What Can a Trust Do for Me and My Family? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A trust is defined as a legal contract that lets an individual or entity (the trustee) hold assets on behalf of another person (the beneficiary). The assets in the trust can be cash, investments, physical assets like real estate, business interests and digital assets. There is no minimum amount of money needed to establish a trust.

US News’ recent article entitled “Trusts Explained” explains that trusts can be structured in a number of ways to instruct the way in which the assets are handled both during and after your lifetime. Trusts can reduce estate taxes and provide many other benefits.

Placing assets in a trust lets you know that they will be managed through your instructions, even if you are unable to manage them yourself. Trusts also bypass the probate process. This lets your heirs get the trust assets faster than if they were transferred through a will.

The two main types of trusts are revocable (known as “living trusts”) and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust allows the grantor to change the terms of the trust or dissolve the trust at any time. Revocable trusts avoid probate, but the assets in them are generally still considered part of your estate. That is because you retain control over them during your lifetime.

To totally remove the assets from your estate, you need an irrevocable trust. An irrevocable trust cannot be altered by the grantor after it has been created. Therefore, if you are the grantor, you cannot change the terms of the trust, such as the beneficiaries, or dissolve the trust after it has been established.

You also lose control over the assets you put into an irrevocable trust.

Trusts give you more say about your assets than a will does. With a trust, you can set more particular terms as to when your beneficiaries receive those assets. Another type of trust is created under a last will and testament and is known as a testamentary trust. Although the last will must be probated to create the testamentary trust, this trust can protect an inheritance from and for your heirs as you design.

Trusts are not a do-it-yourself proposition: ask for the expertise of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: US News (Feb. 7, 2022) “Trusts Explained”

 

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Can You Get a Tax Deduction for Giving a Gift? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Despite multiple proposals and countless legislative revisions, changes to everything from realizations of gains at death, lower federal transfer tax exemptions, raised estate tax rates and eliminating benefits of irrevocable grantor trusts, to name a few, have failed to become reality. However, that does not mean the proposals have disappeared for good, according to the article “Five Situations When Taxable Gifts Make Sense” from Wealth Management. In this environment, estate planning still needs to be done, although the tools to do so may be slightly different in case the tax laws change—or if they don’t.

Here are five different situations where making taxable gifts over the current $16,000 gift tax annual exclusion makes sense.

If you want to make a gift. You may want to make a gift, so a child can buy a home or start a business venture. Perhaps you want to bring a child into the ownership of a family business, or you simply want to share your wealth, more than the $16,000 exclusion. The federal gift tax exemption has never been this high, and the only tax downside might be the need to file a gift tax return.

What about the Step Up in Basis? The main reason not to make taxable gifts now is the step-up in income tax basis. Under current rules, assets transferred at death receive a step-up in income tax basis to the value at the time of death. Assets transferred by gift do not receive this benefit. If you wanted to give a $2 million property with a $100,000 tax basis, you will need to be prepared for the tax consequences.

Do you own rapidly appreciating assets? The main reason to make taxable gifts concerns appreciation. If your estate is well over the estate tax exemption, your heirs will save 40 cents for every dollar of appreciation, better in the hands of heirs rather than part of your estate. In this case, giving early makes all the difference. Business owners may give stock based on the growth they hope to achieve for a company.

Do you have a very large estate with high-basis assets and haven’t used your exemption? By all means, be generous! Under the current rules, even with no legislative changes, everything will be cut in half in 2026.

Are you sure your tax liability is going to increase in the future? Then making gifts today will help in the future.

Gifting can be a good way to spread income among family members, while avoiding having assets subject to a wealth tax. Gifting may also work to establish structures, like irrevocable grantor trusts or family limited partnerships, which might be more complicated in the future.

It is hard to say what the transfer tax rules will be five, fifteen, or fifty-five years from now. However, there are situations where making significant gifts makes sense. Remember, while the only sure things in life are death and taxes, tax laws do change.

Reference: Wealth Management (Feb. 2, 2022) “Five Situations When Taxable Gifts Make Sense”

 

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Estate Planning when So Much Is Uncertain – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Negotiations in Washington continue to present a series of changing scenarios for estate planning. Until the ink is dry in the Oval Office, taxpayers face an uncertain legislative environment, says a recent article titled “Estate Planning in an Uncertain Time” from CPA Practice Advisor. Many people hurried to use lifetime gifting strategies because of estate tax provisions contained in earlier versions of the infrastructure bill, but even with these provisions dropped (for now), there are still good reasons to use lifetime gifting strategies.

