Opportunities to Take Advantage of Before Its Too Late

Tax laws are changing at the end of this year.  Take advantage of these opportunities before it’s too late.

Estate Tax Savings’ Techniques:

Gifting:  Use your $5,120,000 gift tax exemption.  Next year, the exemption is scheduled to be reduced to $1,000,000.  If you don’t use the exemption, you could lose it, and there is little downside as long as you don’t need the assets for future sustenance.

Spousal Access Trusts: Create spousal access trusts to use all or a portion of your gift tax exemption.  Your gift tax exemption can be used in a way that still allows you to provide for your spouse.

Valuation Discounts: Utilize valuation discounts for lack of marketability and lack of control. Gift hard to value or fractional interests in property.  By doing so, you can leverage your $5.12 million dollar exemption to remove even more property from your estate.  These valuation discounts for family owned assets and businesses are under scrutiny by the IRS and Congress.  If you wait too long, the law might change and you may lose the opportunity to leave more to your children and grandchildren.

Intra-Family Loans: Make intra-family loans. Interest rates are at all time lows.  By loaning money to trusts for the benefit of your children and grandchildren, you can remove virtually all of the appreciation on the loaned funds from your taxable estate, while knowing the principal is still there and can be paid back should you end up needing it.

Income Tax Savings’ Strategies:

Make Distributions: Make dividend payments from C corporations to take advantage of the current 15% tax rate. Next year, the rate is scheduled to go back up to ordinary income tax rates, and the new Healthcare Surtax could apply in certain circumstances making the highest effective tax rate on dividends 43.4%. That is almost a 200% increase in the tax rate on dividends.

Harvest Capital Gains: Sell appreciated assets now rather than next year.  The current capital gains rate of 15% is scheduled to rise to 20% next year and with the Healthcare Surtax, the highest effective tax rate on capital gains will be 23.8% in 2013.  That’s almost a 60% increase in the tax rate.

Charitable Deductions: Contribute to charities now, when the benefit is 35 cents on the dollar. Proposed legislation will reduce the deduction to 28 cents on the dollar next year.  Consider donor advised funds and private foundations that will allow you to have some control after the gift is made.

Fund 529 Plans: 529 plans are a great way to save for college.  Growth is tax free, and distributions are tax free if used to pay for qualified tuition and living expenses.  You can use up to 5 years worth of annual exclusion gifts in one year – that’s $65,000 per child in one year ($130,000 from a married couple), without using any of your lifetime gift exemption.  Act now because Congress may act to curb, reduce, or make the requirements more restrictive.

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Irrevocable Trusts

Irrevocable trusts are important and useful tools for estate planning.  An irrevocable trust is a financial arrangement in which the grantor relinquishes ownership and control of some property, assets or other funds and transfers them to the trust. An irrevocable trust cannot be revoked, modified, or terminated by the grantor once created; and, once transferred into the trust, the grantor surrenders rights to those funds or assets.  These transfers to the trusts are considered gifts.

Irrevocable trusts offer many tax advantages. An irrevocable trust permits the grantor to donate assets and other property to be held by the trust for the benefit of named beneficiaries.  The transfers can be made during the grantor’s life in order to take advantage of gift tax benefits, and such transfers can be structured so that they are income tax advantageous as well.  The beneficiaries are entitled to the trust property when and if needed, and the grantor can govern how and when any distributions are made when creating the trust agreement. The trust is a separate entity which may produce income based on the assets it holds.  Depending on the type of trust, it may be considered a separate taxpayer and may owe taxes on any accumulated income or holdings. An irrevocable trust generally receives a deduction from income that is regularly disbursed to the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries will then be responsible for the income taxes related to that income.

Two of the most common irrevocable trusts are 1) those designed to hold life insurance policies outside of an individual’s estate (often referred to as an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, or ILIT) and 2) those designed to remove property from an individual’s estate for later distribution to a charity (often referred to as a CRT, CRAT or CRUT).

1)              Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT):  Here a donor transfers existing life insurance policies, subject to a 3-year transfer rule, or authorizes the trustee to purchase life insurance and hold it in the name of the trust (or trustee).  By having the trust own the insurance policy, the policy amount will not be included in the grantor’s taxable estate upon his or her death.  If designed properly, this type of irrevocable trust may also be used to hold other assets.  Donations made to the trust can be withdrawn by the beneficiaries, subject to the annual exclusion, and the donations, if rejected, can be used to pay the insurance premiums.  Upon the death of the insured, the proceeds of the policy can be distributed to the beneficiaries or used to purchase assets from the estate of the insured and thereby providing cash to be used by the estate.

2)              A Charitable Remainder Trust (either a Unitrust or an Annuity Trust) is used to hold cash and/or property where the donor receives an annuity payment from the trust either for a specific term or for life.  Upon the death of the donor, the remainder interest in the property passes to the charity specified by the donor.

