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Are Estate Planning Fees Tax Deductible?

Are Estate Planning Fees Tax Deductible?

In general, you can deduct legal fees as an ordinary and necessary business expense. The types of legal fees that are deductible include creation and review of contracts, filing a lawsuit or defending a lawsuit for breach of contract, legal assistance to collect on an account, defending an intellectual property right, defending against lawsuits brought by employees and receiving tax advice. The amount of the bill that can be deducted in the case of tax advice for an estate plan varies. The more that tax play a role in estate planning process, the greater the percentage of the fee that can be deducted as a qualified expense. However, it is wise to always check with your tax professional before filing this deduction on your tax return. There are times in which legal fees are a necessary evil. When you are able to deduct your legal fees, they become less of an evil. It’s important to understand, though, which legal fees are deductible and which are not. Personal legal fees (i.e.: fees used to pay a divorce attorney or fees used to hire an attorney to dispute a lawsuit that was brought against you) are non-deductible. These are considered personal expenses by the IRS, so that means you will not be able to claim them on your list of itemized deductions. If you own a corporation, an LLC, a partnership, or even if you are a sole proprietor, legal fees associated with helping the reputation of your business will be considered a business investment and will therefore be fully deductible. The term fully deductible means that there are no limitations or AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) associated with your deduction.

In order to claim your investment legal fees, you must legitimately be conducting business. If you are not regularly filing as a proprietor, the legal fees associated with your business may be viewed by the IRS as miscellaneous itemized deductions. If this is the case, it will result in limitations being placed on your deductions. Legal fees which are equal to up to two per cent of your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) are non-deductible. At higher income, deductions are completely phased out. Once you compute the AMT (which is a separate tax with a rate of 28 per cent), there is no deduction whatsoever. To avoid these limitations, you should file your US income tax as a proprietor and file Schedule C (assuming you are actually in business).

There is a different set of rules for attorneys with a contingency fee. If, for example, you are awarded $1M from a lawsuit that was handled for you by a contingency attorney who receives 30% of your lawsuit earnings, you may be under the assumption that you will only be required to pay taxes on the $700K you received. This is a false notion; you will be responsible for taxes on the entire $1M balance. If the settlement was for a personal injury case, you don’t have to worry, because compensation for personal injury cases are always tax-free as long as the entire balance is for personal physical injury or physical sickness recovery. If there were punitive damages or interest, those items will be taxable. If you have hired a contingency attorney to help with an employment suit, you will only be taxed on the amount you receive after attorney fees have already been taken out. The majority of employment lawsuits result in recoveries which are viewed by the IRS as income. Therefore, they do not qualify for the same exclusion as physical injury or sickness. A settlement will either be in the form of wages which are subject to withholding at the time they are paid out or non-wage income which will be reported on Form 1099. In most cases, legal fees for personal matters are not tax deductible. Prior to 2018, there was an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) exception that allowed the deduction of legal fees associated with estate planning. However, those fees are no longer deductible. IRS Publication clearly states that “legal fees related to producing or collecting taxable income or getting tax advice are not deductible.” Since legal fees for preparing a will are not tax deductible, it is more important than ever to get as good of a rate as possible without compromising quality.

The following are a few tips to help you strike this balance when looking for estate planning services.

Consider Multiple Attorneys

The number one way to find a good attorney at a good rate is to ask the right questions. Start by asking your friends, family, and trusted coworkers if they know any estate planning attorneys that they would recommend. Ask about their experience with that attorney. Check the attorneys’ websites and make a list of a few that you would like to get more information from and reach out to them. During your initial consultation with the attorneys you are considering, ask questions about the attorney’s knowledge, training, experience and prices. Some questions you may want to ask are:
• How many years have you been practicing law?
• Where did you graduate law school?
• About what percentage of your clients are estate planning clients?
• How does the estate planning process work?
• How will you keep me updated during the process?
• How quickly do you generally return calls or emails?
• What are your rates?
• Do you offer flat rate estate planning packages?

If you like a particular attorney but their price is out of your budget, explain your situation and ask for a discount. You may or may not receive one, but it is worth a try.

Consider Using a Legal Service Provider

Historically, there were only two options for preparing a will and other estate planning documents: by using an attorney or doing it yourself. In the past few decades, a new middle ground option has emerged: legal service providers. Legal service providers prepare form documents based on your responses to questions. They are less expensive than using an attorney but produce better documents than doing it yourself. Legal service providers are not attorneys but most use attorneys to create and update their forms. Many also offer an add-on option where you can pay a little more to be able to talk to an attorney about your estate planning documents. This is typically still much less expensive than using an estate planning attorney. Legal service providers are typically best suited for routine estate planning for low or middle income families. If you have a nontraditional family, tax situation, or very high income, an estate planning attorney that can tackle the complex issues is usually a better choice. The bottom line is that while you cannot deduct legal fees from your tax returns, you can take steps to keep your estate planning legal costs low. Estate planning fees were tax-deductible, but are no longer. First, estate planning is the general term that covers arranging one’s assets and property for distribution at death to beneficiaries. It includes the creation of legal documents such as trusts and wills, as well as that of directives such as durable power of attorney and living wills. Estate planning isn’t only for the rich. Without a plan in place, settling affairs after one’s death could have a long-lasting and costly impact on loved ones. Unfortunately, recent tax changes have made it harder, if not impossible, to continue to deduct many estate-planning fees.

