Annuities are a common tool for investment, financial and estate planning and asset protection.  An annuity is simply a contract between a person and an insurance company in which the person makes a lump sum payment to the insurance company in exchange for regular disbursements of money that start either immediately or at some definite time in the future.    At its core, an annuity is really a form of investment or insurance that entitles the investor to a series of annual payments.

Closely related to annuities are life insurance policies.   Like annuities, life insurance policies are contracts of insurance but, unlike annuities, life insurance is specifically intended to pay death benefits to designated beneficiaries.   The policyholder pays premiums to an insurance company which issues a life insurance policy guaranteeing payment of the purchased death benefit to the named beneficiaries once the insured passes away.

Since I have long represented persons and companies with respect to debt collection and judgment enforcement, I have been asked numerous times through the years whether a judgment creditor, i.e., one who has a monetary judgment in her favor against someone, can collect on that judgment from either an annuity or the cash surrender or proceeds of a life insurance policy purchased by the judgment debtor.  The answer, at least in Florida, is a pretty emphatic “no.”

Florida Statutes Sec. 222.13(1) provides:

(1) Whenever any person residing in the state shall die leaving insurance on his or her life, the said insurance shall inure exclusively to the benefit of the person for whose use and benefit such insurance is designated in the policy, and the proceeds thereof shall be exempt from the claims of creditors of the insured unless the insurance policy or a valid assignment thereof provides otherwise. Notwithstanding the foregoing, whenever the insurance, by designation or otherwise, is payable to the insured or to the insured’s estate or to his or her executors, administrators, or assigns, the insurance proceeds shall become a part of the insured’s estate for all purposes and shall be administered by the personal representative of the estate of the insured in accordance with the probate laws of the state in like manner as other assets of the insured’s.

Similarly, Florida Statutes Sec. 222.14 states

The cash surrender values of life insurance policies issued upon the lives of citizens or residents of the state and the proceeds of annuity contracts issued to citizens or residents of the state, upon whatever form, shall not in any case be liable to attachment, garnishment or legal process in favor of any creditor of the person whose life is so insured or of any creditor of the person who is the beneficiary of such annuity contract, unless the insurance policy or annuity contract was effected for the benefit of such creditor.

The above law is very clear.  Someone holding a judgment that remains outstanding must look to sources other than annuities or the cash surrender or proceeds of life insurance policies—unless the life insurance policy specifically provides otherwise—in order to enforce that judgment.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, 138 S.Ct. 2080 (2018), this past summer reversing its long-standing “physical presence” nexus test under Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), businesses with contacts in New York have not had guidance on New York’s sales tax requirements going forward.

Pre-Wayfair ambiguity existed as to whether New York could enforce the collection of sales tax purely based on “economic nexus” against non-resident businesses despite a statute it already had on its books for 28 years because that statute arguably violated the U.S. Constitution under Quill.  Post-Wayfair, New York has now issued clear guidance that it will start enforcing this existing statute immediately and, based on its reputation of having the most advanced audit programs in the county, New York means business.

As discussed in our prior article analyzing Wayfair, for 25 years Quill had required physical presence by an out-of-state business for a state to impose an obligation to charge and collect sales tax from residents of that state.  In recent decades, pressure began to mount because of perceived unfairness to brick-and-mortar businesses and the proliferation of the online marketplace depriving states of much-needed revenue.  This culminated in several state campaigns to “Kill Quill.”

To challenge the Quill physical presence test in the Supreme Court, South Dakota and other states intentionally passed an “economic nexus” law requiring out-of-state sellers to collect sales tax if they derive revenue over a certain dollar threshold, or conduct a certain number of transactions in the state, without the requirement of having any physical presence in the state.  In South Dakota’s case, it was more than $100,000 of gross revenue derived from the state or more than 200 transactions conducted in the state in the prior or current calendar year.

While some states like New York passed similar laws before the decision in Wayfair, New Jersey did not pass one until after Wayfair was decided.  In fact, New Jersey was the first state post-Wayfair to pass its own statute on November 1, 2018 that exactly mimicked the requirements of the South Dakota statute.  In total, more than half of the U.S. states have now adopted similar economic nexus statutes.

New York enacted an economic nexus statute back in 1990 in Tax Law § 1101(b)(8)(iv) and regulations under NYCRR 20 §526.10(a)(6), requiring a vendor to remit sales tax if it: (a) conducts more than $300,000 of sales of tangible personal property delivered to New York, and (b) conducts more than 100 sales of tangible personal property in the state during the immediately preceding four sales tax quarters.  However, because the Quill constitutional physical presence test conflicted with this economic nexus law, New York sat quietly waiting to enforce it for the past almost 30 years.

Now post-Wayfair, while states like New Jersey passed new economic nexus legislation, practitioners started wondering what will New York do?  Will it enforce its long-standing but dormant economic nexus law, albeit not completely mirroring the thresholds in the South Dakota law expressly blessed by the Supreme Court?  Alternatively, will it, like other states, pass new legislation identical to South Dakota’s?

