Estate Planning Articles

Tax reform may impact charitable giving

As the tax reform measures were unveiled, members of the charitable community expressed alarm that the new rules could create a disincentive to donate.

With the larger standard income tax deduction ($12,000 for an individual filer and $24,000 for a married couple), fewer people will realize the benefits of itemizing.

Some charities fear that, absent the tax write-off, fewer people will give. Yet others argue a household’s higher net income will be a boon to non-profits. [Read more…]

Evaluating generation-skipping tax transfers

Your current financial plan may include wealth transfers to grandchildren, great-grandchildren or other descendants, and these gifts may be subject to a generation-skipping tax (GST). The GST was created to prevent families from essentially “skipping” a generation’s worth of estate taxes as wealth is passed down.

In 2017, the GST exemption (the amount that can be transferred to grandchildren without incurring a federal GST tax) was $5.45 million adjusted for inflation. Now, under the new tax reform law, the GST exemption is doubled to roughly $11.2 million. In 2026, however, the exemptions revert back to pre-2018 levels.

Doubling the exemption presents an opportunity for families to increase wealth transfer plans without incurring taxes. Individuals may want to take advantage of the increased GST exemption to create GST-exempt trusts. Meanwhile, those with existing trusts subject to the GST tax may want to consider early distributions to take advantage of the higher exemption. [Read more…]

‘Clawback’ concerns linger under new tax law

The new tax reform package increases an individual’s lifetime exemption from roughly $5.5 million to $11.2 million, with an expiration date of December 31, 2025.

For individuals who don’t expect to die in the next eight years, your gift strategy could include protecting assets from future estate taxes while still maintaining adequate resources for your lifetime. You may, for example, choose to max out your lifetime exemption now, while you are still alive, to minimize the tax burden on your heirs when you die.

Let’s assume you are a high-net worth individual with no surviving spouse. If you give your kids $11.2 million now, they receive those funds completely tax free. If you give them $5.5 million now, and they receive another $5.7 million when you die in 2026, your heirs would have to pay a 40% estate tax on that $5.7 million. [Read more…]

Estate planning still essential, despite increased exemptions

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces individual and corporate tax rates, eliminates a bevy of deductions and makes a host of changes to how Americans can preserve their wealth. Although the act falls short of repealing the death tax, it doubles the amount an individual may transfer tax free, either in his or her lifetime or at death.

Effective January 1, 2018 (and expiring December 31, 2025), the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption amounts double from an inflation-adjusted $5 million to $10 million.

Taking into account inflationary adjustments, the actual amount for these exemptions is expected to be $11.2 million for an individual or $22.4 million for a married couple in 2018. Both exemptions will continue to increase with inflation. Both will also revert back to their current levels at the start of 2026. (Congress could also lower the exemptions before then.) [Read more…]

Tips for choosing your executor

Choosing your executor, who will administer your estate and carry out your final wishes, may be one of the most important decisions you make when preparing your will.

Before you name someone, get his approval and make sure he feels up to the task. An executor’s responsibilities including filing court papers to start probate and validate the will, inventorying the estate, notifying banks and government agencies, sorting out finances, maintaining all property until it’s distributed or sold, filing a final tax return, and distributing assets.

Depending on the size and nature of your estate, this work can seem like a complicated, daunting task. Recognize that serving as executor can be particularly complicated for someone who lives out of state. He or she will likely have to travel for probate appearances, and some states require a state resident to co-serve as executor or agent. [Read more…]

Pre-litigation claims can be effective in estate tax disputes

Pre-litigation is activity that occurs before a legal suit is filed. If you are involved in an estate transfer and your rights are unclear, pre-litigation may be an effective way to establish your position and head off a more costly legal conflict.

Pre-litigation claims are typically made in an effort to get the other party to back down or engage in negotiations. This process may be the first step in claiming a will or trust is invalid, challenging a premarital agreement, or charging that an executor is engaged in misconduct.

In a much-publicized conflict over the estate of former “Growing Pains” star Alan Thicke, for example, his sons filed a pre-litigation complaint to enforce their father’s trust, claiming that Thicke’s widow intended to challenge her prenuptial agreement. (Thicke’s widow denied such intent and a judge subsequently dismissed the sons’ claim.) [Read more…]

Documenting your rationale

In addition to telling your children why you plan to leave an unequal gift, consider providing a written explanation of your decision that can be attached to your trust or will. Such a letter communicates facts and feelings that are not otherwise included in estate planning documents and may deter an unhappy heir from contesting your will. Consult your attorney about any estate planning letters you intend to leave to ensure you don’t create any confusion in your plans.

