Why Is Power of Attorney So Important for Estate Planning?

One of the most overlooked and important documents in estate planning is the Power of Attorney. A recent article from Farm Progress, “Often overlooked estate planning issues: Powers of attorney,” explains how this document works and why it’s so important.

Most people will become incapacitated at some point in our lives, especially as we age. Some experts believe this number is as high as two-thirds of all Americans who, at some point in their lives, will become incapacitated. We are living longer and the chances of developing a condition to impair or rob us of the ability to make important health or financial decisions increases every year.

Powers of Attorney are just as important for young adults because the risk of disability or impairment is often actually higher than death for someone younger.

Designating a Power of Attorney gives you the control of choosing a trusted person to step in and act as your agent. A “Durable” POA remains in effect until it is revoked, or upon the death of the person who made it.

The person establishing the POA is the “principal.” The principal has the right to revoke the POA until they lack capacity to do so. The person or persons named to act for you through your POA is your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent.”

You may choose to have the POA in a “durable” form or a “springing” POA. The springing POA becomes effective only when you have been determined to be incapacitated. This sounds like a good idea. However, it comes with an issue: for the springing POA to become active, there must be proof of incapacity.

Depending upon your state, this may require a court to review documents attesting to your incapacity from a physician or health care provider. The durable POA is always in effect and your agent can step in for you immediately.

Everyone should also have a Health Care Power of Attorney, sometimes called a Health Care Proxy or a medical POA. The Health Care POA should be someone who can act quickly, so it’s optimal to name someone who lives nearby, in case there’s an emergency and decisions need to be made in a timely manner.

While it’s tempting to simply download a form from the internet, these two POAs are best prepared with an estate planning attorney, so they align with your state’s laws and your wishes. You may want someone to make all decisions for you, or you may want to limit their powers. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a document to suit your specific needs.

It’s also important for your estate plan to address digital assets, since today so much of our financial and medical information is stored online. Your agent also needs to be able to access your digital life, to keep your life running smoothly and make informed decisions.

Reference: Farm Progress (Oct. 18, 2022) “Often overlooked estate planning issues: Powers of attorney.”

IRS Announces New Lifetime and Gift Tax Exemptions

There’s big news from the IRS for people who use gifting as part of their estate planning. The annual exclusion increased from $16,000 in 2022 to $17,000 in gifts in 2023, without needing to use up lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion or paying a gift tax. The article “Lifetime Estate and Gift Tax Exemption Will Hit $12.92 Million in 2023” from Forbes provides details.

The “unified credit,” aka the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption, will also jump to $12.92 million in 2023, up from $12.06 million in 2022. Couples may combine their exemption, so a wealthy couple making gifts in 2023 can pass along $25.84 million.

Here is another way to look at what this change means. If you’ve already maxed out on non-taxable gifts, you can give an extra $1.72 million to heirs in 2023, in addition to making $34,000 per couple ($17,000 x two) in annual gifts to every child, grandchild, siblings, niece or nephew or anyone you’re feeling generous towards.

In addition to making these generous $17,000 gifts, you can also pay an unlimited amount towards someone else’s tuition or medical expenses without any impact to your lifetime exemption. An important detail: the payments must be made directly to the school or the medical provider.

The estate tax is still 40%, but the $12.92 million per-person lifetime exemption is just one of many strategies used to transfer wealth. Others include the use of GRATs and other trusts to leverage the exemption. The bear market provides numerous planning opportunities.

Keep in mind the $12.92 million exemption is not forever. Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the lifetime exemption will sunset in the start of 2026, and the decrease will be more than half its current value.

Whether the estate and gift tax exemption will actually drop so dramatically depends on the politics of Congress and the White House and the budget and deficit pressures of the year. An early version of the Build Back Better proposal would have cut the exemption in half but did not win enough votes to pass.

Another reason to make these lifetime gifts sooner rather than later? As of 2022, seventeen states and the District of Columbia still have state estate taxes and/or inheritance taxes. For wealthy families, these exemptions can make a big difference in estate tax liabilities.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 18, 2022) “Lifetime Estate and Gift Tax Exemption Will Hit $12.92 Million in 2023”