Category: Heirs

Avoid leaving Co-op Ownership to Heirs

Avoid leaving Co-op Ownership to Heirs

If you own a co-op you might be tempted to include it in your planning. It is wise to avoid leaving your co-op ownership to your heirs. Here is a cautionary tale.

Parents bought a studio apartment in a New York City co-op for their adult son with special needs. He’s able to live independently with the support of an agency.

The couple asked the co-op board to let them transfer the property to an irrevocable trust, so when they die, the son will still have a place to live. However, the board denied their request.

An individual with special needs can’t inherit property directly, or he’ll no longer be able to receive the government benefits that support him. What should the parents do?

The New York Times’ recent article entitled “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?” explains that parents can leave a co-op apartment to their children in their will or in a trust. However, that doesn’t mean their heirs will necessarily wind up with the right to own or live in that apartment.

In most cases, a co-op board has wide discretion to approve or deny the transfer of the shares and the proprietary lease.

If the board denied the request, the apartment will be sold and the children receive the equity. Just because the will says, ‘I’m leaving it to my children,’ that doesn’t give the children the absolute right to acquire the shares or live there.

In some instances, the lease says a board won’t unreasonably withhold consent to transfer the apartment to a financially responsible family member. However, few, if any, leases extend that concept to include trusts.

The parents here could wait to have the situation resolved after their deaths, leaving clear directives to the executor of their estate about what to do should the board reject a request to transfer the property into a trust for their son. However, that leaves everyone in a precarious position, with years of uncertainty.

It is safer to avoid leaving your co-op ownership to your heirs. Another option is to sell the co-op apartment now, put the proceeds in a special-needs trust and buy a condo through that trust. The son would then live there.

Unlike co-ops, condos generally allow transfers within estate planning, without requiring approval.

While this route would involve significant upheaval, the parents would have more peace of mind.

However, before buying the condo, an experienced estate planning attorney should review the building’s rules on transferring the unit. If you would like to read more about leaving real property to your heirs, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: New York Times (Oct. 1, 2022) “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?”

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Which Bills are Paid by Estate and which by Beneficiaries?

Which Bills are Paid by Estate and which by Beneficiaries?

Settling an estate can be complex and time-consuming—it all depends on how much “estate planning” was done. According to a recent article from yahoo! Finance titled “What Expenses Are Paid by the Estate vs. Beneficiary?,” the executor is the person who creates an inventory of assets, determines which expenses need to be paid and distributes the remainder of the estate to the deceased’s beneficiaries. How does the executor know which bills are paid by the estate and which by the beneficiaries?

First, let’s establish what kind of expenses an estate pays. The main expenses of an estate include:

Outstanding debts. The executor has to notify creditors of the decedent’s death and the creditors then may make a claim against the estate. Because a person dies doesn’t mean their debts disappear—they become the debts of the estate.

Taxes. There are many different taxes to be paid when a person dies, including estate, inheritance and income tax. The federal estate tax is not an issue, unless the estate value exceed the exemption limit of $12.92 million for 2023. Not all states have inheritance taxes, so check with a local estate planning attorney to learn if the beneficiaries will need to pay this tax. If the decedent has an outstanding property tax bill for real estate property, the estate will need to pay it to avoid a lien being placed on the property.

Fees. There are court fees to file documents including a will to start the probate process, to serve notice to creditors or record transfer of property with the local register of deeds. The executor is also entitled to collect a fee for their services.

Maintaining real estate property. If the estate includes real estate, it is likely there will be expenses for maintenance and upkeep until the property is either distributed to heirs or sold. There may also be costs involved in transporting property to heirs.

Final expenses. Unless the person has pre-paid for all of their funeral, burial, cremation, or internment costs, these are considered part of estate expenses. They are often paid out of the death benefit associated with the deceased person’s life insurance policy.

What expenses does the estate pay?

The estate pays outstanding debts, including credit cards, medical bills, or liens.

  • Appraisals needed to establish values of estate assets
  • Repairs or maintenance for real estate
  • Fees paid to professionals associated with settling the estate, including executor, estate planning attorney, accountant, or real estate agent
  • Taxes, including income tax, estate tax and property tax
  • Fees to obtain copies of death certificates

The executor must keep detailed records of any expenses paid out of estate assets. The executor is the only person entitled by law to see the decedent’s financial records. However, beneficiaries have the right to review financial estate account records.

What does the beneficiary pay?

This depends on how the estate was structured and if any special provisions are included in the person’s will or trust. Generally, expect to pay:

  • Final expenses not covered by the estate
  • Personal travel expenses
  • Legal expenses, if you decide to contest the will
  • Property maintenance or transportation costs not covered by the estate

Some of the expenses are deductible, and the executor must use IRS Form 1041 on any estate earning more than $600 in income or which has a nonresident alien as a beneficiary.

