Author: SarahJenkins

Where Do Your Debts Go When You Die?

It is no fun discussing death with our loved ones.  But before you take the “ignorance is bliss” route, think about how your debts after death will impact your loved ones.  Ideally, none of your debts pass to your family, but let’s talk about some good ways to ensure that doesn’t happen.  At the very least, we can explain what happens after you pass so you can better prepare for it.

After you have passed your estate typically pays all of your debts.  Should you have enough assets to pay for those debts, your estate Executor is responsible for selling those assets and settling up with your creditors.  Remember your creditors will come before your heirs. 

If your estate does not have the funds to pay off debts, then your debts will typically die with you.

Debts that do not die with you are ones where a loved one acted as a guarantor or co-signer.  Doing this means your loved one will assume the loan if you cannot.  Once you are dead, what can you do about that?

This also applies to married couples that share credit cards or accounts.  If your spouse bought a new boat on your shared credit card, then they passed away, you are still responsible for paying it off.  Even if you had nothing to do with it.   Make sure you are aware of spending habits before you tie your “financial knot.”  Also, be aware that an “authorized user” on a credit card is different than a co-signer.  An authorized user is not required to pay the debts of the deceased cardholder.

A surviving spouse will be able to take over monthly mortgage payments, rather then pay back the full balance to the mortgage company.  If a spouse really wants to remain in their home, he/she can continue to make monthly payments, rather then pay off the entire debt upon her loved ones death.

It is important to talk to your loved ones about your wishes. It may become necessary for the spouse to downsize to a smaller house so they have a more manageable monthly payment or a more manageable size home.

In most cases your 401(k), life insurance policies, IRAs and other brokerage accounts are protected from creditors.  This allows you to list individuals as beneficiaries, and then the money doesn’t go to your estate.  If it did, your estate would use it to pay creditors. Which would mean your beneficiaries get less.

Don’t forget Community Property Laws!  California is a community property state.  These laws require that any debts or assets you’ve incurred after you got married are also the responsibility of your spouse.

Discussing death and your debts after death is not easy, but do yourself and your loved ones a favor by addressing it.  Don’t hesitate to speak with an attorney. Our estate planning attorneys are here to help, call Hornstein Law Offices at 818.887.9401.

Funding Your Trust

In order for a Revocable Trust to work correctly it must be funded.  That means your assets must be put into the name of your trust.   The Trust can only govern what it owns.   By funding your Trust, the Trust governs those assets.  We talk to our clients about the importance of funding their Trust all the time.   Since there are different types of assets, there are different ways to fund them into your trust.  Bank accounts, for example, are funded differently than life insurance.  The rights to royalties or money owed to you are funded in a different manner.  Here are three ways to fund assets into your trust.

Change of Title/Ownership

Changing title or ownership applies to assets such as bank accounts and real property.  These assets are funded into your Trust by changing the owner of the asset from your individual name to the name of the Trust.

Here is an example:

Current name on ABC Bank Checking Account:  John A. Smith

New Title on ABC Bank Checking Account:  John A. Smith as Trustee of the John A. Smith Revocable Trust dated April 1, 2010.

Important Fact:  The date of your Trust is part of the name. 

Assignment of Ownership Rights

These are things such as monies owed to you.   If you loan money to someone and have not been paid back yet, you can assign the debt to your Trust. The same goes for royalties, copyrights and patents.  Even oil and mineral rights are assigned to Trusts.

These are done through an “Assignment of Interest” and require specific language.  Contact your Estate Planning attorney if you need one.  They can draft one with appropriate language depending on your asset.  Different assets will require different language as part of the Assignment. 

Change of Beneficiary

Many people have assets that are beneficiary driven.  Meaning that you can’t change the title, but you can change the beneficiary.  These are assets such as IRAs, 401Ks and Life insurance policies, and many others. 

If you would like to fund these assets into your trust so the money is divided equally, or is used in the manner in which you chose, it is best to name your Trust as the beneficiary. 

It may be best to contact your attorney or Financial advisor to help you change the beneficiary on these accounts/assets.  For many of these you can contact the financial institution that has these assets and ask them for a Change of Beneficiary form and update your beneficiary that way. 

At Hornstein Law we know the value and importance of funding your Trust and we are always available to discuss funding.  Give our office a call, at 818.887.9401, with any questions.  We cannot stress the importance of this enough.

Gender Modifications to an Estate Plan

Depending on when you were born you know Bruce Jenner one of two ways – the Olympian from the 70s, or the underappreciated husband of momager Kris Jenner and father-figure to the Kardashian Klan.  Either way, Bruce is now Caitlyn Jenner, and she is now running of office.  Caitlyn recently released an ad about how she is running for Governor of California.  We thought we would discuss how an estate plan changes when a person goes from being one gender to another. 

