Category: Tax Planning

Endowed Scholarships create an Important Legacy

Endowed Scholarships create an Important Legacy

Endowed scholarships are powerful tools in the realm of charitable giving, often used as a part of comprehensive estate planning. An endowed scholarship is a significant philanthropic commitment that involves establishing a fund to provide scholarships to students, typically in perpetuity. It’s a donation and a long-term investment in future generations, aligning with the donor’s values and interests. Endowed scholarships can be established during a donor’s lifetime or through estate gifts, allowing individuals to create an important legacy reflecting their passion for education and student support. For a detailed overview of how endowed scholarships function within charitable giving and estate planning, see The National Association of Charitable Gift Planners.

To endow a scholarship means providing a stable funding source by creating an endowment fund. An endowment fund is typically a large sum of money that is invested. The earned income from the investments is used to fund the scholarship. The principal amount of the endowment remains intact, allowing the scholarship to be awarded yearly indefinitely, based on the income generated.

In estate planning, establishing an endowed scholarship can offer a meaningful way to memorialize a loved one or to honor family and friends, while also providing tax benefits. It serves as a lasting testament to the donor’s commitment to education and charitable giving, ensuring that their philanthropic goals continue to be met even after they are gone.

Establishing an endowed fund involves careful planning and collaboration with financial or philanthropic advisors. The donor needs to decide on the amount to endow, which should align with their financial capabilities and the objectives of the scholarship. The process also involves legal considerations, since the terms of the scholarship and the fund’s administration must be clearly defined and documented. A comprehensive guide on endowment funds can be found at The Council on Foundations.

Legal and financial planning is crucial in creating a scholarship fund. This involves drafting the terms of the scholarship, deciding on the fund’s management and ensuring that the scholarship aligns with the overall estate plan. The donor must also work with the chosen educational institution or charitable organization to set up the fund and define how the scholarship will be administered.

There are numerous benefits to establishing an endowed scholarship for both the donor and the recipients. From a donor’s perspective, endowed scholarships provide a way to make a significant, lasting impact while also reaping financial rewards. They can lead to potential income tax deductions and be a part of a strategic plan for estate gifts, reducing the taxable estate.

For scholarship recipients, an endowed scholarship represents a reliable source of tuition assistance, often making the difference in their ability to pursue higher education. These scholarships can be designated according to the donor’s wishes, targeting specific fields of study, financial need, or other criteria, thus allowing donors to support areas they are passionate about. One of the most important aspects of establishing an endowed scholarship is setting the criteria for scholarship recipients. This process allows donors to personalize their scholarship according to their values and the impact they wish to make. Criteria can include academic merit, financial need, specific areas of study, or any other factors the donor deems important.

Balancing the donor’s wishes with institutional policies is key. While the donor can designate the scholarship according to their preferences, they must also ensure that the criteria are feasible and aligned with the institution’s policies and regulations. Naming a scholarship can be a very meaningful way to honor family, friends, or personal causes. It ensures that the donor’s or the loved one’s name is associated with educational support and philanthropy for years to come.

Effective management of the endowment is crucial to ensure its longevity and impact. This involves prudent investment strategies to grow the principal amount, while generating sufficient income to support the scholarship. Regular reviews and adjustments to the investment strategy are necessary to align with market conditions and the scholarship’s objectives.

Donors and institutions may also seek additional contributions to the scholarship fund. These contributions may be made by the donor, family members, or others who share the donor’s vision, thus helping to grow the fund and increase its impact over time.

Incorporating endowed scholarships into an estate plan can have significant tax implications. Donors can benefit from income tax deductions for their contributions to the scholarship fund. By reducing the taxable estate, endowed scholarships can also be an effective tool in estate planning, potentially lowering estate taxes.

Endowed scholarships are more than just financial aid; they offer a unique opportunity to create an important legacy of support, ensuring that the donor’s passion for education and charitable giving continues to make a difference for many years. If you would like to read more about endowed scholarships, and other forms of charitable giving, please visit our previous posts. 

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Integrating Retirement Accounts into your Estate Plan

Integrating Retirement Accounts into your Estate Plan

Retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, play a pivotal role in many estate plans. They are not just savings vehicles for retirement; they are also crucial assets that can be passed on to beneficiaries. An effective estate plan should integrate retirement accounts seamlessly, supporting your overall retirement and estate objectives.

