Estate Administration - The 3 Stages

While each estate administration presents different facts - the terms of the Will or Trust, the amount and composition of the assets, each estate in New Jersey goes through the same 3 stages

·         Probate.  The first stage is when the Will is offered for probate at the local Surrogate’s Court.  This is a very simple process in which your executors present the Will, and then they are issued Letters of Testamentary, which will give the Executor(s) the authority to carry out your wishes as set forth in your Will.  This is done by making an appointment with the Morris County Surrogate’s Court (10) ten days after the date of your death.  Alternatively, if the Executor(s) decide to attain an attorney to assist them, the attorney’s office can often have the documents signed at their office. If there is no Will, an Administration is opened where your Administrators are issued Letters of Administration.  Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration give your representative the power over your assets and to settle any liabilities.

·         Gather Assets; Pay Liabilities.  The second stage is gathering together all your assets, determining their value, paying any debts or liabilities (including taxes if any) and filing any necessary tax returns.  Until the tax returns are filed and approved (or a waiver is completed because no taxes are due) New Jersey has a lien on your assets and they cannot be fully distributed. 

·         Closing the Estate.  Once the tax returns are approved, New Jersey will issue a Waiver, which releases its lien on the assets.  The Executor then normally accounts to the beneficiaries what came into the estate, what went out, and what is left to distribute.  This informal accounting is coupled within a “Release and Refunding Bond” where the beneficiaries agree to their distribution, waive any claim to be entitled to more, and release the Executor from liabilities.  The accounting and “Release and Refunding Bonds” will act to close the Estate.  You should anticipate that the entire Estate Administration process will be a 14-24 month process.

The Executor/Administration has many responsibilities beyond these.  We find that since people are generally taking on the job of Executor/Administrator for the first time, it appears overwhelming.  By looking at the job in stages, it becomes more manageable and doable.  Many Executors/Administrators seek professional advice because even if they can consider the job in stages, their lack of experience in that role, and not knowing their responsibilities and questions to ask, potentially opens them up to liability and claims from the beneficiaries or tax authorities. 

This Will Impact Your Wallet - Tax Changes Proposed in Obama 2012 Budget

President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget has the potential to trim the deficit by Four Trillion ($4,000,000,000,000.00) Dollars through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. These proposals will effect all taxpayers, but have particular impact to top earnings, business owners, and those with asset in excess of $5 million.  

President Obama unveiled his fiscal year 2013 budget on February 13, 2012 amidst a cloud of uncertainty relating to Bush era tax cuts and the more immediate the fate of the payroll tax cuts (which news channels advise are to be extended later today). President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposals incorporate initiatives from his “Blueprint for America” as described in his 2012 State of the Union address. While some of the President’s proposals were immediately rejected by the GOP, others could move along quite quickly. The expected extension of the Employee Side Payroll Tax Cut could serve as a vehicle to move some of the proposals, such as an extension to the 100% bonus depreciation.

What you will find striking in the summary outlining the budget proposal is the effect directly on individuals and businesses. The most significant issue are:

  • Reinstatement of the top individual income tax rates at the 36% and 36.9% tax brackets
  • Reinstatement of  the personal exemption phase out/limitation of itemized deductions for taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year for individuals or joint returns with incomes over $250,000
  • Return of a $ 1million lifetime gift tax exemption
  • Capping the federal estate tax and generation skipping tax exemptions at $3.5 million per person (with portability between spouses)

Click here for a complete summary.

 

What's In an Estate Plan - The Wealthy and Wise Episode 2

Check out the second episode of The Wealthy and Wise

In this episode we acknowledge that that estate plans can seem remote, mysterious, complicated and expensive when you don’t know “What makes up an estate plan” and don’t have an overview the information necessary to make informed decisions about your estate.We clear the air on the episode of The Wealthy and Wise as we talk to you about:

What makes up an estate plan?
What happens to your assets if you die without an estate plan?
Determining your net worth from an estate perspective
Sorting out powers of attorney, living wills, health care proxy and advanced directives
Your beneficiaries – who gets your assets, how and when?
Is the government your beneficiary?
How are trusts tools to protect money?
Probate v. Non-Probate assets
And much, much more

The goal of The Wealthy and Wise, as always, is to educate you about how you can take steps in your own life to protect and build your wealth. How’d we do? We’d love your questions and comments, either below or to questions@thewealthyandwise.com. You may find yourself featured in an upcoming episode or podcast!

