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 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”

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 Is a POD Account?
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What Is a POD Account?

Also called a “POD” account, a payable on death account can be created at a bank or credit union and is transferrable without probate at your death to the person you name.

Sports Grind Entertainment’s recent article entitled “Payable on Death (POD) Accounts” explains that there are different reasons for including a payable on death account in your estate plan. You should know how they work, when deciding whether to create one. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you coordinate your investment goals with your end-of-life wishes.

The difference between a traditional bank account and a POD account is that a POD account has a designated beneficiary. This person is someone you want to receive any assets held in the account when you die. A POD account is really any bank account that has a named beneficiary.

There are several benefits with POD accounts to transfer assets. Assets that are passed to someone else through a POD account are not subject to probate. This is an advantage if you want to make certain your beneficiary can access cash quickly after you die. Even if you have a will and a life insurance policy in place, those do not necessarily guarantee a quick payout to handle things like burial or funeral expenses or any outstanding debts that need to be paid. A POD account could help with these expenses.

Know that POD account beneficiaries cannot access any of the money in the account while you are alive. That could be an issue if you become incapacitated, and your loved ones need money to help pay for medical care. In that situation, having assets in a trust or a jointly owned bank account could be an advantage. You should also ask your estate planning attorney about a financial power of attorney, which would allow you to designate an agent to pay bills and the like in your place.

If you are interested in creating a payable on death account, the first step is to talk to your bank to see if it is possible to add a beneficiary designation to any existing accounts you have, or if you need to create a new account. Next, decide who you want to add as a beneficiary.

Reference: Sports Grind Entertainment (May 2, 2021) “Payable on Death (POD) Accounts”

What Is the Tax-Law Exception for 529 College Plans in 2021?

Grandparents might use this tactic to dramatically reduce their estate, without using any of their lifetime exemption if they meet some conditions, explains Financial Advisor’s recent article entitled “Tax Break Adds Perk To 529 College Plans.” That’s five years’ worth of the standard $15,000 annual exclusion that normally applies to 2021 gifts. Your spouse can also make the same gift.

You could give a five-year gift of $150,000 per couple and report it on a gift tax return. This uses none of your exemption. You should fund the educations of grandchildren or children, while they are young. If they end up being academic stars or athletes, scholarships can be adjusted against the 529 plan. If they choose not to go to college, you can select a new beneficiary. It is a smart way to frontload the 529 and take advantage of the tax-free growth.

Income earned in any qualified distributions from a 529 are typically not taxed, except under some states’ special rules. Non-qualified distributions are taxed and subject to a 10% penalty. Note that a 529 withdrawal to pay for health insurance or other medical expenses is a non-qualified distribution.

Many people get befuddled by filing a gift tax return. They think a tax is due. However, in fact, it is just a letter to the IRS informing them that you are using some of your lifetime exemption now.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 also permitted 529 money to be used for tuition for grades K-12. Therefore, frontloading the contribution makes for potentially faster accumulation of assets in the plan, which could be helpful due to the shorter timeframe between funding and use.

There are some conditions to note in the current political climate. If a donor funds a plan with $75,000 for the benefit of an individual, that donor could not give that person any additional gifts over the five years without using their lifetime exemption (now $11.7 million per person). If that exemption amount were to be reduced, it is possible that a person will have used up their lifetime exemption and would not be able to give additional gifts above the annual exclusion without paying gift tax.

This tax break comes with another catch: if the donor dies within the five years, the balance reverts back to the deceased donor’s estate.

You should know that the downside is limited investment options. Plans are generally conservative, so you do not lose your principal. There also may be high fees and costs. The plans often impede students who apply for financial aid, though not as much as some other investment holdings.

Reference: Financial Advisor (May 3, 2021) “Tax Break Adds Perk To 529 College Plans”

What Is a Transfer on Death Deed?

If a will is overlooked, state law and beneficiary designations on financial accounts or property will control what happens next.

The Williamson Daily News’ recent article entitled “Estate planning ensures your wishes are carried out” explains that intestate succession, which means the deceased didn’t have a will, isn’t always a simple process. For example, there might be issues with multiple marriages with children.

If only living children survive the decedent, the children will get equal shares. That may or may not be a fantastic idea, especially when all of the children may not have been a positive part of their parent’s life.

