Oregon WINGS Posts “Get a Life Plan”  

Oregon’s Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) posted a solid plan for what we should all consider, as part of planning for your life – and death.

Their web page covers four plans:

  • Plan for your assets during your lifetime
  • Plan for your medical decisions
  • Plan for your assets at your death
  • Plan for your body after your death

They also have good pointers on a variety of helpful topics:

  • How should I start a conversation with my loved ones about my plan?
  • What if my loved ones disagree with my wishes?
  • Where should I store my documents?
  • Should I give copies of my documents to my loved ones?

These are a good place to start, but for most of us, to obtain a comprehensive Life (and Death) Plan, it is best to talk to an estate, trust and tax planning attorney to set you and your legacy up for success. Fortunately, we have a whole wing of such talent here at SYK.

Victoria Blachly: SYK AttorneyVictoria Blachly is a partner at SYK, and an experienced fiduciary litigator that works with many elderly clients, cases and causes.

The COVID-19 Oregon Special Session

For those of you who are following the Oregon Legislature’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect the Governor to announce a special session in the next day or two. Topics that we expect the legislature to address include: provisions for rent and mortgage assistance, bans on evictions, loans to small businesses, food benefits, and expanded healthcare access. The Salem Statesman Journal has been doing a great job tracking the proposals for this emergency session:


We also expect that the Oregon Laws Commission’s remote notary proposal to be included in the proposal.

As expected, it doesn’t sound like Oregon corporate activity estimates made the cut to address, so Q1 estimates will need to made as usual.

Valerie Sasaki specializes in jurisdictional tax consulting, working closely with Fortune 50 companies involved in audits before the Oregon or Washington Departments of Revenue. She also works with business owners on tax, business, and estate planning issues in Oregon or Southwest Washington.

Tax Reform Now: Five Actions to Consider Before December 31, 2017

Tax and Business

Congress officially passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on December 20th. Despite conflicting reports on when President Trump will sign the Act, he will sign it. Here are five last-minute actions you should consider for tax planning before the New Year to minimize your 2017 and 2018 tax liability.

One: Make Your Oregon Fourth Quarter Estimated Tax Payment by December 31st

Individuals who pay quarterly state income taxes should consider making their fourth quarter payment by December 31st. The Act limits the deduction for state and local taxes to $10,000 unless the taxes are paid and accrued in carrying on a trade or business.  In Oregon, the fourth quarter estimated payment is due on January 16, 2018. Paying by December 31st assures that these individuals can maximize their 2017 state and local tax deduction one last time. Strongly consider this action if you receive substantial investment income or are self-employed. The final version of the Act only allows a deduction for payments made for tax years on or before 2017, so do not make an estimated payment for 2018 taxes.

Two: Give More to Your Favorite Charities

Give and you shall receive . . . more in 2017 than 2018. For itemizing taxpayers, charitable contributions are one of the most well-known and utilized deductions. The Act’s decease to the marginal tax rates and the doubling of the standard deduction means a charitable deduction claimed on a 2017 tax return will yield more tax savings than the identical deduction on future tax returns. If you expect your marginal tax rate to decrease, or if you itemize now but might not under the new law, consider talking to your tax advisor about how some last minute giving could be the best gift you receive this holiday season. If you do not have a charity in mind, consider donating to Oregon’s Campaign for Equal Justice, whose mission is to make equal access to justice a reality for all Oregonians.

Three: Pay Your Local Property Taxes in Full for 2017-2018

Starting in 2018, individuals will not be able deduct more than $10,000 of their state and local income taxes and their local property taxes. While Oregon allows property taxes to be paid in installments, to be assured an individual can deduct the maximum amount of property taxes paid for the 2017-2018 year, consider writing a check for the installments due in 2018 to your county before the year end. Check with your tax advisor if you are subject to the AMT. The AMT limits the amount of the property tax deduction.

