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Potential Decrease in Federal Gift and Estate Tax Exemption, Did it Pass and Does it Impact You?

A hot topic among our clients is the proposed amendment to the Federal Lifetime Gift & Estate Tax Exclusion and how it may affect their current estate plan.  At this point Congress did not pass the proposed amendment to the law that was to go into effect January 1, 2022.  And there does not seem to be a lot of talk of bringing this to the forefront again for a vote anytime soon.  

The current law doesn’t reduce the exemption until January 1, 2026, when it would revert to $5 million.  The exemption is a lifetime exemption per person and applies to gifts you make during your life or distributions to your beneficiaries after your death.  Any amounts gifted or passed through your estate in excess of the deduction amount will be subject to either federal gift tax or federal estate tax.  

This change will only impact you if your net worth is in excess of $5 million (adjusted for inflation).  If you are like many people, me included, who can only dream of having $5 million dollars of assets in your lifetime then the reduction of the exemption on January 1, 2026, or before, will have no effect on you or your planning.  However, if you do have significant assets you may want to consult a qualified estate planning attorney to determine if you can make additional gifts before the law rolls the exemption amount back to $5 million in approximately 4 years.  The attorney will also be able to advise you if establishing and funding a grantor trust prior to the exemption being reduced would benefit you and help to reduce any federal gift or estate taxes.  Please keep in mind that this law and any changes applies to federal gift and estate taxes and has no effect on the assets or value of the assets subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax.  Inheritance tax in Pennsylvania is separate and apart from any federal laws and currently inheritance tax is assessed on almost every asset you own with the exception of life insurance.  

For questions on if the proposed changes in the federal gift and estate tax laws in early 2026 will negatively impact you or your estate planning or questions on Pennsylvania inheritance tax, please consult a qualified estate planning attorney for a review of your estate plan.  We would be happy to schedule a time to speak with you regarding your individual situation.  

Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or comments at 717-845-5390.

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Simple Estate Planning Tools

Old couple with computerWhen we look at the steps taken in our investing lives, the basics are simple. As working investors in the initial stages, the priority is accumulation and growth. Therefore, we participate in retirement plans such as IRA’s, 401-k plans, etc.

As Marco Eagle’s article, “Money Talks: Estate planning tools” explains, the next phase is the retirement stage, when the focus shifts from accumulation to preservation and maintenance of the nest egg.

Growth is a component of any retirement plan, but protecting your purchasing power during retirement is critical. You also want to generate a predictable stream of income during retirement, in order to avoid compromising your lifestyle.

The final stage of successful retirement planning is often overlooked: that’s the estate planning phase or the strategy of a succession plan to pass assets to your family. There are many estate planning tools that can be used to execute an estate plan. You can create a personal trust. Under this arrangement, your assets are transferred into a trust during your lifetime and then transferred by the trust at death. It’s important from both a tax standpoint and an allocation standpoint, regarding who receives what and how much. This is what your estate plan does for you and your family.

Work with an experienced estate and trusts attorney to establish your estate plan, so you can achieve your final objectives when passing assets to the next generation. Some individuals like the ability to exercise control with an effective plan to pass assets to their beneficiaries, without the need of trusts or probate.

There are many types of insured annuity strategies that will pass assets immediately to the beneficiaries, without the need of probate. Avoiding probate is frequently part of a strategy to make the assets available, immediately after the death certificate is issued.

Some see the foundation of their estate planning as the incorporation of life insurance. This lets the beneficiaries inherit assets, generally tax free. Avoiding a taxable event upon death is also appealing, based on both taxes as well as overall portfolio values. Talk to a professional about your situation.

Reference: Marco Eagle (June 11, 2017) “Money Talks: Estate planning tools”

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What… My Taxes are Going Down? What Gives?

Happy-old-coupleThere could be more reductions in the offing, as lawmakers in Minnesota recently raised the state's estate tax exemption to $2.1 million retroactive to January. That exemption will rise to $2.4 million next year. Similarly, Maryland is going to increase its $3 million exemption to $4 million in 2018. New Jersey's exemption of $675,000 per person increased to $2 million per person this past January.

In addition, Fox Business’s article, “Why More States Are Killing Death Taxes” reports that the Garden State will also totally eliminate its estate tax, making New Jersey one of about six others that have ended their estate taxes in the last ten years.

The tax-cutting trend stems from an intense competition between the states for affluent and wealthy taxpayers. Residents owe income taxes every year. However, there are those who are willing to move out-of-state to avoid death taxes. In addition, with the federal estate and gift tax exemption increasing to more than $5 million, states with death taxes really stick out.

There are two holdouts, Massachusetts and Oregon. These two are the only states with estate tax exemptions of $1 million or lower, compared to nine in 2009. The tax in both states will increase annually because neither adjusts for inflation. Some Massachusetts lawmakers are concerned about losing residents to other states because of its estate tax, a $400 million revenue generator last year. Massachusetts is looking at upping the exemption to half the federal level and maybe excluding the value of a residence.

