A 2020 Checklist for an Estate Plan – Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption

Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption – The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for those who haven’t started the process of getting an estate plan started. For those who already have a plan in place, now is a great time to review these documents to make changes that will reflect the changes in one’s life or family dynamics, as well as changes to state and federal law.

Houston Business Journal’s recent article entitled “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” says that by partnering with a trusted estate planning attorney, you can check off these four boxes on your list to be certain your current estate plan is optimized for the future.

  1. Compute your financial situation. No matter what your net worth is, nearly everyone has an estate that’s worth protecting. An estate plan formalizes an individual’s wishes and decreases the chances of family fighting and stress.
  2. Get your affairs in order. A will is the heart of the estate plan, and the document that designates beneficiaries beyond the property and accounts that already name them, like life insurance. A will details who gets what and can help simplify the probate process, when the will is administered after your death. Medical questions, provisions for incapacity and end-of-life decisions can also be memorialized in a living will and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney also gives a trusted person the legal authority to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.
  3. Know the 2020 Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption. The Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, an increase from $11.4 million in 2019. The exemption eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s passing. New York has additional rules.
  4. Understand when the exemption may decrease. The Unified Federal Estate & Gift Tax Exemption amount will go up each year until 2025. There was a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to someone who uses the $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026—when the exemption reverts to the $5 million range. However, the IRS has issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of the exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increased exemption limits, when the gifts are actually made.

It’s a great idea to have a resolution every January to check in with your estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is set for the year ahead.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

 

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Not a Billionaire? Trusts Can Still Be Beneficial

Irrevocable Trusts- You don’t have to be wealthy to benefit from the use of a trust. A trust is a legal arrangement by which one person transfers his or her assets to a trustee who will hold those assets in trust for third parties, explains the Stamford Advocate’s article “Trusts are not for the wealthy only.” As the person who created the trust, referred to as “the settlor,” you determine who the trustee is, as well as naming the beneficiaries.

There are many different types of trusts which serve different purposes. However, the two basic categories of trusts are revocable (also known as “living” trusts) and irrevocable trusts. Their names reflect two chief characteristics: the revocable trust can be changed and controlled by the settlor. The irrevocable trust cannot be changed, and the settlor gives up the control of the trust. However, it should be noted that the irrevocable trust has certain tax and other benefits not offered by the revocable trust.

A will is definitely necessary to pass assets on according to your wishes, but a trust can serve other purposes. Here’s a look at some common reasons why people use trusts:

  • Protect assets from creditors
  • Allow heirs to avoid probate of assets in the trusts
  • Avoid, minimize or delay estate taxes, transfer taxes or income taxes
  • Control how assets are disbursed or invested
  • Facilitate business succession planning and manage business assets
  • Shelter assets for descendants, if a spouse remarries
  • Establish a family tradition of philanthropy

Trusts allow assets to be passed on quickly and privately, while eliminating some expenses for heirs. They also permit closer management of who will benefit from your assets.

The cost of setting up a trust depends on the complexity of the trust and the estate, as well as other factors, like the number of beneficiaries and how many generations are being planned for. Bear in mind that the cost of setting up a trust should be measured against the future cost of not just taxes, but any litigation that might occur if the estate is probated and becomes public knowledge, or if family members are dissatisfied with the distribution of assets.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to first determine what kind of trusts are needed for your estate plan to achieve your wishes. Discuss the role of a Special Needs trust, if any family members have mental or physical needs that make them eligible for public assistance. An experienced estate planning attorney will know which planning strategies are best in your unique circumstances.

Reference: Stamford Advocate (Jan. 19, 2020) “Trusts are not for the wealthy only”

 

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Tax Planning – I’m Between 55 and 64, How Do I Boost My Retirement Savings?

Tax Planning – It’s never too soon to begin saving. However, the last decade prior to retirement can be crucial. By then you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of when (or if) you want to retire and, even more important, still have some time to make changes, if need be.

