How a Charitable Remainder Trust Works – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The least popular beneficiary is almost always the federal government. Most people are concerned that their estate will need to pay taxes and do what they can through estate planning to keep federal estate tax liability to a minimum. However, with federal estate and gift tax exemptions at $11.58 million per person this year, and twice that when properly used with the spousal exemption, most people do not need to worry about the federal estate tax, explains The News Enterprise in the article “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust.”

The passage of the SECURE Act, effective January 1, 2020, made big changes in how we need to plan for taxes for beneficiaries. Federal estate and gift tax exemptions did not change, but anyone who inherits a retirement account is likely to find fewer options than before the SECURE Act.

Charitable remainder trusts have been used for many years to avoid high capital gains taxes on appreciated assets. Appreciated assets are placed into trusts and no taxes are due on the transfer.  The donor also gets a charitable tax deduction. The amount in the trust grows, while paying out a small amount to beneficiaries in installment payments.

With the passage of the SECURE Act, non-spousal beneficiaries, with certain exceptions, must withdraw the entire amount of the qualified retirement account within ten years. Generally, beneficiaries may not roll the account into their own qualified account, and there are no required annual distributions. However, there is a ten-year window to empty the account. Taxes are due on every withdrawal, whether it takes place over ten years or as a single withdrawal.

By using a CRT, the full amount of the account may be transferred into the CRT, no taxes are due, and the donor (or the donor’s estate) gets a charitable deduction.

The trust is simply an instrument created, so that a beneficiary may receive regular payments, which may include the donor, beneficiaries or multiple beneficiaries, over the span of their lives, or in a set number of years, with the remainder interest of at least ten percent of the initial contribution paid to a qualified charity at the end of the trust.

This effectively creates a stretch for the IRA, with withdrawals being taxed to the beneficiary, over a longer time span. With only ten percent being required to be donated to a charity, those who plan on making a donation to a charity anyway receive a benefit, and their beneficiaries can receive a lifetime income stream.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn how a CRT could be part of your estate plan.

Reference: The News Enterprise (June 2, 2020) “New federal law resurrects Charitable Remainder Trust”

 

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Is There Estate Tax on the Property I Inherited? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The vast majority of those who inherit real estate don’t end up paying any taxes on the property. However, there are some instances where estate or inheritance taxes could be assessed on inherited real estate. Motley Fool’s recent article, “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?” provides a rundown of how estate taxes work in the U.S. and what it means to you if you inherit or are gifted real estate assets.

An estate tax is a tax applied on property transfers at death. A gift tax is a tax levied on property transfers while both parties are alive. An inheritance tax is assessed on the individual who inherits the property. For real estate purposes, you should also know that this includes money and property, and real estate is valued based on the fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death.

Most Americans don’t have to worry about estate taxes because we’re allowed to exclude a certain amount of assets from our taxable estates, which is called the lifetime exemption. This amount is adjusted for inflation over time and is $11.58 million per person for 2020. Note that estate taxes aren’t paid by people who inherit the property but are paid directly by the estate before it is distributed to the heirs.

The estate and gift taxes in the U.S. are part of a unified system. The IRS allows an annual exclusion amount that exempts many gifts from any potential transfer tax taxation. In 2020, it’s $15,000 per donor, per recipient. Although money (or assets) exceeding this amount in a given year is reported as a taxable gift, doesn’t mean you’ll need to pay tax on them. However, taxable gifts do accumulate from year to year and count toward your lifetime exclusion. If you passed away in 2020, your lifetime exclusion will be $11.58 million for estate tax purposes.

If you’d given $3 million in taxable gifts during your lifetime, you’ll only be able to exclude $8.58 million of your assets from estate taxation. You’d only be required to pay any gift taxes while you’re alive, if you use up your entire lifetime exemption. If you have given away $11 million prior to 2020 and you give away another $1 million, it would trigger a taxable gift to the extent that your new gift exceeds the $11.58 million threshold.

