Many requests for businesses to take goods off Amazon or eBay fraudulent

It’s pretty common for businesses of all sizes to sell products on sites like Amazon or eBay.

So imagine one day receiving a “take-down notice” informing you that the site is taking down your listings because another party has demanded it under a federal law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). According to the notice, the other party says your goods infringe its copyrights.

If you ever receive such a notice, be sure to look carefully into the matter. That’s because it’s become more common for these demands to have no valid copyright infringement claim to back them. Or worse yet, sometimes the demander doesn’t own any copyrights at all. [Read more…]

Injury and illness records may become public

Most businesses with 10 or more employees must keep records of serious work-related injuries and illnesses. This OSHA rule is intended to help businesses identify and address occupational hazards.

Under new OSHA rules, however, many businesses will also have to submit their records to OSHA itself, which apparently plans to make them public, at least in some form.

Businesses with 20 or more workers must begin submitting OSHA Form 300A starting July 1, 2017. In addition, businesses with 250 or more workers must begin submitting OSHA Forms 300 and 301 starting July 1, 2018. Starting in 2019, all information must be submitted by March 2. [Read more…]

Can you sue if a customer posts a bad online review?

For a business, a bad online review can help determine whether new clients flock in the door.

But if someone writes such a review on Yelp or any other website, you might be out of luck.

In a recent case in California, a federal appeals court decided that an angry business owner who got a one-star rating from a customer couldn’t sue Yelp. [Read more…]

Review your retaliation policies in light of EEOC guidance

It’s even easier for employees and former employees to sue businesses for retaliation under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new enforcement guidance.

For the first time since 1998, the agency has updated its guidance on the claim, which is already “asserted in nearly 45 percent of all charges … and is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination,” it said.

Needless to say, preventing a claim is much better than defending one, and retaliation often occurs even when the underlying discrimination claim doesn’t have merit. So businesses must take action to avoid retaliation in the first place. [Read more…]

Could your business be facing a lawsuit over Internet search results?

Any business would jump at the chance to dictate the order of organic Internet search results that include its name. But that’s not so easy.

Still, a judge in Florida recently told a well-known, international company that it must find a way to do exactly that. And in the vast world of the web, it’s a cautionary tale for businesses of all sizes.

The case involves a Gainesville, Fla., company, Uber Promotions, which has a regional trademark that supersedes the more well-known ride-sharing service’s trademark. [Read more…]

‘Critical’ and ‘hostile’ work environment not the same thing

If you’re subject to pervasive harassment, intimidation and/or abuse and it’s so bad that you can’t work there anymore, you may be able to bring a “hostile environment” claim.

In some cases, these claims have resulted in employers paying significant damages.

However, employees need to clear a pretty high bar to establish a hostile environment. As a recent Pennsylvania case shows, just having a mean boss who maintains an unpleasant working environment isn’t necessarily enough. [Read more…]

Company burned in court for misleading job candidate

Competition is tight for highly skilled workers. And it’s understandable that as an employer, when you need to fill a position quickly you’re going to try and sell the position in the best light possible. But it’s a really bad idea to withhold important information from a job candidate, especially if the opportunity in question is less than secure.

Take for example a recent case out of Massachusetts. The employer, Boston-based Loomis, Sayles & Co., was planning to launch a new hedge fund. To staff the launch, Loomis set its sights on Vishal Bhammer, who was working in finance in Hong Kong. During the recruitment process, Loomis made numerous promises to Bhammer about its commitment to the launch and the resources it planned to dedicate to the fund.

Ultimately Bhammer accepted an offer. And relying on Loomis’s assurances that it was safe to do so, he gave notice to his employer and moved to Singapore as the position required. [Read more…]

RIF of worker on medical leave creates problems

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, people who work for companies with more than 50 employees are generally entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year in order to deal with a medical condition, care for a new baby or tend to a sick family member.

But can an employer lay off a worker on FMLA leave for economic reasons, like as part of a companywide “reduction in force” (RIF)?

In most cases, the answer is “Yes.” But employers still need to tread carefully, because if the employee can show evidence that his or her FMLA leave contributed to his or her inclusion in the layoffs, the employer could get hit with an FMLA retaliation claim. [Read more…]

Beware the ‘cat’s paw’ and investigate before you act

The oddly named “cat’s paw” theory (which comes from one of Aesop’s Fables) refers to a scenario where an employer disciplines or fires an employee for what it thinks are legitimate reasons, but does so based on information from a supervisor who had illegal motivations. In most cases, it means the supervisor who reported the worker for discipline was motivated by racial or religious prejudice or a desire to retaliate against the worker for asserting certain rights. In these situations, a court can still hold the employer responsible for unlawful discrimination or retaliation.