It’s a different story in Oregon where efforts to raise the exemption have met with resistance in the legislature. The estate tax revenue of $200 million for the two-year cycle ending June 30 is 50% higher than forecast, which has been helped by strong housing and financial markets. Nevertheless, few people are expected to leave Oregon to avoid its estate tax.

In another six states, it’s the inheritance tax that is creating pressure on the government. An inheritance tax is payable by the person who inherits assets, not the estate of the person who died. Inheritance tax rates and exemptions often vary, according to the heir's relation to the decedent. For instance, in Nebraska, there’s no tax on assets left to a spouse, a top rate of 1% on assets passed to lineal relatives or siblings and a top rate of 18% on assets left to non-relatives.

There are two states, New Jersey and Maryland that have both an estate and an inheritance tax. They’ve both trimmed their estate tax, but neither state has modified its inheritance tax. On the bright side, Maryland has large exemptions to its inheritance tax.

Reference: Fox Business (June 16, 2017) “Why More States Are Killing Death Taxes”

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What is fair for a Family with a Child with Special Needs

Teacher with preschoolerAs parents, it’s hard to treat all children fairly, despite their different personalities and capabilities. Most try to ensure that one child never feels less loved than another. Some will carry that over into their estate planning. However, there are times when inequity may be a better choice. A recent Tickertape article is appropriately titled “Estate Planning for Special Needs Children: Trying to Be Even-Steven?” The article says that one instance when fair is not always equal, is when you’re planning the future for a special needs child after you die.

Children with special needs are typically eligible for state and federal benefits to provide them with assistance for their long-term support. Among the most common are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. In many states, SSI may qualify children for Medicaid, or Medicaid comes automatically with SSI. These are need-based benefits that are means-tested. SSI recipients have a strict assets threshold of $2,000 for an individual. If a special needs child gets an inheritance, it might push him or her, above that ceiling.  This could result in ineligibility for the program benefits that might be used to cover medical, therapeutic, or housing needs.

When money is paid directly to the child as beneficiary, it can cut SSI benefits. The same is true, if the special-needs heir disclaims the inheritance.

Government benefits may be retained, if an inheritance is set up in a Special Needs Trust (SNT), which is designed to help a beneficiary with special needs and preserve government aid while protecting assets. The trust allocates inheritance assets to the child with special needs, but it’s via a third-party.

However, there might be tax implications. While the inheritance itself isn’t taxed, the income that it generates in a special trust is typically taxable at trust tax levels. Creating an SNT can be complicated, and the rules can vary from state to state. Speak to a qualified trust attorney to be sure that all income is reported properly and there are no deductions left on the table.

Treating children equally when one has special needs, may result in creating an inequality. Because of the government program eligibility requirements, you must consider the net tax implications when dividing your estate. Be straightforward with your children as to your intentions, especially if one child will be needing long-term care. Knowing the plans will help everyone prepare for the future.

Reference: Tickertape (June 14, 2017) “Estate Planning for Special Needs Children: Trying to Be Even-Steven?”

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Widows and Widowers Get Break with New Tax Ruling

Woman looking out windowForbes’ recent article, IRS Offers Estate Tax Relief To Widows And Widowers,” advises that some quick action may be needed to take advantage of the relief from the deceased spousal unused exclusion amount (DSUE).

DSUE comes from a simplification of the estate tax in 2010 and the two most important provisions of the estate tax for many “moderate” millionaires: (i) the unified credit, which protects $5.49 million from estate tax in 2017; and (ii) the unlimited marital deduction. The unlimited marital deduction allows any amount left to the surviving spouse to be free of estate tax, if chosen.

A big concern of basic estate planning in the past was to make sure that a couple did not waste one of their unified credits. The DSUE saves people from creating trusts to work around losing the unified credits.

The relief offered by Revenue Procedure 2017-34 is available for the estates of decedents who died after December 31, 2010, in instances where no estate tax return was required and none was filed.

The executor can take advantage of the relief by filing an estate tax return with the election and making a reference to the revenue procedure at the top of the first page of the return. It’s available until January 2, 2018. After that, the procedure is available up to two years after the date of death.

This issue should be considered by moderate millionaires (those with a few million dollars), if they’re surviving spouses of people who died after 2010, where no estate tax return was filed. Look at the administrative headache of accomplishing the filing versus the chance that you might die with a net worth over the exclusion amount.  It is important to remember: it’s not your current net worth, but rather what your date of death net worth might be.

Speak with an estate planning attorney, if you believe that this is something you should do. Avoid the estate tax preparation rush in December.

Reference: Forbes (June 12, 2017) “IRS Offers Estate Tax Relief To Widows And Widowers”

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