Four:  Pay and Claim Those Unreimbursed Employee Expenses and Other Miscellaneous Deductions Now – Including Your Tax Preparation Fees and Certain Legal Fees

As of 2018, miscellaneous itemized deductions will become a deduction of the past. This includes the deduction for tax preparation expenses, certain legal fees, and unreimbursed employment expenses. Unreimbursed employment expenses can include everything from tools & supplies, union dues, expenses for work related travel, subscriptions to business journals, attending seminars and more. If you expect to pay these expenses next year you should consider paying for them before December 31st. Of course, if you are self-employed or own a business, you will still be able to deduct some of these expenses against business income under the new law. In short: Consider paying your CPA for 2017 tax advice and your 2017 tax filing by December 31st.

Five: Delay That Taxable Gift

Taxpayers considering gifts that would result in the payment of gift taxes or GST may want to wait until 2018. The exemptions for both double in 2018 and a delay in the timing of the gift could reduce or eliminate any tax liability incurred. However, do not hesitate to make that 2017 annual exclusion gift!

Stay Tuned

This article is the first in a series planned to address the numerous changes to tax law imposed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. We strongly recommend you consult with your tax attorneys and tax advisors on the impact of the act on your 2017 taxes and to plan for future years.

Caitlin M. Wong brings her passion for tax law and her commitment to empowering others to her practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP. Caitlin has experience with all aspects of both federal and state taxation, including tax planning for companies as well as individuals, audits, appeals, tax court litigation, estate planning and trust and estate litigation.

A tale of two families and the wealth they (did not) pass on to their children

We spoke about some well-executed and some not-so-well-executed estate plans at the firm’s recent seminar on famous and infamous estates. Two of the issues we discussed were transfers of business interests and the importance of planning for multiple generations. Here are two examples we did not get a chance to discuss at our seminar, but which are relevant:

First, Bloomberg recently reported that Aerin and Jane Lauder, the granddaughters of the founder of Estee Lauder (the founder was named Estee Lauder, of course), became two of the youngest billionaires in the world this year; due to the appreciation of their Estee Lauder stock. Aerin and Jane are each in their third decade of work at Estee Lauder and each own some stock shares individually while other shares are held in trust for their benefit. Through smart planning, it looks like the family has managed to avoid the “shirtsleeve to shirtsleeve in three generations” story that so many families fall into. The patriarch’s direct descendants appear to have learned enough about the family business (and about the values that it takes to guide the business) to maintain a promising fiscal outlook going into the fourth generation of wealth.

This is a significant achievement. Consider:

Cornelius Vanderbilt borrowed $100 from his mother and turned that $100 into a railroad empire worth over $100 million dollars at the time of his death in 1877. $100 million in 1877 is worth approximately $185 billion in today’s dollars. For a little perspective, Warren Buffet’s net worth is around $64 billion and Sam Walton’s is around $65 billion in todays dollars.

Vanderbilt’s heirs spent the money like Montgomery Brewster. Six years after Cornelius Vanderbilt’s death, his heirs built the first of ten Vanderbilt mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York. Cornelius’ heirs built similarly opulent “cottages” in Newport, RI and one of them, George Washington Vanderbilt II, built the fantastic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC – the largest privately owned house in the United States (250 rooms and 178,926 square feet).

Cornelius Vanderbuilt’s heirs were prominent horse breeders, yacht racers, auto racers, and film producers (and alcoholics). Many of the heirs married multiple times. As a result of these career and life choices, by 1920 one of Cornelius’ descendants died penniless, by 1960 the last of the Fifth Avenue mansions was torn down, and by 1977 a survey of family members at a reunion at Vanderbilt University turned up 120 Vanderbilts and not one millionaire.

Planning for the second and third generations is important for any business, no matter how big or small. A proper plan often involves instilling the patriarch’s work ethic in children and grandchildren, communicating with each generation about the direction of the business, properly assessing and preparing for risk, and making informed legal decisions.

Times are a-changin’ … So should your documents.

“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now, will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last,
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Bob Dylan wrote these lyrics to ‘the times they are a-changin’ in September of 1964, while probably examining the political and racial upheaval he saw around him. When I hear the song these days, however, I’m convinced that the last verse is actually about updating business and estate planning documents. Bear with me…

2013 has brought changes to the tax structure that impact all of us and our clients: higher income and capital gains rates, higher estate tax exemptions, expiration of the 2% payroll tax holiday, the extension of portability, and the long-term patch to the Alternative Minimum Tax, to name a few. In the tax world, the times they are almost always a’ changin’, so it makes sense to occasionally review your estate and business documents to make sure this important paperwork reflects these changes appropriately.