Transfer Taxes on Sale - Video Overview

First, we're trying something new here and have created a video overview the 2011-2012 Tax Sale on Gift Taxes, Estate Taxes, and Generation Skipping Taxes.  For wealthy individuals this is an unprecedented opportunity to transfer that wealth to other generations at little or no tax costs.  

While our video aims to educate you about why these tax law changes can have a real dollar impact on a family, take a quick look at the tax law changes:

Estate, Gift and Generation Skipping Tax
Transfer Tax 2009 2011-2012 2013+
Estate Tax

* $3.5 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

* $5 Million Exemption

* Max 35% Tax Rate

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

Gift Tax

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

* $5 Million Exemption

* Max 35% Tax Rate

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

GST Tax

* $3.5 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

* $5 Million Exemption

* Max 35% Tax Rate

* $1 Million Exemption

* Max 55% Tax Rate

In short, you can make a tax free gift of 5 times more assets in 2011-2012 than you could in 2009, or will be able to in 2013.  This is truly a limited opportunity for people to cut Uncle Sam out of their estate plan.

Is video a good medium to discuss these topics?  Does the PowerPoint add or take away from the information?  Does video make tax law more accessible?  Feedback is appreciated!

What does the New Tax Law mean for New Jersey?

I wouldn’t have taken bets on it, but Washington has hammered out how our federal tax laws are going to look for the next 2 years. On the plus side, we know what taxes are going to look like in January 2011, which is a far better place to be than Monday of last week. On the downside, this does not represent thoughtful tax reform – instead, it is knee-jerk politicking with the intent to dump the tax issues in the voters' laps at the next election so no politician is "responsible" for having taxes go up.

The cost of this package? $858,000,000,000.00 added to the federal deficit- yeah, that's a big number. Oh, and "added to the federal deficit” really just means that we spent $858,000,000,000.00 that we don't have. What I'd like to see happen in the new year – an actual bi-partisan examination of how tax policy affects the economy, and a roadmap to create a balance between the amount that we are spending, and the amount of revenue being generated.

To get back to the new law, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 ("TRA") extends many tax cuts that were going to expire on December 31, 2010, as well as throws in some new tax laws. Some highlights:

  • The maximum federal income tax rate will remain at 35%. New Jersey income taxes are an additional maximum 8.97%
  • Married couples will continue to benefit from the 200% standard deduction
  • High income taxpayers will not be subject to phase-out of itemized deductions and personal exemptions for high-income taxpayers
  • Most key - "Patch" of alternative minimum tax exemption to keep rate with inflation (this is a law they should really make permanent)
  • Capital gains and dividends will continue to be taxed at 15%. New Jersey income taxes are an additional maximum 8.97%
  • The federal estate tax returns with a portable exemption of $5 million per person and a maximum tax rate of 35% (more to follow). New Jersey’s exemption rate continues to be $675,000 per person and is not portable.
  • The greatest opportunity is created in the increase of the gift tax exemption and generation skipping tax exemption to $5 million per person at a 35% maximum rate. New Jersey does not have a gift tax.
  • Extension of unemployment benefits for 13 months
  • Employees will benefit from a 2% reduction in Social Security withholding
  • Business owners can depreciate 100% of new business assets placed in service before January 1, 2012

My thanks to Sobel & Co for their excellent TRA summary, which I used as a resource.

 

Proposed Estate Tax Legislation Contains some Generous Surprises

The new estate tax legislation proposed by Sen. Reid (D. NV) contains some pleasant surprises for wealthier Individuals.

First, as expected, it proposes to raise the estate tax exemption amount to $5 million per person with a maximum 35% estate tax rate for the next 2 years.

Additionally, the proposed legislation is retroactive to January 1, 2010, so that the estates of people who died in 2010 can select the new 2011 law, or the basis allocation law that has been in place during this year.

Most unexpected,the new law also proposes a 2 -year window where there is a $5 million gift tax exemption per person, with a gift tax rate of 35%. There would similarly be a $5 million Generation Skipping Tax exemption.This could give individuals a huge planning opportunity to transfer assets with great growth or income potential to the next-generation at little or no transfer tax cost.

And now we wait to see what happens next…

What Tax form do I use for Deaths in 2010.

