Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do It Yourself Estate Planning Pitfalls

The pros and cons of DIY estate planning are discussed in yesterday's article in US New and World Report:
"Unless you are single and have absolutely no money," says Brooklyn-based estate planning and tax lawyer Hani Sarji, you need an estate planner, because people tend to make mistakes when they fill out their own forms online. "People might get a false sense of security from DIY estate planning," Sarji adds, and answering one question incorrectly or overlooking something such as appointing a guardian for children can lead to major problems down the road.

On her blog, estate planning lawyer Leanna Hamill writes about a colleague who had a client who used an online do-it-yourself will that he failed to update after some of his beneficiaries died and he opened new bank accounts that weren't mentioned on the form. "That is the reason to have an attorney assist you with this process. We know the questions to ask, and we know what to do with the answers," she writes.

"Without a lawyer, you might not understand the terms," says Deborah Jacobs, author of Estate Planning Smarts. Therefore, you could inadvertently give someone more power than you want to when creating a "durable power of attorney" document, for example. That document essentially gives someone else the power to take care of your finances if you become incapacitated. Jacobs says that if that person isn't trustworthy, he or she could steal from you. She also warns that if the document isn't executed properly—in some states you need witnesses to your signature—then it might not even be valid.

Another risk, says Jacobs, is that when it comes to transferring your money to family members after you pass away, a self-written will might contain holes that lead to errors.
As with other areas of the law, other lawyers, who don't practice estate planning law, have hired me to assist them with their estate plan; if they know they can't tackle an incorporation or an estate plan without some advice and counsel, do you believe you can do better?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 Faces California Class Action Over Estate Planning Documents has been accused in California of the unauthorized practice of law, as well as providing ineffective estate planning documents.

January 8, 2012 Update: The case now has apparently settled, as most class actions and indeed most lawsuits of any kind are.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tax Audit Risk Among Reasons to Incorporate Side Business

CPA Michael Hanley, who specializes in working with small business, advises:
"The #1 most overlooked tip by people running side businesses is that they fail to setup a business entity because they still view their business as a little side business that they will incorporate when things take off."

Sole Proprietorships (the business structure you default to if you fail to setup a Corporation, LLC, etc) are subject to the highest audit risk out of all the business structures. The reason for this high audit risk is that all Sole Proprietorships report their business income and expenses on Schedule C (the second most highly audited form that you can attach to your tax return). By setting up an S Corporation, you become nine times less likely to be selected for a random IRS audit (audit risk decreases from 2.7% to .3%, making it very possible that you can go your entire life without ever being selected for an audit).
Setting up a Side Business Can Be Risky Unless You Do it Right, Mithcell York, Enterepreneurs

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Los Angeles Business Tax Break Proposed

Los Angeles' mayor today proposed an expansion of the City of Los Angeles' new business tax exemption, from two to three years, assuming gross revenues of less than $500,000:

Tax Break for New Businesses Proposed, Los Angeles Business Journal, June 15, 2010