Don’t Miss Out on Estate Planning Opportunities

The recent article, “Rooting Out Estate Planning Opportunities,” from Financial Advisor offers a number of frequently missed opportunities in estate planning. Chief among them are failing to update estate plans, as changes to tax laws could mean that strategies used when your estate plan was initially created may no longer be relevant.

Before these opportunities can be discovered, it’s important to have a clear accounting of all of your assets, including a balance sheet of each “bucket” of resources: personal assets, trust assets, qualified plan assets, etc. The secret to success: meeting with your estate planning attorney every few years to review this entire picture to identify potential opportunities.

Once you have a sense of the whole picture, it’s easier to spot opportunities for your Estate Planning. For instance:

A Spousal Lifetime Access Trust, or SLAT, is an irrevocable trust used when a grantor wants to transfer part of their spousal exclusion into a SLAT to provide for their spouse and descendants. The SLAT keeps assets out of the donor’s estate and authorizes the trustee to make distributions to the grantor’s spouse, while at the same time it allows children or other heirs to be named as beneficiaries. Many couples use these trusts to protect assets from lawsuits.

There are some drawbacks to keep in mind. If one spouse is the beneficiary of the other spouse, all is well while both are living. However, if one spouse dies or becomes incapacitated and all assets are in the trust, the other may lose access to the trust created for the now deceased spouse.

The loss of access and the restrictions on SLAT distribution could be addressed by having both spouses purchase life insurance policies to fill the gap. At the same time, the couple would be well advised to look into disability and long-term care insurance.

Another situation is the use of a credit shelter trust, often called a bypass trust because it bypasses the surviving spouse’s estate. They are not as advantageous as they used to be because of today’s high estate tax exemption. They were also popular when the surviving spouse wasn’t able to use their deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption.

With the federal estate tax exemption up to more than $12 million, many who still have credit shelter trusts may find they don’t make sense in the short term. However, for now the federal estate exemption is set to drop down to $6 million when the Jobs and Tax Act sunsets. Depending upon your circumstances, it may be worthwhile to maintain this trust. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you.

Merging old trusts into new ones, or “decanting” them, makes sense in some situations. A new trust can be better crafted to align with the latest in tax laws and serve the same beneficiaries for as long as your state’s laws permit.

The two important takeaways here:

  • Estate planning requires a complete look at all of your assets and liabilities to make the best decisions on how to structure any estate and tax strategies; and
  • Estate planning needs to be reviewed on a regular basis—every three to five years at a minimum—to ensure the strategies still work, despite any changes in tax laws and your situation.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Nov. 1, 2022) “Rooting Out Estate Planning Opportunities”

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”

How Do I Protect Myself and My Children in a Second Marriage?

In first marriages, working together to raise children can solidify a marriage. However, in a second marriage, the adult children are in a different position altogether. If important estate planning issues are not addressed, the relationship between the siblings and the new spouses can have serious consequences, according to a recent article titled “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Chief among the issues center on inheritances and financial matters, especially if one of the parties has the bulk of the income and the assets. How will the household expenses be shared? Should they be divided equally, even if one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other?

Other concerns involve real estate. If both parties own their own homes, in which house will they live? Will the other home be used for rental income or sold? Will both names be on the title for the primary residence?

Planning for incapacity also becomes more complex. If a 90-year-old man marries a 79-year-old woman, will his children or his spouse be named as agents (i.e., attorneys in fact) under his Power of Attorney if he is incapacitated? Who will make healthcare decisions for the 79-year-old spouse—her children or her 90-year-old husband?

There are so many different situations and family dynamics to consider. Will a stepdaughter end up making the decision to withdraw artificial feeding for an elderly stepmother, if the stepmother’s own children cannot be reached in a timely manner? If stepsiblings do not get along and critical decisions need to be made, can they set aside their differences to act in their collective parent’s best interests?

The matter of inheritances for second and subsequent marriages often becomes the pivot point for family discord. If the family has not had an estate plan created with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the complexities of multiple marriages, then the battles between stepchildren can become nasty and expensive.

Do not discount the impact of the spouses of adult children. If you have a stepchild whose partner feels they have been wronged by the parent, they could bring a world of trouble to an otherwise amicable group.

The attorney may recommend the use of trusts to ensure the assets of the first spouse to die eventually make their way to their own children, while ensuring the surviving spouse has income during their lifetime. There are several trusts designed to accomplish this exact scenario, including one known as SLAT—Spousal Lifetime Access Trust.

Discussions about health care proxies and power of attorney should take place well before they are needed. Ideally, all members of the family can gather peacefully for discussions while their parents are living, to avoid surprises. If the relationships are rocky, a group discussion may not be possible and parents and adult children may need to meet for one-on-one discussions. However, the conversations still need to take place.

