Estate Planning Blog Articles

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The Pitfalls of Adding a Child to Your Home’s Deed

As an estate planning attorney, I’ve witnessed many parents consider adding a child to the deed of their home with good intentions. They often view this as a simple strategy to ensure that their property seamlessly passes to their children without the complexities of probate. However, this well-intentioned move can lead to numerous unexpected complications and financial burdens. This article explains why adding a child to your home’s deed might not be the optimal choice for your estate plan.

Understanding the Basics: What Does Adding a Child to a Deed Mean?

To begin, let’s clarify what it means to add a child to the deed of your home. By doing this, you are legally transferring partial ownership rights to your child. This action is commonly perceived as a method to circumvent probate. However, it is imperative to understand that it also entails relinquishing a degree of control over your asset.

Legal Implications of Co-Ownership

When you add your child to the deed, you are not just avoiding probate; you are creating a co-ownership situation. This means your child gains legal rights over the property, equal to yours. Such a shift in ownership can have significant legal ramifications, particularly if you need to make decisions about the property in the future.

Probate: Is Avoiding It Worth the Risk?

Avoiding probate is often cited as the primary reason for adding a child to a home’s deed. Probate can be a lengthy and sometimes costly process. However, it’s essential to weigh these concerns against the potential risks and challenges of joint ownership.

The Complexity of Bypassing Probate

Probate avoidance, while seemingly beneficial, does not always equate to the most advantageous approach. The process of probate also serves to clear debts and distribute assets in a legally structured manner. By bypassing this process, you might be opening the door to more complicated legal and financial issues in the future.

Gift Tax Implications: A Costly Oversight

One of the most overlooked aspects of adding a child to your deed is the gift tax implications. The IRS views this act as a gift, and if the value of the property exceeds the annual exclusion limit, it could lead to a taxable event.

Understanding Gift Tax Rules

It’s important to understand that the IRS has established specific rules regarding gifts. If the value of your property interest exceeds the gift tax exclusion limit, you might be required to file a gift tax return. This could potentially lead to a significant tax liability, an aspect often not considered in the initial decision-making process.

Loss of Control: What Happens When You’re No Longer the Sole Owner?

The loss of control over your property is a critical consideration. Once your child becomes a co-owner, they have equal say in decisions regarding the property. This change can affect your ability to sell or refinance the property and can become particularly problematic if your child encounters financial issues.

Risks of Co-Ownership

In a co-ownership scenario, if your child faces legal or financial troubles, your property could be at risk. Creditors might target your home for your child’s debts, and in the case of a child’s divorce, the property might become part of a marital settlement.

Capital Gains Tax: A Long-Term Financial Burden

A significant financial consideration is the potential capital gains tax burden for your child. When a property is inherited, it usually benefits from a step-up in basis, which can significantly reduce capital gains tax when the property is eventually sold. However, this is not the case when a child is added to a deed.

Implications of Missing Step-Up in Basis

Without the step-up in basis, if your child sells the property, they may face a substantial capital gains tax based on the difference between the selling price and the original purchase price. This tax burden can be considerably higher than if they had inherited the property.

Family Dynamics and Legal Complications

Adding a child to your deed can inadvertently lead to family disputes and legal challenges, especially if you have more than one child. This act might be perceived as favoritism or create an imbalance in the distribution of your estate, leading to potential conflicts among siblings.

Navigating Family Relationships

It’s crucial to consider the dynamic of your family and how adding one child to the deed might affect relationships between siblings. Equal distribution of assets is often a key consideration in estate planning to maintain family harmony.

Alternatives to Adding a Child to Your Home’s Deed

There are several alternatives to adding a child to your home’s deed. Creating a living trust, for instance, allows you to maintain control over your property while also ensuring a smooth transition of assets to your beneficiaries.

Benefits of a Living Trust

A living trust provides the flexibility of controlling your assets while you’re alive and ensures they are distributed according to your wishes upon your death. This approach can also offer the benefit of avoiding probate without the downsides of directly adding a child to your deed.

Seeking Professional Advice: Why It’s Crucial

Given the complexities and potential pitfalls of adding a child to your home’s deed, seeking professional legal advice is essential. An experienced estate planning attorney can help navigate these complexities and tailor a plan that aligns with your specific needs and goals.

