What Does Tax Proposal Mean for Estate Planning?

The president’s tax plan proposes to nearly double the top tax rate on capital gains and eliminate a tax benefit on appreciated assets, known as the “step-up in basis.”

CNBC’s recent article entitled “Wealthy may face up to 61% tax rate on inherited wealth under Biden plan” reports that the combined tax rate would be the highest in nearly a century.

Some more well-off families could face combined tax rates of as much as 61% on inherited wealth under President Biden’s tax plan.

It is not known if President Biden’s plan can get through Congress, even with changes. Many moderate Democrats are likely to resist his proposal to raise the capital gains rate to 39.6%, as well as the plan to eliminate the step-up. Moreover, just a small number of the wealthiest taxpayers would ever see a rate of 61%. Most of us others would try to avoid this hike with tax and estate planning.

According to analysis by the Tax Foundation, families who own a business or a large amount of stock and want to transfer the assets to heirs could see a dramatic tax change.

For instance, you are an entrepreneur who started a business decades ago, that is now worth $100 million. Under the current tax law, the business would pass to the family without a capital gains tax—the value of the business would be “stepped-up,” or adjusted to its current value and the heirs would only pay a capital gain, if they later sold at a higher valuation. However, under President Biden’s plan, the family would immediately owe a capital gains tax of $42.96 million upon death (capital gains rate of 39.6%, plus the net investment income tax of 3.8%, minus the $1 million exemption).

If the estate tax remains unchanged, the family would also have an estate tax of 40% on the $57.04 million of remaining value of the assets. Including exemptions, the estate tax would amount to $18.13 million.

The combined estate tax and capital gains tax liability would total $61.10 million, reflecting a combined effective tax rate of just over 61% on the original $100 million asset. The rate rises, when including potential state capital gains and estate taxes.

However, experts say that if the step-up is eliminated, Congress would likely eliminate or overhaul the estate tax.

Reference: CNBC (May 3, 2021) “Wealthy may face up to 61% tax rate on inherited wealth under Biden plan”

How can I Revoke an Irrevocable Trust?

Is there a way to get a house deed out of the trust?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Can I dissolve an irrevocable trust to get my house out?” says that prior to finalizing legal documents, it is important to know the purpose and consequences of the plan.

An experienced estate planning attorney will tell you there are a variety of trust types that are used to achieve different objectives.

There are revocable trusts that can be created to avoid probate, and others trusts placed in a will to provide for minor children or loved ones with special needs.

Irrevocable trusts are often created to shield assets, including the home, in the event long-term nursing care is required.

Conveying assets to an irrevocable trust typically starts the five-year “look back” period for Medicaid purposes, if the trust is restricted from using the assets for, or returning assets to, the individual who created the trust (known as the “grantor”).

When you transfer assets to a trust, control of the assets is given to another person (the ‘trustee”).

This arrangement may protect assets in the event long-term care is required. However it comes with the risk that the trustee may not always act how the grantor intended.

For instance, the grantor can’t independently sell the house owned by the trust or compel the trustee to purchase a replacement residence, which may cause a conflict between the grantor and trustee. Because the trust is irrevocable, it could be difficult and expensive to unwind.

In light of this, it’s important to designate a trustee who will work with and honor the wishes of the grantor.

An experienced estate planning attorney retained for estate and asset planning should provide clear, understandable and thoughtful advice, so the client has the information needed to make an informed decision how to proceed.

Reference: nj.com (April 6, 2021) “Can I dissolve an irrevocable trust to get my house out?”

How to Simplify Estate Planning

For most people, estate planning and preparation doesn’t rank very high on their “to do” list. There are a number of reasons, but frequently it comes down these three: (i) cost; (ii) they believe it’s just for the rich; and (iii) it’s too complicated.

Fort Worth’s recent article entitled “3 Tips to Help Simplify Estate Planning,” explains that an estate plan really is not about you. It’s about taking care of your loved ones and charities.

Without an estate plan or last will, state intestacy law determines who gets your assets. You lose control of how your wealth will be distributed.

