Monday, January 21, 2013
2013 Changes to Federal Estate Tax Laws
Changes to income taxes grabbed the lion’s share of the attention as the President and Congress squabbled over how to halt the country’s journey towards the “fiscal cliff.” However, negotiations over exemptions and tax rates for estate taxes, gift taxes and generation-skipping taxes also occurred on Capitol Hill, albeit with less fanfare.
The primary fear was that Congress would fail to act and the estate tax exemption would revert back down to $1 million. This did not happen. The ultimate legislation that was enacted, American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, maintains the $5 million exemption for estate taxes, gift taxes and generation-skipping taxes. The actual amount of the exemption in 2013 is $5.25 million, due to adjustments for inflation.
The other fear was that the top estate tax rate would revert to 55 percent from the 2012 rate of 35 percent. The top tax rate did rise, but only 5 percent from 35 percent to 40 percent.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 also makes permanent the portability provision of estate tax law. Portability means that the unused portion of the first-to-die spouse’s estate tax exemption passes to the surviving spouse to be used in addition to the surviving spouse’s individual $5.25 million exemption.
Some Definitions and Additional Explanations
The federal estate tax is imposed when assets are transferred from a deceased individual to surviving heirs. The federal estate tax does not apply to estates valued at less than $5.25 million. It also does not apply to after-death transfers to a surviving spouse, as well as in a few other situations. Many states also impose a separate estate tax, but Texas does not.
The federal gift tax applies to any transfers of property from one individual to another for no return or for a return less than the full value of the property. The federal gift tax applies whether or not the giver intends the transfer to be a gift. In 2013, the lifetime exemption amount is $5.25 million at a rate of 40 percent. Gifts for tuition and for qualified medical expenses are exempt from the federal gift tax as are gifts under $14,000 per recipient per year.
The federal generation-skipping tax (GST) was created to ensure that multi-generational gifts and bequests do not escape federal taxation. There are both direct and indirect generation-skipping transfers to which the GST may apply. An example of a direct transfer is a grandmother bequeathing money to her granddaughter. An example of an indirect transfer is a mother bequeathing a life estate for a house to her daughter, requiring that upon her death the house is to be transferred to the granddaughter.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Annual Year End Gifts
If you’re like most people, you want to make sure you and your loved ones pay the least amount of tax possible. Many use simple year-end gift giving as a way to transfer wealth to younger generations and also reduce the overall potential estate tax that will be due upon their death. Below are some steps you can take to make small gifts, within the exemption amount, to your heirs without triggering any gift tax liability. Some of these techniques may also reduce your own income tax liability.
A combination of estate and gift tax exemptions can be used to significantly reduce the overall tax liability of your estate. Upon your death, federal estate tax may be owed. A portion of your estate is exempt from the tax. That exemption amount is set by Congress and can change from year to year. For deaths that occur in 2011 the exemption amount is $5 million and for deaths that occur in 2012 the exemption amount is indexed at $5.12 million, and the value of an estate in excess of the respective amount is subject to estate tax.
Many taxpayers make annual gifts to loved ones during their lifetimes, to reduce the overall value of the estate so that it does not exceed the exemption amount in effect at the time of death. It is important to consider that gifts made during your lifetime are subject to a gift tax (equal to the estate tax). However, certain gifts or transfers are not subject to the gift tax, enabling you to make tax-free gifts that benefit your loved ones and reduce the overall taxable value of your estate upon your death.
The annual gift tax exclusion allows each individual to make annual gifts of up to $13,000 to each recipient without even having to file a gift tax return. There is no limit to the number of recipients who may each receive up to $13,000 totally tax-free. Married couples may gift up to $26,000 to each recipient without triggering any tax liability. This annual exclusion expires on December 31 of each year, and larger gifts may be made by splitting it up into two payments. By making a payment in December and one the following January, you can take advantage of the gift tax exclusion for both years. Keeping annual gifts below $13,000 per recipient ensures that no gift tax return must be filed, and that there is no reduction in the estate tax exemption amount available upon your death.
Annual gifts may also be made in the form of contributions to a §529 College Savings Plan. These, too, are subject to the $13,000 annual gift tax exclusion. Additionally, such contributions may afford the giver with a state tax deduction.
Payment of a beneficiary’s medical expenses is also excluded from the gift tax. There is no limit to the amount of medical expense payments that may be excluded from tax. To qualify, the payment must be made directly to the health care provider and must be the type of expenses that would qualify for an income tax deduction.
If you have a large estate that may be subject to taxes upon your death, making annual gifts during your lifetime can be a simple way to reduce the size of your estate while avoiding negative tax consequences.
Friday, September 09, 2011
Executors of 2010 Estates Have Until Nov. 15 to Make Estate Tax Decisions
Everyone will remember the “wonderful boon” that was the 2010 estate tax repeal, which (in theory) allowed decedents to pass on their assets free of any estate taxes. However, the situation was complicated in December of 2010 when, as this article in Bloomberg puts it, “Congress extended the tax retroactively [giving] executors of estates of people who died that year a choice. They could decide to skip the estate tax or pay the tax with a $5 million per-person exemption and a 35 percent top rate, the same as in 2011.”
Executors have had almost a year to consider their options, but now it is just about time to make the decision, because “the Internal Revenue Service is giving executors of estates of people who died in 2010 until Nov. 15 to opt out of the estate tax.” According to the IRS the forms and instructions for 2010 estate tax returns will be made available early this fall.
But executors don’t have to wait until the forms are available to consider which tax option might be the most profitable one. Many financial planners and estate planning attorneys have already done their research, and they’ve found that opting not to pay estate taxes may end up costing you more in the long run. This article in Forbes explains: “Opting out of the estate tax regime means opting out of stepped-up basis (for income tax purposes)… and opting into the modified carryover basis rule… One of the main plusses about estate tax is that it is paired with a stepped-up income tax basis. You should not be paying both estate tax and income tax on the same assets.”