Caitlyn Jenner

Here are some things to keep in mind when an estate plan needs gender modification.

First, lets talk about the change in a person’s name.  All estate planning documents were under the Bruce Jenner name.   Although her social security number does not change, Caitlyn will have to file the simple Name Change forms that apply in divorce, marriage or other scenarios, to notify Social Security of her new name.  The Social Security office will in turn notify the IRS.

It is important to note that the Social Security Administration will not revise beneficiary forms on life insurance policies, retirement accounts or anything else.  An advisor or attorney would be the one to help make those changes.

To go along with the name change, all identification will need to be changed – driver’s licenses, passports and any other forms of ID used.

One way to look at this situation is to “bury a client and retire another.”  What we mean by that is it would be smart for Caitlyn’s advisors to recalculate cash flow as though they were burying Bruce Jenner and all his endorsements, appearance fees and any other performance-contingent income – including residual checks for the Kardashian reality show.  Handle it as though Bruce Jenner has passed away and his beneficiary is Caitlyn Jenner.

The liquid assets transfer to Caitlyn, who basically inherits everything except the career.   This includes bank accounts from the Kris Jenner divorce, and the $2.5 million received for giving up stake in the family homestead.  From a planning point-of-view, the old client is dead and the new one is a 65-year-old retired woman.   

People who are deciding to have gender reassignment also have a way to protect themselves during their transition.  There is form called the Certification of Identity.  It states that a person will be known by two different names during this process.   This way Caitlyn does not need to answer to “Bruce” but in an emergency the papers can still be valid across both identities.

Now it is time to update estate planning documents.  There may be several changes necessary, or there may only be a need to change the name on the forms. You never know.  Depending on whether it is an Irrevocable or Revocable Trust will affect what changes need to be made.  A simple amendment may suffice in the case of someone less famous, but due to Caitlyn’s fame and income, changing estate planning documents may become more complex.

Caitlyn may feel strange about using a trust that is under her old name.  If that is the case she may decant (modify) her Trust, or she may revoke her Trust and create a whole new one.

This, like many estate planning issues, can be complicated.  But a knowledgeable attorney can help with all your issues.  For questions about your estate plans give Hornstein Law Offices a call 818.887.9401.

Tax Deductions You Won’t Believe Are Real

Tax season is in full swing and people are looking at their return and wondering about deductions they should include.  This month we are going to talk about tax deductions that are bit unusual but have been successfully deducted.   Some are a bit ridiculous and others are down right hilarious.  During such a stressful time, we wanted to provide some funny anecdotes.  

Free Beer, Anyone?

A service-station owner decided a good promotion for his business would be to offer his customers a free beer with a fill-up.   It is no surprise that gas sales increased considerably.  The Tax Court allowed the owner to deduct the cost of the beer as a business expense.  Looks like alcohol and gasoline do mix! 

Film Making

A lawyer had invested six years making a documentary film on a musical group.   The IRS tried to claim that the long series of annual losses indicated that this film was more of a hobby then a documentary film.  The judge reviewing the case attempted to suggest that documentary filmmaking is not-for-profit by nature.   This suggestion was so disturbing that several well-known filmmakers filed friend-of-court rulings saying that you can make money with documentaries. 

The court eventually ruled in her favor and allowed the deduction of the six-figure losses.  Furthermore it was noted that she acted in a businesslike manner – hiring staff including a bookkeeper, she bought insurance, consulted experts and even changed the story line in order to make the film more marketable, she also blogged about the film and submitted it to film festivals.

Babysitting Charges

According to the Tax Court, fees paid to a babysitter to enable a parent to get out of the house to do volunteer work for a charity are deductible as charitable contributions.

Landscaping Your Home

A sole proprietor who regularly met with clients in his home office was allowed to deduct part of the cost of landscaping the property.  Based on the fact that it was part of the home being used for business.  The Tax Court also allowed a deduction for part of the costs of lawn care and driveway repairs.

 New Pool

After a doctor told a man with emphysema to develop an exercise regimen, the man put a pool in his home.  He swam twice a day and improved his breathing capacity.  He swam in the pool more than anyone in his family.  The Tax Court allowed him to deduct the cost of the pool as a medical expense, because the main purpose of the pool was for medical care.  The cost of heating the pool, pool chemicals and a portion of insurance for the pool were are also treated as medical expenses. 

Tax Deductions You Won’t Believe Are Real

Tax season is in full swing and people are looking at their return and wondering about deductions they should include.  This month we are going to talk about tax deductions that are bit unusual but have been successfully deducted.   Some are a bit ridiculous and others are down right hilarious.  During such a stressful time, we wanted to provide some funny anecdotes.  

