What are the Worst Things to Leave in My Estate?
calculator and estate asset document representing the concept of death taxes

What are the Worst Things to Leave in My Estate?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “5 of the Worst Assets to Inherit” says that if you’re planning to leave an inheritance to others, you should take care in what you leave them. Some assets can cause problems. However, you can prevent problems with thoughtful estate planning and the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Let’s look at five of the worst assets to inherit and what you can do to help manage them before you pass away:

Timeshares. A timeshare is a long-term agreement where you get to use a vacation property. These contracts are notoriously difficult to end. If you pass away, and your children inherit the timeshare, they may be responsible for the ongoing contract costs. Allow your children to decide at your death whether they want to take over the contract. They can refuse to accept it then—even if your will left them the timeshare—by making a formal disclaimer of the asset.

Potentially Valuable Collectibles. This may be a coin collection, rare stamps, or a piece of artwork. Note that the capital gains tax rate on collectibles goes up to 28%, much higher than the maximum 20% long-term gains rate on other investments. When you die, your heirs receive a step-up-in-basis, meaning when they sell they receive tax-free what the collectible was worth on the day you die. Even so, there are some substantial risks to leaving valuable collectibles as an inheritance. One problem with collectibles is that thy may be difficult to value. If you have any valuable collectibles, tell your heirs where they’re located, their estimated value and the dealers they should work with after you’re gone, so they don’t run into trouble.

Guns. Firearms can also get complicated as an inheritance because of the amount of regulation. They aren’t the type of asset that you can simply hand over to a person without the proper registration or permit. There are a number of state and federal rules, depending on your state of residence and the type of gun.

Vacation Properties. Inherited vacation properties can be a potential financial and emotional problem, especially if you’re leaving one to multiple family members. Disagreements can arise over how often each can use the property, who owes what for the repairs, whether they should sell and whether they should buy one of them out and at what value, especially if one heirs is living far away and doesn’t want their share. Even if the siblings are on good terms, a vacation property has expenses, like maintenance, property taxes, insurance and any remaining mortgage. These costs could outweigh the value of the vacation property to your heirs. If you have a vacation home, begin these discussions early with your heirs and determine if they even want the property and, if so, can you get them to agree on the terms.

Any Physical Property (Especially with Sentimental Value). Disagreements among heirs can happen over any type of physical property, like a favorite chair or Mom’s silverware. These sentimental items can be tough to divide. Moreover, it’s harder to tell what some of these items are worth. Avoid these issues and start planning the distribution of your physical property ahead of time. It is important to be clear on who will receive what to prevent arguments.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 14, 2021) “5 of the Worst Assets to Inherit”

Do You Pay Income Tax when You Sell Inherited Property?

From the description above, it’s clear the family had a plan for their land. However, from the question posed in a recent article titled “I inherited land that recently sold. What will I owe in taxes?” from The Washington Post, it’s clear the plan ended with the sale of the property.

For an heir who is expecting to receive a share of the proceeds, as directed in the mother’s last will, the question of taxes is a good one. What value of the land is used to determine the heir’s tax liability?

The good news: when the great grandfather died, the land passed to the mother and her siblings. To keep this example simple, let’s assume the great-grandfather’s estate was well under the federal estate tax limits of his time and there were no federal estate taxes due.

Next, the mother and her siblings inherit the land. When a person inherits an asset, they usually inherit both the asset and the step-up in the value of the asset at the time of the person’s death. If the great-grandfather bought the land for $10,000 and when he died the land was worth $100,000, the mother and her siblings inherited it at that value.

When the uncles sold the land after the death of their sister, the mother, her heirs inherited her interest in the land. If the person asking about taxes is an only child and an only beneficiary, then he should receive his mother’s one-third share of the land or one-third share in the proceeds. With the stepped-up basis rules, the son inherits the land at its value at the time of the mother’s death.

Assuming the land was worth $300,000 at the time of her death, the son’s share of the land would be worth $100,000. That’s his cost or basis in the land. If he sold the land around the time she died or up to a year after her death, receiving his share of $100,000, he would not have any federal income or capital gains to pay.