Beneficiary designations
Talk to your estate planner and be sure you understand the implications of naming certain children as a beneficiary on a retirement account or life insurance policy. In such cases, those assets would pass to the named child directly and would be excluded from your estate, meaning those assets won’t get divvied up among your heirs.

Even if your child recognizes this was a mistake and wants to redistribute the funds, it can be a costly and difficult issue to fix. Regifting assets to their siblings could trigger gift taxes. Alternately, the child could disclaim part of the inheritance, but that is best done with legal counsel and a full understanding of potential implications. [Read more…]

Communicate with your kids before leaving unequal assets

When it comes to leaving money to the kids, some parents struggle to reconcile “equal” with “fair.” An equal inheritance treats each child the same, regardless of life situation or special circumstances. On the other hand, sometimes an unequal distribution can seem like the fairest thing to do, given a child’s age, financial wherewithal, or previous track record.

To avoid unpleasant surprises and contentious family squabbles, be transparent about your plans and talk with your children ahead of time. That helps children understand your point of view and gives them an opportunity to share concerns or life issues you may not be aware of.

Imagine, for example, that you intend to leave more to your daughter, the social worker, and less to your son, the small business owner.  Disclosing this plan could encourage your proud son to reveal that business is declining and the operation has far less value than you thought. [Read more…]

How to leave your home to the kids

Deciding when and how to relinquish the family home can be one of the most challenging issues seniors face. For many, a home is their most valuable asset and a cornerstone of the wealth they’d like to transfer to their family.

If you’re one of AARP’s estimated 87 percentage of older adults who wants to stay at home and “age in place,” you may be planning to stay put as long as possible with the goal of transferring your house to your heirs after you die.

Here is a review of the ways you can go about leaving your home to your children: [Read more…]

Proposed regulations curtailing valuation discounts withdrawn

The Treasury Department and the IRS have announced that proposed regulations that would have drastically limited valuation discounts for transfers of family businesses are being withdrawn.

The regulations would have curbed valuation discounts commonly used when family business owners transfer minority shares to other family members.

The withdrawal means that family business owners will still be able to transfer a portion of their business to their children while applying valuation discounts. Primarily, those discounts include adjustments for lack of control and lack of marketability. [Read more…]

Medicaid Irrevocable Trusts – Do They Protect Assets?

The New Hampshire Bar Association recently published an article written by Attorney David M. Beliveau discussing the use of Medicaid irrevocable trusts as a legal tool to protect assets (typically, a residence) in the case one has to be admitted to a nursing home and apply to receive Medicaid to cover the respective cost. The question is, do such trusts work? Read the entire article below.

Elder, Estate Planning & Probate Law: Medicaid Irrevocable Trusts: A Tale of Two Cities?

By: David M. Beliveau | New Hampshire Bar Article

With the increasing cost of nursing home care, some elders are using Medicaid irrevocable trusts to try to protect their assets (typically, their residences) in case they have to be admitted to a nursing home and apply to receive Medicaid to cover the respective cost. The question is, do such trusts work? Last year, both the New Hampshire Supreme Court in In re Petition of Braiterman and a Massachusetts appellate court in Heyn vs. Director of the Office of Medicaid answered the question.

Both Braiterman and Heyn turned on each court’s interpretation of the “any circumstance” test. Under 42 USC Section 1396p(d)(3)(B), if there are any circumstances under which payment from the trust could be made to or for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, then the Medicaid irrevocable trust is deemed countable for the purpose of determining the Medicaid applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid. In Braiterman, the New Hampshire court appears to have interpreted the “any circumstance” test broadly and, consequently, found the Medicaid irrevocable trust at issue problematic. In contrast, in Heyn, the Massachusetts court appears to have interpreted the “any circumstance” test narrowly and, consequently, found the Medicaid irrevocable trust at issue not problematic. [Read more…]

Password sharing presents risks for family and fiduciaries

Keeping careful records of the usernames and passwords for your online accounts and sharing them with a trusted family member or agent may seem like the start of a responsible estate plan. But you need to be aware of the risks for those you empower with the information.