Charitable Donation

A woman used her own money to care for feral cats.  She fostered them in her home for a charity that specialized in neutering wild cats.  She spent more than $12,000 paying vet bills, food and other items.  A Tax Court allowed her to claim the charitable deduction, but limited her write-off because she failed to meet the substantiation rules.  This means she failed to get a contemporaneous acknowledgement from the charity each time she spent over $250 on the charity’s behest.  If she had received acknowledgement from the charity she could have deducted all her costs.

Body Builders and The Oil They Use

            A professional body builder used body oil on his muscles to make them glisten during his competitions. Tax Court ruled he could deduct the cost of the oil because it was a business expense.  They would not allow him to deduct foods and vitamins that he used to enhance strength and muscle development.

Paying for Wrongdoing?

An insurance company sued two doctors for insurance fraud.  The doctors admitted liability and agreed to reimburse the insurer for the losses.  The IRS ruled that the repayments are deductible as long as the doctors originally included the money in their incomes the prior year.  They didn’t get off too easy though.  The IRS said the repaid funds are a miscellaneous itemized deduction that’s allowed only to the extent it exceeds 2% of the doctors adjusted gross incomes.

Wreck a Car While You Are Drunk?

A man who drank too much at a party arranged a ride home.  A few hours later, that same man, after giving the drinking a rest thought he would be okay to drive home.  Unfortunately, his vehicle slid off the road and rolled over.  He was arrested for drunk driving; his blood alcohol was just above the legal limit.  His insurer refused to pay for the damage to the car because of the arrest.  But the Tax Court let him deduct the cost of the damage as a casualty loss. Because he said that he had tried to act reasonably.  Had he driven straight home with a higher blood alcohol content and had the accident, they would have rejected his write-off.

Barking Dogs

A self-employed consultant working in her condo sued her neighbors and the Condo HOA, alleging that her work was disrupted by noise from faulty construction and barking dogs.   She attempted to deduct $26,000 in legal fees as business expenses.  The IRS said the legal fees were a personal cost. But the Tax Court approved half the write-off because she used 50% of the condo for business.  The IRS also failed to prove that the noise didn’t adversely affect her business use.

Tax Deductions You Won’t Believe Are Real

Tax season is in full swing and people are looking at their return and wondering about deductions they should include.  This month we are going to talk about tax deductions that are bit unusual but have been successfully deducted.   Some are a bit ridiculous and others are down right hilarious.  During such a stressful time, we wanted to provide some funny anecdotes.  

Drug Lab Burns Down

            A man bought a building that was previously used by a religious sect.  He decided to use the building as a drug lab.  Unfortunately a hot plate ignited his chemicals and a fire burned down the building.  Although the building (which was probably used for cooking meth,) had been used for an illegal activity, he claimed he was entitled to a $9,000 casualty loss.  Even though he acted negligently and was using the building for an illegal drug lab, the Tax Court allowed him to take the write off.

Supporting Your Child’s Career

            A father owned a successful real estate development company and his son was a motocross racer and a local celebrity.  The father decided to sponsor his son’s racing activity and over the course of 2 years his business spent $160,000 in equipment and other costs.  Tax Court allowed the father to deduct almost the entire amount as a business expense.  Since the firm acquired new business, new connections and favorable deals the sponsorship was tax deductible.

Music Professor Plays the Bass

            An accomplished musician and music professor attempted to deduct his travel expenses for jazz rehearsals and performances.  His reasoning was that he needed to keep his skills sharp for performances with other well-known musicians.  The IRS said he could not deduct these costs since performing wasn’t part of his teaching duties.  But a Tax Court allowed the deductions because he used what he learned in the music scene to teach his students.

Lets Buy a Plane

            A couple owned a rental condo about 6 hours away from their home, but instead of driving or taking the only commercial flight available to visit the condo, they bought their own plane.  The Tax Court allowed them to deduct their condo-related trips – including cost of fuel and depreciation for the time the plane was used for business related purposes.

Cat Food

            A couple who owned a junkyard were allowed to write off the cost of cat food.  They would set the food out to attract wild cats.  They needed the cats to get rid of snakes and rats in the junkyard, which made it safer for customers.  Tax Court conceded that the cost of food was deductible.


If you are looking for a professional to help you prepare your taxes, let us give you some suggestions on what to look for. There are hundreds of tax preparers out there, some make grandiose promises of large tax returns and others do not follow the rules set by the IRS. These mistakes could potentially make filing your taxes incredibly difficult and expensive. Let us help you avoid problems.

Hornstein Financial focuses on tax preparation, but we wanted to give you some tips on finding and hiring a tax professional.

It is important to check out tax preparers carefully before hiring one. Do not fall for promises of huge refunds. It really becomes a ‘consumer, beware’ world.

