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What happens when your unmarried life partner dies without a will?

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What happens when your unmarried life partner dies without a will?

Dear Liz: A close friend recently lost her partner of many decades. The partner left no will or trust or anything in writing. The partner owned many properties and had a huge IRA and lots of money in the bank, but all in the partner’s name alone. My friend asked an estate lawyer and the lawyer said she had no legal right to anything, even the home she has lived in for many years. Can anything be done?

Answer: The lawyer is probably correct. Without estate documents, beneficiary designations or some kind of written agreement, unmarried partners typically can’t inherit, said Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach.

But your friend should consider talking to a family law attorney to see if she has any recourse, Sawday said.

In California, for example, she may be able to make a “Marvin” claim against the estate. (Marvin claims stem from a 1976 California Supreme Court case between Michelle and Lee Marvin, which established that unwed partners could sue each other over property divisions after a relationship ended.)

Tax consequences of annuity conversion

Dear Liz: Several years ago my wife inherited an IRA when her mother died. Her banker suggested rolling the IRA into an annuity with an insurance company. That company is difficult to deal with and not forthcoming about how the annuity is invested. She wants to convert the IRA into a certificate of deposit so it is insured by the FDIC. What are the tax consequences of doing that?

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Answer: There are many different types of annuities. If your wife purchased an immediate annuity, which offers a stream of payments in return for a lump sum, then she probably can’t change her mind since those transactions are effectively irreversible.

If she purchased a deferred annuity, though, she has more options. Deferred annuities allow people to defer the stream of payments until later — often years or even decades in the future. In the meantime, the annuity may pay a fixed rate, a variable rate based on the performance of underlying investments, or an indexed rate based on a market benchmark.

Your wife won’t face taxes if she switches from a deferred annuity to a CD, since changing investments within an IRA isn’t considered a taxable event. The annuity itself may have surrender charges, however. Because annuities often pay advisors substantial commissions, surrender charges help discourage investors from withdrawing the money before insurers can recoup those fees.

These charges and high expenses in general make deferred annuities a poor fit for many investors, and many financial planners especially dislike seeing them in IRAs. A deferred annuity’s primary advantage is tax deferral, which an IRA already offers.

If your wife feels she was misled about this investment, she can make a complaint with her state insurance regulator.

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Social Security survivor benefits

Dear Liz: I’m 70, collecting Social Security since age 62 and still working. My ex-wife passed away a few years ago at 67. We were married for 25 years. I read that I could collect on her Social Security benefits as the survivor, but Social Security said no. What did I not understand about this?

Answer: Many people misunderstand how survivor benefits work. You don’t get the deceased person’s check in addition to your current benefit. If the survivor benefit is larger than what you currently receive, you get that payment instead. When Social Security said no, the agency was confirming that your benefit is larger than what you could receive based on your ex-wife’s earnings history.

Understanding how survivor benefits work is hugely important for currently married couples as well. Many are not prepared for the sharp drop in income that happens when the first spouse dies and the survivor is left with only a single check. Having the higher earner delay Social Security as long as possible can help ensure the survivor has more to live on.

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.

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Still haven't filed your taxes? How to avoid penalties or lost refunds

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Still haven't filed your taxes? How to avoid penalties or lost refunds

After the epic storms deluged California in early 2023, the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board gave most taxpayers in the state until mid-November to file their returns and pay what they owed.

After the epic storms deluged California in early 2024, the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board gave taxpayers in San Diego County until mid-June to file their returns and pay what they owe. For everyone else in the state, Monday remains the filing deadline — at least at the moment.

If you don’t pay at least a goodly chunk of your 2023 taxes by then, you will be penalized automatically, even if you file for an extension by Monday night.

Tax experts say the best course of action is to file your return on time and pay everything you think you owe. The IRS, nonprofit groups and commercial tax-preparation companies offer multiple ways to prepare and file returns for free online.

If you can’t afford your tax bill, you have some choices to make by Monday at 11:59 p.m., when the deadline is due to arrive.

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There is a chance President Biden will approve Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for a major disaster declaration covering Los Angeles, Ventura, Butte, Glenn, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Sutter counties by the end of the day Monday, which could trigger a delay in the tax-filing deadlines. Counting on a last-minute reprieve, however, is a gamble with potentially high stakes, depending on how much you owe in taxes for 2023.

What are the penalties for not filing?