The Role of an Estate Planning Attorney

An estate planning attorney can provide invaluable guidance in understanding the nuances of property law, tax implications and family dynamics. They can help you explore all options and devise a strategy that best protects your interests and those of your family.

While adding a child to your home’s deed might seem straightforward to manage your estate, it’s fraught with potential problems and complications. It’s vital to consider all the implications and seek professional guidance to ensure your estate plan is effective, efficient and aligned with your long-term intentions.

Key Takeaways

  • Gift Tax Risks: Be aware of potential gift tax implications when adding a child to your deed.
  • Loss of Control: Understand that you will lose some control over your property.
  • Capital Gains Tax Issues: Consider the long-term capital gains tax burdens for your child.
  • Family Dynamics: Think about the impact on family relationships and potential legal disputes.
  • Better Alternatives: Explore other options like setting up a living trust.
  • Seek Competent Guidance: Consult with an estate planning attorney for personalized advice.

Will Proposed Tax Hikes Have an Impact on My Estate Planning?

President Biden’s tax proposals are at the center of what the White House estimates is a $3 trillion deficit-reduction plan. They will be immediately rejected by Congressional Republicans. However, the ideas set up Democrats’ approach to the debt-ceiling fight later this year, as Republicans are gearing up to ask for spending cuts.

A major change would almost double the rate of the capital-gains tax, and applying an additional surcharge to fund Medicare, which would mean taxes on investments could rise to almost 45%.

Bloomberg’s recent article entitled, “In Biden’s Tax-the-Rich Budget, Capital-Gains Rates Near 45%,” examines the details of the tax proposals in the budget request that the White House released recently.

Capital Gains. The budget proposal would jump the capital-gains rate to 39.6% from 20% for those earning at least $1 million to equalize the taxation of investment and wage income. President Biden also wants to up the 3.8% Obamacare tax to 5% for those earning at least $400,000 to support the Medicare Trust Fund. As a result, the richest would pay a 44.6% federal rate on investment income and other earnings. The plan also calls for taxing assets when an owner dies. This would end a tax benefit that let the unrealized appreciation go untaxed when transferred to an heir.

Corporate Taxes. Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cut would get significantly rolled back, bringing the top rate to 28% from 21%. The proposal also calls for increasing the taxes US companies owe on their foreign earnings to 21%, doubling the 10.5% included in Trump’s tax law.

Carried Interest. The carried-interest tax break used by private equity fund managers to lower their tax bills would be struck under the Biden plan. Under current law, investment fund managers can pay the 20% capital-gains rate on a portion of their incomes that would otherwise be subjected to the 37% top individual-income rate.

Rich Retirement Accounts. The plan would close a loophole that allows the wealthy to accumulate savings in tax-favored retirement accounts intended for middle earners. In addition, Biden would limit the amount taxpayers with incomes over $400,000 can hold in Roth individual retirement accounts.

Estate, Gift Taxes. Bolstering the tax rules on estate and gift taxes would make the system harder for the wealthy and trusts to avoid taxes.

Reference: Bloomberg (March 9, 2023) “In Biden’s Tax-the-Rich Budget, Capital-Gains Rates Near 45%”

Giving to My Favorite Charity in Estate Plan

If you’d like to leave some or all of your money to a charity, Go Banking Rates’ recent article entitled “How To Leave Your Inheritance to an Organization” provides what you need to know about charitable giving as part of your estate plan.

  1. Make Sure the Organization Accepts Donations. Unless you have a formal agreement with the charity stating they’ll accept the inheritance, the confirmation isn’t a binding commitment. As a result, you should ask the organization if there’s any form language that they may want you to add to your will or trust as part of a specific bequest. If the charity isn’t currently able to accept this kind of donation, look at what they will accept or if other charities with a similar mission will accept it.
  2. Set the Amount You Want the Charity To Receive. Some people want to leave the estate tax exemption — the maximum amount that can pass without tax — to individuals and leave the rest to charity. Because the estate tax exemption is subject to change and the value of your assets will change, the amount the charity will get will probably change from when the planning is completed.
  3. Have a Plan B in the Event that the Charity Doesn’t Exist After Your Death. Meet with your estate planning attorney and decide what happens to the bequest if the organization you’re donating to no longer exists. You may plan ahead to pass along the inheritance to another organization and make sure it receives the funds. You could also have the inheritance go back into the general distributions in your will.
  4. State How You Want Your Gift to Be Used. If there is a certain way that you’d like the charity to use the inheritance, you can certainly inquire with the organization and learn more. Find out if the charity accepts this type of restriction, how long it may last and what happens if the charity no longer uses it for this purpose.