A recent decision from a federal appeals court suggests that the cat’s paw theory may be wider-reaching than many of us thought. In that case, a female employee complained to supervisors about an explicit photo sent to her by a co-worker. The co-worker then apparently manipulated text messages on his phone to make it look like the woman had willingly taken part in sexually charged conversations and that he had been a target of sexual harassment. Relying on the co-worker’s so-called evidence, the employer fired her. The employer also apparently conducted no investigation and rebuffed the woman’s offer to display her own phone to rebut the co-worker’s version of events.

She sued the company in federal court claiming she was fired in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. [Read more…]

Hot topics in the employment law world

Labor and employment law is a constantly changing area and it can be tough to keep up with the most recent developments that affect employers’ and employees’ rights in the workplace. To help you stay up to date, here are two areas where companies have been getting in trouble recently:

  • Disability, medical leave and privacy issues

Dealing with employee health issues can be a minefield for employers, as home-improvement retailer Lowe’s found out recently when it had to settle a disability discrimination claim brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $8.6 million. The EEOC accused Lowe’s of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing workers who had been on medical leave longer than the limits the company had set. It seems Lowe’s made two mistakes here: It imposed an arbitrary medical leave limit that may have contradicted what employees were entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and it apparently refused to accommodate workers with disabilities by allowing longer leaves that wouldn’t have imposed an unreasonable hardship on the company.

A case out of Pennsylvania also shows that employers must be careful when dealing with employees who need time off to deal with a medical situation. In that case, a worker took two months off to care for ailing parents. When she called to check in, she was told she would be fired if she didn’t resign on her own. Though it’s disputed as to whether the worker formally requested FMLA leave, a federal judge said it didn’t matter. It was enough that as soon as it was possible to do so she informed the employer of her need to take leave and told them why. [Read more…]

Reasons to incorporate your business

Here are some reasons you may want to consider incorporating your growing business.

Protect your personal assets from creditors. When you operate your business within a corporation, creditors are often limited to corporate assets to satisfy a debt. Your home, savings, and retirement accounts are no longer fair game.

Provide a personal liability firewall. The corporate form can help protect you against claims made by others for injuries or losses arising from actions of your business. [Read more…]

4 tips to landing your dream home in a seller’s market

Here are some suggestions to landing your dream home in our current real estate market.

  1. Be nimble, be flexible. Try to investigate new listings quickly – within hours of their first posting, if possible. If you’re interested in a house but an inspection finds a few flaws, you may have to be flexible about accepting a house with a few quirks or in need of some repairs.
  2. Make a strong offer. A seller’s market isn’t a time to lowball your first offer on a house you want. If you’ve prepared and set your expectations below your minimum price range, you should be able to make a strong offer to ensure you are among the most attractive bidders. You shouldn’t wildly overpay, but making a strategic offer above the listing price may sweeten the deal enough to close quickly. [Read more…]

Keep your audit fears in check

Getting audited by the IRS is no fun. However, your chances of being audited are probably lower than you think. A look at the latest IRS statistics for 2016 reveals some interesting and reassuring facts about the risk of an IRS audit.

Audits are becoming less common. The number of individual tax returns the IRS audited fell to a 12-year low last year, to just above 1 million. Audits have been steeply declining over the last five years, which the IRS commissioner said was due in part to declining budgets and a smaller workforce.

Audits target the rich. It’s a fact: IRS audits target the super-rich. The statistical chance of being audited increases dramatically for people of higher income levels. [Read more…]

Tax deadlines for June

June 15

  • Second quarterly installment 2017 individual estimated tax due
  • Second quarterly installment 2017 estimated tax for calendar-year corporations due
  • Individual tax filing deadline for U.S. citizens living or serving in the military overseas

Do I have to show how I’ve spent my child-support payments?

The popular rap artist T.I. has had his share of run-ins with the law. But he’s also recently gone to court voluntarily to protect his own interests. When his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had two sons, sought to increase his child-support obligations from $2,000 to $3,000 a month, T.I. went to court to challenge this, arguing that she was spending the money on herself rather than on the kids. He demanded an accounting of how she was spending the money.