Even with your permission, fiduciaries (executors, trustees, conservators), agents and family members who manage assets as part of your estate plan could be committing a federal crime by accessing your online account with your password.

That’s because most terms of service agreements governing websites or online accounts specify that passwords not be shared and that third parties not be allowed to access a user’s account.  So even if you provide the person with the log-in information for your account, he or she could still be violating the terms of service by using it to access your account. [Read more…]

Are LLCs your best option for asset protection? Know the risks

Limited liability companies can offer better asset protection than ordinary stock corporations, but there are potential adverse economic and tax results if investors are not alert.

Investors increasingly use LLCs to operate a trade or business, to hold real estate or to hold other investment assets, as opposed to state law corporations. But when investors transfer LLC interests to a spouse, children, trust or others, as opposed to ordinary corporate stock, they can risk losing control of the business or decreasing the basis for heirs — with a corresponding increase in the beneficiary’s income tax.

An LLC owner or “member” has two types of rights: economic and management. Economic rights allow them to receive property from the LLC both during existence and upon liquidation, along with tax attributes and profits/losses. Management rights allow them the right to vote, participate in management or the conduct of company affairs and have access to company reports, records and accountings. [Read more…]

What millennials need to know about estate planning

A recent survey by senior-living focused website Caring.com, quoted in USA Today, revealed that 78 percent of Americans under the age of 36 don’t have a will or trust in place. But even with youth on their side, the millennial generation needs to be planning for the unforeseen. If most would consider the following three issues, they’d be off to a good start:

  • Incapacitation provisions: No one expects to be incapacitated, but there are at least two documents needed in the event that occurs. The first is a durable power of attorney that identifies who will make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. The second is a health care advance directive (including a living will) that outlines preferences for medical care if you are unable to state these for yourself.
  • Death documents: These include a last will and testament and possibly the establishment of a trust, either revocable or testamentary.
  • Beneficiary designations: Keep these up to date for things including life insurance and 401(k) programs.

[Read more…]

Protect your power of attorney from legislative changes

Medical and financial powers of attorney are a critical aspect of effective estate planning, but did you know they must be kept up to date? It is recommended to have them reviewed every 2-3 years.

Several legislative changes over the years have given financial institutions and healthcare providers reasons to reject powers of attorney. As new laws are enacted, necessary provisions must be incorporated into your power of attorney, as failing to including certain language could mean your documents will not be accepted.

Notable issues include:

  • Your medical power of attorney was executed prior to your state adopting the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act. In 1993, this federal law was approved to expand and solidify the authority of a medical power of attorney. It has since been enacted state by state. Key changes include decision-making power surrounding life-prolonging procedures, authorization for organ donation and approval for admission to health care facilities for treatment. [Read more…]

Learn from celebrities’ estate planning blunders

There are many lessons to be learned about estate planning from the bad experiences of some of the world’s most famous people. The AARP recently gathered their stories, and here are the highlights:

Florence Griffith Joyner: Before her death in 1998, Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner never told anyone the location of her will. Without the original document, it took four years to close her probate estate due to a long battle among her relatives.

Lesson learned: Don’t keep the location of your will a secret. [Read more…]

Review your estate plan when you move across state lines

When you make a move out of state, be sure to review your estate plan with an estate planning attorney in your new domicile, as trust and estate laws have some differences from state to state.

In most states, the probate court will recognize a will from another state. But in the case of a dispute, you can’t be sure the judge in the new state will understand your will the way that you meant it.

Your new place of residence might place restrictions on executors from out of state. It’s also possible that your new medical provider or bank won’t adhere to powers of attorney drafted under another state’s laws. [Read more…]

Issues to consider before gifting your home to your child

Passing your house on to your children before your death offers some advantages, but there are pitfalls to avoid.

If your children inherit the property through your estate, the cost basis on the property will be the value of the home on the day of your death. But if you gift the children the property while you are still alive, they will inherit your cost basis, including potentially large capital gains if they decide to later sell the home.

You still might want to remove the property from your estate to help you better qualify for assistance with long-term-care costs. But be aware that you are subject to a five-year look-back on assets. That means that when you apply for Medicaid, gifts or transfers of assets you make within five years of the date of the application for assistance may be subject to inclusion in your estate. [Read more…]

How to change an irrevocable trust

When dealing with irrevocable trusts the ability to effect change can be difficult to understand, presenting more questions than answers.

