Choose Wisely and Protect Yourself When Naming a Power of Attorney – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Deciding who to name as your power of attorney, or “agent” is not an easy decision. However, it is a necessary appointment, says this article “Ways to protect yourself when appointing a power of attorney” from The Mercury. Disaster and disability strike without advance notice, so it is important to make this decision while you are well and can think it through.

If you do not have a power of attorney (“POA”) in place and the unexpected occurs, the only way for your family to obtain legal authority to act on your behalf is through a guardianship procedure. Even when not contested, guardianship is expensive, time consuming and can limit personal freedom. Not every court will award guardianship to a family member, so the end result could be a stranger taking control of your decisions and property.

Having a POA is a far better alternative, but there are seniors who are concerned about the power of a POA and how it might be abused. Here are some tips to keep you in control of your life even with a POA:

Choose wisely when you are well. Choose your agent when you are of sound mind and body. A common “test” is the checkbook test: could you, right now, hand this person your checkbook without a second thought? Do you believe this person would act responsibly, in your own best interest, follow through in paying bills, ask for help in areas they may not understand, record transactions and be scrupulously honest? If you hesitate to give them your checkbook today, you are not likely to trust them to run your life in the future.

Many people choose an agent based on whether the person is the oldest child or if there would be hurt feelings if the person was named. These are not good reasons. A person who has problems managing money, for whatever reason, is not a good candidate. Their own stress might make access to your funds too great to resist.

Name a secondary Power of Attorney. There should always be a back-up person named, if the person you name is not able to serve. The same goes for trustees and beneficiaries. Discuss these alternatives with your estate planning attorney to ensure the attorney knows the identities of the primary and secondary choices.

Have a Power of Attorney customized to your personal needs. Not all Powers of Attorney are the same, and one that is great for a friend may be a disaster for you. Limited powers, unlimited powers, powers to gift or powers only for a specific task or period of time are all options when creating a Power of Attorney. You may have a business to run or a partnership to dissolve. Gifting might be permitted to limit estate taxes, if that is your wish. Limited gifting generally means $15,000 a year, although your estate planning attorney can provide guidance on how to best structure gifting for you. If you own life insurance policies, you may want to permit your agent to cash in insurance policies but not allow the agent to change the named beneficiaries.

Two agents or one agent? Not all banks or investment companies will accept two agents. If they do, will the two people you select be able to work together? If not, naming two could create a financial and legal firestorm.

Financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney can be two separate roles. One person might be terrific with managing money, while another could be better at understanding and managing healthcare providers. Naming different people for each task will allow both to participate in caring for you and draw on their unique skillsets.

Fire when necessary. You always have the right to remove someone from their role as your agent. Your attorney will know how to do this properly to protect you and other agents.

Reference: The Mercury (Aug. 3, 2021) “Ways to protect yourself when appointing a power of attorney”

 

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How to Prepare for Higher Taxes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Taxing the appreciation of property on gifting or at death, as capital gains or ordinary income, is under scrutiny as a means of raising significant revenue for the federal government. The Biden administration has proposed this, but proposing and passing into law are two very different things, observes Financial Advisor in the article “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime.”

The tax hikes are being considered as a means of paying for the American Jobs Act and the American Families Act. Paired with the COVID-19 relief bill, the government will need a total of $6.4 trillion over the course of a decade to cover those costs. Reportedly, both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on this proposal.

A step-up in basis recalculates the value of appreciated assets for tax purposes when they are inherited, which is when the asset’s value usually is higher than when it was originally purchased. For the beneficiary, the step-up in basis at the death of the original owner reduces the capital gains tax on the asset. Taxes are reduced significantly, or in some cases, completely eliminated.

For now, taxpayers pay an estate tax on the value of the assets and the basis of appreciated assets is stepped up to fair market value. The plan under consideration would treat appreciated assets owned at the time of death as sold, which would trigger income tax and subject those assets to estate tax.

Biden’s proposal would also subject many families to the estate tax, which they would not otherwise face, since the federal estate tax exclusion is still historically high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Let’s say a widowed mother dies with a $3 million estate. Most of the value of the estate is the home she lived in with her spouse for the last four decades. Her estate would not owe any federal tax, but the deemed sale of a highly appreciated home would generate income tax liability.

