NJ Phone: 609-818-1555 * FL Phone: 561-247-1557

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Inflation updates for 2009

Every year the Internal Revenue Service publishes new rates and tables for a variety of tax exemptions. Here are the important ones that relate to Gift and Estate Taxes:

Starting on January 1, 2009...

1) The Annual Gift Tax Exclusion will be $13,000. The old limit was $12,000. This means a person can give any other person at least $13,000 before it is subject to the federal gift tax. I won't go into the details about how and when it will qualify - just realize that as long as it is an outright gift, it will usually qualify. Also, a husband and wife may now split a $26,000 gift for tax purposes before there is a gift tax.

2) The Annual Gift Tax Exclusion for Gifts to Non-Citizen Spouses will be $133,000. The old limit was $128,000. This is the maximum amount a person may transfer to a non-citizen spouse before the gift is subject to a gift tax. In order for US law to apply, we will usually be talking about a gift being made to a permanent resident alien spouse. One place where this gets triggered unexpectedly by many is retitling of real estate - so be careful with changing ownership before giving this some thought.

3) The Federal Estate Tax Exemption will be $3,500,000. We've talked about this before, so it should not be a surprise to anyone that the estate tax exemption amount is going up from $2,000,000 up to $3,500,000. The real question will be what happens in 2010 under a Democratic Congress and President. All rumors that I am hearing at this point lead me to believe that the $3,500,000 will stay, but be indexed for inflation.

Source: IRS Rev.Proc. 2008-66, 2008-45 IRB1
I.R.C. Section 2010

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney?

The short answer is: control. Proper estate planning is essential to controlling how much of your estate you pass on, to whom you pass it on, and when it is passed on. Back in March, I listed the Top 10 Reasons to Have a Will. However, not only should you have a Will, but in most instances it should be drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney.

“Do it yourself” will kits seem easy enough, but they can’t advise you. If you have children and will be naming guardians or setting up trusts, you need the advice of someone who knows the intricacies of estate planning laws. While providing for your children's protection, you need to consider how your money will be transferred to them. Who will control the money until the kids are old enough to take care of it themselves? Will they get staggered amounts as they hit certain milestone birthdays, or get it all at once? What if one of your children is a spendthrift (i.e. a reckless spender)? In this day and age, the issue of blended families can make drafting a will for your loved ones even more complicated. However, an estate planning attorney can not only draft a Will to provide for your wishes, but can also serve as a counselor, suggesting customized trusts that can be used to provide for your spouse and children on various levels. An estate planning attorney can even set up trusts that direct assets to someone other than family in a way that ensures your family has access to the money when that non-family member no longer needs it.

Moreover, tax and trust planning go hand in hand and should be considered simultaneously. In order to maximize how much of your estate stays intact and is passed to your family, you need to minimize the amount paid to the government and maximize the investments held in trust. This requires a considerable amount of coordination among your assets. In order for the trusts to work as intended, all assets must be accounted for, both at the time the trust is established and moving forward. I’ve written before about tax exemptions, but the short version is that if your estate is properly planned, you (and your heirs) can potentially avoid tax liability altogether.

So - pardon the pun, but if there is anything even remotely complicated about your plan, then a do it yourself Will will not do. Finally, this area has become some complex due to the ever changing tax laws, you really do want to have someone who does this work frequently, otherwise you really are just paying an attorney to fill out a Will kit for you.

Written by: Nancy McMillin & Kevin Pollock

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Should I Tell My Family About What's In My Will?

I must say, I get this question quite a bit. Accordingly, I was very happy to read this article in the New York Times discussing the benefits of an open and honest dialogue with your heirs about the inheritance that they should expect.

Many older clients feel that their kids should learn about their inheritance the same way that they did - only after the surviving parent died. There are several good arguments why clients tell me that they don't want their children to know about their inheritance, with sloth being the biggest one. They want their children to work hard and not rely on getting a large sum of money.