Many of our clients’ families are going through transitions. (“The present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fading”). The birth or death of a family member, marriage, divorce, graduation, retirement, changes in jobs, receipt of an inheritance, and similar events often prompt the question: Does this change need to be addressed in my estate planning documents or the organizational documents for my business? If you think the answer might be “yes”, you are probably right.

Many of our clients also come to us because their businesses are going through a transition where the order is changing, or is going to change in the near future. Drawing the proper lines around how the next generation will inherit and manage a business can be done in many different ways. Some arrangements provide a business owner’s heirs with equal shares in managing the business and splitting its profits (and risks), and some arrangements hire a property manager to take over the day-to-day operation while the constantly-fighting children inherit profit rights and nothing more. There are many agreements that fall in between these extremes. There is a lot of room to customize the plan to the business (and family) involved, depending on taxes, family dynamics, and other factors. Some of these transitions go really well and some go terribly wrong. The ones that go smoothly usually involve well thought out written plans, open lines of communication, and children that are on good terms.

I am often asked how often our clients should review their estate and business planning documents. The answer is: whenever the times are a-changin’.

I hope this post has not ruined Bob Dylan’s music for any of our readers.

You can watch Bob Dylan perform ‘The times they are a changin’ at the White House here:


Through the force, higher taxes you will see.

A galaxy’s worth of nerds rejoiced when news broke that George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney in October, 2012. More movies are on the way, and this nerd is excited about them. At the time of the sale, Mr. Lucas said that he always envisioned the Star Wars empire (no pun intended) would live on long after he was gone and that he felt he was leaving the franchise in good hands. What he was probably thinking was, “my CPA and my lawyer told me to do it.”

The Star Wars sale was closed in late-October, 2012, when there was a great deal of uncertainty in the tax world and the “fiscal cliff” was looming on the horizon. What was certain at the time was that the Bush era long term capital gain tax rate of 15% was set to expire at midnight on December 31st. It was widely expected that the tax rate on these gains, especially for individuals in the highest income tax brackets, would be the target of democratic lawmakers in the fiscal cliff negotiations. It was also known that the new Unearned Income Medicare Contribution tax of 3.8% would kick in for gains recognized by high-income taxpayers like Mr. Lucas, in January, 2013.    

So what did Mr. Lucas do? He sold in 2012 for just over $4 billion: $2 billion in cash and 40 million shares of Disney stock (valued at $2,000,800,000 on 10/31/2012). It is impossible to know the exact tax figures without information on Mr. Lucas’ tax basis in the Star Wars franchise at the time of the sale, but we can make some educated guesses. Mr. Lucas probably recognized close to $2 billion in gain in 2012 and he owes the IRS approximately $300 million in long term capital gains tax on receipt of this cash. Mr. Lucas will recognize (and be taxed on) gains on the Disney stock whenever he decides to sell his shares. It has been speculated that Mr. Lucas may donate the shares to charity which could reduce or eliminate the tax bill when the stock is sold.

Had Mr. Lucas waited to sell Star Wars until 2013, the $2 billion he received in cash would have been taxed at the new 20% rate agreed to under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, adding an additional $100 million to his capital gain tax bill. The 3.8% Medicare Contribution tax would have added another $75 million, bringing his total tax bill to about $475 million.

Whether this sale strategy was outlined by a CPA who was reading the Congressional tea leaves or Mr. Lucas turned to a more trusted source for his tax planning (“Through the force, the future – and rising taxes – you will see…”), the result is the same: Mr. Lucas probably saved close to $175 million in taxes by selling when he did. The gains from the sale will be going to educational charities, who will put the extra $175 million to good use. You can read more about Mr. Lucas’ charitable plans here:


The sale of the Star Wars franchise presents a good opportunity to analyze some of the effects that the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 has on a high-income earning taxpayers. We will be discussing these recent changes to the income and estate tax calculations at a seminar in our office on March 7, 2013, at 7:30 am. A light breakfast will be served. If you would like to attend this complementary seminar, please RSVP to events@samuelslaw.com or 503-226-2966. May the force be with you.