Tax experts say that if the IRS owes you a refund, you won’t face a penalty for not filing your return. Instead, you’ll have a different deadline: If you wait more than three years to file a return for that year, you’ll sacrifice your claim to the money.

If you have taxes due, Andy Phillips, director of H&R Block’s Tax Institute, said it’s important to file your return or file for an extension on time, even if you can’t cover the balance at the moment. That’s because the penalty for not filing can be up to 10 times the penalty for filing but not paying on time.

The IRS will charge you 5% of what you owe every month until you file, with the penalty capped at 25%, Phillips said. But it also charges interest, and there’s no cap on how much interest you’ll owe. Currently, the interest rate is 8%, compounded daily.

The Franchise Tax Board’s penalty is 5% per month, capped at 25%; the state’s tax code makes no mention of interest charges. It also imposes a lower penalty on people who owe no more than $540.

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Both the feds and the state offer hardship exceptions.

Need more time to gather your paperwork? Both the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board offer six-month extensions on the deadline for filing an annual return to anyone who applies.

There is a catch, though: Even with an extension, you’ll still face an underpayment penalty if you don’t pay at least 90% of what you owe by the end of the day Monday, Phillips said. But at least you won’t be hit with the added penalty for not filing.

What are the penalties for not paying?

For the record:

3:59 p.m. April 12, 2024An earlier version of this story said the IRS penalty for unpaid taxes was 5% of the unpaid balance plus 0.5% per month, up to a maximum of 25%, plus interest. That is the Franchise Tax Board’s penalty. The IRS charges 0.5% per month, up to a maximum of 25%, plus interest.

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The IRS charges .5% of the original underpayment per month the balance is not paid, capped at 25%, plus interest. The Franchise Tax Board charges 5% of the underpayment plus .5% per month, capped at 25%, with interest, which is currently 8%.

Phillips said the IRS applies a penalty only if you paid less than 90% of what you owed by the deadline. If you are facing a penalty, he said, you need to consider how that amount (including interest) stacks up against the cost of taking out a loan, using your credit cards or pulling cash out of savings or profitable investments.

One option is to enter a payment plan with the IRS, which will cut the underpayment penalty in half, Phillips said — although you’ll still be paying interest on the amount you owe while you’re chipping away at your balance. As long as you’re compliant with the plan, he said, the IRS won’t go into forced-collection mode.

You can apply for a payment plan with the IRS through the agency’s website.

The Franchise Tax Board also offers installment plans that allow you to pay your tax debt over time, typically three to five years. The plans are available only to taxpayers who owe less than $25,000 and who’ve filed all required returns in the previous five years. Applications are accepted online, by mail or by calling (800) 689-4776.

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The state offers to cancel a late-payment or late-filing penalty for taxpayers who are otherwise in compliance, but a taxpayer can claim this relief only once in their lifetime. In addition, the offer applies only to penalties for tax years 2022 or later.

To apply for a one-time abatement, return a completed form FTB 2918 by mail or call 800-689-4776 and request one.

How does the IRS collect penalties?

Regardless of whether you file a return, the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board will have collected data from employers, banks, mutual funds and other sources about your income and tax payments. And they will use that information to calculate what they believe you owe (or what they owe you). They won’t refund your overpayment automatically — you’ll get that only if you file a return — but they can force you to pay the taxes you’ve underpaid.

Phillips said the IRS typically starts by sending a letter asking you to pay up. If you don’t, it can seize a portion of your wages, your Social Security benefits and your investments. As a last resort, he said, it can put a lien on your house and force its sale.

To avoid going into collection, Phillips said, you might offer to pay a compromise amount — for example, if you can show that you weren’t responsible for the underpayment. The feds accept only a small percentage of the applications for this kind of relief, he said; it’s more likely that the agency will put you into a payment plan or temporarily suspend collection efforts until your income grows. If you find yourself in the latter category, you will face ever-growing interest charges on your unpaid tax debt.

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Consumer advocates warn taxpayers to be cautious about hiring anyone who promises to be able to slash your tax debt, because many of those pitches are from scammers. Phillips agreed, saying, “Make sure you do your homework about who you’re dealing with.”

Who has to file a return?

The feds require anyone who earns more than a certain amount set by the IRS to file a return, even if they don’t owe anything. The amount varies according to filing status and age; for example, for 2023 it was $13,850 for a single filer under 65, or $15,700 for a single filer 65 or older.

