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”