Today is Data Privacy Day!

January 28 is Data Privacy Day. Millions of people are unaware of and uninformed about how their personal information is being used, collected or shared in our digital society.

Data Privacy Day is an international effort to inspire dialogue, and to empower individuals and businesses to respect privacy, safeguard data and enable trust.  It began in 2008 in the US and Canada  and commemorates the signing of Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection.

Most of know someone who has had their identity stolen and how much time and money were involved in resolving the problems it caused. But are you aware that many online sites share your information with other sites, retailers, and more? Have you noticed how many targeted ads you received after visiting certain sites? Your information has been shared by another site.

At Fortis, we are constantly on alert for signals that our clients are being targeted for financial scams. We follow strict procedures to make sure that suspicious emails or phone calls regarding requests for funds, transfers, and other account transactions or changes are genuine. The scammers already have some bit of information that may have been obtained without the client’s permission – a Social Security Number or account number, for example. Do you know what policies your financial service providers and advisors have in place to protect your personal information? Do you do your part by following these tips?

Start by updating your privacy settings on individual sites by going to staysafeonline.org, which is sponsored by the National Cyber Security Alliance.

Other basic tips include keeping your software on all your devices up to date, using strong and unique passwords and double authentication, avoiding public wi-fi, and backing up your data and keeping it in a safe place. 

We have discussed the importance of cybersecurity in the past, but we cannot emphasize enough how vigilant you need to be. We highly encourage you to take the few minutes needed to protect your personal and financial information, not only on January 28, but every day.

Making the Most of Giving Tuesday

November 27, 2019
From Jennifer Fields CPA
Fortis Family Office Tax Team

Making the Most of Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday was created to encourage charitable donations and giving. Started in 2012, Giving Tuesday takes place on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday and end-of-year giving season. This year it falls on December 3.

Charitable giving may be tax deductible for individuals and businesses, another benefit to giving back to the community. Here is some helpful information about making charitable donations, whether you’re donating on Giving Tuesday or at any other time of the year.

First, Make sure it’s an IRS-qualified charitable organization. Qualifying charitable organizations are nonprofit, generally with a 501(c)(3) filing status. These include religious, charitable, educational, literary, or scientific purpose groups or groups dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals or children, and others. If you’re unsure if your charity is a qualified nonprofit, check the database on the IRS website.

Make sure to get a receipt or other written record for cash, checks, or other monetary gifts. For monetary contributions over $250, you need this record and information about anything you received in exchange for the contribution.

Don’t forget that donations other than cash can also be tax-deductible. These include vehicles, property, stock, clothing, and household items. The amount you can deduct is determined by their fair market value. If you are donating your time, you can deduct any out-of-pocket expenses you incur as you’re volunteering. For businesses, event sponsorships and inventory or service donations count too.

There are limits to the amount that qualify for a charitable tax deduction, depending on the type of charity. With some you can give 60 percent or less of your adjusted gross income. There may be a limit to how much you can donate if your income is more than a certain amount. To see the specific limitations to tax-deductible contributions, see IRS Publication 526.

Finally, remember to claim the deduction on your taxes. In order to deduct a charitable donation, you must file Form 1040 and itemize your contributions on Schedule A of Form 1040. For donations of items valued at more than $500, taxpayers must complete section B of tax form 8283 and may need to have the items appraised by a qualified appraiser to determine their value.

For more information on how to correctly deduct charitable contributions, see IRS Publication 526.

October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month! Week 5

Your Estate Plan and your Digital Assets

by Terri McDermott

Many of us have elected to receive to receive electronic statements, set up auto payments or online bill payment. What happens with these accounts when you die or become incapacitated? Without physical evidence of your bills or statements for your accounts, how will your executor, trustee or family members be able to manage your bills or finances when the time comes? How will they know about bills due or money owed if they are unable to access your email or online accounts?

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram and other social media sites are increasingly used by all of us. These providers have our online profiles with personal information, pictures and contacts. How are these accounts or digital assets handled upon your death or incapacity?

Cryptocurrency ownership adds another layer of complication and is not addressed in this article.

Your estate plan should be designed to make the administration process as easy as possible for your loved ones. This includes making it convenient to manage your assets upon your incapacity or death and avoiding the need to sort through your paperwork to collect assets and pay your bills. Without specific provisions in your estate plan and careful planning, access to this critical information can become difficult for your family or loved ones.

Why not keep a list account credentials, “just in case”? Even if your fiduciary or designated person(s) has the information to access to the accounts doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the legal authority to do so, especially when a website’s Terms of Service do not permit a transfer of ownership. In fact, heirs could potentially be found guilty of “hacking” by trying to access a loved one’s online accounts after he/she is gone.

Federal law regulating access to digital property does not yet exist. To address the situation, the Uniform Law Commission created the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) in 2015, which received widespread support and in just a few years has been adopted by more than 40 states.

