How Will the 2015 Supreme Court Decisions Affect You and Your Family?

While approximately 10,000 cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court each year, only 75 to 80 make it to oral argument. Of those cases, only a handful grab the media’s attention. Below is a summary of three landmark decisions handed down in 2015 that could affect how you are taxed, pay for healthcare, and plan your estate.

Comptroller v. Wynne – A State Can’t Double Tax Income Earned Outside of the State

Legal Issue: Does Maryland’s state income tax scheme violate the U.S. Constitution by “double taxing” a resident’s income earned from economic activity in another state that also taxes the same income?

Decision, 5 – 4: In a taxpayer-friendly ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, Maryland’s “double taxation” scheme violates the dormant Commerce Clause.

The Wynne case involved a Maryland couple who owned stock in a Maryland S corporation that did business in 39 states. Since income generated by an S corporation is passed through to its shareholders, the Wynnes paid income taxes in Maryland as well as their pro-rata share of taxes on the income the corporation earned in the other states.

In Maryland, residents are subject to a state income tax as well as a “local tax” based on the city or county in which they live. Prior to the Wynne case, the state allowed residents to take a credit against the Maryland state tax to offset a similar tax paid to another state, but it did not allow a credit to be taken against the local tax. Thus, income of a Maryland resident earned outside of the state was “double-taxed” by being subject to (1) out-of-state taxes, and (2) the local city or county tax. The Court struck down this “double taxation” scheme, holding that because the dormant Commerce Clause gives Congress power over interstate commerce, Maryland could not hinder interstate commerce by offering a credit against state income taxes but not against local income taxes.

Planning Tip: The Wynne decision will potentially affect hundreds of cities, counties and states other than Maryland, including Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania. If you pay income taxes in your home state and other states, you should seek qualified tax advice regarding filing protective claims (such as amended returns or requests for refunds) for tax years in which the statute of limitations has not run.

King v. Burrell – Obamacare Subsidies Are Available to All

Legal Issue: Can the IRS provide tax-credit subsidies to healthcare coverage purchased through the federal healthcare exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA,” commonly referred to as “Obamacare”)?

Decision, 6 – 3: Yes, Obamacare subsidies are available to individuals who obtain their healthcare coverage through a federal exchange.

Buried in the 2,700-page ACA is a provision which states that tax-credit subsidies are available to individuals who sign up for healthcare coverage “through an exchange established by the state.” After the ACA was passed, 34 states did not establish exchanges, leaving their residents to use the federal exchange to obtain their coverage. The King case challenged the validity of federal subsidies given to these residents since the ACA appeared to limit subsidies only to individuals who relied on a state-established exchange. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “We doubt that is what Congress meant to do.” Thus, the validity of subsidies claimed by residents of the 34 states that use the federal healthcare exchange was upheld.

Planning Tip: Despite the King decision, the Obamacare debate will continue to be hashed out in the political arena as the 2016 presidential election fast approaches.

Obergefell v. Hodges – Same Sex Marriage is Legal Everywhere in the United States

Legal Issue: Does the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution require a state to license same sex marriages and recognize same sex marriages that are legally licensed and performed in another state?

Decision, 5 – 4: Yes, same sex marriages are legal and must be recognized everywhere in the United States.

The Obergefell case consolidated four cases that challenged state-banned same sex marriages in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Relying on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court held that marriage is a fundamental liberty and denying the right of same sex couples to wed would deny them equal protection under the law.

Planning Tip: Same sex couples who are considering marriage need to decide if commitments regarding how to handle money, debt, and related matters should be formalized in a prenuptial agreement. Same sex couples who are already married need to determine if their prenuptial agreement should be fine-tuned and if their estate planning documents need to be amended in view of the King decision.

The Bottom Line on the Wynne, King and Obergefell Decisions

There are constant changes in the law from judicial, legislative, or regulatory action. These selections from the recent Supreme Court session are just a small example of the numerous changes that occur every year. How the Wynne, King and Obergefell decisions will affect your planning options has yet to be fully determined. Our firm is available to answer your questions about these landmark cases and how they may affect you and your family.

3 Asset Protection Tips You Can Use Now

A common misconception is that only wealthy families and people in high risk professions need to put together an asset protection plan. But in reality, anyone can be sued. A car accident, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, or an injured tenant can result in a monetary judgment that will decimate your finances. Below are three tips that you can use right now to protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

What Exactly is Asset Protection Planning?
Before getting to the tips, you need to understand what asset protection planning is all about. In basic terms, asset protection planning is the use of legal structures and strategies to transform property that creditors might snatch away into property that is completely, or, at the very least, partially, protected.