There are a few special rules to understand, such as the fact that you can give any amount to your spouse in most cases, without any gift or estate tax. Any amount given to charity is also free of gift tax and doesn’t count toward your lifetime exemption. Higher education expenses are free of gift and estate tax consequences provided the payment is made directly to the school. Medical expense payments are free of gift and estate tax consequences, if the payment is made directly to the health care provider.

Remember that some states also have their own estate and/or inheritance taxes that you might need to consider.

States that have an estate tax include Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The states with an inheritance tax are Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Maryland has both an estate and an inheritance tax. However, there are very few situations when you would personally have to pay tax on inherited real estate.

Estate tax can be a complex issue, so speak with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Motley Fool (December 11, 2019) “Do You Have to Pay Estate Tax on Real Estate You Inherit?”

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What Does an Estate Planning Attorney Really Do? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Vents Magazine’s recent article, “Understanding What an Estate Planning Attorney Does,” explains that estate planning is a legal set of instructions for your family about how to distribute your wealth and property after you die. Estate planning attorneys make sure the distribution of property happens according to the decedent’s will.

An estate planning attorney can provide legal advice on how to prepare your will after you pass away or in the event that you experience mental incapacity. She will have all the information and education on all the legal processes, beginning with your will and moving on to other important estate planning documents. She will also help you to understand estate taxes.

An estate planning attorney will also help to make certain that all of your savings and property are safe and distributed through the proper legal processes.

Estate planning attorneys can also assist with the power of attorney and health care directives. These documents allow you to designate an individual to decide issues on your behalf, in the event that you become mentally incapable of making decisions for yourself. They can also help you with a guardian who will look after your estate.

It’s important that you select the right estate planning attorney to execute the legal process, as you’ve instructed in your estate plan. You should only retain an attorney with experience in this field of law because other legal counsel won’t be able to help you with these issues—or at least, they may say they can, only to find out later that they’re not experienced in this area.

You also want to feel comfortable with your estate planning attorney because you must disclose all your life details, plans and estate issues, so she can create an estate plan that’s customized to your circumstances.

If you choose the right attorney, it will save you money in the long run. She will help you save from all the estate taxes and make all the processes smooth and easy for you and your loved ones.

Reference: Vents Magazine (December 12, 2019) “Understanding What an Estate Planning Attorney Does”

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How is My Retirement Income Taxed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Based on the state in which you retire, state income taxes could vary by thousands of dollars. However, as a recent Kiplinger article, “State Taxes on Retirees Differ by Types of Retirement Income,” tells us, it’s not just a state’s tax rate that matters. The type of income you get in retirement frequently has a bigger impact on your state taxes than your tax rate, because each state has its own method of taxing specific types of retirement income.

Let’s look at the taxes on Social Security benefits. The federal government can tax up to 85% of Social Security benefits, but most states don’t tax Social Security benefits. There are seven states—Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming—that don’t tax Social Security benefits because they don’t have any income tax. New Hampshire and Tennessee only tax interest and dividends. Social Security benefits are exempt from tax in DC and 28 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

That leaves 13 states where part of Social Security benefits may be taxable. New Mexico, Utah, and West Virginia currently tax Social Security benefits to the same extent they are taxed on federal returns, but West Virginia plans to phase out its tax on Social Security benefits in 2020. Taxation of Social Security benefits in the rest of the states—Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Vermont—is based on your income and, in many instances, on your filing status. Some of these states may also exempt Social Security for taxpayers under certain income thresholds.

As far as retirement plan payouts, state taxation of payouts from retirement plans, such as pensions, IRAs, and 401(k)s, can be more complicated. States without an income tax or that just tax interest and dividends don’t tax retirement plan payouts. However, with the other states, it’s all over the board. Mississippi and Pennsylvania are the most generous—they typically don’t tax any retirement income. However, California, D.C., Nebraska, and Vermont offer few or no tax breaks for retirement plan payouts. In some cases, the type of retirement plan involved makes a difference.