Of course, each estate will be different depending on a number of factors, including the size of the estate, the nature of the assets, the preferences of the beneficiaries, and any previous planning the decedent may have done. Executors should consider their options carefully, and consult with an experienced estate planning attorney and CPA before deciding whether opting out of the estate tax is really in their best interest.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The Tax-Man Cometh
It’s that time of year again; the time of year when everyone starts gathering receipts, assessing income and expenses, and making appointments with tax advisors. Tax time can be a very stressful time for many families, but—with the help of this article from MSN Money—perhaps tax season can be made a little bit easier. The article lists 13 tax breaks from 2010 that can help save you money, including:
The tax credit for first time homebuyers (if you’re not a first time homebuyer don’t give up, there’s a credit for existing homeowners too.)
The parking and transit credit
The college tuition tax credit
The credit for energy-saving home improvements
And then of course there are the two we’ve been mentioning here on our blog for the past few months:
The estate tax exemption, and
The annual gift tax exemption
Of course, not every item on the list is going to apply to every reader, but if even one or two credits apply to you or your family it can be a huge help.
Don’t rely only on this article to ease your 2010 tax burden, your own advisors and tax planners—who know more about your family’s personal and business finances—will be able to give you much more in-depth advice on how best to address your own tax situation. In addition, talking to a professional advisor right now provides the perfect opportunity to tackle any issues in 2011, hopefully making this time next year a much happier and less stressful time for everybody.
Monday, December 20, 2010
At Long Last: What to Expect from Estate Taxes in 2011
It has been a long and uncertain year for anybody interested in the future of the estate tax, filled with a few ups, a few downs, and a lot of speculation. But after the recent passage of the new bipartisan tax bill all of the confusion and speculation is finally at an end, and it’s very close to what we anticipated early last week. The bill is good news for most taxpayers; the Wall Street Journal says there are “many winners, a few losers,” and according to the New York Times “Almost no one will have to worry about paying the estate tax under the tax legislation just approved by Congress.”
Here is a brief overview of what you can expect in 2011:
New Estate Tax Exemptions and Rates:The new bill sets the estate tax exemption at $5 million per individual ($10 million per married couple), with amounts over the exemption taxed at a 35% rate. This is opposed to the $3.5 million exemption and 45% rate some lawmakers were hoping for.
Tax Election Option for 2010 Estates:As mentioned in a previous post, this is one of the biggest parts of the new bill. There may have been no estate tax in 2010, but there was also no “step up in basis,” meaning that heirs selling inherited assets were taxed based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death, as is usually the case. This led to a higher tax paid on the assets if and when they were sold, in spite of the lack of estate tax. Tax election gives 2010 estates the choice of whether to use 2010 or 2011 tax rules—a happy option for 2010 heirs.
Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Taxes: In recent years these three levies have had varying exemption levels, making gift giving and succession planning and challenging exercise at best. The unification of all three makes tax planning and giving gifts to grandchildren much easier than it used to be.
Individual Income and Payroll Taxes: The new bill wasn’t just about estate taxes; it also extends the Bush-era income tax rates; this is good news as it prevents a rise for nearly all taxpayers.
How Long Will It Last? We’re all glad that the waiting is over and we finally know what to expect, but the new law is only effective through 2012, at which point the provisions will “sunset.” This new tax package sets our minds at ease now, but the estate tax issue is far from over. It looks as if we may have to revisit the issue in 2012-2013.
With the threat of high estate taxes out of the way does any reason remain to create (or update) your estate plan? Absolutely!
Estate planning is about more than just planning for taxes, it’s about taking control of your assets and choosing how your estate will be distributed. Divorce, second marriages, planning for college, charitable gifts—these are just a few of the reasons why estate planning is essential regardless of the state of the estate tax.
At the very least, the recent fluctuation of the law means that you’ll want to call our office and make an appointment to have your existing plan reviewed and updated to ensure you don’t have any outdated clauses that could negatively affect your heirs.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
A Good Year for Giving
The season of giving is upon us... and thanks to 2010’s unusual tax laws we may see some very large gifts before the year is out! If you are considering being particularly generous this year, this article from Reuters explains why the federal government is making 2010 an exceptionally good year for giving.
Most people know that for this year only there is no estate tax. But the year is almost over, and next year the estate tax is slated to go up to an astounding 55%. The more you can afford to give away now, the less that will eventually be subject to the estate tax. However, “the incentive to give stems not just from a looming increase in the estate tax, but also from the lowest tax rate on gifts in a generation -- a maximum of 35 percent. That top rate was 45 percent in 2009 and jumps to 55 percent next year unless Congress acts.”
Those last three words, “unless Congress acts,” carry a lot of weight. Congress could choose instate lower and more reasonable tax rates in 2011; but right now we just don’t know, and the clock is ticking to the end of this “golden year.” There is nothing wrong with waiting to see what happens, but you may want to at least have the conversation with your estate or financial planner, so you know your options and can act swiftly when the time comes.
Very few people really want to give away their hard-earned money; but as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you, and most people would rather leave their legacy to their family rather than the government.
Law Offices of Elyssa M. Schnurr focus their practice on Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts of all degrees of complexity, Probate, Estate Administration & Business Entity Formation. They are also available to assist with Uncontested Divorces and Mediation. They serve clients throughout the greater Houston area, including, but not limited to Houston, Bellaire, West University, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Richmond, Rosenberg, Katy, Cypress, The Woodlands, Kingwood, League City, Webster, Clear Lake, Pearland, Angleton, and throughout Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County and Galveston County.