High Interest Rates Have an Impact on Estate Planning

The Section 7520 rate has been low for the past 15 years and presented many opportunities for good planning. What happens when inflation has returned and rates are moving up, asks a recent article titled “Estate Planning Techniques in a High—Interest—Rate Environment” from Bloomberg Tax.

The Section 7520 rate is the interest rate for a particular month as determined by the IRS. It is 120 percent of the applicable federal midterm rate (compounded annually) for the month in which the valuation date falls and rounded to the nearest two-tenths of a percent. It is used for actuarial planning, to discount the value of annuities, life estates and remainders to present value, and is revised monthly.

In January 2022, the 7520 rate was at 1.6%, but as interest rates increased, it shot up and in December 2022 was 5.2%. This was a 225% increase—unprecedented in the history of the 7520 rate. However, there are four key planning concepts which may make 2023 a little brighter for estate planning attorneys and their clients.

Higher inflation equals higher exemptions. Certain inflation adjusted exemptions and exclusions increased on January 1, 2023. The federal transfer tax exemption rose by $860,000 to $12.92 million, and the annual gift tax exclusion increased to $17,000 from $16,000 in 2022.

These increases give wealthy families the opportunity to make generous new gifts to family members without triggering any transfer taxes. Those who have fully used transfer tax exemptions may wish to consider making additional transfers.

Shift charitable giving to CRTs for higher interest rates. People who might have started Charitable Lead Trusts should instead look at Charitable Remainder Trusts. With both CLTs and CRTs, the value of the income and remainder interests are calculated using the 7520 rate. The key difference, for estate planning purposes, is the impact of a rising rate on the amount of the available charitable deduction.

The return of the QPRT. Qualified Personal Residence Trusts have been hibernating for years because of low interest rates. However, the time has come to return them to use for wealth transfer. A QPRT lets a person transfer a residence at a discounted value, while retaining the right to occupy the residence for a number of years. The 7520 rate is used to determine the value of the owner’s retained interest. The higher the rate, the more value retained by the owner and the smaller the amount of the taxable gift to the remainder beneficiaries, usually the owner’s children.

GRATs still have value. A Grantor Remainder Trust should still be considered in estate planning. A GRAT is more appealing in a low interest environment. However, a GRAT can still be useful when rates are rising. The success or failure of the GRAT usually depends on whether the assets transferred to the GRAT appreciate in value at a rate exceeding the 7520 rate, since the excess appreciation is transferred to the remainder beneficiaries gift tax-free. A GRAT can also be structured as a zeroed-out GRAT. This means that the transfer of assets to the GRAT doesn’t use any of the grantor’s transfer tax exemption or result in any gift tax due. This is still of value to a person who owns assets with significant growth potential, like securities likely to rebound quickly from depressed 2022 values.

Reference: Bloomberg Tax (Dec. 23, 2022) “Estate Planning Techniques in a High—Interest—Rate Environment”

What Is the Point of a Trust?

A trust is an agreement made when a person, referred to as the trustor or grantor, gives a third party, known as the trustee, the authority to hold assets for the trust beneficiaries. The trustee is in charge of the trust and responsible for executing the trust’s instructions as per the language in the trust, explains a recent article from The Skim, “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy).”

Some examples of how trusts are used: if the grantor doesn’t want beneficiaries to have access to funds until they reach a certain age, the trustee will not distribute anything until the age as directed by the trust. The funds could also be solely used for the beneficiaries’ health care needs or education or whatever expense the grantor has named, the trustee decides when the funds should be released.

Trusts are not one-size-fits-all. There are many to choose from. For instance, if you wanted the bulk of your assets to go to your grandchildren, you might use a Generation-Skipping Trust. If you think your home’s value may skyrocket after you die, you might want to consider a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) to reduce taxes.