Reference: Kiplinger (October 28, 2019) “State Taxes on Retirees Differ by Types of Retirement Income”

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Should I Use a Home Equity Loan to Float my Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many retirees—and those nearing retirement—have put much of their savings in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, which are tax-deferred methods for accumulating wealth. In addition, taxpayers may decide to use other tax-deferred accounts to avoid interest, dividends, and capital gains from spilling into their tax returns. These strategies can help taxpayers decrease income and taxes.

However, Kiplinger’s recent article, “How You Can ‘TAP’ into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable,” says that once we “turn on the faucet” and withdraw money from these tax-deferred accounts, additional income will have to be claimed on our tax returns. Instead, retirees can make moves that will help them reduce taxes. A lesser-known tool to look at for tax-free income is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, on your home.

Let’s examine two scenarios in which a HELOC may make sense in retirement:

An IRA drawdown. Let’s say that a typical married retired couple wants to stay in the 12% tax bracket as joint filers. They can withdraw up to $78,950 of taxable income from their IRAs to stay in this bracket in 2019. That amount goes up to $103,350, after adding the standard deduction of $24,400. Then, for any additional funds they may need during the year, they can use a HELOC. For example, if they take $15,000 out, they will actually receive $15,000 tax-free. However, if they take the same amount from their IRA, it would move them into the 22% tax bracket. As a result, they’d owe $3,300 in federal taxes, in addition to any state or local income taxes. Therefore, they only receive about $10,000 after taxes from their IRA withdrawal. The HELOC is tax-free, and the interest rate charged on a HELOC is generally low at this point. Depending on your purpose for the money, that interest may be tax deductible, and repayments can be planned over a multiyear term to be covered by future IRA distributions or other investment income. This spreads out the tax impact to continuously stay under tax bracket thresholds, keeping as much of your money in your hands as possible.

Emergency money. Unexpected expenses can arise, and if you don’t have funds available in a checking or savings account, the emotion of a stressful emergency may drive you to make impulsive (and costly) financial decisions. Instead of using a high-interest credit card or cashing out investments, a HELOC can be a wise move. Note that there are some HELOC disadvantages. The interest rate is variable, which means the monthly payment can be unpredictable, especially during times of rising interest rates.

There are other ways to use the equity in your home to create cash flow in retirement, but a HELOC may be best for some retirees, based on its flexibility for scenarios, such as future downsizing or the potential need for the cost of assisted living facilities down the road. A HELOC can be a very useful tool for a proactive and comprehensive cash-flow plan in retirement.

Reference: Kiplinger (October 8, 2019) “How You Can ‘TAP’ into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable”

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

How Can Life Insurance Help My Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for people to buy second-to-die life insurance policies to help pay federal estate taxes. However, in 2019, with estate tax exclusions up to $11,400,000 (and rising with the cost-of-living adjustments), fewer people would owe much for estate taxes.

However, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other accounts are still 100% taxable to the individuals, spouses and their children. The stretch IRA options still exist, but they may go away, as Congress may limit stretch IRAs to a maximum of 10 years.

Forbes’ recent article, “3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Your Estate Plan,” explains that as the IRA is giving income from the RMDs, it may also be added, after tax, to the life insurance policy. If this occurs, it’s even possible that the death benefits could grow in the future, giving a cost-of-living benefit to children. This is one way how life insurance can be used creatively to help your estate plan.

For married couples, one strategy is to consider how life insurance on one individual could be used to pay “conversion tax” at death, using tax-free benefits. When the retiree dies, the spouse beneficiary can then convert all the IRA (taxable money) to a Roth IRA, which is tax-exempt with new, lower income tax rates (37% in 2018-2025 versus 39.6% in 2017 or earlier).

This tax-free death benefit money can be used to pay the taxes on the conversion, letting the surviving beneficiary have a lifetime of tax-exempt income without RMD issues from the Roth IRA. The Social Security income could also be tax-exempt, because Roth withdrawals don’t count as “income” in the calculation to see how much of your Social Security is taxed. However, you’d have to be within the threshold for any other combined income.

Life insurance for both individuals (if married) may also be a good idea. If the spouse of the IRA owner dies, the money from the life insurance can be used once again. If this is done in the tax year of the death for married individuals, the tax conversion could be done under “married filing status” before the next year, when the individual must use single tax filing status.