While there is no estate tax in 2010, there is still a tax form to be filed with the federal government in relation to the estates of people who died in 2010.  As discussed in greater detail here, where a person has died in 2010 their executor has an opportunity to allocate $1.3 million to the basis of their assets (plus an additional $3 million for assets passing to a surviving spouse).  The great question is "How?".

We tax attorneys are good at following the often complicated rules the IRS lays out, but here there is a total absence of direction.  The IRS has promised to issue a new Form 8939 to allocate basis as set forth in 1022 of the Code.  However, this is what the website for that form currently says:

Form 8939 in Development
Form 8939, Allocation of Increase in Basis for Property Acquired From a Decedent, is in
development and will be posted here shortly. Disregard all prior drafts.  

Not exactly helpful.  

So what is an Executor or Personal Representative to do to meet their tax filing obligations where a person died in 2010?  Our office is preparing a spreadsheet with all the information required under Section 1022 and having it attached to the decedent's final 1040 being filed April 15, 2011.

 

Estate Tax Update - A Choice of Tax Law to apply for deaths in 2010

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate is sending out legislation to allow estates of people who died in 2010 to choose EITHER the 2010 1022 basis election OR the 2011 estate tax laws, which are currently proposed to be a $5 million exemption per person and 35% estate tax.

Legislation taking shape in the U.S. Senate to extend expiring tax cuts would give heirs of wealthy people who died this year a choice of which estate-tax policy to apply, according to an aide close to the discussions.

Estate executors could choose to apply the rules in place this year, in which there is no federal estate tax, or the rules that would take effect next year imposing a 35% tax rate on estate wealth over $5 million.

The ability to elect either 2010 or 2011 rules would help certain heirs of those who died this year. Even though there is no estate tax, some assets inherited in 2010 face capital gains or other taxes because of a change in the way the value of those assets is calculated.

This would be a whole new issue for estates of people who died in 2010, creating both opportunities to save tax, and potential pitfalls if timely elections and filings are made (and of course, no word on what would be timely).

 

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Estate Tax, AMT, etc - Has Washington forgetten about the Other Taxes

So Dem and GOP appear to all agree to extend this years income tax rates to next year - avoiding a jump in income and capital gains taxes when the ball falls on New Years Eve.  This has been greeted with great fanfare in the press and an apparent sigh of relief and an attitude of  "well, that's done now, on with Holiday shopping!". Whoa there - wait a minute - y'all ain't done yet.

Yes - the income tax effects everyone who earns or invests money, so agreement on that is the biggie.  But there are lots of other tax issues that need to be addressed before year end.

The AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) is a second way to calculate taxes.  If you fall into the AMT, you pay the higher of the normal tax calculation or the AMT.  The AMT was designed to more effectively tax income of very high earners back in the days of tax shelters,etc. The problem is that the level at which a person "qualifies" for the AMT is not indexed for inflation - so each year more and more families fall into the AMT not because they necessarily earned more, but because their earnings increased by a natural costs of living amount and the AMT did not.  The result?  Each year in December Congress traditionally passes an AMT "patch" which effectively adjusts the AMT limit for inflation (why they don't just pass the law one time to index for inflation automatically each year I don't know - maybe so lawmakers can create press being seen as Robin Hood each year "we staved off the AMT for another year - Merry Christmas").

Even the IRS has implored Congress to patch the AMT.  According to Reuters "The U.S. tax chief told lawmakers on Wednesday the Internal Revenue Service needs clarity on the fate of the alternative minimum tax, which could ensnare 21 million unintended taxpayers if a law is not amended before year-end."  In fact, the IRS computers are already programmed as if the AMT was patched - if its not, they need to reprogram all their computers, which could delay refund processing as people being to file their 2010 income tax returns.

The Estate Tax is coming back to life next year too - anyone want to talk about that? Just like the income taxes were scheduled to rise, the estate tax is scheduled to come back at a $1million exemption per person next year.  Congress keeps talking about increasing the exemption to $3.5 million, but nothing concrete so far.  People want to be able to plan their estates, and this complete uncertainty of what to do next is paralyzing.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forget the Estate Tax - What about the Medicaid Death Tax

The estate tax, even at a $1 million exemption amount, applies to only 2% of Americans at death.  Medicaid estate recovery can apply to anyone over the age of 55.  Jeffrey A. Marshall, CELA* at Marshall Elder & Estate Planning Blog has a great post today "Medicaid Estate Recovery - A Medicaid Death Tax" asking why there is so much noise and media coverage about the estate tax when Medicaid estate recovery rules essentially act as a death tax on the poorest of seniors.