Let’s look at three tips to make it easier and to help you prepare for the future:

  1. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Estate planning is not something you ask your buddy to do. “Hey, Jimmy, help me write my will.” No way. Partner with an experienced estate planning attorney, so you are confident your documents comply with state law and that the plan’s language clearly details how your wealth should be managed.
  2. Review your estate planning documents regularly. We all have planned and unexpected events in our lives, like new grandchildren, illnesses, or significant increases or decreases in your net worth that could impact wealth and how it should be distributed. Meet regularly with your estate planning attorney and review your plan to make sure it still meets your needs and intentions.
  3. Organize important documents. Make certain important documents have been created and can be located quickly, if something happens to you. Here is a list of documents you should have on file that can be accessed by your spouse or family members in case of an emergency:
  • Wills, trusts, and other important estate planning documents
  • A list of tangible and intangible property
  • A list of financial accounts and insurance policies; and
  • Email accounts, logins, or other log-in information to your PC and phone.

Estate planning is not a DIY project. You need the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney to make certain that your wishes are carried out and that your estate plan can withstand any legal challenge.

Reference: Fort Worth (May 6, 2021) “3 Tips To Help Simplify Estate Planning”

Your Will and Estate Planning Checklist

Dying without a last will creates additional costs and eliminates any chance your wishes for loved ones will be followed after your death. Typically, people think about last wills when they marry or have children, and then do not think about last wills or estate plans until they retire. While a last will is important, there are other estate planning documents that are just as important, says the recent article “10 Steps to Writing a Will” from U.S. News & World Report.

Most assets, including retirement accounts and insurance policy proceeds, can be transferred to heirs outside of a will, if they have designated beneficiaries. However, the outcome of an estate may be more impacted by Power of Attorney for financial matters and Medical Power of Attorney documents.

Here are ten specific tasks that need to be completed for your last will to be effective. Remember, if the will does not comply with your state’s estate law, it can be declared invalid.

  1. Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
  2. Select beneficiaries for your last will.
  3. Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
  4. Decide who will be the executor of your last will.
  5. Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.
  6. Make a letter describing possessions and who you want to receive them. Be very specific.

There are also tasks for your own care while you are living, in case of incapacity:

  1. Name a person for the Power of Attorney role. They will be your representative for legal and financial matters, but only while you are living.
  2. Name a person for the Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot.
  3. Create an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will, to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
  4. Discuss these roles and their responsibilities with the people you have chosen, and make sure they are willing to serve.

Be realistic about the people you are naming to receive your property. If you have a child who is not good with managing money, a trust can be set up to distribute assets according to your wishes: by age or accomplishments, like finishing college, going to rehab, or maintaining a steady work history.

Do not forget to tell family members where they can find your last will and other estate documents. You should also talk with them about your digital assets. If accounts are protected by passwords or facial recognition, find out if the digital platform has a process for your executor to legally obtain access to your digital assets.

Finally, do not neglect updating your last will every three to four years or anytime you have a major life event. An estate plan is like a house: it needs regular maintenance. Old last wills can disinherit family members or lead to the wrong person being in charge of your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney will make the process easier and straightforward for you and your loved ones.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”

Do You Have to Do Probate when Someone Dies?

Probate is a Latin term meaning “to prove.” Legally, a deceased person may not own property, so the moment a person dies, the property they owned while living is in a legal state of limbo. The rightful owners must prove their ownership in court, explains the article “Wills and Probate” from Southlake Style. Probate refers to the legal process that recognizes a person’s death, proves whether or not a valid last will exists and who is entitled to assets the decedent owned while they were living.

The probate court oversees the payment of the decedent’s debts, as well as the distribution of their assets. The court’s role is to facilitate this process and protect the interests of all creditors and beneficiaries of the estate. The process is known as “probate administration.”

Having a last will does not automatically transfer property. The last will must be properly probated first. If there is a last will, the estate is described as “testate.” The last will must contain certain language and have been properly executed by the testator (the decedent) and the witnesses. Every state has its own estate laws. Therefore, to be valid, the last will must follow the rules of the person’s state. A last will that is valid in one state may be invalid in another.