I, however, must generally agree with the article written by David Cay Johnston. I have always felt that, except in limited circumstances, it is usually better to advise your family of what they should expect. I have seen too many estates go into litigation because the elder parents did not properly advise their heirs of their testamentary plans. This is especially true when their is an unequal distribution or if the decedent had been married more than once.

Now, this does not mean that you need to give all the details, and certainly many of the details should be age appropriate. For example, I would tend to advise against telling a 19 year old that he will be inheriting a million dollars, but it would be OK to tell him that his disabled sister or his step mother will have special trusts set up for them. On the other hand, once a client has children over the age of 45, unless the children have medical or psychological problems, there is usually very little reason to keep this kind of information secret.

As with many things in life, there is a sliding scale of what is appropriate and what needs to be mentioned to the family. At a minimum, I request that parents who do not leave their money in a traditional fashion write a letter explaining why they did what they did. I usually do not like to put the reasons themselves in a Will as that is a public document and someone may get offended.

So what do I tell clients who are still worried their children will become lazy if they inherit a lot of money? I tell them to advise their children that they can always change their Will to give the money to charity if the children do not earn their inheritance. Financial incentive can be a power motivating force - and that they can consider it a bonus for a "job" well done. (Note, If a client has multiple children, I do not recommend that a client say he or she will give all their money to only one kid. It is better to say you will give that undeserving child's share to charity or the undeserving child's children, otherwise the anger that the disinherited child feels will be directed at his or her sibling.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Estate Planning for Americans with Assets in India

New Jersey is a fairly diverse state, and I find that more and more of my clients are of Indian heritage. So, as with many of the items I write on this blog, I thought I would share some of the advice that I regularly give clients on this topic:

1) India does not have an estate or an inheritance tax;

2) There is no treaty with respect to the US and India on Estate and Inheritance Taxes;

3) As a US citizen, all of your assets, worldwide, will be subject to an estate tax;

4) If you are also a NJ domiciliary; all of your assets in NJ will be subject to both NJ Estate and Inheritance taxes.  Note, New Jersey also has the right to tax some worldwide assets for estate and inheritance tax purposes);

5) There IS a treaty between the US and India with respect to income taxes (see: http://www.unclefed.com/ForTaxProfs/Treaties/india.pdf) Tax returns need to be coordinated and you will receive a deduction for income taxes paid in India. This may still result in higher taxes as you must report income on worldwide profits.

6) You can do planning to minimize the estate tax burden.

Monday, June 9, 2008

U.S. Citizens Can Vote Abroad

All U.S. Citizens can vote in a general election, regardless of where they live.

YES, you can vote in the US presidential elections, even if you have no “home state” or have never lived in the US! For more information, go to this government website. http://www.fvap.gov/pubs/faq.html

Please consider forwarding this to all citizens you know who are living abroad. Many do not realize that they can vote or how the deadlines for registering.

Questions regarding the above which cannot be answered locally may be referred to the

Director, Federal Voting Assistance Program
Department of Defense
1155 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1155

You may also reach the FVAP via email at vote@fvap.ncr.gov, telephone (703) 588-1584, DSN 425-1584, toll free at 1-800-438-8683 or from 64 countries at www.fvap.gov/services/tollfree.html.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Federal Estate Tax Reform - Not Happening Any Time Soon

For a while now, I have been telling my clients (and really anyone who asked) that I did not think there was going to be any major change in the Federal Estate Tax regime until after the presidential election. A recent Wall Street Journal article that I read is in line with this thinking. For the complete article written by Tom Herman, goto: What Congress Is Likely To Do to Your Tax Bill.

Under the current federal estate tax laws, a person is allowed to pass on up to $2,000,000 to anyone they choose plus an unlimited amount to a surviving spouse (as long as he or she is a citizen). In 2009, this "exemption amount" is supposed to go up to $3,500,000 per person. In 2010, the federal estate tax is theoretically supposed to disappear, and in 2011, it goes back to the pre-Bush era exemption amount of $1,000,000.

In all likelihood, no one in their right mind will support any exemption amount of less than $2,000,000. In my personal opinion, the exemption amount will settle somewhere between $3,500,000 and $5,000,000 for the years 2010 forward.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Thoughts on Portability of Estate Tax Exemption

Currently the House and the Senate are mulling a proposal to allow married couples to transfer their estate tax exemption amount to a surviving spouse on death. Under the current law, it is a use it or lose it approach.