His central arguments:

  • Medicaid, not Medicare, is the biggest government source of payment for long term care.
  • In a curious exercise of age discrimination, the [estate]  recovery program only applies to people who are over age 55.
  • Because most assets must be spent before a senior becomes eligible for Medicaid, recovery efforts focus on real estate – mainly the home or family farm.
  • In some cases, the fear of losing their home or farm to estate recovery deters seniors from getting the care they may desperately need.

Jeff also gives a great example of how Medicaid estate recovery works.

What really struck me is that I had never really considered before is that estate recovery doesn't apply to everyone - just recipients over 55.  While the state certainly needs to balance the care it offers with payment for that care, why is it only that seniors have to give up their homes to get the care they need?

 Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Death,Taxes and the NFL - Does Your Business have a Plan for the Final Exit from the Field?

If you or your family owns a business, you've heard from many advisors "You need to have an exit strategy".  Now, this normally refers to cashing out of your business by selling to an employee, bringing on a family member, merging with another company, or selling out of the business. But what if the exit strategy you need to be creating is to plan for when you leave this earth altogether?  As Julie Garber points out today at Julie's Will & Estate Planning Blog, taxes at the death of the owner can kill a business; but with advanced planning, this does not need to be the situation.

Case in point, Julie refers to a story that at least "one NFL franchise is going to be shopped around beginning this month because the owner is working on his estate plan and is looking to sell a 30% interest in the team."  This makes sense.  Sports franchises are worth millions, and sometime billions (Forbes.com lists all NFL franchises by value here - the Cowboys top the ranks at 1.8 Billion, the Giants are 4th at $1.2 billion, and the Eagles are 7th at $1.1 billion - a value that certainly did not show up on the field at their home opener on Sunday). 

Why look to plan now?  Well, with the estate tax scheduled to return next year with a top tax rate of 55%, a failure to plan could result in that NFL franchise needing to be sold to raise money for taxes.  While this is a failure to plan scenario, but that isn't going to mollify the fans who already need to pay $160 a ticket if you are a Cowboys fan to see your team (thus demonstrating the incomprehensibleness of being a Cowboys fan in the first place to those of us in the northeast).

Your business may not be on quite the scale as an NFL franchise (the Jaguars as the least valuable franchise in the NFL still comes in at a healthy $725 million) but a failure to plan an exit strategy that includes an analysis of how estate taxes might effect your business could put your business out of the game for good.

America's Billionaires are Giving it Away

 2010 is the year of no estate tax.  It only goes to follow that the wealthiest of all Americans are rejoicing that they need not share their wealth with others, and can go back to counting their coins without worry about the government asking for their share, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that "34 Billionaires Are Giving Half of Their Fortunes Away" according to Time Newsfeed.


A a few week ago Bill Gates and Warren Buffet announced that they were going to solicit the very exclusive club they belong to, America's Billionaires, to donate at least 50% of their fortunes to charitable causes during their lives or after their deaths through The Giving Pledge.  The Giving Pledge is described as an effort to "invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of thier wealth to philanthropy."  You can even view pledges to see who has made the pledge so far.  Some names you will recognize

  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Warren Buffet (who is leaving 99% of his wealth to charities)
  • Dian Von Fursetnberg
  • Bill and Melinda Gate
  • Barron Hilton
  • George Lucas
  • Ted Turner

You can even see what has motivated these people who have been blessed with success to give back.. George Lucas' passion is educational innovations.  Michael Bloomberg believes that "by giving, we inspire others to give of themselves, their money or their time."

Within the estate tax code has always been the concept that you can give it in taxes, or give it to charity.  Charitable gifts are not subject to tax.  The acts of these individuals inspires me to think "Why don't more people take charge of where their money is going on death and instead of leave it grumbling to the government, leave it to cause you believe in?."   Think of all the change if The Giving Pledge was not limited to only America's billionaires?  The Giving Pledge has inspired me to have more through discussions with my clients about trading tax dollars for philanthropy.

 

 

Opposing Views on the Estate Tax / Death Tax

USA Today has two stories running today - one Our view on death and taxes: Loopy estate tax policy highlights D.C. dysfunction, and the other Opposing view on death and taxes: End the 'death tax'.  Both totally miss the point that there is a tax as a result of death no matter which way you lean - an estate tax would be assessed immediately, or there will be capital gains taxes to pay for decades to come.