This week, on January 15, 2019, New York issued Notice N-19-1 and resolved these questions.  The Notice states, “Due to [Wayfair], certain existing provisions in the New York State Tax Law that define a sales tax vendor immediately became effective.”  As a result, it is anticipated that New York will begin to aggressively audit out-of-state businesses, similar to the wide nets cast by Washington and California to pull in substantial revenue from out-of-state sellers.

Note that the economic nexus thresholds supplement the physical nexus requirement that will continue to apply to New York businesses that fall under those thresholds.

It is not clear whether enforcement will be retroactive back to June 21, 2018 (the date of the Wayfair decision), some other date that New York may determine, or only effective as of the date of Notice N-19-1, or January 15, 2019.  There will also be nuances of calculating the amount of receipts and transactions to determine if an out-of-state business falls below or above the thresholds during the 4-quarter look-back period.  For example, is a monthly subscription to the “Book of the Month Club” by a New York resident one transaction or twelve?  The Notice indicated additional guidance will be forthcoming.

What is clear is that any businesses that did not believe they faced sales tax obligations in New York because they did not have physical nexus cannot operate under that illusion anymore.  If an out-of-state business has exposure, it can take preemptive action and seek a limited look-back period and avoid penalties by participating in New York’s voluntary disclosure program.

If you operate a business and are concerned about past or prospective compliance with laws in New York or other states, you should not hesitate to contact a competent tax professional to seek advice on how to best address these issues.

 

On March 31, 2014, broad changes were made to the New York estate and gift tax laws.  In addition to increasing the New York basic exclusion amount for taxable estates, a New York estate tax “cliff” was introduced that phases out the New York basic exclusion amount for taxable estates between 100% and 105% of the exclusion amount.  As a result, taxable estates that exceed 105% of the New York basic exclusion amount will lose the benefits of the exclusion entirely.

In 2019, the New York basic exclusion for taxable estates is $5,740,000 per person.  In addition, as of January 1, 2019, taxable gifts made within three (3) years of death are no longer included in a New York decedent’s estate for estate tax purposes.  The combination “cliff” and elimination of the three-year look back has created a valuable gifting opportunity available to New Yorkers.

Below is a chart indicating various New York taxable estates, the amount of New York State estate tax due, the amount that would ultimately pass to beneficiaries, the total benefit from gifting, and the generated savings (i.e. the amount that would be saved in taxes that exceeds the amount that would be gifted).

New York State Taxable Estate New York State
Estate Tax
Applicable Credit Total Passing to Bene-ficiaries Without Gifting Amount Gifted Total Passing to Bene-ficiaries With Gifting Total Benefit from Gifting Generated Savings
(Savings From Taxes Less Gift)
$5,740,000 $0 $479,600 $5,740,000 $0 $5,740,000 $0 $0
$5,740,100 $219 $479,393 $5,739,881 $100 $5,740,100 $219 $119
$5,750,000 $25,170 $455,630 $5,724,830 $10,000 $5,750,000 $25,170 $15,170
$5,800,000 $146,746 $340,054 $5,653,254 $60,000 $5,800,000 $146,746 $86,746
$5,850,000 $259,774 $233,026 $5,590,226 $110,000 $5,850,000 $259,774 $149,774
$5,900,000 $356,804 $141,996 $5,543,196 $160,000 $5,900,000 $356,804 $196,804
$5,950,000 $434,397 $70,403 $5,515,603 $210,000 $5,950,000 $434,397 $224,397
$6,000,000 $493,493 $17,307 $5,506,507 $260,000 $6,000,000 $493,493 $233,493
$6,001,960 $495,709 $15,326 $5,506,251 $261,960 $6,001,960 $495,709 $233,749
$6,027,000 $514,040 $0 $5,512,960 $287,000 $6,027,000 $514,040 $227,040
$6,100,000 $522,800 $0 $5,577,200 $360,000 $6,100,000 $522,800 $162,800
$6,150,000 $529,200 $0 $5,620,800 $410,000 $6,150,000 $529,200 $119,200
$6,200,000 $535,600 $0 $5,664,400 $460,000 $6,200,000 $535,600 $75,600
$6,250,000 $542,000 $0 $5,708,000 $510,000 $6,250,000 $542,000 $32,000
$6,286,697 $546,697 $0 $5,740,000 $546,697 $6,286,697 $546,697 $0
$6,300,000 $548,400 $0 $5,751,600 $560,000 $6,300,000 $548,400 $0
$6,400,000 $561,200 $0 $5,838,800 $660,000 $6,400,000 $561,200 $0
$6,500,000 $574,000 $0 $5,926,000 $760,000 $6,500,000 $574,000 $0
$6,600,000 $586,800 $0 $6,013,200 $860,000 $6,600,000 $586,800 $0
$6,700,000 $599,600 $0 $6,100,400 $960,000 $6,700,000 $599,600 $0
$6,800,000 $612,400 $0 $6,187,600 $1,060,000 $6,800,000 $612,400 $0
$6,900,000 $625,200 $0 $6,274,800 $1,160,000 $6,900,000 $625,200 $0
$7,000,000 $638,000 $0 $6,362,000 $1,260,000 $7,000,000 $638,000 $0
$7,500,000 $705,200 $0 $6,794,800 $1,760,000 $7,500,000 $705,200 $0
$8,000,000 $773,200 $0 $7,226,800 $2,260,000 $8,000,000 $773,200 $0
$8,500,000 $844,400 $0 $7,655,600 $2,760,000 $8,500,000 $844,400 $0
$9,000,000 $916,400 $0 $8,083,600 $3,260,000 $9,000,000 $916,400 $0
$9,500,000 $991,600 $0 $8,508,400 $3,760,000 $9,500,000 $991,600 $0
$10,000,000 $1,067,600 $0 $8,932,400 $4,260,000 $10,000,000 $1,067,600 $0

