advantages

Estate Tax Update: Initial Thoughts

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law on December 22, 2017, and became effective January 1, 2018 (the “Act”). While most of the Act is made up of provisions that change individual and business income taxes, there were some significant changes to the Estate Tax laws.

We are still awaiting guidance from the IRS with respect to some of the provisions; however, this post will inform you with respect to some of the major changes in the Estate Tax laws and my initial thoughts on some planning opportunities. Note that as these new laws are analyzed and examined, it is anticipated that more planning opportunities will develop and I will update this blog as to such opportunities once further developed. The main purpose of this post is to advise you of the changes made and to give you a starting point when considering your own individual planning.

The Estate Tax is the tax that is assessed against an individual’s total estate and all assets included in such estate when that individual passes away. The Estate Tax rate of 40% did not change. However, the most significant change was the Estate Tax exemption amount doubled. Under the old law, the exemption amount was set to increase to $5,490,000 per individual and $11,180,000 per married couple in 2018; instead, the Act increased this exemption amount to $11,180,000 per individual and $22,360,000 for married couples. Therefore, if an individual passes away with total estate assets valued at less than that exemption amount (including all lifetime gifts), no Estate Tax would apply on such individual’s estate.

This significant increase in the Estate Tax exemption amount presents a number of planning considerations:

  • If an individual already used part or all of their Estate Tax exemption as part of their planning under the old law, that individual now has at least an additional $5,000,000 in exemption that they could now use in their planning.
  • Whether or not an individual has used any of their Estate Tax exemption amount already, much consideration should be given as to whether to use some or all of the exemption now. This is because one major piece of this new Act is that it sunsets in year 2026. This means that if no action is taken by Congress before 2026, the Estate Tax exemption amount will go back down to the old law exemption amounts (which would be approximately $6,000,000 per individual in 2026 with inflation adjustments). Thus, it is important to at least consider taking advantage of this increased exemption now. However, the question then becomes, if this new increased exemption amount does sunset in 2026, what will Congress do about individuals who have used more than that new lower exemption amount (i.e., the $6,000,000 exemption)? Will they be grandfathered in and those assets above that amount still not be subject to Estate Tax? Will the amount above the new lower exemption amount be brought back into their estate when they pass away and thus be subject to Estate Tax? These are some of the questions we are still looking to the IRS for guidance on.
  • This new Act retains the right of the surviving spouse to “port” over the deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount. What this means is if one spouse passes away without using their $11,180,000 exemption, the surviving spouse can elect to “port” over that $11,180,000 exemption in order to retain the benefit of that exemption when that surviving spouse later passes away. This can be extremely beneficial and must be considered as part of every estate plan and when a spouse passes away. Our thought is that even if the exemption amount sunsets in 2026, that this “ported” amount would still be allowed (if a spouse passed away between 2018 and 2026), even at the higher exemption amount. However, there has not been any IRS guidance on this yet. Furthermore, portability should also be used in conjunction with an exemption trust to allow the surviving spouse maximum flexibility.
  • All of the planning tools that were at our exposure before are still available; the impact of such planning may have changed though. Very briefly and generally, the benefits and risks of Estate Tax planning at this conjuncture are as follows:

Benefits of Estate Tax Planning

  • Using the Estate Tax exemption while it is available at this increased amount and before it goes away (possibly in 2026 or even sooner if other political changes occur) can be a substantial benefit to transfer more out of your estate tax-free.
  • Any appreciation on such assets after being transferred will also be out of your estate, providing even more Estate Tax savings.
  • Not only does it lower the Estate Tax at death, it can also lower your income taxes if you are no longer receiving the income from those assets after you gift them away.

Risks of Estate Tax Planning

  • We don’t know what will happen when the new Act sunsets in 2026, if that happens. Will the IRS conclude that any amount in excess of the lower exemption amount comes back into your estate? If that happens, will your estate have enough left to even pay the Estate Tax due?
  • If planning is done, what exemption does it use if you give away less than the future sunset exemption amount (which we believe will be approximately $6,000,000)? For example, if you give away $4,000,000 when the exemption amount is the current $11,180,000 and then later the exemption goes down to $6,000,000, do you only have $2,000,000 of exemption left ($6,000,000 new exemption minus $4,000,000 gifted) or $6,000,000 ($11,180,000 old exemption minus $4,000,000 gifted, but since over the current $6,000,000, capped at $6,000,000)?
  • For any assets in your estate at your passing, such assets receive a step-up in basis, which means your beneficiaries will not pay capital gain tax on any appreciation up until the date of death. However, for any assets transferred out of your estate, your beneficiaries lose the benefit of the step-up in basis on such assets (i.e., if the asset is sold, the beneficiary will pay capital gain tax on all appreciation). Thus, this loss of the step-up in basis and the assessment of the capital gains tax needs to be weighed against the Estate Tax.
  • What does the future hold? What will the value of the assets in your estate be when you pass away? Markets can change. What will the Estate Tax law in effect be when you pass away? Political turbulence and changes have this Estate Tax law in a constant flux.

My hope is that this information is helpful and gives you some ideas to consider.

-Matt

© 2018 Matthew D. Brehmer and Crummey Estate Plan.

Advertisements

The Monthly 5 and 5: The 5 or 5 Power

Each month I will be publishing a post discussing five advantages and five disadvantages of a particular estate planning technique – the post will be called The Monthly 5 and 5. In this first installment of The Monthly 5 and 5, I will be discussing the “5 or 5 power.” Notice the similarity? Yes, that’s right, the “5 or 5 power” was inspiration for The Monthly 5 and 5.