If some helped a lot and others caused problems, a parent might opt to give more to some than to others. The best way to assure that result is with a will.

That’s especially true in cases where one or more of the children served as the caregiver. Thus, the intent of the parent may be to pass the family home to the primary caregiver.

In some states, for this to occur, a will is no longer needed.

For example, in West Virginia, a property transfer called a transfer on death deed can make sure that a specific person or caregiver gets the home and property at a future time.

You need to work with an experienced estate planning attorney on a transfer on death deed.

Under the terms of the deed, the property ownership won’t change until the owner dies. The transfer to the new owner will then be automatic without any probate.

At any time during the owner’s life, the TOD deed can be revoked, if circumstances change.

In addition to West Virginia, these states have some form of transfer on death deed: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and DC.

Reference: Williamson (WV) Daily News (April 21, 2021) “Estate planning ensures your wishes are carried out”

Should Parent Transfer House to Kid?

Let us say the parent is 90 and has a will bequeathing a home to a child, a son. The house was purchased 20 years ago for $300,000 and is now worth about $400,000.

The child stays there occasionally to help care for the parent, but he doesn’t live there. The parents’ estate is otherwise worth less than $1 million.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?” explains that there are two primary reasons why parents want to transfer their home to their children.

First, they think they will be able to protect the house, in the event the parent needs to move to a nursing home. Second, they want to avoid probate.

Because many states now have a simple probate process for smaller estates, probate avoidance alone isn’t a worthwhile rationale to transfer the house to a child.

The transfer of the house to a child who doesn’t live there will be subject to the look-back rule for Medicaid, which in most states is now five years. As a result, if a parent transfers the house to the child within five years of applying for Medicaid, the transfer will trigger a penalty which will begin when the Medicaid application is submitted. The length of the penalty period depends on the value of the house. Therefore, if the parent might require nursing home care in the next five years, the parent should have enough other assets to cover the penalty period or wait five years before applying for Medicaid.

In addition, the transfer of the house may also cause a significant capital gains tax liability to the child when the house is sold. That’s because the child will receive the house with the carryover basis of the parent. However, if the child inherits the house, the child will get a step-up in basis—the basis will be the value of the house at the date of the parent’s death.

If the parent transferring the house retains a life estate—the right to live in the house until he or she passes away—the property will get a step-up in basis to the value of the house at the date of death.  In the event that the house is sold while the parent is still alive, the value of the life estate interest will be excluded from income tax but the value of the child’s remainder interest in the house may be subject to capital gain taxes.

Last, if the house is transferred to a child who has financial troubles, the child’s creditors may be able to force the child to sell the house to pay his debts.

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2021) “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?”

How Digital Assets Figure into Estate Planning

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Who inherits your selfies when you die?” laments that the internet ruins everything, and a simple death is no exception.

If asked to close out a family member’s estate, it now includes social media accounts, cloud storage and frequent flyer miles.

Digital assets are files created electronically. They exist as data held on a digital storage drive or computer hard drive.

However, items made by hand can become a digital asset, such as a painting or handwritten notes become digital assets, if they’re scanned and uploaded to a computer.

It can also be images, photos, videos, files containing text, spreadsheets, or slide decks.

The first time anyone has to deal with the laws and rules about incapacity and death, is when a loved one becomes ill or has passed away. It’s an emotionally tough time, and they’re likely to be grieving when trying to make important decisions on a project they know nothing about.

Know that we no longer solely have a paper trail to our lives. Think about the number of digital accounts you log into to manage your household and personal finances.

It’s significant, and an executor’s role is now dependent on knowing and finding both our physical and digital lives.

Your executor won’t know what you have, unless you tell them in advance.

Your home office is paperless and behind a locked screen. We all have wishes and preferences about those assets, and these wishes and preferences need to be documented and shared.

Today’s home office is a digital home office. We will soon have the same spectrum of choices in estate planning for our digital assets, as we have for our physical ones.

However, right now, there aren’t a lot of pre-planning options.

You should create a list of your digital assets and passwords, so others you trust will know where to find them. Back up data should be stored in the cloud to a local computer or storage device.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about how to organize and address your digital assets in your estate plan.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (April 16, 2021) “Who inherits your selfies when you die?”

I am Concerned That My Son-in-Law will get My Estate

A frequently question people have when updating their wills with an experienced estate planning attorney, is whether they still need a trust for an adult child. The child has graduated college, is on her second well-paying job, is married and has children of her own. The child is a responsible young adult. However, an issue may arise with the adult child’s spouse and the potential for divorce.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Worried about Your Child’s Inheritance If They Divorce? A Trust Can Be Your Answer” says that people do not want money they have worked hard for to be directed to their son’s or daughter’s ex-spouse, if a divorce occurs.

The current federal estate tax exemption in 2021 is $11.7 million per person or $23.4 million for married couples, so creating a trust to save taxes upon death isn’t as big a factor as it used to be. The larger question is how well we think our children will handle receiving a large sum of money. Some parents want a trust because they worry about their adult child losing thousands of dollars of their inheritance as a result of a failed marriage. By creating a trust as part of their estate plan, these parents can help protect their child’s assets in a divorce settlement.

In many situations, if a child receives an inheritance and combines it with assets they own jointly with their spouse, like a bank account, car or house, depending on where they live, the inheritance may become subject to marital property division, if the adult child and spouse later divorce. However, if the child’s inheritance is in a trust account, or they use trust funds to pay for assets only in their name, the inherited wealth can further be protected from a divorce.

Trusts can be complicated and require more administrative work and costs, which may cost more than just leaving assets outright to your children. This is worth it for those who want to protect their child’s wealth. If your child is under 18, you’re not thinking about divorce, but because of their youth, leaving assets in trust for them is often a good idea. A trustee will oversee the child’s assets and will be able to guide them to make sound decisions with any inherited funds. If your child is newly married, rather than creating a trust right after your child’s marriage, see how the marriage goes over the next five to 10 years. Then ask yourself how comfortable you are with your child’s relationship and how you feel about your son-in-law or daughter-in-law.

Consider your estate plan as a five-year plan. Review your will, trust and other estate planning documents every five years. This can help you carefully evaluate relationships, finances and the emotional dynamics of your family. An experienced estate planning attorney can also adjust or cancel the trust during your life, as your family situation changes.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 16, 2021) “Worried about Your Child’s Inheritance If They Divorce? A Trust Can Be Your Answer”

How to Avoid Probate

Avoiding probate and minimizing estate taxes are sound estate planning goals, but they shouldn’t be the only focus of an estate plan.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can we avoid probate and avoid taxes for our children?” says that proper estate planning is a much broader discussion you should have with a qualified estate attorney. However, the article offers some topics to discuss with an attorney, who can review all the specifics of your situation.

Probate is the legal process for settling the debts, taxes and last expenses of a deceased person and distributing the remaining assets to his or her heirs. The costs and time needed to settle an estate can be burdensome in some states. However, steps can be taken to significantly limit probate.

Without any special planning, there are a few types of assets that can be transferred outside of probate. Items owned jointly with rights of survivorship (JTWROS) automatically become the sole property of the survivor at the first joint owner’s death. This property doesn’t go through probate.

Accounts with beneficiary designations, like retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies also pass outside probate. There is a payable on death (POD) feature that provides for a beneficiary designation on non-retirement accounts (like a bank account), so POD accounts can also be transferred outside of probate.

You can also create a living trust and transfer assets into the trust during your lifetime to avoid probate. Since the trust document dictates the way in which assets are distributed upon the death of the grantor rather than the will, probate is not needed here either.

In addition, ancillary probate is a second, simultaneous process that is needed when real estate is owned in a state outside the decedent’s state of residence.

Placing out-of-state real estate in a living trust is a useful way to avoid ancillary probate. You can also place the out-of-state real estate in a Limited Liability Company (LLC), so the estate owns an interest in an LLC rather than real property. That way, the entire probate process can be handled in the decedent’s state of residence. However, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to review which of these options — or perhaps another option — would be best for your unique situation and goals.

Other types of trusts, whether created during your lifetime or at your death, can provide creditor protection and ensure that an inheritance stays in the family, as well as help minimize estate taxes.

Under current law, federal estate tax is only due if your estate is worth more than $11.7 million (double that if you are married). A few states also have an estate tax. Other states also have an inheritance tax, but in many instances it does not apply to amounts left to the decedent’s closest relatives, including their children.

Reference: nj.com (March 24, 2021) “How can we avoid probate and avoid taxes for our children?”