As detailed in the above chart, the beneficiaries of a New York decedent in 2019 with a taxable estate of $5,740,100 would actually receive less in assets than if the decedent died with an estate of $5,740,000. If such decedent had gifted $100 the day before he/she died, his/her beneficiaries would have received an additional $119 in assets.  The total benefit in this case would therefore be $219 (which equals the estate tax that would have been due to New York State on his/her death).  These potential savings increase exponentially as the taxable estate increases.  In fact, a New York decedent in 2019 with a $6,001,960 taxable estate could save $495,709 by gifting $261,960 the day before he/she died.  The result is a realization of $233,749 in generated savings.

Lifetime gifting, as described above, not only permanently removes such gifted assets from the donor’s taxable estate without any loss to the ultimate amount inherited by his/her beneficiaries, but also eliminates the future appreciation on such gifted assets from the donor’s taxable estate.  With the 2019 federal estate exemption of $11,400,000 ($22,800,000 for married couples), many New Yorkers could take advantage of this gifting opportunity.

The gifting described above works best when done with cash or cash equivalents.  Using highly appreciated assets for such gifting may offset any gains achieved from such gifting as a result of the loss of a stepped-up cost basis in such assets on the donor’s death.  Individuals should always consult with a tax professional prior to any lifetime gifting to ensure that such gifting would not result in adverse gift or income tax consequences.

Note: On January 15, 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his proposed 2019 Executive Budget which would revise the New York Tax Law to reinstate the three-year look back for taxable gifts made within three (3) years of death in a New York decedent’s estate for estate tax purposes for gifts made before December 31, 2025.

The New Jersey Tax Amnesty Program applies to state tax liabilities for tax returns due on or after February 1, 2009 and prior to September 1, 2017. The program provides incentives for taxpayers who come forward and pay delinquent state tax liabilities during the amnesty period. Taxpayers who take advantage of the program are relieved from half of the otherwise applicable interest and any late payment penalty, late filing penalty, cost of collection, delinquency penalty, or recovery fee is abated. This can result in significant savings.

A taxpayer who has not filed a tax return to report the tax for which he or she is seeking amnesty must file the return by the end of the amnesty period (ie, January 15, 2019). In addition, a taxpayer’s participation in the program represents a waiver of all administrative and judicial rights of appeal concerning the payment, and no payment made under the program is eligible for refund. Taxpayers are still required to pay any civil fraud or criminal penalty arising from an obligation imposed under any state tax law. Taxpayers under criminal investigation or charge for any state tax matter at the time of payment are not eligible for the program.

It is in an eligible taxpayer’s best interest to take advantage of the program. Taxpayers who are eligible but do not take advantage of the program may be charged a post-amnesty penalty of an additional 5% of any eligible amount not paid during the amnesty period. The New Jersey Division of Taxation is not permitted to waive or abate this penalty.

In our experience, the Division of Taxation is invested in meeting revenue goals by the end of the amnesty period, and is more amenable during this period to resolving all types of tax disputes more favorably to taxpayers.

On November 15, the IRS announced the official estate and gift exclusion amounts for 2019 in Revenue Procedure 2018-57.

For an estate of any decedent dying during calendar year 2019, the applicable exclusion is increased from $11.18 million to $11.4 million.  This change increases not only the applicable exclusion amount available at death, but also a taxpayer’s lifetime gift applicable exclusion amount and generation skipping transfer exclusion amount.  This means a husband and wife with proper planning could transfer $22.8 million estate, gift and GST tax free to their children and grandchildren in 2019.   If no new tax law is passed, the increased exclusion amounts are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2025, which would mean a reduction in the exclusion amounts to $5 million plus adjustments for inflation.

The estate, gift and GST tax rate remains the same at 40% and the gift tax annual exclusion remains at $15,000.

The gift tax annual exclusion to a non-citizen spouse has been increased from $152,000 to $155,000.  While gifts between spouses are unlimited if the donee spouse is a United States citizen, there are restrictions when the donee spouse is not a United States citizen.

The New York exclusion amount was changed as of April 1, 2014, and does not match the federal exclusion amount.  In 2018, the New York exclusion amount is $5.25 million.  Beginning in 2019, the exclusion is scheduled to increase to $5.49 million, and then will increase with inflation each year thereafter.  It is important to note that, unlike the Federal exclusion amount, the New York exclusion amount is not portable, meaning if the first spouse to die fails to utilize his or her full exclusion amount, the surviving spouse will not be able to utilize the first spouse to die’s unused exclusion amount.