federal estate tax

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Helping clients plan for their family's future, by creating an efficient, thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan that preserves their legacy and gives them peace of mind.

Separate or Joint Trusts?

The decision about separate or joint trusts is not as straightforward as you might think. Sometimes, there is an obvious need to keep things separate, according to the recent article “Joint Trusts or Separate Trusts: Advice for Married Couples” from Kiplinger. However, it is not always the case.

A revocable living trust is a popular way to pass assets to heirs. Assets titled in a revocable living trust don’t go through probate and information about the trust remains private. It is also a good way to plan for incapacity, avoid or reduce the likelihood of a death tax and make sure the right people inherit the trust.

There are advantages to Separate Trusts:

They offer better protection from creditors. When the first spouse dies, the deceased spouse’s trust becomes irrevocable, which makes it far more difficult for creditors to access, while the surviving spouse can still access funds.

If assets are going to non-spouse heirs, separate is better. If one spouse has children from a previous marriage and wants to provide for their spouse and their children, a qualified terminable interest property trust allows assets to be left for the surviving spouse, while the balance of funds are held in trust until the surviving spouse’s death. Then the funds are paid to the children from the previous marriage.

Reducing or eliminating the death tax with separate trusts. Unless the couple has an estate valued at more than $23.16 million in 2020 (or $23.4 million in 2021), they won’t have to worry about federal estate taxes. However, there are still a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, with state estate taxes and half-dozen states with inheritance taxes. These estate tax exemptions are considerably lower than the federal exemption, and heirs could get stuck with the bill. Separate trusts as part of a credit shelter trust would let the couple double their estate tax exemption.

When is a Joint Trust Better?

If there are no creditor issues, both spouses want all assets to go to the surviving spouse and state estate tax (Florida has no state estate tax) and/or inheritance taxes aren’t an issue, then a joint trust could work better because:

Joint trusts are easier to fund and maintain. There is no worrying about having to equalize the trusts, or consider which one should be funded first, etc.

There is less work at tax time. The joint trust doesn’t become irrevocable, until both spouses have passed. Therefore, there is no need to file an extra trust tax return. With separate trusts, when the first spouse dies, their trust becomes irrevocable and a separate tax return must be filed every year.

Joint trusts are not subject to higher trust tax brackets, because they do not become irrevocable until the first spouse dies. However, any investment or interest income generated in an account titled in a deceased spouse’s trust, now irrevocable, will be subject to trust tax brackets. This will trigger higher taxes for the surviving spouse, if the income is not withdrawn by December 31 of each year.

In a joint trust, after the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse has complete control of the assets. When separate trusts are used, the deceased spouses’ trust becomes irrevocable and the surviving spouse has limited control over assets.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you determine which is best for your situation. This is a complex topic, and this is just a brief introduction.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 20, 2020) “Joint Trusts or Separate Trusts: Advice for Married Couples”

 

Estate Tax Exemption for 2021?

The amount of the federal estate tax exemption is adjusted annually for inflation. Yahoo Sports’ recent article “Estate Tax Exemption Amount Goes Up for 2021” says that when you die your estate isn’t usually subject to the federal estate tax, if the value of your estate is less than the exemption amount. The 2021 exemption amount will be $11.7 million (up from $11.58 million for 2020). It is twice that amount for a married couple.

Just a small percentage of Americans die with an estate worth $11.7 million or more. However, for estates that do, the federal tax bill is can be taxed at a 40% rate. As the table below shows, the first $1 million is taxed at lower rates – from 18% to 39%. That results in a total tax of $345,800 on the first $1 million, which is $54,200 less than what the tax would be if the entire estate were taxed at the top rate. However, when you are beyond the first $1 million, everything else is taxed at the 40% rate.