The requirement applies regardless of your citizenship status. But if you don’t have a Social Security number — for example, if you’re in the United States on a temporary work visa or you’re here without authorization — you’ll need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

Mandy Irvine, associate director of economic mobility for United Ways of California, said it’s a misconception that an ITIN is a sign that you’re in the country without authorization — ITINs are used by anyone who doesn’t qualify for a Social Security number. In addition, the law bars the IRS from sharing the information it collects from tax returns with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Through myfreetaxes.org, the United Way connects people with IRS-certified volunteers to help them prepare and file their returns. If you need an ITIN, Irvine said, look for a volunteer site that has a certified acceptance agent who can check your passport or other documents to verify your identity. That way, she said, you won’t have to mail them to the IRS.

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Where can I get last-minute help from the IRS?

The following Federal Taxpayer Assistance Centers will be open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.:

  • 300 N. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
  • 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90802
  • 880 Front St., Suite 1247, San Diego, CA 92101
  • 212 Coffee Road Suite 200, Bakersfield, CA 93309
  • 2525 Capitol St., Fresno, CA 93721
  • 1301 Clay St., Oakland, CA 94612
  • 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102
  • 55 S. Market St., Suite 100, San Jose, CA 95113
  • 4330 Watt Ave., Sacramento, CA 95821

The agency stressed that although IRS employees will be on hand to offer in-person help with questions and account issues, they will not prepare your taxes for you. It also suggested that you come equipped with two forms of identification (including a current government-issued photo ID), the Social Security or Taxpayer Identification numbers for everyone in your household, and any notices or mailings the IRS has sent you.

If you have a question about a tax return you’ve already filed, make sure to bring a copy with you.

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L.A. to provide resources to hundreds of 99 Cents Only workers losing their jobs

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L.A. to provide resources to hundreds of 99 Cents Only workers losing their jobs

The city of Los Angeles will provide informational resources to 99 Cents Only workers who are losing their jobs as a result of the discounter’s impending store closures, Mayor Karen Bass announced Friday.

The support will extend to people who work at the company’s more than 30 stores in the city, she said. 99 Cents Only Stores, which operates 371 extreme-discount outlets in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada, announced last week that it was closing all of its locations and winding down its business after 42 years.

“We must do all we can to support Angelenos during this difficult time,” Bass said.

The city did not specify how many workers would be eligible to receive support. In a bankruptcy filing, the City of Commerce-based retailer said it has 10,874 employees.

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L.A.’s Economic and Workforce Development Department has already activated its Rapid Response Team to support the effort, Bass said.

The team, along with the mayor’s Office of Community Engagement, will visit the stores, which are in the process of liquidating, to make information and materials available to employees.

Resources include daily virtual presentations in English and Spanish to help workers make sense of unemployment insurance. The city’s 14 WorkSource Centers are also available to answer questions about being laid off and future employment opportunities.

Bass said the city is also coordinating with Los Angeles County to make the resources available to 99 Cents Only workers throughout the region.

99 Cents Only announced April 4 that it was calling it quits, blaming a series of factors that included the COVID-19 pandemic, escalating theft and crime, competition, increases in operating costs stemming from high inflation and the expense of servicing its debt. The privately held company also cited significant minimum-wage jumps, particularly in California, where 265 of its stores are.

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Going-out-of-business sales began the next day and are expected to end April 19, with prices storewide slashed by up to 30%.

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'Wicked' spectacles, merger gossip and movie industry woes at CinemaCon 2024

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'Wicked' spectacles, merger gossip and movie industry woes at CinemaCon 2024

Movie theaters need more movies. Will they ever get enough to truly thrive again?

That was the central question overhanging CinemaCon 2024, the annual convention bringing together Hollywood studios and multiplex operators in Las Vegas this week.

Exhibitors pleaded with the major studios to release more films of varying budgets on the big screen, while studios made the case that their upcoming slates are robust enough to keep them in business.

Once again, CinemaCon, where studios trot out executives and movie stars to pitch their upcoming blockbusters, arrived at a particularly challenging time for the film industry.

After weathering a devastating pandemic that shut down theaters for months, two of the most essential parts of the Hollywood machine, writers and actors, went on strike. The work stoppages — which lasted a combined six months — prompted the leading entertainment companies to push a number of titles to 2025 from 2024, disrupting the supply chain and sparking widespread anxiety in the exhibition community.