Second marriages at any age and stage need to have a prenuptial and an estate plan in place before the couple walks down the aisle to say, “I do…again.”

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (March 1, 2022) “Into the Breach; Getting Married Again?”

Before They’re Gone—Estate Planning Strategies

As Congress continues to hammer out the details on impending legislation, there are certain laws still in effect concerning estate planning. The article “Last Call for SLATs, GTRATs, and the Use of the Enhanced Gift Tax Exemption?” from Mondaq says now is the time to review and update your estate plan, just in case any beneficial strategies may disappear by year’s end.

Here are the top five estate planning items to consider:

Expect Exemptions to Take a Dive. Estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions are $11.7 million per person and are now scheduled to increase by an inflationary indexed amount through 2025. Even if there are no legislative changes, on January 1, 2026, this number drops to $5 million, indexed for inflation. Under proposed legislation, it will revert to $6,020,000 and will continue to be indexed for inflation. This is a “use it or lose it” exemption.

Married Couples Have Options Different Than Solos. Married persons who don’t want to gift large amounts to descendants have the option to gift the exemption amount to their spouse using a SLAT—Spousal Lifetime Access Trust. The spouses can both create these trusts for each other, but the IRS is watching, so certain precautions must be taken. The trusts should not be identical in nature and should not be created at the same time to avoid application of the “reciprocal trust” doctrine, which would render both trusts moot. Under proposed legislation, SLATs will be includable in your estate at death, but SLATs created and funded before the legislation is enacted will be grandfathered in. If this is something of interest, don’t delay.

GRATs and other Grantor Trusts May be Gone. They simply won’t be of any use, since proposed legislation has them includable in your estate at death. Existing GRATs and other grantor trusts will be grandfathered in from the new rules. Again, if this is of interest, the time to act is now.

IRA Rules May Change. People who own Individual Retirement Accounts with values above $10 million, combined with income of more than $450,000, may not be able to make contributions to traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and defined contribution plans under the proposed legislation. Individuals with large IRA balances may be required to withdraw funds from retirement plans, regardless of age. A minimum distribution may be an amount equal to 50% of the amount by which the combined IRA value is higher than the $10 million threshold.

Rules Change for Singles Too. A single person who doesn’t want to make a large gift and lose control and access may create and gift an exemption amount to a trust in a jurisdiction with “domestic asset protection trust” legislation and still be a beneficiary of such a trust. This trust must be fully funded before the new legislation is enacted, since once the law passes, such a trust will be includable in the person’s estate. Check with your estate planning attorney to see if your state allows this strategy.

Reference: Mondaq (Sep. 24. 2021) “Last Call for SLATs, GTRATs, and the Use of the Enhanced Gift Tax Exemption?”

What Does SLAT Mean in Estate Planning?

Interest in SLATs, or Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts, has picked up as the new administration eyes possible revenue sources from estate and gift taxes. According to a recent article titled “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs” from U.S. News & World Report, even if no changes to exemption levels happen now, the current federal lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion of $11.7 million will expire in 2026. When that happens, the exemption will revert to the pre-2018 level of about $6 million, adjusted for inflation.

First, what is a SLAT? It’s an estate planning strategy where one spouse gifts assets to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the other spouse. This removes the asset from their joint estate, but the donor spouse may still indirectly retain access to the assets. The SLAT typically also benefits a secondary recipient, usually the couple’s children.

It’s important to work with an estate planning attorney who is knowledgeable about this type of planning and tax law to ensure that the SLAT follows all of the rules. It is possible for a SLAT that is poorly created to be rejected by the IRS, so experienced counsel is a must.

The attorney and the couple need to look at how much wealth the family has and how much the family members will need to enjoy their quality of life for the rest of their lives. The funds placed in the SLAT are, ideally, funds that neither of the couple will need to access.

If a donor spouse can be approved for life insurance, that’s a good asset to place inside a SLAT. Tax-deferred assets are also good assets for SLATs. Trust tax rates can be very high. If securities are placed into the trust and they pay dividends, taxes must be paid. When life insurance pays out, the proceeds are estate-tax and income-tax free.

SLATs also protect assets from creditors.

There are pitfalls to SLATs, which is why an experienced estate planning attorney is so important. Married couples with large estates may set up separate SLATs for each other, but they must take into consideration the “reciprocal trust doctrine.” SLATs cannot be funded with identical assets and they cannot be set up at the same time. The IRS will collapse trusts that violate this rule. One SLAT can be done one year, and the second SLAT done the following year, and they should be funded with different assets.