The proposal allows a $1 million per individual and $2 million per married couple exclusion from gain recognition on property transferred by gift or owned at death. The $1 million per person exclusion is in addition to exclusions for property transfers of tangible personal property, transfers to a spouse, transfers to charity, capital gains on certain business stock and the current exclusion of $250,000 for capital gain on a personal residence.

How should people prepare for what sounds like an unsettling proposal but may end up at a completely different place?

For some, the right move is transferring properties now, if it makes sense with their overall estate plan. Regardless of what Congress does with this proposal, the estate tax exemption will sunset to just north of $5 million (due to inflation adjustments) from the current $11.7 million. However, the likelihood of the proposal passing in its present state is low. The best option may be to make any revisions focused on the change to the estate tax exemption levels.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 28, 2021) “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime”

 

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Will Inheritance and Gift Taxes Change in 2021? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Uncertainty is driving many wealth transfers, with gifting taking the lead for many wealthy families, reports the article “No More Gift Tax Exemption?” from Financial Advisor.  For families who have already used up a large amount or even all of their exemptions, there are other strategies to consider.

Making gifts outright or through a trust is still possible, even if an individual or couple used all of their gift and generation skipping transfer tax exemptions.  Gifts and generation skipping transfer tax exemption amounts are indexed for inflation, increasing to $11.7 million in 2021 from $11.58 million in 2020.  Individuals have $120,000 additional gift and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions that can be used this year.

Annual exclusion gifts—individuals can make certain gifts up to $15,000 per recipient, and couples can give up to $30,000 per person.  This does not count towards gift and estate tax exemptions.

Do not forget about Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) options. The GRAT is an irrevocable trust, where the grantor makes a gift of property to it, while retaining a right to an annual payment from the trust for a specific number of years.  GRATS can also be used for concentrated positions and assets expected to appreciate that significantly reap a number of advantages.

A Sale to a Grantor Trust takes advantage of the differences between the income and transfer tax treatment of irrevocable trusts.  The goal is to transfer anticipated appreciation of assets at a reduced gift tax cost.  This may be timely for those who have funded a trust using their gift tax exemption, as this strategy usually requires funding of a trust before a sale.

Intra-family loans permit individuals to make loans to family members at lower rates than commercial lenders, without the loan being considered a gift.  A family member can help another family member financially, without incurring additional gift tax.  A bona fide creditor relationship, including interest payments, must be established.

It is extremely important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney when implementing tax planning strategies, especially this year.  Tax reform is on the horizon, but knowing exactly what the final changes will be, and whether they will be retroactive, is impossible to know.  There are many additional techniques, from disclaimers, QTIPs and formula gifts, that an experienced estate planning attorney may consider when planning to protect a family legacy.

Reference: Financial Advisor (April 1, 2021) “No More Gift Tax Exemption?”

 

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What Could Proposed Estate Tax Bill Mean to You? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has released proposed legislation named “For the 99.5%” Act. If passed in its present form, the legislation would bring estate tax exemptions back to the 2009 thresholds of $3.5 million per individual and $7 million per married couple. Exemptions are currently $11.7 million and $23.4 million, as reported by Think Advisor in a recent article “Sen. Bernie Sanders Introduces Estate Tax Bill.”

Larger estates would also be subject to higher tax rates. The current 40% tax rate would be raised to 45% and taxable estates larger than $10 million would be taxed at 50%, amounts greater than $50 million at 55% and any estates valued at greater than $1 billion would be taxed at 65%.

The same rates would apply for all gift taxes, for which the threshold would be lowered to $1 million.

Sanders spoke at a Senate Budget Hearing committee, stating that his bill was designed to have the families of the “millionaire class not only not get a tax break but start paying their fair share of taxes.”

Another bill introduced by Sanders would prevent corporations from shifting profits offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes and restoring the top corporate rate to 35%, where it has been since 2016.

In contrast, Senators John Thune, South Dakota (R) and John Kennedy, Louisiana (R), introduced legislation in early March to repeal the estate tax entirely.

Frank Clemente, executive director for Americans for Tax Fairness, said the tax plan released by President Biden during his campaign also tracked the 2009 estate tax levels that are the basis of Sanders’ bill, but because of the higher tax brackets for larger estates, his group believes the Sanders bill would raise about twice as much revenue as the Biden plan.

