Bay Area families are running out of time to take advantage of the generous gift tax exemption in place this year. Now is the time to leverage any gifts into ones that hold greatly increased potential value for the recipients. Get started now »
Bay Area families that have yet to take advantage of the current gift tax exemption are running out of time. As of midnight on December 31, 2012, the $5 million exemption disappears and will be replaced by a $1 million exemption. As it stands right now, gifts in excess of $1 million given after January 1, 2013, will be taxed at a whopping 55% top rate!
Last year, Congress raised the gift tax exemption from $1 million per year to a whopping $5 million per year ($5,120,000 per person, to be precise). In addition, the estate tax rate has been reduced from 55% to 35%. However, the increased exemption and reduced rates will last for only the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, making it imperative to act now to create and revise estate plans to take advantage of these extraordinarily favorable terms.
According to the IRS, the gift tax occurs when a person or estate transfers money or property to another either for nothing or for something less than the full value of the property. Congress passed the tax specifically in response to wealthy individuals trying to avoid the estate or “death” tax by giving away their assets prior to death. Before this year, the relatively low threshold of the gift tax exemption discouraged large pre-death bequests.
I have previously said that those with a high net worth should do advanced estate planning beyond a basic will. The generous gift tax exemption currently in place makes now the best time to leverage any gifts into ones that hold greatly increased potential value for the recipients. Some strategies include:
LLC: Starting a LLC and then making a large gift to capitalize the company. It’s important to note that the process of creating an LLC takes time; all the necessary documents have to be drafted and then approved by the Secretary of State. A prudent planner would need to begin the process right away if he wishes to take advantage of the favorable exemption.
FLP: Related to starting an LLC is the pooling of assets into a Family Limited Partnership. I have previously discussed the benefits of such partnerships here.
Trusts: Another option involves placing certain gifts in trusts. We advocate using various kinds of trusts to protect assets from creditors and con artists alike. This article from the Wall Street Journal contains an excellent rundown of the various trusts one can create to take advantage of the gift tax exemption. Some trusts, such as the Grantor Retained Annuity Trust can be structured so that there are no gift tax consequences.
Real estate: Real estate, much like closely held businesses, is notoriously hard to value and can greatly increase in worth over time. One only needs to look at the massive increase in home values in the Bay Area over the past 25 years (or the dip for the past several) to know how volatile the real estate market can be. Home prices may be lower now, but can increase in value substantially over the next decade or two, increasingly the value of the gift for the recipient. The current economic environment, in which many asset values are depressed and interest rates are at historic lows, actually makes this a perfect time to make gifts, since these factors can really help maximize the benefits of gifting.
Even if you can only afford to give smaller gifts between $1 million and $4.999 million (small being a relative word), it would still be wise to take advantage of this generous exemption before the year’s end and the $5 million ceiling expires. If you have not yet tried to take advantage of the exemption, you need to act quickly. The likelihood of Congress extending this exemption is widely seen as unlikely given that it is an election year.
Creating a gift plan that will suit your individual needs takes time. Appraisals, business valuations, and trust documents must often be created in order to ensure the gift tax exemption is applied properly in your situation. Talk to your California gift-planning attorney right away if you want to take advantage of the exemption before it ends.
Source: “The $5 Million Tax Break,” by Anne Tergesen, published at WSJ.com.
See our related blog posts:
All the best,
This is the first of two articles on reviewing a trust. In this one I address whether a Palo Alto family with a living trust should have the creator of the trust do the review, or find a different attorney to take a fresh look.
Q: We live in Palo Alto, California and in the 90s our family chose a Burlingame estate planning attorney to establish a living trust. Now we are trying to verify if the attorney who drew it up really is trustworthy and experienced with living trusts. We need a trust review. Specifically:
- Is it better to go to the same attorney for this "check up" or someone new?
- Since we are asking for a trust review, would the fees be much lower than if we were starting from scratch?
A: You were smart to use an estate planning attorney instead of using off-the-shelf forms or packages from a self-service legal website. You are smart to check and update your living trust, too. Circumstances can change alot in a short time. In fact, it is a good idea to do a trust review and update your trust every three to five years.
Vetting estate planning attorneys using Avvo
I am glad to hear that you are vetting estate planning attorneys before hiring anyone. One way to check out a lawyer is to look on Avvo. Search for "estate planning" in the Palo Alto area and see which lawyers' names appear with high Avvo ratings. See if they've answered questions and read the answers to see what you think of their approach.
Checking out attorneys using the State Bar website
Also check out the State Bar website. Use the "Advanced Search" feature and the "Additional Search Criteria" to find a specialist in Estate Planning law. Less than 1% of all California lawyers are certified as specialists in Estate Planning. In order to be certified, a lawyer has to pass a specialized bar exam and meet rigorous experience requirements.
Also, check out these individuals' websites to see what their approach is to estate planning to see if you think the "chemistry" will be right.