An estate planning attorney is needed to create a comprehensive estate plan addressing these and other issues in advance. If little or no planning was done before the decedent’s death, an estate planning attorney will also be an important resource in navigating through the estate’s settlement. He or she will be able to address which bills are paid by the estate and which by the beneficiaries. If you would like to learn more about the role of the executor, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 29, 2022) “What Expenses Are Paid by the Estate vs. Beneficiary?”

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Prevent some Common Beneficiary Errors

Prevent some Common Beneficiary Errors

Planning for one’s eventual death can be a somber task. However, consider what would occur if you failed to plan: loved ones trying to figure out your intentions, a long and expensive legal battle with unintended heirs and instead of grieving your loss, wondering why you didn’t take care of business while you were living. Planning suddenly becomes far more appealing, doesn’t it? There are ways to prevent some common beneficiary errors.

A recent article from yahoo! finance, “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid,” explains how to avoid some of the issues regarding beneficiaries.

You haven’t named a beneficiary for your retirement accounts. This is a common estate planning mistake, even though it seems so obvious. A beneficiary can be a person, a charity, a trust, or your estate. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you identify likely beneficiaries and ensure they are eligible.

You forgot to review your beneficiary designations for many years. Most people have changes in relationships as they move through the stages of life. The same person who was your best friend in your twenties might not even be in your life in your sixties. However, if you don’t check on beneficiary designations on a regular basis, you may be leaving your retirement accounts to people who haven’t heard from you in decades and disinheriting loved ones. Every time you update your estate plan, which should be every three to five years, check your beneficiary designations.

You didn’t name your spouse as a primary beneficiary for a retirement account. When Congress passed the 2019 SECURE Act, the bill removed a provision allowing non-spousal beneficiaries to stretch out disbursements from IRAs over their lifetimes, also known as the “Stretch IRA.” A non-spouse beneficiary must empty any inherited IRA within ten years from the death of the account holder. If a minor child is the beneficiary, once they reach the age of legal majority, they are required to follow the rules of a Required Minimum Distribution. Having a spouse named as beneficiary allows them to move the inherited IRA funds into their own IRA and take out assets as they wish.

You named an estate as a beneficiary. You can name your estate as a beneficiary. However, it creates a significant tangle for the family who has to set things right. For instance, if you have any debt, your estate could be attached by creditors. Your estate may also go through probate court, a court-supervised process to validate your will, have your final assets identified and have debts paid before any remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

You didn’t create a retirement plan until late in your career. Retirement seems very far away during your twenties, thirties and even forties. However, the years pass and suddenly you’re looking at retirement without enough money set aside. Creating an estate plan early in your working life shifts your focus, so you understand how important it is to have a retirement plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you prevent some common beneficiary errors as part of your overall estate plan. The best time to start? How about today? If you would like to learn more about beneficiary designations, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Dec. 19, 2022) “5 Retirement Plan Beneficiary Mistakes to Avoid”

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Avoid Leaving Residual Assets Behind

Avoid Leaving Residual Assets Behind

This is also known as estate residue or residual estate. It simply means the assets left over after a will has been read, assets have been distributed to heirs and any final expenses have been paid. An estate planning attorney can help avoid leaving residual assets behind, with a comprehensive estate plan, reports a recent article titled “How to Write a Residuary Estate Clause in a Will” from yahoo!

A will is a legal document used to name guardians for minor children and providing directions for how you want assets to be distributed when you pass. Any assets not included in your will or distributed through a trust automatically become part of the residuary estate on your death.

This can happen deliberately or unintentionally. For example, your will can state your wishes to have certain assets left to certain people. However, your will could also include a residual estate clause explaining what should happen to any assets not already named in the will. In this case, you’re intentionally creating a residual estate, and planning for it at the time of the will’s creation.

Some residual estates are created without advance planning. Here’s how that happens:

  • If you forget to include assets in your will.
  • If you acquired new assets after drafting a will and do not add a codicil making provision for the distribution of the assets.
  • Someone named in the will dies before you or is unable to receive the inheritance you left for them.

This can also happen if you set up a Payable On Death (POD) account but neglect to add a beneficiary to the account. Any funds in the account would be lumped into the residual estate.

What happens if you draft a will and don’t have a residuary estate clause? Any unclaimed or overlooked assets will be distributed, according to your state’s inheritance guidelines. However, this is only done after any estate taxes, outstanding debts or final expenses have been paid. Assets would be distributed as if you did not have a will. Heirs at law would receive assets according to kinship, including spouse, children, parents, siblings and other relatives.