There are numerous types of irrevocable trusts to fit a client’s specific needs.  Give us a call to discuss whether an Irrevocable Trust is right for your situation.

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Federal Estate Tax Planning

In order to keep the estate tax burden from continually growing in your estate with further appreciation, you may want to do what many other clients have done: introduce some discounting and freezing techniques to your overall estate plan.  Gifting is also important, as each individual can make annual and lifetime gifts tax-free and decrease the size of his or her estate.

A popular freeze technique is where a client’s interest in limited liability companies, corporations, partnerships or real estate (the “Property”) is sold to a defective grantor trust (DGT) in exchange for an installment note. The beneficiaries of the DGT will be the client’s children and their descendants.  It is called a “defective” trust because the trust is a grantor trust, meaning the IRS ignores it for income tax purposes, but not for estate tax purposes (i.e., the grantor trust is “defective” for income tax purposes).

A DGT allows the value of the assets in such trust to be removed from your estates for estate tax purposes; however, the trust and any transaction(s) between the grantor (you) and the trust is disregarded for income tax purposes. For example, you would still pay income taxes on taxable income of the DGT.  This is a good tax result.  Your assets are being used to cover tax liabilities attributable to a DGT. This “tax haircut” is, in essence, gifting (paying someone else’s tax liability), but the IRS does not interpret this activity as gifting.

Your interest in the Property will be sold to the DGT in return for an installment note payable to you.  This will “freeze” the entire value of the Property; for estate tax purposes the unpaid balance of the installment note remains in your taxable estate, while the Property is not.  An income stream is generated for you from the DGT via payments on the installment note.  The payments from the DGT to you are ignored by the IRS since the payments are coming from a grantor trust.  The only “leakage” is the unusually small interest rate we are able to put on the promissory note to you. As discussed, payments on the installment note are typically interest only but we can work with that number based on the income and cash flow generated by the LLC property.  However, keep in mind that it is advisable to pay the interest yearly as the IRS may frown upon a balloon note with the interest and principal payable at the end of the term of the note.

The sale to the DGT allows you to not only freeze the value of the Property in your taxable estate, but to also reduce the size of your taxable estate based on the income taxes paid by you for the DGT’s income taxes, again, the “tax haircut”.  Also, you are able to take advantage of significant discounting in valuing the fractional LLC interests being sold to the DGT.

The non-voting membership interest in the LLC would be partially gifted and partially sold to the DGT in exchange for an installment note.  This way you freeze most of the value of the LLC in your taxable estate, but retain control of the LLC via your continued ownership of the voting membership interest. The underlying property in the LLC would need to be appraised.  The fees for these appraisals can vary depending on the appraiser.  Once those appraisals are received, the non-voting membership interest of the LLC would be valued.  After the non-voting membership interest is valued, we would use this number to determine the sale price for the non-voting membership interest.

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

College Savings Plans

Section 529 college savings plans are a great way for anyone to both save for college and reduce his or her taxable estate without losing control over the account.  You have the right to ask for the money back at any time (with earnings subject to both income taxes and a 10% federal penalty).  No other vehicle provides this combination of control and estate reduction.  Growth is tax free as are distributions if used to pay for qualified tuition and most related expenses, and for living expenses if the beneficiary is at least a half-time student. Further, you can retain the right to change beneficiaries.  If your goal is to establish a 529 plan for a beneficiary, you may want to make a large contribution now of up to 5 years’ worth of annual exclusion gifts in one year.  That amounts to $65,000 per child ($130,000 from a married couple) in 2012, and $70,000 per child ($140,000 from a married couple) in 2013.  In this way, there is the potential of greater tax free earnings from the initial contribution, which will also be completely estate tax free once five years have passed. However, you must act now because Congress may act to curb, reduce, or make the requirements for these plans more restrictive.

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

 In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Annual and Lifetime Gifts

Gifting can play an important role in reducing estate tax exposure.  A gift is the transfer of real and personal property such as real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, certificates of deposit, equipment, livestock, or cash, to beneficiaries before your death.  Gifting  removes all future appreciation on the gifted property from the taxable estate.   It can also accomplish income tax savings during life by shifting income producing property from one family member to another who is in a lower tax bracket.

The lifetime gift exemption for 2012 is set at $5.12 million dollars. However, it is scheduled to be reduced to $1 million dollars in 2013 unless Congress acts.  If you don’t use the current gift tax exemption, you could lose it.

In addition to your lifetime exemption, each donor may give $13,000 this year ($14,000 beginning in 2013)  per person, without any gift tax consequences.   To qualify for the annual exclusion, the gift must be a present interest gift (rather than a future interest).   Annual exclusion gifts can be outright or in trust.