The correct answers often depend on a variety of factors, but a good starting point is state law and the trust document itself.

When modification or termination of an irrevocable trust is sought, a possible mechanism is for the trustee or beneficiary to seek a court order. [Read more…]

Beware the pitfalls of naming a minor as your beneficiary

A minor generally doesn’t have the right to manage his or her assets, including any inheritance.

But sometimes a minor child becomes the beneficiary of a sizable family inheritance. That can occur because a parent dies without a will or trust, leading to an unavoidable direct inheritance by the child.

If a minor is chosen as a beneficiary of a retirement account or life insurance policy, many challenging issues can arise.

First of all, a minor is not legally allowed to take control of inherited assets left directly to him or her. Instead, an adult or financial institution has to be appointed to manage the estate until the minor turns 18.

[Read more…]

Estate planning options for blended families

The dynamics of a blended family, defined as one where at least one spouse has at least one child from a prior marriage or relationship, can complicate financial and estate planning because no off-the-shelf plans apply.

It’s important to contact your estate-planning lawyer to ensure complete review of all personal and economic aspects of your family and a resulting plan that works for everyone involved.

From designating account beneficiaries to updating wills and trusts, it takes attention to detail to ensure specific wishes are carried out properly. Effective, collaborative planning can address the family’s needs and goals while building trust and helping everyone move forward together. [Read more…]

IRS: Account transcripts can serve as estate tax closing letter

A recent IRS notice confirms that an account transcript issued by the IRS qualifies as a substitute for an estate tax closing letter, as long as the transcript includes the proper transaction code.

An estate tax closing letter indicates that the IRS has accepted an estate tax return and that the estate’s federal tax liabilities have been satisfied. Once the letter has been received, it makes it clear to the executor of the estate that it can proceed with finalizing the estate administration process.

The receipt of the closing letter is often needed to meet requirements for state law probate proceedings. It’s rare for the IRS to reopen an estate tax return after a closing letter has been issued, except in certain extreme circumstances such as fraud or a major error by the IRS. [Read more…]

Retirement accounts: Tips for taxpayers turning 70 1/2

It’s a big year for the first set of baby boomers: They’re turning 70 1/2. And that means getting prepared for their first mandatory distributions from tax-sheltered retirement accounts.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the amount of your required annual withdrawal is based on the assets in the account as of the prior December 31. For a taxpayer with multiple 401(k) plans, he or she must take a proportional distribution from each of the accounts. If a taxpayer has multiple IRAs, the payouts can be uneven. That is, the entire amount can be taken out of one IRA, if the taxpayer chooses. [Read more…]

New law allows individuals to create special needs trusts

Buried in a new federal law is a tiny change that will now allow individuals to set up their own special needs trusts.

The sum total of the change is two words — “the individual” — intended to correct a more than 20-year-old error. The change is called the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act.

Authorized under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, special needs trusts protect assets and allow an individual to maintain eligibility for governmental benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.   [Read more…]

In will contest, no need to oversell decedent’s capacity

Imagine a situation where a loved one dies and there is a contest over the validity of the will. The question arises: What was the decedent’s mental state in drafting the will?

A typical, knee jerk answer is that the decedent had a perfectly clear state of mind.

However, testamentary capacity doesn’t require such a high level of clarity in communication and comprehension. Further, overstating a decedent’s capacity might actually lead a trier of fact to become skeptical of the will proponent, especially if other evidence exists that the decedent’s mind wasn’t as clear as stated. [Read more…]

Changes proposed by Trump could open up big estate planning opportunities

With proposals to repeal the federal estate tax and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax on the table, the new administration may be opening up some rare estate planning options.

Under President Donald Trump’s proposal, the current step-up in basis for income tax purposes on assets owned at death would be limited to $10 million of assets. The intention, according to the proposal, is to exempt small businesses and family farms.

It’s likely that assets exceeding $10 million in value would be either subject to carryover basis rules of some kind or would be subject to capital gains tax at death. Under Trump’s proposal, the current capital gains tax rate of 20 percent would be retained. [Read more…]

Survivorship life insurance can be good vehicle for estate planning

Survivorship life insurance (also known as “second-to-die”) can be an important vehicle to consider for estate planning in the right cases.

This type of insurance policy covers two lives and pays out the proceeds when the second insured dies.

