A Blizzard of Bills

The 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly began officially in mid-January and is now in full swing.  After Assembly’s prompt override of five bills vetoed by the Governor in 2015, we are now expecting a blizzard of new bills.  This year, following the completion in 2015 of the freshman year of many new legislators in Annapolis, we are going to see a huge bump in the number of bills that will be introduced in 2016.  New legislators, as well as the veterans, wish to make their mark on the Maryland Annotated Code.  The deadline for legislators to timely introduce their bills is rapidly approaching. As is true every year, much of the Assembly’s energy will be taken up with considering the Governor’s budget, and this year, our representatives will spend significant time dealing with the Governor’s agenda on taxes – essentially wrangling over which group should receive tax breaks under the Governor’s plan.  Some other expected hot topics will deal with reform of the criminal justice system in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore last year, end of life decisions, and changes in voting eligibility requirements. Advocates in the domestic violence arena will be seeking change in the definition of stalking.  HB 155 and SB 278, bills cross-filed in both the House and Senate, alter the definition of stalking as a course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another where the person intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress.  Under current law, the State must prove that the course of conduct is malicious and...

Giving Can Be a Challenge

As we close the year and prepare for the holidays, all of us are typically bombarded with messages to give, give, give. All of this is worthy, but when you stop to think about it, giving can be really hard. Thinking about the ‘perfect gift’ for a friend or family member can be exhausting. Figuring out which charity or cause to support can be daunting because there are so many people who do good work to improve our community. Fortunately for me, I have had the opportunity as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation of Howard County to learn about philanthropy. As a member of the Foundation’s Grants Committee, I participate in the review and evaluation of multiple applications from various non-profit agencies seeking support from the Foundation. Working with other members of the Grants Committee, we evaluate each proposal in terms of its purpose, budget, and how it fits with the mission of the Foundation: to inspire lifelong giving and to connect people, places and organizations to worthy causes in Howard County. The thorough preparation by the staff of the Foundation has made this task manageable, but the effort to pick and choose among many worthy entities remains considerable. While no final decisions by the Foundation have been made for this year, I am so honored to be a part of this process. Giving can be a challenge.  Happily, the Community Foundation of Howard County simplifies this endeavor. P.S. For most people, I have noticed that chocolate is generally a winner. I hope you receive your perfect gift this holiday...

Gifting: Legal Considerations

It may seem counter-intuitive during the holiday season, but giving gifts to others may generate a tax issue.  The IRS defines a gift as any transfer to an individual where nothing is received in return (the full definition can be found here).  This transfer can be in the form of tangible personal property (stuff), real property (land or a house), or intangible personal property (cash, stocks, and bonds).  Gifts can also be in the form of a charitable donation or a necessary expense. It is important to consider how the federal government assesses these gifts in terms of estate planning. The total amount of a gift from a single individual to a single individual cannot exceed the annual gift tax exclusion for the current calendar year.  For gifting in 2015, and in the upcoming New Year, this exclusion amount is $14,000. This means that a single individual can gift up to $14,000 to one person, without having to pay the federal “gift tax.”   Spouses who choose to give jointly, a “split gift,” may give up to $28,000 to a person during the year without incurring a gift tax. There are no limitations on a donor with regard to the number of people who can receive a gift in a single year.  For example, if a parent has five children and five grandchildren, that parent/grandparent can present each child and grandchild with a gift worth up to $14,000 without having to incur the gift tax.  In this scenario, there are ten individuals who can receive a substantial gift for a hefty total of $140,000 in a single calendar year.  Over...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: The Unexpected Benefits of Divorce

Now that we are truly in the midst of the fall season, we can see that the initial tumult associated with back to school has somewhat subsided.  As children settle into their academic year, most of us see the value of reasonable routines and predictability. Benefits derived from the re-organization of a family while adults, along with their children, are in the midst of separation and divorce appear to be counter-intuitive.  Most people would agree that such a re-organization of the family unit is both painful and disappointing.  Many fear that the impact on children is devastating.  Why would anyone think that divorce is a good thing? I recently read an interesting article written by an adult whose parents divorced when she was a young girl.  The author was careful to emphasize that her parents engaged in a cooperative divorce, but even under these circumstances, the transition in her family required great effort to achieve a new equilibrium.  In commenting about how her parents’ divorce affected her, the author noted on several impacts on her that are rarely addressed in the public discussions about divorce.  It gave me pause and I would like to share her reflections with you. She noted that the first most obvious benefit to her was the cessation of continual conflict in her home.  When her parents separated, she experienced immediate relief from the constant tension in her home even though her parents tried very hard to refrain from arguing in front of her.  As time passed, she also noticed that because her parents were separated, she could better relate to each of them as individuals. ...