The court must give its approval that the last will is valid and confirm the executor is suited to perform their duties. Texas is one of a few states that allow for independent administration, where the court appoints an administrator who submits an inventory of assets and liabilities. The administration goes on with no need for probate judge’s approval, as long as the last will contains the specific language to qualify.

If there was no last will, the estate is considered to be “intestate” and the laws of the state determine who inherits what assets. The laws rely on the relationship between the decedent and the genetic or bloodline family members. An estranged relative could end up with everything. The estate distribution is more likely to be challenged if there is no last will, causing additional family grief, stress and expenses.

The last will should name an executor or administrator to carry out the terms of the last will. The executor can be a family member or a trusted friend, as long as they are known to be honest and able to manage financial and legal transactions. Administering an estate takes time, depending upon the complexity of the estate and how the person managed the business side of their lives. The executor pays bills, may need to sell a home and also deals with any creditors.

The smart estate plan includes assets that are not transferrable by the last will. These are known as “non-probate” assets and go directly to the heirs, if the beneficiary designation is properly done. They can include life insurance proceeds, pensions, 401(k)s, bank accounts and any asset with a beneficiary designation. If all of the assets in an estate are non-probate assets, assets of the estate are easily and usually quickly distributed. Many people accomplish this through the use of a Living Trust.

Every person’s life is different, and so is their estate plan. Family dynamics, the amount of assets owned and how they are owned will impact how the estate is distributed. Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare for the future.

Reference: Southlake Style (May 17, 2021) “Wills and Probate”

What Do I Need to Know about Estate Planning?

Your idea of planning for the future may include vacations and visits to family and friends—estate planning, not so much. However, it should, advises Real Simple in the article “Everything You Need to Know About Estate Planning—and Why You Should Start Now.” Estate planning concerns decisions about distributing your property when you die, and while that’s not as much fun as planning a trip to an adventure park, it’s become increasing important for adults of all ages.

A survey by caring.com found that the number of young adults with a last will (ages 18-34) increased by 63 percent since 2020. Many tough lessons were learned through the pandemic, and the importance of having an estate plan was one of them.

An estate plan is more than documents for when you die. There are also documents for what should happen, if you become disabled. The last will is one piece of the larger estate plan. An estate plan is also an opportunity to plan for wealth accumulation and building generational wealth, at any level.

Estate planning is for everyone, regardless of their net worth. People with lower incomes actually need estate planning more than the wealthy. There’s less room for error. Estate planning is everything from where you want your money to go, to who will be in charge of it and who will be in charge of your minor children, if you have a young family.

It may be rare for both parents to die at the same time, but it does happen. Your last will is also used to name a guardian to raise your minor children. With no last will, the court will decide who raises them.

If you’ve filled out 401(k) and life insurance paperwork at work, you’ve started estate planning already. Any document that asks you to name a beneficiary in case of your death is part of your estate plan. Be certain to update these documents. Young adults often name their parents and then neglect to change the beneficiaries, when they get married or have children.

For single people, estate planning is more important. If you have no estate plan and no children, everything you own will go to your parents. What if you have a partner or best friend and want them to receive your assets? Without an estate plan, they have no legal rights. An estate planning attorney will know how to plan, so your wishes are followed.

Estate planning includes planning for disability, also known as “incapacity.” If you become too sick to manage your affairs, bills still need to be paid. Who can do that for you? Without an estate plan, a family member will need to go to court to be assigned that role—or someone you don’t even know may be assigned that role. Your last will names an executor to manage your affairs after you die.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to have your last will, Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney and other parts of your estate plan created. The court system and processes are complex, and the laws are different in every state. Trying to do it yourself or using a template that you download, could leave you with an invalid last will, which will cause more problems than it solves.

Reference: Real Simple (May 12, 2021) “Everything You Need to Know About Estate Planning—and Why You Should Start Now”

Why Is Estate Planning So Important?

