What Does Portability Mean in Estate Planning?
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What Does Portability Mean in Estate Planning?

When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can choose to make a portability election. This means that any unused federal gift or estate tax exemption can be transferred from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse. This does not happen automatically, says the recent article “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ For Your Farm Estate” from Ag Web Farm Journal, but it is worth doing.

Your estate planning attorney will explain how you can take advantage of this opportunity, which must be done at the latest within two years of death. In most cases, no taxes are due, but you must file a form to obtain the exemption.

Before portability was an option, spouses each owned about the same amount of assets, or the amount of assets which would use up each other’s exemptions. For many farm and ranch families, the family’s property is titled one-half to each spouse. Now, however, because of portability, the assets can flow through to the surviving spouse.

At the first spouses’ death, the survivor files for the portability election and then has two exemptions to cover assets.

Here’s an example. A family owns assets jointly and their net worth is about $11 million. They have one son, who also farms. When the husband dies, the wife owns everything. However, she neglects to speak with the family’s estate planning lawyer. No estate taxes are due at this time because of the unlimited marital deduction between the two spouses.

When the wife dies in 2026, when the current federal estate tax exemption is set to drop back to $6 million, their son has to pay $2 million in federal estate taxes. There was $11 million in original assets, but only $6 million for the wife’s exemption. Had she filed for portability when the higher estate tax exemption enacted into law under President Trump, then the $5 million taxable estate would have been reduced by the husband’s exemption by $6 million. No federal estate tax would be due.

Farmers, ranchers and any family business owners need to take into consideration the potential estate taxes in future years. In addition, 17 states still have state estate taxes, and usually the amounts taxed are higher than the federal amount.

An experienced estate planning attorney can work with the family to evaluate their tax liability and see if portability will be sufficient, or if a bypass trust or other tools are needed to protect their legacy.

Reference: Ag Web Farm Journal (April 18, 2022) “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ For Your Farm Estate”

Will Estate Tax Exemption Change In 2022?

It is possible the proposed clawback regulations from the Treasury may undermine the estate planning you’ve done to address the reduction in estate tax exemptions coming on January 1, 2026. These proposed regulations are not as severe as initially feared, but they do pose a threat to some estate planning, according to a recent article titled “Proposed Clawback Regs May Undermine Some Estate Planning” from Wealth Management.com.

On a positive note, if your estate plan includes a SLAT (Spousal Lifetime Access Trust) or a Self-Settled Domestic Asset Protection Trust (DAPT), the proposed regs shouldn’t prevent you from securing those exemptions, as long as they work with the other aspects of the planning. The proposed regulations are complex and may change the anticipated results of several other estate planning strategies.

When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was passed, the federal estate tax exemption doubled from $5 million to $10 million, adjusted for inflation until January 1, 2026, when it ends. Some taxpayers made transfers, usually to irrevocable trusts, to secure the temporarily higher gift, estate, and generation-skipping (GST) exemptions. However, what’s not clear is what happens if the taxpayer who made these gifts dies after the higher exemption ends and the new exemption is considerably lower.

In most, but not all, cases, such gifts won’t be subject to a clawback. However, there are exceptions in the proposed new regulations.

The Treasury is concerned about gifts made where the taxpayer continues to retain control over assets. One example is funding a Grantor Retained Interest Trust (GRIT) so the gift would be deemed made of the entire amount transferred with no reduction for the interest retained because the value of the retained remainder would be zero.

A Preferred Partnership could also be structured that intentionally violated requirements under IRC regulations, so the equity the donor received in the entity would be valued at zero. The taxpayer would have retained a preferred interest and the trust would be set up so the entire value would be treated like a gift when family members acquired the common interests. The gift exemption would be secured and the Preferred Partnership interest would be included in the taxpayer’s estate, but the exemption would be preserved.

These types of transactions are the targets of the proposed regulations. Several types of transfers won’t benefit from the anti-clawback rule, so the lower exclusion at death and not the higher exclusion that was thought to have been secured will still be available.

Your estate planning attorney has been following the efforts of the Treasury to provide anti-abuse regulations. A review of your estate plan is always a good idea, but with these changes coming, it would be wise to evaluate your estate plan to see if any planning needs to be revised. There may be newer, better options.

Reference: Wealth Management.com (May 3, 2022) “Proposed Clawback Regs May Undermine Some Estate Planning”