In the first article, they quote a US Senator: "Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., bluntly put it, [George] Steinbrenner "was smart enough to die in 2010."  Really?   Smart enough to die this year?  I am sure Mr. Steinbrenner's family and friends appreciate your comments on their loss.  USA Today then describes why there is no estate tax in 2010, including the recent political battles, and supports an estate tax by saying:

It makes sense to tax inherited wealth, derived simply by having the right parents, at a higher rate than money acquired through hard work or investment. Advocates of repeal rarely say where else they'd get the money to make up the lost revenue, because the inevitable answer is it would come from taxpayers of lesser means.

Ahh, the famous "he who has more must share" argument.

On the flip side, in the second article Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, takes the position "[t]ime to end the death tax permanently.":

For anyone to reach his hand into a deceased person's pocket and steal is despicable. But, when someone dies and the government steals from the deceased, our laws legalize the theft.

He goes on to tell the story of the family farm that had to be sold to pay taxes.  

Ahh, the famous "how dare they" argument.

How how about a few actual facts to consider.

  • The estate tax impacts around 2% or less of the entire US population (for in depth factual information about who pays the estate tax and how generated look at  the Tax Policy Center "Tax Policy Briefing Book" chapter on Wealth Transfer Taxes).  So for the other 98% of US taxpayers, consider the estate tax  a source of revenue to the federal government that you don't actually have to contribute to. 
  • In 2009, an estimated less than 100 estates with family farms and small businesses were subject to tax - just 1.9% of all taxable estates.  There are current laws to defer taxation of farms and better ones have been proposed (see Family Farms to be Exempted from Estate Tax?)
  • Estate taxes were estimate to generate $13.8 billion in 2009.  The federal government spends $x each year - if estate taxes don't generate part of the income, other taxes will.
  • For more facts, look at Truths about the Estate Tax - Debunking the Popular Myths

And the most important, and most glaringly overlooked fact of all in BOTH USA Today articles - if there is no estate tax there is STILL a tax on inherited wealth.  That tax is the capital gains tax. Let's thing - if there is no estate tax all that appreciation on assets that has disappeared for 98% US taxpayers on a person's death will now potentially be subject to tax on the sale of assets.  An while an estate tax may seem harsh in light of the death of a loved one, consider the nightmare of finding proof of cost basis for assets purchased decades earlier.  For more information about the real realities of no federal estate tax, look at Federal Estate Tax "Death" in 2010 Creates Capital Gains Trap.

A thought - let's abandon rhetoric and look at creating good tax policy.

State Death Tax Chart

In doing some client research I came across a great resource "State Death Tax Chart" published by the law firm McGuire Woods.  State death tax can be relevant no matter where you live, because it could apply to:

  • Real estate you own in another state
  • The consequences for beneficiaries who reside in another state
  • Where you may want to consider relocating your residence to
  • Questions about a parents estate who lives somewhere else in the country

The chart is updated through March 2010.

Disclaimers - Saying "No" to Your Inheritance

The New York Times ran an article this week "Saying ‘No Thanks’ to a Bequest".  In the article, Deborah L. Jacobs explores how a disclaimer provision either included in an estate plan, or created after death, can achieve some estate tax savings in this environment of uncertainty about the federal estate tax this year or next.

In an estate plan a "Disclaimer" is when a beneficiary says "No, I don't want that part of my inheritance."  Now, why would a person not want an inheritance?  Well, for a spouse, a disclaimer is used more accurately to say "I don't want to take my inheritance outright, and therefore it should pass to a trust where I am a beneficiary." This trust could capture the exemption amount from federal estate taxes if and when the federal estate tax comes back.  A disclaimer creates flexibility in a period of uncertainty as the spouse doesn't have to decide now if it makes sense to fund the trust, they can wait and see what the tax laws are at the time the first spouse dies.

The article outlines how a disclaimer works, the benefits of disclaimers (flexibility being key) and some of the drawbacks (what if the spouse doesn't disclaim, or accepts the assets so they can't disclaim).  However, I think the article misses one key point about how using disclaimers to create trust can create inflexibility.  If a person sets up a trust in their Will and directs that it be funded (i.e.: put $1 million is this trust) instead of allowing it to be funded through a disclaimer (i.e.: I spouse disclaim $1 million which will now pass to a trust), then the trust can give a person a "Power of Appointment" over the trust.  