Another benefit of the IRA-to-Roth conversion is the passing of Roth IRAs to heirs, which could create a lasting legacy, if planned well. New life insurance policies that add long-term care features with chronic care and critical care benefits can also provide an extra degree of benefits, if one of the insureds has health issues prior to death.

Be sure to watch the tax rates and possible changes. With today’s lower tax rates, this could be very beneficial. Remember that there are usually individual state taxes as well. However, considering all the tax-optimized benefits to spouses and beneficiaries, the long-term tax benefits outweigh the lifetime tax liabilities, especially when you also consider SSI tax benefits for the surviving spouse and no RMD issues.

Life insurance in retirement can help protect, build and transfer wealth in one of the easiest ways possible. If you’re not certain about where to start with your life insurance needs, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Forbes (November 15, 2019) “3 Ways Life Insurance Can Help Your Estate Plan”

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

What 2020 Tax Changes May Bring for Wealthy Families – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

What happens in the political landscape in 2020 could have an impact on wealthy individuals, in a positive and a negative way. The biggest impact may be changes in estate and income taxes. With income taxes, the tax brackets are indexed, so they will go higher in 2020. There are also new IRS thresholds, so people will need to be aware of these changes.

The article “What Wealthy Clients Need to Know About 2020 Tax Changes” from Financial Advisor offers a look at what’s coming next year.

The tax rates were generally lowered, and thresholds increased. The top bracket for married couples in 2017 was 39.6% for couples whose taxable income was higher than $470,700. In 2020, that same bracket is 37%, with a new income threshold of $622,051.

There are more holiday gifts from the IRS. The estate exemption increases to $11.58 million in 2020, although the annual exclusion for gifts stays at $15,000. The maximums for retirement account contributions have also been increased.

The mandated penalty for not having health insurance is gone. Therefore, anyone who has the income to self-insure without having a policy that is ACA-qualified won’t have to pay a penalty. However, that varies by state: California enforces a tax penalty for people who do not have health insurance.

A major consideration for 2020 is the higher standard deduction. This may mean more strategic planning for which years people should itemize. Some experts are advising that taxpayers bunch their deductions, so they can itemize. One strategy is to do this every other year.

Many nonprofits are advising their donors to plan their charitable giving to take place every other year for the same reason.

With the stock market continuing to hit record highs, it may also make sense for people to transfer highly appreciated securities to donor advised funds.

Another potentially big series of changes that is still pending is the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019. The legislation is still pending, but it is likely that some form of the bill will become law, and there will be further changes regarding retirement accounts and taxes. The bill passed the House in the spring, but it still pending in the Senate.

Reference: Financial Advisor (December 2, 2019) “What Wealthy Clients Need to Know About 2020 Tax Changes”

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Can You Explain the Concept of Step-Up Basis? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you inherit assets—especially real property—you need to understand the step-up in basis rules. These rules can save you a lot of money on capital gains and depreciation recapture taxes.

Motley Fool’s recent article on this subject asks “What is a Step-Up in Basis?” The article explains that step-up in basis has significant implications for inherited property. When an asset is inherited because the original owner has passed away, in many cases, it’s worth more than when it was first purchased. To avoid a huge capital gains tax bill when the inherited property is sold, the cost basis of the asset is modified to its value at the time of its owner’s death. This is called a step-up in basis. Note that this only applies to property transferred after death. If a property was gifted or transferred before the original owner dies, the original cost basis would transfer to the recipient.

This is a gigantic tax benefit for estate planning, regardless of whether you go ahead and sell the inherited asset immediately or hold on to it for a time. While a step-up in basis can let heirs avoid capital gains taxes, it doesn’t allow heirs to avoid estate taxes that apply to big inheritances.

The estate tax this year is imposed on property in excess of $11.4 million per individual and $22.8 million per married couple. Therefore, if you and your spouse leave a $25 million estate to your heirs, $2.2 million of this will still be taxable, even though your heirs’ cost basis in assets they inherited will be stepped up for capital gains tax purposes.