How does a trust work in relation to a residual estate? Trusts are legal entities allowing you to transfer assets to a trustee. The trustee is responsible for managing assets on behalf of the trust for beneficiaries according to your wishes. You may want to establish a trust if you have a substantial estate, want to plan for a family member with special needs or if you wish to create a charitable giving legacy.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid leaving residual assets behind. Your attorney will determine whether your will should have a residual clause and what assets should be included. They will also be able to determine whether you need additional estate planning strategies, including a revocable living trust. If you would like to learn more about drafting a Will or Trust, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: yahoo! (Dec. 4, 2022) “How to Write a Residuary Estate Clause in a Will”

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Add Safeguards to Protect Heirs

Add Safeguards to Protect Heirs

What if your executor or trustee decides to run off to the Bahamas with all your assets, leaving heirs with nothing? Ohio Farmer’s recent article entitled “What if trustee runs off with assets?” says that you should add safeguards to protect the heirs of an estate.

The most common way to protect against this possibility is a fiduciary bond. An executor, trustee, or guardian would get a bond early in a probate case and file it with the court. The bond would remain in place while the fiduciary is serving his or her role. If the fiduciary absconds with estate assets, the bond is there to help the beneficiaries.

This expense would be covered by the fiduciary, who would need to find a bond company willing to issue it. The bond amount is connected to the value of personal property, such as financial accounts, vehicles and personal effects.

Do you need a bond to cover the value of land? No. The primary difference is that land can’t be picked up easily and moved, making a bond unnecessary. It’s also very hard to transfer land without extensive safeguards. In some cases, court permission is required for a transfer. To sell a farm or ranch, a title company might raise suspicion. Real estate-related actions are also often public record. In some cases, a court action can correct issues or order damages.

It’s possible to waive the requirement of a bond. That’s a default setting for bonds with estates, trusts, or guardianships. Most estate planning documents waive the bond requirement, because family members often serve as fiduciaries.

State law may also describe several situations where a bond isn’t required. However, if a party motions the court, and the judge thinks there’s good cause for a bond, one can be required for a fiduciary.

While a bond can provide some important protections for heirs, the likelihood of a fiduciary running off with assets is low. As a result, most administrations view the bond as an unnecessary step and expense.

However, if a family is concerned about the trustworthiness of a fiduciary and want to add safeguards to protect your heirs, the bond requirement should be reinstated.

If an administration is pending, the family can petition the court to require a bond. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine the role of bonds for your estate plan. if you would like to learn more about the responsibilities of a trustee, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ohio Farmer (Nov. 22, 2022) “What if trustee runs off with assets?”

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Protect the Family Business for the Next Generation

Protect the Family Business for the Next Generation

The reality and finality of death is uncomfortable to think about. However, people need to plan for death, unless they want to leave their families a mess instead of a blessing. In a family-owned business, this is especially vital, according to a recent article, “All in the Family—Transition Strategies for Family Businesses” from Bloomberg Law. There are strategies you can use to protect the family business for the next generation.

The family business is often the family’s largest financial asset. The business owner typically doesn’t have much liquidity outside of the business itself. Federal estate taxes upon death need special consideration. Every person has an estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption of $12.06 million, although these historically high levels may revert to prior levels in 2026. The amount exceeding the exemption may be taxed at 40%, making planning critical.

Assuming an estate tax liability is created upon the death of the business owner, how will the family pay the tax? If the spouse survives the business owner, they can use the unlimited marital deduction to defer federal estate tax liabilities, until the survivor dies. If no advance planning has been done prior to the death of the first spouse to die, it would be wise to address it while the surviving spouse is still living.

Certain provisions in the tax code may mitigate or prevent the need to sell the business to raise funds to pay the estate tax. One law allows the executor to pay part or all of the estate tax due over 15 years (Section 6166), provided certain conditions are met. This may be appropriate. However, it is a weighty burden for an extended period of time. Planning in advance would be better.

Business owners with a charitable inclination could use charitable trusts or entities as part of a tax-efficient business transition plan. This includes the Charitable Remainder Trust, or CRT. If the business owner transfers equity interest in the business to a CRT before a liquidity event, no capital gains would be generated on the sale of the business, since the CRT is generally exempt from federal income tax. Income from the sale would be deferred and recognized, since the CRT made distributions to the business owner according to the terms of the trust.

At the end of the term, the CRT’s remaining assets would pass to the selected charitable remainderman, which might be a family-established and managed private foundation.

