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Category: Exemptions

Potential changes to the estate tax

Potential Changes to the Estate Tax

Potential changes to the estate tax that are now being considered by President Biden may expand the number of Americans who will need to pay the federal estate tax in one of two ways: raising rates and lowering qualifying thresholds on estates and increasing the liability for inheriting and selling assets. It is likely that these changes will raise revenues from the truly wealthy, while also imposing estate taxes on Americans with more modest assets, according to a recent article “It May Be Time to Start Worrying About the Estate Tax” from The New York Times.

Inheritance taxes are paid by the estate of a person who died. Some states have estate taxes of their own, with lower asset thresholds. As of this writing, a married couple would need to have assets of more than $23.4 million before they had to plan for federal estate taxes. This historically high exemption may be ending sooner than originally anticipated.

One of the changes being considered is a common tax shelter. Known as the “step-up in basis at death,” this values the assets in an estate at the date of death and disregards any capital gains in a deceased person’s portfolio. Eliminating the step-up in basis would require inheritors to pay capital gains whenever they sold assets, including everything from the family home to stock portfolios.

If you’re lucky enough to inherit wealth, this little item has been an accounting gift for many years. A person who inherits stock doesn’t have to think twice about what their parents or grandparents paid decades ago. All of the capital gains in those shares or any other inherited investment are effectively erased, when the owner dies. There are no capital gains to calculate or taxes to pay.

However, those capital gains taxes are lost revenue to the federal government. Eliminating the step-up rules could potentially generate billions in taxes from the very wealthy but is likely to create financial pain for people who have lower levels of wealth. A family that inherited a home, for instance, would have a much bigger tax burden, even if the home was not a multi-million-dollar property but simply one that gained in value over time.

Reducing the estate tax exemption could lead to wealthy people having to revise their estate plans sooner rather than later. Twenty years ago, the exemption was $675,000 per person and the tax rate was 55%. Over the next two decades, the exemption grew and the rates fell. The exemption is now $11.7 million per person and the tax rate above that amount is 40%.

Lowering the exemption, possibly back to the 2009 level, would dramatically increase tax revenue.

What is likely to occur and when, remains unknown, but what is certain is that potential changes to the estate tax will require your attention. Stay up to date on proposed changes and be prepared to update your estate plan accordingly. If you are interested in learning more about the estate tax, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The New York Times (March 12, 2021) “It May Be Time to Start Worrying About the Estate Tax”

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Implementing Succession Plans Before Year Ends

Anyone with a taxable estate that includes an operating business should be looking into the efficacy of making gifts in 2020 to take advantage of a unique set of circumstances, advises the article “Why Now is the Right Time to Execute Succession Plans” from Worth. This could include implementing succession plans before the year ends.

The federal exemption from transfer taxes is at a historically high level. Individuals may transfer up to $11.58 million of assets during their lifetime without incurring federal gift, estate or generation skipping transfer tax (GST). The current maximum federal gift and estate tax rate and the current maximum federal GST tax rate is now 40 percent. As the law stands now, this amount is not scheduled to be reduced until the end of 2025, but whether that will remain is anyone’s guess.

The IRS has stated that it will not attempt a claw back of taxes if the exemption amount decreases soon, so taxpayers who put off taking action before December 31, 2020 will miss out.

Lower Value Another Incentive to Develop a Succession Plan

It is important not forget the impact of the global pandemic. Valuations in some parts of public markets continue to be high, but many private companies have lost a lot of value. The lower appraised values can be beneficial for succession planning. If a business owner is willing to transfer all or a portion of the private company to successive generations now, that lowered appraisal value means that more wealth can be shifted. There is the possibility of growth in the future, free of gift, estate, or GST tax.

How Do Interest Rates Impact Succession Plans?

Many strategies used to transfer assets between generations are based on interest rates which are near the lowest they have ever been. Every month, the IRS releases the updated Section 7520 and Applicable Federal Rates (AFR). These are the rates used for transfer techniques like GRATs and intra-family loans. In October, the 7520 rate was 40 basis points (“bps”), and the Mid-Term Annual AFR, used for loans with terms of three to nine years was 39 bps.

Succession Plans Take Time to Create

This unique combination of exemptions, low business valuations and low interest rates is likely to lead many business owners to their estate planning attorney’s offices to implement succession plans before the calendar years ends. The smart move is to contact your estate planning attorney, CPA, and financial advisor as soon as possible to discuss options, and get succession plans going. There will likely be a more-than-usual last minute rush to complete many financial and legal tasks this December, and getting started as early as possible will make it more likely that your succession plan can be completed before December 31, 2020.

If you would like to learn more about gifting, and other means of reducing estate taxes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Worth (Nov. 2, 2020) “Why Now is the Right Time to Execute Succession Plans”

 

 

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Federal Estate Tax Exemption is set to Sunset

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 federal estate tax exemption is set to sunset at the end of 2025, but the impact of a global pandemic and the presidential election will likely accelerate the rollback.

As of this writing, many states 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 estate 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 tax.

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. Take the time to consider your planning before federal estate tax exemption is set to sunset.

If you would like to learn more about exemptions and gifting, please visit our previous posts.

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

 

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Make the Most of Exemptions in Gifting

The time period available to take advantage of the high transfer tax exemption 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 allow you to make the most of exemptions in gifting, 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). The power holder may 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 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.

If you would like to learn more about gifting, please visit our previous posts.

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