Trusts fall into a few categories:

Testamentary Trust vs. Living Trust

A testamentary trust is known as a “trust under will” and is created based on provisions in the will after the grantor dies. A testamentary trust fund can be used to make gifts to charities or provide lifetime income for loved ones.

In most cases, trusts don’t have to go through the probate process, that is, being validated by the court before beneficiaries can receive their inheritance. However, because the testamentary trust is tied to the will, it is subject to probate. Your heirs may have to wait until the probate process is completed to receive their inheritance. This varies by state, so ask an estate planning attorney in your state.

Living trusts are created while you are living and are also known as revocable trusts. As the grantor, you may make as many changes as you like to the trust terms while living. Once you die, the trust becomes an irrevocable trust and the terms cannot be changed. There’s no need for the trust to go through probate and beneficiaries receive inheritances as per the directions in the trust.

What are the key benefits of creating a trust? A trust doesn’t always need to go through probate and gives you greater control over the assets. If you create an irrevocable trust and fund it while living, your assets are removed from your probate estate, which means whatever assets are moved into the trust are not subject to estate taxes.

Are there any reasons not to create a trust? There are costs associated with creating a trust. The trust must also be funded, meaning ownership documents like titles for a car or deeds for a house have to be revised to place the asset under the control of the trust. The same is true for stocks, bank accounts and any other asset used to fund the trust.

For gaining more control over your assets, minimizing estate taxes and making life easier for those you love after you pass, trusts are a valuable tool. Speak with your estate planning attorney to find out which trust works best for your situation. Your estate plan and any trusts should complement each other.

Reference: The Skim (Oct. 26, 2022) “What is a Trust? (Spoiler: They’re Not Just for the Wealthy)”

Estate Planning for Changing Economic Times

Estate plans created during a historically low interest rate environment may need to be re-examined and new techniques considered, according to a recent article titled “Estate Planning For A New Day” from Financial Advisor.  Inflation changes the future value of assets and the value of real estate and taxes due on distributions. For an estate plan to succeed, it is critical to know the value of the assets and how the value of those assets change over time. Accurately determining the value of an estate is necessary to measure any potential estate tax liabilities and plan for their payment.

Inflation may also impact how much is gifted during life or after death without paying federal estate taxes. These exemption levels are reevaluated every January 1 and increase, if warranted, by inflation.

Inflation will cause the federal estate and gift tax exemptions to increase significantly in January 2023, which will give wealthier clients the ability to make large gifts in 2023. For 2022, the exclusion for gifts other than those for medical or educational purposes is $16,000 per donor. However, gifts over that amount count towards the lifetime exemption, currently at $12.06 million per person. The lifetime exemption works jointly with the estate tax exemption and also covers transfers gifted through the estate.

How much these amounts are adjusted is determined by federal inflation estimates, which are not always accurate. If real inflation exceeds the government’s projections, an estate could become taxable due to inflation alone. Once the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expires in 2025, the exemption amounts are set to take a nosedive.

Unless Congress acts, on Jan. 1, 2026, the lifetime exemption amount will revert to its old level, or even lower. Now is the time to look into using those exemptions.

Some professionals believe inflation has little impact on estate planning, which is by its nature a long-term matter and not subject to daily ups and downs of markets or news cycles. However, inflation is tied to interest rates, and rising interest rates need to be considered since they impact estate planning strategies.

Charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) are more attractive now because of higher interest rates. The initial donation to the trust is partially tax-deductible and any income generated by the trust is tax exempt. The trust, which is irrevocable, then distributes income to the grantor or beneficiary for a specified period of time. At the conclusion of the time period, the remainder is donated to charity.

GRATS and QPRTs are less advantageous, since they rely on declining interest rates. GRATS allow assets to be locked into irrevocable trusts for a set period of time, during which the beneficiaries can draw an annual income at interest rate set by the IRS. When the term expires, any appreciation of the original assets, minus the payout rate, passes to heirs with little or no gift taxes.

Qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs) allow users to lock away the value of a residence in an irrevocable trust for a period of time. The grantor can remain in the home and keep partial interest in its value. Afterwards, the rest of the value, determined by the IRS, is transferred to heirs. The goal is to remove the family home from the estate and decrease the gift tax incurred by otherwise transferring the asset. However, if the grantor dies before the trust expires, the value of the residence is included in the estate and taxed with it.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to review your current estate plan with an eye to rising interest rates and inflation and deem which strategies still work, which don’t and how best to move forward. This has been a general overview and individual counsel is critical.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Oct. 1, 2022) “Estate Planning For A New Day”

Is Putting a Home in Trust a Good Estate Planning Move?

A typical estate at death will include a personal residence. It’s common for a large estate to also include a vacation home, or family retreat. Leaving real property in trust is common.

Estate plans that include a revocable trust will fund the trust by a pour-over, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

A settlor (the person establishing a trust) often will title their home to the revocable trust, which becomes irrevocable at death.

Another option is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust, which is irrevocable, to gift a valuable home to a trust for the settlor’s children. With a QPRT, the house is passed over a term of years while the original owner continues to live there, so the gift passes with little or no gift or estate tax.

Some trusts arising from a decedent estate will hold the home belonging to the settlor without any instructions for its disposal or retention. Outside of very large trusts, a requirement to actually purchase homes for beneficiaries in the trust is far less common.

It is more common in a large trust to have terms that let the trustee buy a home for a beneficiary outside the trust or keep the settlor’s home in the trust for a beneficiary’s use, including purchasing a replacement home when requested.

The trustee will hopefully propose a plan that will satisfy the beneficiary without undue risk to the trust estate or exceeding the trustee’s powers. The most relevant considerations for homeownership in a trust are:

  • The competing needs of other trust beneficiaries
  • The purchase price and costs of maintaining the home
  • The size of the trust as compared to those costs
  • Other sources of income and resources available to the beneficiary; and
  • The interests of the remaindermen (beneficiaries who will take from the trust when the current beneficiaries’ interests terminate).

The terms of the trust may require the trustee to ignore some of these considerations.

Each situation requires a number of decisions that could expose the trustee to a charge that it has acted imprudently.

Those who want to create a trust should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid any issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 8, 2022) “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

Can I Bequeath My Home to My Children without Taxes?

As part of your estate planning, you can pass your house tax-free to an heir. savingadvice.com’s recent article entitled “Use These Tips to Pass Your House to Your Heirs Tax-Free” reminds us that the most important thing is to look at the total value of your entire estate (not just your home). If the value is more than $11.58 million (the unified federal estate gift and estate tax exemption amount for 2020), then your estate will be subject to estate taxes. If it’s under that amount, there’s no worries, and you can pass a house tax-free through a will. However, you may also have state estate taxes on the inheritance.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the potential capital gains taxes your heirs may have to pay, when they sell the property. If you owe any money to Medicaid upon your death, the state can place a lien on your property, which can affect your heirs. Let’s look at some options to discuss with your estate planning attorney:

Irrevocable Trust. If you have an estate that’s more than the $11.58 million amount, you might want to look at putting the house into an irrevocable trust, instead of just including it in your will. Ask your attorney about a qualified personal residence trust. When you die, the house will go to the heir(s) that you’ve designated with the trust. However, if you sell the house, the money goes into the trust and can’t be cashed out if the situation changes. It’s something to consider, if you have a high-value estate and want to pass a house tax-free to your children or other loved ones.

As a Gift. You can gift a house to your children, and there will be no taxes on that, if the value of your home is less than the $11.58 million. However, you must file a gift tax form when you do your annual taxes. As long as the value is below that amount, it should just be a matter of filing the form and not paying any fees.

Look at total value of your estate and your home. File a gift tax form with the IRS in the year that you gift the home and offset the total amount of the gift by first using your annual gift-tax exclusion of $15,000. This is per donee and per donor, so if you and your spouse jointly own the property and you gift it to multiple children, you can up the exclusion amount.

