What are the Current Gift Tax Limits?

The expanded estate and gift tax exemptions expire at the end of 2025, which is not as far away as it seemed in 2017. For 2021, the lifetime exemption for both gift and estate taxes was $11.7 million per individual, and in 2022, an inflation adjustment boosted it to $12.06 million per person. The increase is set to lapse in 2025, according to the article “Estate and Gift Taxes 2021—2022: What’s New This Year and What You Need to Know” from The Wall Street Journal.

However, in 2019 the Treasury Department and the IRS issued “grandfather” regulations to allow the increased exemption to apply to earlier gifts, if Congress reduces the exemption in the future.

Let’s say Josh gives assets of $11 million to a trust to benefit heirs in 2020. The transfer had no gift tax because it was under the $11.58 million for 2020. If Congress lowers the exemption to $5 million per person and Josh dies in 2023, when the lower exemption is in effect, as the law now stands, the estate will not owe tax on any portion of his gift to the trust, even if $6 million is above the $5 million lifetime limit in effect at the time of his death.

Current law also has investment assets held at the time of death exempt from capital gains tax, known as the “step up in basis.” If Robin dies owning shares of stock worth $100 each, originally purchased for $5 each and held in a taxable account, the estate will not owe capital gains tax on the $95 growth of each share. The shares will go into Robin’s estate at their full market value of $100 each. Heirs who receive the shares have a cost basis of $100 as the starting point for measuring taxable gains or losses when they sell.

The annual gift tax exemption has risen to $16,000 per donor, per recipient, for 2022. A generous person can give someone else assets up to the limit every year, free of federal gift taxes. A married couple with two married children and six grandchildren could give away as much as $320,000 to their ten family members, plus $32,000 to other individuals, if they wished.

Annual gifts are not deductible for income tax purposes. They also do not count as income for the recipient. Gifts above the exclusion are subtracted from the giver’s lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. However, a married could use “gift splitting” to let one spouse make up to $32,000 of tax-free gifts per recipient on behalf of both partners. A gift tax return must be filed in this case to document the transaction for the IRS.

If the gift is not cash, the giver’s cost basis carries over to the recipient. If someone gives a family member a share of stock worth $1,000 originally acquired for $200, neither the giver nor the recipient owes tax on the gift. However, if the recipient sells, the starting point for measuring taxable gain will be $200. If the share is sold for $1,200, for instance, the recipient’s taxable gain would be $1,000.

For some families, “bunching” gifts for five years of annual $16,000 gifts to a 529 education account makes good sense. A gift tax return should also be filed in this case. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you in creating a gifting strategy to align with your estate plan and minimize taxes.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (March 10, 2022) “Estate and Gift Taxes 2021—2022: What’s New This Year and What You Need to Know.”

Should I have a Discretionary Trust in My Estate Plan?

The trustee who oversees a discretionary trust can use their discretion in determining when and how trust assets should be distributed to beneficiaries. There are several reasons why you might consider establishing a discretionary trust. The Facts’ recent article entitled “Your Estate Plan Could Improve with This Type of Trust” explains that a trust is a legal arrangement in which assets are managed by a trustee on behalf of one or more beneficiaries. In a typical trust arrangement, assets are managed according to the directions and wishes of the grantor (also known as the trustmaker, settlor, or trustor).

However, with a discretionary trust, the trust lets the trustee have full discretion when overseeing the distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries. This is a type of irrevocable trust, which means that the transfer of assets is permanent. The grantor can provide direction about when trust assets should be distributed and how much each trust beneficiary should receive. However, it is up to the trustee to decide what choices are made with regard to distributions of principal and interest from trust assets.

A discretionary trust can help to prevent mismanagement of assets on the part of beneficiaries. It can also offer protection against creditor lawsuits. The assets in a discretionary trust are protected because the trustee technically owns those assets, not the trust beneficiaries.

A discretionary trust can also be used in other situations where you may have concerns over how trust assets will be used, such as in the event a beneficiary divorces.

An experienced estate planning attorney can create a discretionary trust. When establishing the trust, you’ll need to decide:

  • Who to name as trustee and successor trustees
  • Which assets will be transferred to the trust
  • Who to name as trust beneficiaries; and
  • Under what situations you’d like assets to be distributed to beneficiaries.