As you draft charitable planning provisions, make sure you do so alongside an experienced estate planning attorney.

The provisions in your will should be specific about your desires and provide enough flexibility to your personal representative, executor, or trustee to be modified based on the conditions at the time of your death.

Reference: Go Banking Rates (August 26, 2022) “How To Leave Your Inheritance to an Organization”

There are Ways to Transfer Home to Your Children

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids” explains that the most common way to transfer a property is for the children to inherit it when the parent passes away. An outright gift of the home to their child may mean higher property taxes in states that treat the gift as a sale. It’s also possible to finance the child’s purchase of the home or sell the property at a discount, known as a bargain sale.

These last two options might appear to be good solutions because many adult children struggle to buy a home at today’s soaring prices. However, crunch the numbers first.

If you sell your home to your child for less than what it’s worth, the IRS considers the difference between the fair market value and the sale price a gift. Therefor., if you sell a $1 million house to your child for $600,000, that $400,000 discount is deemed a gift. You won’t owe federal gift tax on the $400,000 unless your total lifetime gifts exceed the federal estate and gift tax exemption of $12.06 million in 2022, However, you must still file a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709.

Using the same example, let’s look at the federal income tax consequences. If the parents are married, bought the home years ago and have a $200,000 tax basis in it, when they sell the house at a bargain price to the child, the tax basis gets split proportionately. Here, 40% of the basis ($80,000) is allocated to the gift and 60% ($120,000) to the sale. To determine the gain or loss from the sale, the sale-allocated tax basis is subtracted from the sale proceeds.

In our illustration, the parent’s $480,000 gain ($600,000 minus $120,000) is non-taxable because of the home sale exclusion. Homeowners who owned and used their principal residence for at least two of the five years before the sale can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain ($500,000 if married) from their income.

The child isn’t taxed on the gift portion. However, unlike inherited property, gifted property doesn’t get a stepped-up tax basis. In a bargain sale, the child gets a lower tax basis in the home, in this case $680,000 ($600,000 plus $80,000). If the child were to buy the home at its full $1 million value, the child’s tax basis would be $1 million.

Another option is to combine your bargain sale with a loan to your child, by issuing an installment note for the sale portion. This helps a child who can’t otherwise get third-party financing and allows the parents to charge lower interest rates than a lender, while generating some monthly income.

Be sure that the note is written, signed by the parents and child, includes the amounts and dates of monthly payments along with a maturity date and charges an interest rate that equals or exceeds the IRS’s set interest rate for the month in which the loan is made. Go through the legal steps of securing the note with the home, so your child can deduct interest payments made to you on Schedule A of Form 1040. You’ll have to pay tax on the interest income you receive from your child.

You can also make annual gifts by taking advantage of your annual $16,000 per person gift tax exclusion. If you do this, keep the gifts to your child separate from the note payments you get. With the annual per-person limit, you won’t have to file a gift tax return for these gifts.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 23, 2021) “2 Clever Ways to Gift Your Home to Your Kids”

What Jackie Kennedy Knew about CLATs and Estate Planning

What most people don’t know about Jackie Kennedy was her role as an innovative steward of her family’s wealth and philanthropic legacy, reports a recent article from Forbes titled “Elevating Your Estate And Legacy: A Lesson From Jackie Kennedy.” After her husband’s assassination, she was in charge of a $44 million plus estate and her actions spoke volumes about her values and view for the future.

Jackie Kennedy initiated a Charitable Lead Annuity Trust (CLAT), which today many refer to as the Jackie Onassis Trust.