T.I. isn’t alone. Many non-custodial parents are suspicious about how the other parent is using their child-support payments and would like similar accountings. So are they entitled to it?

In many states, they’re not. But some states do make provisions for such accountings in particular circumstances. [Read more…]

Ex-wife can’t touch husband’s interest in ‘spendthrift trust’

An “irrevocable spendthrift trust” is a popular vehicle for parents to pass along wealth to their kids while protecting the trust’s assets from their kids’ worst instincts.

Here’s how it works. The parent sets up a trust and names the child or children as beneficiaries. The trust document also includes language stating that if one of the beneficiaries owes someone money, that creditor can’t touch the assets in the trust before they’ve been distributed. And the person named as “trustee” is in charge of these distributions.

Once a beneficiary has received a distribution from the trust, creditors can go after that money, but only money in excess of what the beneficiary needs to support him or herself. [Read more…]

Plan ahead for bringing a new spouse home from abroad

Traveling or working abroad can be very exciting. You get to experience new cultures, see new places and meet fascinating new people. In fact, you might just fall in love and decide you want to bring this special someone back to the U.S. and spend the rest of your lives together.

Congratulations and best wishes for a wonderful future! But remember that this could be a recipe for heartache and disappointment if you don’t follow some necessary steps along the way. That’s because returning to the U.S. with a non-citizen spouse isn’t necessarily as simple as you think and takes advance planning. Otherwise you may arrive in America ready to live as a family, only to have immigration officials block your spouse from coming in.

So what do you have to do? [Read more…]

Undoing your divorce: What happens when you have regrets?

A lot of times after a divorce agreement is finalized spouses may have misgivings. Not necessarily about being divorced, but about the divorce agreement itself. Hindsight is 20/20, and they might feel they got a raw deal and could have walked away with a lot more. So if you’re unhappy with your divorce agreement, can you undo it?

Generally the answer is “No.” In most states, courts won’t revisit judgments lightly.

Still, there are a few situations where a court may decide to give a divorce judgment a second look. [Read more…]

Courts expanding definition of ‘parent’ to recognize ‘de facto’ parenthood

Traditionally who was a parent was pretty clear-cut. If a child was yours biologically or if you adopted him or her, you were considered a parent. That would give you the right to seek custody and visitation if you and the other parent were no longer living in the same home.

But just as traditional notions of “family” have evolved in recent years, so have traditional notions of who a parent is. Two recent court decisions make this clear. Both decisions appear to recognize the idea of a “de facto” parent: a non-adoptive, non-biological caretaker who has earned parental status through the bond he or she has developed with a child and who deserves to be viewed on equal legal footing with the biological parent. And while both decisions involve same-sex couples, the reasoning behind them could extend to any non-adoptive, non-biological “parent.”

The first case is from Maryland and involved Michael Conover, a transgender man (a person who was born biologically female but identifies and lives as a male) who married a woman before undergoing gender transition. Before his transition, he and his wife, Brittany Conover, lived as a same-sex couple. [Read more…]

Realtors survey: First-time home-buying is down

In reviewing 35 years of survey data on home buyers and sellers, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) announced five notable real estate trends.

The organization’s survey, called Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, dates back to 1981 and is the longest-running series of national housing data evaluating the demographics, preferences, motivations, plans and experiences of home buyers and sellers.

Here are the key takeaways over the past 3 ½ decades: [Read more…]

Financing for energy improvement loans now easier to obtain

Residential properties encumbered with a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) obligation are now eligible for FHA-insured mortgage financing.

The change applies both to new purchases and refinancing, under a guidance issued in September by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

PACE is a popular program that provides an alternative way to finance energy improvements to properties, such as energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy upgrades. The financing is provided by private entities in connection with state and local governments. [Read more…]

Clean-up not disclosed; Seller sued for fraud years later

A recent case highlights the importance of disclosing any environmental contamination and clean-up that took place on your property when you sell it, even if you sell it “as is.”

A New Jersey appeals court decided that a seller’s failure to disclose such information could expose him to liability for fraud many years after the sale.

In the case, the seller had owned the property since 1983 and defaulted on the mortgage in 1987. The seller’s mortgage lender took possession of the property and made plans to sell it. The lender had an environmental consultant take soil samples and learned that the property was contaminated with perchloroethylene (“PCE”). [Read more…]

The surprising effect of Airbnb income on mortgage refinancing

Renting out your house when you’re out of town or offering up an extra room while your son or daughter is away at college sounds like a great way to make some extra cash. And services like Airbnb have made the process rather simple.