It is an irrevocable trust. As a result, the transfer of assets is permanent. Therefore, be sure beforehand that this type of trust is appropriate for your estate planning needs.

Discretionary trusts can protect your beneficiaries from their own poor money habits, while preserving a legacy of wealth for future generations.

A properly structured discretionary trust can also have some estate tax planning benefits. Ask your attorney to explain this to you when you meet.

Reference: The Facts (March 7, 2022) “Your Estate Plan Could Improve with This Type of Trust”

Why Shouldn’t I Wait to Draft my Will?

There are countless reasons why people 50 and over fail to write a will, update a previous one, or make other estate planning decisions. Market Watch’s recent article entitled “We beat up 6 of your excuses for not writing a will (or updating an old one)” takes a closer look at those six reasons, and how to help overcome them.

Excuse No. 1: You have plenty of time. Sure, you know you need to do it. However, it’s an easy thing to move down on your priority list. We all believe we have time and that we’ll live to be 100. However, that’s not always the case. Set up an appointment with an experienced estate planning lawyer ASAP because what gets scheduled gets done.

Excuse No. 2: You don’t have a lot of money. Some think they have to have a certain amount of assets before estate planning matters. That isn’t true. Drafting these documents is much more than assigning your assets to your heirs: it also includes end-of-life decisions and deciding who would step in, if you were unable to make financial decisions yourself. It’s also wise to have up-to-date documents like a power of attorney and a living will in case you can’t make decisions for yourself.

Excuse No. 3: You don’t want to think about your death. This is a job that does require some time and energy. However, think about what could happen without an up-to-date estate plan. Older people have seen it personally, having had friends pass without a will and seeing the children fighting over their inheritance.

Excuse No. 4: It takes too much time. There’s a misconception about how time-consuming writing a will is. However, it really can be a fairly quick process. It can take as little as 2½ hours. First, plan on an hour to meet with the lawyer; an hour to review the draft; and a half-hour to sign and execute your documents. That is not a hard-and-fast time requirement. However, it is a fair estimate.

Excuse No. 5: You’d rather avoid making difficult decisions. People get concerned about how to divide their estate and aren’t sure to whom they should leave it. While making some decisions in your estate plan may seem final, you can always review your choices another time.

Excuse No. 6: You don’t want to pay an attorney. See this as investment in your loved ones’ futures. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney helps you uncover and address the issues you don’t even know you have. Maybe you don’t want your children to fight. However, there can be other issues. After all, you didn’t go to law school to learn the details of estate planning.

Reference: Market Watch (March 12, 2022) “We beat up 6 of your excuses for not writing a will (or updating an old one)”

What are the Pitfalls of a Charitable Remainder Trust?

If you have discretionary funds and are philanthropically minded, a charitable trust can serve you well, giving money to an organization you want to support, while passing assets to beneficiaries without burdening them with estate or gift taxes, but is it right for you? Some of the answers can be found in a recent article from U.S. News & World Report titled “Should you Set Up A Charitable Trust?”

Some basics to consider about charitable trusts are:

  • There are a number of different types.
  • Consider all disadvantages and alternatives.
  • Make sure it works with your estate plan and your long-term financial plan.

The most common types of charitable trusts are the Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) and the Charitable Lead Trust. For the CRT, funding begins with cash or other assets, like stocks. The trust pays an income stream to family members or beneficiaries while they are living or for a set period of time. When they die, or when the time period ends, the remaining assets in the trust go directly to the charity.

For a Charitable Lead Trust (CLT), payments first go to the charity and then the remainder transfers to the beneficiary at the end of the trust term. One of the benefits of the CLT is to reduce the beneficiary’s tax liability, while giving the estate a charitable deduction.

An estate planning attorney will help refine these choices to the ones best suited for each individual. The CLT and CRT let you support a cause you believe in, while alleviating the tax burden to loved ones.

Charitable trusts are also useful when wishing to sell an asset. If an asset with a large capital gain is to be sold, like real estate, individual stock or a business, the asset may be moved into the charitable trust. The trust becomes the owner of the asset, and then the asset can be sold, avoiding the capital gain. Speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that this is done correctly.