History teaches us that there is a long distance between the time that a bill is introduced, and many changes are made as proposed legislation makes its way through the law-making process. In this case, it can be safely said that there will be changes to the tax and estate laws, and that may be the only sure thing.

Now is a good time to review your estate plan, if these federal estate changes will have an impact on your family’s wealth. Familiarity with your current estate plan and staying in touch with your estate planning attorney, who will also be watching what Congress does in the coming months, will allow you to be prepared for changes to the tax planning aspect of your estate plan in the near or distant future.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 25, 2021) “Sen. Bernie Sanders Introduces Estate Tax Bill”

 

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Does an Estate Plan Need to Change because of the New Administration? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Changes in the White House and the Senate have many people wondering how federal estate and gift tax laws may change and when those changes will occur, as reported in an article “Estate planning in light of a new presidential administration: What should you do now?” from the St. Louis Business Journal.

While campaigning, Joe Biden pledged to undo many of the prior administration’s tax policies, promising a progressive approach to taxation focusing on shifting the burden of taxes to high-income individuals and businesses.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) temporarily doubled the federal estate and gift tax exemption to $10 million (adjusted annually for inflation) until 2025. For 2021, the exemption stands at $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. These amounts were set to expire after 2025 to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for married couples, but changes are expected to arrive sooner.

Biden also said he would end the “step-up” in basis that spares beneficiaries from having to pay income taxes for capital gains on inherited assets that appreciated in value, typically stocks, mutual funds and real estate. If a beneficiary sells an inherited asset now, the capital gains generated is the difference between the asset’s fair market value at the time of the sale minus the stepped-up basis, i.e., the fair market value of the asset at the date of the deceased’s death, rather than the basis at the date of the original purchase.

Without the step-up in basis, the capital gains generated upon the sale of the inherited assets would be far higher, increasing capital gains taxes paid by heirs.

Does it make sense to prepare or review your estate plan now, in light of the potential changes ahead? Having an outdated estate plan might be a bigger risk. When it comes to big changes in future tax laws, there are two things to keep in mind:

Making changes out of fear of tax law changes that have not occurred yet, could have lasting effects, and not always good ones. It is prudent to remain informed and prepared, but not to anticipate changes that have not become law yet.

What is more important is to be prepared for change, by understanding your current estate plan and being sure that it still works to minimize taxes and accomplish goals.

A few questions to consider:

  • Do you fully understand your current estate plan?
  • Do you know the total value of your assets and liabilities?
  • Do you know if federal and state estate taxes will be an issue for your heirs?
  • Have you reviewed your beneficiary designations recently?
  • When was your estate plan last updated? That includes your last will, revocable living trust, power of attorney and health care directives.

Changes are coming to estate law, but what they are and when they will occur are still unknown. Having an experienced estate planning attorney create or review your estate plan right now is more important than waiting to see what the future will bring.

Reference: St. Louis Business Journal (Jan. 27, 2021) “Estate planning in light of a new presidential administration: What should you do now?”

 

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How Can Blended Families Use Estate Planning to Protect All of the Siblings? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If two adult children in a blended family receive a lot more financial help from their parent and stepparents than other children, there may be expectations that the parent’s estate plan will be structured to address any unequal distributions. This unique circumstance requires a unique solution, as explained in the article “Estate Planning: A Trust Can Be Used to Protect Blended Families” from The Daily Sentinel. Blended families in which adult children and stepchildren have grandchildren also require unique estate planning.

Blended families face the question of what happens if one parent dies and the surviving step parent remarries. If the deceased spouse’s estate was given to the surviving step parent, will those assets be used to benefit the deceased spouse’s children, or will the new spouse and their children be the sole beneficiaries?

In a perfect world, all children would be treated equally, and assets would flow to the right heirs.  However, that does not always happen. There are many cases where the best of intentions is clear to all, but the death of the first spouse in a blended marriage change everything.

Other events occur that change how the deceased’s estate is distributed. If the surviving step-spouse suffers from Alzheimer’s or experiences another serious disease, their judgement may become impaired.

All of these are risks that can be avoided, if proper estate planning is done by both parents while they are still well and living. Chief among these is a trust,  a simple will does not provide the level of control of assets needed in this situation. Do not leave this to chance—there is no way to know how things will work out.

A trust can be created, so the spouse will have access to assets while they are living. When they pass, the remainder of the trust can be distributed to the children.