But it might not be quite so simple when you go to refinance your home. Recently, some big banks are raising an eyebrow because making money off your home can be construed as turning your residence into commercial property.

According to a report in the Wall St. Journal, some banks — including Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. — have been telling borrowers who make income from Airbnb that they’re no longer able to get certain types of loans or that they must pay higher interest rates. [Read more…]

Everyone knows someone who missed the boat

This year’s April 18 tax deadline has come and gone, but not everyone has filed a 2016 tax return. While many have filed an extension and intend on getting their return in order, too many taxpayers who should file, simply do not. Common culprits are older, retired parents and young adults who are new to tax filing requirements.

Here are some of the reasons why it will help them to file a tax return.

Get withholdings. People who work but earn less than the required filing threshold should file a tax return so they can get back any withholdings their employer may have taken out of their paycheck. [Read more…]

What to do if you are selected for a correspondence audit

The IRS is now handling many routine audit reviews through form letters called correspondence audits. These letters come from the IRS and ask for clarification and justification of specific deductions on your tax return. Common issues that trigger a correspondence audit are large charitable deductions, withdrawals from retirement accounts and education savings plans, excess miscellaneous deductions, and small business expenses.

Don’t panic if you get one of these audit form letters. The IRS often uses computer programs to compare individual return deductions with the averages for a person’s income level or profession. If you’ve received a letter, you may have simply fallen outside the averages. As long as you respond promptly, thoroughly, and with good documentation, it won’t necessarily become a contentious issue. The key is to keep proper, well-organized documentation under the assumption you may need it to support your deductions. If you do this right, the correspondence audit will end with a “no change” letter from the IRS, acknowledging you’ve addressed their concerns. Give us a call if you receive one of these letters from the IRS. We’re here to help.

IRS is now using collection agencies

The IRS is now using outside collection agencies to collect unpaid tax obligations. This new program will start slowly with only a few hundred taxpayers receiving mailings. The number will grow into the thousands later in the spring and into summer. Taxpayers who are contacted will first receive several collection notices from the IRS before their accounts are turned over to the private collection agencies. The agency will then send its own letter to the taxpayer informing them that the IRS has transferred the account to the agency. These agencies are required to identify themselves as working with the IRS in all communications.

Unfortunately, a change like this can often lead to confusion among taxpayers, which gives scammers a new opportunity to steal taxpayer dollars. The IRS is aware of the potential fraud problems and plans to continue to help taxpayers avoid confusion. The IRS reminds taxpayers that private collection companies, like the IRS, will never approach taxpayers in a threatening way; pressure taxpayers for immediate payment; request credit card information; or request payments in gift cards, prepaid debit cards, or a wire transfer. A legitimate letter from a collection agency associated with the IRS will instruct taxpayers to write a check directly to the IRS.

Schedule your midyear tax planning session

Most people don’t include tax planning on their summertime agenda, but maybe they should. The problem with waiting until the end of the year is that you reduce the time for planning strategies to take effect. If you take the time now to schedule a midyear tax planning review, you’ll still have eight months for your actions to make a difference on your 2017 tax return. In addition, proposed tax reform could be cause for additional changes to your tax plan. Planning now for 2017 taxes not only helps reduce your tax burden, but it can help you gain control of your entire financial situation. Give us a call to set up an appointment today.

Tax deadlines for May

  • May 15 – Deadline for calendar-year exempt organizations to file 2016 information returns
  • May 31 – Deadline for IRA, SEP, SIMPLE, Roth IRA, MSA, and education savings account trustees to file annual statements (Form 5498) with the IRS, with copies to participants

Steer clear of non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services

As the U.S. population ages, more non-lawyers are starting businesses that offer Medicaid planning services to seniors. While using one of these services may be cheaper than hiring a lawyer, the ultimate costs may be far greater.

If you use a non-lawyer to do Medicaid planning, they may not have any legal knowledge or training. Bad advice can lead seniors to purchase products or take actions that won’t help them qualify for Medicaid and may actually make it more difficult. The consequences of taking bad advice can include the denial of benefits, a Medicaid penalty period or a tax liability.