If the family sold the land for $390,000 recently, the son’s basis in the land is $100,000 and his sales proceeds would be $130,000, or a $30,000 profit. He would be responsible for paying taxes on the $30,000.

If the land was sold within a year of the mother’s death, there would be no tax to pay. However, after one year, any profit is taxed at the capital gains rate.

There will also be state taxes due on the profit and there’s an additional 3.8 percent tax on the sale of investment property. If the son used the home on the land as a primary residence, there would not be an investment property sales tax.

In this kind of situation where there are multiple heirs, it’s best to consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure that the transaction and taxes are handled correctly.

Reference: The Washington Post (July 26, 2021) “I inherited land that recently sold. What will I owe in taxes?”

What to Leave In, What to Leave Out with Retirement Assets

Depending on your intentions for retirement accounts, they may need to be managed and used in distinctly different ways to reach the dual goals of enjoying retirement and leaving a legacy. It’s all explained in a helpful article from Kiplinger, “Planning for Retirement Assets in Your Estate Plan”.

Start by identifying goals and dig into the details. Do you want to leave most assets to your children or grandchildren? Has philanthropy always been important for you, and do you plan to leave large contributions to organizations or causes?

This is not a one-and-done matter. If your intentions, beneficiaries, or tax rules change, you’ll need to review everything to make sure your plan still works.

How accounts are titled and how assets will be passed can create efficient tax results or create tax liabilities. This needs to be aligned with your estate plan. Check on beneficiary designations, asset titles and other documents to make sure they all work together.

Review investments and income. If you’ve retired, pensions, annuities, Social Security and other steady sources of income may be supplemented from your taxable investments. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax deferred accounts are also part of the mix. Make sure you have enough income to cover regular and unanticipated medical, long term care or other expenses.

Once your core income has been determined, it may be wise to segregate any excess capital you intend to use for wealth transfer or charitable giving. Without being set apart from other accounts, these assets may not be managed as effectively for taxes and long-term goals.

Establish a plan for taxable assets. Children or individuals can be better off inheriting highly appreciable taxable investment accounts, rather than traditional IRAs. These types of accounts currently qualify for a step-up in cost basis. This step-up allows the beneficiary to sell the appreciated assets they receive as inheritance, without incurring capital gains.

Here’s an example: an heir receives 1,000 shares of a stock with a $20 per share cost basis valued at $120 per share at the time of the owner’s death. They will pay no capital gains taxes on the gain of $100 per share. However, if the same stock was sold while the retiree owner was living, the $100,000 gain in total would have been taxed. The post-death appreciation, if any, on such inherited assets, would be subject to capital gains taxes.

Retirees often try to preserve traditional IRAs and qualified accounts, while spending taxable accounts to take advantage of lower capital gains taxes as they take distributions. However, this sets heirs up for a big tax bill. Another strategy is to convert a portion of those assets to a Roth IRA and pay taxes now, allowing the assets to grow tax free for you and your heirs.

Segregate assets earmarked for charitable donations. If a charity is named as a beneficiary for a traditional IRA, the charity receives the assets tax free and the estate may be eligible for an estate deduction for federal and state estate taxes.

Your estate planning attorney can help you understand how to structure your assets to meet goals for retirement and to create a legacy. Saving your heirs from estate tax bills that could have been avoided with prior planning will add to their memories of you as someone who took care of the family.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 21, 2021) “Planning for Retirement Assets in Your Estate Plan”

When Do I File a Tax Return for an Estate?

In this example, Mom’s entire estate is valued at less than $20,000. This includes a mobile home worth about $12,000, which the children plan to sell.

Would the estate need to report income tax?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “We are settling an estate. What tax returns do we have to file?” says that there are a few issues to consider.

One is the mother’s Social Security income for 2020. There shouldn’t be any income tax filing requirement, if she didn’t have any other reportable income during that year.

