Tax Planning Strategies for 2021

The uncertainty surrounding the election and possibility of changes to the tax law led many families to make substantial wealth transfers in 2020, especially as the historically high gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemptions were so advantageous. This recent article from Financial Advisor, “No More Gift Tax Exemption? Additional Planning Strategies To Consider for 2021,” discusses the options that are still available for 2021.

Gifting is Still a Good Strategy. Even if you used your gift and GST tax exemptions, you may still make additional gifts outright or in trust using the 2021 inflation adjusted amount. The gift and GST tax exemptions are indexed for inflation, so this year the exemptions went from $11.58 million in 2020 to $11.7 million for 2021. Annual exclusion gifts allow individuals to make gifts up to $15,000 per person, and $30,000 for married couples, which do not count towards the gift and estate tax exemptions.

Direct payments for medical and tuition payment are still good options that won’t deplete the annual exclusion or gift and GST tax exemption. Just be sure to make the payment directly to the qualified educational institution or medical provider.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATS) still work. A GRAT is a special type of irrevocable trust. The grantor makes a gift of property in trust, retaining the right to an annual payment (annuity) from the trust for a specified amount of time. They can be used for a number of different assets, including assets expected to appreciate significantly. Check with your estate planning attorney to be sure this is a good option for you. If the grantor dies within the annuity term, the entire value of the trust generally will be included in the estate, as if it had never been created.

Sale to Grantor Trust. This strategy takes advantage of the differences between the income and transfer tax treatment of irrevocable trusts. The goal is to transfer anticipated appreciated assets at a reduced gift tax cost. In return for the transfer of property, the trust gives the grantor a note, which carries a market rate of interest and usually requires a balloon payment of principal at the end of the note’s term. In most cases, when the trust is a grantor trust, the grantor and the trust are treated as the same taxpayer for income tax purposes, but as two separate entities for transfer tax purposes. Because of this, neither the sale nor the note payments trigger income taxation.

Intra-Family Loans. These loans can be made at lower rates than by commercial lenders without the loan being deemed a gift. This lets an individual help their family members financially, without triggering additional gift tax. Wealth may be shifted, if the loan assets are invested by the borrower and earn a higher return than the required interest rate. Interest is to be paid within the family, and not to a third-party lender.

The intra-family loan establishes both a bona fide creditor relationship and the payment of interest. Family loans can be financially advantageous and emotionally tricky, so navigate with care. Your estate planning attorney will create the proper documents and all parties need to be clear on the details.

These strategies will work best when integrated into your estate plan. Discuss with your estate planning attorney to ensure that they will align with your long-term goals, as well as your tax planning.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Feb. 24, 2021) “No More Gift Tax Exemption? Additional Planning Strategies To Consider for 2021”

Your Estate Planning Checklist for 2021

If you reviewed or created your estate plan in 2020, you are ahead of most Americans, but you’re not done yet. If you created a trust, gave gifts of real estate, business interest or other assets, you need to address the loose ends and do the follow up work to ensure that your planning goals will be met. That’s the advice from a recent article “Checklist 2020 Planning Follow Through: You Have More Work To Do” from Forbes.

Here are few to consider:

Did you loan money to heirs? If you made any loans to heirs or had any other loan transactions, you’ll need to calendar the interest payment dates and amounts and be sure that interest is paid promptly as described in the promissory notes. Correct interest payments are necessary for the IRS or creditors to treat the transaction as a real loan, otherwise you risk having the loan recharacterized or worse, being disregarded completely.

Did you create an irrevocable trust? If so, you need to be sure that gifts are made to the trust each year to fund insurance premiums. If the trust includes annual demand powers (known as “Crummey powers”) to allow gifts to qualify for the gift tax annual exclusion, written notices for 2020 gifts will need to be issued. This can be way more complicated than you expect: if you have transfers made to multiple trusts and outright gifts made directly to heirs, those gifts may need to be prioritized, based on the terms of the trusts and the dates of the gifts to determine which gifts qualify for the annual exclusion and which do not.

If you made gifts to a trust that is exempt from the generation skipping transfer tax (GST), you may have to file a gift tax return to allocate the GST exemption, so the trust remains GST exempt. Talk to your estate planning attorney to avoid any expensive mistakes.