What you can expect to pay
You get what you pay for! If price is your most important criterion, then skip all of the above and just phone lawyers until you find the one with the lowest price. Just remember, if they don't do it right, it cannot be corrected after you die or become incompetent.
Depending on the complexities of your situation (and whether you're married or single, have children who need to be protected, etc.), an experienced attorney's fees will be anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. As a very rough rule of thumb, figure out your net worth and multiply by 0.10% to 0.25%. That usually approximates the complexity of your estate and the cost of planning for it properly.
For example, if you have an estate worth $3 million dollars, you should expect to pay between $3,000 and $7,500... a little less if your situation is really "plain vanilla"; a little more if it's complex.
Look for the next article on trust reviews
In the next article on trust reviews, tentatively titled "How is Review of a Living Trust Different from Estate Planning?" I'll show an example of what we examine when we do a trust review, and how a trust review differs from creating an estate plan.
Getting legal help
If you are currently working with a highly qualified estate planning attorney that you are comfortable with, it is probably best to continue working with him or her. On the other hand, if you have doubts about the advice you are getting or the experience you have working with the person, it's time to look elsewhere.
All the best,
Not only is charitable giving a praiseworthy choice, it can also reduce tax liability. Certain kinds of gifting is income- and estate tax deductible, and in this article I share the IRS's guidelines.
In order to take advantage of the income tax savings benefits of charitable giving, a donation must meet certain requirements established by the IRS.
IRS rules for charitable giving
- The donor cannot benefit from the donation*
- The donor must be able to substantiate the donation
- The donation must be made to or for the benefit of a qualified charitable organization, and
- The donation may not exceed the current statutory ceiling
* However, structured properly, you can receive an income stream from a charitable trust and still receive an income tax deduction for the charitable portion of the gift - please contact us to discuss your particular situation.
Taxes and charitable giving
Let's distinguish between the income tax side and the estate/gift tax side:
- If it goes to charity it is deductible from your estate
- If it goes to loved ones, it's not
The Tax Code limits the income tax savings of a charitable gift to a percentage of the donor’s adjusted taxable income (or AGI) reported each year on your 1040. But every dollar you give to charity is deductible if the charitable gift it is made as part of your will or trust. So people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates can give their kids up to $5M - and pay no estate tax if they give their other billions to charity through their will or trust.
Outright gifts vs. deferred gifts
Charitable gifts fall into two categories: outright gifts and deferred gifts. An outright gift is an immediate gift made to a charitable organization. An outright gift has the following characteristics:
- The donor has no influence or control over the charity
- The donation is at the disposal of the charity, and
- The donor retains “no legal or equitable interest” in the donated property
A deferred gift is also known as a planned gift or a partial gift and may take any of the following forms:
- A bequest in a will or living trust
- A beneficiary designation on a retirement plan or life insurance policy (caution: this needs to be handled carefully to avoid unintended tax consequences)
- An irrevocable commitment to transfer property to a specific charity upon the death of a specific beneficiary or after the lapse of a stated period of time (a Charitable Remainder Trust); or
- An irrevocable commitment to convey property temporarily to charity in trust with the understanding that the property will be returned to a non-charitable entity upon the death of a designated beneficiary or after the lapse of a stated period of time (a Charitable Lead Trust)
Getting legal help
Charitable gifts can take many forms. Talk with an attorney experienced in planned giving to determine what’s right for your situation. It depends on your age, your goals, age of beneficiaries, size of the gift, and more. In addition to trusts, there are several other charitable gifting strategies which may be utilized to maximize estate tax savings. I am a board certified estate planning and probate attorney specializing in the representation of high-net worth clients in Los Altos, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Stanford, and the surrounding areas -- and can help you develop the best strategy.
Get started >>
All the best,
When planning your estate, your primary objective is probably to pass on as much wealth to your heirs as possible. And if you’re like most people, you want to reduce or eliminate estate taxes as well.
But litigation, divorce, malpractice and other potential claims may damage your net worth more than taxes. So protecting assets from potential claims has become an additional planning objective. Fortunately, many of the same techniques you can use to reduce estate taxes also can provide creditor protection.
You can use many techniques to reduce your estate for tax purposes while also protecting your assets from creditors. Yet these measures won’t protect against existing creditors if a transfer constitutes a “fraudulent conveyance” under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. A fraudulent conveyance occurs if you had actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud a creditor when you made the transfer.
Here are seven ways to safely protect transferred assets from creditors:
1. Outright gifts. An outright gift protects a transferred asset from creditors. But you’ll lose all economic interest in and control over the asset
2. Family limited partnerships (FLPs). An FLP is an excellent asset-protection device because it limits a limited partner’s creditor’s ability to attach partnership assets to satisfy a debt. Creditors generally can obtain a charging order only against a limited partner’s interest in a partnership. A charging order would permit a creditor to receive distributions only when they’re made from the partnership, and the general partner could choose not to make distributions. The creditor could even end up with taxable income without any cash distributions.
3. Irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs). From the standpoint of protecting your assets, an ILIT removes insurance proceeds from your estate for federal estate tax purposes. And the trust protects from creditors the cash value of the policies during your lifetime and the policy proceeds when you die.
4. Qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs). A QPRT lets you transfer a primary or vacation residence to a trust while you reserve the right to live in the home for a term of years. The value of the interest you retain (that is, the right to live in the house for a term of years) is calculated using IRS tables. The value of the property transferred into trust, minus your term interest’s value, is a gift known as the “remainder interest.” This gift can be sheltered from gift tax by your $1 million gift tax exemption. If you survive the term of years, the trust is not included in your estate for federal estate tax purposes. (QPRTs provide creditor protection by insulating the residence from your creditors’ claims. In a creditor protection situation, the nondebtor spouse should create the QPRT and retain the term interest.)
5. Inter vivos qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trusts. You create this trust during your lifetime for your spouse. It qualifies for the gift tax marital deduction. The federal estate tax benefit to this technique is that when your spouse dies, the QTIP trust is included in his or her estate for federal estate tax purposes. If your spouse lacks sufficient assets in his or her own name to use his or her federal estate tax exemption, the QTIP assets will achieve this.
If you survive your spouse, an amount of assets equal to the estate tax exemption (currently $1.5 million) will first go to fund a family trust created under the QTIP trust for your benefit. The balance of the QTIP trust assets will be allocated to the marital trust for your benefit and will qualify for the marital deduction, resulting in no federal estate tax at your spouse’s death.
By structuring the QTIP trust this way, the assets allocated to the family trust when your spouse dies will escape estate tax. That is, the assets allocated to the family trust don’t qualify for the estate tax marital deduction, but your spouse’s estate tax exemption “shelters” them from estate tax. They also won’t be subject to federal estate tax when you die, because assets allocated to a family trust — including their appreciation — for a surviving spouse’s benefit aren’t part of the surviving spouse’s estate for federal estate tax purposes.
The inter vivos QTIP trust is extremely popular as a creditor protection device because the QTIP assets are completely insulated from claims of your creditors and your spouse’s creditors during your spouse’s lifetime.
6. Charitable remainder trusts (CRTs). A CRT usually provides for distribution of a percentage of the trust principal, at least annually, to a person, usually the grantor, for his or her lifetime. The CRT can provide that when the grantor dies, the grantor’s spouse shall become the CRT annuitant for his or her lifetime. When this period ends, the charity receives the remaining CRT assets (the “remainder interest”).
Creating a CRT provides several income tax benefits. For example, the grantor can deduct the remainder interest’s value (the interest passing to the charity) as determined at the CRT’s inception by consulting IRS tables.
An additional benefit is that the CRT is exempt from all income tax. So a grantor owning assets subject to a large capital gain can transfer these assets to the trust, and it can sell them without the grantor or the trust having to pay any tax on the gain. Or a grantor holding highly appreciated assets that aren’t producing much income can contribute them to the CRT and create an income stream and owe tax only as annuity payments are received. It sells them and reinvests the proceeds to service the annuity.
A nondebtor-spouse-created CRT protects assets from a debtor spouse’s creditors. A creditor can’t attach the principal because of the charitable interest. And a debtor spouse’s creditors can’t attach the nondebtor spouse’s annuity payments. If the nondebtor spouse dies first — and the CRT provides that the debtor spouse becomes the annuitant — the debtor spouse’s creditors could attach the annuity when distributed to him or her.
7. Grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs). A GRAT is a gift of a remainder interest in an irrevocable trust, under which the grantor has retained an annuity interest for a term of years. For example, if $500,000 is transferred to a GRAT and the grantor has retained a 6% annuity, $30,000 per year will be distributed to the grantor. The remainder interest in the GRAT can be a trust for the grantor’s spouse, with trusts being created for children when both spouses die.
The value of the gift to a GRAT for gift tax purposes is the value of the property transferred to it, less the value of the grantor’s retained annuity interest. The value of the annuity is calculated according to IRS tables.
If the grantor survives the GRAT’s term, its assets will be excluded from the grantor’s estate for federal estate tax purposes. If the grantor dies during the term, some of the assets will be included in the grantor’s estate for federal estate-tax purposes.
If a nondebtor spouse is the grantor of a GRAT, the debtor spouse’s creditors can’t attach the annuity distributions to the nondebtor spouse. These creditors also can’t attach the GRAT principal. If a debtor spouse becomes a GRAT beneficiary when the nondebtor spouse dies, his or her creditors could attach any distributions to the debtor spouse.
These are just a few of the ways proper estate planning can also safeguard your assets from creditors. And in a society rife with litigation, you simply can’t underestimate the importance of protecting yourself. Learn all you can about these measures and others that may benefit you.
All the best,