Welcome to CPA at Law, helping individuals and small businesses plan for the future and keep what they have.

This is the personal blog of Sterling Olander, a Certified Public Accountant and Utah-licensed attorney. For over seven years, I have assisted clients with estate planning and administration, tax mitigation, tax controversies, small business planning, asset protection, and nonprofit law.

I write about any legal, tax, or technological information that I find interesting or useful in serving my clients. All ideas expressed herein are my own and don't constitute legal or tax advice.

Fundamental Supplemental Needs Trust Planning

Careful planning is necessary for individuals who have heirs with special needs that qualify for means-tested public assistance. At a minimum, such a plan should include a trust that restricts distributions to any special-needs heir. Any distribution that would otherwise pass to such an heir can only be made for the heir's "supplemental needs," or those needs that are not provided by a government assistance program. This trust provision is necessary to prevent a special-needs heir on means-tested public assistance from ceasing to qualify for such assistance due receiving an inheritance.

Assets subject to a supplemental needs trust are not countable resources for purposes of determining the special-needs heir's qualification for means-tested public assistance. Accordingly, the heir can continue benefiting from their public assistance programs while maintaining the beneficial interest in a supplemental-needs trust. The trust is able to provide benefits that the heir is not already receiving from his or her public assistance program. A trust that is funded solely with assets derived from someone other than the special-needs heir is known as a third-party supplemental needs trust. After the termination of the trust, assets remaining in a third-party supplemental needs trust can be passed to other family members.

If proper planning is not undertaken and a special-needs heir does inherit assets, they have two primary options: Spend down all of the inheritance until the heir qualifies once again for the public assistance program(s), or transfer the inheritance into a first-party or self-settled supplemental needs trust. First-party supplemental needs trusts are funded with assets belonging to the individual with special needs. The key downside of a first-party supplemental needs trust is that upon the termination of the trust, the government must be reimbursed from any property remaining in the first-party trust up to the total amount of medical assistance benefits received by the beneficiary during their lifetime. Accordingly, it is much better if all family members from whom a special needs individual could possibly receive an inheritance complete an estate plan that includes supplemental needs planning provisions.

Don't Subject Legal Services to Utah Sales Tax

A proposed bill in Utah, House Bill 441, would "[impose] a state sales and use tax on amounts paid or charged for services," among many other things. In the bill's current form, this would include a tax on legal services. This is not good public policy.

My practice focus on estate planning. I try to ensure that my bill for an estate plan for someone with limited means is as low as possible. While my fees are not inexpensive, they are lower than what most estate planning attorneys in Utah charge, and I provide far greater value than a general practitioner without a focus on estate planning might charge.

Many individuals still try to save money through a "do it yourself" estate plan or by hiring someone who charges less but has limited estate planning experience. I have many clients involved in estate disputes that arise due to an ineffectual estate plan; these disputes cost thousands of dollars and often could have been avoided if a good estate plan had been implemented in the first place.

A sales tax on legal services would increase the cost of those services, thereby leading more individuals to look for cheaper and less effective options. This would result in more estate disputes that would require significantly more in legal fees to resolve (which dispute fees would be subject to sales tax). Of course, the problems described herein apply not just to estate planning services but other legal services sought by vulnerable individuals such as those dealing with divorce, domestic violence, debt collection, personal injury, criminal charges, landlord problems, and bankruptcy. Please tell your legislator that you oppose a state sales tax on amounts charged for legal services.

Introduction to Forming a 501(c)(4)

In a prior post, I introduced how to form a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. This post introduces how to form a 501(c)(4) organization. Such organizations must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, or further the common good of the community. This encompasses a much broader range of permissible activities than those in which charities may engage, but the trade off is that contributions to a 501(c)(4) do not qualify for a charitable deduction as do contributions to charities. Another difference is that a social welfare organization, unlike a charity, can have lobbying, or attempting to influence legislation, as its primary activity; it may not, however, have influencing elections as its primary activity.

The first step in establishing a 501(c)(4) organization is to create a legal entity under state law. While a trust and a limited liability company can be used, it usually makes the most sense to form a nonprofit corporation. After the legal entity is formed, the organization's directors need to appoint officers, adopt bylaws, and apply for an employer identification number. While a 501(c)(4) organization is not required to file an exemption application (historically, such applications were submitted on Form 1024, but they are now submitted on Form 1024-A), it must notify the IRS within 30 days of formation of its intent to operate as a Section 501(c)(4) organization by electronically filing Form 8976.

A few final steps and ongoing requirements are worth noting. Prior to soliciting the public for donations, the organization will need to ensure that it has completed the charitable solicitation registration process that most states require. The organization will also need to file some version of IRS Form 990 each year; small social welfare organizations can file the 990-N postcard version online. Social welfare organizations that collect membership dues must notify anyone who pays a membership due of the amount that is attributable to lobbying and which cannot therefore be taken as a business deduction. Finally, the organization will need to ensure that it keeps its corporate entity in good standing, typically by filing an annual report with the state.