Assume that a husband and wife have two children, each of whom is married, and each of whom has two unmarried children. This couple could give away a total of $208,000 this year without using up any part of their lifetime exemption. (Each parent could give $13,000 to each child, each child-in-law, and each grandchild, for a total of eight individual recipients, or $104,000 of gifts for the husband and $104,000 of gifts for the wife.  In 2013, each parent may gift an additional $1,000 per recipient.)

A gift will qualify for the $13,000 annual exclusion only if it is a gift of a “present interest.” Generally, this means that the (current year) gift must be made outright to the recipient, or (in the case of a person under age 21) to a Custodianship under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, or to certain kinds of trusts (typically, a “Crummey Trust”.)   The “present interest” limitation may require that the asset given away be income-producing or currently salable by the recipient.

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Musings from the CEO

In my last column, I discussed the current fate of estate and gift tax law.  The emphasis is on the prospective most significant increase in tax rates and lowering of individual exemptions that we have seen in our lifetime.  For those individuals with large estates, this creates a sense of urgency for estate planning to be done between now and the end of 2012.

Today, I’d like to bring it down a notch and discuss more traditional estate planning concepts that apply to a broader cross section of individuals/clients.

I am a firm believer in trusts, hence the moniker a “trust and estate lawyer”!  For the vast majority of our clients that means leaving their estates to their spouse, but directly to trusts that are created by their Wills.  These trusts are most often controlled by, and for the benefit of, the surviving spouse.  When property eventually goes to children, we believe that in most cases it is far more beneficial to have trusts created for your children, regardless of age, that will last for their lifetime.

If the document creating the trust (Will or trust agreement) is properly drafted, your spouse or child can be the trustee of his or her trust, effectively exerting all of the control over assets that they would have had if they inherited property outright.  However, the estate tax savings for future generations, the potential avoidance of generation skipping tax, the income tax flexibility, the protection from creditors, the protection from divorce, the preservation in the family, and the avoidance of probate are some of the reasons that it is desirable to allow the property to flow from generation to generation in trusts, as long as there are any significant assets worth protecting.

The 2010 tax law introduced the concept of “portability”.  This simply means that if one spouse dies and his or her estate does not use all of their estate tax exemption, the remaining unused portion can be carried over to the surviving spouse to be used in that estate.  There are numerous limitations and weaknesses in relying on portability, and we suggest that clients continue to have Wills that leave property to surviving spouses in trust(s), generally a combination of a Credit Shelter Trust and a QTIP Marital Trust.

Life insurance trusts are very common in many estate plans.  It almost always seems to be a good idea to get life insurance out of estates now.  As we get older, our clients acquire a lot of insurance for estate liquidity purposes.  If we maintain insurability, it is always good to have these policies reviewed to make sure that you are allocating resources as prudently as possible.  There may be situations where it would be prudent to prepay premiums.

Another method of reducing an otherwise taxable estate would be to consider a Roth conversion of a traditional IRA as a technique to get taxes out of a taxable estate, in a situation that would otherwise involve an asset (the traditional IRA) that will be subject to both income taxes and estate taxes upon the death of the owner.

Clients with more modest estates need to combine estate planning with Medicaid planning.  What can be done to protect assets if one of the spouses has to go into a nursing home?  First of all, both spouses should have a current Health Care Directive as a necessary part of their estate planning documents.  Considerations should be made to move investments to the name of the healthier spouse.  The healthier spouse’s Will can create a special needs trust in the event that he or she predeceases the spouse with health and living assistance concerns.

A part of estate planning should consider the need for long term care insurance.  The sweet spot to acquire long term care insurance seems to be when a couple is still in their 50’s.

The couple can consider a lifetime QTIP Marital Trust.  This would combine estate tax planning with Medicaid planning.  The lifetime QTIP is a method to protect the home in the event of Medicaid stepping in.  We also have a technique referred to as an Irrevocable Income Only Trust (IIOT) which can be established to start the five year look back rule for Medicaid.  Finally, once a spouse is moved to a nursing home, continued planning should be done for the independent spouse.

Besides Wills that create trusts for the surviving spouse and lifetime trusts for descendants, the Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust to remove life insurance proceeds from anyone’s taxable estate, the Health Care Directive, and any “special” trusts created for Medicaid planning, everyone should have a comprehensive General Power of Attorney.  These power of attorney forms should be “durable” so that the document remains in force after disability or incapacity.  In Georgia, these documents can be drafted so that they do not spring into effect until they are needed.

Remember that the more you plan, the more you save and the smoother the probate process will be for your loved ones.  The old adage is that “…we haven’t got an estate tax, what we have is, you pay an estate tax if you want to; if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

If you have any questions about estate planning, please contact Hoffman & Associates at (404) 255-7400.