When incorporating retirement accounts into an estate plan, it’s essential to understand the tax implications and the rules governing beneficiary designations. These factors can significantly impact how your retirement assets are distributed and taxed upon your death. Retirement accounts are subject to income tax and, in some cases, estate tax.

Retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, typically bypass the probate process, as they are transferred directly to the named beneficiaries. This direct transfer can simplify the estate settlement process and provide quicker access to funds for your beneficiaries. It’s important to understand that while retirement accounts may avoid probate, they are still part of your overall estate for tax purposes. Proper planning can help ensure that your retirement assets are distributed efficiently and tax-advantaged.

Roth IRAs are unique retirement accounts that offer tax-free growth and withdrawals. They can be a valuable tool in estate planning, particularly for those looking to leave tax-free assets to their beneficiaries. Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not require minimum distributions during the account owner’s lifetime, allowing the assets to grow tax-free for a longer period.

When including Roth IRAs in your estate plan, consider the potential tax benefits for your beneficiaries. Since distributions from Roth IRAs are generally tax-free, they can provide a significant financial advantage to your heirs. Tax-deferred retirement accounts, like traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, allow contributions to grow tax-free until withdrawal. This feature can lead to significant tax savings over time. However, it’s essential to consider the tax implications for your beneficiaries.

Beneficiary designations are a critical aspect of retirement planning. These designations determine who will inherit your retirement accounts upon your death. It’s crucial to regularly review and update your beneficiary designations to ensure that they align with your current estate plan and wishes. Failure to update beneficiary designations can lead to unintended consequences, such as an ex-spouse or a deceased individual being named as the beneficiary. Beneficiaries are generally subject to income tax on the distributions upon inheriting a tax-deferred retirement account. Planning for these tax implications is crucial in ensuring that your beneficiaries are not burdened with unexpected taxes.

Retirement assets are considered part of your estate and can impact your overall estate value and tax liability. Properly integrating retirement accounts into your estate plan can help achieve a balanced and tax-efficient distribution of your entire estate. This includes considering the impact on federal and state estate taxes and the income tax implications for your beneficiaries.

In conclusion, integrating retirement accounts into your estate plan is a complex but essential task. Understanding the nuances of how these accounts work in the context of estate and tax planning can ensure that your financial legacy is preserved and passed on according to your wishes. Consultation with financial and legal professionals is key to navigating this intricate aspect of estate planning effectively. If you would like to learn more about retirement accounts, please visit our previous posts. 

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Texas Trust Law Attorney Zachary Wiewel discusses the Corporate Transparency Act

Texas Trust Law Attorney Zachary Wiewel discusses the Corporate Transparency Act

Texas Trust Law Attorney Zachary Wiewel discusses the Corporate Transparency Act

We are always thrilled when one of our attorneys is featured in industry leading publications. Recently Zachary Wiewel was featured in a NAV.com article discussing the increasing importance of the Corporate Transparency Act.

The Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) became effective on January 1, 2021, but has just now entered its implementation phase. It is a federal law that imposes stringent reporting requirements on business entities. Zach discusses who must make the required reporting and what they must report. He also breaks down the potential penalties for non-compliance. This act and its requirements may have a significant impact on those individuals and families that maintain LLCs and other corporate vehicles in their estate planning.

We hope you take a moment to read this informative article.

Texas Trust Law Attorney Zachary Wiewel discusses the Corporate Transparency Act can be found at the link below:

https://www.nav.com/business-formation/navigating-corporate-transparency-act-insights-small-businesses/

If you would like to learn more about Zachary Wiewel, JD, LL.M. (Tax) please visit his bio.


WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO

Meetings with attorneys always seem to deal with the WHAT and HOW of estate planning and probate. At Texas Trust Law we call ourselves The Peace of Mind People®. We want to take a moment and tell you WHY we do what we do.

Here is the WHY of Texas Trust Law: We LOVE taking complex legal concepts and making those understandable to our clients and their advisors so they can take action. That then allows us to bring peace of mind to our clients and their family if they become incapacitated, at death, and when they are concerned about protecting themselves, their wealth, and their loved ones from predators, problematic family members and the IRS.

Life Insurance is vital to Estate Planning

Life Insurance is vital to Estate Planning

Life insurance is vital to comprehensive estate planning. Integrating life insurance policies into estate planning can provide financial security for your heirs and ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes. When used effectively, life insurance can solve a range of estate planning challenges, from providing immediate cash flow to beneficiaries to helping cover estate tax liabilities.