She created a CLAT receptacle through her will, so her children could elect to transfer some or all of their inherited assets in exchange for significant charitable, tax and non-tax benefits. They were not required to do this. However, it was an option for assets including stock, real estate and other capital. The CLAT offered her children three possible benefits: avoiding federal estate tax on all and any assets transferred to the CLAT, tax-efficient philanthropic giving for a limited number of years and continued investment of CLAT assets, which could be ultimately returned to the child or gifted to future generations at the end of the CLAT’s charitable period.

In addition, during the charitable term, the annual payments required to be distributed via the CLAT to charities would have created income tax deductions against the CLAT’s taxable income.

Despite their mother’s recommendations, the first lady’s children opted against funding the CLAT.

According to an article from The New York Times in 1996, if the Jackie Onassis Trust was worth $100 million and if the beneficiaries had executed the CLAT, the family would have inherited approximately $98 million tax-free in 2018, with charities receiving $192 million.

Instead, the children paid $23 million in estate taxes, leaving the estate with $18 million.

Besides the clear adage of “Mother knows best,” this is an example of the potential power of a CLAT to satisfy the charitable and family wealth transfer of the trust creator and individual beneficiaries. Since the 1960s, more sophisticated trust variants have been created to improve on the original CLAT.

One of these is the Optimized CLAT, a tax-planning trust which accomplishes four goals. It generates a dollar-for-dollar tax deduction in the year of funding, returns an expected 1x-5x of the initial contribution back to the contributor, immediately exempts contributed assets from the 40% federal gift and estate tax and exempts the transferred assets from the contributor’s personal creditors.

These complex estate planning strategies will become increasingly popular as federal estate taxes return to lower levels in near future. Your estate planning attorney will guide you as to which type of trust works best for you and your family, for now and for generations to follow.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 19, 2022) “Elevating Your Estate And Legacy: A Lesson From Jackie Kennedy”

When Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?” describes some situations where an experienced estate planning attorney is really required:

Estates with many types of complicated assets. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney is a must for more complicated estates. These are estates with multiple investments, numerous assets, cryptocurrency, hedge funds, private equity, or a business. Some estates also include significant real estate, including vacation homes, commercial properties and timeshares. Managing, appraising and selling a business, real estate and complex investments are all jobs that require some expertise and experience. In addition, valuing private equity investments and certain hedge funds is also not straightforward and can require the services of an expert.

The estate might owe federal or state estate tax. In some estates, there are time-sensitive decisions that require somewhat immediate attention. Even if all assets were held jointly and court involvement is unnecessary, hiring a knowledgeable trust and estate lawyer may have real tax benefits. There are many planning strategies from which testators and their heirs can benefit. For example, the will or an estate tax return may need to be filed to transfer the deceased spouse’s unused Federal Estate Unified Tax Credit to the surviving spouse. The decision whether to transfer to an unused unified tax credit to the surviving spouse is not obvious and requires guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney.

Many states also impose their own estate taxes, and many of these states impose taxes on an estate valued at $1 million or more. Therefore, when you add the value of a home, investments and life insurance proceeds, many Americans will find themselves on the wrong side of the state exemption and owe estate taxes.

The family is fighting. Family disputes often emerge after the death of a parent. It’s stressful, and emotions run high. No one is really operating at their best. If unhappy family members want to contest the will or are threatening a lawsuit, you’ll also need guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney. These fights can result in time-intensive and costly lawsuits. The sooner you get legal advice from a probate attorney, the better chance you have of avoiding this.

Complicated beneficiary plans. Some wills have tricky beneficiary designations that leave assets to one child but nothing to another. Others could include charitable bequests or leave assets to many beneficiaries.

Talk to an experienced attorney, whose primary focus is estate and trust law.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 5, 2022) “Should I Hire an Estate Planning Attorney Now That I Am a Widow?”

How to Plan in a Time of Uncertainty

There’s a saying in estate planning circles that the only people who pay estate taxes are those who don’t plan not to pay estate taxes. While this doesn’t cover every situation, there is a lot of truth to it. A recent article from Financial Advisor entitled “Estate Planning In This Particular Time of Uncertainty” offers strategies and estate planning techniques to be considered during these volatile times.

