If the federal estate tax exemption is lowered, as is expected, it could go as low as $3 million, reports the article “How Trusts Can Be Used To Counter Tougher Estate Taxes” from Financial Advisor, leaving many Americans wondering: can estate taxes be avoided with a trust?. For Americans who own a home and robust retirement accounts, this change presents an estate planning challenge—but one with several solutions. Trusts, giving and updating estate plans or creating wholly new estate plans should be addressed in the near future.
Not that these topics aren’t challenging for most people. Confronting the future, including death and incapacity, is difficult. Adult children and their parents may find it hard to talk about these matters; emotions, death and money are tough to talk about on their own, but estate planning includes conversations around all three.
Once those hurdles are overcome, an unemotional approach to the business of estate planning can accomplish a great deal, especially when guided by an experienced estate planning attorney. Here are a few suggestions for families to consider.
Estate and gift planning techniques include Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs) and Spousal Limited Access Trusts (SLATs). A SLAT is an irrevocable trust created when one spouse (the donor spouse) makes a gift into a trust to benefit their spouse (the beneficiary spouse), while retaining limited access to the assets at the same time they remove the asset from their combined estate. One spouse is permitted to indirectly benefit, as long as the couple remains married.
The indirect access disappears, if the spouses divorce or if the beneficiary spouse dies before the donor spouse. Be careful about creating SLATs for both spouses; the IRS does not like to see SLATs with the same date of origin and the same amount for both spouses.
The GRAT and sales to an Intentionally Defective Trust (IDGT) are useful tools in a low-interest rate environment. For a GRAT, property is transferred to a trust in exchange for an annual fixed payment. A sale to an IDGT is where property is sold to a trust in exchange for a balloon note.
Gifting is an important part of estate planning at any asset level. For 2020 and 2021, the annual gift-tax exclusion is $15,000 per donor, per recipient. The simple strategy of aggressive lifetime gifting using that $15,000 exclusion is a good way to get money out of a taxable estate.
Protect the estate plan by reviewing it every four or five years, and sooner if there are large changes to the tax law—which is coming soon—and changes in the family’s circumstances.
Thoughtful use of trusts and gifting strategies can avoid the probate of the will and ensure that assets go directly to heirs. Reviewing the estate plan regularly with an eye to changes in tax law will protect the legacy.
Reference: Financial Advisor (April 19, 2021) “How Trusts Can Be Used To Counter Tougher Estate Taxes”