An individual taxpayer with income under $34,000 must recognize up to 50% of the Social Security income. Therefore, in this example, since the mother’s Social Security income was only $20,000, she would have to recognize $10,000 of income.

However, that amount of taxable income is below the individual federal standard deduction of $12,000. As a result, there’d be no requirement to file a federal income tax return for her.

There may be a tax on the Social Security at the state level.

Note that Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia impose state income tax on Social Security payments to at least some beneficiaries.

However, there is income on capital gains recognized on the sale of the mobile home, which must be reported on federal and state income tax returns.

The basis of the mobile home would be adjusted to the value of that property as of the mom’s date of death, if she was the sole owner of that asset.

If the mobile home is sold for more than its adjusted basis, the gain would have to be recognized and reported on that excess amount.

However, if the mobile home is sold for an amount equal to its date of death value, then there would be no gain. Used mobile homes are not high demand, so it is likely there would be no gain on the sale.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 18, 2021) “We are settling an estate. What tax returns do we have to file?”

Can I Bequeath My Home to My Children without Taxes?

As part of your estate planning, you can pass your house tax-free to an heir. savingadvice.com’s recent article entitled “Use These Tips to Pass Your House to Your Heirs Tax-Free” reminds us that the most important thing is to look at the total value of your entire estate (not just your home). If the value is more than $11.58 million (the unified federal estate gift and estate tax exemption amount for 2020), then your estate will be subject to estate taxes. If it’s under that amount, there’s no worries, and you can pass a house tax-free through a will. However, you may also have state estate taxes on the inheritance.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the potential capital gains taxes your heirs may have to pay, when they sell the property. If you owe any money to Medicaid upon your death, the state can place a lien on your property, which can affect your heirs. Let’s look at some options to discuss with your estate planning attorney:

Irrevocable Trust. If you have an estate that’s more than the $11.58 million amount, you might want to look at putting the house into an irrevocable trust, instead of just including it in your will. Ask your attorney about a qualified personal residence trust. When you die, the house will go to the heir(s) that you’ve designated with the trust. However, if you sell the house, the money goes into the trust and can’t be cashed out if the situation changes. It’s something to consider, if you have a high-value estate and want to pass a house tax-free to your children or other loved ones.

As a Gift. You can gift a house to your children, and there will be no taxes on that, if the value of your home is less than the $11.58 million. However, you must file a gift tax form when you do your annual taxes. As long as the value is below that amount, it should just be a matter of filing the form and not paying any fees.

Look at total value of your estate and your home. File a gift tax form with the IRS in the year that you gift the home and offset the total amount of the gift by first using your annual gift-tax exclusion of $15,000. This is per donee and per donor, so if you and your spouse jointly own the property and you gift it to multiple children, you can up the exclusion amount.

You shouldn’t apply for Medicaid within five years of gifting your home to your child, because there may be a transfer penalty if you gift assets just before applying for Medicaid benefits.

Can You Sell the House and Gift the Money? You can sell the home at current market value, then gift that money to your child. You can do this in a will or trust or give it to them directly. You could also sell the home to your child at a very low price. They’d get the house and can sell it themselves at a higher value when the time is right for them to do so. However, they may have to pay higher taxes when they do.

Selling your Home to Your Child for $1? OK, you’re technically selling the house, so it’s not a gift. However, the remainder of the value of the house is considered a gift, so the gift tax rules still apply. If your child sells the house, they must report the entire difference as a gain, which means capital gains taxes.

If you want to sell your house to your child, you should consider selling it to them with a small down payment as a seller-financed sale. You’ll carry the note for the balance, and your adult child will make affordable payments. You can even offset what they pay you, by gifting them up to $15,000 per year (which is low enough not to trigger the gift tax). Since you’ve sold the home, it’s no longer a part of your estate, so you don’t have to worry about taxes on your end.

Reference: savingadvice.com (July 29, 2020) “Use These Tips to Pass Your House to Your Heirs Tax-Free”

How to Keep the Family Vacation Home in the Family

If this winter-like weather plus pandemic have left you wondering about how to get started on passing the family vacation home to the family or preparing to sell it in the future, you’ll need to understand how property is transferred. The details are shared in a useful article titled “Exit strategy for keeping the cabin in the family” from The Spokesman Review.