Gifting Assets into Irrevocable Trusts to Benefit Family Members. If done correctly, this serves to remove the current value and all future appreciation of these assets from your estate. With the federal estate tax exemption ending at the end of 2025, the exemption will drop from $12.06 million per person to nearly half that amount.

Combine this with a time of volatile asset prices and it becomes fairly obvious: this would be a good time to take investments with a lowered value out of the individual owner’s hands and gift them into an irrevocable trust. The lower the value of the asset at the time of the gift, the less the amount of the lifetime exemption that needs to be used. If assets are expected to recover and appreciate, this strategy makes even more sense.

Spousal Limited Access Trust (SLAT). This may be a good time for a related technique, the SLAT, an irrevocable trust created by one spouse to benefit the other and often, the couple’s children. Access to income and principal is created during the spouse’s lifetime. It can even be drafted as a dynasty trust. Assets can be gifted out of the estate to the trust and while the grantor (the person creating the trust) cannot be a beneficiary, their family can. Couples may also create reciprocating SLATs, where each is the beneficiary of the other’s trust, as long as they are careful not to create duplicate trusts, which have been found invalid by courts. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney about how a SLAT may work for you and your spouse.

What about interest rates? A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT), where the grantor contributes assets and enjoys a fixed annuity stream for the life of the trust, may be advantageous now. At the end of the trust term, remaining assets are distributed to family members or a trust for their benefit. To avoid a gift tax on the calculated remainder, due when the trust is created, most GRATs are “zeroed out,” that is, the present value of the annuity stream to the grantor is equal to the amount of the initial funding of the trust. Since you get back what’s been put in, no taxable gift occurs. The lower the interest rate, the higher the value of the income stream. The grantor can take a lower annuity amount and with decent appreciation of assets in the trust, there will be a larger amount as a remainder for heirs. Interest rates need to be considered when looking into GRATs.

Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) is a trust used to transfer a primary residence to beneficiaries with minimal gift tax consequences. The grantor retains the right to live in the house at no charge for a certain period of time. After the time period ends, the property and any appreciation in value passes to beneficiaries. The valuation for the value of the initial transfer into the trust for gift tax purposes is determined by a calculation relying heavily on interest rates. In this case, a higher interest rate results in a lower present value of the remainder and a lower gift value when the trust is created.

Reference: Financial Advisor (July 8, 2022) “Estate Planning In This Particular Time of Uncertainty”

Is Putting a Home in Trust a Good Estate Planning Move?

A typical estate at death will include a personal residence. It’s common for a large estate to also include a vacation home, or family retreat. Leaving real property in trust is common.

Estate plans that include a revocable trust will fund the trust by a pour-over, says Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”

A settlor (the person establishing a trust) often will title their home to the revocable trust, which becomes irrevocable at death.

Another option is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust, which is irrevocable, to gift a valuable home to a trust for the settlor’s children. With a QPRT, the house is passed over a term of years while the original owner continues to live there, so the gift passes with little or no gift or estate tax.

Some trusts arising from a decedent estate will hold the home belonging to the settlor without any instructions for its disposal or retention. Outside of very large trusts, a requirement to actually purchase homes for beneficiaries in the trust is far less common.

It is more common in a large trust to have terms that let the trustee buy a home for a beneficiary outside the trust or keep the settlor’s home in the trust for a beneficiary’s use, including purchasing a replacement home when requested.

The trustee will hopefully propose a plan that will satisfy the beneficiary without undue risk to the trust estate or exceeding the trustee’s powers. The most relevant considerations for homeownership in a trust are:

  • The competing needs of other trust beneficiaries
  • The purchase price and costs of maintaining the home
  • The size of the trust as compared to those costs
  • Other sources of income and resources available to the beneficiary; and
  • The interests of the remaindermen (beneficiaries who will take from the trust when the current beneficiaries’ interests terminate).

The terms of the trust may require the trustee to ignore some of these considerations.

Each situation requires a number of decisions that could expose the trustee to a charge that it has acted imprudently.

Those who want to create a trust should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to avoid any issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (Feb. 8, 2022) “Should You Own Your Home in Your Trust?”