The current $11.7 million estate/gift tax exemption will still be reduced on January 1, 2026, even if Congress takes no other action. Taxpayers who have not taken advantage of this “extra” exemption before then will lose the opportunity forever.

Any post-appreciation transfer on gifted assets accrues outside of the taxpayer’s estate. For younger individuals and for transferred assets with high potential for appreciation, this could have a major impact. Taxpayers who reside in states with a state estate tax, but no state gift tax, may find that lifetime gifting could reduce state estate tax liability.

For those who have already used all of their estate/gift tax exemption, the current low interest rate environment makes certain advanced estate planning techniques more appealing. Sales to IDGTS (Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts, a type of irrevocable trust), intra-family loans and GRATS (Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts) are more effective when interest rates are low.

The two interest rates to watch for these strategies are the federal Section 7520 rate and the short-term, mid-term and long-term applicable federal rate (AFR). If transferred assets appreciate faster than the benchmark interest rate, any excess appreciation passes without any estate/gift tax exemption being used.

Interest rates have increased in recent months. However, by historical standards, they remain low.

IDGTs are expected to remain popular for making lifetime transfers. They are a type of trust outside the taxpayer’s estate for estate tax purposes and are considered to belong to the grantor for income tax purposes. The grantor is responsible for paying the income tax of the trust, which permits the grantor to make a tax-free gift, while the assets of the IDGT may grow without income taxes.

The grantor may also sell assets to an IDGT without creating a realization event for income tax purposes. Congress may consider this a little too effective for estate taxes, but for now, this strategy is still available.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to review your current lifetime gifting plan and see if it needs to be revised. Of course, if you do not have an estate plan, now is the time to get that underway.

Reference: CPA Practice Advisor (Nov. 17, 2021) “Estate Planning in an Uncertain Time”

 

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Is Estate Tax Exemption Going to Change? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In 2022, the estate and gift tax exemption increases from $11.7 million in 2021 to $12.06 million per individual, according to new inflation-adjusted numbers from the IRS. The gift tax annual exclusion also increases, from $15,000 to $16,000. The IRS announced these numbers, as well as tax brackets, standard deductions and more, as reported in the article “New Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2022: Couples Can Pass On $720,000 More Tax Free” from Forbes.

The estate tax is 40% on the biggest estates, but wealthy individuals use legal strategies, like transferring wealth to heirs while they are living, making big gifts and also making multiple $16,000 annual exclusion gifts that do not count against the $12 million lifetime limit.

In 2022, a wealthy person may leave $12.06 to heirs with no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple may leave $24.12 million. If by some chance a couple has maxed out their lifetime gifts, this latest increase means they have the option to give away another $720,000 in 2022.

A series of annual exclusion gifts of $16,000 can add up, especially when they are done in a planned method over an extended period of time. Since these gifts do not count toward the $12 million amount, they are especially valuable for managing estate tax liability.

Estate sizes may also be reduced by making direct payments for medical and tuition expenses, for as many people as desired, with no gift or tax consequences. There is no limit on the amount to be paid, as long as these payments are made directly to the institution.

There are any number of ways to take money out of an estate. These include outright gifts, loans to family members and special trusts. A variety of trusts are created to preserve family wealth, from simple to complex trusts used to extend wealth across many generations.

In addition to planning for the increased numbers for 2022, this is also the time to check on basic estate planning documents and be certain they are up to date. These include a will, any kind of revocable living trust, a durable power of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will. If the family includes a special needs member or a disabled individual, there are other planning methods to be discussed with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Despite the good news of these increases, the $12 million estate tax exemption will be halved at the start of 2026. The historical high exemption was created under President Donald J. Trump by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which temporarily doubled the estate tax exemption from 2018 to 2025. While there was a lot of discussion about the Infrastructure Bill and funding through estate taxes, any provisions impacting estate planning were dropped before the bill was passed.

One more reason to gift now: state estate taxes and inheritance taxes are still alive and well in many states. If you live in a state with these taxes, the state tax bite could be just as bad, if not worse, than the federal tax.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 11, 2021) “New Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2022: Couples Can Pass On $720,000 More Tax Free”

 

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Do Gifts Count Toward Estate Taxes? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

With all of the talk about changes to estate taxes, estate planning attorneys have been watching and waiting as changes were added, then removed, then changed again, in pending legislation. The passage of the infrastructure bill in early November may mark the start of a calmer period, but there are still estate planning moves to consider, says a recent article “Gift money now, before estate tax laws sunset in 2025” from The Press-Enterprise.