IRS Rules Changed

Some estate planning fees were eligible as an itemized deduction under IRS rules for miscellaneous deductions on Schedule A, but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed that at least for now. Until recently, the IRS allowed that legal fees for estate tax planning services could have been tax-deductible if they were incurred for the production or collection of income; the maintenance, conservation, or management of income-producing property, or tax advice or planning. Many provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will sunset at the end of 2025. A political change in Washington before then could also revive some deductions. Those who planned to deduct fees for advice on the construction of such income-generating instruments as an income trust or guidance on the use of property transfer methods, for instance, will generally now be unable to deduct the cost of the fees on their tax return.

Other examples of per-fee services that are no longer deductible include investment advice for trusts held by the estate and trust tax preparation.1 Some fees were not deductible before the tax changes: estate planning relating to the simple transfer of property or guardianship as is common with most wills, for instance, or the use of estate planning instruments such as powers of attorney, living wills, or the writing of trusts to prevent estate assets from having to go to probate. Fees associated with tax planning advice (i.e., minimizing estate or income taxes), tax return preparations, and resolution of tax return audits could be a deduction under IRC Section 212. Thus, estate planning legal expenses or fees could be a tax deduction, but it would be only deductible to the extent it is allocable to tax planning. Furthermore, since many taxpayers do not itemize and since miscellaneous itemized deductions often do not exceed 2% of AGI, many taxpayers will receive no benefit from these deductions. Furthermore, IRC Section 68 phases out itemized deductions for taxpayers with higher incomes (joint returns with AGI above $309,900 and single filers with AGI over $258,250). Total itemized deductions are reduced by 3% by which the AGI exceeds these thresholds.

Common Fees

There are several fees that could be associated with your estate plan, but are those estate planning fees deductible? Most common are the charges paid to attorneys to draft, review and update estate related documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, and other documents. These can be paid as the documents are drafted and other services provided or on a retainer basis for those who seek ongoing services.

Effects of Tax Reform

The tax legislation taking effect in 2018 has affected several aspects of estate planning, including if estate planning is tax deductible. Previously most taxpayers deducted their estate planning fees as an itemized deduction as a “miscellaneous expense.” These deductions (which also included tax preparation fees and unreimbursed employee expenses) have been eliminated in the tax reform for tax years 2018 to 2025. For the tax implication on estates and trusts, consult your own tax and estate planning professionals.

Although this may disappoint some who were hoping to deduct these expenses on their personal income tax return, there are a few reasons why this may not have as great an effect on cost as it may seem. Even when estate planning fees were deductible, it was only for expenses related to the production of income, not for all estate planning fees in general. All miscellaneous expenses were also subject to a floor of 2% of Adjusted Gross Income or “AGI.” This means that to use the deduction, the total amount of miscellaneous expenses would have needed to be more than 2% of your total income after certain adjustments (retirement account contributions, for example) leading to AGI. You would have also needed to have total itemized deductions that exceed the standard deduction, which is why the loss of this deduction may affect even fewer taxpayers than would have otherwise been the case. Although certain deductions have been reduced or eliminated by recent tax legislation, the standard deduction has also been increased. Since a taxpayer can only use the standard deduction or itemize, there are likely fewer people that would have been affected by the loss of this deduction. Although tax reform often has the goal of reducing taxes, simplification of the process is also a common goal. You may not have as many deductions, although your overall rates may lead to lower taxes paid in general. This is similar to what happened in the 1987 tax reform during the Reagan administration. Rates were lowered but certain deductions were eliminated. You could previously deduct not only your mortgage interest but income on consumer loans including credit card debt. That said, the benefits of estate planning could be enormous independent of tax-deductible fees.

Implications to Consider

Many types of estate planning strategies have tax implications. While the estate tax will also affect fewer people under tax reform, there are still monetary advantages to estate planning such as advanced charitable gifting strategies, many of which are tax-advantaged. Avoiding probate is also a significant cost benefit for many.

Speak with Professionals

This may be an appropriate time to state the importance of making sure that you are working with quality professionals and that they are coordinated with one another on related issues. If your insurance agent offers a policy that is tax-advantaged, make sure your tax professional is aware of the implications. Your estate planning attorney, for example, may need to know when new investment accounts are opened or existing accounts transferred to weigh in on how beneficiaries should be listed or if certain accounts should be held in a trust rather than by an individual. Many aspects of your financial life relate to one another. You may have specialists for tax issues, estate planning, insurance, retirement planning, investments and other areas. You may wish to consider working with a financial planner whose objective is, in part, to make sure these areas are coordinated well with one another, taking a big picture approach to your financial situation. Whenever tax season kicks off into gear, many of us look for ways to reduce our tax liability. Some, but not all, attorney fees are eligible for deduction. It depends on the type of legal service you sought. For instance, hiring an attorney for a child custody dispute or a personal injury case are both ineligible expenses. Legal expenses related to a business, such as collecting unpaid debt, are qualifiable.

Examples of Tax Deductible Legal Fees
• Business-related expenses such as seeking advice for a startup business
• Rental property expenses such as fees paid to evict a tenant
• Employment discrimination cases
Examples of Non-Deductible Legal Fees
• Personal injury cases including workers compensation
• Criminal cases
• Estate planning disputes

Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506
Ascent Law LLC
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