Repeal the estate tax! Repeal the income tax! Replace them with a value-added tax! A flat tax! A national sales tax!
Yes, you’ve heard it before. And as we go through the 2012 election season, you’ll probably hear it all again. But the chances of a major tax change in the foreseeable future are not great.
Possibly, Congress and the president will agree on some type of tax reform. They may attempt to simplify the tax code and close loopholes. But it remains to be seen just how meaningful these measures will be – and how they may affect you.
In the meantime, what should you be doing? Keep searching for good investment and business opportunities. Do your best to keep your little part of the economy humming.
Take advantage of any tax provisions that can help your financial situation. Here are a few points to consider:
- Focus on your marginal tax rate. It’s the highest rate at which your last, or marginal, dollar of income will be taxed. Even though overall tax rates may rise in the future, if your income will be substantially lower in 2013 than in 2012, your marginal tax rate may actually decrease because of the graduated income tax brackets.
- Analyze your deductions. If it appears that you will lose some deductions in 2013 because of current or future tax law changes, accelerate some deductible expenses into 2012. If you could qualify for the standard deduction in either 2012 or 2013, consider moving qualified expenditures into the year you expect to itemize your deductions. By taking the standard deduction in one year and itemizing deductions in the other year, you are likely to achieve greater tax savings.
- Remember the alternative minimum tax. You will have fewer deductions available if you must calculate your income tax under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) rules. So, if you anticipate paying the AMT in one year, but not the other, you may want to shift deductions that you cannot claim under the AMT rules into the year in which you will not be subject to the alternative tax.
Your CPA can offer guidance on these points and others, such as capital gains and losses, charitable contributions and tax credits, which can be important tax planning considerations. Also, uncertainty about the future of the estate tax shouldn’t stop you from formulating or updating your estate plan. More is involved in estate planning than taxes, so take the appropriate steps now.
Here are a few pointers you should consider regardless of possible changes to estate tax law:
- Dying without a will can leave your asset disposition in the hands of strangers. If you die without a will, a court will decide who will administer your estate. Usually, that person will be your surviving spouse, but there are still issues to consider. For instance, if you have children from a prior marriage, will your spouse treat all children equally? Also, both you and your spouse could die in a common disaster. The state will determine what happens if there is no surviving spouse. A court decision to give your children equal voice in the administration of your estate could lead to potential family squabbles.
- Family-owned businesses need a succession plan. Much has been written about the adverse impact of estate taxes on the transfer of family businesses to the next generation. However, incomplete or ineffective succession planning has probably done more damage to family businesses than estate taxes ever have. The succession plan is a natural prelude to deciding how you will distribute family business ownership as part of your estate plan.
- You should choose a guardian for your young children. Naming a guardian is a sound precaution in case both parents die in the same accident. Don’t leave this decision up to a court. Discuss your wishes with potential guardians before writing them into your will.
- Probate is a public process. If you want privacy, consider a living trust as a supplement to your will.
- Your family should know your wishes about life support. Many people today do not want extraordinary measures used to keep them alive. If you are one of them, you should consider a “living will” that states your opposition to such heroic measures. Even if a living will is not binding in your state, at least you will have made your wishes known to your family and friends.
A famous writer once said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” The same could be said about elected officials and taxes.
So, when there’s a lot of talk but few definitive answers, the best advice may be to use what you know to do what you can.