If you discover that you need to put more money away, Investopedia’s article “Top Retirement Savings Tips for 55-to-64-Year-Olds” gives you several time-honored retirement savings tips to consider.

  1. Fund Your 401(k) to the Max. If your employer has a 401(k) or a similar plan, and you aren’t already funding yours to the maximum, up your contributions. These plans are an easy and automatic way to invest, plus you’ll defer paying taxes on that income until you withdraw it in retirement. You may be in a higher marginal tax bracket now than you will be during retirement, because you’re in your peak earning years. As a result, you’ll see a smaller tax bill in retirement. This applies to traditional 401(k)s and other plans. If your job offers a Roth 401(k) and you participate, you’ll pay taxes on the income now but be able to make tax-free withdrawals later.
  2. Review Your 401(k) Allocations. Experts tells us that you should invest more conservatively as you get older, with more money in bonds and less in stocks. That’s because if your stocks drop in a prolonged bear market, you won’t have the time needed to recover. As a result, you may have to sell your stocks at a loss. Stocks still have growth potential and are a hedge against inflation, unlike bonds. Therefore, remain diversified in both stocks and bonds, but do this in an age-appropriate manner.
  3. Look into an IRA. If you don’t have a 401(k) plan to join at work—or if you’re already funding yours to the max—another retirement investing option is an IRA. There are two types: traditional and Roth. With a traditional IRA, the money you contribute is generally tax-deductible upfront. With a Roth, you receive a tax break later with tax-free withdrawals. Each has its own set of rules for contributions, so educate yourself on the differences.
  4. Know Your Sources of Income for Retirement. Your level of aggressiveness in saving also depends on the other sources of income you can reasonably expect to have in retirement. When you hit your mid-50s or early 60s, you can get a much better estimate than earlier in your career. After you’ve contributed to Social Security for 10 years or more, you can get a personalized estimate of your future monthly benefits using the Social Security Retirement Estimator. Your benefits are based on your 35 highest years of earnings, so they may increase if you continue working. Your benefits will also vary, based on when you start collecting them. You can start taking benefits as early as age 62, but they’ll be permanently reduced from what you’ll receive if you wait until your “full” retirement age (currently between 66 and 67 for anyone born after 1943). You can also wait and start getting your Social Security up to age 70 and see the largest amount possible.
  5. Don’t Mess with Your Retirement Savings. After age 59½, you can begin making penalty-free withdrawals from your traditional retirement plans and IRAs. With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions (not their earnings) penalty-free at any time. In addition, the IRS has an exception known as “the Rule of 55.” This waives the early-withdrawal penalty on retirement plan distributions for workers 55 and over (50 and over for some government employees) who lose or leave their jobs. This is a complicated rule, so speak to your estate planning attorney. It is important to understand that just because you can make withdrawals doesn’t mean you should, unless you absolutely need the money. The longer you keep your retirement accounts “in the bank” (up to age 72, when you must begin to take required minimum distributions from some), the better off you’re likely to be.
  6. And Remember the Taxes. When you make withdrawals from a traditional 401(k) plan or traditional IRA, you’ll be taxed at your rate for ordinary income—not the lower capital gains rate.

Reference: Investopedia (June 11, 2019) “Top Retirement Savings Tips for 55-to-64-Year-Olds”

Suggested Key Terms: Retirement Planning, Tax Planning, Financial Planning, IRA, 401(k), Pension, Social Security, Stocks, Bonds, Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)

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Do My Heirs Need to Pay an Inheritance Tax?

U.S. News & World Report explains in its article, “What Is Inheritance Tax?” that estate taxes and inheritance taxes are often mentioned as if they’re the same thing. However, they’re really very different in concept and practice.

Remember that not every estate is required to pay estate taxes, and not every heir will pay inheritance taxes. Let’s discuss how to determine whether these taxes impact you.

Inheritance can be taxable to heirs. However, this is based upon the state in which the deceased lived and the heirs’ relationship to the benefactor.

