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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting estate planning

Posted by Ryan Posted on Jan 04 2018




The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) is a sweeping revision of the tax code that alters federal law affecting individuals, businesses and estates. Focusing specifically on estate tax law, the TCJA doesn’t repeal the federal gift and estate tax. It does, however, temporarily double the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption. 

Beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the combined gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption amounts double from an inflation-adjusted $5 million to $10 million. For 2018, the exemption amounts are expected to be $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples). Absent further congressional action, the exemptions will revert to their 2017 levels (adjusted for inflation) beginning January 1, 2026. The marginal tax rate for all three taxes remains at 40%.

Estate planning remains a necessity

Just because fewer families will have to worry about estate tax liability doesn’t mean the end of estate planning as we know it. Nontax issues that your plan should still take into account include asset protection, guardianship of minor children, family business succession and planning for loved ones with special needs, to name just a few. 

In addition, it’s not clear how states will respond to the federal tax law changes. If you live in a state that imposes significant state estate taxes, many traditional estate-tax-reduction strategies will continue to be relevant.

Future estate tax law remains uncertain

It’s also important to keep in mind that the exemptions are scheduled to revert to their previous levels in 2026 — and there’s no guarantee that lawmakers in the future won’t reduce the exemption amounts even further. Contact us with questions on how the TCJA might affect your estate plan. We’ll be pleased to review your plan and recommend any necessary revisions in light of the TCJA.

© 2017

Make the holidays bright for you and your loved ones with annual exclusion gifts

Posted by Ryan Posted on Nov 19 2017




As the holiday season quickly approaches, gift giving will be top of mind. While gifts of electronics, toys and clothes are nice, making tax-free gifts of cash using your annual exclusion is beneficial for both you and your family. 

Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still benefit your estate plan.

Understanding the annual exclusion

The 2017 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.49 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.

The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.

Making gifts in 2017 and beyond

Be aware that time is running out to make annual exclusion gifts this year: December 31 is the deadline. It’s also important to know that next year the exclusion amount increases for the first time since 2013, to $15,000 ($30,000 for split gifts). And the inflation-adjusted gift and estate tax exemption is currently scheduled to increase to $5.6 million in 2018. 

It’s also important to keep an eye on Congress. With both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate now having released their tax reform bills, more details regarding the potential future of the estate tax have emerged. But what, if any, estate tax law changes are ultimately passed remains to be seen. Even if the estate tax is repealed, it likely won’t be permanent. And current proposals retain the gift tax. So making 2017 annual exclusion gifts can still be a tax-smart move.

In the meantime, we can help you determine how to make the most of your 2017 gift tax annual exclusion and keep you abreast of the latest regarding new estate tax laws.

© 2017

The write stuff: A letter of instructions

Posted by Ryan Posted on Nov 19 2017




When you draft an estate plan, the centerpiece is your will or living trust. Such a document determines who gets what, where, when and how, as well as tying up the loose ends of your estate. A valid will or living trust can be supplemented by other legally binding documents, such as trusts (or additional trusts), powers of attorney and health care directives. 

But there’s still a place at the table for a document that has absolutely no legal authority: a “letter of instructions” to your heirs. This informal letter can provide valuable guidance and act as a road map to the rest of your estate.

Taking inventory

Begin your letter of instructions by stating the location of your will or living trust. Then create an inventory of all your assets and include their location, any account numbers and relevant contact information. This may include, but isn’t necessarily limited to, checking and savings accounts, 401(k) plans and IRAs, health insurance policies, business insurance, life and disability income insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments, and any tangible assets your heirs may not readily find.

The contact information should include the names, phone numbers and addresses (including emails) of the professionals handling your financial accounts and paperwork, such as an attorney, CPA, banker, life insurance agent and stockbroker. Also, list the beneficiaries of retirement plans, IRAs and insurance policies and their contact information.

Guidance for personal preferences

A letter of instructions is more than just a listing of assets and their locations. Typically, it will include other items of a personal nature, such as funeral, burial or cremation arrangements, accounting of fees paid for cemetery plots or mausoleums, the names, addresses and telephone numbers of people and organizations to be notified upon death, and specific instructions for handling personal and financial affairs after you’re gone. 