Gifts are used to decrease the taxes due on an estate but require thoughtful planning with an eye to avoiding any unintended consequences.

The first gift tax exemption is the annual exemption. Basically, anyone can give anyone else a gift of up to $15,000 every year. If giving together, spouses may gift $30,000 a year. After these amounts, the gift is subject to gift tax. However, there is another exemption: the lifetime exemption.

For now, the estate and gift tax exemption is $11.7 million per person. Anyone can gift up to that amount during life or at death, or some combination, tax-free. The exemption amount is adjusted every year. If no changes to the law are made, this will increase to roughly $12,060,000 in 2022.

However, the current estate and gift tax exemption law sunsets in 2025. This will bring the exemption down from historically high levels to the prior level of $5 million. Even with an adjustment for inflation, this would make the exemption about $6.2 million. This will dramatically increase the number of estates required to pay federal estate taxes.

For households with net worth below $6 million for an individual and $12 million for a married couple, federal estate taxes may be less of a worry. However, there are state estate taxes, and some are tied to federal estate tax rates. Planning is necessary, especially as some in Congress would like to see those levels set even lower.

Let us look at a fictional couple with a combined net worth of $30 million. Without any estate planning or gifting, if they live past 2025, they may have a taxable estate of $18 million: $30 million minus $12 million. At a taxable rate of 40%, their tax bill will be $7.2 million.

If the couple had gifted the maximum $23.4 million now under the current exemption, their taxable estate would be reduced to $6.6 million, with a tax bill of $2,520,000. Even if they were to die in a year when the exemption is lower than it was at the time of their gift, they would save nearly $5 million in taxes.

There are a number of estate planning gifting techniques used to leverage giving, including some which provide income streams to the donor, while allowing the donor to maintain control of assets. These include:

Discounted Giving. When assets are transferred into an entity (commonly a limited partnership or limited liability company), a gift of a minority interest in the entity is generally given a discounted value, due to the lack of control and marketability.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. The donor transfers assets to the trust and retains right to a payment over a period of time. At the end of that period, beneficiaries receive the assets and all of the appreciation. The donor pays income tax on the earnings of the assets in the trust, permitting another tax-free transfer of assets.

Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts. A donor sets up a trust, makes a gift of assets and then sells other assets to the trust in exchange for a promissory note. If this is done correctly, there is a minimal gift, no gain on the sale for tax purposes, the donor pays the income tax and appreciation is moved to the next generation.

These strategies may continue to be scrutinized as Congress searches for funding sources, but in the meantime, they are still available and may be appropriate for your estate. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if these or other strategies should be put into place.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (Nov. 7, 2021) “Gift money now, before estate tax laws sunset in 2025”

 

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

How Can I Pass Wealth to My Children and Grandchildren? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

AARP’s recent article “6 Ways to Pass Wealth to Your Heirs” says that providing financial security to your heirs after you are gone is a goal you can reach in a number of ways.

Let us look at a few common options, along with their pluses and minuses:

  1. 401(k)s and IRAs. These grow tax-free while you are alive and will continue tax-free growth after your beneficiaries inherit them. Certain heirs, such as spouses and people with disabilities, can hold these accounts over their lifetime. Withdrawals from Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are nearly always tax-free. However, other heirs not in those categories have to empty these accounts within 10 years.
  2. Taxable accounts. Heirs now get a nice tax break on investments that have grown in value over time. Say that years ago you bought stock for $300 that now trades for $3,000. If you sold it now, you would owe taxes on $2,700 in capital gains. However, if your son inherited the stock when it was trading at $3,000 and sold it at that price, he would owe no taxes on the sale. However, note that the Biden administration has proposed limiting the amount of investment capital gains free from taxes in this situation, which could impact wealthier families.
  3. Your home. If you own a home, it will typically be the most valuable non-financial asset in your estate. Heirs might not have to pay capital gains tax on it, if they sell it. However, use caution: whoever inherits the home will have to cover large expenses, such as upkeep and taxes.
  4. Term life insurance. This can be a great tool for loved ones who depend on your income or rely on your unpaid caregiving. You can get a lot of coverage for very little money. However, if you purchase plain-vanilla term insurance and do not die while the policy is in force, you do not get the money back.
  5. Whole life insurance. These policies provide a guaranteed death benefit for heirs and a cash-value component you can access for emergencies, long-term care, or other needs. However, these policies are more expensive than term insurance.
  6. Annuities. A joint-and-survivor annuity guarantees the survivor (your spouse, perhaps) a steady stream of income for life. Annuities with a death benefit can provide a lump sum for a beneficiary. However, while you are alive, annual fees for variable annuities can be high, limiting potential returns. Moreover, cashing in your annuity for a lump sum may be expensive or impossible.