Do you own life insurance? Or does a trust own life insurance for you? Either way, do not ignore your coverage after you’ve purchased a policy or policies. Your broker should review policy performance, the appropriateness of coverage for your plan, etc., every few years. If you didn’t do this in 2020, make it a priority for 2021. Many people create SLATS—Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts—so that their spouse benefits from the trusts. However, if your spouse dies prematurely, the SLAT no longer works.

Paying trustee fees. If you have institutional trustees, their fees need to be paid annually. If you pay the fees directly, the fee becomes an additional gift to the trust, requiring the filing of a gift tax for that year. If the trust pays the fee directly, there might not be a tax implication. Again, check with your estate planning attorney.

Did you make transfers to a trust with a disclaimer mechanism? If you made transfers to a trust that has a disclaimer mechanism and you want to reconsider the planning, it may be possible for beneficiaries or a trustee to disclaim gifts made to the trust within nine months of the transfer, thereby unwinding the planning.

Did you create any GRATs in 2020? If you created a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, be certain that the trustee calendars the required annuity payments and that they are paid on a timely basis. Missing payments could put the GRAT status in jeopardy. You should also confirm also how the payment is calculated, which should be in the GRAT itself.

The best estate plan is one that is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it works, throughout changes that occur in law and life.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 27, 2020) “Checklist 2020 Planning Follow Through: You Have More Work To Do”

Should a GRAT Be Part of My Estate Plan?

A Grantor-Retained Annuity Trust, or GRAT, is funded by the grantor, the person who creates the trust, in exchange for a stream of annuity payments at a predetermined interest rate—the IRS Section 7520 rate. The interest rate in December 2020 is 0.6%, as reported in the article “Transferring Wealth With This Trust Can Yield Big Tax Advantages” from Financial Advisor.

GRAT assets need only appreciate greater than the Section 7520 rate over the term of the trust, and any excess earnings will pass to beneficiaries, or to an ongoing trust for beneficiaries with no gift or estate tax.

Because the grantor takes back the amount equal to that which was transferred to the trust (often two or three years), which is set by the IRS when the trust is funded, future appreciation over and above the interest rate passes gift-tax free.

There’s little upkeep. Once the trust agreement is in place, a gift tax return needs to be filed once a year. If the trust is set up without a tax ID number, there’s no need to file an income tax return.

The grantor is responsible for the income generated by the asset in the GRAT, but that’s it. If the value of the property is increased following an audit, the gift won’t be increased but the annuity will. If the GRAT property decreases in value, the only out of pocket is the set-up costs.

Assets in a GRAT may be anything from an investment portfolio to shares in a closely held business.

Most GRATs are designed to have the value of the retained annuity be equal to the value of the property that is transferred to the GRAT. If the values are equal, then the amount of the gift for tax purposes is zero, since the value of the transfer less the annuity value is zero.

GRATs are not for everyone. The success of the GRAT depends upon the success of the underlying assets. If they don’t appreciate as expected, then there might not be a significant amount transferred out of the estate after paying for the legal, accounting and appraisal fees. If the grantor dies during the term of the GRAT before payments back to the grantor have ended, the GRAT will be unsuccessful.

Generation skipping transfers cannot utilize GRATS, since the generation skipping tax exemption may not be applied to a GRAT, until the grantor’s death.

Ask your estate planning attorney about whether a GRAT could benefit your family. If a GRAT is not a good fit, they will know about many other tools available.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Nov. 30, 2020) “Transferring Wealth With This Trust Can Yield Big Tax Advantages”

How Can I Protect Assets from Creditors?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Three Estate Planning Techniques That Protect Your Assets From Creditors” explains that the key to knowing if your assets might be susceptible to attachment in litigation is the fraudulent conveyance laws. These laws make a transfer void, if there’s explicit or constructive fraud during the transfer. Explicit fraud is when you know that it is likely an existing creditor will try to attach your assets. Constructive fraud is when you transfer an asset, without receiving reasonably equivalent consideration. Since these laws void the transfer, a future creditor can attach your assets.

Getting reasonably equivalent consideration for a transfer of assets will eliminate the transfer being treated as constructive fraud. Reasonably equivalent consideration includes:

  • Funding a protective trust at death to provide for your spouse or children
  • Asset transfer in return for interest in an LLC or LLP; or
  • A transfer that exchanges for an annuity (or other interest) that protects the principal from claims of creditors.