Rate | Taxable Amount (Value of Estate Exceeding Exemption)

18% | $0 to $10,000

20% | $10,001 to $20,000

22% | $20,001 to $40,000

24% | $40,001 to $60,000

26% | $60,001 to $80,000

28% | $80,001 to $100,000

30% | $100,001 to $150,000

32% | $150,001 to $250,000

34% | $250,001 to $500,000

37% | $500,001 to $750,000

39% | $750,001 to $1 million

40% | Over $1 million

Note that the 2018 increase is temporary. The base exemption amount is set to drop back down to $5 million (adjusted for inflation) in 2026. There’s also a chance if Joe Biden is president, the federal estate tax exemption might go back down sooner. This is because he has called for a reduction of the exemption amount to pre-2018 levels.

Don’t Forget State Estate Taxes. While an estate isn’t subject to federal estate tax, the estate might be subject to a state estate tax. In fact, 12 states and DC impose their own estate tax. The state exemption amounts are also often much lower than the federal estate tax exemption. Six states also levy an inheritance tax, which is paid by the heirs. Maryland has both an estate tax and an inheritance tax.  Florida does not have an estate tax nor an inheritance tax.  Let us help you plan your estate.

Reference: Yahoo Sports (Oct. 27, 2020) “Estate Tax Exemption Amount Goes Up for 2021”

 

Estate Planning in a Pandemic

What is unique about estate planning in a pandemic?  The fear of the unknown and a sense of loss of control is sending many people to estate planning attorney’s offices to have wills, advance directives and other documents prepared, reports the article “Legal lessons from a pandemic: What you can plan for” from The Press-Enterprise.

However, people are not just planning because they are worried about becoming incapacitated or dying because of COVID. High net-worth people are also planning because they are concerned about the changes the election may bring, changes to what are now historically advantageous estate tax laws and planning to take advantage of tax laws, as they stand pre-December 31, 2020.

Regardless of your income or assets, it is always good to take control of your future and protect yourself and your family, by having an up-to-date estate plan in place. Anyone who is over age 18 needs the following:

  • Health Care Directive
  • Power of Attorney
  • HIPPA Release Form
  • Last Will and Testament

Any assets without beneficiary designations should be considered for a trust, depending upon your overall estate. Trusts can be used to take assets out of a taxable estate, establish control over how the assets are distributed and to avoid probate. You don’t have to be wealthy to benefit from the use of trusts.

Preparing estate planning documents in a last-minute rush, is always a terrible idea.  Especially estate planning in a pandemic.

If you have more free time during the pandemic, consider using some of your free time to have your estate plan implemented or updated. This should be a top priority. The state of the world right now has all of us thinking more about our mortality, our values and the legacy we want to leave behind. Most estate planning attorneys encourage clients to think about the next three to five years. What would be important to you, if something were to happen in that time frame?

Estate planning is about more than distributing assets upon death. It addresses incapacity—what would happen if you became too ill or injured to care for yourself? Who would make medical decisions for you, such as what kind of medical care would you want, who will your doctors be and where will you live in the short-term and long-term? Incapacity planning is a big part of an estate plan.

When naming people to care for you in the event of incapacity, provide your estate planning attorney with three names, in case your first or second choices are not able to act on your behalf. Most people name their spouse, but what if you were both in an accident and could not help each other?

In recent months, Advance Health Care Directives have received a lot of attention, but they are not just about ventilator use and intubation. An Advance Health Care Directive is used to state your preferences concerning life-sustaining treatment, pain relief and organ donation. The agent named in your health care directive is also the person who will carry out post-death wishes, so provide as many details as you can about your wishes for cremation, burial, religious services, etc.

Trusts are a way to preserve a family legacy. A living trust gives you the ability to decide who you want involved, in case of your death or incapacity. You decide on your beneficiaries, and if you want your assets going directly to those beneficiaries or if they should be held in trust until certain goals are met, like finishing college or reaching a certain age or life milestone.

You can see that estate planning in a pandemic is not much different than during normal times.  The need is always there.

