Last Will and Testament

A Will is a basic estate planning document that provides for the distribution and disposition of property and personal assets of an individual after death.  A Will becomes effective upon death; therefore, it may be changed at any time prior to death.  It should also be periodically reviewed to be sure it applies to the maker’s current personal and family situation.  A Will may contain general or specific provisions regarding the care and distribution of property, the distribution of disclaimed property, recommendations for guardians of minor children, the appointment of executors to administer the Will and express desires and guidance regarding the administration of the estate.  Finally, the Will may establish trusts for the benefit of loved ones or charities and trustees to manage these trusts.

The design of our preferred Will for single-marriage clients creates two trusts at the death of the first spouse:  a Marital Trust and a Credit Shelter Trust.   At the death of the first spouse, the Credit Shelter Trust is funded with enough assets to capture the first-to-die spouse’s federal estate tax exclusion amount, and the remaining assets, if any, fund the Marital Trust.

The Marital Trust is funded with any amounts over the exclusion amount because the (100%) Marital Deduction allows an unlimited amount of assets to be transferred to a spouse upon death tax-free.  This structure provides for the benefit of both estate tax exclusions:  initially the federally-provided exclusion, whatever that may be in the year of death, and the marital exclusion for all assets above that amount.  Thus, no estate taxes are due at the death of the first spouse.

While it seems complicated, please keep in mind that the surviving spouse may have control over all of the assets of each Trust, as the Trustee of the Trusts, and would also be the primary beneficiary of the Trusts.

In the event one or both spouses are not U.S. Citizens, additional language must be added to the Will to ensure the couple receives the full benefits of the U.S. estate tax laws.

When children inherit property, we prefer a descendants’ trust created by the Will at the death of the second spouse.  This allows the assets to pass, in trust, to children and future descendants.  This format protects the assets from future estate taxes, creditor issues, divorce or other claims against the descendants.  The descendant, just like the surviving spouse above, upon reaching a certain age, may be the trustee of their trust and will be the primary beneficiary of his/her trust.

 

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.

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.

Governor signs Senate Bill 461

Governor Perdue signed Senate Bill 461 on May 28, 2010, making the provisions thereof retroactive to January 1, 2010.  As discussed, the law allows married Georgia residents to utilize the entire step up in basis provided under the current estate tax laws without modification to current documents.

If you have any questions about this law or how it affects your estate plan, please give us a call.

Georgia Senate Bill 461 and Funding of the Marital Trusts

As a previous article stated, the Federal Estate Tax purported repeal and the new carryover basis rules could cause problems for older Wills of married persons where the Will is drafted to maximize the Federal Estate Tax Exclusion.  The Georgia legislature is in the process of passing a bill that would all the language of the older Wills to fully fund the marital trusts for the benefit of spouse until Congress settles whether or not there will be a federal estate tax.  This bill allows married Georgia residents to utilize the entire step up in basis provided under the current estate tax laws and will become effective when Governor Perdue signs it.  To view a text of Senate Bill 461, click here.

To recap the issue, as most Wills are currently drafted, a formula is used to maximize the federal estate tax allowance that is in existence at the time of a person’s death.  If a married individual dies in 2010, his entire estate would pour over to the Credit Shelter Trust under his will, leaving no assets to fund the Marital Trust which is necessary to maximize the spousal step up in basis).

If you are unsure of how your Will works or have questions about the funding of trusts under your Will, please give us a call.

Federal Estate Tax Laws that may affect your Will

As a result of the 2001 tax legislation, the Federal Estate Tax has purportedly been repealed for 2010.  While Congress is still debating the issue, as it stands now if a person were to die in 2010 there might be no federal estate tax on their estate.  Additionally, step up in basis of assets to the date of death value is virtually eliminated.  There is an exception to the step up in basis in that a spouse can elect to step up the basis in $3,000,000 worth of assets and other individuals can elect to have $1,300,000 of assets stepped up in basis.  All other assets will be inherited with a carryover basis from the time the decedent acquired the property.

As a result of this new carryover basis rule, there could be an issue with capturing the basis increase in $3,000,000 of assets passing to spouse under a Will.  In order to qualify for the step up in basis on the $3,000,000, the property must be held in what is known as a qualified terminable interest property trust.  As most Wills are currently drafted, a formula is used to maximize the federal estate tax allowance that is in existence at the time of a persons death.  While no one anticipated that Congress would actually allow a total repeal of the federal estate tax law, we are currently faced with that issue.  There is talk that if Congress reinstates the federal estate tax they will make it retroactive back to January 1, 2010.  However, some may challenge this as unconstitutional and we do not know if they would be successful.

Therefore, we want to inform everyone that under the current law, if a formula is used in your Will to maximize the funding of the Credit Shelter Trust, all of your assets will go to that under your Will.  What this means is that your surviving spouse may lose the right to get a step up in basis on $3,000,000 worth of assets as no assets from your estate will go to the QTIP Marital Trust.  Some argue that your family could go to court and argue that your intent was not to have all assets pass to the Credit Shelter Trust and that the court may “revise” the Will to accomplish your intent to fully maximize all benefits affordable to your spouse.  Unfortunately, we cannot advise whether this argument would be successful.

Of course, if the federal estate tax is reinstated and made retroactive, there is no issue.  However, if it is not retroactive, and if you pass away during a “total repeal” period (2010), your spouse and family may lose out on the benefits of a step up in tax basis.

Therefore, it is advisable that you contact an attorney to execute a Codicil to your Will to assure assets that pass to your spouse will be allowed to fully utilize the step up in basis rule.

Federal Estate Tax Laws that may affect your Will in a Second Marriage

As a result of the 2001 tax legislation, the Federal Estate Tax has been repealed for 2010.  While Congress is still debating the issue, as it stands now if a person were to die in 2010 there might be no federal estate tax on their estate.

There could be an issue with providing assets for some spouses under a Will, particularly if it is a second marriage.  Typically, a Will is drafted utilizing a formula to maximize the federal estate tax allowance that is in existence at the time of your death.  While no one in the legal and accounting communities anticipated that Congress would actually allow 2010 to arrive with a total repeal of the federal estate tax law, we are currently faced with that issue.  There is talk that if Congress reinstates the federal estate tax they will make it retroactive back to January 1, 2010.  However, some may challenge this as unconstitutional, and we do not know if they would be successful.

Therefore, under the current law, if the typical formula is used in your Will to maximize federal estate tax allowances, all of your assets will go to the Family Trust, also known as the Credit Shelter Trust.  What this means is that if your spouse is not named as a beneficiary under the Family Trust, they will not get any benefit from your estate as the Marital Trust created for the benefit of the spouse will not receive any assets from your estate.

In some instances in second marriages, a person’s Will provides for spouse under a Marital Trust and for children from a previous marriage under the Family Trust.  Therefore, under the current tax law this is detrimental to the surviving spouse, as all assets will go to the children from the previous marriage.  If this is not your intent, it is advisable that you contact an attorney to execute a short Codicil to your Will to assure assets will pass to a spouse in a second marriage.

Of course, if the federal estate tax is reinstated and made retroactive, there is no issue.  However, if it is not retroactive, if you pass away during a “total repeal” period (2010), your spouse will lose out on the benefits of your estate.