To give an example of what this would mean, let's take a couple with $4,000,000 worth of assets. The Husband has $3 Million in his name and the wife has $1 Million in her name. Under the current law, it is possible that this family's heirs could be taxed up to $900,000 in federal estate taxes. How you ask?

  • Scenario 1. Regardless of whether Husband or Wife dies first, if they have a Will leaving everything to the surviving spouse before it goes to the children (an "I Love You Will"), then when the second spouse dies there will be a $900,000 tax. This is because the surviving spouse dies with assets worth $4,000,000 and an exemption of only $2,000,000. This assumes not increase in the value of the assets and the fact that the ederal estate tax rate stays at its current rate of 45%.
  • Scenario 2. If Wife dies first and leaves the $1 Million to their children (or in a special trust for Husband), then on the subsequent death of Husband, there will be an estate tax of $450,000. This is because Husband would die with assets worth $3,000,000 and an exemption of only $2,000,000. Same assumptions as above.
  • Scenario 3. This couple hires an intelligent estate planning attorney and the attorney helps them retitle their assets so that they each own $2,000,000. The attorney then sets up a special trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse so that he or she has access to all $4,000,000 ($2 Million of their own money and $2 Million in trust). However, this special structure makes full use of each spouse's estate tax exemptions - so that regardless of who dies first, there is no estate tax due and owing at the death of the second spouse.

So how would portability of an estate tax exemption affect this? Well, in each of the above scenarios, there would be ZERO tax. The proposals being bandied about would allow a spouse to transfer his or her exemption amount to a surviving spouse. So in scenarios one and two above, rather than the surviving spouse having an exemption amount of only $2,000,000, he or she would be entitled to an exemption amount of $4,000,000. Generally, this fits in line with the current thinking of most tax provisions in that the government wishes to treat a husband and wife as a single unit.

By and large, there is not much downside to this idea for people. In most proposals, the only thing one must do to take advantage of this is to file an attachment to a person's estate tax return or their final income tax return. The people who would benefit most from this proposal would be those with large assets that they cannot transfer to a spouse (e.g. people who own large retirement accounts).

My one word of caution would be that this could lull people into a false sense of security regarding their estate planning. I know that if people are not worried about taxes, they may be less inclined to get the proper documentation in place. This would be particularly worrisome in the event of 2nd marriage situations where the children of a first marriage could potentially be cut out entirely.

A final note on the status of this legislation is that it has passed the House and is currently stalled in the Senate.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taxing Politics - Part II

In an earlier post, I had mentioned that John McCain wished to eliminate the estate tax. According to his web site, the stance he is currently taking is to increase the Estate Tax Exemption amount to $10 Million per person and reduce the estate tax rate from 45% to 15%.

According to the Tax Policy Center Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton plan to raise the estate tax exemption amount to $3.5 Million per person (the level it is scheduled to go to in 2009) and freeze it at that level. See: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxtopics/election_issues_matrix.cfm

Monday, March 24, 2008

Top Ten Reasons to Have a Will

1. To determine who gets your money (Naming beneficiaries)

2. To determine guardianship (Saying who will take care of you children)

3. To determine who controls the money (Naming of executors and trustees)

4. To minimize estate or inheritance taxes

5. To avoid the cost of an insurance bond (If you do not allow for an executor or administrator to serve without paying for an insurance bond, the court will require one. In New Jersey, this can cost your heirs $500 for each $100,000 of assets you leave them)

6. To develop a trust for your heirs (This controls the timing of payout to beneficiaries)

7. To specify the authority of the Executor and Trustees (E.g. should they run a business, sell your property, or keep certain stocks?)