What about the disadvantages? There are fees to establish and maintain a trust. Charitable trusts are usually irrevocable, so if your financial situation changes, you may not be able to gain access to the funds. There may also be some pushback from heirs or family members who would rather see your money being given directly to them and not a charity.

Make sure that the benefits you and your heirs seek to gain from establishing a charitable trust, whichever type you use, outweigh the management costs. Do not create a trust with money you may need in the future. Charitable trusts are feasible only if you have already paid off all debts and are confident you will not need any of the assets in the future.

The exact amount to put in the trust should be carefully considered, with an eye to future expenses and your overall financial status. Your estate planning attorney may wish to meet with you and senior officers from the charity to ensure a clear understanding of your wishes and make sure that this is the best solution for all.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 23, 2022) “Should you Set Up A Charitable Trust?”

What are Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes?

The Huffington Post’s recent article entitled “The Biggest Mistakes People Make In Their Wills, According To Estate Lawyers” explains that your last will and testament is one of the most important legal documents you’ll ever have. A will lets you state where you want your property, minor children and debts to go after you die. It also allows you to appoint an executor to carry out your wishes. The lack of a will is a common tragic mistake. Just about everyone over the age of 18 needs some estate planning. The following are some of the major estate planning mistakes:

  1. Assigning co-executors. You should name only one executor, with alternate executors. Many testators want to make all their children responsible for administering the estate. However, that’s a really bad idea. If you have two executors, and they don’t agree, who gets the final say? However, if you’re set on naming more than one, make it an odd number so it’s majority-rule.
  2. Thinking a will is all you need to avoid probate. Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate whether they die with a will or without one (i.e., “intestate”). Although a valid will can say where assets are allocated, it will likely not avoid the probate process if there are assets titled solely in your name. If you have a will in place, but a bank account doesn’t have a beneficiary designation, the assets likely have to go through the probate process before being distributed according to the terms of your will.
  3. Being too vague about items with sentimental value. When people pass away, relationships change. Money can change people. Children who got along so well when you were alive may not get along as well when you’re gone and not there to mediate between them. If you’re too general, a term may be based on interpretation. If people interpret it differently, there’s a problem. If you know that someone wants a specific item, write it down.
  4. Failing to update your will to reflect life changes. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to doing wills or estate plans is their failure to update those documents. There are a number of life events that require the documents to be updated, such as marriage, divorce and births of children. It is recommended that your estate plan be revisited every few years.
  5. Failing to hire an experienced estate planning attorney. It’s important to get your estate planning documents correct. This is because when the documents are executed, the difference between a good set of documents and those drafted by a non-attorney (or one who doesn’t practice in this area of law) can mean considerably more time, money and stress.

Reference: Huffington Post (March 8, 2022) “The Biggest Mistakes People Make in Their Wills, According to Estate Lawyers”

Is It Important for Physicians to Have an Estate Plan?

When the newly minted physician completes their residency and begins practicing, the last thing on their minds is getting their estate plan in order. Instead, they should make it a priority, according to a recent article titled “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead” from Medical Economics. Physicians accumulate wealth to a greater degree and faster than most people. They are also in a profession with a higher likelihood of being sued than most. They need an estate plan.

Estate planning does more than distribute assets after death. It is also asset protection. An estate planning attorney helps physicians, dentists and other medical professionals protect their assets and their legacies.

Basic estate planning documents include a last will and testament, financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. However, the physician’s estate is complex and requires an attorney with experience in asset protection and business succession.

During the process of creating an estate plan, the physician will need to determine who they would want to serve as a guardian, if there are minor children and what they would want to occur if all of their beneficiaries were to predecease them. A list should be drafted with all assets, debts, including medical school loans, life insurance documents and retirement or pension accounts, including the names of beneficiaries.

The will is the center of the estate plan. It will require naming a person, typically a spouse, to be the executor: the person in charge of administering the estate. If the physician is not married, a trusted relative or friend can be named. There should also be a second person named, in case the first is unable to serve.

If the physician owns their practice, the estate plan should be augmented with a business succession plan. The will’s executor may need to oversee decisions regarding the sale of the practice. A trusted friend with no business acumen or knowledge of how a medical practice works may not be the best executor. These are all important considerations. Special considerations apply when the “business” is a professional practice, so do not make any moves without expert estate planning assistance.

