Minimum Distributions Back for 2010

When retirement plans suffered big losses in 2008, Congress enacted a one‑year moratorium, for 2009, on the requirement that retirees over the age of 70‑1/2 withdraw a certain amount from their individual retirement and 401(k) accounts. Since the distributions are subject to taxation, retirees could avoid the taxman in 2009 by not having to take the usual minimum distributions, not to mention avoiding the investment mistake of “buying high and selling low.” Continue reading

No Estate Taxes for POD Beneficiary

Before James died without a will, and with an estate valued at about $12 million, he had designated his teenage goddaughter, Jessica, as the beneficiary on two payable on death (POD) accounts worth almost $4 million at his death. Jessica and her parents were then sued by James’s estate, which was seeking reimbursement for the federal and state estate taxes that were attributable to the POD accounts. Continue reading

Better(?) Disclosure for Mortgage Consumers

The federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) is a consumer protection law for homebuyers that is enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The thrust of the law is to require that loan originators make certain disclosures to borrowers so that they can be more informed consumers, entering into more transparent transactions. HUD recently wrote new regulations requiring that borrowers receive both a standard Good Faith Estimate (GFE) that discloses key loan terms and closing costs and a new “HUD‑1″ settlement statement.

The format of the new GFE is supposed to simplify the process of originating mortgages by consolidating costs into a few major cost categories. The former GFE had a long list of individual charges. The new version includes this list, but also has a summary page containing the key information for comparison shopping by the consumer. Continue reading

Business loans cannot reduce estate taxes

A section of the federal Internal Revenue Code authorizes estate tax deductions for qualifying interests in family‑owned businesses. For the deduction to apply, the value of the interest in the business held by a person at the time of his or her death must exceed 50% of the total value of the person’s adjusted gross estate. This is known as the “50% liquidity test.” Continue reading

Condominium Buyers Cannot Revoke Contract

In 2005, a married couple signed a contract with a builder to purchase a unit in a condominium building that was being developed in a luxury resort community. The contract specified that the condominium would be built within two years, although the contract included a “force majeure” provision that allowed for delays under certain circumstances. The contract also specifically waived the buyers’ right to speculative, punitive, and special damages.

After the housing bubble burst, the buyers had second thoughts about their decision to purchase the condominium unit. Wanting out of the deal, they seized upon the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act, a federal statute that has become, in the words of the court that heard their case, “an increasingly popular means of channeling [a] buyer’s remorse into a legal defense to a breach of contract claim.”

Just three weeks before the condominium was completed—ahead of the two‑year deadline in the contract, in fact—the buyers gave the builder notice that they were terminating the contract because the builder had failed to provide them with a property report as required by the Disclosure Act. They also demanded the return of the substantial deposit they had paid.

The builder refused, and a federal appellate court sided with the builder. The contract between the parties fit within an exemption set out in the Disclosure Act that applies to “the sale or lease of any improved land on which there is a residential, commercial, condominium, or industrial building, or the sale or lease of land under a contract obligating the seller or lessor to erect such a building thereon within a period of two years.”

The buyers could have waited and hoped that the builder did not finish by the deadline, at which point they could have rescinded the contract, demanded their money back with interest, and recovered any actual damages that they had suffered. As for the “force majeure” clause in the contract, it covered unlikely events, such as acts of God and labor strikes. It did not render “illusory” the builder’s contractual duty to complete the condominium within two years.