Your estate planning attorney will help you clarify family legacy goals, whether they include a beneficiary with special needs, a supplement for children who go into public service careers, etc.  Let us help you with your planning.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (Oct. 18, 2020) “Legal lessons from a pandemic: What you can plan for”

 

Federal Estate Tax Issues

Federal estate tax issues are back.  In 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) doubled the lifetime gift, estate and generation-skipping tax exemption to $11.18 million from $5.6 million. With adjustments for inflation, that exemption in 2020 is $11.58 million, the highest it’s ever been, reports the article “Federal Estate Tax Exemption Is Set to Expire—Are You Prepared?” from Kiplinger. However, this won’t last forever.

There’s a limited time to this historically high exemption. The window for planning may be closing soon. The high amount is set to sunset at the end of 2025, but the impact of a global pandemic and the result of the presidential election will likely accelerate the rollback.

As of this writing, many states, including Florida, have already eliminated their state estate taxes, although 17 states and the District of Columbia still have them. The estate planning environment has changed greatly over the last decade. However, for families with large assets, and for those whose assets may reach Biden’s proposed and far lower estate tax exemption, the time to plan is now.

Gifting Assets Now to Reduce Estate Taxes. The IRS has stated that there will be no claw back on lifetime gifts, so any gifts made under the current exemption will not be subject to estate taxes in the future, even if the exemption is reduced.

Keep in mind that when gifting assets, to make a gift complete for tax purposes, you must relinquish ownership, control and use of the assets. If that is a concern, married couples can use the Spousal Lifetime Access Trust or SLAT option: an irrevocable trust created by one spouse for the benefit of the other. Just be mindful when funding irrevocable trusts of gifting any low cost-basis assets. If the trust holds assets that appreciate while in the trust for extended periods of time, beneficiaries could be hit with tax burdens.

Take Advantage of Lower Valuations and Low Interest Rates. The value of many securities and businesses have been impacted by the pandemic, which could make this a good time to consider gifting or transferring assets out of your estate. Lower valuations allow a greater portion of assets to be transferred out of the estate, thereby reducing the size of the estate.

With interest rates at historical lows, intra-family loans may be an effective wealth-transfer strategy, letting family members make loans to each other without triggering gift taxes. Intra-family loans use the IRS’ Applicable Federal Rate–now at a record low of between 0.14%-1.12%, depending upon the length of the loan. These loans work best when borrowed funds are invested and the rate of return earned on the invested loan proceeds exceeds the loan interest rate.

Avoid Last-Minute Rush by Starting Now. This type of estate planning takes time. The more time you have to plan with your estate planning attorney, the less likely you are to run into challenges and hurdles that can waste valuable time. When estate tax laws change, estate planning attorneys get busy. Creating a thoughtful plan now may also help prevent mistakes, including triggering the reciprocal trust doctrine or the step transaction doctrine. Planning for asset protection and distribution allows families to control how assets are distributed for many generations and to create a lasting legacy.  Let us help you.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 14, 2020) “Federal Estate Tax Exemption Is Set to Expire—Are You Prepared?”

 

Estate Planning Before 2020 Ends

What a year!  And it may be necessary to attend to your estate planning before 2020 ends. When it comes to estate planning, there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” solution. That is especially true before a presidential election. However, there are several factors that should be considered and discussed with your estate planning attorney, as recommended in this recent article from The National Law Review “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020.”

The estate, gift and generational-skipping transfer tax exemption is now $11.58 million per person. It’s scheduled to increase every year by an inflationary indexed amount through 2025 and in 2026 will revert to $5 million. If Biden wins the election, don’t be surprised if changes are made earlier. The IRS has already said that if the exemption is used this year, there will be no claw back. This is a “use it or lose it” scenario. If you are planning on using it, now is the time to do so.

It is possible that Discounts, GRATS, Grantor Trusts and other estate planning techniques may go away, depending upon who wins the election and control of Congress. Consider taking advantage of commonly used estate planning before 2020 ends.

Married couples who are not ready to gift significant amounts to their children or to put assets into trusts for their children should consider the SLAT–Spousal Lifetime Access Trust. They can create and gift the exemption amount to a SLAT and still maintain access to the assets.