In dealing with tax preparers, here are three tips you should consider:

1. Get a copy of your return. If the preparer then alters the return after you’ve signed off on it, that’s proof that it was a false return that was filed.

2. Make sure the preparer’s name, registration number and address are on the return.

3. Check with the Better Business Bureau or state consumer affairs agency to see if there are any complaints against the preparation firm or preparer.

It may seem like a lot of work at first. But if you get sucked into one of these preparer issues it can take over a year to get it resolved. Also, once you find someone you trust you can use their services every year without worry.

Let Hornstein Financial help. Give our office a call with any questions or concerns 818.887.9401

Your Rights as a Tax Payer Part II

We are still reviewing the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.  Our last newsletter covered your first 5 rights under the IRS Bill of Rights. Now we are finishing with the last 5.

  • The Right to Finality

Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge the IRS’s position as well as the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt. Taxpayers have the right to know when the IRS has finished an audit.

  • The Right to Privacy

Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS inquiry, examination, or enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary, and will respect all due process rights, including search and seizure protections and will prove its case in a due process hearing.

  • The Right to Confidentiality

Taxpayers have the right to expect that any information they provide to the IRS will not be disclosed unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law. Taxpayers have the right to expect appropriate action will be taken against employees, return preparers and others who wrongfully use or disclose taxpayer return information.

  • The Right to Retain Representation

Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.

  • The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

Taxpayers have the right to expect the tax system to consider facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay or ability to provide information in a timely manner. Taxpayers have the right to receive assistance from the Taxpayers Advocate Service if they are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not resolved their tax issues properly and in a timely manner through its normal channels.

The IRS provides the following sources for forms, publications and additional information.  You can also contact Hornstein Financial and speak to Steve Hornstein or Samara Lewinson about your tax questions. 

Your Rights as a Tax Payer Part I

Did you know that as a taxpayer you have a Bill of Rights?  That’s correct.  There is a Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  Now that Tax season has begun here at Hornstein Financial we will be covering this topic in our newsletter.   

The IRS Mission is to provide America’s taxpayers with top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all. 

  • The Right to Be Informed

Taxpayers have a right to know what they need to do in order to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices and correspondence. They have the right to be informed of IRS decisions about their tax accounts and to receive clear explanations of the outcomes.

  • The Right to Quality Service

Taxpayers have a right to receive prompt, courteous and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS.  To be spoken to in a way they can easily understand, to receive clear and easily understandable communications from the IRS, and to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service.

  • The Right to Pay No More Than the Correct Amount of Tax

Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly.

  • The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard

Taxpayers have the right to raise objections and provide additional documentation in response to formal IRS actions or proposed actions, to expect that the IRS will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly, and to receive a response if the IRS does not agree with their position.

  • The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum

Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including many penalties, and have the right to receive a written response regarding the Office of Appeals’ decision. Taxpayers generally have the right to take their cases to court.

The IRS provides the following sources for forms, publications and additional information.  You can also contact Hornstein Financial and speak to Steve Hornstein or Samara Lewinson about your tax questions. 

When Key Tax Documents Will Arrive


Employers must provide employees with a W-2 by Jan. 31.

Businesses that hire independent contractors will have to give them their 1099-MISC by that date.

Retirees should also pay attention to their mailboxes in January. That’s when the Social Security Administration sends beneficiaries an SSA-1099, which will detail what they received during the previous year.

If you blink, you may miss your 1099-R, a document filers get when they’ve taken a distribution from a retirement plan or from an IRA. Expect your brokerage firm to send this out to you by the end of January.

February and March

You may have heard about the triple tax benefits of a health savings account: You can make tax-deductible or pretax contributions to it. Also, your money will grow free of taxes and you can use the cash tax-free for qualified medical expenses.

Further, if you had health insurance coverage last year, whether you bought it through a state or federal marketplace or you had it at work, you’ll get a Form 1095-A, -B or -C by early March.

Mid-February – Owners of taxable investment accounts should be on the lookout around for a slew of 1099s from their brokerage firms.

These forms report dividends and interest of more than $10, as well as capital gains and stock sales.

If you own a home, watch out for Form 1098, which you’ll need to deduct mortgage interest.

You can also deduct tuition and education costs and student loan interest.

Chase these forms down

Investors in partnerships, and recipients of a trust or estate, may have to sit tight all spring while waiting for their Schedule K-1, which reports income, losses and dividends.

These individuals may have to estimate their income and taxes, and then request an extension with the IRS.

Shareholders in S-Corps who need a K-1 to file their taxes can’t get this document until the corporation has completed its return.

You may need to do a little legwork to get other forms. For instance, you’ll need to ask your child care provider for additional documents if you’d like to claim the child and dependent care credit.

Always talk to your tax professional if you are confused or have questions.  Call our office to make an appointment or speak to someone today 818.887.9401.