You shouldn’t apply for Medicaid within five years of gifting your home to your child, because there may be a transfer penalty if you gift assets just before applying for Medicaid benefits.

Can You Sell the House and Gift the Money? You can sell the home at current market value, then gift that money to your child. You can do this in a will or trust or give it to them directly. You could also sell the home to your child at a very low price. They’d get the house and can sell it themselves at a higher value when the time is right for them to do so. However, they may have to pay higher taxes when they do.

Selling your Home to Your Child for $1? OK, you’re technically selling the house, so it’s not a gift. However, the remainder of the value of the house is considered a gift, so the gift tax rules still apply. If your child sells the house, they must report the entire difference as a gain, which means capital gains taxes.

If you want to sell your house to your child, you should consider selling it to them with a small down payment as a seller-financed sale. You’ll carry the note for the balance, and your adult child will make affordable payments. You can even offset what they pay you, by gifting them up to $15,000 per year (which is low enough not to trigger the gift tax). Since you’ve sold the home, it’s no longer a part of your estate, so you don’t have to worry about taxes on your end.

Reference: savingadvice.com (July 29, 2020) “Use These Tips to Pass Your House to Your Heirs Tax-Free”

How to Keep the Family Vacation Home in the Family

If this winter-like weather plus pandemic have left you wondering about how to get started on passing the family vacation home to the family or preparing to sell it in the future, you’ll need to understand how property is transferred. The details are shared in a useful article titled “Exit strategy for keeping the cabin in the family” from The Spokesman Review.

Two options to consider: an outright sale to the adult children or placing the cabin in a qualified personal residence trust. Selling the vacation home and renting it back from the children, is one way that parents can keep it in the family, enjoy it without owning it, and help the children out with rental income.

One thing to bear in mind: the sale of the vacation home will not escape a capital gains tax. It’s likely that the vacation home has appreciated in value, especially if you’ve owned it for a long time. If you have made capital improvements over that time period, you may be able to offset the capital gains.

The actual gain is the difference between the adjusted sales price (that is, the selling price minus selling expenses) and their adjusted basis. What is the adjusted basis? That is the original cost, plus capital improvements. These are the improvements to the property with a useful life of more than one year and that increase the value of the property or extend its life. A new roof, a new deck, a remodeled kitchen or basement or finished basement are examples of what are considered capital improvements. New curtains or furniture are not.

Distinguishing the difference between a capital improvement and a maintenance cost is not always easy. An estate planning attorney can help you clarify this, as you plan for the transfer of the property.

Another way to transfer the property is with the use of a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT). In this situation, the vacation home is considered a second residence, and is placed within the trust for a specific time period. You decide what the amount of time would be and continue to enjoy the vacation home during that time. Typical time periods are ten or fifteen years. If you live beyond the time of the trust, then the vacation home passes to the children and your estate is reduced by the value of the vacation home. If you should die during the term of the trust, the vacation home reverts back to your estate, as if no trust had been set up.

A QPRT works for families who want to reduce the size of their estate and have a property they pass along to the next generation, but the hard part is determining the parent’s life expectancy. The longer the terms of the trust, the more estate taxes are saved. However, if the parents die earlier than anticipated, benefits are minimized.

The question for families considering the sale of their vacation home to the children, is whether the children can afford to maintain the property. One option for the children might be to rent out the property, until they are able to carry it on their own. However, that opens a lot of different issues. They should do so for period of one year at a time, so they receive the tax benefits of rental property, including depreciation.

Talk with a qualified estate planning attorney about what solution works best for your estate plan and your family’s future. There are other means of conveying the property, in addition to the two mentioned above, and every situation is different.

Reference: The Spokesman Review (April 19, 2020) “Exit strategy for keeping the cabin in the family”