Can Estate Planning Reduce Taxes?

With numerous bills still being considered by Congress, people are increasingly aware of the need to explore options for tax planning, charitable giving, estate planning and inheritances. Tax sensitive strategies for the near future are on everyone’s mind right now, according to the article “Inheritance, estate planning and charitable giving: 4 strategies to reduce taxes now” from Market Watch. These are the strategies to be aware of.

Offsetting capital gains. Capital gains are the profits made from selling an asset which has appreciated in value since it was first acquired. These gains are taxed, although the tax rates on capital gains are lower than ordinary income taxes if the asset is owned for more than a year. Losses on assets reduce tax liability. This is why investors “harvest” their tax losses, to offset gains. The goal is to sell the depreciated asset and at the same time, to sell an appreciated asset.

Consider Roth IRA conversions. People used to assume they would be in a lower tax bracket upon retirement, providing an advantage for taking money from a traditional IRA or other retirement accounts. Income taxes are due on the withdrawals for traditional IRAs. However, if you retire and receive Social Security, pension income, dividends and interest payments, you may find yourself in the enviable position of having a similar income to when you were working. Good for the income, bad for the tax bite.

Converting an IRA into a Roth IRA is increasingly popular for people in this situation. Taxes must be paid, but they are paid when the funds are moved into a Roth IRA. Once in the Roth IRA account, the converted funds grow tax free and there are no further taxes on withdrawals after the IRA has been open for five years. You must be at least 59½ to do the conversion, and you do not have to do it all at once. However, in many cases, this makes the most sense.

Charitable giving has always been a good tax strategy. In the past, people would simply write a check to the organization they wished to support. Today, there are many different ways to support nonprofits, allowing for better advantages.

One of the most popular ways to give today is a DAF—Donor Advised Fund. These are third-party funds created for supporting charity. They work in a few different ways. Let’s say you have sold a business or inherited money and have a significant tax bill coming. By contributing funds to a DAF, you will get a tax break when you put the funds into a DAF. The DAF can hold the funds—they do not have to be contributed to charity, but as long as they are in the DAF account, you receive the tax benefit.

Another way to give to charity is through your IRA’s Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) by giving the minimum amount you are required to take from your IRA every year to the charity. Otherwise, your RMD is taxable as income. If you make a charitable donation using the RMD, you get the tax deduction, and the nonprofit gets a donation.

Giving while living is growing in popularity, as parents and grandparents can have pleasure of watching loved ones benefit from the impact of a gift. A person can give up to $16,000 to any other person every year, with no taxes due on the gift. The money is then out of the estate and the recipient receives the full amount of the gift.

All of these strategies should be reviewed with your estate planning attorney with an eye to your overall estate plan, to ensure they work seamlessly to achieve your overall goals.

Reference: Market Watch (Feb. 18, 2022) “Inheritance, estate planning and charitable giving: 4 strategies to reduce taxes now”

Why Do People Give to Charities at End of Year?

The landscape for charitable giving has undergone a lot of change in recent years. More changes are likely around the corner. This year, a more intentional approach to year-end giving may be needed, according to the article “How to Make the most of Year-End Charitable Giving” from Wealth Management.

From the continuing pandemic to natural and humanitarian disasters, the need for relief is pressing on many sides. Donors with experience in philanthropy understand charitable giving as part of a tax strategy, part of providing the essential support needed by non-profits to keep operating and respond to emergencies and, at the same time, ensure their charitable dollars are aligned with their family values and missions.

For the tax perspective, changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 left many nonprofits harshly impacted by the doubling of the standard deduction, which gave fewer people a financial incentive to donate. The question now is, could the latest round of proposed changes spur greater giving?

Amid all of these changes, sound and stable giving strategies remain the wisest option.

The CARES Act encouraged individual giving during times of hardship, and tax breaks were extended in 2021. However, certain incentives are now closing, such as the ability to deduct up to 100% of adjusted gross income for cash gifts made directly to public charities.

The Build Back Better Agenda proposes increasing the long-term capital gains tax rate for individuals with more than $400,000 of taxable income, and married couples filing jointly with more than $450,000 of taxable income, to 25%, plus a 3% surcharge to income of more than $5 million. This would make charitable giving more attractive from an income tax perspective. However, this bill has yet to be passed.

Consider the following strategies:

Qualified charitable distributions. RMDs must be taken in 2021. For donors taking a standard deduction, a qualified charitable distribution is a possible option. If you are 70½ and over, you can donate up to $100,000 from an IRA. This satisfies the RMD, as long as the gift goes directly to a charity, not to a Donor Advised Fund.

Contributions of appreciated stock. To make charitable gifts in the most tax-efficient way possible, a donation of appreciated stock is a smart move. Donors receive a charitable income tax deduction (subject to AGI limitations) and avoid capital gains tax.

Charitable bequests. The uncertainty around income tax reform includes estate taxes, and pro-active individuals are now reviewing their estate plans with their estate planning attorneys.

Funding a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). A DAF allows donors to contribute assets to a tax-free investment account, from which they can direct gifts to the charities of their choice. The contribution to the fund provides the donor with a charitable income tax deduction in the year it’s made.