One benefit is that the premium tends to be lower than it would be for two separate policies because the life expectancy is based on the two insureds’ combined ages and the insurer has lower administrative costs. [Read more…]

Should you amend or rewrite your revocable trust?

It’s important to review a revocable trust regularly to see if any amendments are needed, such as when something changes in your life or if the law changes.

There are two ways to go about it. You can either amend the existing trust to change a certain part of it or rewrite the whole trust, which is known as a restatement.

While you might expect that an amendment is easier and more cost-effective, that’s not always the case. [Read more…]

Remarriage is a reminder to revisit your estate plan

Approximately 40 percent of marriages these days are remarriages for at least one partner. When you remarry, there are all sorts of issues to consider related to your estate plan.

For older people, the main focus may be ensuring that their adult children or grandchildren have an inheritance. Without proper planning, a new spouse could receive assets that were originally intended for children and grandchildren.

Here are some important elements to review in order to protect everyone’s interests when you remarry: [Read more…]

Valuation discounts for transfers in family businesses in jeopardy

The ability to take valuation discounts on the transfer of an interest in a family business for estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax purposes would be drastically limited under long-awaited proposed regulations from the Treasury Department.

The most impactful element of the proposal bars any significant discount for lack of control or lack of marketability associated with the transfer of an interest in a family-controlled entity.

If the regulations are finalized as written, the tax cost for transferring interests in such businesses will be substantially higher. [Read more…]

Get a HIPAA release for your college-age child

If you have a child who is away at college, you should be aware that the federal medical privacy rules apply to him or her. Once your child turns 18, the federal HIPAA law says that you can no longer have access your child’s medical information without his or her consent.

That’s a problem, because if there’s an emergency and your child isn’t able to provide consent, you might not be able to access the information you need to make important medical decisions. In fact, it might not even be clear that you have the legal right to make such decisions. [Read more…]

Four big mistakes many executors make

Executors have a tough and often thankless job. They have to marshal all the estate’s assets, file tax returns, and distribute property according to the will. Sometimes, they make mistakes. Here’s a look at the most common ones:

Paying bills too soon. Executors often see bills arrive in the mail and decide to pay them right away to avoid any problems. But this can actually create problems.

There’s an order in which bills must be paid: Items such as taxes, funeral expenses and the costs of estate administration typically take priority over credit card statements, for instance. If an estate turns out to have a lot of debts (perhaps the person who passed away had an unexpected tax bill), and the executor has paid off low-priority debts first, there might not be enough money to pay the high-priority debts, and the executor might be personally liable for them. [Read more…]

Estate planning may be harder for couples without children

You might think that estate planning would be easy when couples don’t have children. In fact, it can sometimes be more difficult – and also more important.

Couples with children generally agree about passing on their assets to their kids, and can rely on their offspring to serve as caregivers and executors. It might not be so easy for other couples.

For instance, suppose Mike and Helen write a will leaving their assets to each other. If Mike dies first, Helen will inherit everything. When Helen dies, who will get Mike’s assets? Helen could make a new will, but if she doesn’t, all of Mike’s assets will go to Helen’s relatives according to state law. [Read more…]

Moving an elderly relative? Think about state taxes

It’s a common scenario: An elderly relative is no longer able to live alone, so family members sell the relative’s house and have the relative start living with them or in a nursing home or assisted living facility that’s closer to the family.

One thing you might not consider during this stressful process is that if the relative moves to a different state, you might have just changed the person’s official state of residence for tax purposes. And that could have a significant effect on his or her estate plan. [Read more…]

Be careful with inherited IRAs

Leaving someone an IRA as an inheritance can have a lot of tax advantages, and it’s often a very good estate planning strategy. However, the rules for inherited IRAs are complicated, and it’s easy to make mistakes.

If you have recently inherited an IRA, or if you expect to inherit an IRA, it’s important to speak to an estate planner or other advisor right away before you make any decisions about the account. And if you’re planning to leave someone an IRA, you’ll want to make sure that person knows what to do, so the tax benefits aren’t lost through an innocent mistake. [Read more…]

The advantages of making a list of assets and debts

Have you ever considered writing down a list of all your assets (with account numbers, passwords, and so on), as well as debts and recurring payments?