A "Power of Appointment" essentially allows a person to change who gets the trust funds and how after the death of the decedent.  This is incredibly powerful in using a trust.  A trust will last for years or decades after your death.  Unless you have a crystal ball, you don't know what will happen to your beneficiaries, or what the tax laws will be in the future.  By setting up a trust for your spouse and children, and giving your spouse a Power of Appointment, your spouse has the ability to change how your children eventually get your assets after your spouses' death.  For example, if a child has a health issue, your spouse can change the trust to leave more to that child, or to leave it to the child in trust instead of outright.  Without the Power of Appointment the child might get money that would negate other benefits he was receiving.

So how to balance the flexibility of a disclaimer with the flexibility of a Power of Appointment? In New Jersey, where we have a state level estate tax of $675,000, we recommend a "3-Part Will".

  • Part 1 - An amount equal to $675,000 goes to a family trust with a power of appointment in favor of the surviving spouse
  • Part 2 - An amount equal to the difference between (1) the federal estate tax exemption amount (if any) and $675,000 go to the spouse - the spouse can disclaim this amount to a family trust if it makes sense from an estate tax perspective
  • Part 3 - The balance to the spouse  

 

Life Estates - Estate Tax and Inheritance Tax Consequences

Life estates are commonly used in elder law asset protection planning.  Mom owns a house worth $400,000.  She gives the house to her children(a "remainder interest"), and keeps the right to live in the house during her lifetime (a "life estate interest").  The gift of the remainder interest is "transfer" for Medicaid purposes, and starts the clock on the 5 year lookback period.  

The gift of the house subject to a life estate is a popular asset protection planning technique because it is easy to understand and less invasive to lifestyle than other transfer techniques. Making a gift of a remainder interest simply involves the attorney preparing a deed and associated real estate transfer documents.  There are no realty transfer tax consequences - realty transfer tax is not assessed in New Jersey for transfers without consideration (i.e.: a gift). Also, using a life estate technique not much changes from a practical perspective as the life estate holder (ie: Mom) continues to be responsible for all property taxes, maintenance and upkeep - and is still entitled to the Senior property tax rebate.  Perhaps most importantly, you don't spend your house, so it is emotionally easier to give away an interest in a house than to give away cash dollars that you may still want to spend.  For those who think they are at least 5 years away from a nursing home, a transfer of a house subject to a life estate can be a home run as the house tends to be the most valuable single asset.

But what happens from a tax perspective when the owner dies? (Assuming the death is not in 2010 when we have no federal estate tax - see my prior post on estate tax implications for deaths in 2010)

If you give away an asset and keep a life estate in that asset, the life estate acts like a "string" that pulls 100% of the value of the asset into your taxable estate.  From an estate tax perspective, this mean that (1) 100% of the value of the house is included in decedents taxable estate, and (2) the cost basis of the house is "stepped-up" to the value of the house on date of death (IRC 2036).  So, if Mom bought the house for $40,000 and it is now worth $440,000, Mom's estate includes the house valued at $440,000, and kids get the house with a $440,000 basis.  When they sell the house for $450,000 down the road, then they only have $10,000 of capital gain.  The $400,000 of appreciation that occurred during Mom's lifetime essentially disappears (you potentially pay estate tax instead).  If the total estate is less than $675,000 (New Jersey) or $1,000,000 (federal starting in 2011 - unless congress changes it), then there will be no estate tax due.  If there is a New Jersey estate tax, the rate ranges up to 16% on amounts over $675,000 - this is far less than the capital gains tax (15% federal plus 7.5% NJ) on $400,000 if Mom simply gave the house to the kids without keeping the life estate.  

In New Jersey we also need to contend with the Inheritance Tax if the remainder beneficiaries are not children - for example, Aunt gives her house to her nieces and nephews and retains a life estate.  The Inheritance Tax is a separate tax from the estate tax that is assessed against a beneficiary based on their relationship to the decedents - transfers to spouses and children are exempt, transfers to other family members are not.  For example, when Aunt dies, the life estate acts to make 100% of the value of the house subject to inheritance tax (NJAC 18:26-5 et seq).  So, nieces and nephews get the house, but they need pay an inheritance tax at the rate of 15%-16% with no exemption.  The inheritance tax is a credit to the estate tax, so you don't end up paying both taxes if the estate is subject to estate tax and the beneficiaries are not children or spouses.