Incorporating life insurance into your estate plan requires careful consideration of the type of policy that best suits your needs, whether term life insurance for temporary coverage or whole life insurance for permanent protection. It’s essential to understand the insurance company’s role in managing these policies and ensuring that they align with your overall estate objectives.

Life insurance can play a crucial role in estate planning. It can provide a death benefit to cover immediate expenses after your passing, such as funeral costs and debts, thereby alleviating financial burdens on your heirs. Furthermore, life insurance proceeds can be used to pay estate taxes, ensuring that your beneficiaries receive their inheritance without liquidating other estate assets.

When selecting life insurance for estate planning purposes, it’s important to consider the different types of policies available, such as term insurance for short-term needs and permanent insurance for long-term planning. An insurance agent can be a valuable resource in this process, helping to determine the right policy type for your estate planning goals.

Term life insurance offers coverage for a specified period and is often used for short-term estate planning needs, such as providing financial support to minor children. On the other hand, permanent life insurance policies, like whole life or universal life insurance, offer lifelong coverage and can build cash value over time, which can be an asset in your overall estate.

Life insurance trusts, particularly irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs), play a significant role in estate planning. By placing a life insurance policy within a trust, you can exert greater control over how the death benefit is distributed among your beneficiaries. The trust owns the policy, removing it from your taxable estate and potentially reducing estate tax liabilities.

Since the trust is irrevocable, it provides a layer of protection against creditors and legal judgments, ensuring that the life insurance payout is used solely for the benefit of your designated beneficiaries.

When considering life insurance in estate planning, it’s important to evaluate how the death benefit of a life insurance policy will impact your estate’s overall financial picture and the inheritance your heirs will receive. The proceeds from a life insurance policy are typically not subject to federal income tax. However, they can still be included in your gross estate for estate tax purposes, depending on the ownership of the policy.

One of the primary uses of life insurance in estate planning is to provide funds to pay estate taxes. This is especially relevant for larger estates that may face significant federal and state estate taxes. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can be used to cover these taxes, ensuring that your heirs do not have to liquidate other estate assets to meet tax obligations. In planning for estate taxes, working with professionals, such as estate attorneys and tax advisors, is essential to ensure that your life insurance coverage aligns with your anticipated tax liabilities.

Life insurance can offer substantial financial support to your heirs and beneficiaries upon your passing. Whether providing for a spouse, children, or other dependents, life insurance can ensure that your loved ones are cared for financially. This is particularly important in cases where other estate assets are not readily liquid or if you wish to leave a specific inheritance to certain beneficiaries.

When selecting life insurance for this purpose, consider the needs of your heirs, their ability to manage a large sum of money and how the death benefit will complement other aspects of your estate plan.

In conclusion, life insurance plays a vital role in comprehensive estate planning. By carefully selecting the right type of policy, designating appropriate beneficiaries and considering the use of trusts, you can ensure that your estate plan effectively addresses your financial goals and provides for your loved ones after your passing. If you would like to learn more about life insurance and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

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A QPRT is a unique financial tool

A QPRT is a unique financial tool

A Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) is a unique financial tool used in estate planning to reduce the potential estate tax liability by transferring a principal residence or vacation home into a trust. As an irrevocable type of trust, a QPRT allows the grantor to remain in the home for a predetermined term of years, making it a strategic choice for those looking to manage their estate tax effectively. Learn more about QPRTs.

In the realm of estate planning, QPRTs serve a dual purpose. They provide a mechanism to transfer a residence at a reduced tax cost, while ensuring that the property remains part of the family legacy. This is particularly advantageous in the context of rising real estate values and the corresponding increase in estate tax liabilities.

The structure of a Qualified Personal Residence Trust is centered around its ability to freeze the value of the residence at the time of the transfer to the trust. When a residence is transferred into a QPRT, its value for gift tax purposes is determined at that time. This is beneficial if the property appreciates in value over the trust term, since the appreciation occurs outside the grantor’s taxable estate.

Furthermore, the trust term is a critical component of a QPRT. It is during this period that the grantor retains the right to live in the home. The length of the trust term can significantly impact the tax benefits of the QPRT, making it essential to choose a term that aligns with the grantor’s estate planning objectives. American Bar Association’s insights on estate planning.

One of the primary benefits of using a QPRT in estate planning is the potential for significant estate tax savings. Transferring a residence into a QPRT removes the property from the grantor’s taxable estate, potentially leading to lower estate taxes upon the grantor’s death.