Two options to consider: an outright sale to the adult children or placing the cabin in a qualified personal residence trust. Selling the vacation home and renting it back from the children, is one way that parents can keep it in the family, enjoy it without owning it, and help the children out with rental income.

One thing to bear in mind: the sale of the vacation home will not escape a capital gains tax. It’s likely that the vacation home has appreciated in value, especially if you’ve owned it for a long time. If you have made capital improvements over that time period, you may be able to offset the capital gains.

The actual gain is the difference between the adjusted sales price (that is, the selling price minus selling expenses) and their adjusted basis. What is the adjusted basis? That is the original cost, plus capital improvements. These are the improvements to the property with a useful life of more than one year and that increase the value of the property or extend its life. A new roof, a new deck, a remodeled kitchen or basement or finished basement are examples of what are considered capital improvements. New curtains or furniture are not.

Distinguishing the difference between a capital improvement and a maintenance cost is not always easy. An estate planning attorney can help you clarify this, as you plan for the transfer of the property.

Another way to transfer the property is with the use of a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT). In this situation, the vacation home is considered a second residence, and is placed within the trust for a specific time period. You decide what the amount of time would be and continue to enjoy the vacation home during that time. Typical time periods are ten or fifteen years. If you live beyond the time of the trust, then the vacation home passes to the children and your estate is reduced by the value of the vacation home. If you should die during the term of the trust, the vacation home reverts back to your estate, as if no trust had been set up.

A QPRT works for families who want to reduce the size of their estate and have a property they pass along to the next generation, but the hard part is determining the parent’s life expectancy. The longer the terms of the trust, the more estate taxes are saved. However, if the parents die earlier than anticipated, benefits are minimized.

The question for families considering the sale of their vacation home to the children, is whether the children can afford to maintain the property. One option for the children might be to rent out the property, until they are able to carry it on their own. However, that opens a lot of different issues. They should do so for period of one year at a time, so they receive the tax benefits of rental property, including depreciation.

Talk with a qualified estate planning attorney about what solution works best for your estate plan and your family’s future. There are other means of conveying the property, in addition to the two mentioned above, and every situation is different.

Reference: The Spokesman Review (April 19, 2020) “Exit strategy for keeping the cabin in the family”

The Many Responsibilities of Inheriting a Home

When you inherit a home, there are three key factors to consider: the financial and legal responsibilities of the home, the tax liabilities of the home and what you’ll eventually do with the home. All of these different things relate to each other, explains Million Acres in “A Guide to What Happens When You Inherit a House.”

Let’s look at taxes first. There’s no federal tax associated with inheriting a house, but some states have inheritance taxes. For most situations, this inheritance does not lead to an immediate tax liability. When a property is inherited, the IRS establishes a fair market value for the property, which is the new basis for the property. This is a step-up basis. It is the valuation that is used to set future taxes, when the property is sold.

Capital gains are a tax relating to the profits generated from selling an asset, in this case, a house. The step up in basis means the heir only has to pay capital gains taxes, if the home is sold. The taxes will be the difference between the fair market value set at the time of the inheritance and the selling price.

If the property has a mortgage, heirs will need to know what type of mortgage it is and if it is assumable or due on sale. Most mortgage companies allow heirs to take over the payments, according to the original loan terms. However, if there is a reverse mortgage on the home, the unpaid balance is due when the person who took out the reverse mortgage dies. This usually requires the heirs to sell the home to settle the debt.

The condition of the inherited home often determines what heirs decide to do with the house. If it hasn’t been maintained and needs major work, it may be easier to sell it as-is, rather than undertake renovations. Heirs are responsible for taxes, insurance and maintenance. However, if the house is in good shape, it may make sense to keep it.

What happens when siblings inherit a house together? That can get complicated, if each person has a different idea about what to do with the house. One may want to sell now for cash, while another may want to rent it out for income. What ultimately happens to the property, may depend on how well the siblings communicate and make decisions together.