The letter can also expand on instructions in a living will or other health care directive. For example, it might provide additional details about the decision for being taken off life support systems. It may also cover charitable contributions you wish to be made after death or the manner in which property should be donated to charity. 

Putting pen to paper

As you’re writing your letter, bear in mind that there are no legal requirements backing it. And just like a will or living trust, the letter should be updated periodically to reflect significant changes in your life. Finally, keep the letter in a safe place where the people whom you want to read it can easily find it. Contact us if you have questions about a letter of instructions. 

© 2017

ABCs of HSAs: How an HSA can benefit your estate plan

Posted by Ryan Posted on Sept 23 2017




One health care arrangement that has been soaring in popularity in recent years has been the pairing of a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a Health Savings Account (HSA). The good news is that not only does an HSA provide a tax-advantaged way to pay for health care costs, but it also can help you achieve your estate planning goals. 

How does it work?

An HSA can be offered by an employer, or an individual can set up his or her own account, similar to an IRA. Contributions to an employer-sponsored HSA are pretax and may be made by employers, employees or both. If you set up your own HSA, you can deduct your contributions.

An HSA must, however, be coupled with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). For 2017, to qualify as an HDHP, a plan must have a minimum deductible of $1,300 ($2,600 for family coverage) and a $6,550 cap on out-of-pocket expenses ($13,100 for family coverage). 

Even if you have HDHP coverage, you generally won’t be eligible to contribute to an HSA if you’re also covered by any non-HDHP health insurance (such as a spouse’s plan) or if you’re enrolled in Medicare.

For 2017, the maximum HSA contribution is $3,400 ($6,750 for family coverage). If you’re age 55 or older, you can make additional “catch-up” contributions of up to $1,000.

The HSA funds can bear interest or be invested on a tax-deferred basis. You can make tax-free withdrawals to pay for qualified medical expenses. Unused funds may be carried over from year to year, continuing to grow tax-deferred. 

Withdrawals before age 65 not used for medical expenses will be subject to income tax and a 20% penalty. But after age 65, the penalty won’t apply. Essentially, to the extent you don’t need the funds for medical expenses before age 65, an HSA serves as a supplemental IRA. 

What are the estate planning benefits?

Like an IRA or a 401(k) plan account, HSAs with unused balances can supplement your retirement income or continue growing on a tax-deferred basis for the future benefit of your family. Unlike most other retirement savings vehicles, however, there are no required minimum distributions from HSAs, potentially allowing you to leverage tax-deferred compounding to build up a larger account for your heirs.

Carefully consider your HSA’s beneficiary designation. When you die, any remaining HSA balance becomes the beneficiary’s property. If the beneficiary is your spouse, your HSA becomes his or her HSA and is taxable only to the extent he or she makes nonqualified withdrawals. 

If the beneficiary is someone other than your spouse, however, the account no longer will qualify as an HSA. The beneficiary must include the account’s fair market value in his or her gross income. But if he or she is in a lower income tax bracket than you were, this still may save tax overall for your family.

Please contact us for additional details regarding HSAs. 

© 2017

Estate tax relief for family businesses is available … in the form of a deferral

Posted by Ryan Posted on Sept 03 2017




If a substantial portion of your wealth is tied up in a family or closely held business, you may be concerned that your estate will lack sufficient liquid assets to pay federal estate taxes. If that’s the case, your heirs may be forced to borrow funds or, in a worst-case scenario, sell the business in order to pay the tax. 

For many eligible business owners, Internal Revenue Code Section 6166 provides welcome relief. It permits qualifying estates to defer a portion of their estate tax liability for up to 14 years from the date the tax is due (not the date of death). During the first four years of the deferment period, the estate pays interest only, set at only 2%, followed by 10 annual installments of principal and interest.

A deferral isn’t available for the total estate tax liability, unless a qualifying closely held business interest is the only asset in your estate. The benefit is limited to the portion of estate taxes that’s attributable to a closely held business. 

Eligibility requirements

Estate tax deferral is available if the value of an “interest in a closely-held business” exceeds 35% of your adjusted gross estate. To determine whether you meet the 35% test, you may only include assets actually used in conducting a trade or business — passive investments don’t count. 

Active vs. passive ownership

To qualify for an estate tax deferral, a closely held business must conduct an active trade or business, rather than merely manage investment assets. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two, particularly when real estate is involved. 

The IRS provided welcome guidance on this subject in a 2006 Revenue Ruling. The ruling confirms that a “passive” owner may qualify for estate tax deferral, so long as the entity conducts an active trade or business. The ruling also clarifies that using property management companies or other independent contractors to conduct real estate activities doesn’t disqualify a business from “active” status, so long as its activities go beyond merely holding investment assets.

In determining whether a real estate entity is conducting an active trade or business, the IRS considers such factors as the amount of time owners, employees or agents devote to the business, whether the business maintains an office with regular business hours, and the extent to which owners, employees or agents are actively involved in finding tenants and negotiating leases.

Weigh your options

As you plan your estate, consider whether your family will be eligible to defer estate taxes. If you own an interest in a real estate business, you may have an opportunity to qualify it for an estate tax deferral simply by adjusting your level of activity or increasing your ownership in an entity that manages the property. Contact us for additional details.

© 2017

How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxes

Posted by Ryan Posted on Aug 20 2017




Among the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.

Exclusions and exemptions

For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due. 

Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But every gift you make won’t use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:

  • Gifts to your U.S. citizen spouse are tax-free under the marital deduction. (So are transfers at death — that is, bequests.)  
  • Gifts and bequests to qualified charities aren’t subject to gift and estate taxes.
  • Payments of another person’s health care or tuition expenses aren’t subject to gift tax if paid directly to the provider. 
  •  Each year you can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($14,000 per recipient for 2017) tax-free without using up any of your lifetime exemption.

What’s your estate tax exposure?  

Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate. 

You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met). 

If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax. 

Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax. 

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.

© 2017

Powers of attorney: Springing vs. nonspringing

Posted by Ryan Posted on Aug 20 2017




Estate planning typically focuses on what happens to your assets when you die. But it’s equally important (some might say more important) to have a plan for making critical financial and medical decisions if you’re unable to make those decisions yourself.

That’s where the power of attorney (POA) comes in. A POA appoints a trusted representative (the “agent”) who can make medical or financial decisions on your behalf in the event an accident or illness renders you unconscious or mentally incapacitated. Typically, separate POAs are executed for health care and property. Without them, your loved ones would have to petition a court for guardianship or conservatorship, a costly process that can delay urgent decisions. (Depending on the state you live in, the health care POA document may also be known as a “medical power of attorney” or “health care proxy.”)

A question that people often struggle with is whether a POA should be springing or nonspringing.

To spring or not to spring

A springing POA is effective on the occurrence of specified conditions; a nonspringing, or “durable,” POA is effective immediately. Typically, springing powers would take effect if you were to become mentally incapacitated, comatose or otherwise unable to act for yourself.

A nonspringing POA offers two advantages:

It allows your agent to act on your behalf for your convenience, not just when you’re incapacitated. For example, if you’re traveling out of the country for an extended period of time, your POA for property agent could pay bills and handle other financial matters for you in your absence.

It avoids the need for a determination that you’ve become incapacitated, which can result in delays, disputes or even litigation. This allows your agent to act quickly in an emergency, making critical medical decisions or handling urgent financial matters without having to wait, for example, for one or more treating physicians to examine you and certify that you’re incapacitated.

A potential disadvantage to a nonspringing POA — and a common reason people opt for a springing POA — is the concern that the agent may be tempted to commit fraud or otherwise abuse his or her authority. But consider this: If you don’t trust your agent enough to give him or her a POA that takes effect immediately, how does delaying its effect until you’re incapacitated solve the problem? Arguably, the risk of fraud or abuse would be even greater at that time because you’d be unable to monitor what the agent is doing.

What to do?

Given the advantages of a nonspringing POA, and the potential delays associated with a springing POA, a nonspringing POA is generally preferable. Just make sure the person you name as agent is someone you trust unconditionally. 

Contact us with any questions regarding POAs.

© 2017

Beware the GST tax when transferring assets to grandchildren

Posted by Ryan Posted on Aug 10 2017




As you plan your estate, don’t overlook the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax. Despite a generous $5.49 million GST tax exemption, complexities surrounding its allocation can create several tax traps for the unwary.

GST basics

The GST tax is a flat, 40% tax on transfers to “skip persons,” including grandchildren, other family members more than a generation below you, nonfamily members more than 37½ years younger than you and certain trusts (if all of their beneficiaries are skip persons). If your child predeceases his or her children, however, they’re no longer considered skip persons.

GST tax applies to gifts or bequests directly to a skip person and to certain transfers by trusts to skip persons. Gifts that fall within the annual gift tax exclusion (currently, $14,000 per recipient; $28,000 for gifts split by married couples) are also shielded from GST tax.

Allocation traps

To take full advantage of the GST tax exemption, you (or your estate’s representative) must properly allocate it to specific gifts and bequests (on a timely filed gift or estate tax return). Allocating the exemption wisely can provide substantial tax benefits. 

Suppose, for example, that you contribute $2 million to a trust for the benefit of your grandchildren. If you allocate $2 million of your GST exemption to the trust, it will be shielded from GST taxes, even if it grows to $10 million. If you don’t allocate the exemption, you could trigger a seven-figure GST tax bill.

To help prevent costly mistakes like this from happening, the tax code and regulations provide for automatic allocation under certain circumstances. Your exemption is automatically allocated to direct skips as well as to contributions to “GST trusts.” These are trusts that could produce a generation-skipping transfer, subject to several exceptions.

Often, the automatic allocation rules work well, ensuring that GST exemptions are allocated in the most tax-advantageous manner. But in some cases, automatic allocation can lead to undesirable results. 

Suppose you establish a trust for your children, with the remainder passing to your grandchildren. You assume the automatic allocation rules will shield the trust from GST tax. But the trust gives one of your children a general power of appointment over 50% of the trust assets, disqualifying it from GST trust status. Unless you affirmatively allocate your exemption to the trust, distributions or other transfers to your grandchildren will be subject to GST taxes.

Handle with care

If you plan to make gifts to skip persons, or to trusts that may benefit skip persons, consider your potential GST tax exposure. Also, keep in mind that repeal of the GST tax, along with the gift and estate tax, has been proposed. We’ll keep you abreast of any tax law changes that affect estate planning, and we can answer your questions regarding the GST tax.

© 2017

Asset valuations and your estate plan go hand in hand

Posted by Ryan Posted on Apr 28 2017




If your estate plan calls for making noncash gifts in trust or outright to beneficiaries, you need to know the values of those gifts and disclose them to the IRS on a gift tax return. For substantial gifts of noncash assets other than marketable securities, it’s a good idea to have a qualified appraiser value the gifts at the time of the transfer. 

Adequately disclosing a gift

A three-year statute of limitations applies during which the IRS can challenge the value you report on your gift tax return. The three-year term doesn’t begin until your gift is “adequately disclosed.” This means you need to not just file a gift tax return, but also:

  •  Give a detailed description of the nature of the gift
  • Explain the relationship of the parties to the transaction, and
  • Detail the basis for the valuation.

The IRS also may require certain financial statements or other financial data and records.
Generally, the most effective way to ensure you’ve disclosed gifts adequately and triggered the statute of limitations is to have a qualified, independent appraiser submit a valuation report that includes information about the property, the transaction and the appraisal process. 

IRS-imposed penalties

Using a qualified appraiser is important because, if the IRS deems your valuation to be “insufficient,” it can revalue the property and assess additional taxes and interest. If the IRS finds that the property’s value was “substantially” or “grossly” misstated, it will also assess additional penalties.

A “substantial” misstatement occurs if you report a value that’s 65% or less of the actual value — the penalty is 20% of the amount by which your taxes are underpaid. A “gross” misstatement occurs if your reported value is 40% or less of the actual value — the penalty is 40% of the amount by which your taxes are underpaid.

Before taking any action, consult with us regarding the tax and legal consequences of any estate planning strategies. In addition, we can help you work with a qualified appraiser to ensure your gifts are adequately disclosed.

© 2017

Acquaint yourself with the Roth IRA as an estate planning tool

Posted by Ryan Posted on Apr 18 2017




A Roth IRA can be a valuable estate planning tool, offering the opportunity for tax-free growth as long as it exists and requiring no distributions during your life, thus allowing you to pass on a greater amount of wealth to your family. While traditional IRAs are more common, there’s no time like the present to consider how a Roth IRA might better help you achieve your estate planning goals. 

Roth vs. traditional IRA

With a Roth IRA, you give up the deductibility of contributions for the opportunity to make tax-free withdrawals. This differs from a traditional IRA, where contributions may be deductible and earnings grow on a tax-deferred basis, but withdrawals (less any prorated nondeductible contributions) are subject to ordinary income taxes — plus a 10% penalty if you’re under age 59½ at the time of the distribution.

With a Roth IRA, you can make tax-free withdrawals up to the amount of your contributions at any time. And withdrawals of account earnings are tax-free if you make them after you’ve had the Roth IRA for five years and you’re age 59½ or older. 

Also on the plus side, especially from an estate planning perspective, you can leave funds in your Roth IRA as long as you want. This differs from the required minimum distributions starting after age 70½ that generally apply to traditional IRAs. 

So, with a Roth IRA, you can let the entire account grow tax-free over your lifetime for the benefit of one or more heirs. While the beneficiary will be required to take distributions, they’ll be tax-free and can be spread out over his or her lifetime, allowing the remaining assets in the account to continue to grow tax-free.

Limited contributions

For 2017, the annual Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 ($6,500 for taxpayers age 50 or older), reduced by any contributions made to traditional IRAs. Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may also affect your ability to contribute, however. 

In 2017, the contribution limit phases out for married couples filing jointly with MAGIs between $186,000–$196,000. The 2017 phaseout range for single and head-of-household filers is $118,000–$133,000.

Conversion question

If your income is too high to contribute to a Roth IRA, consider converting your traditional IRA into a Roth, effectively turning future tax-deferred potential growth into tax-free potential growth. When you do a Roth conversion, you have to pay taxes on the amount you convert. But this also has an estate planning benefit because you’re paying taxes that your heirs might otherwise have to pay later. 

If you have questions on how a Roth IRA may fit into your estate plan, please get in touch with us.

© 2017

Direct tuition payments benefit your grandchild and your estate plan

Posted by Ryan Posted on Apr 06 2017




Grandparents often want to play a role in financing their grandchildren’s education. If you’re one of them, it’s important to consider the impact that different financing options will have on your estate plan. 

Make direct tuition payments

A simple but effective technique is to make tuition payments on behalf of your grandchild. So long as you make the payments directly to the educational institution, they avoid gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes without using up any of your $5.49 million gift or GST tax exemption or $14,000 gift tax annual exclusion. 

But this technique is available only for tuition, not for other expenses, such as room and board, fees, books, and equipment. So it may be desirable to combine it with other techniques.

Is a HEET an option?

Another disadvantage of direct payments is that, if you wait until the student has tuition bills to pay, there’s a risk that you’ll die before the funds are removed from your estate. Other techniques allow you to set aside funds for future education expenses, shielding those funds from estate taxes. A tool that’s particularly attractive for grandparents is the health and education exclusion trust (HEET). 

A HEET is a “dynasty” trust designed to make direct payments of tuition (and, if you desire, medical expenses) on behalf of its beneficiaries. You can use your annual exclusions and lifetime exemption to make gift-tax-free contributions. Contributed assets are removed from your estate.

Most significant, a properly designed HEET allows you to avoid GST tax without using up any of your GST tax exemption. A trust can trigger GST taxes in two ways: 1) a taxable distribution to your grandchild or another “skip person” (that is, a person more than one generation below you), or 2) a taxable termination, in which all nonskip trust interests terminate and only skip interests remain.

A HEET avoids taxable distributions by making direct payments to educational or health care organizations. And it avoids taxable terminations by granting a significant interest (usually 10% or more) to a charity, which ensures that there’s always at least one nonskip interest. 

Explore all of your options

It’s possible that gift, estate and GST taxes could be repealed later this year. But even if this happens, as long as funding your grandchild’s education is an important goal of yours, implementing one or both of these strategies likely won’t have any negative impact. And doing so can be beneficial if these taxes aren’t repealed or if they return in the future. If you’d like to learn more about your options to help fund your grandchild’s education expenses, please contact us.

© 2017

Keep family matters out of the public eye by avoiding probate

Posted by Ryan Posted on Mar 22 2017

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Although probate can be time consuming and expensive, perhaps its biggest downside is that it’s public — anyone who’s interested can find out what assets you owned and how they’re being distributed after your death. The public nature of probate can also draw unwanted attention from disgruntled family members who may challenge the disposition of your assets, as well as from other unscrupulous parties.

However, by implementing the right estate planning strategies, you can keep much or even all of your estate out of probate.

Probate, defined

Probate is a legal procedure in which a court establishes the validity of your will, determines the value of your estate, resolves creditors’ claims, provides for the payment of taxes and other debts and transfers assets to your heirs.

Is probate ever desirable? Sometimes. Under certain circumstances, you might feel more comfortable having a court resolve issues involving your heirs and creditors. Another possible advantage is that probate places strict time limits on creditor claims and settles claims quickly.

Choose the right strategies

There are several ways you can avoid (or minimize) probate. (You’ll still need a will — and probate — to deal with guardianship of minor children, disposition of personal property and certain other matters.)

The right strategies depend on the size and complexity of your estate. The simplest ways to avoid probate involve designating beneficiaries or titling assets in a manner that allows them to be transferred directly to your beneficiaries outside your will. So, for example, be sure that you have appropriate, valid beneficiary designations for assets such as life insurance policies, annuities and retirement plans.

For assets such as bank and brokerage accounts, look into the availability of “pay on death” (POD) or “transfer on death” (TOD) designations, which allow these assets to avoid probate and pass directly to your designated beneficiaries. However, keep in mind that, while the POD or TOD designation is permitted in most states, not all financial institutions and firms make this option available.

For homes or other real estate — as well as bank and brokerage accounts and other assets — some people avoid probate by holding title with a spouse or child as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” or as “tenants by the entirety.” Be aware that drawbacks exist for this technique.

Contact us with all of your probate questions.

© 2017

 

Do you need to file a 2016 gift tax return by April 18?

Posted by Ryan Posted on Feb 14 2017

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Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.

Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.

When filing is required

Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:

  • That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
  • That exceeded the $148,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
  • That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions,
  • To a Section 529 college savings plan for your child, grandchild or other loved one and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($70,000) into 2016,
  • Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
  • Of jointly held or community property.

When filing isn’t required

No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.

If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.

Meeting the deadline

The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.

Have questions about gift tax and the filing requirements? Contact us to learn more.

© 2017

5 questions single parents should ask about their estate plans

Posted by Ryan Posted on Feb 02 2017

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In many respects, estate planning for single parents of minor children is similar to estate planning for families with two parents. Single parents want to provide for their children’s care and financial needs after they’re gone. But when only one parent is involved, certain aspects of an estate plan demand special attention. If you’re a single parent, here are five questions you should ask:

1. Are my will and other estate planning documents up to date? If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan recently, do so as soon as possible to ensure that it reflects your current circumstances. The last thing you want is for a probate court to decide your children’s future.

2. Have I selected an appropriate guardian? If the other parent is unavailable to take custody of your children should you become incapacitated or die suddenly, does your estate plan designate a suitable, willing guardian to care for them? Will the guardian need financial assistance to raise your kids and provide for their education? If not, you might want to preserve your wealth in a trust until your children are grown.

3. Am I adequately insured? With only one income to depend on, plan carefully to ensure that you can provide for your retirement as well as your children’s financial security. Life insurance can be an effective way to augment your estate. You should also consider disability insurance. Unlike many married couples, single parents don’t have a “backup” income in the event they can no longer work.

4. What if I become incapacitated? As a single parent, it’s particularly important for you to include in your estate plan a living will or advance directive to specify your preferences for the use of life-sustaining medical procedures and a health care power of attorney to designate someone to make other medical decisions on your behalf. You should also have a revocable living trust or durable power of attorney that provides for the management of your finances.

5. Have I established a trust for my children? Trust planning is one of the most effective ways to provide for children regardless of their age. Trust assets are managed by one or more qualified, trusted individuals or corporate trustees, and you specify when and under what circumstances funds should be distributed to your kids. But a trust is particularly important if you have minor children. Without one, your assets may come under the control of your former spouse or a court-appointed administrator.

If you’re a single parent, we can help answer all of your estate planning questions.

© 2017

 

Going back to basics with asset protection strategies

Posted by Ryan Posted on Jan 16 2017

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Asset protection trusts — both offshore and domestic — can be effective vehicles for protecting your wealth in today’s litigious society. But these trusts can be complex and expensive, so they’re not right for everyone. For those seeking simpler asset protection strategies, there are several basic, yet effective, tools to consider.

Some of these strategies involve transferring assets to another person or entity, or changing the way property is titled. Here are a few common asset protection strategies:

Insurance. For many people, insurance is the first line of defense against liability claims that expose their assets to risk. It includes personal or homeowners liability insurance, as well as professional liability insurance for doctors, lawyers and other professionals who are common targets for lawsuits.

Lifetime gifts. The most effective asset protection strategy may also be the simplest: giving your assets away to your children or other loved ones. After all, a creditor can’t come after assets you don’t own. The disadvantage of this approach is that you must relinquish control over the assets.

Tenancy by the entirety. Many states permit married couples to hold their homes or other real estate as “tenants by the entirety.” This form of ownership protects assets against claims by either spouse’s separate creditors. So, for example, it can be effective when one spouse is exposed to professional liability risks. It doesn’t, however, protect couples against claims by their joint creditors. Tenancy by the entirety, if available, may be a good option for people who aren’t comfortable transferring title to their spouses.

Retirement accounts. Qualified retirement plans — such as 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans, as well as certain pension and profit-sharing plans — are excellent asset protection vehicles. IRAs offer more limited protection. Assets held in most qualified plans enjoy unlimited protection from creditors’ claims — both in bankruptcy and outside of bankruptcy — under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Keep in mind that, for these strategies to work, you must implement them at a time when there are no pending or threatened claims against you. Otherwise, you may run afoul of fraudulent conveyance laws.

Before you weigh your asset protection options, we can help you conduct a risk assessment to evaluate your level of exposure. Armed with this information, you can determine which asset protection tools are right for you.

© 2017

 

Explore all of your options when appointing the executor of your estate

Posted by Ryan Posted on Jan 16 2017

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The executor’s role is critical to the administration of an estate and the achievement of estate planning objectives. So your first instinct may be to name a trusted family member as executor (also referred to as a personal representative). But that might not be the best choice.

Important duties

Your executor has a variety of important duties, including:

  • Arranging for probate of your will (if necessary) and obtaining court approval to administer your estate,
  • Taking inventory of — and collecting, recovering or maintaining — your assets, including life insurance proceeds and retirement plan benefits,
  • Obtaining valuations of your assets,
  • Preparing a schedule of assets and liabilities,
  • Arranging for the safekeeping of personal property,
  • Contacting your beneficiaries to advise them of their entitlements under your will,
  • Paying any debts incurred by you or your estate and handling creditors’ claims,
  • Defending your will in the event of litigation,
  • Filing tax returns on behalf of your estate, and
  • Distributing your assets among your beneficiaries according to the terms of your will.

Typically, family members lack the skills and time to handle all of these tasks on their own. They’re entitled, of course, to hire accountants, attorneys, financial planners and other advisors — at the estate’s expense — for assistance. But even with professional help, serving as executor is a big job that requires a substantial time commitment during an already stressful period. Plus, if your executor is also a beneficiary of your will, other beneficiaries may view that as a conflict of interest.

A few alternatives

So, what are your options? One is to name a trusted advisor, such as an accountant or lawyer, as executor. Another is to appoint an advisor and a family member as co-executors. The advisor would handle most of the executor’s day-to-day responsibilities, while your family member would oversee the process and ensure that the advisor acts in your family’s best interests.

We can help you decide who would best serve as your estate’s executor. Please contact us with questions.

© 2017