There’s also a trade-off: while the SLAT gets assets out of the estate, they will not receive a step-up in basis at the time of the donor spouse’s death. Basis step-ups occur when the deceased spouse’s share in the cost basis of assets is stepped up to their value on the date of death.

Divorce or the death of the recipient spouse means the donor spouse loses access to the SLAT’s assets.

The SLAT requires coordination between the estate planning attorney and the financial advisor, so anyone considering this strategy should act now so their attorney has enough time to take the family’s entire estate plan into account. There also needs to be a third-party trustee, someone who is not the recipient and not related or subordinate to the recipient.

Assets don’t have to be placed into the SLATs immediately after they are created, so there is time to figure out what the couple wants to put into the SLAT. However, forgetting to fund the SLAT, like neglecting to fund any other trust, defeats the purpose of the trust.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 3, 2021) “What Advisors Should Know About SLATs”

What Is a SLAT in Estate Planning?

A SLAT is a type of irrevocable trust that can only be used by married couples for the benefit of a spouse, children, or other beneficiaries. Is a SLAT right for your family? The recent article titled “Should a SLAT Be Part Of Your Estate Planning?” from Forbes examines when a SLAT works, and when it doesn’t.

A SLAT works well while your spouse is alive. They have access to it and the assets it contains, since they are the beneficiary. As of this writing, up to $11,700,000 of assets can be removed from a taxable estate using your federal estate tax exemption, while your spouse continues to have access to the assets.

Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it? However, there are drawbacks. If your spouse dies, you lose access to the assets. They will pass to the remainder beneficiaries in the trust, typically children, but they can be other beneficiaries of your choice.

If you and your spouse divorce, the spouse is still a beneficiary of the SLAT. Ask your estate planning attorney if this is something they can build into the SLAT but be mindful that if the attorney is representing both spouses for estate planning, there will be ethical considerations that could get tricky.

What about a SLAT for each spouse? If you and your spouse both establish SLATs to benefit each other, you run the risk of the “reciprocal trust doctrine.” The IRS could take the position that the trusts cancel each other out, and rule that the only reason for the SLAT was to remove taxable assets from your estate.

The SLATs need to be different from each other in more than a few ways. Your estate planning attorney will need to develop this with you. A few ways to structure two SLATs:

  • Create them at different times. The more time between their creation, the better.
  • Consider establishing the trusts in different states.
  • Have different trustees.
  • Vary the distribution rules for the surviving spouse and the distribution rules upon the death of the second spouse. For instance, one spouse’s trust could hold the assets in lifetime trusts for the children, while the other spouse’s trust could terminate, and assets be distributed to the children when they reach age 40.

The SLAT is an especially useful way to address tax liability. If you have not maxed out lifetime gifts in 2020, now is the time to start this process. December 2025, when the federal estate tax exemption reverts back to $5 million, will be here faster than you think. If the country needs to find revenue quickly, that change may come even sooner. Tax reform that occurs in 2021 is not likely to be retroactive to January 1, 2021, but there are no guarantees.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 16, 2021) “Should a SLAT Be Part Of Your Estate Planning?”

Estate Planning Actions to Consider before 2020 Ends

When it comes to estate planning, there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” solution. That is especially true before a presidential election. However, there are several factors that should be considered and discussed with your estate planning attorney, as recommended in this recent article from The National Law Review “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020.”

The estate, gift and generational-skipping transfer tax exemption is now $11.58 million per person. It’s scheduled to increase every year by an inflationary indexed amount through 2025 and in 2026 will revert to $5 million. If Biden wins the election, don’t be surprised if changes are made earlier. The IRS has already said that if the exemption is used this year, there will be no claw back. This is a “use it or lose it” scenario. If you are planning on using it, now is the time to do so.

It is possible that Discounts, GRATS, Grantor Trusts and other estate planning techniques may go away, depending upon who wins the election and control of Congress. Consider taking advantage of commonly used estate planning tools before it is too late.

Married couples who are not ready to gift significant amounts to their children or to put assets into trusts for their children should consider the SLAT–Spousal Lifetime Access Trust. They can create and gift the exemption amount to a SLAT and still maintain access to the assets.

Single individuals who similarly are not ready to make large gifts and give up access to assets may also create and gift an exemption amount to a trust in a jurisdiction based on “domestic asset protection trust” legislation. They can be a beneficiary of such a trust.

Interest rates are at an all-time low, and that is when tools like intra family loans, GRATs and GLATs are at their best.

Moving to Florida, Nevada, Texas and other low- or no-income tax states has become very popular, especially for people who can work remotely. Be aware that high tax states like New York and California are not going to let your tax revenue leave easily. Check with your estate planning attorney to make sure you’re following the rules in giving up your domicile in a high-income tax state.

Reference: The National Law Review (Oct. 6, 2020) “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020”