RUFADAA provides instructions for how a person’s digital assets are to be treated should a designated representative seek access.  This may include not only executors after death, but trustees, court-appointed guardians, and attorneys-in-fact. The starting point is that online service providers can create an “online tool” that functions as a form of “digital power of attorney” to specify who has control and access for that specific site. RUFADAA helps to provide a clear legal framework for digital asset rights to be specified in traditional legal documents (e.g., Wills and powers of attorney). It clarifies that it’s only in the absence of an online tool, or any legal documents, that finally the service provider’s own Terms of Service will control.

In today’s digital world, most of our financial transactions and communications occur online. Digital photographs, websites and Internet profiles are now the norm for many of us. You can do almost anything online, and many people choose to do so. These accounts have limited access with protected passwords, which can create problems when the account holder dies because no one has access to their passwords. Planning now can save a lot of heartache later.

If you live in a state that is not covered by any protective laws, those accounts or assets are governed by the terms of the service agreement when the account was opened. Under these agreements, family members would need confidential identification information and passwords. Consider the following steps:

1. Inventory Your Accounts

Document an inventory of the accounts including login IDs and passwords. That information should be maintained in a secure location.

2. Create an Online Vault

This would be a place to keep passwords, identification or logins and other sensitive information. Available options include Keeper, Last Pass, and others. Your representative should have access to the vault password.

3. Establish a Detailed Digital Asset Plan

This plan would have a clear, specific statement of intent about who would gain access to what information. This statement of intent should address all accounts, past, present and future.

4. Carefully Select Your Trustee, Executor or Representative

When making your decision, consider the private and confidential information that will be accessible. Oftentimes, the information embedded in the digital assets is highly personal and confidential.

The popularity of digital assets is a part of our lives and they probably won’t go away. For your family, heirs, and designated representatives, please take the proper estate planning precautions.

October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month! Week 4

Best Practices for Device Applications

by Dan Donnelly

Recently, there was a new, at least for me, phishing attempt through my cell phone. It started like it has hundreds of times before for most of us with someone from an unidentified number trying to call me. However, this “person” didn’t leave a voice mail or hang up, but instead proceeded to leave a text. The text said something about selling your property and cited a specific address, but the person being addressed in the text wasn’t me. My cybersecurity instincts kicked in and I deleted the text and blocked the caller. Even if the caller’s intent wasn’t malicious, it’s better to be vigilant than to have a security breach that could be difficult to fix.

According to Statista, mobile phone users have surpassed the 5 billion mark. Cybercriminals are constantly on the lookout for mobile users who are vulnerable to hacking attacks. There is a certain dichotomy in our mobile devices in that they make our lives easier and can make us more productive while there is always a looming threat of a crippling cyberattack that can alter our lives. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to help mitigate the threat.

Here are 10 best practices for mobile security.

1. User Authentication

Restricting access to the device by requiring user authentication. Most mobile devices can be locked with a screen lockpassword or personal identification number (PIN), but these measures are typically turned off by default.

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October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month! Week 3

We came across this great article from Wired, which always has some really good information on Cyber-security and staying safe on the internet. Public Wifi is something we get a lot of questions about – how do we make sure our Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is secure on public wifi? Read below to make sure you’re protected…

Simple Steps to Protect Yourself on Public Wi-Fi

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October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month! Week 2

Is your Small Business Safe from Cybercrime?

by Terri McDermott

The Internet allows businesses of all sizes and from any location to reach new and larger markets and provides opportunities to work more efficiently by using computer-based tools. Whether you are thinking of adopting cloud computing or just using email and maintaining a website for your business, cybersecurity should be a part of the plan. Theft of digital information has become the most commonly reported fraud, surpassing physical theft. Every business that uses the Internet is responsible for creating a culture of security that will enhance business and consumer confidence.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released an updated Cybersecurity Tip Sheet. Here are some of those tips:

1. Train employees in security principles

Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords, and establish appropriate Internet use guidelines that detail penalties for violating company cybersecurity policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.

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October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month!

Staying Safe on Social Media

2019 – Week 1

Maintaining anonymity in an information society

By Christina Belfiglio

Have you ever wondered how one might “steal” someone’s identity or hack into their accounts?  There are many ways cyber criminals can do this – purchase data on the dark web, scams that get you to share data, pulling information from old devices (computers, phones, USB drives), and sometimes, you just willingly hand out the information.  Sound crazy?  Have you ever filled out a survey on your social media account?

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Considering Moving to Another State?

May 31, 2019 / by Fortis Family Office Tax Team

Establishing State of Domicile for Tax Purposes

Wealthy taxpayers have long assumed that spending a minimum of 183 days, or six months plus one day, in a residence outside a high-tax state would be sufficient to avoid taxes in that state. But advisers note that this long-held belief is not a sophisticated approach. ¹

 Keeping track of where you were, will not be enough for most taxpayers. 