If a family that has helped out two children more than others, as mentioned above, the relationships between the siblings that took time to establish need to be addressed, while the parents are still living. This can be done with a gifting strategy, where children who felt their needs were being overlooked may receive gifts of any size that might be appropriate, to stem any feelings of resentment.

That is not to say that parents need to use their estate to satisfy their children’s expectations. However, in the case of the family above, it is a reasonable solution for that particular family and their dynamics.

A good estate plan addresses the parent’s needs and takes the children’s needs into consideration. Every parent needs to address their children’s unique needs and be able to distinguish their needs from wants. A gifting strategy, trusts and other estate planning tools can be explored in a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney, who creates estate plans specific to the unique needs of each family.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Dec. 16, 2020) “Estate Planning: A Trust Can Be Used to Protect Blended Families”

 

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Estate Planning Actions to Consider before 2020 Ends – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When it comes to estate planning, there is 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 is 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, do not 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 are 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”

 

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Gifting Can Help Estate Plans and Heirs Reach Goals – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The applicable exclusion amount for gift/estate tax purposes is $11.58 million in 2020, a level that makes incorporating gifting into estate plans very attractive for high net-worth families. If a donor’s taxable gift—one that does not qualify for the annual, medical or education exclusion—is in excess of this amount, or if the value of the donor’s aggregate taxable gifts is higher than this amount, the federal gift tax will be due by April 15 of the following year. The current gift tax rate is 40%.

This presents an opportunity, as described in detail in the article “The Case for Gifting Now (or At Least Planning for the Possibility” from The National Law Review.

If the exclusion is used during one’s lifetime, it reduces the amount of the exemption available at death to shelter property from the estate tax. With proper planning, spouses may currently gift or die with assets totally as much as $23.16 million, with no gift or federal estate tax.

To gain perspective on how high this exclusion is, in 2000-2001, the applicable exclusion amount was $675,000.

The exclusion amount will automatically decrease to approximately $6.5 million on January 1, 2026, unless changes are made by Congress before that time to continue the current exclusion amount. Now is a good time to have a conversation with your estate planning attorney about making gifts in advance of the scheduled decrease and/or any changes that may occur in the future. The following are reasons why this exemption may be lowered:

  • Trillions of dollars in federal stimulus spending necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe economic downturn in the U.S.
  • Past precedent of passing tax legislation mid-year and applying it retroactively to January 1.
  • A possible change in party control for the presidency and/or the Senate
  • The use of the budget reconciliation process to pass changes to taxes.

In the 100-plus year history of the estate tax, the exemption has never gone down. However, the exemption has also never been this high. The possibility of a compressed timeframe for family business owners and wealthy individuals to implement lifetime gifts before any legislative change may make a tidal wave of gifting transactions challenging between now and December 31, 2020. Now is the time to start planning and take action to utilize the exclusion amount.

Reference: The National Review (Aug. 20, 2020) “The Case for Gifting Now (or At Least Planning for the Possibility”

 

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How Family Businesses Can Prepare Now for Future Tax Changes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The upcoming presidential election is giving small to mid-sized business owners concerns regarding changes in their business and the legacy they leave to family members. The recent article “How family businesses can come out on top in presidential election uncertainty,” from the St. Louis Business Journal looks at what is at stake.

Tax breaks. The current estate tax threshold of $11.58 million is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2025, when it will revert to the pre-2018 exemption level of $5 million (as indexed for inflation) for individuals. If that law is changed after the election, it is possible that the exemption could be phased out before the current levels end.

Increased tax liability. These possible changes present a problem for business owners. Making gifts now can use the full exemption, but future gifts may not enjoy such a generous tax exemption. Some transfers, if the exemption changes, could be subject to gift taxes as high as 40%.

Missed opportunity with lower valuations. Properly structured gifts to family members, which benefit from lower valuations (that is, before value appreciation due to capital gains) and current allowable valuation discounts give families an opportunity to pass a great amount of their businesses to heirs tax free.

Here is what this might look like: a family business owner gifts $1 million in the business to one heir, but at the time of the owner’s passing, that share appreciates to $10 million. Because the gift was made early, the business owner only uses up $1 million of the estate tax exemption. That is a $9 million savings at 40%; saving the estate from paying $3.6 million in taxes. If the laws change, that is a costly missed opportunity.