As a result of problems that have arisen from non-lawyers offering Medicaid planning services, a few states (Florida, Ohio, New Jersey and Tennessee) have issued regulations or guidelines providing that Medicaid planning by non-lawyers will be considered the unauthorized practice of law. [Read more…]

Rule requiring retirement advisers to put their client’s interests ahead of their own is delayed

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order calling for a review of the so-called fiduciary rule, which was intended to prevent financial advisers from steering their clients to bad retirement investments by requiring these advisers to act in the best interests of their clients. The order delays the rule, which was scheduled to go into effect in April 2017, and the rule may ultimately be repealed.

Prompted by concern that many financial advisers have a sales incentive to recommend retirement investments with high fees and low returns to their clients because the advisers get higher commissions or other incentives, the Department of Labor drew up rules in April 2016 that would require advisers to act like fiduciaries.

The rule required all financial professionals who offer advice related to retirement savings to provide recommendations that are in a client’s best interest. Currently, financial advisers only have to recommend suitable investments, which means they can push products that may benefit them more than their clients. The rule would require advisers to not accept compensation or payments that would create a conflict unless they have an enforceable contract agreeing to put the client’s interest first. Advisers also would have to disclose any conflicts and charge reasonable compensation. [Read more…]

What is undue influence, and how can it be avoided?

Saying that there has been “undue influence” is often used as a reason to contest a will or estate plan, but what does the term mean?

Undue influence occurs when someone exerts pressure on an individual, causing that individual to act contrary to his or her wishes to the benefit of the influencer or the influencer’s friends. The pressure can take the form of deception, harassment, threats or isolation. Often the influencer separates the individual from loved ones in order to coerce him or her. The elderly and infirm are usually more susceptible to undue influence.

To prove a loved one was subject to undue influence in drafting an estate plan, you have to show that the loved one disposed of his or her property in a way that was unexpected under the circumstances, that he or she is susceptible to undue influence (because of illness, age, frailty or a special relationship with the influencer), and that the person who exerted the influence had the opportunity to do so. Generally, the burden of proving undue influence is on the person asserting that it took place. However, if the alleged influencer had a “fiduciary relationship” with the loved one (meaning that the loved one placed a high degree of trust in the influencer to handle his or her affairs), the burden may be on the influencer to prove that there was no undue influence. People who have a fiduciary relationship can include a child, a spouse or an agent under a power of attorney. [Read more…]

Understanding the tax consequences of inheriting a Roth IRA

Passing down a Roth IRA can seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t always make the most sense. Before converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA to benefit your heirs, you should consider the tax consequences.

Earnings in a traditional IRA generally are not taxed until they are distributed to you. At age 70 1/2 you have to start taking distributions from a traditional IRA. By contrast, contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed, but the distributions are tax-free. You also do not have to take distributions from a Roth IRA.

Leaving your heirs a tax-free Roth IRA can be used as part of an estate plan. However, in figuring out the best type of IRA to leave to your beneficiaries, you need to consider whether your beneficiary’s tax rate will be higher or lower than your tax rate when you fund the IRA. In general, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is higher than your tax rate, then you should leave your beneficiary a Roth IRA. Because the funds in a Roth IRA are taxed before they are put into the IRA, it makes sense to fund it when your tax rate is lower. On the other hand, if your beneficiary’s tax rate is lower than your tax rate, a traditional IRA might make more sense. That way, you won’t pay the taxes at your higher rate. Instead, your beneficiary will pay at the lower tax rate. [Read more…]

Medicaid’s benefits for assisted living facility residents

Assisted living facilities are a housing option for people who can still live independently but who need some help.  Costs for these facilities can range from $2,000 to more than $6,000 a month, depending on location.  Medicare won’t pay for this type of care, but Medicaid might.  Almost all state Medicaid programs will cover at least some assisted living costs for eligible residents.

Unlike with nursing home stays, there is no requirement that Medicaid pay for assisted living, and no state Medicaid program can pay directly for a Medicaid recipient’s room and board in an assisted living facility. But with assisted living costs roughly half those of a semi-private nursing home room, state officials understand that they can save money by offering financial assistance to elderly individuals who are trying to stay out of nursing homes. [Read more…]

How to pass your home to your children tax-free

Giving your house to your child or children can have tax consequences, but there are ways to accomplish this tax-free. The best method to use will depend on your individual circumstances and needs.