The benefits of making  a transfer of a house subject to a life estate can significantly outweigh any estate tax or inheritance consequences in many situations.  The key is to get advise for YOUR situation to see if transfer of a house subject to a lift estate make sense to protect your assets from a Medicaid spend-down.

Heckerling Institute - An Estate Planners Dream Week

Depending on your passion, March Madness, Fashion Week or the Indianapolis 500 could be what you look forward to immersing yourself in every year. For estate planners, we look forward to the annual Heckerling Institute sponsored by the University of Miami School of Law.  For one week each January it is chance to go back to the classroom, and immerse yourself in what is working, what is not, a what is on the horizon for estate planning and tax law.

So next week I will be in Orlando as a student to refresh my knowledge, renew the creativity bank and reconnect with the theoretical of the law as opposed the practical day to day.  I will be tweeting updates to #heckerling and posting my thoughts about new and old techniques in the weeks to come.

This is a great opportunity to pick others minds, so comments about what you would like to know would be welcome.  I am sure lots of commentary will focus on what to do in our 365 days of estate tax repeal.

No Estate Tax in 2010 - What Opportunities Might there be?

 My two prior posts have been about the  federal tax impact for single individuals who die in 2010, and the federal tax impact for married individuals.  In summary the results for singles were not good, and for marrieds were worse – the "death" of the estate tax creates a capital gains "trap" for survivors.  While all this will be moot if Congress does as they have promised and create an estate tax retroactive to January 1, 2010, they haven’t acted yet, and as of January 1, this is the law.

What planning can be done in this environment?

Can you just say “whoo-hoo”; I’ll give everything to my children.  Hold on there – the federal estate tax is repealed in 2010, not the federal gift tax.  Each person still has a lifetime exemption of $1,000,000 – if you make gifts in excess of that in 2010, you will be subject to the federal gift tax at a rate of 35%.

However, the generation skipping tax (“GST tax”) is repealed in 2010.  The GST Tax essentially says that you can only leave up to $3.5 million to grandchildren without paying a separate tax of 55%.  The theory behind the GST Tax is that the government should share in the wealth at each generation.  If grandma leaves everything to granddaughter, the IRS might need to wait 75 years until tax can be collected again.  If assets go the children, the IRS might only have to wait 30 years to tax again.  So, in 2009 you could leave up to $3.5 million to grandchildren without GST tax. In 2010, you can leave everything to grandchildren without an additional tax.  For wealthy families, this could mean a huge amount passing to lineal descendants with the only tax cost(s) being capital gains (click here for an explanation of the 2010 capital gains tax trap for estates).

The estate plan you had in 2009 and will need again in 2011 won’t really make sense in 2010 unless they make the estate tax retroactive.  Do you need to go out and totally revise your plan? Not necessarily.  If you have a terminal situation however, it definitely bears looking at your current plan to make sure it addresses how to plan to minimize capital gains taxes instead of estate taxes.

Gifts to grandchildren may be a winning strategy in early 2010.  Also, for anyone who is terminally ill, a change of an estate plan to leave assets to grandchildren may be a winner as well (although if the estate plan isn’t changed, disclaimers may be able to be employed by the children to a similar effect).  And it will bear looking at the estate plan of anyone who is terminally ill.

 

Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Estate Tax - Repeal and Retroactive Reinstatement Now Seem Likely

 I had previously reported that a one-year extension of the federal estate tax seemed likely in an end of year defense spending bill.  Now, Hani Sarji reports that it is likely Congress won't act this year, but will act next year and reinstate the estate tax to January 1, 2010 in some form.

In Estate Tax Fix Fails, Repeal Likely - US Lawmaker (Dow Jones Newswires, 12/15/09), Martin Vaughan reported the following:

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D., N.D.), said plans to include a temporary estate tax extension in end-of-year defense spending legislation have been dropped because of Senate opposition.

As a result, he told Dow Jones Newswires, the estate tax will be repealed on Jan. 1 as foreseen by current law, and replaced with an onerous capital gains tax that heirs would have to pay when they sold any inherited assets. . . .

It is regrettable that we're going to have this disruptive period without a permanent resolution," Pomeroy said.

But he said "the prospects are 100%" that Congress will come back next year and reinstate the tax, and make it retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010.