Unfortunately, this type of planning cannot be done as a quick fix for your existing legal problems. Instead, you must put an asset protection plan in place before a lawsuit is imminent, let alone filed at the courthouse. So, now is the time to consider implementing one or more of these tips.

Now, on to the three tips.

Asset Protection Tip #1 – Load Up on Liability Insurance
The first line of defense against liability is insurance, including homeowner’s, automobile, business, professional, malpractice, long-term care and umbrella policies. Liability insurance not only provides a means to pay money damages, it often also includes payment of all or part of the legal fees associated with a lawsuit. If you do not have an umbrella policy, then now is the time to get one since it is relatively inexpensive when compared with more advanced ways to protect your assets. You should also check all of your current insurance policies to determine if your policy limits are in line with your net worth and make adjustments as appropriate. You should then review all of your policies on an annual basis to confirm that the coverage is still adequate and benefits have not been stripped to keep premiums the same.

Asset Protection Tip #2 – Maximize Contributions to Your 401(k) or IRA
Under federal law, tax-favored retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs (but excluding inherited IRAs) are protected from creditors in bankruptcy (with certain limitations). Therefore, maximizing contributions to your company’s 401(k) plan is not only a smart way to increase your retirement savings, but it will also keep the investments away from creditors, predators and lawsuits. On the other hand, if your company does not offer a 401(k) plan, then start investing in an IRA for the same reasons.

Asset Protection Tip #3 – Move Rental or Investment Real Estate into an LLC
If you are a landlord or a real estate flipper or investor, then aside from having good liability insurance, moving your real estate into a limited liability company (LLC) can be a great way to help protect your assets from creditors, predators and lawsuits.

There are two types of liability that you should be concerned about with rental or investment property: (1) inside liability (where the rental or investment property is the source of the liability, like a slip and fall on the property, and the creditor wants to seize an LLC owner’s personal assets) and (2) outside liability (where the creditor of an LLC owner wants to seize LLC assets to satisfy the owner’s debt).

An LLC will limit your inside liability related to the real estate, such as a slip and fall accident on the front stairs of the property or a fire caused by faulty wiring located at the property, to the value of the property. In addition, in many states the outside creditor of the member of an LLC cannot get their hands on the member’s ownership interest in the company (in some states this will only work for multi-member LLCs, while in others it will also work for a single member LLC). This type of outside creditor protection is often referred to as “charging order” protection. This means that a creditor will have to look to your liability insurance and any unprotected assets to collect on their claim.

If you are interested in asset protection planning for your investment real estate using an LLC, then you will need to work with an attorney who understands the LLC laws of the state where your property is located to insure that your LLC will protect you from both inside and outside liability.

Aligning Insurance Products within a Planning Structure

We use a variety of insurance products to manage risk in different areas of our lives in order to protect our wealth from losses that can come from property damage, businesses we own, disability, retirement and death. Instead of considering these products as separate items, make them part of an integrated, overall risk management plan.

The Key Takeaways
• A variety of insurance products are used to help manage risk and protect wealth.
• The best results occur when separate insurance products are part of an integrated plan.

Different Kinds of Insurance for Different Risks
Most insurance can be grouped in these general categories.

Property: This would include insurance on automobiles and other vehicles; home, furnishings, jewelry and artwork, and personal liability insurance.

Business: Business owners need insurance on a building they own, office equipment and computers, as well as liability, worker compensation, errors and omissions insurance, and so on.

Health and Disability: Disability income insurance replaces part of your income for a certain length of time if you should become ill or injured and unable to work. Health insurance helps to pay for medical services received. Long-term care insurance helps to pay for extended care that is not covered by most health insurance or Medicare.

Retirement: Annuities and other insurance products can help replace income after retirement.

Estate Planning: Life insurance is often used to replace an earner’s income; to pay funeral expenses, debts and taxes; to fund family and charitable trusts; to fund a business buyout and compensate the surviving owner’s family; and to provide an inheritance to family members who do not work in a family business.

What You Need to Know
Remember, insurance is for risk management—to protect your wealth from potential areas of loss. If a risk is no longer there (the exposure ends or you are able to self-insure and cover the risk yourself), then the insurance coverage for that risk can be eliminated.

Actions to Consider
• Trying to coordinate your insurance and manage your risk yourself is a daunting task. Instead, work with a team of advisors who have the knowledge and experience to help you make sure your risks are covered at the appropriate levels, without duplication and unnecessary costs.
• An advisory team will usually include your financial investment advisor, estate planning attorney, and life, health and property/casualty insurance agent(s). Other members may be added to this team as needed. You will probably find that your advisors will welcome the opportunity to work on your team, because they want to provide you and your family with the best possible service and solutions.