Temporary Tax Reform

Last month, in a rare moment of bipartisan compromise and with (by Congressional standards) blazing speed, Congress and President Obama came together and passed a sweeping tax package, more formally known as the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. President Obama signed the Act into law on December 17, 2010. The following is a brief summary of the key provisions of the Act:

Current income tax rates will be retained for two years (2011 and 2012), with a top rate of 35%.

Capital gains and qualified dividends will continue to be taxed at a top rate of 15% through 2012.

Social security payroll taxes for employees and self-employed workers (which include partners whose incomes are subject to payroll taxes) will receive a reduction in Social Security payroll taxes in 2011, with the “employee-side” rate being reduced from 6.2% to 4.2%. 

An AMT “patch” for 2010 and 2011 will keep the the alternative minimum tax exemption near current levels.

Itemized deductions of higher-income taxpayers will not be reduced. Without this provision, itemized deductions would have been reduced by 3% of adjusted gross income above an inflation-adjusted figure, but the reduction couldn’t exceed 80%.

Tax-free distributions from IRAs to charities are retained for 2011 only. This provision allows taxpayers age 70 1/2 or older to make distributions of up to $100,000 from their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to charities. In addition, individuals will be allowed to treat IRA transfers to charities during January of 2011 and as if made during 2010).

Businesses expensing equal to 100% will be permitted on the cost of a business’ purchase of equipment and machinery purchases, effective for property placed in service after September 8, 2010 and through December 31, 2011. For property placed in service in 2012, the new law provides for 50% additional first-year depreciation.

Estate taxes are reinstated for 2011 and 2012, with an exemption of $5 million per person and a top rate of 35%. Estates of people who died in 2010 can elect to follow the estate tax rules of either 2010 (no estate tax, but with a “carryover” of a decedent’s tax basis) or 2011 (estate tax with a full “step-up” in tax basis to an asset’s fair market value at the decedent’s date of death).

The Gift Tax Exemption was $1 million prior to 2011. With this lower exemption, if a taxpayer’s cumulative lifetime gifts exceeded this $1 million mark, then they would be required to pay gift taxes. Now, the has be “re-unified” with the estate tax, meaning that the current gift tax exemption is the same amount as the estate tax exemption – i.e. $5 million. Like the changes which the Act makes to the estate tax, this change expires at the end of 2012. This means that for 2011 and 2012, taxpayers have an unprecedented opportunity to make larger estate-planning gifts without paying gift taxes.

“Portability” is the latest buzzword for the estate tax.  New provisions in the Act allows surviving spouses to add their deceased spouses unused estate tax exemption to their own, potentially allowing the surviving spouse to ultimately have $10 million of estate tax exemption. However, this new provision may have limited application. First, the provision will only apply if the first spouse dies after January 1, 2011 and the second spouse dies before December 31, 2012. While Congress may extend this provision, that result is far from certain. Second, the exemption will be lost if the surviving spouse remarries and survives his or her next spouse. Ultimately, we suggest that the traditional use of a “bypass trust” continue to be the first line of defense against the estate tax.

While the new tax bill certainly has benefits to taxpayers and does provide some planning opportunities, because of the fleeting nature of many of the provisions in the bill, planning around some of the bill’s provisions will be a somewhat precarious process. 

The new Congress is already discussing additional “tax reform.” Stay tuned! 

The Bridge is Out! Senate Fails To Compromise on Estate Tax Fix

As reported in a recent article in TheHill.com, bipartisan negotiations over a potential compromise relating to the federal estate tax have broken down. According to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senate Democrats are not allowing any legislation to reach the Senate floor which is not supported by a majority of Senate Democrats.