When scrutinized by state authorities, courts look at the totality of circumstance and not just technical check the box type requirements for establishing residency for tax purposes. ²

State authorities will most likely investigate the following circumstances:
  • Where you maintain a driver’s license and vehicle registration.
  • Where you are registered to vote.
  • Where you conduct business.
  • Where your employer resides.
  • The state where you maintain professional licenses.
  • The state where you keep your “near and dear” items (Teddy Bear Test; where you leave your teddy bear, is home). ³
  • The address for insurance, deeds, mortgages, leases, passport, banking statements, utility bills, federal and local tax returns.
  • Receipts for everyday expenses.
  • Active bank accounts/banking relationships.
  • Where your children are enrolled in school.
  • Where you house your pets.
  • Your doctors and lawyers.
  • The state of where you spend the greatest amount of time.
  • The property you own (second homes/vacation homes).
  • Where you declare residency for hunting or fishing licenses.
  • Your memberships to organizations.
  • Where you have social gatherings.
Conclusion

Keep records of your move and consider the factors state authorities look for to challenge state of domicile.  You should consult with a tax professional or adviser for help on how to obtain proof of residency.


¹ NYTimes.com: The Teddy Bear Test, and Other Ways to Pass a State Tax Audit

² “I want to establish Florida residency and avoid state income tax”. not so fast!

³ LATimes.com:The Teddy Bear Test and Other Challenges…

Additional Sources:
Moved to a New State? Be Prepared for a Residency Audit
So You Think You Are A Florida Resident?

Employee or Independent Contractor…Do You Know the Difference?

May 8, 2019 / by Fortis Family Office Tax Team

Before you can determine how to treat payments you make for services, you must first know the business relationship that exists between you and the person performing the services. The person performing the services may be ¹

How You Pay a Worker Determines How a Worker Pays Taxes

An employee can be paid hourly or salary with bonuses/paid commission.  Employees are taxed on their income and you are required to withhold federal and state income taxes (depending on their state income tax laws) and FICA taxes.

If you are paying an independent contractor, you are not required to withhold federal or state income taxes or FICA taxes. The independent contractor must pay his or her own income taxes (called self-employment taxes), along with income tax on earnings. ³

Also, most employees receive an annual Form W-2 and an independent contractor Form 1099-MISC, which are important when filing income taxes.

How the IRS Determines a Workers Status

If you are unsure how to determine a workers status, consider the three categories the IRS set up as a guideline for employers.  The three categories are –

Behavioral Control – a worker is an employee when the business has the right to direct and control the work performed by the worker. The behavioral control factors fall into the categories of ²

  • type of instructions given
  • degree of instruction
  • evaluation systems
  • training

Financial Control – refers to facts that show whether or not the business has the right to control the economic aspects of the worker’s job.  The financial control factors fall into the categories of ²

  • significant investment
  • unreimbursed expenses
  • opportunity for profit or loss
  • services available to the market
  • method of payment

Relationship – the type of relationship depends upon how the worker and business perceive their interaction with one another, such as, written contracts, benefits, services provided and the permanency of the relationship. ²

Conclusion

To avoid misclassifying a worker you can exercise due diligence.  It is important to know the difference of each workers status and to know how to properly withhold taxes.


¹ https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/independent-contractor-self-employed-or-employee

²https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/understanding-employee-vs-contractor-designation

³https://www.thebalancesmb.com/independent-contractor-or-employee-what-s-the-difference-397912

How Do You Distinguish Between a Business and a Hobby?

May 6, 2019 / by Fortis Family Office Tax Team

As you might expect, the IRS distinguishes between legitimate businesses and hobby activities, for the purpose of taxes. If you are legitimately in business, you can deduct the expenses of that business and possibly take a loss if your business isn’t profitable. If you are engaging in a hobby, you cannot deduct expenses to get a loss to offset other income. The IRS calls this the “hobby loss” rule. ¹

Per the IRS, you should consider these factors ²

  • Whether you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner and maintain complete and accurate books and records.
  • Whether the time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable.
  • Whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood.
  • Whether your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the startup phase of your type of business).
  • Whether you change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability.
  • Whether you or your advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business.
  • Whether you were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past.
  • Whether the activity makes a profit in some years and how much profit it makes.
  • Whether you can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

It is best practice to follow the IRS guidelines so you can better understand what is considered to be a legitimate business vs a hobby. Keeping track of your business income and expenses throughout the year will help you determine the factors listed above.


¹ https://www.thebalancesmb.com/is-this-business-for-real-or-is-it-a-hobby-397675

² https://www.irs.gov/faqs/small-business-self-employed-other-business/income-expenses/income-expenses