Bonus Tip. Discuss your plans with your children sooner rather than later, especially if you are leaving them different amounts or giving a large sum to a favorite cause, so you have time to explain your rationale.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 9, 2021) “6 Ways to Pass Wealth to Your Heirs”

 

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

Do I Need a 529 Education Savings Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Statecollege.com’s recent article entitled “Did You Know 529s Are Powerful Estate Planning Tools?” explains that specialized savings accounts, informally referred to as 529s, could be at the top of your list. These accounts have a number of advantages for beneficiaries. There are also benefits for the donors in the high maximum contribution limits and tax advantages.

Special tax rules governing these accounts let you decrease your taxable estate. That might minimize future federal gift and estate taxes. In 2021, the lifetime exclusion is now $11.7 million per person, so most of us do not have to concern ourselves with our estates exceeding that limit. However, remember that the threshold will revert back to just over $5 million per person in 2026.

Under the rules that govern 529s, you can make a lump-sum contribution to a 529 plan up to five times the annual limit of $15,000. As a result, you can give $75,000 per recipient ($150,000 for married couples), provided you document your five-year gift on your federal gift tax return and do not make any more gifts to the same recipient during that five-year period. You can, however, go ahead and give another lump sum after those five years are through. The $150,000 gift per beneficiary will not have a gift tax, as long as you and your spouse follow the rules.

Many people think that gifting a big chunk of money in a 529 means they will irrevocably give up control of those assets. However, 529 plans let you have considerable control—especially if you title the account in your name. At any time, you can get your money back, but it will be part of your taxable estate again subject to your nominal federal tax rate. There is also a 10% penalty on the earnings portion of the withdrawal, if you do not use the money for your designated beneficiary’s qualified education expenses.

If your chosen beneficiary does not need some or all of the money you have put in a 529, you can earmark the money for other types of education, like graduate school. You can also change the beneficiary to another member of the family as many times as you like. This is nice if your original beneficiary chooses not to go to college at all.

In addition, you can take the money and pay the taxes on any gains. Normally, you would also expect to pay a penalty on the earnings but not for scholarships. The penalty is waived on amounts equal to the scholarship, provided they are withdrawn the same year the scholarship is received, effectively turning your tax-free 529 into a tax-deferred investment. You can always use the money to pay for other qualified education expenses, like room and board, books and supplies.

Reference: statecollege.com (Aug. 29, 2021) “Did You Know 529s Are Powerful Estate Planning Tools?”

 

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Where Do You Score on Estate Planning Checklist? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Make sure that you review your estate plan at least once every few years to be certain that all the information is accurate and updated. It is even more necessary if you experienced a significant change, such as marriage, divorce, children, a move, or a new child or grandchild. If laws have changed, or if your wishes have changed and you need to make substantial changes to the documents, you should visit an experienced estate planning attorney.

Kiplinger’s recent article “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?” gives us a few things to keep in mind when updating your estate plan:

Moving to Another State. Note that if you have recently moved to a new state, the estate laws vary in different states. Therefore, it is wise to review your estate plan to make sure it complies with local laws and regulations.

Changes in Probate or Tax Laws. Review your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if it has been impacted by changes to any state or federal laws.

Powers of Attorney. A power of attorney is a document in which you authorize an agent to act on your behalf to make business, personal, legal, or financial decisions, if you become incapacitated.  It must be accurate and up to date. You should also review and update your health care power of attorney. Make your wishes clear about do-not-resuscitate (DNR) provisions and tell your health care providers about your decisions. It is also important to affirm any clearly expressed wishes as to your end-of-life treatment options.

A Will. Review the details of your will, including your executor, the allocation of your estate and the potential estate tax burden. If you have minor children, you should also designate guardians for them.

Trusts. If you have a revocable living trust, look at the trustee and successor appointments. You should also check your estate and inheritance tax burden with an estate planning attorney. If you have an irrevocable trust, confirm that the trustee properly carries out the trustee duties like administration, management and annual tax returns.

Gifting Opportunities. The laws concerning gifts can change over time, so you should review any gifts and update them accordingly. You may also want to change specific gifts or recipients.

Regularly updating your estate plan can help you to avoid simple estate planning mistakes. You can also ensure that your estate plan is entirely up to date and in compliance with any state and federal laws.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 28, 2021) “2021 Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?”