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Box office revenue in the U.S. and Canada is expected to total about $8.5 billion, which is down from $9 billion in 2023 and a far cry from the pre-pandemic yearly tallies that nearly reached $12 billion.

“It’s not enough for us to simply sit back and want more movies,” said Michael O’Leary, president of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, during Tuesday’s state-of-the-industry address at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace. “We must work with distribution to get more movies of all sizes to the marketplace.”

Though a fuller release schedule is expected for 2025, talk of budget cuts, greater industry consolidation and corporate mergers has forced exhibitors to prepare for the possibility of a near future with fewer studios making fewer movies.

In the extravagant banquet and trade show halls of Caesars Palace, theater operators groaned about 2024 being painted as yet another “lost year” for cinema — determined in spite of the grim discourse to remain optimistic.

“All indications are the rest of the year is going to be a lot better,” said David Fetters, vice president of West Mall Theatres in Minnesota and South Dakota. “The product we’re seeing here is looking outstanding.”

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The studios tried to give exhibitors something to hope for during their CinemaCon presentations — hyping their movie lineups, bringing out filmmakers and cast members, pulling silly stunts, and playing sizzle reels, sneak peeks, trailers and, in some cases, entire features for their industry audience.

‘Wicked’ brings down the house

While promoting their 2024-25 programming, the studios pulled out plenty of stops.

Distribution executives at Warner Bros. delivered their opening remarks dressed as Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice; Dwayne Johnson joined a Polynesian dance troupe while introducing Disney’s “Moana 2”; and the head of distribution at Paramount entered the theater in full “Gladiator” armor on a gold chariot.

But Universal’s presentation of “Wicked” — director Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical — took the cake. Convention attendees arrived at their seats to find a surprise in their cup holders: roses that illuminated for a technicolor light show set to an instrumental medley of “Wicked” songs. After the overture, a pre-taped message to all “CinemaConians” from Jeff Goldblum’s imposing Wizard of Oz played onscreen, and Goldblum took the stage in real life.

He was later joined by Michelle Yeoh (Madame Morrible), Jonathan Bailey (Fiyero) producer Marc Platt and Chu, who fought back tears while talking about casting the film’s leading witches. On cue, Glinda and Elphaba themselves — Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo — emerged from the wings to thunderous applause.

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Like Chu, Grande was overcome with emotion and paused briefly to compose herself while delivering her remarks. .

Other pictures teased during the studio presentations included Universal’s “Despicable Me 4,” Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Joker: Folie à Deux,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place: Day One” and “Transformers One,” and Disney’s “Inside Out 2” and “Deadpool & Wolverine.”

Paramount deal looms

Amid the displays of corporate harmony, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the convention center: a potential merger between Paramount Global and David Ellison’s production company, Skydance.

Shares of Paramount Global — home of Paramount Pictures, CBS and several other legacy brands and franchises — took a nosedive Wednesday after news that a group of of the company’s directors are stepping down amid merger discussions.

This would be only the latest Hollywood merger in a string of deals, including Disney’s acquisition of Fox in 2019 and Warner Bros.’ union with Discovery in 2022.

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When asked about the theatrical implications of another studio sale in an already rapidly consolidating industry, National Assn. of Theatre Owners President Michael O’Leary and Motion Picture Assn. Chairman Charles Rivkin largely waved it off.

“There’s always other things that we can do as an industry association to strengthen our industry, and I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” Rivkin said during a CinemaCon news conference.

Rather than avoiding the topic during the studio’s CinemaCon presentation on Thursday, Paramount Pictures chief Brian Robbins handled the situation with humor.

“There’s been a lot of speculation around our parent company around [mergers and acquisitions],” Robbins said before joking that Paramount’s head of domestic distribution, Chris Aronson, “has now thrown his hat into the ring as a bidder.”

“He’s starting a Kickstarter campaign,” Robbins continued as the crowd chuckled.

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Japanese cinema and faith-based content reign

As the domestic film business has been thrown into turmoil in recent years, Japanese cinema and faith-based content have been two of movie theaters’ saving graces.

Industry leaders kicked off CinemaCon on Tuesday by singing the praises of Sony-owned anime distributor Crunchyroll’s hits — including the latest “Demon Slayer” installment.

