While estate taxes may only be of concern for mega-rich Americans now, in a relatively short time, the federal exemption rate is scheduled to drop precipitously. Estate planning underway now should include consideration of income tax issues, especially basis, according to a recent article titled “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis” from National Law Journal.
Because of these upcoming changes, plans and trusts put into effect under current law may no longer efficiently work for income tax and tax basis issues.
Planning to avoid taxes has become less critical in recent years, when the federal estate tax exemption is $10 million per taxpayer indexed to inflation. However, the new tax laws have changed the focus from estate tax planning to coming tax planning and more specifically, to “basis” planning. Ignore this at your peril—or your heirs may inherit a tax disaster.
“Basis” is an often-misunderstood concept used to determine the amount of taxable income resulting when an asset is sold. The amount of taxable income realized is equal to the difference between the value you received at the sale of the asset minus your basis in the asset.
There are three key rules for how basis is determined:
Purchased assets: the buyer’s basis is the investment in the asset—the amount paid at the time of purchase. Here is where the term “cost basis” comes from.
Gifts: The recipient’s basis in the gift property is generally equal to the donor’s basis in the property. The giver’s basis is viewed as carrying over to the recipient. This is where the term “carry over basis” comes from, when referring to the basis of an asset received by gift.
Inherited Assets: The basis in inherited property is usually set to the fair market value of the asset on the date of the decedent’s death. Any gains or losses after this date are not realized. The heir could conceivably sell the asset immediately and not pay income taxes on the sale.
The adjustment to basis for inherited assets is usually called “stepped up basis.”
Basis planning requires you to review each asset on its own, to consider the expected future appreciation of the asset and anticipated timeline for disposing the asset. Tax rates imposed on income realized when an asset is sold vary based on the type of asset. There is an easy one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to basis planning.
Estate planning requires adjustments over time, especially in light of tax law changes. Speak with your estate planning attorney, if your estate plan was created more than five years ago. Many of those strategies and tools may or may not work in light of the current and near-future tax environment.
Reference: National Law Review (July 22, 2022) “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis”