Procrastination: What Are The Consequences?

Currently, there are approximately 70% of Americans without a Will.  Without this basic estate planning document, your loved ones may pay the highest possible taxes upon your death, lose some of the assets you have earned during your lifetime, and will have to handle a much more complex administration of your estate.

By way of example, consider these famous deaths: Elvis Presley died suddenly at the age of 42 with an estate worth an estimated $10 million.  Of that amount, his daughter only received $3 million, as the other 70% was spent on estate taxes, administration costs and legal fees.  With a proper estate plan, Elvis’ daughter certainly would have received more than a mere third of her father’s wealth.

Famous for their chewing gum, the Wrigley family is another great example of a missed opportunity.  Both of William Wrigley’s parents died in 1977.  Their death gave Mr. Wrigley controlling interest in the Wrigley company, but it also left a significant estate tax burden due to the IRS.  The Wrigley’s had to sell their 80% stake in the Chicago Cubs for $20.5 million in 1981 to satisfy this debt.

Finally, Steve McNair, the famous NFL MVP, died in 2009 with an estate estimated to be worth $19 million but without even a simple will.  In attempts to settle his estate, his wife tried to sell his interest in a Nashville restaurant, his ranching and farming business as well as his Nashville home.  Not only did his murder shroud any hope of a amicable resolution of his estate, but the lack of any planning whatsoever left his wife and his children in a heated legal battle over the estate assets.

Although the most basic tenet of estate planning is a Will, the estate plan may and should encompass other aspects of your financial situation for when you pass.  Estate planning is thoughtful foresight that protects your family, provides for their future, and makes your wishes known.  If you pass without a Will in place, your assets will be distributed in accordance with State law in a process known as intestate succession.

Under the intestate succession laws in Georgia, a personal representative of the deceased is appointed by the Probate Court in order to marshal the assets, pay the debts and then distribute anything left over to the heirs.  Heirs are the closest relatives of the deceased, including the spouse, if living, and the children, including adopted and those born out of wedlock.  Stepchildren are not heirs.  Heirs of other degrees are determined if necessary.  A determination of the heirs is made by the Court, while your estate pays court fees, lawyer fees and other costs associated with probate handled by the Court and state law, rather than pursuant to your directions set forth in a Will. The Court and personal representative (which may or may not be a family member) may charge hefty fees (sometimes 5-15% of the value of the estate) to administer your estate.  Above all, this process takes time.  The probate of an estate handled by the court may take months longer than if you had clear, specific instructions regarding the distribution of your estate in a Will.

Having a Will does not avoid the probate process; rather, a Will is followed by the Court to determine who receives what property, who is appointed guardian of any minor children and who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the Will.

In order to ease the administrative burden on your family at your death and to save time and money on court costs and fees, you should plan accordingly now by contacting professionals who can help, such as an estate planning attorney, a financial planner, a CPA, and an insurance agent.  All can work together to help you prepare a plan that fits your family’s needs.  An exhaustive plan put in place by each of these professionals can also ensure you are taking advantage of any and all tax savings’ tools available to you.

Consider the following goals when thinking about your estate plan:

  • Determining who receives what share of your assets.
  • Deciding who will manage your estate and be responsible for distribution of the assets.
  • Selecting a guardian for your children.
  • If you own or control a business, providing for a smooth transition of management into the hands of persons who will effectively manage the business.
  • Arranging your affairs so that the chance for disputes among your heirs is minimized.
  • Making sure that your heirs can live with the estate plan. A plan that cannot respond to changes in the economy, or to unanticipated events, can burden the family.
  • For individuals with charitable wishes, making sure that your vision will be fulfilled.

With these overall goals in mind, it is important to move forward in developing an estate plan that fits your family’s needs.  At Hoffman & Associates, we define a basic estate plan as having the following essential components:

For individuals and families who are of higher net-worth, additional planning techniques may be introduced in order to reduce the estate taxes due upon death and take advantage of other tax savings strategies during your life.  Some of these techniques include:

 

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.

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.

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.

SELF-CANCELING INSTALLMENT NOTE (SCIN)

The Self-Canceling Installment Note (“SCIN”) is a planning technique usually used in a sale of an asset to either a trust or directly from an older family member to a member or members of a younger generation.  Basically, the older generation sells the asset in exchange for an installment note with a term shorter than the seller’s life expectancy, which is found in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tables.  The SCIN is a valuable tool because, if the seller dies before the term of the note, the remaining balance is completely canceled and is not included in the seller’s estate.

The SCIN is best structured as requiring interest-only annual payments until a balloon principal payment is due at the end of the term.  By deferring the principal payment until the end of the term, the amount canceled upon death will include the entire principal amount of the promissory note.

Of course, the IRS would not allow this transaction without a modification of the terms of the note to make it an arms-length transaction between the parties.   So, either the principal amount or the interest rate must be increased to make this a bona fide transaction.  The older the seller is, the greater the mortality risk premium will be.  However, with long-term interest rates being at historical lows right now, the time has never been better for an estate-freezing transaction using a SCIN.

For example, using October’s rates, a 55-year-old person could sell assets using a 28-year SCIN with a balloon payment and an interest rate of only 2.695%.   If the seller died before the end of the term, the value of the entire principal amount would be transferred to the trust without incurring any estate tax.

These low rates make a SCIN not only a good idea for clients looking to freeze some of the value of their estates, but there is also opportunity for clients who have already entered into DGT sales (see other articles on website that describe DGT sales as a popular estate planning/freezing technique) to refinance with a SCIN, possibly at lower rates and the self-canceling feature.

 

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.

Family Limited Partnership (FLP) and Limited Liablity Company (LLC)

A family limited partnership or a limited liability company can provide important tax and non-tax benefits. From a non-tax standpoint, these entities are important in that they can provide a vehicle for managing family assets and can protect you from liabilities arising in connection with the assets held in the FLP or LLC. It can also provide asset protection, in that a creditor who might successfully seize the partnership interest from you will succeed only to your distribution rights, and may not be able to force a liquidation of the partnership (making it a much less attractive asset to seize.) Thus, a FLP or LLC is an excellent way to own buildings or an unincorporated business. From an income tax standpoint, a FLP or LLC can be superior to a corporation because there are no federal income taxes, and minimal or no state income taxes, on the income.

From a gift and estate tax planning standpoint, a FLP or LLC can give rise to significant valuation discounts. If a person owns a percentage interest in a FLP or LLC, the value of that interest will be less than the same percentage of the value of the net assets of the partnership. For example, assume that a FLP owns assets worth $100,000, and you own 10% of the partnership. Generally, your interest would be worth less than the $10,000 you’d receive if the partnership terminated and distributed the assets to the partners. That’s because you probably can’t force the partnership to terminate and distribute the assets. Rather, you’re entitled only to whatever distributions the general partner of the FLP or manager of the LLC elects to make. Typically, discounts from “liquidation value” will range from 15% to 40%, depending on the facts of the case.

If you make gifts of interests in a FLP or LLC, the value of the gift is based on the rights that the recipient has in the interest. Thus, the more power you retain in the partnership (and the less power the recipient has over the partnership), the smaller the value will be for the gift. On the other hand, on your death, the value of the asset in your estate will be based on the rights you’ve retained. Thus, the more power you retain in the partnership (and the less power the recipients of gifts you’ve made have received), the greater the value will be in your estate.

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.