My issue with repeal and retroactive reinstatement is what happens to the person who dies before the reinstated law is passed?  From a planning perspective, I know Congress won't leave well enough alone, and the reinstated law will not be identical to the current law, which means that for the person who dies during the gap time will have lost an opportunity to fully plan their estate.  See a prior post on my other thoughts on retroactive estate tax reinstatement.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Estate Tax Update - One Year Extension Seems Likely

Even though the House passed a measure for a permanent extension of the estate tax at a $3.5 million dollar exemption per person, sources are reporting that the Senate is looking to push through a one-year extension by year end.  This would mean that the estate tax exemption would be $3.5 million per person in 2010, but still come back at a $1 million exemption in 2011.

Elder Law Answers reports that "Congressional watchers are coalescing around the prediction that the Senate will likely pass a one-year extension of the estate tax before year's end -- probably as part of a defense spending bill."  It cites in in-depth discussion at OMB Watch why the Senate won't likely move for a permanent resolution in the way of the House.  OMB Watch notes "The other option is for the Democratic leadership to tack a one-year estate tax extension onto a likely omnibus appropriations bill that insiders say Congress will pass before the end of 2009."

CNN Money concurs with the one year extension, advising "The Senate is likely to rally around a short-term fix and pass a one-year extension of the tax at 2009 levels by Dec. 31."  Hani Sarji at his blog reports that the House is now even expecting a one year patch, their recent legislation notwithstanding "'According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, estate state tax fix may be temporary and may be attached to defense spending bill".

Why all this pressure?  Well, besides the financial incentive in certain circles for mom and dad not to survive 2010 intact, a permanent change to a $3.5 million exemption would actually add to the deficit.  CNN Money clarifies this point:

The House bill would increase the deficit by $234 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. That's because even though current law would repeal the tax for one year, it reinstates it by 2011 at an exemption level of just $1 million, which would mean an increasing number of estates would be subject to the tax as years went by."

 $234,000,000,000.00 - That is a lot of zeros to be giving up at a time the government is broke.  So expect a push for the real question of estate tax reform, not a patch, into 2010.

 Photo courtesy Francesco Mariano

Estate Tax Being Pushed Back

After a flurry of reports that Congress was going to address the estate tax this week, Derek Jenson posts this week that it is being postponed until at least after Thanksgiving.  Derek comments that this makes the one year extension of the current federal estate tax law (a $3.5 million exemption per person with a 45% rate) virtually a lock - because what else do they have time to do at this point?

Interestingly, Derek comments on how this "band aid" is only going to create more of an issue for congress.  

The 2010 extension is easy. It is a tax increase. What is difficult is raising the exemption and lower the rates for 2011. That will be a tax cut. [snip] It is not difficult to image that a year from now we will still not have a permanent estate tax bill and will be facing another one year extension or a return to the $1.0 million exemption."

Recall that under the current law, while there is no estate tax in 2010, the estate tax returns in 2011 with a $1 million exemption and 55% top rate - so the trade off for one year of no estate tax is potentially agreeing to keep the current level of $3.5 million exemption and 45% permanently (not that anything is ever truly permanent with tax and congress).  

According to the Congressional Quarterly, the cost of keeping the current rates over the next 10 years versus allow the estate tax to go away for 1 year and then come back in at lower levels (ie, if Congress does nothing) is a staggering $233.6 billion over 10 years.  We we are looking at extreme health care costs on top of an already bloated budget - perhaps a do nothing approach may net Congress more dollars in the end.

Obama Needs to Turn to Taxes

Tax Forms for ConcernIn reviewing the Obama administration's first 200 days, CNN Money correctly predicts that the next 200 days will bring and shift to taxes.  Regardless of where we end up on health care, where is all the money going to come from for all the hundreds of billions ($X00,000,000.00's) that have already been spent?
 

Some thoughts:

  • New Health Care cost related taxes will be in the works - somebody will need to pay.  Could be reduction in itemized deductions for certain income earners, surcharge to income earners, additional taxes to insurers, or reduction of the tax free nature of employer provided benefits.
  • Extend the estate tax for at least one year at the current levels of $3.5 million exemption per person and 45% maximum bracket.  They won't let the estate tax expire in 2010.  The question is if they will push one year, or just make it permanent at existing levels to not have to address again in 2010.
  • Closing "Corporate Tax Loopholes" - This may be combined with a rate reduction.  The thought is the certain provisions make it less expensive to operate offshore.  The goal would be to make it more expensive to operate offshore, but create an incentive to operate, and thereby employ in the US, so the tax revenue effect may be flat.