The will only controls assets in the individual’s name. Assets owned jointly, or those with a beneficiary designation, are not governed by the will.

Without a will, the entire estate may need to go through probate, which is a lengthy and expensive process. For one family, their father’s lack of a will and secrecy took 18 months and cost $30,000 in legal fees for the estate to be settled.

Trusts are an option for protecting assets. By placing assets in trust, they are protected from creditors and provide control in complex family situations. The goal is to create a trust and fund it before any legal actions occur. Transferring assets after a lawsuit has begun or after a creditor has attached an asset could lead to a physician being charged with fraudulent conveyance—where assets are transferred for the sole purpose of avoiding paying creditors.

Estate planning is never a one-and-done event. If a doctor starts a family limited partnership to transfer wealth to the next generation but neglects to properly maintain the partnership, some or all of the funds may be vulnerable.

An estate plan needs to be reviewed every few years and certainly every time a major life event occurs, including marriage, divorce, birth, death, relocation, or a significant change in wealth.

When consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney, a doctor should ask about the potential benefits of revocable living trust planning to avoid probate, maintain privacy and streamline the administration of the estate upon incapacity or at death.

Reference: Medical Economics (Feb. 22, 2022) “Physicians, get your estate in order or the court will do it instead”

How Do I Protect Myself and My Children in a Second Marriage?

In first marriages, working together to raise children can solidify a marriage. However, in a second marriage, the adult children are in a different position altogether. If important estate planning issues are not addressed, the relationship between the siblings and the new spouses can have serious consequences, according to a recent article titled “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Chief among the issues center on inheritances and financial matters, especially if one of the parties has the bulk of the income and the assets. How will the household expenses be shared? Should they be divided equally, even if one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other?

Other concerns involve real estate. If both parties own their own homes, in which house will they live? Will the other home be used for rental income or sold? Will both names be on the title for the primary residence?

Planning for incapacity also becomes more complex. If a 90-year-old man marries a 79-year-old woman, will his children or his spouse be named as agents (i.e., attorneys in fact) under his Power of Attorney if he is incapacitated? Who will make healthcare decisions for the 79-year-old spouse—her children or her 90-year-old husband?

There are so many different situations and family dynamics to consider. Will a stepdaughter end up making the decision to withdraw artificial feeding for an elderly stepmother, if the stepmother’s own children cannot be reached in a timely manner? If stepsiblings do not get along and critical decisions need to be made, can they set aside their differences to act in their collective parent’s best interests?

The matter of inheritances for second and subsequent marriages often becomes the pivot point for family discord. If the family has not had an estate plan created with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the complexities of multiple marriages, then the battles between stepchildren can become nasty and expensive.

Do not discount the impact of the spouses of adult children. If you have a stepchild whose partner feels they have been wronged by the parent, they could bring a world of trouble to an otherwise amicable group.

The attorney may recommend the use of trusts to ensure the assets of the first spouse to die eventually make their way to their own children, while ensuring the surviving spouse has income during their lifetime. There are several trusts designed to accomplish this exact scenario, including one known as SLAT—Spousal Lifetime Access Trust.

Discussions about health care proxies and power of attorney should take place well before they are needed. Ideally, all members of the family can gather peacefully for discussions while their parents are living, to avoid surprises. If the relationships are rocky, a group discussion may not be possible and parents and adult children may need to meet for one-on-one discussions. However, the conversations still need to take place.

Second marriages at any age and stage need to have a prenuptial and an estate plan in place before the couple walks down the aisle to say, “I do…again.”

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (March 1, 2022) “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?”

What are My Responsibilities if I’m Named an Executor?

An executor is the person who helps finalize the finances and assets for a deceased person. As executor of an estate, you will need to get copies of the death certificate, notify authorities, such as Social Security, to stop benefits and may be involved in arranging the funeral.

You will also need to follow the instructions in the will to administer the estate.

You will organize the assets, pay off any debts, close accounts like utilities and cable or phone plans and distribute money and possessions to beneficiaries.

US News’ recent article entitled “How to Prepare to Be an Executor of an Estate” takes a look at the responsibilities.

