Key Points to Discuss With Your Clients

Like all things, tax laws are constantly changing. An important part of serving your clients is responding quickly and strategically to new developments in the tax law landscape. But at the same time, a knee-jerk reaction is rarely the best course of action—often resulting in unforeseen complications in the future.

The best decisions are made by professional teams working together to analyze all angles of a situation to come up with the best strategy in response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), a historic amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

The TCJA affects many Americans in a variety of areas of life, and your clients might not be aware of what its impact will be on their long-term financial plan.  Of course, this law is going on seven months old, but too many people struggle with taking action in their financial and tax planning lives, so the historic nature of these changes cannot be overstated.

The law’s benefits will accrue most for those who take a proactive approach — rather than those who wait until the last minute. Here are several reasons it needs to be top-of-mind for both you and your clients:

The increase in the standard deduction and the general lowering of individual tax rates means that your clients have likely been enjoying more take-home pay.

The elimination of the personal exemption means that depending on your client’s marital status and number of dependents, they may not be able to lower their taxable income as much as they had in the past. Some clients may face a higher tax burden, as a result, even after taking into account the lowered rates.

The limitations on deductions for state and local income taxes (SALT) means that for those clients in states or communities with high income taxes, their taxable income may not be reduced as much as it had been in the past because they cannot get credit for all the other forms of income tax they have paid. However, if any of your clients are concerned about this, we may have some strategies (such as Incomplete Non-Grantor Trusts) to help alleviate the new tax burden.

The reduction of the alternative minimum tax for individuals means that fewer individuals must deal with this burdensome and often-complicated tax.

With the increase in the unified credit to $10,000,000, adjusted for inflation, there has been a reduction in the overall number of estates affected by the estate tax. If your clients had previous planning centered around saving estate tax, those plans need to be re-evaluated to make sure that they are still working towards the client’s long term objectives now that estate tax may not be a concern. Your clients may also want to take advantage of the increase by making lifetime gifts, particularly if they had previously used up their exemption in previous years.

With the effective repeal of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act effective in 2019, your clients will now have the choice of whether or not to carry health insurance coverage without suffering the penalty of a fine. However, with no requirement for coverage, it is speculated that the cost of insurance in the marketplace could increase without the additional participants. Clients should carefully balance the costs of paying for their own healthcare against the cost of maintaining insurance, even after the mandate is gone.

The new tax developments are especially pertinent to your business-owning clients. With the possible 20% income tax deduction for pass-through entities, they’ll want to review entity selection for their business operations as soon as possible. Now is also the time to consider gifting of interests to reduce the limitations inherent in the qualifying business income calculation and to utilize the increased gift tax exemption.

For clients with “specified service businesses,” such as attorneys, doctors, dentists, and consultants, it makes sense to consider separating any “non-service” businesses out of their service business, such as real estate or clerical activity. Utilizing multiple trusts may also help to facilitate business-owner clients achieve a larger QBI (qualifying business income) deduction.

Planning Goes Beyond Taxes Too

The implications of the TCJA go much further than taxes alone. Your clients will always need extensive guidance around asset protection, privacy, retaining control, avoiding issues like guardianship and probate, and ensuring that their loved ones are cared for for years to come. These aspects of financial and estate planning are constant regardless of fluctuations of tax reform. Clients who haven’t considered these issues should discuss them with an estate planning attorney as soon as possible.

These are sophisticated, complex, and multi-faceted planning strategies. For the right client, they can save tens of thousands of income tax. But they can cost dearly if implemented incorrectly. For this reason, collaboration with us and the rest of your clients’ financial team is increasingly indispensable for success. Help your clients plan for whatever comes next with the guidance of a well-rounded advisory team.

This newsletter is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as written advice about a Federal tax matter. Readers should consult with their own professional advisors to evaluate or pursue tax, accounting, financial, or legal planning strategies.