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Filing Becomes Important As Estate Tax Laws Change Even If Widows Do Not Owe Money

A new portability clause in the American tax laws is good news for estate planning but likely cannot be relied upon permanently.

The provision allows a surviving spouse to claim any exemption not used by their deceased spouse on their own estate tax return. Since the exemption in 2011 was $5 million, a widow left with a $3 million estate owes no taxes. But then when the widow passes, the remaining $2 million can be added to the same $5 million ceiling. This means the widow’s estate is exempt for up to $7 million, according to Forbes.com.

This portability of estate exemption is simple compared to the tax maneuvers some estates attempt to avoid these taxes, and it was praised by tax lawyers upon signing. Unfortunately, the portability option concludes at the end of 2012, so it is only helpful to people who happen to lose a spouse in this calendar year.

In rare cases, someone who is terminally ill could use the portability option but even then it’s still guesswork. The new law also complicates taxes for the surviving spouse if he or she decides to remarry one day.

So, while the sentiment from Congress was well-received in the estate law community because it addresses one of that group’s significant concerns, the portability provision is almost unusable because it sunsets so quickly, according to Legalnews.com.

For now, the portability option will mean lots of paperwork for the IRS. As Congress’ new rules mean fewer estates have to pay taxes, the new law encourages more estates to file tax returns even if they don’t owe, according to Forbes.

So all surviving spouses this year have to file an estate tax return regardless of whether they owe or they lose the portability option forever. Estates have nine months to file an estate tax return and many miss that deadline.

Legislators could agree in 2012 to extend the portability provision in the estate tax law, or they could rewrite the whole thing. Forbes reported that the President has proposed bringing the estate tax laws back to where they were in 2009 when there was a $3.5 million exemption and a 45 percent tax rate.

Congress is notoriously unpredictable when it comes to drafting estate tax law. In late 2009, the U.S. Senate failed to vote on a bill that would have fixed a scheduled expiration of the tax. That meant there were no federal taxes on estates in 2010, according to Businessweek.com.

At the end of 2010, Congress passed the Tax Relief Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act. This is the law that brought the exemption to $5 million and introduces the portability option.

Shiobhan Olivero is the Owner and President of Olivero Law If you need a Brandon estate planning lawyer, Tampa estate planning lawyer, or Tampa probate attorney, call 813.654.5777 or visit Brandonlawoffice.com.

Posted on Friday, January 27th, 2012 at 5:48 pm under Estate Planning.
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Proposed Alimony Changes in Florida Would Dramatically Alter Divorce Law

The debate over proposed alimony laws in Florida that would drastically change the divorce landscape is heating up before the Legislature begins the 2012 session.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell analyzed the proposed Florida House and Senate bills in a mid-November article claiming the bill would benefit “…wealthy men who cheat on their wives.”

A pro-reform group called Florida Alimony Reform claims the Sunshine State’s laws are draconian and out-of-touch with modern society. According to the group’s website, “Because of [antiquated] laws and attitudes, it is common for healthy, employed women in their 30s and 40s to receive permanent alimony.”

Versions of the bill were introduced by State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami and State Rep. Ritch Workman of Brevard County, both Republicans. Maxwell pointed out in his column that Workman introduced the bill only about a week after his own divorce became final.

The proposed law would dramatically affect family law. HB 549 and SB 748 both have provisions that limit alimony’s duration as a function of the length of the marriage. “Lifetime alimony” is a sticking point among proponents of change. The new law could end alimony upon reaching retirement age and cap alimony at 20 percent of the payer’s income.

Workman admitted in Maxwell’s column that the cap would likely be removed. Some have called it unconstitutional.

The proposed law would allow people currently paying alimony to petition the court to modify their agreement based on the new law and would prohibit the use of a payer’s new spouse’s income as part of a judgment.

Workman told Maxwell the Florida proposal was inspired by and modeled after sweeping reforms passed by the Massachusetts Legislature this past summer. The highlight of the Massachusetts law is limits to the length of time alimony must be paid. But now divorced spouses in Massachusetts can have their payments ended by a judge if they move in with another partner even if they do not get remarried.

The Massachusetts law also has inspired proposed legislation in New Jersey. News outlets including ABC News and the Huffington Post are covering the trend of state alimony reform.

If the Florida bill were to pass with the provision that allows courts to look at previously decided judgments, it opens the doors for many cases to get a fresh look.

Workman told Maxwell he has already reconsidered some parts of the bill. The Florida Legislature begins its 2012 session Jan. 10.

Shiobhan Olivero is the Owner and President of Olivero Law If you need a Brandon family law attorney, Tampa divorce lawyer, or Tampa divorce attorney, call 813.654.5777 or visit Brandonlawoffice.com.

Posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 at 5:46 pm under Divorce and Family Law.
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