If you are asked and accept the position, start by finding the important documents, like the will. As executor, you are acting in a fiduciary capacity, and your efforts are directed toward the interests of the beneficiaries of the decedent’s the estate.

The time required to be an executor can be extensive. If you are asked to be the executor before the person passes away, ask to locate the original will. Read it and make certain that you understand it.

There are also requirements that must be met to be an executor of an estate. Anyone convicted of a felony is not allowed to be an executor, even if they are named in the decedent’s will. The exact rules vary, depending on the state, so ask an estate planning attorney.

After the death, it typically takes at least six months or more to carry out all the administrative work related to the estate. Therefore, if you do not have the time, do not agree to serve as executor.

Finally, executors may be compensated for their work. Some states have commission schedules listed in their statutes that the executor can collect, while other states require that you keep track of your time and the judge will authorize “reasonable” compensation for your actual efforts.

Ask for help if tasks seem overwhelming or you do not understand certain instructions on accounts or the will. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist.

Reference: US News (Dec. 22, 2021) “How to Prepare to Be an Executor of an Estate”

What Can I Do Instead of a Stretch IRA?

The idea of leaving a large inheritance to loved ones is a dream for some parents. However, without careful planning, heirs may end up with a large tax bill. When Congress passed the SECURE Act in December 2019, one of the changes was the end of the stretch IRA, as reported by Kiplinger in a recent article titled “Getting Around the Stretch IRA Block.”

Before the SECURE Act, people who inherited traditional IRAs needed to only take a minimum distribution annually, based on their own life expectancy. The money could grow tax-deferred for the rest of their lives. The tax impact was mild, because withdrawals could be spread out over many years, giving the new owner control over their taxable income. The rules were the same for an inherited Roth IRA. Distributions were based on the heirs’ life expectancy. Roth IRA heirs had the added benefit of not having to pay taxes on withdrawals, since Roth IRAs are funded with post-tax dollars.

After the SECURE Act, inherited traditional and Roth IRAs need to be emptied within ten years. Heirs can wait until the 10th year and empty the account all at once—and end up with a whopping tax bill—or take it out incrementally. However, it has to be emptied within ten years.

There are some exceptions: spouses, disabled or chronically ill individuals, or those who are not more than ten years younger than the original owner can stretch out the distribution of the IRA funds. If an underage minor inherits a traditional IRA, they can stretch it until they reach legal age. At that point, they have to withdraw all the funds in ten years—from age 18 to 28. This may not be the best time for a young person to have access to a large inheritance.

These changes have left many IRA owners looking for alternative ways to leave inheritances and find a work-around for their IRAs to protect their heirs from losing their inheritance to taxes or getting their inheritance at a young age.

For many, the solution is converting their traditional IRA to a Roth, where the IRA owner pays the taxes for their heirs. The strategy is generous and may be more tax efficient if the conversion is done during a time in retirement when the IRA owner’s income is lower, and they may be in a lower tax bracket. The average person receiving an IRA inheritance is around 50, typically peak earning years and the worst time to inherit a taxable asset.

Another way to avoid the stretch IRA is life insurance. Distributions from the IRA can be used to pay premiums on a life insurance policy, with beneficiaries receiving death benefits. The proceeds from the policy are tax-free, although the proceeds are considered part of the policy owner’s estate. With the current federal exemption at $12.06 million for individuals, the state estate tax is the only thing most people will need to worry about.

A Charitable Remainder Trust can also be used to mimic a stretch IRA. A CRT is an irrevocable split-interest trust, providing income to the grantor and designated beneficiaries for up to twenty years or the lifetime of the beneficiaries. Any remaining assets are donated to charity, which must receive at least 10% of the trust’s initial value. If the CRT is named as the IRA beneficiary, the IRA funds are distributed to the CRT upon the owner’s death and the estate gets a charitable estate tax deduction (and not an income tax deduction) for the portion expected to go to the charity. Assets grow within the charitable trust, which pays out a set percentage to beneficiaries each year. The distributions are taxable income for the beneficiaries. There are two types of CRTs: Charitable Remainder Unitrust and a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust. An estate planning attorney will know which one is best suited for your family.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 3, 2022) “Getting Around the Stretch IRA Block”