Leave the house in your will

The simplest way to give your house to your children is to leave it to them in your will. In 2017, as long as the total amount of your estate is under $5.49 million it will not pay estate taxes. In addition, when your children inherit property it reduces the amount of capital gains taxes they will have to pay if they sell the property. Capital gains taxes are paid on the difference between the “basis” in property and its selling price. If children inherit property, the property’s tax basis is “stepped up,” which means the basis would be the value of the property at the time of death, not the original cost of the property.

There are some downsides to this approach. Some states have smaller estate tax exemptions than the federal exemption, meaning that leaving the property in your estate may cause it to owe state taxes. Also, if you were to need Medicaid at any time before you died, a lien might be put on the property and it might need to be sold after your death to repay Medicaid. [Read more…]

IRS: Account transcripts can serve as estate tax closing letter

A recent IRS notice confirms that an account transcript issued by the IRS qualifies as a substitute for an estate tax closing letter, as long as the transcript includes the proper transaction code.

An estate tax closing letter indicates that the IRS has accepted an estate tax return and that the estate’s federal tax liabilities have been satisfied. Once the letter has been received, it makes it clear to the executor of the estate that it can proceed with finalizing the estate administration process.

The receipt of the closing letter is often needed to meet requirements for state law probate proceedings. It’s rare for the IRS to reopen an estate tax return after a closing letter has been issued, except in certain extreme circumstances such as fraud or a major error by the IRS. [Read more…]

Retirement accounts: Tips for taxpayers turning 70 1/2

It’s a big year for the first set of baby boomers: They’re turning 70 1/2. And that means getting prepared for their first mandatory distributions from tax-sheltered retirement accounts.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the amount of your required annual withdrawal is based on the assets in the account as of the prior December 31. For a taxpayer with multiple 401(k) plans, he or she must take a proportional distribution from each of the accounts. If a taxpayer has multiple IRAs, the payouts can be uneven. That is, the entire amount can be taken out of one IRA, if the taxpayer chooses. [Read more…]

New law allows individuals to create special needs trusts

Buried in a new federal law is a tiny change that will now allow individuals to set up their own special needs trusts.

The sum total of the change is two words — “the individual” — intended to correct a more than 20-year-old error. The change is called the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act.

Authorized under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, special needs trusts protect assets and allow an individual to maintain eligibility for governmental benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.   [Read more…]

In will contest, no need to oversell decedent’s capacity

Imagine a situation where a loved one dies and there is a contest over the validity of the will. The question arises: What was the decedent’s mental state in drafting the will?

A typical, knee jerk answer is that the decedent had a perfectly clear state of mind.

However, testamentary capacity doesn’t require such a high level of clarity in communication and comprehension. Further, overstating a decedent’s capacity might actually lead a trier of fact to become skeptical of the will proponent, especially if other evidence exists that the decedent’s mind wasn’t as clear as stated. [Read more…]

Changes proposed by Trump could open up big estate planning opportunities

With proposals to repeal the federal estate tax and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax on the table, the new administration may be opening up some rare estate planning options.

Under President Donald Trump’s proposal, the current step-up in basis for income tax purposes on assets owned at death would be limited to $10 million of assets. The intention, according to the proposal, is to exempt small businesses and family farms.

It’s likely that assets exceeding $10 million in value would be either subject to carryover basis rules of some kind or would be subject to capital gains tax at death. Under Trump’s proposal, the current capital gains tax rate of 20 percent would be retained. [Read more…]

2013 unclaimed tax refunds

The IRS announced that an estimated one million taxpayers who did not file an income tax return in 2013 could claim their share of $1 billion in unclaimed refunds for the 2013 tax year. The law gives most taxpayers a three-year time period to claim a tax refund. After that time, the money belongs to the U.S. Treasury. So if you did not file in 2013, to be safe, send your 2013 tax return via certified mail to arrive at the IRS by April 18.

Springtime remodeling – know the tax impacts

Spring fever often influences homeowners to update and remodel. Maybe you’re considering a new project, too. You may need to replace your deck or remodel your kitchen. If you have a remodeling project coming up, you should understand the tax consequences.

If your project qualifies as an improvement to your home, you’ll enjoy some tax benefits. But if the project is a repair, there’s generally no tax benefit. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

An improvement is defined by the IRS as something that adds value to your home or extends its life. Putting in a new kitchen, building an extension or adding a new deck are considered improvements because they add value. Replacing the roof is an improvement because it extends the life of your home. [Read more…]

IRS interest rates remain the same for second quarter 2017

Interest rates charged by the IRS on underpaid taxes and applied by the IRS on tax overpayments will remain the same for the second quarter of 2017 (April 1 through June 30). Therefore, the rates will be as follows for individuals and corporations:

For individuals:

  • 4% charged on underpayments; 4% paid on overpayments.