8. To determine who pays estate taxes (you can actually specify this and frequently should)

9. It provides for a quicker probate process

10. It clarifies your living intentions after your death (in other words, it maximizes the chance that your heirs will respect your wishes)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Helpful Estate Planning Hints for Divorce Attorneys

A. Have your client do pre-divorce estate planning (especially if the split is partially the result of financial matters)

1. Most clients are not aware that if they die during the pendency of their divorce that their soon to be ex may still inherit everything. This can be particularly important if it is likely that the ex will remarry or has kids from another relationship.

2. Generally, your client cannot write a new Will completely cutting out the soon to be ex out due to NJ's elective share statute.

a. Exceptions:

1) The soon to be ex can be cut out if your client and the soon to be ex are separated and not living together.

2) The soon to be ex can be cut out if your client and the soon to be ex have ceased cohabitating as husband and wife.

b. If one of the exceptions does not apply and your client dies before the divorce is final, the soon to be ex can elect to receive up to 1/3 of the augmented estate.

1) In a simplistic way, the augmented estate can be estimated by looking at the net estate (the value of the estate minus the bills that must be paid).

2) Do not factor in estate taxes at this point.

3) Do add back gifts made by the decedent within two years of death.

4) Do add in retained interests held by decedent at the time of death.

5) See N.J.S.A. 3B:8-3 for a true definition.

3. If your client is wealthy, he may wish to consider putting the soon to be ex's 1/3 share in a fairly restrictive trust for the soon to be ex with the remainder going to your client's children.

B. When drafting agreements between the divorcing parties, don't just say that money should be held "in trust" for the benefit of your client's children in the event one of the two die. This agreement can potentially override the terms of any will or trust agreement, so think a bit about some of the terms:

1. Typical terms include:

a. Having the children receive the money in two tiers (1/2 at age 25 and the balance at age 30 is usually good). If there is a lot of money, you can even do three tiers.

b. You should have your client think for a few minutes about who should be trustee. Better the two parties agree than have to get the court involved to appoint one.

2. Do any of the children have special needs and should special provisions be incorporated?

3. How important is it to guarantee that the ex put a provision in his/her Will stating that a certain percentage of his/her estate must go to their children? This can be contractually agreed to.

C. Don't just require that your client's ex purchase $X amount of life insurance on the ex's life.

1. Demand that your client's ex agree to pay for the policy, but have your client actually buy it. This accomplishes multiple goals:

a. It ensures that the policy is in fact in place;

b. In the event the ex runs into financial trouble, your client can continue the payments;

c. It can save a huge amount in taxes;

1) Typically if the ex owns and maintains the life insurance on his life, then regardless of who the beneficiary is, it will be subject to the Federal and State Estate tax upon his death;

2) If your client or an irrevocable life insurance trust (an "ILIT") owns the policy, then it will not be subject to estate taxes upon the ex's death (provided it was not transferred to your client or the ILIT within 3 years of the ex's death).

3) To give an example of real life savings, let's assume that ex is worth $2 million and is required to buy a $1 Million life insurance policy. That policy will cause ex's estate to be subject to approximately a $500,000 tax. This is particularly problematic if most of that is going to your client's children. By having your client or an ILIT own the policy, this estate would completely escape federal estate taxes and only be subject to minimal NJ estate taxes.

D. Do not forget about retirement assets, pension plans and life insurance

1. Most divorce attorneys remember to put a provision in the divorce and separation agreements which will require that their clients receive a portion of the ex's estate, but some forget to require/request that their client receive a portion of the ex's retirement assets or life insurance upon the ex's death. The general trend is to deal with this through a QDRO and let the chips fall where they may upon the ex's death.

2. Moreover, many divorce attorneys forget to include the client's children in this part of the planning. It is imperative for attorneys with clients who's wealth is tied up in retirement accounts deal with where these retirement accounts go on the death of the ex.

3. A common example of the above may be illustrated as follows. H and W, who have 2children, get a divorce. H has a 401(k) worth $1,000,000. The two do a QDRO and split this evenly. H should insist of W, and W should insist of H, that their children be named as the beneficiaries of this 401(k) (AND any IRA that this gets rolled into). Otherwise, if W gets remarried, the new husband could legitimately be named as the new beneficiary of this retirement account. NOTE: They attorneys should leave this open for the clients to amend in an amicable way in the event one of the children should not be named as a beneficiary due to drugs, alcohol or any other legitimate reason.

