What Is a Community Property Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Where you live matters for estate planning, since laws regarding estate planning are state specific. The same is true for taxes, especially for married couples, says a recent article “How Community Property Trusts Can Benefit Married Couples” from Kiplinger.

There are two different types of basic ownership law for married couples: common law and community property law. Variances can be found across states, but some general rules apply to all. If a state is not a community property state, it’s a common-law state.

Community property states have a tax advantage for assets when one spouse dies. But if you live in a common-law state, don’t worry: several states have now passed statutes allowing married couples living in a common-law state to establish a community property trust with a qualified trustee. They can gain a step-up in cost basis at each death, which previously was not allowed in common-law states.

First, let’s explain what community property means. Each member of the married couple owns one half of all the property of the couple, with full rights of ownership. All property acquired during a marriage is usually community property, with the exception of property from an inheritance or received as a gift. However, laws vary in the community property states regarding some ownership matters. For example, a spouse can identify some property as community property without the consent of the other spouse.

Under federal law, all community property (which includes both the decedent’s one-half interest in the community property and the surviving spouse’s one-half interest in the community property) gets a new basis at the death of the first spouse equal to its fair market value. The cost basis is stepped up, and assets can be sold without recognizing a capital gain.

Property in the name of the surviving spouse can receive a second step-up in basis. However, there’s no second step-up for assets placed into irrevocable trusts before the second death. This includes a trust set up to shelter assets under the lifetime estate tax exemption or to qualify assets for the unlimited marital deduction. This is often called “A-B” trust planning.

Under common law, married couples own assets together or individually. When the first spouse dies, assets in the decedent spouse’s name or in the name of a revocable trust are stepped-up. Assets owned jointly at death receive a step-up in basis on only half of the property. Assets in the surviving spouse’s name only are not stepped-up. However, when the surviving spouse dies, assets held in their name get another step-up in basis.

To date, five common-law states have passed community property trust statutes to empower a married couple to convert common-law property into community property. They include Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.

The community property trust allows married couples living in the resident state and others living in common-law states to obtain a stepped-up basis for all assets they own at the first death. Those who live in common-law states not permitting this trust solution can still execute a community property trust in a community property state. However, they will first need to appoint a qualified trustee in the state.

For this to work, the trusts need to be prepared properly by an experienced estate planning attorney, who will also be able to advise the couple whether there are any other means of achieving these and other tax planning goals.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 18, 2022) “How Community Property Trusts Can Benefit Married Couples”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Can I Minimize My Probate Estate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Having a properly prepared estate plan is especially important if you have minor children who would need a guardian, are part of a blended family, are unmarried in a committed relationship or have complicated family dynamics—especially those with drama. There are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, as described in the article “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate” from the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Probate is the process through which debts are paid and assets are divided after a person passes away. There will be probate of an estate whether or not a will and estate plan was done, but with no careful planning, there will be added emotional strain, costs and challenges left to your family.

Dying with no will, known as “intestacy,” means the state’s laws will determine who inherits your possessions subject to probate. Depending on where you live, your spouse could inherit everything, or half of everything, with the rest equally divided among your children. If you have no children and no spouse, your parents may inherit everything. If you have no children, spouse or living parents, the next of kin might be your heir. An estate planning attorney can make sure your will directs the distribution of your property.

Probate is the process of giving someone you designate in your will—the executor—the authority to inventory your assets, pay debts and taxes and eventually transfer assets to heirs. In an estate, there are two types of assets—probate and non-probate. Only assets subject to the probate process need go through probate. All other assets pass directly to new owners, without involvement of the court or becoming part of the public record.

Many people embark on estate planning to avoid having their assets pass through probate. This may be because they don’t want anyone to know what they own, they don’t want creditors or estranged family members to know what they own, or they simply want to enhance their privacy. An estate plan is used to take assets out of the estate and place them under ownership to retain privacy.

Some of the ways to remove assets from the probate process are:

Living trusts. Assets are moved into the trust, which means the title of ownership must change. There are pros and cons to using a living trust, which your estate planning attorney can review with you.

Beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts, investment accounts and insurance policies are among the assets with a named beneficiary. These assets can go directly to beneficiaries upon your death. Make sure your named beneficiaries are current.

Payable on Death (POD) or Transferable on Death (TOD) accounts. It sounds like a simple solution to own many accounts and assets jointly. However, it has its own challenges. If you wished any of the assets in a POD or TOD account to go to anyone else but the co-owner, there’s no way to enforce your wishes.

Contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.  An experienced, local estate planning attorney will be the best resource to prepare your estate for probate. If there is no estate plan, an administrator may be appointed by the court and the entire distribution of your assets will be done under court supervision. This takes longer and will include higher court costs.

