Estate Planning – Techniques for Reducing Taxes in Large Estates

The change in the tax law from the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 gives us a two year window for significant estate tax planning, ending December 31, 2012.

Instead of a $1 million lifetime cap, you can now gift up to $5 million. When your spouse joins in, a major amount of wealth can be transferred. This makes it important to act now, because the law could change in for 2013.

Leveraged Gifting – you can use a defective irrevocable trust (the defective grantor trust is discussed below) to fund an installment purchase of assets from you to the trust over time. The trust is “defective” so that there is no taxable transaction and no gain; it is as if you are selling to yourself. With the installment sale, a note is used and has to bear interest at the IRS mandated rates, the lowest rate of interest allowed. The goal is to repay the note using appreciated assets, where the transfer back to you is also not taxed, and complete the repayment before you die. If it is not completed, the note is an asset taxable in your estate.

Dynasty Trust – you can use the increased generation skipping transfer tax (GST) to pass more to grandchildren and future generations. Again, the new limits allow you to pass far more on to future generations.

Life Insurance Trust – an irrevocable trust that holds insurance for whatever purpose you design, while be excluded from your taxable estate. Your trustee would purchase insurance on your life. The risks of this alternative are that it is irrevocable and that the cost of the permanent insurance is very high.

Second-to-die Life Insurance – a trust that purchases second-to-die life insurance crates a source to pay estate taxes while not increasing the taxable estate.

GRAT – Another alternative is the grantor retained annuity trust (“GRAT”), which uses some portion of your unified credit as a window through which to pass assets at a discount created by the IRS tables that tell us what the asset gifted will be worth at the end of the term of the trust. You receive annuity payments during the term and the principal passes to your children at the end of the term. (This is why it must be funded with “excess” wealth – if you give the trust a term of 20 years but live many years thereafter, there will be many years during which you have foregone the benefit of the assets gifted). The expectation is that the principal will actually be worth more than the amount you gift to the trust, with such increased value escaping estate taxes. Under the new law, there are no GRAT or value limitations.

Cautions: First, the securities laws will treat you as the owner of trust assets for any restrictions on dealing with publicly traded stock. Second, if you die before the end of the term, assets revert to your estate and the structure collapses to look as if nothing was done. Last, a twist: if you stipulate that the trust will not terminate at your death, you substantially reduce the amount that gets thrown back to your estate, reducing the risk of not living through the term of the trust.

Tax inclusive and exclusive – the Sam Walton strategy can used when you want to transfer more than your unified credit alone will allow. If you make a taxable gift, it is tax exclusive (the tax comes from other assets). Thus, the tax is calculated as a percent of the gift. If you die owning the asset and it then passes to your children, it is tax inclusive as the tax is calculated as the total amount, so less of the assets pass to your children. QPRT – The qualified personal residence trust (“QPRT”) uses the unified credit and discount of a future value like the GRAT but applies it to your residence. Thus, both the benefits and risks are similar; it is the asset that differs.

“Defective” grantor trust – The “defective” grantor trust is effective for gift tax purposes and “defective” for income tax purposes so that assets are not included in your estate and yet you pay the tax on their appreciation. Paying the income taxes without any gift tax cost effectively gives away additional wealth. Again, you can leverage this with an installment sale.

Family Limited Partnership – the family limited partnership (“FLP”) is a partnership that you form, acting as the general partners and the limited partners. You transfer assets into the FLP such as any commercial real estate or your shares in your company. When this is complete, you can gift limited partnership interests to your children. Because only the general partners have any say in the management of the FLP, the IRS allows for a discount to the value of the limited partners interest. This discount is 35 to 40%, so more is passed to children without using up your unified credit. Unlike the other alternatives delineated below, when you transfer limited partner interests, your children receive the benefit now. In addition, you have the burden of tax returns for the FLP, as well as tax liability for children who may not receive distributions from the FLP to cover the taxes.

Charitable Remainder Trust – This charitable remainder trust (“CRT”) is a trust that pays a fixed annuity to you and then distributes the remaining principal to charities. You get a gift charitable deduction for the net present value of the future distribution to charities.

Charitable Lead Annuity Trust – This reverses the CRT, where a trust that pays a fixed annuity to charities selected by its trustees and then returns the remaining principal to you or to your estate. You get a gift tax deduction for the actuarial value of the annuity payments to charities or an estate tax charitable deduction.

Caution – you have an investment risk in each vehicle, where failing to generate the larger principal value in the future that you count on to use the strategy will frustrate its purposes. This is the risk of selecting assets that are expected to soar in value but instead collapse. Therefore, none of these alternatives should be considered until you are comfortable that you have “excess” wealth to pass to your children or to a charity and comfortable that you can make a commitment to do so that cannot be reversed. If you say “no” out of lack of comfort or confidence in any strategy, then you will want to stick to a basic plan for now.