E. What about possible inheritances?

1. Except to the extent that the parties agree, you should always get the soon to be ex to disclaim all interests that he/she may have in your client's estate, non-probate assets and joint assets.

2. Many times your client's parents will include the ex as a beneficiary of their estates. You should think about trying to get the soon to be ex to disclaim these interests as state law may not always treat the ex as dying on the date of the divorce.

F. Dividing Joint Assets

1. Transfers of property incident to divorce are not treated as taxable gifts for federal gift tax purposes. To qualify, the property must generally be transferred within one year from the date the marriage ends. (Transfers made within 6 years of the date of divorce can qualify if the transfer is made puruant to a divorce or separation agreement. This time frame may be further extended for cause such as litigation surrounding the transfer of a business interest.)

a. Exceptions:

1) Transfers to a non-citizen former spouse;

2) Transfers to a trust for the benefit of the transferee former spouse of property on which liabilities exceed the transferor's basis for the property; and

3) Transfers to a trust for the benefit of the transferee former spouse of installment obligations.

b. If one of these exceptions apply, the transferor spouse may recognize gain or loss.

c. If the transfer is deemed as a transfer incident to divorce, the transferee spouse takes the property with a basis in the property equal to the basis of the transferor spouse. This is known as a carryover basis.

d. Divorce attorneys should be careful in agreeing to take property that has high built in gains as result of this carryover basis.

e. Your client may be required by the settlement agreement to transfer an insurance policy on his or her life to the ex and continue paying the premiums on the policy. It is important to know that the transferor can only deduct those premium payments as alimony (taxable to the recipient) if the transferor makes the transferee both the owner and irrevocable beneficiary of the policy.

2. In NJ there is no gift tax, but in order to avoid the real estate transfer tax for transfers incident to divorce (or the dissolution of a civil union partnership) the property must be transferred no later than 90 days after the date the divorce or dissolution decree is entered. See: http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/pdf/other_forms/lpt/rtfexempt.pdf

Friday, February 29, 2008

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ancillary Probate in NJ

If you have a loved one who dies owning real property in New Jersey, what do you do? The answer is - an ancillary probate. Generally, this means you will conduct a second probate action in New Jersey after you have done one in the state where the Decedent was domiciled. (If there is no reason to conduct a probate proceeding in the state where the Decedent was domiciled, you can contact the Surrogate on ways to skip steps 1 and 2.)

For most, the process is as follows:

1) If the Decedent had a Will, the named Personal Representative probates the Will in the jurisdiction where the Decedent was domiciled (if there was no Will, someone will likely have to file a complaint to declare an intestacy and request to become Administrator for the estate).

2) The Personal Representative obtains an "Exemplified Copy" of the Will and Letters Testamentary (or Letters of Administration for an intestacy action). Letters Testamentary and Letters of Administration are the documents that the Surrogate gives you to show that you have legal authority to act on behalf of the Estate.

3) You take these documents to the Surrogate of each county where the Decedent owned property and tell them that you want to conduct an ancillary probate. (The fee is nominal, currently only about $5 per page plus $5 for the backing page.)

4) The local NJ Surrogate then gives you Letters Testamentary for NJ, and you can transfer this property legally to the new owner according to the county.

5) BUT WAIT, don't transfer the property yet! You have to know who the property is going to. If all or a part the property (or money from the sale of the property) goes to someone other than a spouse, lineal descendant or lineal ascendant, it is subject to a NJ Inheritance tax! That's right, there is a 11-16% tax on this property which must be paid within 8 months from the date of the Decedent's passing. Failure to do so will result in very large interest and penalty charges which you, as the Personal Representative, may be responsible for. At least there is no NJ Estate tax on the estate of a non-resident.

