American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012

Check back soon for an update on the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012!  The federal estate tax is now $5 million indexed for inflation.

Use these Tips to Avoid FRAUD!


  • Never click on a link inside an e-mail to visit a website.  Instead, type the address into your browser, or even better, Google the company or sender to see what you can find out.  (Did you know that some websites track your exact location by collecting the IP address from your computer?)
  • It’s easy for a business to look legitimate on-line.  Use caution with patronizing new businesses.  Google reviews on-line, but remember, someone at the business in question might be posting positive reviews about that business.  Watch out for a lot of complaints and a few glowing reviews.  The complaints are probably legitimate and the reviews are likely being posted by the company to offset the negative rating on websites like and
  • Keep track of what you order on-line, and follow up if you don’t receive it within the expected time.  The Fair Credit Billing Act gives you 60 days to contest the charge on your credit card if you do not receive the item (or if there are other errors on the bills).   After 60 days, you may be out of luck, so stay on top of it!  For other credit protection laws, see
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card to place orders.  Debit cards, though they bear the Mastercard or Visa logo, are not covered by the Fair Credit Billing Act.  Mastercard and Visa, along with most banks, have a policy of honoring the same rules, but that is policy–not law.   If you don’t have a credit card or prefer not to use a credit card, consider using a service like, which provides protection for purchases made using Pay Pal.
  • Do not e-mail your personal information, including social security number and date of birth.  Only 2% of identity theft occurs through the mail presently; most of it happens on-line!  Report on-line fraud to the FTC at
  • Shred documents which contain personal or confidential information; don’t simply throw them away or recycle them.
  • Keep your packing slips and receipts, and check them against your credit card statement.
  • If you bank on-line or pay your credit card on-line, choose passwords that are difficult or impossible for others to guess, or for hackers to crack.  Use a combination of letters and numbers, and don’t use your pets’ names, or any obvious fact or hobby known to many about you.
  • Watch out for e-mails or contacts pressuring you to act “right away.”  Urgency can often be a warning that the transaction is not legitimate.
  • Watch out for anything that guarantees success.  This is a definite red flag!
  • Watch out for anything which requires an upfront investment–even for a “free” gift.
  • Trust your intuition!  If it doesn’t look or feel right to you, walk away!


  • Your bank will never e-mail or call you for your account number.
  • Don’t wire money to people you don’t know.
  • Be cautious of work-at-home job offers.
  • There are no legitimate jobs that involve reshipping items or financial instruments from your home.
  • Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.  You can’t win no matter what they say.
  • Check your monthly bank statements for charges you don’t recognize.
  • Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus once a year by using

The United States Post Offices has a website dedicated to making people aware of fraud and scams through the mail:

If you receive a suspected fraud through the U.S. Mail, you can report it to: or 1-877-876-2455.  The mailing address is: U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Criminal Investigations Service Center, Attn: Mail Fraud, 222 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the nation’s consumer protection agency, and also works to stop fraud.  To get more information, go to or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Remember the old adage: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Tax Relief Act of 2010

In 2009, federal estate taxes were only assessed if the value of the assets per person was more than $3.5 million. The federal estate tax was repealed entirely in 2010, meaning there would have been no estate tax regardless of the size of the estate in 2010, unless Congress enacted a new federal estate tax law and made it retroactive (yes, the courts have held Congress can make a new tax law retroactive, up to 14 months, where the type of tax wasn’t a suprise!  Estate of Cherne v. United States, 170 F.3d 961 (9th Cir. 1998).) In 2011, the estate tax exemption would have reverted back to $1 million with tax rates up to 55% in 2011 unless Congress changed the law…. which they just did!

Under the Tax Relief Act of 2010, the estate tax rate is set at 35% for two years (through 2012) and the estate tax exemption is $5 million (adjusted for inflation after 2011). For estates of decedents dying in 2010, an election will be available either to be subject to the reinstated estate tax or to be subject to the modified carryover basis rule. The election between the reinstated estate tax and the modified carryover basis rule is made by the estate (i.e., the trustee), not the beneficiaries.

Prenuptial (Premarital) Agreements

California, by default, is a community property state.  “Community” refers to the spousal entity consisting of you and your spouse.  After marriage, each spouse is deemed by law to be working for the benefit of the community and as such, absent an agreement opting out of the default law, each spouse’s wages or salaries become community property. 

Property acquired during marriage, absent an agreement to the contrary, is presumed to be community property.  Property acquired by inheritance, bequest, gift, or owned as separately property prior to marriage remains separate property. 