Big Easy Magazine’s recent article “Estate Planning Is Essential and Here’s Why” says that writing a last will isn’t limited to what happens to your house, car, company, or other assets after you die. It also states who will take care of your minor children, if they are orphaned.

Your instructions for burial and other smaller things can be included.

If you fail to provide specific instructions, the state intestacy laws will apply upon your death. Here is a glimpse of the consequences of not writing your last will:

  • Your burial preferences may not be honored.
  • Your properties may be managed by an individual you don’t necessarily trust. Without a named executor to your last will, some other family member may be asked to file taxes, make transfers and manage your estate.
  • Family members may not get an inheritance. Under intestacy laws, same-sex relationships and common-law marriages may not be recognized. So, your partner may not get a portion of your estate.
  • Your favorite charity may be left out. If you are committed to leaving a legacy, your charity, religious organization, or other organization of choice should be mentioned in the last will.
  • The government will name the guardians for your minor children.

With a last will, you can designate a guardian for your children and avoid additional taxes. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about developing a comprehensive estate plan.

Aside from this, estate planning can also save your loved ones considerable angst and money.

A detailed last will with your instructions will avoid complications and provide comfort, while your loved ones recover emotionally from their loss.

Reference: Big Easy Magazine (May 17, 2021) “Estate Planning Is Essential and Here’s Why”

What Does SLAT Mean in Estate Planning?

Interest in SLATs, or Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts, has picked up as the new administration eyes possible revenue sources from estate and gift taxes. According to a recent article titled “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs” from U.S. News & World Report, even if no changes to exemption levels happen now, the current federal lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion of $11.7 million will expire in 2026. When that happens, the exemption will revert to the pre-2018 level of about $6 million, adjusted for inflation.

First, what is a SLAT? It’s an estate planning strategy where one spouse gifts assets to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the other spouse. This removes the asset from their joint estate, but the donor spouse may still indirectly retain access to the assets. The SLAT typically also benefits a secondary recipient, usually the couple’s children.

It’s important to work with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about this type of planning and tax law to ensure that the SLAT follows all of the rules. It is possible for a SLAT that is poorly created to be rejected by the IRS, so experienced counsel is a must.

The attorney and the couple need to look at how much wealth the family has and how much the family members will need to enjoy their quality of life for the rest of their lives. The funds placed in the SLAT are, ideally, funds that neither of the couple will need to access.

If a donor spouse can be approved for life insurance, that’s a good asset to place inside a SLAT. Tax-deferred assets are also good assets for SLATs. Trust tax rates can be very high. If securities are placed into the trust and they pay dividends, taxes must be paid. When life insurance pays out, the proceeds are estate-tax and income-tax free.

SLATs also protect assets from creditors.

There are pitfalls to SLATs, which is why an experienced estate planning attorney is so important. Married couples with large estates may set up separate SLATs for each other, but they must take into consideration the “reciprocal trust doctrine.” SLATs cannot be funded with identical assets and they cannot be set up at the same time. The IRS will collapse trusts that violate this rule. One SLAT can be done one year, and the second SLAT done the following year, and they should be funded with different assets.

There’s also a trade-off: while the SLAT gets assets out of the estate, they will not receive a step-up in basis at the time of the donor spouse’s death. Basis step-ups occur when the deceased spouse’s share in the cost basis of assets is stepped up to their value on the date of death.

Divorce or the death of the recipient spouse means the donor spouse loses access to the SLAT’s assets.

The SLAT requires coordination between the estate planning attorney and the financial advisor, so anyone considering this strategy should act now so their attorney has enough time to take the family’s entire estate plan into account. There also needs to be a third-party trustee, someone who is not the recipient and not related or subordinate to the recipient.