It is better to protect a business from the “Three D’s”—death, divorce, disability or a serious health issue, by preparing in advance. That means the appropriate estate protection, prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney who understands the needs of business owners.

Consider reorganizing the business. If you own an S-corporation, you know how complicated estate planning can be. One strategy is to reorganize your business, so you have both voting and non-voting shares. Gifting non-voting shares might provide some relief to business owners, who are not yet ready to give up complete control of their business.

Preparing for future ownership alternatives. What kind of planning will offer the most flexibility for future cash flow and, if necessary, being able to use principal? Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), entity freezes, and sales are three ways the owner might retain access to cash flow, while transferring future appreciation of assets out of the estate.

Know your gifting options. Your estate planning attorney will help determine what gifting scenario may work best. Some business owners establish irrevocable trusts, providing asset protection for the family and allowing the trust to have control of distributions.

Reference: St. Louis Business Journal (April 3, 2020) “How family businesses can come out on top in presidential election uncertainty”

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Charitable Giving and Your Estate Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Americans are a country of generous people. We give to organizations that we feel connected to, and we give to charities that we feel are important. We also give to honor our loved ones, to make life better in our communities and to help when disaster strikes.

Most people do not give to charity purely for the tax benefits, but charitable giving has long been a benefit of lowering income taxes during our lifetimes, as well as helping minimize estate taxes when we die, says the article “5 Ways to Incorporate Charitable Giving into Your Estate Plan” from Kiplinger. Therefore, if you are charitably minded, why not achieve the most tax-savings you can? Here are five ways to do this.

Appreciated Stock. Gifts of publicly traded stock that has grown or appreciated in value is a good way to support a charity while you are living. If you sell appreciated stock, you will need to pay capital gains tax on the appreciation. However, if you donate appreciated stock to a charity, you will receive a charitable income tax deduction equal to the full market value of the stock at the time of the gift. That avoids capital gains taxes. You get the benefit on the appreciated amount, without having to sell it. The charity can, if it wants, sell the stock without paying any capital gains taxes, because registered nonprofits are tax exempt.

Charitable Rollovers. If you are older than 70 ½, you may donate up to $100,000 per year to charities directly from your IRA. This is known as a Qualified Charitable Rollover, or a QCD. The QCD counts towards any Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) that you need to take from your IRA annually. Under the recently passed SECURE Act, in the future RMDs must be taken by December 31, 2020, after the account owner celebrates their 72nd birthday. Because RMDs are taxable income, they are taxed at ordinary income rates.

By donating through a QCD, you can support a charity, fulfill your RMD requirement and exclude the amount that you donate from your taxable income. For those who do not need their RMDs, that’s a win-win situation.

Bequest by Will or Revocable Trust. A more traditional way to support a charity, is to leave an amount in your will or revocable trust. The bequest is language in your will or trust that states the amount you want to leave to the charity, clearly identifying the charity you want to receive the funds, and if you want, stating the purpose that you would want the charity to use the funds. An important point: make sure that you use the legally accurate name of the charity to avoid any confusion. This is a common error that causes no many problems for charities.

Consider also giving a donation that can be used for a charity’s “general purpose.” This lets the charity decide where to best allocate your donation, rather than tying the money to a specific program. If you chose to list a specific purpose, meet with the development office or the executive director at the charity to ensure that they are able to fulfill that desire. Otherwise, the charity may need to refuse the bequest.

Name a Charity as the Beneficiary of Retirement Accounts. This can be done by naming the charity as a beneficiary on the account documents. Be sure to use the legally correct name of the charity. The charity will be able to withdraw funds from the retirement account without paying taxes. People who receive funds from retirement accounts pay income tax rates on distributions, but charities do not. You may want to donate retirement account funds to charities, and non-taxable assets to heirs.

Charitable Remainder Trusts. This is a way to help the charity and provide for heirs. Your estate planning attorney would create a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) and names the CRT as the beneficiary of an IRA. A CRT is a “split interest trust,” where a person receives annual payments for the CRT for a set period of time. When the person or charitable organization’s interest in the CRT ends, the remaining funds are distributed to the charity of your choosing. There are very strict rules about how CRTs are structured, including the percentages that the charity must receive. An estate planning attorney will be able to create this for you.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 2, 2020) “5 Ways to Incorporate Charitable Giving into Your Estate Plan”

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