Caveat: Without a prenup, you must keep careful records and individual separate accounts for separate property.  If, for example, you pay for improvements with community property wages, the community gains an interest in the property, even though you hold title to it as separate property.  Keeping careful records and individual accounts is critical without a prenuptial agreement, and is still good practice even if you have a prenup. 

There are times when a couple planning to get married have individually earned a substantial amount of assets.  Each partner may also have debts and liabilities.  Each person may wish to continue to separately own his or her assets, and may also wish to continue to be solely liable for his or her debts and obligations.  Under these circumstances, it may be advisable to opt out of the community property system with a prenuptial agreement. 

With a prenuptial agreement, you can choose how to hold property by default; that is to say, you can select a different default system than community property.   You can decide that your assets and earnings will remain your own, that you will continue to be responsible for your own debts, and also that you waive any claim to any of your spouse’s property and earnings, and that the spouse will remain liable for his or her own debts. 

A lawyer should prepare your prenuptial agreement, and if you wish to waive spousal support in the event of a divorce, separate lawyers for each you and your prospective spouse are required.  There are other requirements which must be followed in order for a prenuptial agreement to be valid and enforceable. 

Discussion and consideration of whether a prenuptial agreement is the right choice can cause disharmony on occasion.  It is important to consider that it is in your best interest to understand how it works and why it may be helpful to you.  Too often, people get their feelings hurt by the subject.  They don’t realize that their soon-to-be spouse could undertake a risky business venture and they would also be on the hook if it failed, and that the spouse’s creditors might come after their property which they have worked so hard to own. 

Marriage is primarily about love and compatibility.  Respect and trust your partner enough to discuss whether a prenuptial agreement is the best choice.  

Contact the Law Offices of Jennifer Hughes for a quote on a prenuptial agreement.

Calculate your Best Option

A trusted colleague and friend whom I have known for a number of years, Steve Rabin, MBA, CPA, CVA, CITP, has prepared a comprehensive accounting website with calculator programs which will help you determine the best option for you. 

Are you saving enough for retirement or for your children’s college expense?  What kind of car can you best afford to buy?  Is buying or leasing a car a better option for you?   These calculators will assist you in determining the answers to these questions.  There is tax, payroll and business planning calculation available too.

Website Options

I have had a number of compliments regarding both of my websites, as well as interest in their creators. website was created by Deena Mayne of Freebird Media, (619) 794-5178, or you may learn more by visiting

My Literally Speaking website was created by James Willmott of Creative Round, (619) 971-1698 or you can reach him at

Hughes Law Firm Mission Statement


Integrity is the most important philosophy of this law office.  It is integrated in my practice and procedure, and will affect every aspect of your experience here. 

I am committed to offering the best possible service and representation, and to exceeding the standards minimally required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.   

As your attorney, I have the highest duty of confidentiality to you, my client, and your confidences are sacrosanct.  To discuss your estate plan or any other legal matter with any person (including your relatives), I require express written authorization from you. 

I am committed to studying, learning new facets of law, and continuing legal education primarily in estate planning.

I seek to uphold the honorability of the legal profession.  I take very seriously the oath I swore as an attorney to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and to faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counselor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability. 

I strive to give you the best value for your dollar and leave you with a positive experience regarding both attorneys in general and my personal diligence.  If there is any way that I can improve or better meet your expectations, please tell me.  If I have met or exceeded your expectations, please tell others. 

Jennifer L. Hughes, Attorney-at-Law

Financial Planning and Realtors

Resources for your present and future planning:


Amber Phoenix
619 446-5697
Phoenix Wealth Management
402 W. Broadway, Ste. 400, San Diego, CA 92101


Brad Michels, Realtor
619 742-4170
Handles short sales and other real estate transactions

Nancy Clement, Realtor
619 563-4184
Specializes in first time buyers and senior citizens

Tamara Bond, Realtor
619 261-2663

Debra Fares, Realtor
619 252-3324

San Diego Attorneys

Below is a list of trusted colleagues to serve your legal needs outside of estate planning:

Lourna Mariel Marquez-Carrasquillo, Esq.
Immigration Law
Office phone (760) 710-7082

Michele M. Macosky, Esq.
Employment Law
(858) 755-6632
North San Diego County

Cheryl L. Stengel, Esq.
Bankruptcy Attorney
(619) 233-1727
Law Office of Michael O’Halloran
1010 2nd Ave #1727, San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego Memorial Society

The San Diego Memorial Society is a non-profit organization which provides reduced-cost options for immediate burial or cremation for a $40 lifetime fee.  You can find more information at or by telephoning Paul Ward at (858) 874-7921. 


This information is provided as a potential resource only.  Jennifer Hughes is in no way affiliated with San Diego Memorial Society.  

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