In addition to estate tax advantages, a QPRT also offers protection for the principal residence. This ensures that the residence can be passed down to beneficiaries, typically the grantor’s children, at a reduced tax cost. It’s a strategic way to preserve a valuable family asset for future generations, while minimizing the estate tax burden.

Creating a Qualified Personal Residence Trust involves a few key steps. The first step is to determine the value of the residence, which will be based on its fair market value at the time of the transfer. This valuation is crucial for calculating the gift tax implications of the transfer.

Choosing the right trust term for your QPRT is equally important. The term should be long enough to offer substantial tax benefits but not so long that the grantor is unlikely to outlive it. If the grantor does not outlive the trust term, the residence reverts back to the estate, negating the tax benefits. Guidance from the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils.

When using a QPRT for your primary residence, it’s important to understand the rules surrounding occupancy. During the trust term, the grantor has the right to live in the home. This right is crucial, as it allows the grantor to continue enjoying their home while reaping the trust’s benefits.

Transferring your primary residence to a QPRT can be a smart estate planning move. It allows you to reduce your taxable estate, while maintaining your lifestyle. However, it’s essential to comply with all the trust requirements to ensure that the tax benefits are realized.

A QPRT can also be used effectively for a secondary or vacation home. The same principles apply: the home is transferred into the trust, potentially reducing estate taxes while allowing continued use of the property during the trust term.

However, there are some specific considerations when using a QPRT for a vacation home. Since these properties are often not the primary residence, it’s essential to understand how the trust will affect your use of the property and any potential rental income.

Understanding the tax implications of a QPRT is crucial. For estate tax purposes, the transfer of the residence to the QPRT is treated as a gift, but the grantor’s retained interest reduces the value of the gift in the property. This can lead to significant gift tax savings.

Income tax considerations are also important. The grantor of a QPRT typically continues to pay the property taxes and can deduct these payments on their personal income tax return. This arrangement can be beneficial from an income tax perspective.

What happens at the end of the QPRT term is a critical aspect of the trust. If the grantor outlives the term, the property is transferred to the beneficiaries, typically without additional estate or gift taxes. This is the ideal scenario, since it maximizes the tax benefits of the QPRT.

If the grantor wishes to continue living in the home after the trust term expires, they can lease it from the trust beneficiaries. This arrangement allows the grantor to remain in the home, while ensuring the property remains outside their taxable estate.

At the end of the QPRT term, there may be opportunities to further estate planning objectives by transitioning the property to another trust. This could involve creating a new trust that continues to hold the property for the benefit of family members, providing ongoing estate planning advantages.

This transition is a strategic move that can ensure the continued protection of the property and further estate tax savings. However, it requires careful planning and adherence to tax laws and regulations.

In conclusion, a QPRT is a unique financial tool to minimize estate taxes while protecting your primary or secondary residence. A QPRT can be a powerful tool in your estate planning arsenal by carefully selecting the trust term and understanding the tax implications.

If you’re considering a QPRT as part of your estate plan or have questions about how this type of trust could benefit you, contact our law firm today. Our experienced estate planning attorneys are here to guide you through every step of the process, ensuring that your estate plan is tailored to your unique needs and goals. If you would like to learn more about different types of trusts, please visit our previous posts. 

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Adjustment in Cost Basis is a Crucial Tax Consideration

Adjustment in Cost Basis is a Crucial Tax Consideration

The adjustment in cost basis is a crucial tax consideration. The adjustment in the cost basis is sometimes overlooked in estate planning, even though it can be a tax game-changer. Under this tax provision, an inherited asset’s cost basis is determined not by what the original owner paid but by the value of the asset when it is inherited after the original owner’s death.

Since most assets appreciate over time, as explained in the article “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up” from Montgomery County News, this adjustment is often referred to as a “step-up” basis. A step-up can create significant tax savings when assets are sold and is a valuable way for beneficiaries to maximize their inheritance.

In most cases, assets included in the decedent’s overall estate will receive an adjustment in basis. Stocks, land, and business interests are all eligible for a basis adjustment. Others, such as Income in Respect of the Decedent (IRD), IRAs, 401(k)s, and annuities, are not eligible.

Under current tax law, the cost basis is the asset’s value on the date of the original owner’s death. The asset may technically accrue little to no gain, depending on how long they hold it before selling it and other factors regarding its valuation. The heir could face little to no capital gains tax on the asset’s sale.

