If you have a life insurance policy, you probably want to make sure that the life insurance benefits your family will receive after your death won’t be included in your estate. That way, the benefits won’t be subject to the federal estate tax.

Under the estate tax rules, life insurance will be included in your taxable estate if either:

  • Your estate is the beneficiary of the insurance proceeds, or
  • You possessed certain economic ownership rights (called “incidents of ownership”) in the policy at your death (or within three years of your death).


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If you made large gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs last year, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file a 2019 gift tax return. And in some cases, even if it’s not required to file one, it may be beneficial to do so anyway.

Who must file?

Generally, you must file a gift tax return for 2019 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:

  • That exceeded the $15,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
  • That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $30,000 annual exclusion,
  • That exceeded the $155,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
  • To a Section 529 college savings plan and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($75,000) into 2019,
  • Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
  • Of jointly held or community property.

Keep in mind that you’ll owe gift tax only to the extent that an exclusion doesn’t apply and you’ve used up your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.4 million for 2019). As you can see, some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax.
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If you own a home, the interest you pay on your home mortgage may provide a tax break. However, many people believe that any interest paid on their home mortgage loans and home equity loans is deductible. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

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First, keep in mind that you must itemize deductions in order to take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction.


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If you’re self-employed and work out of an office in your home, you may be entitled to home office deductions. However, you must satisfy strict rules.

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If you qualify, you can deduct the “direct expenses” of the home office. This includes the costs of painting or repairing the home office and depreciation deductions for furniture and fixtures used there. You can also deduct the “indirect” expenses of maintaining the office. This includes the allocable share of utility costs, depreciation and insurance for your home, as well as the allocable share of mortgage interest, real estate taxes and casualty losses.

In addition, if your home office is your “principal place of business,” the costs of traveling between your home office and other work locations are deductible transportation expenses, rather than nondeductible commuting costs. And, generally, you can deduct the cost (reduced by the percentage of non-business use) of computers and related equipment that you use in your home office, in the year that they’re placed into service.


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Married couples often wonder whether they should file joint or separate tax returns. The answer depends on your individual tax situation.

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It generally depends on which filing status results in the lowest tax. But keep in mind that, if you and your spouse file a joint return, each of you is “jointly and severally” liable for the tax on your combined income. And you’re both equally liable for any additional tax the IRS assesses, plus interest and most penalties. This means that the IRS can come after either of you to collect the full amount.


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Russ: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Russ Capper, this week’s guest host, and I’m here with Frank Landreneau, Director and one of the faces of the International Tax team. Frank, welcome back to the Playbook.

Frank: Thanks, Russ. Thanks for having me; always a pleasure.

Russ: You bet. Next time you’re on I am going to count to see how many times have you been on, because I’m sure it’s more than anybody else.

Frank: Okay, great.

Russ: But our topic today is primarily going to be the Tax Cut Jobs Act that I think was passed in 2017, started in 2018, and it’s mind boggling to me, because we’re still sorting that thing out. Is that right?

Frank: That’s exactly right. And it’s been a little bit over two years, but we’re still getting guidance even now and even there’s pending guidance that we’re anticipating on getting even this year as we speak.

Russ: How does a business person make decisions based upon this thing playing out over such a long period of time?


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The deductibility of most charitable gifts hasn’t changed since passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but some recordkeeping requirements have. Helping your donors who itemize deductions understand the rules and benefits of their gifts can strengthen your not-for-profit’s ties with them — and may help increase contributions.

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Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 512(a)(7) was recently retroactively repealed by the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019. Section 512(a)(7) increased unrelated business taxable income by amounts paid or incurred for qualified transportation fringes, and Congress originally enacted this provision for amounts paid or incurred after December 31, 2017.

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As a result