Reference: Wealth Management (Oct. 11, 2021) “How to Make the most of Year-End Charitable Giving”

Checklist for Estate Plan’s Success

We know why estate planning for your assets, family and legacy falls through the cracks. It’s not the thing a new parent wants to think about while cuddling a newborn, or a grandparent wants to think about as they prepare for a family get-together. However, this is an important thing to take care of, advises a recent article from Kiplinger titled “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?

Every four years, or every time a trigger event occurs—birth, death, marriage, divorce, relocation—the estate plan needs to be reviewed. Reviewing an estate plan is a relatively straightforward matter and neglecting it could lead to undoing strategic tax plans and unnecessary costs.

Moving to a new state? Estate laws are different from state to state, so what works in one state may not be considered valid in another. You’ll also want to update your address, and make sure that family and advisors know where your last will can be found in your new home.

Changes in the law. The last five years have seen an inordinate number of changes to laws that impact retirement accounts and taxes. One big example is the SECURE Act, which eliminated the Stretch IRA, requiring heirs to empty inherited IRA accounts in ten years, instead of over their lifetimes. A strategy that worked great a few years ago no longer works. However, there are other means of protecting your heirs and retirement accounts.

Do you have a Power of Attorney? A POA gives a person you authorize the ability to manage your financial, business, personal and legal affairs, if you become incapacitated. If the POA is old, a bank or investment company may balk at allowing your representative to act on your behalf. If you have one, make sure it’s up to date and the person you named is still the person you want. If you need to make a change, it’s very important that you put it in writing and notify the proper parties.

Health Care Power of Attorney needs to be updated as well. Marriage does not automatically authorize your spouse to speak with doctors, obtain medical records or make medical decisions on your behalf. If you have strong opinions about what procedures you do and do not want, the Health Care POA can document your wishes.

Last Will and Testament is Essential. Your last will needs regular review throughout your lifetime. Has the person you named as an executor four years ago remained in your life, or moved to another state? A last will also names an executor for your property and a guardian for minor children. It also needs to have trust provisions to pay for your children’s upbringing and to protect their inheritance.

Speaking of Trusts. If your estate plan includes trusts, review trustee and successor appointments to be sure they are still appropriate. You should also check on estate and inheritance taxes to ensure that the estate will be able to cover these costs. If you have an irrevocable trust, confirm that the trustee is still ready and able to carry out the duties, including administration, management and tax returns.

Gifting in the Estate Plan. Laws concerning charitable giving also change, so be sure your gifting strategies are still appropriate for your estate. An estate plan review is also a good time to review the organizations you wish to support.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 28, 2021) “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?

Why Is It Important to have a Will?

A Gallup poll released in June showed that slightly less than half of all Americans have a will to tell loved ones what they want to happen with their estate after they die. What’s surprising is that the results of this survey have been almost the same since 1990, explains the article “6 Reasons You Need to Make a Will Now” from Real Simple. The survey also showed that upper-income Americans are more likely than lower-income Americans to have a will, and the younger people are, the less likely they are to have a will.

One of the lessons from the pandemic, is how fragile our lives are. It’s never too early to start planning and properly document your wishes. If you need more reasons to begin estate planning, here are six:

No will often leads to unwanted consequences. A major misconception is the idea that you don’t need a will because everything you own will go to your family. Not necessarily. Each state has its own laws about what happens if you have no will, and those laws are usually based on bloodlines or kinship. Most states leave two-thirds of your assets to your children and one-third to your spouse. Will your spouse be able to maintain the same standard of living, or even remain in the family home if this is how assets are distributed? A no-will situation is a no-win situation and can fracture even the best families.

Wills are used to name guardians for minor children. No parent, especially young parents, thinks that anything will happen to them, or even more unlikely, to both parents. However, it does. Creating a will offers the opportunity to name guardians to care for your children after death. If you don’t designate a guardian, a judge will. The judge will have never met your children, nor understand your family’s dynamics, and might even determine that the children should be raised by strangers.

Wills and pet trusts can protect pets after your demise. If you have beloved animal companions, it’s important to understand what can happen to them after you die. The law considers pets to be property, so you can’t leave money to your pet. However, you can create a pet trust and name a person to be the caregiver for your pet, if it survives you. The trust is enforceable, and the pet’s care can be detailed. Otherwise, there is no guarantee your pet will avoid being euthanized.

Taxes are part of death. Creating an estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about estate taxes, could save your heirs from losing a significant part of their inheritance. There are many tools and strategies to minimize taxes, including making charitable gifts. Plans for large estates can be structured in a way to avoid as much as 40% of tax exposure. It’s even more important to protect a smaller estate from being lost to taxes.

Peace of mind. Remember, wills and estate plans are not just for the benefit of the person who creates them. They are for the family, the surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren. If you did not take the time and make the effort to create an estate plan, they are the ones who will live with the consequences. In many cases, it could change their lives—and not for the better.

Putting it off never ends well. When you’re young and healthy, it seems like nothing can ever go wrong. However, live long enough, and you learn life has ups and downs and unexpected events—like death and serious illness—happen to everyone. Creating an estate plan won’t make you die sooner but having one can provide you and your loved ones with security, so you can focus on living.

Reference: Real Simple (June 25, 2021) “6 Reasons You Need to Make a Will Now”

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”