Of course, it’s not as simple as this, and your estate planning attorney should review assets to determine their eligibility for a step-up. Some assets may decrease in value over time, while assets owned jointly between spouses may have different rules for basis adjustments when one of the spouses passes. The rules are state-specific, so check with a local estate planning attorney.

To determine whether the step-up basis is helpful, clarify estate planning goals. Do you own a vacation home you want to leave to your children or investments you plan to leave to grandchildren? Does your estate plan include philanthropy? Reviewing your current estate plan through the lens of a step-up in basis could lead you to make some changes.

Let’s say you bought 20,000 shares of stock ten years ago for $20 a share, with the original cost-basis being $400,000. Now, the shares are worth $40 each, for a total of $800,000. You’d like your adult children to inherit the stock.

There are several options here. You could sell the shares, pay the taxes, and give your children cash. You could directly transfer the shares, and they’d receive the same basis in your stock at $20 per share. You could also name your children as beneficiaries of the shares.

As long as the shares are in a taxable account and included in your gross estate when you die, your heirs will get an adjustment in basis based on the fair market value on the day of your passing.

If the fair market value of the shares is $50 when you die, your heirs will receive a step up in basis to $50. The gain of $30 per share will pass to your children with no tax liability.

Tax planning is part of a comprehensive estate plan, and the adjustment in cost basis is a crucial tax consideration. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family minimize tax liabilities. If you would like to learn more about tax planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Montgomery County News (Dec. 20, 2023) “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up”

 

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Seniors are missing out on Tax Deductions

Seniors are missing out on Tax Deductions

Many seniors are missing out on tax deductions and tax savings, according to a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, “Four Lucrative Tax Deductions That Seniors Often Overlook.” The tax code is complicated, and changes are frequent.

Since 2017, there have been several major tax changes, including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the pandemic-era Cares Act and the climate and healthcare package known as the Inflation Reduction Act. Those are just three—there’s been more. Unless you’re a tax expert, chances are you won’t know about the possibilities. However, these four could be very helpful for seniors, especially those living on fixed incomes.

The IRS does offer a community-based program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly. This community-based program includes free tax return preparation for seniors aged 60 and over in low to moderate-income brackets. However, not everyone knows about this program or feels comfortable with an IRS-run tax program.

Here are four overlooked tax deductions for seniors:

Extra standard deduction. Millions of Americans take the standard deduction—a flat dollar amount determined by the IRS, which reduces taxable income—instead of itemizing deductions like mortgage interest and charitable deductions on the 1040 tax form.

In the 2023 tax year, seniors who are 65 or over or blind and meet certain qualifications are eligible for an extra standard deduction in addition to the regular deduction.

The extra standard deduction for seniors for 2023 is $1,850 for single filers or those who file as head of household and $3,000 for married couples, if each spouse is 65 or over filing jointly. This boosts the total standard deduction for single filers and married filing jointly to $15,700 and $30,700, respectively.

IRA contributions by a spouse. Did you know you can contribute earned income to a nonworking or low-earning spouse’s IRA if you file a joint tax return as a married couple? These are known as spousal IRAs and are treated just like traditional IRAs, reducing pretax income. They are not joint accounts—the individual spouse owns each IRA, and you can’t do this with a Roth IRA. There are specific guidelines, such as the working spouse must earn at least as much money as they contributed to both of the couple’s IRAs.

Qualified charitable distributions. Seniors who make charitable donations by taking money from their bank account or traditional IRA and then writing a check from their bank account is a common tax mistake. It is better to use a qualified charitable deduction, or QCD, which lets seniors age 70 ½ and older transfer up to $100,000 directly from a traditional IRA to a charity tax-free. Married couples filing jointly can donate $200,000 annually, and neither can contribute more than $100,000.

The contributions must be made to a qualified 501(c)(3) charity. The donation can’t be from Donor-Advised Funds. This is a great option when you need to take the annual withdrawal, known as a Required Minimum Distribution or RMD, and don’t need the money.

Medicare premium deduction. A self-employed retiree can deduct Medicare premiums even if they don’t itemize. This includes Medicare Part B and D, plus the cost of supplemental Medigap policies or a Medicare Advantage plan. The IRS considers self-employed people who own a business as a sole proprietor (Schedule C), partner (Schedule E), limited liability company member, or S corporation shareholder with at least 2% of the company stock.