Family businesses usually appreciate over time, so owners need to plan to shift equity out of the taxable estate. One option is to use a combination of gifting and selling business interests to an intentionally defective grantor trust. Any appreciation after the date of transfer may be excluded from the taxable estate upon death for purposes of determining federal estate tax liabilities.

For some business owners, establishing their business as a family limited partnership or limited liability company makes the most sense. Over time, they may sell or gift part of the interest to the next generation, subject to the discounts available for a transfer. An appraiser will need to be hired to issue a valuation report on the transferred interests in order to claim any possible discounts after recapitalizing the ownership interest.

The ultimate disposition of the family business is one of the biggest decisions a business owner must make, and there’s only one chance to get it right. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney and don’t procrastinate in protecting the family business for the next generation. Succession planning takes time, so the sooner the process begins, the better. If you would like to learn more about succession planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Bloomberg Law (Nov. 9, 2022) “All in the Family—Transition Strategies for Family Businesses”

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Steps to Minimize Inheritance Battles

Steps to Minimize Inheritance Battles

There are steps to take to minimize, if not eliminate the likelihood of inheritance battles. Inheritance battles can create new conflicts, inflame long-standing resentments and squander assets intended to make heir’s lives better. What can families do to prevent estate battles when a loved one’s intentions aren’t accepted is the question asked by the recent article, “Warning Signs Of Estate Disputes—And Ways to Avoid Them,” from mondaq.com.

Here are the more common scenarios leading to family estate battles:

  • Siblings who are always fighting over something
  • Second or third marriages
  • Disparate treatment of children, whether real or perceived
  • Mental illness or additional issues
  • Isolation or estrangement
  • Economic hardship

The most important step to begin is to have an estate plan in place, including all the necessary documents to clearly indicate your wishes. You may want to include a letter of intent, which is not a legally enforceable document. However, it can support the wishes expressed in estate planning documents.

Update the Estate Plan. Does your estate plan still achieve the desired outcome? This is especially important if the family has experienced big changes to finances or relationships. An estate plan from ten years ago may not reflect current circumstances.

Make Distributions Now. For some families, giving with “warm hands” is a gratifying experience and can remove wealth from the estate to avoid battles as everything’s already been given away. The pleasure of seeing families enjoy the fruits of your labor is not to be underestimated, like a granddaughter who is able to buy a home of her own or an entrepreneurial loved one getting help in a business venture.

Appoint a Non-Family Member as a Trustee. Warring factions within a family are not likely to resolve things on their own, especially when cash is at stake. Appointing a family member as a trustee could cause them to become a lightning rod for all of the family’s tensions. Without the confidence of beneficiaries, accusations of self-dealing or an innocent mistake could lead to litigation. Removing the emotions by having a non-family member serve as a professional trustee can lessen suspicion and decrease the chances of legal disputes.

Communicate, with a facilitator, if necessary. Families with a history of disputes often do better when a professional is involved. Depending on the severity of the dynamics, this could range from annual meetings with an estate planning attorney to explain how the estate plan works and have discussions about the parent’s wishes to monthly meetings with a family counselor.

A No-Contest Clause. For some families, a no-contest clause in the will can head off any issues from the start. If people are especially litigious, however, this may not be enough to stop them from pursuing a case. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to recommend the use of this provision, based on knowing the family and how much wealth is involved.

Addressing the problem now. The biggest mistake is to sweep the issue under the proverbial rug and “let them fight over it when I’m gone.” A better legacy is to address the problem of the family squabbles and know you’ve done the right thing.

Taking steps to minimize inheritance battles can reduce the stress you may feel as we head into the holiday season. These efforts to bring families together and prepare for the future will allow parents, children and grandchildren to enjoy their time together. If you would like to learn more about inheritance issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: mondaq.com (Nov. 4, 2022) “Warning Signs Of Estate Disputes—And Ways to Avoid Them”

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Prenup is a Useful Tool in Estate Planning

Prenup is a Useful Tool in Estate Planning

A Prenup is a useful tool in your estate planning. Forbes’ recent article entitled “Prenuptial Agreement: What Is A Prenup & How Do I Get One?” explains that a prenup contemplates the end of the marriage, so the couple can divide assets with an objective mindset. A prenup can even help protect a business.

Prenups allow you to determine if alimony will be due if the marriage ends, as well as the amount and terms of those payments. A prenup can also say what kind of bequests you leave to each other in your will. It can also be good for couples trying to keep separate significant pieces of personal property, including future inheritances and other anticipated income. This is common for couples with a significant age or wealth difference and among older or remarrying couples.