Reference: Indianapolis Business Journal (Aug. 26,2022) “Try these steps to minimize your probate estate”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How are Capital Gains in Irrevocable Trust Taxed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Putting a home in an irrevocable trust may be done to protect the house from estate taxes, explains a recent article from Yahoo! Life titled “Do Irrevocable Trusts Pay the Capital Gains Tax?” However, what effect does this have on capital gains taxes?

An irrevocable trust is used to protect assets. Unlike a revocable trust, once an asset is placed within the trust, it is difficult to have the asset returned to the original owner. The trust is a separate legal entity and has its own taxpayer identification number.

Assets moved into a trust are permanently owned by the trust, until the trustee distributes assets to named beneficiaries or their heirs. Irrevocable trusts are often used to protect assets from litigation.

Capital gains taxes are the tax liabilities created when assets are sold. Typical assets subject to capital gains taxes include stocks, homes, businesses and collectibles. Capital gains taxes are usually lower than earned income taxes. For example, the top federal income tax rate is 37%, and the top capital gains tax rate is 20%. A single investor might pay no capital gains taxes if their taxable income is $41,675 or less (in 2022). Married copies filing joining also pay 0% capital gains if their taxable income is $83,350 or less.

Irrevocable trusts are the owners of assets in the trust until those assets are distributed, including any earned income. While it would seem that the irrevocable trust should pay taxes on earned income, this is not necessarily the case. If irrevocable trusts are required to distribute income to beneficiaries every year, then that makes the trust a pass-through entity. Beneficiaries pay taxes on the income they receive from the trust.

Capital gains are not considered income to such an irrevocable trust. Instead, any capital gains are treated as contributions to principal. Therefore, when a trust sells an asset and realizes a gain, and the gain is not distributed to beneficiaries, the trust pays capital gains taxes.

One of the tax benefits of home ownership is the ability to avoid the first $250,000 in capital gains profits on the sale of the home. For married couples filing jointly, the exemption is $500,000. The home must be a primary residence for two of the last five years.

What happens if you transfer your home to an irrevocable trust as part of your estate planning? Who pays the capital gains tax on the sale of a home in an irrevocable trust? Remember, the trust is a legal entity and not a person. The trust does not receive the $250,000 exemption.

Placing a home into an irrevocable trust can protect it from creditors and litigation, but when the home is sold, someone will have to pay the capital gains on the sale. Although irrevocable trusts are great for distributing assets to beneficiaries, they are also responsible for paying capital gains taxes.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you to determine which is more important for your unique situation: protecting the home through the use of an irrevocable trust or getting the tax exemption benefit if the home sells.

Reference: Yahoo! Life (July 7, 2022) “Do Irrevocable Trusts Pay the Capital Gains Tax?”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Happens to Stock Options when Someone Dies? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Once your business grows, so does the pressure to make good financial decisions in the short and long term. When you think about the future, estate and succession planning emerge as two major concerns. You are not just considering balance sheets, profits and losses, but your family and what will happen to them and your business when you are not around. This thinking leads to what seems like a great idea: transferring stock or LLC membership units to one or more of your adult children.

There are benefits, especially the ability to avoid a 40% estate tax and other benefits. However, there are also lots of ways this can go sideways, fast.

Executing due diligence and creating an exit plan to minimize taxes and successfully transfer the business takes planning and, even harder, removing emotions from the plan to make a good decision.

An outright transfer of stock or ownership units can expose you and your business to risk. Even if your children are Ivy-league MBA grads, with track records of great decision making and caring for you and your spouse, this transaction offers zero protection and all risk for you. What could go wrong?

  • An in-law (one you may not have even met yet) could try to place a claim on the business and move it away from the family.
  • Creditors could seize assets from the children, entirely likely if their future holds legal or financial problems—or if they have such problems now and have not shared them with you.
  • Assets could go into your children’s estates, which reintroduces exposure to estate taxes.

No family is immune from any of these situations, and if you ask your estate planning attorney, you will hear as many horror stories as you can tolerate.

Trusts are a solution. Thoughtfully crafted for your unique situation, a trust can help avoid exposure to some estate and other taxes, allocating effective ownership to your children, in a protected manner. Your ultimate goal: keeping ownership in the family and minimizing tax exposure.

A Beneficiary Defective Inheritance Trust (BDIT) may be appropriate for you. If you have already executed an outright transfer of the stock, it is not too late to fix things. The BDIT is a grantor trust serving to enable protection of stock and eliminate any “residue” in your children’s estates.

If you have not yet transferred stock to children, do not do it. The risk is very high. If you have already completed the transfer, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how to reverse the transfer and create a plan to protect the business and your family.

Bottom line: business interests are better protected when they are held not by individuals, but by trusts for the benefit of individuals. Your estate planning attorney can draft trusts to achieve goals, minimize estate taxes and, in some situations, even minimize state income taxes.

Reference: The Street (June 27, 2022) “Should I Transfer Company Stock to My Kids?”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys