Musings From The CEO (Summer 2013)

Late last year many of our clients were scurrying around to do some last minute gifting.  The fear was that the $5,000,000 gift and estate tax exemption would fall back to $1,000,000; therefore, the opportunity to remove a significant amount of wealth from their taxable estates (and the future appreciation on such property) would be lost forever.  Ironically, or typically, after the 12th hour (at approximately 2 a.m. on the morning of January 1, 2013), Congress passed a new tax law making the $5,000,000 exemption permanent and increasing the tax rate from 35% to “only” 40% (as opposed to the anticipated 55%).  Congratulations to those who completed these estate planning maneuvers, as their families will benefit for generations to come from their, albeit maybe last minute, action.

Under the heading “here we go again”, on April 10th, the Obama Administration published their annual wish list of 2014 revenue proposals.  Several of the provisions related to estate planning, including, are you ready for this, changing the estate and generation skipping transfer tax exemptions back down to $3,500,000, and the gift tax exemption to $1,000,000!  The proposal includes another increase in the tax rate to 45%.  Additionally, the Obama Administration proposes to limit and curtail the use of GRATs (Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts), the technique of gifting or selling assets to a grantor trust, limiting the duration of exemption from generation skipping transfer tax to 90 years (as opposed to unlimited dynasty trusts in some parts of the country), and requiring the reporting to the IRS of purchases of life insurance in excess of $500,000.  As President Reagan said so succinctly, “There you go again!”.

One message is clear.  For those of you that embarked on significant estate planning back in 2012 and prior, congratulations.  For those of you who did not, and who need it, giddy-up!

Enough about estate planning.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (which became law on January 2, 2013), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“Obamacare”) both become effective in 2013. Therefore, we will be spending a lot more time doing income tax planning.  The classic strategies of maximizing your deductions, reducing ordinary income, trying to achieve long term capital gains versus ordinary income, accumulating tax exempt income, deferring taxes and offsetting income with losses all need to be reviewed and expanded.

For high income taxpayers, up to 80% of itemized deductions can be lost.  For high income taxpayers, tax rates will exceed 39.6%, and combined with state income taxes could easily exceed 50%.  For high income taxpayers, dividend and capital gains rates increased 1/3 from 15% to 20%.  For high income taxpayers, the personal exemptions will be phased out and there will be a Medicare surtax on investment income of 3.8% and on earned income of .9%.

Income taxes have taken a sharp increase, deductions are being reduced, and the level of your adjusted gross income is critical to proper planning.  Be prepared to immerse yourself into these new income tax matters between now and the end of the year. For a lot of us, the tax savings or costs will be very significant.

 

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 (Spring 2013)

Estate Planning has evolved significantly over the last several years.  In recent months, we have seen the estate tax exemption become “permanent” at $5,250,000 per person, and it will continue to adjust with inflation.  We have also seen the lifetime gift tax exemption and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption be permanently increased to keep pace with the “new” estate tax exemption.  An obvious effect of this development is that a significant number of estates will be able to pass to the next generation without transfer taxes.  A married couple can now pass at least $10,500,000 of wealth to their children before their estates are hit with the still significant 40% tax rate.

Congress has also made “portability” permanent, which means that any unused exemption when the first spouse dies is carried over to the estate of the surviving spouse.  Prudent planning generally does not rely on portability, since it is sabotaged by the subsequent marriage of the surviving spouse and does not apply to generation-skipping transfer tax.

The focus of seasoned estate planning techniques will continue for the more wealthy.  Estate planning should become less costly and complicated for most Americans, however, Hoffman & Associates will still focus on a significant use of dynasty trusts for a plethora of reasons.  These include not only potential estate tax savings, but also income tax flexibility, asset protection from creditors, preservation of family wealth in the bloodline, protection from divorce, and simplifying probate.  Dynasty trusts, however, are under scrutiny and threat as the Obama Administration pushes its agenda.  While most states are extending the period of time that trusts can hold property, there are proposals to limit that duration for transfer tax (and other?) purposes.

Joe Nagel’s article in this Newsletter is a good reminder to us of the many reasons for estate planning, most of which are not focused on taxes.  We want to be good stewards of our assets.

At Hoffman & Associates our practice will continue to focus on estate planning techniques and working with clients to accomplish their estate planning objectives, with significant focus on succession planning for family businesses and asset protection.

We are seeing an increased focus on elder law matters.  As our client base gets older and the imminent demographics of the country are affected by the baby boomers and their parents, medical technology and a focus on general health issues constantly increase our life expectancies.

As income tax rates continue increasing, we are witnessing a rekindling of our clients’ focus on income tax planning.  This is “back to the basics” for a tax planning firm like Hoffman & Associates.  We continue to focus on important decisions about retirement plans, social security, tax deductions, and the tax sensitive nature of investments on behalf of our clients.

Kim Hoipkemier’s article this month highlights a focus area of Hoffman & Associates, namely, Estate Planning for Women.  Again, demographics, the economy, education and corporate America recognizes that women continue to live longer, earn more, and prosper, with the ever increasing responsibility to juggle and manage family and wealth.

Finally, at Hoffman & Associates we have begun a new area of service for our clients, as their situations demand new and flexible assistance to help them manage their daily financial lives.  The Hoffman Family Office (HFO) services include record keeping, bill paying, bookkeeping, budgeting, investment analysis, insurance analysis/shopping, and family philanthropy matters.  Whether it is the overwhelmed widow, the busy corporate executive, or the family that wants to responsibly out-source some of their financial tedium to their trusted advisors, we want to fill the vacuum by providing such help from the Firm they have trusted with so many other important areas of their planning and financial well-being.  Carolina Gomez of our office has been busy defining the areas where HFO can make a difference, and is ready to talk to you about any area you think HFO may be of assistance.

These are interesting times, and I choose to believe we are at the beginning of good times.  While we are clawing out of a recession, and Washington, DC has us constantly on pins and needles, the economy is generally getting better, unemployment is generally not increasing, and our clients generally are in an upswing in their attitudes and well-beings.  We want to be here for those who need assistance, whether it is planning for them or an elderly family member, assisting with the growth and success of their business, or simply to put their mind at ease that they have satisfactorily addressed planning considerations within their realm of influence.  Let us hear from you!

 

 

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.

What the New Tax Law Means to You

As you probably know, Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff by passing – at the 12th hour –the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), signed into law by the President on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Tax Act makes several important revisions to the tax code that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. What follows is a brief description of some of these revisions – and their impact:

  • The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news for all Americans; for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained built in expiration dates. And while “permanent” in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have more certainty with which to plan.
  • The federal gift and estate tax exemptions will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains. So if you did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012, you can still do so – and there are advantages to doing so sooner rather than later. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, you can expect to be able to transfer even more each year in the future.
  • The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at your death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than you; in other words, transfers that “skip” a generation. Having this exemption be “permanent” allows you to take advantage of planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
  • Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
  • The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
  • The “portability” provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up a trust specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to proper estate planning using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
  • Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased from $13,000 to $14,000, meaning you can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary, per year ($28,000 for a married couple) free of federal gift,  estate and GST tax – in addition to the $5 million gift, estate, and GST tax exemptions. By making annual tax-free transfers while you are alive, you can transfer significant wealth to your children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries, thereby reducing your taxable estate and removing future appreciation on assets you transfer. And, you can significantly enhance this lifetime giving strategy by transferring interests in a limited liability company or similar entity because these assets have a reduced value for transfer tax purposes, allowing you to transfer more free of tax.  Gifting to Family Trusts allows the tremendous advantage of gifting to one destination, while using the annual gift exclusions for all of your descendants.

For most Americans, the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on planning for worst case scenarios and put it back on the real reasons we need to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. This includes:

  • Protecting you, your family, and your assets in the event of incapacity;
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want;
  • Protecting your legacy from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
  • Providing for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits; and
  • Helping protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits; and from estate depletion to fund nursing home costs.

For those with estates less than the $5.25 million exemption amount, trusts should still provide much valued asset protection.  However, those who are less concerned about asset protection may want to review options for unwinding previous transactions to the extent possible and, at a minimum, review their estate plan to ensure proper income tax planning (see below).

For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax free to future generations, but it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. With Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated.   REVENUE RAISING PROPOSALS INCLUDE 1) LIMITING THE BENEFITS OF GRANTOR TRUSTS, 2) LIMITING THE DURATION OF ALLOCATION OF GST EXEMPTION, 3) IMPOSING A MINIMUM 10 YEAR TERM FOR GRANTOR RETAINED ANNUITY TRUSTS (“GRATS”), AND 4) REDUCING THE AVAILABILITY OF ENTITY BASED VALUATION DISCOUNTS.  These are all tools that can reduce your estate tax exposure but that may not be available much longer.  Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.

Further, as is well publicized, the 2012 Tax Act included several income tax rate increases on those earning more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).  Combined with the two additional income tax rate increases resulting from the healthcare bill, income tax planning for individuals is obviously now more important than ever.

What hasn’t been as publicized is that trusts (only those trusts not taxed as grantor trusts) and estates will be subject to these new taxes and higher tax rates on income above $11,950.   Proper income tax/distribution planning for trusts and estates will be essential going forward to minimize these burdensome tax increases.

Income tax basis planning will also be more important.  Many trusts hold highly appreciated, low tax basis assets. Reverse DGT transactions – purchasing low basis assets back from grantor trusts – can be used to obtain a step up in basis at death.  Trusts may be able to be amended and/or restated to allow a Trust Protector to identify low basis assets and take certain actions that would cause them to get a step up in tax basis at your death.   For assets not already in trust, Alaska Community Property Trusts can be utilized to get a double step up in tax basis at both spouse’s deaths.

The good news is that if you have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over.  We have increased certainty with “permanent” laws and you can have some comfort that the rules won’t drastically shift from year to year.  Unfortunately, for those of you with larger estates, planning techniques that can be utilized to reduce estate tax exposure are still on the chopping block – so don’t wait to plan.  For all clients, income tax planning, including income tax basis planning, should be a focus this year.  As always, the ultimate goals of estate planning, including protecting family assets and providing for loved ones, do not change.  Make sure you have a good plan to meet these goals. Schedule an appointment today by calling 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.