[Read more…]

Apply for an extension if you can’t file by April 18

Tax time can be stressful, but don’t panic if you can’t file your tax return on time. There’s still time to get an automatic six-month deadline extension.

There are four ways to obtain an extension:

  1. File a paper copy of Form 4868 with the IRS and enclose your payment of estimated tax due.
  2. File for an extension electronically using the IRS e-file system on your computer.
  3. Using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, pay all or part of your estimated income tax due and indicate that the payment is for an extension.
  4. Have your tax preparer e-file for an extension on your behalf.

[Read more…]

What’s due on April 18?

Tuesday, April 18, is a major tax deadline. Here are some of the tax filing and related deadlines:

  • 2016 individual income tax returns.
  • Calendar-year 2016 C corporation income tax returns.
  • 2016 annual gift tax returns.
  • 2016 IRA contributions.
  • 2017 individual estimated tax first quarter installment.
  • 2013 individual tax return amendments unless the 2013 return had a filing extension.

‘No vacancy’ is no defense in promotion lawsuit

Can an employer be sued for not promoting someone, even if there’s no vacancy in the job to which she wants to be promoted?

Maybe, according to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

Janean Chambers was a blind black woman who worked for the Department of Health and Human Services. She was at a GS-9 pay grade and wanted to be promoted to a GS-11 job. [Read more…]

Yoga teacher could be fired for being ‘too cute’

A Manhattan yoga teacher who claimed her female boss fired her because the boss’s husband thought she was attractive can’t bring a lawsuit for unjust termination, a judge has ruled.

Dilek Edwards worked as a yoga instructor and massage therapist at a chiropractic clinic owned by Stephanie Adams – a former Playboy model – and her husband, Charles Nicolai.

Edwards apparently had given Nicolai some massages, and Nicolai praised her work and told her that his wife might become jealous because she was “too cute.” [Read more…]

New rules for company ‘wellness’ programs

Corporate wellness programs – designed to help workers quit smoking, manage stress, lose weight and address other health issues – are becoming popular with employers. Many businesses see them as a valuable perk as well as a way to reduce absenteeism and health care costs.

However, under federal law, these programs must be voluntary – employees can’t be forced to participate in them. Further, there are limits on how companies can obtain and use medical and genetic information about workers and their families.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new rules that clarify what’s allowed. [Read more…]

Workers’ ‘right to gripe’ gets another boost

The National Labor Relations Board is cracking down on workplace rules that are designed to promote harmony and civility, but that restrict employees from complaining about their working conditions.

All employees (even those who don’t belong to a union) have a right under federal labor law to talk to each other about their pay and conditions and to agitate for improvements. Here are some examples of workplace rules that the NLRB thinks might violate that right: [Read more…]

Should companies buy wage-and-hour insurance?

Wage-and-hour lawsuits under the Fair Labor Standards Act have increased by 30 percent in just the last five years, and with the huge changes that took place on December 1, that number is expected to increase even further.

Some companies are buying specific insurance policies to protect them against these claims.

If a business already has an employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) policy, this might not be necessary because these claims may already be covered. However, many EPLI policies specifically exclude coverage for wage-and-hour violations. Other general liability policies might in theory cover wage-and-hour suits, but these insurers are often very aggressive in contesting their obligation to cover such claims after they arise.

Businesses that are concerned might want to review their policies with an employment attorney.

What the new overtime rules will mean for businesses and employees

Major changes to the federal overtime rules went into effect on December 1, and this could mean big changes in the workplace.

Some 4.2 million employees who aren’t eligible for overtime now will become eligible under the new rules. This could prompt many businesses to reduce overtime hours, hire new workers, raise or lower salaries, convert salaried employees to hourly employees, and adjust bonuses and commissions. It could also mean changes for workers who telecommute or have flexible schedules.

In general, employees must be paid time-and-a-half if they work more than 40 hours in a week, unless the employee is “exempt.” Currently, employees are “exempt” if they earn at least $23,660 per year; are paid on a salary basis; and perform managerial, professional, or administrative tasks. Employees who do not have managerial, professional, or administrative jobs are exempt if they earn more than $100,000. [Read more…]