Often the best option is to simply sell the home, especially if multiple heirs are involved. Note that there are costs associated with the sale of the house. This includes any outstanding debts, like a mortgage, the cost of fixing up the home to prepare it for sale, closing costs and fees and real estate agent commissions. If there is a profit on the sale of the home from the tax basis at the time of inheritance, the heirs may need to pay short-term or long-term capital gains tax, depending on how long they held the property.

Talk with an estate planning attorney about managing the sale of the family home. They will be able to guide you, advise you about taxes and keep the family moving through the process of settling the estate.

Reference: Million Acres (December 4, 2019) “A Guide to What Happens When You Inherit a House”

How Much Control from the Grave Can Parents Have?

Parents who want to protect their home from being sold by heirs can do so by way of a dynasty trust, but it gets complicated, explains the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s article “Not a good idea to keep home in ‘dynasty trust.’” Every situation is different, so every family considering this strategy should meet with an estate planning attorney to learn if this is a solution or an added complication.

Why would the parents want to make their children’s lives complicated? Perhaps they think the children are likely to end up in a bad situation, and they are attempting to provide a safe landing for what they believe is inevitable. Or they simply cannot manage the idea, that one day the house won’t be part of the family.

The house can be protected from a sale, through the use of a revocable trust. Instead of distributing the home in equal shares among their children, along with all of their other assets, the house can be put in the trust and their trust can continue after their deaths. The trust can include any restrictions they want, with respect to how they want the home to be maintained after their deaths.

They can even put their home into a dynasty trust. Done correctly, a dynasty trust can hold the property for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. However, there are some issues.

First, if the home is held in trust, it means that the trust must be funded, since there will be expenses for the home, including maintenance and upkeep. Unless the home is used as a rental property, there won’t be any income to pay for these expenses. The parents will need to leave a significant amount of assets in the trust, so that big and small items can be paid for, or the children may be charged with paying for the expenses.

Next is the problem of capital gains taxes. When the parents pass, the home receives a stepped-up cost basis. That means that when the property is eventually sold, the amount of capital gains tax and in this case, California income tax due, will be based on the increase of the value of the property since the surviving spouses’ date of death.

If the home is held in trust until all of the siblings have died, the value of the house will likely have increased dramatically. Where is the money to pay the taxes coming from? Will the house need to be sold to pay the tax?

What if one of the children decides to move into the house and lets it get run down? The other two siblings may never receive their inheritance. There are so many different ways that this could lead to an endless series of family disputes.

Keeping a “spare” house may not be realistic. It may force the children to become rental property managers when they don’t want to. It may exhaust their finances. In other words, it may become a family burden, and not a place of refuge.

Talk with an estate planning attorney. It may be far better to distribute the home outright to the children along with other assets and let them decide what the best way forward will be.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (December 1, 2019) “Not a good idea to keep home in ‘dynasty trust.’”

What Do I Need to Know About Owning Property with Someone Other than My Spouse?

Have you ever considered owning property jointly with a family member, friend, or a business associate? Inside Indiana Business’ recent article, “Risky: Property Owned with a Non-Spouse,” says that you should think about the negatives, such as loss of control, unknown creditor issues and tax consequences.

Loss of Control. When you choose to co-own an asset with another person, you can enter into a legal ownership agreement known as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” or “JTWROS.” When one of the owners dies, the surviving owner automatically becomes sole owner of the property. However, you give up some control of ownership, when you own property in this way. For example, you can’t direct your portion to go to a spouse or a child after your death in your will or other estate planning documents. OK, you can, but your co-owner’s ownership title takes precedence over your estate documents. As a result, she will become the sole owner. You can also lose some control over the property, if the non-spouse co-owner transfers her interest in the property to another individual without your consent. It’s also tough to remove a co-owner from the property title without his or her full cooperation.