Mitchel Berger, senior vice president of global commerce at Crunchyroll, said Tuesday that the global anime business generated $14 billion a decade ago and is projected to generate $37 billion next year.

“Anime is red hot right now,” Berger said. “Fans have known about it for years, but now everyone else is catching up and recognizing that it’s a cultural, economic force to be reckoned with.”

Last year, event-cinema company Fathom Events decided to expand its annual Studio Ghibli series, screening “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke” and other Hayao Miyazaki classics for five nights each instead of just one or two. Fathom Events Chief Executive Ray Nutt said that the extended runs allowed those titles to gross 142% more than they had in the past.

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“Anime was one that did very well for us,” Nutt said. “The team is really good at sourcing content and then figuring out where the audiences drive tickets.”

Another type of product buoying the exhibition industry right now is faith-based programming, shepherded in large part by “Sound of Freedom” distributor Angel Studios.

During its presentation on Wednesday, Angel Studios unveiled its lineup of “stories that amplify light,” including an animated feature telling the biblical tale of David and a live-action drama about a German pastor who conspires against the Nazis during World War. II.

“Some of the faith-based things, especially in our part of the country — the Midwest — have had a lot of good traction,” Fetters said.

Nutt added that Fathom Events has also had “huge success” connecting with faith-based audiences by screening content such as episodes of “The Chosen,” a drama series chronicling the life of Jesus Christ. The latest season of the show generated $32 million at the box office, according to Nutt.

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Exhibitors make plea for more movies… and flexible windows

The greatest challenge facing theaters right now is a dearth of theatrical releases, exhibitors say. Theater owners urged studio executives at CinemaCon to put more films in theaters — and not just big-budget tent poles timed for summer movie season and holiday weekends.

“There’s been a bit of a shortage of good content because of the strikes and that sort of thing,” said Mark Shaw, owner of Shaw Theatres in Singapore. “And also, during the pandemic, we lost some of the audience. Trying to get that audience back into theaters is a bit of a challenge.”

“Whenever we have a [blockbuster] film — whether it be ‘Barbie’ or ‘Super Mario’ … records are set,” added Bill Barstow, co-founder of ACX Cinemas in Nebraska. “But we just don’t have enough of them.”

During an industry think-tank panel on Wednesday, Disney distribution executive Cathleen Taff defended the company’s decision to delay certain movies — including the animated film “Elio” and a live-action remake of “Snow White” — to 2025, explaining that at least some of those titles were not finished in time for a 2024 release.

“From a studio perspective … we need to walk in tandem together,” Taff said.

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“We have to pick some good dates and we had to do those shifts. And of course we thought about the theaters, but the reality is we’re not going to release an unfinished film.”

An additional issue affecting owners of independent theaters and smaller chains is studio-imposed three-week minimum runs for major movies. Multiple exhibitors told The Times that these businesses can’t afford to let one movie to take up a screen for three weeks because there simply isn’t enough population where they operate to fill seats for that long.

“If you run it for two weeks, the community has already seen it,” said Colleen Barstow, vice president of ACX Cinemas.

“There is no need to require three-week or longer commitments,” said Chris Johnson, chief executive of Classic Cinemas in Illinois. “If you have a hit, we will hold it.”

The next frontier: ‘alternative content’

One way that exhibitors are trying to fill the void of studio releases is by showing “alternative content” — from reissues of beloved films and screenings of TV shows to musical performances and sporting events.

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The best example of this phenomenon is AMC Theatres’ distribution of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” and Beyonce’s “Renaissance.”

Fathom Events, which has been in the business of alternative content for decades, is going further by attaching live and pre-recorded Q&As to their screenings, as well as handing out collectible merchandise as an extra incentive for audiences.

“You go to go to a regular movie, you buy the ticket, you watch the movie — I don’t mean to demean the movie experience by any stretch of imagination — but that’s pretty much it,” Nutt said. “With us, you are going to … get something special.”

Larger companies such as AMC have been partnering with studios to level up their merchandise game as well. See: the infamous “Dune 2” popcorn bucket, which inspired Disney to promise at CinemaCon to deliver a must-have “Deadpool 3” popcorn bucket.

“There are some studios that inadvertently make crude and rude popcorn buckets,” joked Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige during Disney’s presentation. “And then there are popcorn buckets designed by Deadpool.”

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