What about the Future? Most observers expect the $5 million exemption to stay, along with the 35% estate tax rate. The exemption could be lower, or the rate increased. All of this is reason to review the ideas below and then update your estate plan.

Please see Estate Planning.

Tax Trap: risk of double taxation on contributions to Qualified Plans by certain states.

If you contribute to a Keogh, SEP-IRA, Money-Purchase or Profit-Sharing Plan as a self-employed taxpayer, or if you have made deductible contributions to an IRA, then you may have a tax issue on distributions from that plan or IRA. (Obviously, this does not apply to Roth IRAs but it can apply to roll-over IRAs.)

Many states follow the federal tax rules, allowing a deduction to these plans. However, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, among others, does not.

That is, in the case of contributions to all of these Plans and even a traditional IRA, Massachusetts gives you no deduction on the contribution. Therefore, you have to take a deduction for that contribution against later distributions. Otherwise, you have paid tax twice on that amount.

To say it differently, because Massachusetts does not allow a deduction at the time of the contribution, i.e., it was “after-tax” money when contributed, you must offset those amounts against withdrawals, amortizing over time, so that you are not taxed on the after-tax contribution when it comes back out as a part of the distributions.

Therefore, you will want to track the contributions made, so that the total can offset the amount taxed by Massachusetts when you withdraw.

We are addressing this issue in an appeal to the Massachusetts DOR Appellate Court, as certain plans face double taxation.

Tax planning: 2009 tips and traps, and 2010 changes

Tax law changes for 2009 will require you to submit more information to your tax preparer to ensure that you get the most of tax credits and deductions. If the person working on your tax returns does not have all the proper information, you could pay too much or your return could be rejected.

Here is an overview of tax changes to consider when gathering your information:

* Making Work Pay Credit (“MWPC”), is a $400 credit to offset a reduction in withholdings enacted early in 2009. It is phased out for higher income and offset by the Economic Recovery Payment, described below. You could end up owing taxes if the credit does fully offset the reduction in withholdings (affects 2009 and 2010).
* Economic Recovery Payment (“ERP”) is a payment received as part of your social security benefits (for 2009 only), and affects the MWPC so that failing to report it could result in your tax return being rejected. The payment itself is not taxable.
* Government Retiree Credit (“GRC”) is for those not receiving social security, but affects the MWPC (2009 only). The new Schedule M reconciles the MWPC, ERP and GRC so you need all the information.
* First Time Home Buyer’s Credit is a $8,000 credit that applies to first time buyers purchasing between certain dates and requires a paper filing (electronic filings will not get the credit). If you buy the home in 2010, you have the option of amending your 2009 taxes for the credit. Note that this credit gets repaid over time on future tax returns beginning in 2010.
* Tax credit for long term home owners buying a new home, between certain dates, also requires a paper filing to avoid being rejected.
* American Opportunity Tax Credit (an expanded Hope Credit) allows use of the credit for two year more years than the Hope Credit, covering junior and senior years of college when the Hope Credit was not available.
* New Vehicle Purchase sales tax deduction (2009 only) is an additional Schedule A item, so long as your are not taking the general sales tax deduction.
* Energy Credit for solar power, fuel cells and certain energy efficient improvements are Schedule A deductions. There are two types of credit depending on what improvements were made to your home and taking the deductions requires you to have documentation.
* The Cash for Clunkers voucher is not considered income (2009 only).
* A tax refund can be used to buy U.S. Series I bonds.
* There is an AMT patch which helps for 2009, but falls back for 2010.
* There is an increased casualty and theft loss limit that helps for 2009.
* Note that a dependent child’s income is taxed when it exceeds $1,900.
* The Tuition and Fees Deduction applies to 2009.
* Unemployment Compensation has $2,400 excluded from taxable income (2009 only).
* Educator’s Expense enhanced for 2009.

Note that not all states accept the IRS changes, so the information and outcome could be different.

For 2010, some old provisions return and some new changes require action now:

* 2010 conversion to a Roth IRA has no income limit and two years to pay the taxes (please see To convert or not traditional IRA to Roth IRA).
* Certain changes lost for 2010 worth repeating (see What to watch out for in 2010 – investing, taxes and more):
* AMT patch falls back;
* Casualty and theft loss limits fall back;
* Educator and tuition and fees deductions against adjusted gross income are not available;
* Deduction of state and local sales taxes ends;
* Exclusion of $2,400 of unemployment income ends; and
* Exclusion of income from qualified distributions from IRAs to charities ends.
* The estate tax still has not been enacted retroactively, as expected (see Estate Planning – will we have a new tax law in time).

As we said before, tax planning involves a multi-year view to optimize what you end up paying (please see More Strategies – Three Year Planning…., Tax Credits and all Continued, and What to watch out for in 2010 – investing, taxes and more)

Let us know if you have questions or comments. Thanks,

Steven