Supreme Court denies bankruptcy protection for inherited IRAs

Your retirement funds are protected from creditors even if you file for bankruptcy, with only a few limitations. This protection extends to funds in all government-qualified pension plans, including IRAs (traditional and Roth), 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Keoghs, profit sharing, money purchase, and defined benefit plans. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has held, however, that an inherited IRA is not a “retirement fund” and therefore doesn’t qualify for bankruptcy protection.


IRA Retirement


An inherited IRA is a traditional or Roth IRA that a deceased owner has bequeathed to a beneficiary. It differs from a “true” retirement account in three ways:

  1. The beneficiary is not allowed to contribute additional retirement funds to the inherited IRA.
  2. The beneficiary, regardless of age, may withdraw funds from an inherited IRA in any amount and at any time without penalty.
  3. The beneficiary, regardless of age, is required to take annual minimum distributions from any inherited IRA.

Based on the above characteristics, the Court unanimously concluded that with respect to beneficiaries, inherited IRAs are “not funds objectively set aside for one’s retirement” and instead constitute a “pot of money that can be used freely for current consumption.”

Although the Court didn’t specifically address it, there is a possible option available if (and only if) the beneficiary is the spouse of the decedent. Spouses are permitted to roll over funds from inherited IRAs into their own IRAs, which would presumably bring those funds back under bankruptcy protection. The funds would, however, become subject to the rules that apply to non-inherited IRAs, such as penalties for withdrawals before age 59½.

Certain other strategies may be available if you have inherited or are likely to inherit an IRA and you are interested in possible bankruptcy protection. Call us for an appointment to discuss your options.

Consider this before selling your business.

Most entrepreneurs eventually think about selling their businesses, whether as a prelude to retirement or to pursue other activities. In doing so, they often underestimate the effort required for a satisfactory outcome and overestimate the value and salability of their enterprises. If you’re contemplating selling, here are some common mistakes to avoid.

1. Overestimating the value of your business.

Your price should be based on the fair market value of the business in its current form. Buyers won’t care about the work you’ve put into building your business or your unique vision for its future.

2. Failing to account for the nature and make-up of your business.

The values of most businesses proceed from a mixture of variables. If your business includes significant equipment, real estate, intellectual property, or other such assets, their values should be separately established before being factored into the overall price. If you’re selling a service or professional firm, much of its value may depend on the experience and skills of your managers and employees. In such a case, the price may vary according to the expected retention of key individuals.

3. Failing to base your sale price upon independent appraisals.

Even if you think you know the value of your business, you should obtain two or more outside appraisals from professionals familiar with your industry. If the appraisals conflict with your opinion, they’ll provide a much-needed reality check. If they confirm your opinion, they’ll become a useful sales tool.

4. Not hiring a professional business broker to handle the sale.

Owners are often too personally invested (and/or eager to sell) to effectively negotiate sales of their businesses. A broker familiar with your type of business will know what issues are important to buyers and what characteristics to emphasize or de-emphasize, without becoming emotionally involved.

5. Neglecting to work with the buyer to ensure a smooth transition.

Nobody likes being thrust into unfamiliar circumstances without preparation. Notifying your managers, employees, and customers in advance and doing all you can to allay their concerns will serve your own best interests, as well as being the honorable thing to do. Discontent on the part of any of the affected parties could result in conflicts, reduced revenue for the buyer, withheld sale payments, and litigation.

6. Being unwilling to help finance the sale.

If you’re unwilling to take back a note, your sale price is limited to the buyer’s cash and ability to obtain outside financing. At best this could limit the number of potential buyers, and at worst it could limit your sale proceeds. (Conversely, if you finance too much of the sale price, you’ll increase the risk of default.)

Selling your business is too important to attempt without professional help. If you’re considering selling, call us for an appointment to help formulate your plan.

Is technology hurting your business?

Beware of these prevalent fraud schemes.

Cybersecurity breaches, such as recent hack attacks on Target, Neiman Marcus and J.P. Morgan, grab all the headlines. But most businesses are likely to fall victim to smaller-scale technology fraud – most often schemes perpetrated by their own employees. Here are several to look out for.

Phishing
Technology can play a critical role in helping prevent and detect fraud, but it’s also used to perpetrate and disguise wrongdoings. The Web in particular has opened up new virtual avenues for fraudsters.

Consider phishing – one of the oldest types of Internet fraud and still immensely popular. Phishers might e-mail executive, accounting or HR staff, posing as a legitimate entity such as a bank or governmental agency, and encourage recipients to download malicious software (malware). Such malware allows the fraudsters to record keystrokes and uncover passwords. The phisher can then use this information to divert funds from company accounts or steal proprietary data.

Purchasing fraud
Respondents to the most recent Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) survey estimated that the typical organization loses 5% of its annual revenues to employee fraud. In this survey of fraud examiners, the ACFE revealed that the reported schemes committed by workers in the IT department caused a median loss of $50,000.

IT staffers might, for example, accept kickbacks from vendors or submit fraudulent invoices for equipment or software that wasn’t actually obtained. The risk of this type of fraud is especially high when the same person who approves purchase orders and receives shipments also approves invoices. 

Internal control overrides
Employees can also wield technological knowledge to override internal controls intended to prevent fraud.

Organizations that fall prey to tech-related fraud share some common traits. These include poor or nonexistent technology controls (passwords, data validity checks) and lax oversight of technology spending (such as lacking a formal vendor bidding process). Also, many of the employees of such companies have low “technology IQs.”

Detection and prevention

  • Certain behavioral patterns can help you spot and stop such occupational fraud schemes. Red flags should go up if IT staff: 
  • Have been experiencing financial difficulties,
  • Appear to be living beyond their means, 
  • Are reluctant to share responsibilities with other staffers,
  • Don’t take vacation or sick days, or
  • Are evasive when asked for information.

To prevent illicit activities from occurring in the first place, conduct thorough background checks on all prospective IT employees. Also consider offering an anonymous tipline to staffers, customers and vendors. These reporting mechanisms have repeatedly proven to be one of the most effective tools for fighting fraud.

Thief-proof controls
Technology fraud can be costly, so enlist the help of a specialist to ensure that what keeps your business running isn’t being used to harm it. A qualified fraud expert can conduct risk assessments and help design internal controls that even savvy fraudsters will find difficult to override.

© 2014

 

How well do you know your customers?

How well do you know your customers? Which ones are the most profitable? Which ones take most of your time? It’s worth taking the time to find out. If your business is like most, the 80-20 rule applies. That is, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers.

If you can identify that top 20%, you can work hard to make sure this group remains satisfied customers. Sometimes all it takes is an appreciative phone call or a little special attention. Also, by understanding what makes this group profitable, you can work to bring other customers into that category.

Keep in mind that it’s not always profits alone that make a good customer. Other factors, such as frequency of orders, reliability of the business, speed of payment, and joy to deal with are important too. Ask your accounting staff and your sales staff. You’ll soon come up with a list of top customers.

There’s another way in which the 80-20 rule applies to your business. Very likely, 80% of your problems and complaints come from 20% or fewer of your customers. If you identify those problem customers, you can change the way you do business with them to reduce the problems. Consider changing your pricing for those customers so that at least you’re being paid for the extra time and effort they require. Sometimes the only solution is to tell these customers that you no longer wish to do business with them.

The bottom line is that understanding your customers better can only help your business. Contact us if you need help analyzing your customer profitability.

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