6) Once the Personal Representative has determined what is owed to the State of New Jersey, he or she should pay the tax, if any, and obtain an inheritance tax waiver from the Estate and Inheritance Bureau. Forms can be found here: http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/index.html?estatetax.htm~mainFrame

7) Now can the Personal Representative can transfer the property? Probably. Again, if the property was devised to a specific party, it should either be transferred to such party or sold with the explicit consent of that party. If the property was part of the residuary of the estate, then the Personal Representative generally will have the power to transfer the property unless it is denied by the language in the Will - so make sure you check this. Few Wills that I have run into ever limit this, but frequently you do see a right of first refusal which must be honored.

Obviously a knowledgeable probate attorney can help you through these steps.

Monday, January 28, 2008


The Importance of Proper Trust Maintenance

The trustee of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) must follow numerous rules and regulations laid out by the IRS in order to exclude the ILIT’s policy proceeds from federal and state estate tax. The insured and the trustee should check to see that these rules and regulations are in compliance annually because any significant mistake — even an honest one — may lead the IRS to challenge the trust and tax the life insurance proceeds.

Life Insurance Trust Basics
An ILIT holds one or more life insurance policies on your life. Each year, in order to pay the premiums on the life insurance policy, you must gift money to the ILIT and then your trustee uses this money to pay the premiums. After your death, your trustee will distribute the insurance proceeds according to your instructions.

If established properly, you will not have any control over the life insurance policy itself or any of the assets in the ILIT. Normally, if you do not have control over an asset, it is not taxable for estate tax purposes. The IRS is not happy about the ability of people to pass on vast sums of money without paying tax and they may scrutinize your ILIT for mistakes so it can collect the estate tax. Accordingly, even though you have no control over the assets in your ILIT, it is still important that it is properly maintained.

Funding the ILIT
After the trust document is drafted, the trustee will either purchase an insurance policy on your life or transfer an existing policy into the trust. In either case, the trustee must be the policy’s owner and beneficiary. For policy that is not paid in full, the trustee must open up a bank account for the trust and you must deposit money into the ILIT’s account to cover the premium.

Your gift to the ILIT -- whether cash or an existing insurance policy -- qualifies for the annual gift-tax exclusion of up to $12,000 per beneficiary (for calendar year 2007). If you decide to transfer an insurance policy to the trust via gift, you must figure out the value of the policy. A good rule of them is the value of a term policy is approximately the current year’s premium or the cash surrender value for a whole life policy. (This is not exact however and there are exceptions, so you must get an official valuation from the insurance company - this is known as the interpolated terminal reserve plus a portion of that year's premiums paid by the owner.)

If you transfer an existing policy to your ILIT and you die within three years of that transfer, the proceeds will be included in your estate for estate tax purposes. If you are insurable, the three-year rule can be avoided by gifting cash to the trust and having the trustee purchase a new policy. You can then surrender the old policy and use the cash value, if any, to pay the premiums on the new policy.

Premiums and Crummey Notices
Each year you make a gift to the ILIT, whether to pay the annual premiums or otherwise. The gift will qualify for the annual gift-tax exclusion as long as the IRS considers the gift a gift of a “present interest.” In order for the gift to be deemed a gift of a “present interest”, your trustee must give the beneficiaries a right to withdraw the gift. This is known as a demand right or a Crummey power. (If a beneficiary is a minor, your trustee should send a Crummey notice to their parents or guardians of that minor.)

This notice requirement applies to the first year’s gift as well as every subsequent year’s. If your trustee forgets to send the Crummey notices, the IRS may say that the beneficiaries did not have a “present interest” and include the gifts as part of your taxable estate.

As soon as the withdrawal period lapses -- typically after 30 days and assuming the beneficiaries don’t exercise their withdrawal rights – the trustee can use the money to pay the premium. Due to this time constraint, money should be put into the trust account at least 45 days prior to the premium being due.

There is always a danger that the beneficiary will actually take the money, so you should explain to your beneficiaries that allowing the right to lapse each year without withdrawing the cash is in their long-term best interest.

It should be noted that if the trust owns a second-to-die policy on your and your spouse’s lives, the survivor should continue to make gifts to the ILIT so that the premiums can continue to be paid.