Remember, you must have business income to qualify, since you can deduct premiums by only as much as you earn from your business. You also can’t claim the deduction if your health insurance is covered by a retiree medical plan hosted by a former employer or your spouse’s employer’s medical plan.

Seniors should consult with an estate planning attorney make sure they are not missing out on possible tax deductions. If you would like to learn more about tax planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 29, 2023) “Four Lucrative Tax Deductions That Seniors Often Overlook”

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Qualified Charitable Distributions benefit older Taxpayers

Qualified Charitable Distributions benefit older Taxpayers

Qualified charitable distributions use the federal tax code to benefit older taxpayers and must take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Recent changes in federal law under the SECURE Act 2.0 present even more opportunities to use QCDs, according to a recent article, “Planning Ahead: Expanding on year-end tax strategies for Qualified Charitable Distributions,” from The Mercury. How does it work?

Required Minimum Distributions for seniors can become a problem since taxpayers above a given age must withdraw specific amounts based on their age from traditional retirement accounts and pay taxes on the withdrawals, regardless of whether they need the money. The reason is obvious: if people weren’t required to take funds out of their accounts, the government would never have the opportunity to generate tax revenue. The QCD lessens the blow of the additional year-end taxes by providing some relief through donations to qualified charities.

Used correctly, the QCD serves two purposes: saving on taxes and benefiting a favorite charity. Charities include any 501(c)(3) entities under the federal tax code. Before using a QCD, ensure the charity you choose is a qualified 501(c)(3). Otherwise, you’ll lose any tax benefits.

Your estate planning attorney can help you understand the process of making a QCD. You’ll need to coordinate with the custodian of the IRA. While some may provide step-by-step information, others require you to coordinate with your estate planning attorney and financial advisor. A reminder—the point of the QCD is that the distribution does not appear in your adjusted gross income and goes directly to the charity.

Usually, taking RMDs adds funds to your taxable income, which can, unfortunately, push you into a higher income tax bracket. It could also limit or eliminate some tax deductions, such as personal exemptions and itemized deductions. There may be increases in taxes on Social Security benefits as well. Whether you want or need to take the RMD, you must take it and include it as taxable income.

Qualified charitable distributions benefit older taxpayers by allowing individuals required to take RMDs to donate up to $100,000 to one or more qualified charities directly from a taxable IRA, without the funds being counted as income.

The RMD age has increased to 73, but the $100,000 will be indexed for inflation. Under SECURE Act 2.0, individuals will be allowed to make a one-time election of up to $50,000 inflation-indexed for QCDs to certain entities, including Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts, Charitable Remainder Unitrusts and Charitable Gift Annuities.

QCDs cannot be made to donor-advised funds, private foundations and supporting organizations, even though these are often categorized as charities.

It must be noted that the rules concerning QCD are detailed and strict—you’ll want the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

The QCD must be made by December 31 of the tax year in question. If you would like to learn more about charitable planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Mercury (Nov. 22, 2023) “Planning Ahead: Expanding on year-end tax strategies for Qualified Charitable Distributions”

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Credit Card Debt must be Paid after Death

When you consider the average credit card balance in 2023 was $6,365, chances are many Americans will leave an unpaid credit card balance if they die suddenly. Credit card debt must be paid after death. A recent article from yahoo! finance asks and answers the question, “What happens to credit card debt when you die?”

Many people think death leads to debt forgiveness. However, this isn’t the case. Some forms of debt, like federal student loans, may be discharged if the borrower dies. However, this is the exception and not the rule.

Credit card debt doesn’t evaporate when the cardholder goes away. It generally must be paid by the estate, which means the amount of debt will reduce your loved one’s inheritance. In some cases, credit card debt might mean they don’t receive an inheritance at all.

Outstanding credit card debt is paid by your estate, which means your individual assets owned at the time of death, including real estate, bank accounts, or any other valuables acquired during your life.

Upon death, your will is submitted to the court for probate, the legal process of reviewing the transfer of assets. It ensures that all debts and taxes are paid before issuing the remaining assets to your designated heirs.

If you have a will, you likely have an executor—the person you named responsible for carrying out your wishes. They are responsible for settling any outstanding debts of the estate. If there’s no will, the court will appoint an administrator or a personal representative to manage the assets.