Making such a list and putting it in a secure place can be a godsend if something ever happens to you and you become incapacitated, because your family will have a much easier time looking after your affairs.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, a middle-class couple described the extraordinary difficulties they faced when the wife’s parents developed medical problems and could no longer handle their own finances. The couple had no idea what assets the parents owned, what insurance they had, where to find records, what bills needed to be paid, and so on. Handling the parents’ affairs became a nearly full-time investigative job. [Read more…]

Charitable donations from your IRA could save taxes

Congress has revived a law that lets you make charitable donations directly from your IRA, which might provide you with some significant tax advantages.

The “IRA charitable rollover” was discontinued at the end of 2014. But Congress has now resurrected it, made it permanent, and also made it retroactive to the beginning of 2015.

If you’re over the age of 70½, you’re required to take minimum distributions each year from your IRA, and you have to pay income tax on those distributions. But the “charitable rollover” law lets you transfer assets from your IRA to a charity, and whatever amount you transfer reduces the amount you’re required to withdraw. So if you’re required to withdraw $20,000 in 2016, but you instead donate $20,000 to charity, you don’t have to withdraw any funds for yourself, and you don’t have to pay any income tax. [Read more…]

‘Spendthrift trust’ gets divided at divorce

Even though a wealthy family put assets in a trust for their children in order to protect them from creditors, a child’s interest in the trust could be divided in a divorce, says the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

While this result is unusual, it goes to show that even a solid spendthrift trust might not be perfect if a creditor – in this case, a spouse – is sympathetic enough.

Curt Pfannenstiehl was a beneficiary of a family trust worth some $25 million. He and his wife Diane had a son with dyslexia and ADD and a daughter with Down syndrome. [Read more…]

Financial advisors have more responsibility to clients

Stockbrokers, financial planners and insurance agents who provide advice regarding IRAs and other retirement accounts will have new responsibilities toward clients, and the way they bill their clients may change, under new rules announced by the U.S. Labor Department.

Under the rules, advisors must now act in their clients’ best interests when they make recommendations. In the past, many advisors merely had to make recommendations that were “suitable” for a client, even if what they recommended wasn’t the best possible option.

In addition, advisors must now disclose if they have a conflict of interest (for instance, if the advisor is being paid by a third party to recommend a particular investment), and must adopt procedures to limit such conflicts. [Read more…]

New problem for some executors and heirs

Executors who have to file a federal estate tax return, and some heirs who receive assets from an estate that is subject to the federal estate tax, may be facing a significant new problem as a result of rules just issued by the IRS.

The problem only affects larger estates – generally those where the deceased person’s assets, large lifetime gifts, and life insurance proceeds total more than $5.45 million. But for those estates, it’s a serious issue.

The problem stems from a law passed by Congress last year. The law says that an executor who files an estate tax return must now also fill out a form – called Form 8971 – identifying all heirs to the IRS as well as the value of the assets to be distributed to them. Each heir must also be given a related form (called Schedule A) identifying the assets they will receive and their value. [Read more…]

Family trust could prohibit beneficiaries from going to court

People who set up trusts for children, grandchildren and other family members have a greater ability to limit the beneficiaries’ right to challenge trustees’ decisions in court, as a result of a new U.S. Tax Court decision.

Here’s the background: You may know that you can give up to $14,000 a year to any person without incurring the federal gift tax. But that rule generally doesn’t apply if you put the money in a trust for the person, because you’re not giving them the money directly – in legal terms, the person doesn’t have a “present interest” in the funds. So any such gift is potentially taxable.

So, how can you avoid this problem and put up to $14,000 a year into a trust without paying gift tax? A common solution is to put the money into a trust, but give the person 30 days in which he or she can withdraw the funds. Typically, beneficiaries won’t actually withdraw the money, because they’ll be afraid that if they do, no further contributions will be coming. But the 30-day window means the person has a “present interest” in the funds, and so you qualify to avoid the gift tax. [Read more…]

Many people miss a tax deduction for inherited IRAs

If you inherited a retirement account, and if the estate of the person you inherited it from owed an estate tax, you might be missing a big income tax deduction when you withdraw funds from the account. Many people forget to claim this deduction.

The deduction applies not only to inherited IRAs, but also to inherited 401(k) accounts, certain stock options and unpaid dividends, pretax gains in certain annuities, and some other assets.

