Category: Inheritance Tax

Frequently Asked Questions about Series I-Bonds

Frequently Asked Questions about Series I-Bonds

With series I bonds in the news lately, it is worth considering if they are beneficial to your estate planning. Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Are I-Bonds?” compiled answers to some frequently asked questions about series I bonds.

How is the interest rate determined? The composite rate has two parts: (i) a fixed rate that stays the same for the life of the bond; and (ii) an inflation rate based on the consumer price index (CPI). Each May and November, the U.S. Treasury Department announces a new fixed rate and inflation rate that apply to bonds issued during the following six months. The inflation rate changes every six months from the bond’s issue date.

How does interest accrue? They earn interest monthly from the first day of the month of the issue date, and interest is compounded semi-annually. Interest is added to the bond’s principal value. Note that you can’t redeem an I-Bond in the first year, and if you cash it in before five years, you forfeit the most recent three months of interest. If you check your bond’s value at TreasuryDirect.gov, within the first five years of owning it, the amount you’ll see will have the three-month penalty subtracted from it. As a result, when you buy a new bond, interest doesn’t show until the first day of the fourth month following the issue month.

How many I-Bonds can I buy? You can purchase up to $10,000 per calendar year in electronic bonds through TreasuryDirect.gov. You can also buy up to $5,000 each year in paper bonds with your tax refund. For those who are married filing jointly, the limit is $5,000 per couple.

How are I-Bonds taxed? I-Bond interest is free of state and local income tax. You can also defer federal tax until you file a tax return for the year you cash in the bond or it stops earning interest because it has reached final maturity (after 30 years), whichever comes first. You can also report the interest every year, which may be a good choice if you’d rather avoid one large tax bill in the future.

If you use the bonds’ proceeds to pay for certain higher-education expenses for your spouse, your dependents, or yourself, you may avoid federal tax. However, you must meet several requirements to be eligible. Among them, the bond owner must have been at least 24 years old by the issue date and have income that falls below specified limits. Discuss these frequently asked questions about series I bonds with your estate planning attorney. If you are interested in learning more about bonds, and other retirements planning options, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 11, 2022) “What Are I-Bonds?”

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Estate Planning should include Consideration of Income Tax

Estate Planning should include Consideration of Income Tax

While estate taxes may only be of concern for mega-rich Americans now, in a relatively short time, the federal exemption rate is scheduled to drop precipitously. Estate planning underway now should include consideration of income tax issues, especially basis, according to a recent article titled “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis” from National Law Journal.

Because of these upcoming changes, plans and trusts put into effect under current law may no longer efficiently work for income tax and tax basis issues.

Planning to avoid taxes has become less critical in recent years, when the federal estate tax exemption is $10 million per taxpayer indexed to inflation. However, the new tax laws have changed the focus from estate tax planning to coming tax planning and more specifically, to “basis” planning. Ignore this at your peril—or your heirs may inherit a tax disaster.

“Basis” is an oft-misunderstood concept used to determine the amount of taxable income resulting when an asset is sold. The amount of taxable income realized is equal to the difference between the value you received at the sale of the asset minus your basis in the asset.

There are three key rules for how basis is determined:

Purchased assets: the buyer’s basis is the investment in the asset—the amount paid at the time of purchase. Here’s where the term “cost basis” comes from

Gifts: The recipient’s basis in the gift property is generally equal to the donor’s basis in the property. The giver’s basis is viewed as carrying over to the recipient. This is where the term “carry over basis” comes from, when referring to the basis of an asset received by gift.

Inherited Assets: The basis in inherited property is usually set to the fair market value of the asset on the date of the decedent’s death. Any gains or losses after this date are not realized. The heir could conceivably sell the asset immediately and not pay income taxes on the sale.

The adjustment to basis for inherited assets is usually called “stepped up basis.”

Basis planning requires you to review each asset on its own, to consider the expected future appreciation of the asset and anticipated timeline for disposing the asset. Tax rates imposed on income realized when an asset is sold vary based on the type of asset. There is an easy one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to basis planning.

Estate planning requires adjustments over time, especially in light of tax law changes. This is why estate planning should include consideration of income tax issues. Speak with your estate planning attorney, if your estate plan was created more than five years ago. Many of those strategies and tools may or may not work in light of the current and near-future tax environment. If you would like to learn more about tax issues related to estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: National Law Review (July 22, 2022) “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis”

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Do you need an attorney for probate?

Do You Need an Attorney for Probate?

Do you need an attorney for probate? Having an estate planning attorney manage the probate process can alleviate a great deal of stress for the family, says the recent article “Reasons to hire a lawyer for probate” from The Mercury.

For one thing, the attorney will know what your state requires in the way of executing the will. You may need to pay a state inheritance tax, or you may have to file certain documents specific to your state. Even if the surviving spouse is the only beneficiary and all assets are either jointly titled or are distributed through beneficiary designations, there are other details you may miss.

A surviving spouse will certainly appreciate not having to undertake a mountain of paperwork or electronic forms on their own, especially if there are no adult children living nearby to help. Which beneficiary form needs to be completed, and what will financial institutions need to change accounts to the proper ownership? It can be daunting, especially during mourning.

Depending upon the state, there may be exemptions, discounts and deductions from the estate. A layperson likely does not know if their state deducts the attorney’s fees and/or the executor fees. Even attorneys who do not practice estate law do not always know about these potential benefits.

An estate planning attorney will also know how long the probate process will take. If the surviving spouse is the executor and is unable to attend probate court, some cases accept a remote process. There are also COVID-specific procedures in some states, which a layperson may not know about.

If there are family disputes between beneficiaries regarding distribution, an estate planning attorney could be a very important resource. There may need to be a settlement agreement created that conforms to the state’s law. If it is not handled properly, the agreement could be deemed invalid if challenged in court.

What if the family home is being sold? Sometimes executors working without an attorney do not realize the requirements from title insurance companies regarding the sale of a property where one of the parties has passed. Failing to make sure that these requirements are met, could delay the settlement of the estate and put the property sale in jeopardy.

If there are health or creditor issues, or disputes over property, an estate planning attorney is invaluable in protecting the surviving spouse and/or executor. In many cases, the estate is left with substantial medical bills, Medicaid claims or related costs. Executors may not know their rights, or how to defend the estate. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney will. You need an attorney to ensure that all of your bases are covered for your probate hearing. If you would like to learn more about probate and trust administration, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Mercury (Feb. 8, 2022) “Reasons to hire a lawyer for probate”

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Creating a legacy plan

Creating a Legacy Plan

Creating a legacy plan is a vital part of the financial planning process, ensuring the assets you have spent your entire life accumulating will transfer to the people and organizations you want, and that family members are prepared to inherit and execute your wishes.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “4 Reasons Families Fail When Transferring Wealth” gives us four common errors that can cause individuals and families to veer off track.

Failure to create a plan. It’s hard for people to think about their own death. This can make us delay our estate planning. If you die before a comprehensive estate plan is in place, your goals and wishes can’t be carried out. You should establish a legacy plan as soon as possible. A legacy plan can evolve over time. You should be creating a legacy plan that is grounded in what your or your family envisions today, but with the flexibility to be amended for changes in the future.

Poor communication and a lack of trust. Failing to communicate a plan early can create issues between generations, especially if it is different than adult children might expect or incorporates other people and organizations that come as a surprise to heirs. Bring adult children into the conversation to establish the communication early on. You can focus on the overall, high-level strategy. This includes reviewing timing, familial values and planning objectives. Open communication can mitigate negative feelings, such as distrust or confusion among family members, and make for a more successful transfer.

Poor preparation. The ability to get individual family members on board with defined roles can be difficult, but it can alleviate a lot of potential headaches and obstacles in the future.

Overlooked essentials. Consider hiring a team of specialists, such as a financial adviser, tax professional and estate planning attorney, who can work in together to ensure the legacy plan you have created will meet its intended objectives.

Whether creating a legacy plan today, or as part of the millions of households in the Great Wealth Transfer that will establish plans soon if they haven’t already, preparation and flexibility are uber important to wealth transfer success.

Create a legacy plan early on, have open communication with your family and review philosophies and values to make certain that everyone’s on the same page. As a result, your loved ones will have the ability to understand, respect and meaningfully execute the legacy plan’s objectives. If you would like to learn more about legacy planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Aug. 29, 2021) “4 Reasons Families Fail When Transferring Wealth”

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failures of do-it-yourself estate planning

Failures of Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made many people face decisions about estate planning. Many will use a do-it-yourself solution. Internet DIY websites make it easy to download forms. However, there are mistakes people make when they try do-it-yourself estate planning. There are ways to avoid the failures of do-it-yourself estate planning.

Here are some issues with do-it-yourself that estate planning attorneys regularly see:

You need to know what to ask. If you’re trying to complete a specific form, you may be able to do it on your own. However, the challenge is sometimes not knowing what to ask. If you want a more comprehensive end-of-life plan and aren’t sure about what you need in addition to a will, work with an experienced estate planning attorney. If you want to cover everything, and are not sure what everything is, that’s why you see them.

More complex issues require professional help. Take a more holistic look at your estate plan and look at estate planning, tax planning and financial planning together, since they’re all interrelated. If you only look at one of these areas at a time, you may create complications in another. This could unintentionally increase your expenses or taxes. Your situation might also include special issues or circumstances. A do-it-yourself website might not be able to tell you how to account for your specific situation in the best possible way. It will just give you a blanket list, and it will all be cookie cutter. You won’t have the individual attention to your goals and priorities you get by sitting down and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate laws vary from state to state. Every state may have different rules for estate planning, such as for powers of attorney or a health care proxy. There are also 17 states and the District of Columbia that tax your estate, inheritance, or both. These tax laws can impact your estate planning. Eleven states and DC only have an estate tax (CT, HI, IL, ME, MA, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT and WA). Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have only an inheritance tax. Maryland has both an inheritance tax and an estate tax.

Setting up health care directives and making end-of-life decisions can be very involved. Avoid the failures of do-it-yourself estate planning. It’s too important to try to do it yourself. If you make a mistake, it could impact the ability of your family to take care of financial expenses or manage health care issues. Don’t do it yourself.

If you would like more information on crating an estate plan, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News & World Report (July 5, 2021) “6 Common Myths About Estate Planning”

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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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