your employers for use in preparing your federal tax return. Employers must furnish this record of 2010 earnings and withheld taxes no later than January 31, 2011 (if mailed, allow a few days for delivery).
If you do not receive your Form W-2, contact your employer to find out if and when the W-2 was mailed. If it was mailed, it may have been returned to your employer because of an incorrect address. After contacting your employer, allow a reasonable amount of time for your employer to resend or to issue the W-2.
If you still do not receive your W-2 by February 15th, contact the IRS for assistance at 1-800-829-1040. When you call, have the following information handy:
If you misplaced your W-2, contact your employer. Your employer can replace the lost form with a "reissued statement." Be aware that your employer is allowed to charge you a fee for providing you with a new W-2.
You still must file your tax return on time even if you do not receive your Form W-2. If you cannot get a W-2 by the tax filing deadline, you may use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, but it will delay any refund due while the information is verified.
If you receive a corrected W-2 after your return is filed and the information it contains does not match the income or withheld tax that you reported on your return, you must file an amended return on Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
If you have questions about your Forms W-2 and 1099 or any other tax-related materials, please call or email our office.
Review Your Savings Plan
Establish or review your savings plan to begin accumulating assets for your life goals. Professional guidance will be helpful in reviewing investment alternatives.
Review Your Retirement Plan
Establish or review your retirement plan. Explore the availability of deferred compensation programs through your employer, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans. Begin contributing as soon as you are eligible.
Review January's Budget vs. Actuals
Compare January income and expenditures with your budget. Make adjustments as appropriate to your February expenditures. Make sure you have invested your planned savings amount for January.
Collect Your Tax Information
Verify that you have received all necessary Forms W-2 and 1099 and a statement showing the year-end balance of IRA and Keogh plans. Contact the appropriate company for any that have not been received. For those that have been received, make certain that the amounts agree with your records.
Although taxes for personal returns are not due until April 18, it is best to get an early start since additional follow-up may be necessary.
Tax Due Dates for February 2011
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