The idea is that the IRA (or other asset) already triggered an estate tax for the person who died. So, taxing your withdrawals from the account amounts to taxing the same asset twice. The deduction exists to prevent this double taxation. [Read more…]

Avoid capital gains tax when selling investment property

Did you know that it may be possible to avoid paying immediate capital gains taxes when you sell an investment property? That’s true if you’re planning to sell the property and invest the proceeds in another property shortly afterward.

For instance, suppose you own a condo as an investment, and you plan to sell it and use the proceeds to buy another investment property. You might be able to treat the sale and the subsequent purchase as a “wash,” and defer paying any capital gains tax on the first property until you sell the second property.

This is known as a “like-kind exchange,” or sometimes as a “1031 exchange” (after the section of the tax code that allows this). [Read more…]

Interest rates are going up – what does this mean for your estate planning?

The Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates. And while rates are still historically extremely low, they’re probably at the start of a long, gradual increase. As a result, you might want to consider some estate planning techniques now that benefit from very low rates … because an opportunity like this one might not come around again for many, many years.

Here are some ways to use the current low-rate environment to transfer assets to your heirs while avoiding estate and gift taxes:

Family loans. One idea is to loan money to a trust for your children, and then have the trust use it to make investments – or make a promising investment yourself, and then loan that asset to the trust. In return, you’ll get a promissory note in which the trust promises to repay the loan with interest. [Read more…]

Plan for the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease

Did you know that 47% of people over age 85 are affected by Alzheimer’s disease? The numbers are high enough that any older person planning for their estate should consider the possibility that they may become intellectually incapacitated at some point.

Of course, a critical step in planning for incapacity is having a durable power of attorney document in place that allows someone to handle your financial affairs if you’re no longer able to do so.

It’s also critical to have a health care power of attorney or proxy form, so that someone you trust can manage your health care if you’re no longer able to provide informed consent. These two forms are essential components of a good estate plan. [Read more…]

Audrey Hepburn’s sons battle over her memorabilia 22 years later

When actress Audrey Hepburn died in 1993, she owned a storage locker containing memorabilia of her career – costumes, photos, awards, scripts, posters and the like. In her will, she directed that the contents be divided equally between her two sons.

But some 22 years later, the two sons (who had different fathers) still can’t agree on how to divide the goods. The older son, who is now in his mid-fifties, has filed a lawsuit and asked a judge to split the possessions. [Read more…]

IRS tax crackdown might actually end up helping

IRS officials have been indicating for a few months now that they’re about to start cracking down on certain estate planning techniques that have been popular in recent years. But ironically, this might actually help a number of clients to save on their taxes.

The issue involves family limited partnerships and LLCs. A technique that many wealthy people have used in the past is to create a family business structure of this type, and then give away partial interests in the business to family members. The idea is that the value of these partial interests can be significantly reduced for purposes of estate and gift taxes.

Here’s an example: Suppose Anne creates a family limited partnership to hold $2 million in assets. She then gives her son Roger a 10% interest in the partnership. You might think that this would result in a taxable gift of $200,000. [Read more…]

Two trustees may be better than one

A trustee has two important duties – managing the assets in the trust, and distributing them to the beneficiaries according to the donor’s wishes. But it can be hard to find one person who can do both things well. An aunt or uncle might be the perfect person to know how to distribute assets to family members, but might not have a lot of financial acumen. An investment advisor might be very skilled at growing the assets, but not have a deep understanding of the donor’s values and preferences.

So you might want to have two trustees and divide the duties – put one in charge of investments and another in charge of distributions.

Some 35 states now have “directed trust” laws, which have an added benefit. These laws say that if the investment trustee makes a mistake or does something wrong, the distribution trustee can’t be sued by the beneficiaries. [Read more…]

Asset protection is for everyone

When many people hear the words “asset protection,” they think of billionaires with Swiss bank accounts and offshore tax havens. But in reality, asset protection is for everyone. It’s simply a series of basic techniques you can use to help ensure that the wealth you’ve accumulated stays with you and your heirs, and not someone else.

Hard-earned wealth can quickly disappear as a result of a lawsuit, a business going under, or a similar event. Asset protection techniques exist to protect you from these possibilities. You can also use them to help protect your children or other heirs from the consequences of a divorce, lawsuit, business failure, and so on.

It’s actually more important for people of moderate wealth to engage in asset protection than it is for billionaires. After all, billionaires can afford to lose a lot of money, whereas the rest of us cannot. [Read more…]

Estate; gift before passing away

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