There are many strategies that a qualified estate planning attorney can advise you on to avoid estate taxes, but step-up in basis doesn’t exclude the value of inherited property from a taxable estate all by itself.

There are two significant ramifications of stepped-up cost basis regarding inherited real estate assets. First, like with other assets, you don’t have to pay capital gains on any appreciation that occurred before you inherited the property. Selling an investment property after years of holding it, can mean a massive capital gains tax bill. Therefore, a stepped-up cost basis can be a very valuable benefit. A step-up in basis can also give you a larger depreciation tax benefit. The cost basis of residential real estate can be depreciated (deducted) over 27½ years: a higher number divided by 27½ years is a greater annual depreciation deduction than a smaller number would produce.

Estate transfers are pretty complicated, so work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Motley Fool (November 21, 2019) “What is a Step-Up in Basis?”

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What Happens to Estate Tax Benefits After 2025? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

You may recall that the 2017 Republican tax reform legislation roughly doubled the estate and gift tax exemption.

This means starting in 2019, people are permitted to pass on, tax-free, $11.4 million from their estate and gifts they give before their death. Couples can pass on twice that amount, or $22.8 million.

These higher levels expire in 2026, but those who make large gifts while the exemption is higher and die after it goes back down, won’t see the estate tax benefit eroded, the IRS announced recently via new regulations.

“As a result, individuals planning to make large gifts between 2018 and 2025 can do so, without concern that they will lose the tax benefit of the higher exclusion level once it decreases after 2025,” the agency said in a press release.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article, “IRS Says Millionaires Can Keep Estate Tax Benefits After 2025,” says that the exemption increase was a big priority for Republicans in the 2017 tax overhaul.

This exemption decreased the number of individuals who’d be subject to the 40% estate tax by about two-thirds.

The exemption was $5.5 million prior to the law change.

However, Democrats are looking to reverse those changes, if they sweep the House, Senate and White House in the 2020 national elections.

Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate would like to see the estate tax apply to a greater number of wealthy families.

Senator Bernie Sanders has called for the estate tax, to begin when fortunes are worth at least $3.5 million. He has also proposed rates as high as 77%.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (November 22, 2019) “IRS Says Millionaires Can Keep Estate Tax Benefits After 2025”

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Will My Heirs Need to Be Ready to Pay Estate Taxes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate taxes all depend on how on much a person is planning to give to heirs.

Motley Fool’s recent article asks “If I Leave My Retirement Savings to My Heirs, Will They Pay Estate Tax?” The article tells us that retirement accounts like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, traditional and Roth IRAs and others are a part of your taxable estate.

However, unless the total assets of your estate plus any taxable gifts you’ve already given are more than the lifetime exclusion amount, your estate won’t owe estate taxes.

For 2019, this is $11,400,000, and in 2020, the exclusion will be raised to $11,580,000. If you total all of your assets’ value, only the amount in excess of the exclusion will be taxable. Therefore, if you have a $12,000,000 estate and die in 2020, only $420,000 of your assets would be subject to estate taxes.

Let’s look at another example: if your assets, including your retirement savings, total up to $5 million, your heirs won’t be required to pay any estate tax whatsoever.

However, while they may not have to pay estate taxes, remember that withdrawals from most retirement accounts (except Roth IRA accounts) will be deemed to be taxable income. Thus, estate tax or no estate tax, if your heirs are in a pretty high tax bracket, inheriting your retirement savings may increase their tax liability.

Don’t neglect to check with an estate planning attorney about your state’s estate and inheritance taxes. There are a handful of states that have their own estate taxes, and their thresholds may be lower than the IRS’s.

There are now six states with an inheritance tax: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Each state sets its own inheritance tax exemption, and inheritance tax rates. However, these rates are subject to change at any time with changes to the laws in those states.

Reference: Motley Fool (November 8, 2019) “If I Leave My Retirement Savings to My Heirs, Will They Pay Estate Tax?”

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