Records and Tax Returns
If the ILIT has gross income in excess of $600 for the year, your trustee is responsible for filing annual income tax return. The trustee should also maintain certain records in the event that the IRS chooses to audit the ILIT’s operation. These records include:
· Copies of all Crummey notices sent to the beneficiaries along with any related correspondence;
· Canceled checks from your individual (or joint checking account for a 2nd to die insurance trust) showing the gifts you made to the ILIT; and
· The trust’s checking account records, showing gift deposits and premium disbursements.

Avoid Incidents of Ownership
To maintain your ILIT’s tax-advantaged status, avoid exercising any control over the trust. In IRS terms, the insured party must not have any “incidents of ownership” during the trust’s life. If you violate this rule, the IRS will include the insurance policy in your estate and tax the proceeds. Incidents of ownership include the ability to:
· Change or add a beneficiary,
· Surrender or cancel the policy,
· Assign the policy or revoke a policy assignment,
· Borrow against the policy or pay premiums with policy loans; or
· Pledge the policy as collateral for a loan.

Mistakes Can Be Costly
Any significant mistake -- even an honest one -- may prompt the IRS to challenge the trust and tax the insurance policy’s proceeds. If you or your trustee has any questions about the proper way to handle your ILIT, please call before you act.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Benefits of a Second to Die Life Insurance Trust

I. General Benefits
A. Tax savings
B. Control of assets after death
C. Second to die policies typically provide guaranteed money for your heirs which is cheaper to obtain than single life premium policies.

II. Reasons to establish a Second to Die Life Insurance Trust
A. Pay taxes upon death for assets outside of trust
B. Provide guaranteed funding for disabled child
C. Guarantee liquidity (so sentimental assets are not forced to be sold in a fire-sale)

III. How does a Second to Die Life Insurance Trust Work?
A. The trust should be created prior to the purchase of the policy (otherwise there is a 3 year lookback for tax purposes).
B. The trustee of the trust then purchases the life insurance on the joint life expectancy of you and your spouse.
C. A bank account must be set up for the trust.
D. The premium should be paid into the trust’s bank account at least 45 days prior to the premium due date.
E. Immediately after the trust’s bank account is funded, a beneficiary designation notice must be sent out. (In order to make gifts to the trust tax free, the beneficiaries of the trust must be allowed a window in which to withdraw the money. This is known as a Crummey trust.)
F. Thirty days later (this time frame various depending upon the trust document), the trustee can pay the premium.
G. Upon the death of the survivor of you and your spouse, the insurance is paid to the trust.
H. The trustee then pays out the money according to the terms of the trust.

IV. Putting the Tax Savings into Real Dollars
A. Let’s assume Harry and Winny have $7,000,000 in assets. They have two kids, one of whom has autism and needs permanent care. Even with proper planning, if Harry & Winny passed now, they would have a potential tax liability of about $1,500,000.
B. By setting up a life insurance trust, 100% of the money in trust can pass free of federal estate taxes as well as state estate and inheritance taxes. Additionally, the trust can be established to benefit Harry & Winny’s autistic child in a way that he remains eligible for government benefits.
C. To revise the example above, if we properly move $1,000,000 of assets into this life insurance trust, leaving a taxable estate of $6,000,000, the potential tax liability is reduced to about $1,000,000. This a savings of about $500,000.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Taxing Politics

The 2008 political season officially began last night in Iowa. Accordingly, I thought it would be helpful to look at each candidate's tax policies, especially their estate tax policies. I've listed only those who I consider to be the viable candidates. For fun, I put them in order of how they finished in the Iowa caucuses.

The Democratic Candidates

  1. Barack Obama
    Income Taxes
    --> Senator Obama appears to favor a reduction in income taxes for individuals making less than $50,000. This appears to be balanced by an increase on those whose income puts them in the top 1% of the country. He voted against a repeal of the alternative minimum tax.