In most cases, your heirs won’t have to pay off your credit card debt with their own funds. However, you may be surprised to learn there are exceptions:

  • Married people living in community property states. In a community property state, the deceased spouse is responsible for repaying credit card debt incurred by their spouse. In 2023, those states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
  • Credit cards with joint owners. If you had a joint credit card shared with a partner or relative, the surviving joint owner is responsible for the full outstanding balance. Only joint users are responsible for repaying credit card debt. If your partner was an authorized user and not an owner, they aren’t legally responsible for the debt.

Debt collectors may try to collect from family members, even though the family members are not responsible for paying credit card debts. The debt collector may not state or imply that the family member is personally responsible for the debt, unless they are the spouse in a community property state or a joint account owner.

If a debt collector claims you personally owe money, request a debt validation letter showing your legal responsibility for the debt. Otherwise, you have no legal obligation to pay for it yourself.

When someone dies, their estate is responsible for paying debts, including credit card debt. However, debt is repaid in a certain order. In general, unsecured debt like credit card balances are the lowest priority and paid last.

Some accounts are exempt from debt payment:

  • Money in a 401(k) or IRA with a designated beneficiary goes directly to the beneficiary and is exempt from any debt repayment.
  • Life insurance death benefits go directly to the named beneficiary and go directly to the beneficiaries.

If a loved one has died and they had credit cards, stop using any of their cards, even if you are an authorized user or joint owner. Review the deceased’s credit report to learn what accounts are open in their name and the balance on each account. Notify credit card issuers and alert credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You may need to submit a written notification, a copy of the death certificate and proof of your being an authorized person to act on behalf of the estate.

The bottom line is this: credit card debt must be paid at your death. Talk with an estate planning attorney to find out how your state’s laws treat the outstanding debt of a deceased person, as these laws vary by state. If you would like to learn more about managing debt as an executor of an estate, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: yahoo! finance (Nov. 9, 2023) “What happens to credit card debt when you die?”

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Tax Planning may Impact your Medicare Costs

Tax planning may impact your Medicare costs. How much retirees pay for Medicare Part B premiums is based on income levels, and an income increase of even $1 can trigger higher tax rates, explains the recent article, “Year-end tax strategies may affect how much retirees pay for Medicare. Here’s what to know” from CNBC.

Social Security beneficiaries will receive a 3.2% increase in benefits in 2024 based on the annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment). According to the Social Security Administration, this will result in an estimated increase of more than $50 per month, bringing the average monthly retirement benefit for workers from $1,848 in 2023 to $1,907 in 2024.

How much beneficiaries will actually receive won’t be known until December, when annual benefit statements are sent out. One factor possibly offsetting those benefit increases is the size of Medicare Part B premiums, which are typically deducted directly from Social Security monthly benefits.

Medicare Part B covers physician services, outpatient hospital services, some home health care services, durable medical equipment and other services not covered by Medicare Part A.

Medicare Part B premiums for 2024 have not yet been announced. However, the Medicare trustees have projected the standard monthly premium possibly being $174.80 in 2024, up from $164.90 in 2023.

Some beneficiaries may pay more, based on income, in what’s known as IRMAA or Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts. In 2023, it is the standard Part B premium for those who file individually and have $97,000 or less (or $194,000 or less for couples) in modified adjusted gross income on their federal tax return in 2021.

Monthly premiums can go up to as much as $560.50 per month for individuals with incomes of $500,000 and up, for couples with $750,000 and up.

Beneficiaries receive the same Medicare services regardless of the monthly Part B premium rate.

In 2024, the monthly Part B premiums will be based on 2022 federal tax returns. Beneficiaries need to pay attention to how their incomes may change when implementing year-end tax strategies.

For instance, if you do a Roth conversion, taking pre-tax funds from a traditional IRA or eligible qualified retirement plan like a 401(k) and moving them to a post-tax retirement account, you’ll trigger income taxes, which may trigger higher Medicare Part B premiums later.

Tax planning may impact your Medicare costs. People who do end-of-year tax loss harvesting, selling off assets at a loss to offset capital gains owed on other profitable investments, may reduce adjusted gross income and future Medicare premiums.

If you’re taking distributions from IRAs and want to make charitable donations, you might want to make those donations directly from your retirement account, known as a qualified charitable distribution. These funds don’t appear on your tax return and won’t increase income taxes or future Medicare premiums. If you would like to read more about Medicare and tax planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 12, 2023) “Year-end tax strategies may affect how much retirees pay for Medicare. Here’s what to know”

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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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