The “5 or 5 power” gives a beneficiary of a trust the power in any calendar year to withdraw the greater of $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets. This means that for any trust with assets of less than $100,000, the beneficiary will have the power to withdraw up to $5,000 each year; and, for any trust with assets of more than $100,000, the beneficiary will have the power to withdraw up to 5% of the value of the trust’s assets each year (i.e., because 5% of $100,000 is $5,000).

You may be asking yourself: Why $5,000 or 5%? What’s so magical about those numbers? Well, put most simplistically, because that is what the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) says. In order to avoid certain consequences, this annual withdrawal power is limited to $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets under the IRC. Why is it important to abide by the IRC? Well, for instance, if instead, you gave the beneficiary more than a $5,000 or 5% annual power to withdraw, the beneficiary’s withdrawal power could be deemed a general power of appointment over the trust and some or all the assets in the trust could be included in the beneficiary’s estate for estate tax purposes. This could create devastating tax consequences for the beneficiary.

Below are five reasons (each with an advantage and disadvantage) why the “5 or 5 power” can be a useful estate planning tool:

Reason 1: Minimum Distribution

Let’s say that the trust allows the trustee to only distribute the income of the trust (and not any of the trust principal) to the beneficiary each year for the beneficiary’s support. If in a particular year the trust generates very little income, the 5 or 5 power allows the beneficiary the power to withdraw up to $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets that year regardless of the amount of trust income.

Advantage: At a minimum, the beneficiary will be able to receive at least $5,000 per year for support.

Disadvantage: The amount subject to the beneficiary’s 5 or 5 power may not be protected from the beneficiary and/or creditors of the beneficiary.

Reason 2: Strict Trustee

Let’s say that the trust allows the trustee to distribute income and/or principal only for the health, education and support of the beneficiary. If a trustee is particularly strict when following this standard and distributes very little to the beneficiary, the 5 or 5 power allows the beneficiary the power to withdraw up to $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets each year even if it is not for the health, education and support of the beneficiary.

Advantage: The beneficiary will be able to withdraw at least up to $5,000 per year without having to satisfy the trustee that it is being used for health, education and support.

Disadvantage: The beneficiary could exhaust the trust more rapidly than intended over time, whether the trust is small (i.e., $5,000 withdrawn each year) or large (5% of trust assets are withdrawn each year), when the main purpose of the trust may have been to transfer wealth to future generations.

Reason 3: Benefit Without Estate Inclusion

Let’s say that both the trust grantor and his wife are near their lifetime exemption amounts for estate taxes (i.e., if they go over their exemption amount, part of their estate will be subject to estate taxes). The trust grantor sets up a trust for the benefit of his spouse during her lifetime with the remainder going to his children at his wife’s death. Here, the 5 or 5 power allows the wife to use the trust as another source of support and income during her lifetime (limited to $5,000 or 5%) but does not substantially increase her estate for estate tax purposes at her death.

Advantage: The amount of trust assets not subject to the 5 or 5 power are not included in the wife’s estate at her death; and, thus, not subject to estate taxes at her death.

Disadvantage: The amount of trust assets subject to the 5 or 5 power (i.e., the greater of $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets) will be included in the wife’s estate at her death; and, thus, if including this amount in her estate causes her total estate to exceed her lifetime exemption amount, the amount that exceeds the lifetime exemption amount will be subject to estate taxes at her death.

Reason 4: Crummey Trusts

Let’s say that the trust grantor set up a Crummey Trust for his two children. Each year his two children allow their right to withdraw the amount of the annual gift to lapse. When a beneficiary allows their withdrawal right to lapse, it is considered a deemed gift to the other beneficiaries of the trust. However, by adding the 5 or 5 power to the Crummey Trust, the lapsing of the withdrawal right is only considered a deemed gift to the other beneficiaries so much as it exceeds $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets.

Advantage: If the amount of the annual gift to the Crummey Trust is less than or equal to $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets, there will be no deemed gifts to the other beneficiaries by allowing the withdrawal right to lapse.

Disadvantage: While the main purpose of a Crummey Trust is to protect the trust assets from the beneficiaries until you see fit (as spelled out in the trust document), the 5 or 5 power gives the beneficiaries unfettered rights to withdraw up to $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets each year, regardless of the amount of the current year’s gift.

Reason 5: Hanging Crummey Trusts

Let’s use the same scenario as in Reason 4 except that the amount of the annual gift exceeds $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets. If the amount of the gift exceeds $5,000 or 5% of the trust’s assets, it is considered a deemed gift to the other beneficiaries of the amount in excess of the 5 or 5 power; and, thus, possibly causing gift tax consequences for the beneficiaries in the future. However, by adding a “hanging Crummey” provision, the amount of this deemed gift can be eliminated over time (I will explain this further in another post).

Advantage: Over time, the amount of any deemed gift to the other beneficiaries caused by allowing the withdrawal right to lapse will be eliminated; thus, not creating gift tax consequences for the beneficiaries in the future.

Disadvantage: The “hanging Crummey” provision allows the beneficiary to have continued withdrawal rights over the accumulated amount of gifts that have not  yet been offset by the 5 or 5 power; thus, allowing such withdrawal rights to possibly substantially increase over time, contrary to what the trust grantor may have intended.

As you can see above, adding a “5 or 5 power” to a trust document may be done for a number of reasons and it does have some really important advantages. But, like most things in life, the advantages must be weighed against the disadvantages. As always, if a “5 or 5 power” is something you are considering, you should consult an experienced estate planning attorney. It will be each individual’s personal situation and wishes that will control whether or not the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of utilizing a “5 or 5 power” in their estate planning.

– Attorney Matthew D. Brehmer

 

© 2014 Matthew D. Brehmer and Crummey Estate Plan.