Assets don’t have to be placed into the SLATs immediately after they are created, so there is time to figure out what the couple wants to put into the SLAT. However, forgetting to fund the SLAT, like neglecting to fund any other trust, defeats the purpose of the trust.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 3, 2021) “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs”

Tackling Estate Plan Quarter by Quarter

Most of us know that a tax bill is typically due on April 15, and we know that our paychecks will include deductions for taxes, Social Security, and IRA or 401(k) contributions. If we are self-employed or retired, we make quarterly estimated tax payments. We plan throughout the year to be better prepared when April 15 comes around. The preparation takes place routinely over time, and the same can be done for estate planning and updating, says a recent article “Make quarterly payments to estate plan” from Victoria Advocate. It’s simple and sensible.

If we can make our plans today to make our eventual passing easier for loved ones and friends, why not divide and conquer, in a quarterly manner? Consider these quarterly “payments” to your estate plan and your family:

First Quarter: Review current estate plans with your estate planning attorney. Don’t have an estate plan? Get started. An estate plan includes a Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Directive to Physicians document and any trusts you might need.

The Will, aka Last Will and Testament, is the only one of these documents to be used post-mortem. The will is used to designate an executor to carry out your wishes and designate a person or persons to serve as legal guardians for minor children.

Second Quarter: Let your family know your wishes. Open communication with family members is a gift, so they are not left guessing during critical times. Finding the right words is not always easy, so try writing out your thoughts as you prepare your estate plan. Document your wishes for burial arrangements, information they’ll need for a death certificate or obituary. Do you want to donate your organs, or will your pet need special care? Where are your important papers located? Once you’ve had all the necessary documents created and have thought through these wishes and written a memo about them, let your future executor know what your wishes are, and where they can find the information that they’ll need.

Third Quarter: Do some easy but important estate planning tasks. Review the beneficiaries listed on your accounts. Assets and accounts that pass through beneficiary designations are not controlled by the will, so this is extremely important if it’s been more than a few years since you last reviewed these documents. Your IRA, SEP, 401(k), life insurance and any accounts titled Transfer or Payable on Death probably have beneficiaries listed.

Fourth Quarter: Does your estate plan include a legacy to future generations or charities? Speak with your estate planning attorney about how to pass your estate to children or grandchildren. If you have a unique goal, trusts can be as individual as you are.

As systematically as you pay taxes and bills, work through your estate plan so that you are prepared for the two things we know will occur, regardless of how we feel about them—taxes and death.

Reference: Victoria Advocate (May 8, 2021) “Make quarterly payments to estate plan”

How to Avoid Basic Estate Planning Miscues

WMUR’s recent article entitled “Common estate planning mistakes” gives us a few of the most common and potentially costly mistakes, along with help on how to avoid them.

Failing to plan. You delay and you delay. Most Americans don’t have a will and no estate plan. If you die without a will, your assets will be divided according to the intestacy laws of your state. There is no guarantee this would be consistent with your wishes. Whether an estate plan involves a basic will or perhaps a trust, having a plan can help reduce estate taxes, save on estate administrative costs, preserve privacy and speed up disbursement to beneficiaries. An estate plan can help direct how your assets are to be distributed. You can also designate a guardian for your minor children in your will.

Failing to maximize your marital estate exemption. Portability is an estate planning provision that can help with potential estates. Each person gets an $11.7 million federal estate tax exemption in 2021. If one spouse dies without using up his or her $11.7 million, the unused portion may be transferred to the other spouse for use at the survivor’s death. However, portability doesn’t address the appreciation of assets from the first spouse’s estate. It also doesn’t offer creditor protection. There are other documents in a comprehensive estate plan that can address these goals. Discuss the issues with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Failing to consider state estate taxes. You may live in one of the states that has state estate taxes. Twelve states and DC impose estate taxes. These include Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maryland. Keep this in mind when reviewing your strategy and make certain to discuss how portability is elected with your estate planning attorney.

Taking advice from family or friends. Make sure the person you discuss your estate plans with is knowledgeable about the process. Look for an experienced estate planning attorney who knows estate tax law, trust and probate issues. You may also ask this attorney, if they practice in elder law.

You should have your estate documents in place to give you peace of mind that things are going to happen as you wished upon your death.

Reference: WMUR (May 6, 2021) “Common estate planning mistakes”