Prenups Aren’t Just for the Very Wealthy. A Prenup can be a useful tool for almost everyone’s estate planning.

Protect Family Heirlooms. If you have a family heirloom and want to make sure that if your marriage ends, you’ll get to keep it, you can draft a prenuptial agreement that states the family heirloom is yours.

Pass Property to Children from Prior Marriages. A prenup can be used to establish property rights for second marriages. If you have children from a previous marriage, you can protect their interests in your assets and property.

Clarify Financial Rights. Prenups can help you decide now how assets will be split up instead of waiting until divorce proceedings. While divorce may never come, determining the financial distribution now saves time and headache.

Debt Protection. Prenups also provide debt protection. Some people enter a marriage with substantial financial debts or student loan debt. For couples in this situation, they can sign a prenup and clarify that those debts remain the separate responsibility of the spouse who incurred them. They can also decide how debts incurred during the marriage will be handled.

Avoid Emotional Arguments. The end of a marriage and divorce is emotional. It can be an overwhelming and upsetting process. When you’re negotiating with your spouse about assets, tempers can cloud your judgment about asset distribution. Contemplating these items with a clearer head is better for all.

Take time to consider how you want to craft a prenup. It can have a significant impact on your assets and your goals for your heirs. If you would like to read more about prenups and other forms of asset protection, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 24, 2022) “Prenuptial Agreement: What Is A Prenup & How Do I Get One?”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4 – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift is out now!

This is the time of the year when people feel most inclined to provide donations to organizations and charities that mean something to them. The saying goes that “Charity Begins at Home”, but sometimes you can give money to charity and bring it back home too – No Kidding!

In this episode, Brad Wiewel discusses charitable donations and how you can use “give and get” techniques to turn those donations into income and tax deductions for yourself. Just in time for the holiday season. You do not want to miss this one! These are complex estate and tax matters, requiring the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney for optimal results. If you would like to learn more about charitable giving in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2|Episode 4  – How To Give Yourself a Charitable Gift can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

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Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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GRATs are good estate planning strategy

GRATs are good Estate Planning Strategy

The first thing to know—GRATs are not just for the uber-wealthy, despite the title of the article “Here’s how uber-rich pass wealth to heirs tax-free when markets are down” from CNBC. “Regular” people and their families may benefit from using Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. The second thing to know–GRATs work well when stocks are down in value and are expected to rebound relatively quickly. While no one knows what the markets will do today or six months from today, GRATs are good estate planning strategy for many people.

The GRAT works like this: assets like stocks in a privately-held business are placed into the trust for a specific amount of time—maybe two, five or ten years. Any investment growth passes to heirs and the original owner gets the principal back. This is, of course, a highly simplified description.

The family can avoid or reduce estate taxes at death by shifting future appreciation out of the estate. The investment growth is the tax-free gift to heirs. If there’s no growth, the asset passes back to the owners. Lowered assets likely to return in value over the life of the trust are the most likely to make this strategy work best.

The S&P 500, a commonly used barometer for U.S. stock markets, is down by about 24% as of this writing, making now an excellent time to consider a GRAT.

The GRAT makes the most sense for families who are subject to the federal estate tax. While the federal estate tax is applied to estates is now valued at more than $12.06 million, the federal estate tax is expected to drop precipitously when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expires on December 31, 2025.

GRATs are said to have been used by some of the nation’s wealthiest people, including Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, the Walton family (of Walmart fame), Charles Koch and his late brother David Koch, Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Apple-founder Steve Jobs), Oprah Winfrey and others. However, a GRAT can work for people who are not among the top wealthiest in the country.

In 2026, the estate-tax threshold will be cut in half, unless Congress extends the Act. Individuals with $6 million estates, or $12 million for married couples, should start considering how to transfer their wealth now.

Rising interest rates put another wrinkle in planning for the future. The complex inner workings of GRATs concern interest rates, which must technically exceed a certain threshold—the “7520 interest rate,” also known as the “hurdle” rate—to pass tax free from the estate. This rate is currently up by 4% from October 2021.

Here’s an example of how this applies to a grantor-retained annuity trust. If investments in a two-year trust grew by 6% over two years, a trust pegged to the hurdle rate of October 2021 would allow 5% of the overall growth pass to heirs, but this would fall to 2% for a trust established in October 2022.

GRATs are good estate planning strategy for a variety of people. Your estate planning attorney will be able to explain whether a GRAT is a good fit for your wealth strategy, considering your tax liabilities, the size of your estate and your comfort level with any strategies tied to interest rates and markets. If you would like to learn more about GRATs, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 10, 2022) “Here’s how uber-rich pass wealth to heirs tax-free when markets are down”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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