Inheritance taxes are a state tax on a portion of the value of a deceased person’s estate that’s paid by the inheritor of the estate. There are no federal inheritance taxes. Currently, there are only six states that impose an such a tax, according to the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. The states that have an inheritance tax are Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New York does not have an inheritance tax

Inheritance laws for tax and exemption amounts are different in each of these six states. In Pennsylvania, there’s no tax charged to a surviving spouse, a son or daughter age 21 or younger and certain charitable and exempt organizations. Otherwise, the Keystone State’s inheritance tax is charged on a tiered system. Direct descendants and lineal heirs pay 4.5%, siblings pay 12% and other heirs pay a cool 15%.

Inheritance tax is determined by the state in which the deceased lived. Estate taxes are deducted from the deceased’s estate after death and aren’t the responsibility of the heirs. Some states also charge their own estate taxes on assets more than a certain value. The states that charge their own estate tax are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C.

Decreasing estate taxes are the responsibility of the deceased prior to his or her death. They should work with an estate planning attorney to map out strategies that can lessen or eliminate estate taxes for certain assets.

Remember these taxes are state taxes. They are imposed by only six states and are the responsibility of the heirs of the estate, even if they live in another state. In contrast, estate taxes are federal and state taxes. The federal estate tax is a 40% tax on assets more than $11.4 million for 2019 ($22.8 million for married couples). This is charged, regardless of where you live. Some states have additional estate taxes with their own thresholds.

Inheritance taxes are paid by the heirs, and estate taxes are paid by the estate. An estate planning attorney can help to find ways to reduce taxes and transfer money efficiently.

 

 

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Can I Deduct Long-Term Care Expenses on My Tax Return?

If you need long-term care, you may need to know, “How can I deduct long term care expenses on my tax return ?  If you purchased a long-term-care insurance policy to cover the costs, you may also be able to deduct some of that. Retirement planning entails long-term care, so it’s critical to know how these tax deductions can help offset overall costs.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Deduct Expenses for Long-Term Care on Your Tax Return,” explains that you can deduct unreimbursed costs for long-term care as a medical expense, including eligible expenses for in-home, assisted living and nursing-home services. However, certain requirements must be met. The long-term care must be medically necessary and can include preventive, therapeutic, treating, rehabilitative, personal care, or other services. The cost of meals and lodging at an assisted-living facility or nursing home is also included, if the main reason for being there is to get qualified medical care.

The care must also be for a chronically ill person and given under a care plan prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner. A person is “chronically ill,” if he or she can’t perform at least two activities of daily living—like eating, bathing or dressing—without help for at least 90 days. This condition must be certified in writing within the past year. A person with a severe cognitive impairment is also deemed to be chronically ill, if supervision is needed to protect his or her health and safety.

To claim the deduction, you must itemize deductions on your tax return. Itemized deductions for medical expenses are only allowed to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income in 2019. An adult child can claim a medical expense deduction on his own tax return for the cost of a parent’s care, if he can claim the parent as a dependent.

The IRS also permits a limited deduction for certain long-term-care insurance premiums. You must submit an itemized deduction for medical expenses, and only premiums exceeding the 10% of AGI threshold are deductible in 2019. Further, the insurance policy itself must satisfy certain requirements for the premiums to be deductible. For instance, it can only cover long-term-care services. This limitation means the deduction only applies to traditional long-term-care policies, rather than hybrid policies that combine life insurance with long-term-care benefits. The deduction has an age-related cap.

These deductions are typically not useful for people in their fifties or sixties but can be valuable for people in their seventies and older. That’s because income tends to drop in retirement, so the deductions can have a greater overall impact on tax liability. As you age, you’re also more likely to have medical expenses exceeding 10% of AGI. Those deductions could move your total itemized deductions past the standard deduction amount. The chances of satisfying the medical necessity requirements for the care costs deduction also increase with age, and the cap for the premium deduction levels off after age 70.

Reference: Kiplinger (September 4, 2019) “Deduct Expenses for Long-Term Care on Your Tax Return”

 

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