Creditors. Another issue with jointly held property is that it’s subject to creditors’ claims against both owners. If your brother, as a co-owner of your cabin, has financial troubles and files for bankruptcy, his ownership in the cabin could possibly be claimed by a creditor. He could also be forced to sell it to pay off his debts. So, unless you can buy out his ownership in the cabin, you may now own the property with a stranger.

Potentially Higher Taxes. Adding a non-spouse as co-owner of an asset, allows for a simple property transfer at your passing. However, it could also mean both a gift tax to you and an increased capital gain tax for your heir. By adding a non-spouse to the property title, you’re making a gift to the new joint owner. Therefore, based on the current value of the property being gifted, you could be liable for gift tax. In addition, the heir of the property may have to pay increased capital gain taxes. Property transferred at death receives a step-up in basis. This means the heir’s cost basis is equal to the fair market value of the property at your death, instead of your cost basis (the amount you paid for the property). Receiving a step-up in basis reduces the heir’s capital gain on the appreciation of the property when it’s sold. However, if you add a co-owner, only your interest in the asset has the benefit of stepped-up basis at your death, not the entire property. When the property is sold, this may mean a higher capital gain tax.

JTWROS vs. Tenants in Common. When deciding to co-own an asset with another person, you can also enter into an ownership agreement known as “tenants in common.” Here’s a key difference: holding property JTWROS with another person means that when one owner dies, the other owner receives the property outright and automatically. When owning property as tenants in common with another person, when one owner dies, the owner’s heirs receive his share in the property. A co-owner can again transfer his interest in the property without approval as the other co-owner. This loss of control may place you in a difficult position.

When considering property ownership with another party, look at the pros and cons of both JTWROS and tenants in common. The cons usually outweigh the pros. However, if owning property with a non-spouse is what you want, discuss this with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Inside Indiana Business (December 1, 2019) “Risky: Property Owned with a Non-Spouse”

As a Trust Beneficiary, Am I Required to Pay Taxes?

When an irrevocable trust makes a distribution, it deducts the income distributed on its own tax return and issues the beneficiary a tax form called a K-1. This form shows the amount of the beneficiary’s distribution that’s interest income, as opposed to principal. With that information, the beneficiary know how much she’s required to claim as taxable income when filing taxes.

Investopedia’s recent article on this subject asks “Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?” The article explains that when trust beneficiaries receive distributions from the trust’s principal balance, they don’t have to pay taxes on the distribution. The IRS assumes this money was already taxed before it was put into the trust. After money is placed into the trust, the interest it accumulates is taxable as income—either to the beneficiary or the trust. The trust is required to pay taxes on any interest income it holds and doesn’t distribute past year-end. Interest income the trust distributes is taxable to the beneficiary who gets it.

The money given to the beneficiary is considered to be from the current-year income first, then from the accumulated principal. This is usually the original contribution with any subsequent deposits. It’s income in excess of the amount distributed. Capital gains from this amount may be taxable to either the trust or the beneficiary. All the amount distributed to and for the benefit of the beneficiary is taxable to her to the extent of the distribution deduction of the trust.

If the income or deduction is part of a change in the principal or part of the estate’s distributable income, then the income tax is paid by the trust and not passed on to the beneficiary. An irrevocable trust that has discretion in the distribution of amounts and retains earnings pays trust tax that is $3,011.50 plus 37% of the excess over $12,500.

The two critical IRS forms for trusts are the 1041 and the K-1. IRS Form 1041 is like a Form 1040. This is used to show that the trust is deducting any interest it distributes to beneficiaries from its own taxable income.

The trust will also issue a K-1. This IRS form details the distribution, or how much of the distributed money came from principal and how much is interest. The K-1 is the form that allows the beneficiary to see her tax liability from trust distributions.

The K-1 schedule for taxing distributed amounts is generated by the trust and given to the IRS. The IRS will deliver this schedule to the beneficiary, so that she can pay the tax. The trust will fill out a Form 1041 to determine the income distribution deduction that’s conferred to the distributed amount. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you work through this process.

Reference: Investopedia (July 15, 2019) “Do Trust Beneficiaries Pay Taxes?”