 

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Gift-Tax Exemptions are Treated Differently by IRS and Medicaid – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Different government agencies have different rules for the same things. It is a hard lesson, especially for those who try to use their $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion for asset protection for long term care. The results are not good.

A recent article from The News Enterprise makes it clear: “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in same way.”

To understand the exclusion better, let us start by looking at what the amount is being excluded from. The IRS generally allows each person to gift a total of $11.7 million in gifts during their lifetime and after death without incurring a gift tax. There are exceptions, but this is true in most cases. However, that first $15,000 given to each person within each calendar year is excluded from the total amount.

If a woman gives her three children $15,000 each per year for five years, she has given away a total of $225,000. However, this amount is not deducted from the $11.7 million that she is allowed within her lifetime non-taxable gift amount.

However, if the same woman gave her children $16,000 each for five years, the extra $3,000 per year must be deducted from her lifetime non-taxable gift limit. Unless she reaches the $11.7 million after her death, her estate will still not pay taxes on the gifts. She will be required to file a form every year letting the IRS know that she is reducing her limit.

The $15,000 exclusion each year simplifies the ability to give gifts without cumbersome reporting requirements. However, it creates huge—and costly—problems when used in an attempt to become eligible for Medicaid. This federally funded program was created to help low-income people pay for medical and nursing home care. A person’s assets and any financial transactions made within a five-year lookback period are considered when determining eligibility.

What most people do not know is that Medicaid does not allow the gift tax exclusion to be used for the lookback period.

Remember the woman who gave her three children $15,000 each year for five years? If she goes into a nursing facility in the fifth year, after giving her final set of gifts, the IRS will not count any of those gifts made against her lifetime gift tax exemption. However, Medicaid will count the full amount—$225,000—as if those assets were available to pay for her care. The penalty period will make it necessary for her or her family to pay for care, possibly for five years.

To take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion safely when Medicaid may be in the future, an estate planning attorney can create an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust to hold assets. This is a hybrid trust used to separate assets from the grantor just enough to begin the five-year lookback period while holding property within the grantor’s taxable estate, allowing for a continuing opportunity to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion without triggering a new five-year look back at each gift.

The IRS and Medicaid work under different rules and understanding what each agency requires can protect the family and those needing nursing home care without creating expensive and stressful results. In addition, some Medicaid planning techniques may work in some states but not in others.

Reference: The News Enterprise (Sep. 14, 2021) “Medicaid and IRS don’t view gift-tax-exemption in same way”

 

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What Paperwork Is Required to Transfer the Ownership of Home to Children? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Some seniors may ask if they would need to draft a new deed with their name on it and attach an affidavit and have it notarized. Or should the home be fully gifted to the children in life?

And for a partial gift to the children in life, were they co-owners, would the parent be required to complete the same paperwork as a full gift? Is there a way to change the owner of a property without having to pay taxes?

The reason for considering the transfer of a full or partial ownership in your home makes a difference in how you should proceed, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “What taxes are owed if I add my children to my deed?”

If the objective is to avoid probate when you pass away, adding children as joint tenants with rights of survivorship will accomplish this. However, there may also be some drawbacks that should be considered.

If the home has unrealized capital gains when you die, only your ownership share receives a step-up in basis. With a step-up in basis, the cost of the home is increased to its fair market value on the date of death. This eliminates any capital gains that accrued from the purchase date.

There is the home-sale tax exclusion. If you sell the home during your lifetime, you are eligible to exclude up to $500,000 of capital gains if you are married, or $250,000 for taxpayers filing single, if the home was your primary residence for two of the last five years. However, if you add your children as owners, and they own other primary residences, they will not be eligible for this tax exclusion when they sell your home.

In addition, your co-owner(s) could file for bankruptcy or become subject to a creditor or divorce claim. Depending on state law, a creditor may be able to attach a lien on the co-owner’s share of the property.

Finally, if you transfer your entire interest, the new owners will be given total control over the home, allowing them to sell, rent, or use the home as collateral against which to borrow money. If you transfer a partial interest, you may need the co-owner’s consent to take certain actions, like refinancing the mortgage.

If you decide to transfer ownership, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare the legal documents and to discuss your goals and the implications of the transfer. The attorney would draft the new deed and record the deed with the county office where the property resides.

A gift tax return, Form 709, should be filed, but there should not be any federal gift tax on the transfer, unless the cumulative lifetime gifts exceed the threshold of $11.7 million or $23.4 million for a married couple.

Reference: nj.com (June 15, 2021) “What taxes are owed if I add my children to my deed?”

 

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