President Obama has previously proposed that the estate tax be continued at 2009 levels, with a total exemption from the estate tax of $3.5 million (potentially $7.0 million for a married couple) and with a top bracket of 45%. While the terms of the failed compromise were not released publicly, it has been reported from a number of sources that the compromise would begin at President Obama’s proposed levels, but then the exemption would increase over a number of years to $5 million with a 35% top bracket. In order to make the reduction deficit neutral, the Senate proposal would have also allowed individuals to prepay the estate tax during their lifetime at a rate of 35%. Presumably, this prepayment proposal would have been accomplished through some type of a “prepayment trust,” in which taxpayers would transfer assets to an irrevocable trust and pay the estate taxes in the year of transfer.

If Congress takes no further action on the estate tax (a possibility which I have discussed in a previous WealthLawBlog article), the estate tax will remain “repealed” for the balance of 2010, but then will return on January 1, 2011 with an exemption of only $1 million and a top bracket of 55%. Some Senators have stated publicly that they are in support of a reduced estate tax exemption. For instance,

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) recently stated: “The idea that we would make significant exemptions within the estate tax to give more tax breaks to the top three-tenths of 1% is nauseating. I will do everything I can to stop that.”

With approximately 11 “legislative weeks” for Congress to accomplish a “fix” to the estate tax, it seems to me that two things are becoming increasingly likely. First, the estate tax will likely remain “repealed” for the balance of 2010. Second, as the champagne flows and 2011 is ushered in, the “new” estate tax will return with the $1 million-55% parameters.

Taxes on Health Insurance Premiums: A New Kind of “Trickle-Down”?

Effective September 28, 2009, a new bill passed by the 2009 Oregon legislature imposes a new tax on what a legislative staff summary refers to as a “specified group of health insurers.” In particular, the new law assesses a 1% tax upon the gross amount of premiums earned by health insurance providers. The stated purpose of the new tax is to provide health insurance to low income children – a commendable objective.

As the popularity of insurance companies is probably not high, most people might not have a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the newly taxed. However, the tax has already begun to “trickle down” to the rest of us. I’ve recently read a copy of a letter from a CEO of a major Oregon health insurance provider to a customer. Noting the new tax’s impending effective date, the letter pleasantly informs the small business insurance customer that “your premium rates will be adjusted to reflect the new 1 percent tax.”

However, the “trickle” does not stop with the small business. The owner of that business will now need to make a difficult decision as to whether to raise prices, absorb the cost, cut costs of other employee benefits, or pass the additional costs on to employees. You get the idea – the tax lands upon small businesses and their employees at a time when many such businesses are stretched to the breaking point (assuming they’ve made it this far in the recession).

Is this really the intended consequence of the new policy? I welcome your comments and questions.

Redeal of the Repeal?

In the August 7, 2009, BNA Daily Tax Report, it was noted that Rep. Brady has proposed a permanent repeal of the estate tax.  Do you remember that old Saturday morning cartoon, I’m Just a Bill?  Well, this bill is going to continue to sit on Capitol Hill and will never become law.  You heard it here first.

So, what is to become of the repeal of the estate tax?  Most of those in the know seem to say that we are going to stay with the current $3.5 million exemption.  They are probably right.  However, I think it is dangerous to count on that happening.  Let me spell out for you a less probable, but possible scenario.

 Under current law, in 2010, the estate tax essentially goes away.  Then, in 2011, it comes back with a vengeance, at a $1 million exemption (thank you Senator Bird).  When this process was set up eight years ago, it was thought that there was no way a tax increase would be allowed, so the repeal would go on, regardless of the Bird Rule.  However, now we are in an economic crisis, and the government needs money. 

Many believe that the congressional leadership don’t want to see 2010 with the unlimited exemption, so we can expect finality this year.  It is possible, however, that the they will just punt this year.  With health care taking up the entire agenda lately, the congressional leadership could just extend the $3.5 million exemption for one year while they consider the matter.  They would likely get broad suppport for this extension.  Then, next year, they could decide that Bush’s plan was best after all, and just let the Bird Rule apply.  We would be back at a $1 million exemption without a vote for a tax increase.

You may be thinking the congressional leadership wouldn’t risk this because it affects too many of the voters, but keep two things in mind.  First, because of the recession, less people would be affected as less people will have taxable estates.  And second, the government needs money to finance the change America voted for.

Now, I agree this is not the most probable scenario.  But, it is at least possible, and because it is at least possible, we should consider it in our estate tax planning.