Estate Planning Blog Articles

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How to Prepare for Higher Taxes

Taxing the appreciation of property on gifting or at death as capital gains or ordinary income is under scrutiny as a means of raising significant revenue for the federal government. The Biden administration has proposed this but proposing and passing into law are two very different things, observes Financial Advisor in the article “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime.”

The tax hikes are being considered as a means of paying for the American Jobs Act and the American Families Act. Paired with the COVID-19 relief bill, the government will need a total of $6.4 trillion over the course of a decade to cover those costs. Reportedly, both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on this proposal.

A step-up in basis recalculates the value of appreciated assets for tax purposes when they are inherited, which is when the asset’s value usually is higher than when it was originally purchased. For the beneficiary, the step-up in basis at the death of the original owner reduces the capital gains tax on the asset. Taxes are reduced significantly, or in some cases, completely eliminated.

For now, taxpayers pay an estate tax on the value of the assets and the basis of appreciated assets is stepped up to fair market value. The plan under consideration would treat appreciated assets owned at the time of death as sold, which would trigger income tax and subject those assets to estate tax.

Biden’s proposal would also subject many families to the estate tax, which they would not otherwise face, since the federal estate tax exclusion is still historically high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Let’s say a widowed mother dies with a $3 million estate. Most of the value of the estate is the home she lived in with her spouse for the last four decades. Her estate would not owe any federal tax, but the deemed sale of a highly appreciated home would generate income tax liability.

The proposal allows a $1 million per individual and $2 million per married couple exclusion from gain recognition on property transferred by gift or owned at death. The $1 million per person exclusion is in addition to exclusions for property transfers of tangible personal property, transfers to a spouse, transfers to charity, capital gains on certain business stock and the current exclusion of $250,000 for capital gain on a personal residence.

How should people prepare for what sounds like an unsettling proposal but may end up at a completely different place?

For some, the right move is transferring properties now, if it makes sense with their overall estate plan. Regardless of what Congress does with this proposal, the estate tax exemption will sunset to just north of $5 million (due to inflation adjustments) from the current $11.7 million. However, the likelihood of the proposal passing in its present state is low. The best option may be to make any revisions focused on the change to the estate tax exemption levels.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 28, 2021) “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime”

homeownership and medicaid

Homeownership and Medicaid Can Be Problem

The challenges begin when homeowners don’t do any Medicaid planning and decide the best answer is simply to gift their home to their children. It doesn’t always work out well for the homeowners or their children, warns the article “Owning real estate without jeopardizing Medicaid paying for nursing home” from limaohio.com.

A key tax avoidance opportunity is usually missed, when real property is gifted outright. The IRS says that if someone owns real estate, when that person passes, the heirs may eliminate a large portion of the taxable gains, if the real estate ends up being sold by an heir for more than the original owner paid for the property.

Let’s walk through an example of how this works. Let’s say Terry buys a farm for $1,000. The cost to buy the farm is referred to as a “tax basis.”

If the family is planning for the possibility of nursing home costs, Terry might want to give that farm away to her children Ted and Zach. She needs to do it at least five years before she thinks she’ll need Medicaid to pay for long-term nursing care, because of a five-year lookback.

When Terry gifts the farm to Ted and Zach, the two children acquire Terry’s tax basis of $1,000. Ted gets $500 of the tax basic credit, and so does Zach.

The years go by and Ted wants to buy out Zach’s half of the farm. The farm is now worth $5,000. So, Ted pays Zach $2,500 for Zach’s half of the farm. Zach now has a tax basis of $500, which is not subject to tax. And Ted receives $2,000 more than his $500 tax basis, and Ted will need to pay capital gains on that $2,000 gain.

It could be handled smarter from a tax perspective. If Terry owns the farm when she dies, then Ted and Zach get the farm through her will, trust or whatever estate planning method is used. If the farm is worth $3,000 when Terry dies, then Ted and Zach will get a higher tax basis: $3,000 in total, or $1,500 each. By owning the farm when Terry dies, she gives them the opportunity to have their tax basis (and amount that won’t be taxed if they sell to each other or to anyone else) adjusted to the value of the property when Terry dies. In most cases, the value of real estate property is higher at the time of death than when it was purchased initially.

There’s another way to transfer ownership of the farm that works even better for everyone concerned. In this method, Terry continues to own the farm, helping Zach and Ted avoid taxes, and keeps the property out of her countable assets for Medicaid. The solution is for Terry to keep a specific type of life estate in the farm. This needs to be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney, so that Terry won’t have to sell the farm if she eventually needs to apply for Medicaid for long term care.

Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you and your family navigate protecting your home and other assets, while benefiting from smart tax strategies.

Reference: limaohio.com (Nov. 7, 2020) “Owning real estate without jeopardizing Medicaid paying for nursing home”

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