    Estate Taxes
    --> It is clear that Senator Obama is in favor of keeping a federal estate tax, but it is unclear at what level. He voted againt raising the threshold to $5,000,000 per person.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> Senator Obama is in favor of closing tax loopholes for companies that move jobs abroad and in favor of rewarding companies that create jobs in America.
  2. John Edwards
    Income Taxes
    --> Senator Edwards appears to favor using a combination of credits to reduce the taxes of those earning less than $75,000. The most notable credit is a large increase for Child Care. He voted against a repeal of the alternative minimum tax. He wants an increase in the capital gains tax rate to 28% for those earning over $250,000.
    Estate Taxes
    --> Senator Edwards is in favor of keeping the federal estate tax at the same levels as are currently in place, $2,000,000 per person.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> Senator Edwards is in favor of closing tax loopholes for hedge fund and private equity managers (meaning that they would be taxed at income tax rates, not capital gains tax rates). He also had a very interesting proposal that would require the IRS to prepare tax returns for those people who are simply W-2 workers or receive all income from 1099's.
  3. Hillary Clinton (No real public plan yet)
    Income Taxes
    --> Senator Clinton wants to keep the AMT, but it is unclear at what level.
    Estate Taxes
    --> Senator Clinton is in favor of keeping the federal estate tax at the same levels that will be in place starting in 2009, $3,500,000 per person.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> Senator Clinton proposes increasing or removing the $95,000 cap from the payroll tax. Currently, only the first $95,000 of income is subject to payroll tax. Payroll taxes are for such things as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

The Republican Candidates

  1. Mike Huckabee
    Governor Huckabee wants to eliminate ALL income, payaroll, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare and self employment taxes. He wants to replace these with a consumption tax (i.e. a tax on what we buy - similar to a sales tax). The consumption tax rate would be about 23% inclusive (or about 30-34% exclusive). For a view of the plan known as FairTax given by supporters, click here. For an opposing view, click here. The consumption tax would theoretically be on EVERYTHING, including new home purchases, rent, doctor's bills, and worst of all - LEGAL FEES. It would however exclude used items. (Hmm... I wonder if you can have used legal services...)
    Income Taxes
    --> See above
    Estate Taxes
    --> See above
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> See above
  2. W. Mitt Romney
    Income Taxes
    --> Governor Romney generally wants to lower tax rates for everyone.
    Estate Taxes
    --> Governor Romney is in favor of permanently repealing the estate tax. It is unclear if he wishes to repeal the gift tax.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> Governor Romney wants to get rid of taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for those with an adjusted gross income under $200,000.
  3. Fred Thompson
    Income Taxes
    --> Former Senator Thompson plans to index the AMT for now and repeal it eventually. He believes in instituting a flat tax which would give much larger personal exemptions, but get rid of all deductions.
    Estate Taxes
    --> Former Senator Thompson wants to elimate the estate tax. It is unclear if he wishes to repeal the gift tax.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> He has an interesting proposal to let tax payers choose the current tax forms or a flat rate form with only 2 exemptions.
  4. John McCain
    Income Taxes
    --> Senator McCain is in favor of permanently repealing the AMT. He would make the currently scheduled tax levels permanent.
    Estate Taxes
    --> It appears Senator McCain wants to elimate the estate tax. It is unclear if he wishes to repeal the gift tax.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> Would ban taxes on cell phone messages. (I don't think that there is one...)
  5. Ron Paul
    Congressman Paul wants to get rid of the income tax completely (which would require severe spending cuts).
    Income Taxes
    --> See above
    Estate Taxes
    --> It appears that Congressman Paul wants to eliminate the gift, estate and GST tax.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> It appears he wants to fund the goverment with fees such as: tariffs, excise taxes, user fees and highway fees.
  6. Rudy Giuliani
    Income Taxes
    --> Former Mayor Giuliani intends to permanently lower the marginal rates to what they will be under the Bush tax act, or lower. He intends to tie the AMT to inflation. He also proposes an income exclusion up to $15,000 for families without employer based health care.
    Estate Taxes
    --> Former Mayor Giuliani wants to eliminate the estate tax. It is unclear if he wishes to repeal the gift tax.
    Other Tax and Probate Related Issues
    --> He wants to drop the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%.

Sources include: www.ontheissues.org, the candidate's websites, and various news articles.