Single individuals who similarly are not ready to make large gifts and give up access to assets may also create and gift an exemption amount to a trust in a jurisdiction based on “domestic asset protection trust” legislation. They can be a beneficiary of such a trust.

Interest rates are at an all-time low, and that is when tools like intra family loans, GRATs and GLATs are at their best.

Moving to Florida, Nevada, Texas and other low- or no-income tax states has become very popular, especially for people who can work remotely. Be aware that high tax states like New York and California are not going to let your tax revenue leave easily. Check with your estate planning attorney to make sure you’re following the rules in giving up your domicile in a high-income tax state.

We can help you with your estate planning before 2020 ends.

Reference: The National Law Review (Oct. 6, 2020) “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020”

 

Gift Planning In Estate Planning

The time period available to take advantage of the high transfer tax exemption gift planning has driven many to make or give more serious thought to making large gifts, while exemptions are certain. However, not everyone is ready or able to give away large amounts of wealth, in case they may be needed in the future. For those who are concerned about needing these assets, there are some strategies that can build flexibility into gift planning, reports the article “Five Ways to Build Flexibility Into Your Gift Planning” from Financial Advisor Magazine.

Spousal Lifetime Access Trust, or SLAT, is one option for married couplies. This is a type of irrevocable trust that includes the grantor’s spouse as one of the beneficiaries. The couple can enjoy the gift tax exemption, because the trust is funded while one spouse is living, but they can also have access to the trust’s assets because the grantor’s spouse may receive both income and principal distributions. A few things to keep in mind when discussing this with your estate planning attorney:

  • If both spouses want to create a SLAT, be careful not to make the trusts identical to one another. If they are created at the same time, funded with the same amount of assets and contain the same terms, it is possible they will not withstand scrutiny.
  • The term “spouse” has some flexibility. The spouse could be the current spouse, the current spouse and a future spouse, or a future spouse for someone who is not yet married.

Special Power of Appointment is a power granted to a person to direct trust assets to a specified person or class of people (other than the power holder, the estate of the power holder or the creditors of either one). This gift planning strategy allows the holder to direct distributions to one or more people, change the beneficiaries of the trust and/or change the terms of the trust, as long as the changes are consistent with the power of appointment. Note the following:

  • The permissible appointees of a power of appointment can be broad or narrow, and the grantor may even be a permissible appointee for outright distributions.
  • If the grantor is a permissible appointee, special care must be taken when naming the power holder(s) to avoid any challenge that the trust was always intended for the grantor. The trust may need to have multiple power holders, or a third party, to agree to any distributions.

A Trust Protector is a person who has powers over the trust but is not a trustee. This is an increasingly popular option, as the trust protector has the ability to address issues and solve problems that were not anticipated when the trust was created. The Trust Protector may often remove or replace trustees, make changes to beneficiaries, divide the trust, change administrative provisions, or change trust situs.

A Disclaimer is a gift planning tool used when a gift recipient renounces part or all of a gift transferred to them. When a gift is made to a trust, the trust instrument is used to specify how the assets are to pass, in the event of a disclaimer. If the grantor makes a gift to the trust but is then concerned that the gift is unnecessary or the grantor might need the assets back, the trust can provide that the assets revert to the grantor in the event of the disclaimer.

Planning with Promissory Notes is another way to include flexibility in the timing, implementation and amount of gift planning. An asset is sold by the grantor to a grantor trust in exchange for a promissory note. There are no income tax consequences, as the sale is to a grantor trust. If the sale is for full market value, there is no gift. The grantor gets to decide when, and if, to make a gift with the promissory note.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to determine which, if any, of these strategies is the right fit for you and your family. While it is impossible to know exactly when and how the federal exemptions will change, there are many different tools that can be used while waiting for any changes.

Reference: Financial Advisor Magazine (Sep. 10, 2020) “Five Ways to Build Flexibility Into Your Gift Planning”