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) can be an asset protection entity, because when assets are transferred into the LLC, your creditors have limited rights to get their hands on them. Like a corporation, your interest in the LLC can be attached. However, you can place restrictions on the sale or transfer of interests that can decrease its value and define the term by which sale proceeds must be paid out. An LLC must be treated as a business for the courts to treat them as a business. Thus, if you use the LLC as if it were your personal property, courts will disregard the LLC and treat it as personal property.

Annuities are created when you exchange assets for the right to get payment over time. Unlike annuities sold by insurance companies, these annuities are private. These annuities are similar to insurance company annuities, in that they have some income tax consequences, but protect the principal against attachment.

You can also ask an experienced estate planning attorney about trusts that use annuities, which are called split interest trusts. There is a trust where you (the Grantor) give assets but keep the right to receive payments, which can be a fixed amount annually with a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (or GRAT.)

Another trust allows you to get a variable amount, based on the value of the assets in the trust each year. This is a Grantor Retained Uni-Trust or GRUT. If the assets are vacant land or other tangible property, or being gifted to someone who’s not your sibling, parent, child, or other descendant, you can keep the income from the assets by using a Grantor Retained Income Trust (or GRIT).

Along with a trust where you make a gift to an individual, you can protect the trust assets and get a charitable deduction, if you make a gift to charity through trusts. There are two types of trust for this purpose: a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) lets you keep an annuity or a variable payment annually, with the remainder of the trust assets going to charity at the end of the term; and a Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) where you give a fixed of variable annuity to charity for a term and the remainder either back to you or to others.

To get the most from your asset protection, work with an experienced estate planning attorney

Reference: Forbes (June 25, 2020) “Three Estate Planning Techniques That Protect Your Assets From Creditors”

The Coronavirus and Estate Planning

As Americans adjust to a changing public health landscape and historical changes to the economy, certain opportunities in wealth planning are becoming more valuable, according to the article “Impact of COVID-19 on Estate Planning” from The National Law Review. Here is a look at some strategies for estate plans:

Basic estate planning. Now is the time to review current estate planning documents to be sure they are all up to date. That includes wills, trusts, revocable trusts, powers of attorney, beneficiary designations and health care directives. Also be sure that you and family members know where they are located.

Wealth Transfer Strategies. The extreme volatility of financial markets, depressed asset values,and historically low interest rates present opportunities to transfer wealth to intended beneficiaries. Here are a few to consider:

Intra-Family Transactions. In a low interest rate environment, planning techniques involve intra-family transactions where the senior members of the family lend or sell assets to younger family members. The loaned or sold assets only need to appreciate at a rate greater than the interest rate charged. In these cases, the value of the assets remaining in senior family member’s estate will be frozen at the loan/purchase price. The value of the loaned or sold assets will be based on a fair market value valuation, which may include discounts for certain factors. The fair market value of many assets will be extremely depressed and discounted. When asset values rebound, all that appreciation will be outside of the taxable estate and will be held by or for the benefit of your intended beneficiaries, tax free.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATS). The use of a GRAT allows the Grantor to contribute assets into a trust while retaining a right to receive, over a term of years, an annuity steam from the Trust. When the term of years expires, the balance of the Trust’s assets passes to the beneficiaries. The IRS values the ultimate transfer of assets to your intended beneficiaries, based on the value of the annuity stream you retain and an assumed rate of return. The assumed rate of return, known as the 7520 rate comes from the IRS and is currently 1.8%. So, if you retain the right to receive an annuity stream from the trust equal to the value of the assets plus a 1.8% rate of return, assets left in the trust at the end of the term pass to your beneficiaries transfer-tax free.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts. Known as “CLATs,” they are similar to a GRAT, where the Grantor transfers assets to a trust and a named charity gets an annuity stream for a set term of years. At the end of that term, the assets in the trust pass to the beneficiaries. You can structure this so the balance of the assets passes to heirs transfer-tax free.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about these and other wealth transfer strategies to learn if they are right for you and your family. And stay well!

Reference: The National Law Journal (March 13, 2020) “Impact of COVID-19 on Estate Planning”