Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

Are You Ready for 2026?

You may not be thinking about Jan. 1, 2026. Any New Year’s Eve celebrations being planned now are more likely to concern Jan. 1, 2023. However, if your estate is worth $5 million or more when the first day of 2026 arrives, your estate planning should begin now. According to a recent article from Forbes, “Is 2026 An Important Year For Your Wealth?,” the reduction in the estate tax exemption will revert to the 2010 level of $5 million adjusted for inflation. It could go even lower. With federal tax rates on estates over the exemption level set at 40%, plus any state estate or inheritance taxes, planning needs to be done in advance.

Considering the record levels of national debt and government spending, it’s unlikely these exemptions will remain the same. Now is the time to maximize today’s high estate tax exemption levels to minimize federal estate taxes and maximize what will be left to heirs.

Your estate planning attorney will have many different strategies and tools to achieve these goals. One is the Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT). This is an irrevocable trust created by each spouse, known as the grantors, for the benefit of the other spouse. Important note: to avoid scrutiny, the trusts must not be identical.

Each trust is funded by the grantor in an amount up to the current available tax exemption. Today, this is $12.06 million each (or a total of $24.12 million) without incurring a gift tax.

This serves several purposes. One is removing the gifted assets from the grantor’s estate. The assets and their future growth are protected from estate taxes.

The spousal beneficiary has access to the trust income and/or principal, depending upon how the trust is created, if they need to tap the trust.

The trust income may be taxed back to the grantor instead of the trust. This allows the assets in the trust to grow tax-free.

Remainder beneficiaries, who are typically the grantor’s children, receive the assets at the termination of the SLAT, usually when the beneficiary spouse passes away.

The SLAT can be used as a generation-skipping trust, if this is the goal.

The SLAT is a useful tool for blended families to avoid accidentally disinheriting children from first (or subsequent) marriage. Reminder assets can be distributed to named beneficiaries upon the death of the spouse.

The SLAT is an irrevocable trust, so some control needs to be given up when the SLATs are created. Couples using this strategy need to have enough assets to live comfortably after funding the SLATS.

Why do this now, when 2026 is so far away? The SLAT strategy takes time to implement, and it also takes time for people to get comfortable with the idea of taking a significant amount of wealth out of their control to place in an irrevocable trust. For a large SLAT, estate planning attorneys, CPAs and financial advisors generally need to work together to create the proper structure. Executing this estate planning strategy takes time and should not be left for the year before this large change in federal estate taxes occurs.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2022) “Is 2026 An Important Year For Your Wealth?”

Can You Refuse an Inheritance?

No one can be forced to accept an inheritance they don’t want. However, what happens to the inheritance after they reject, or “disclaim” the inheritance depends on a number of things, says the recent article “Estate Planning: Disclaimers” from NWI Times.

A disclaimer is a legal document used to disclaim the property. To be valid, the disclaimer must be irrevocable, in writing and executed within nine months of the death of the decedent. You can’t have accepted any of the assets or received any of the benefits of the assets and then change your mind later on.

Once you accept an inheritance, it’s yours. If you know you intend to disclaim the inheritance, have an estate planning attorney create the disclaimer to protect yourself.

If the disclaimer is valid and properly prepared, you simply won’t receive the inheritance. It may or may not go to the decedent’s children.

After a valid qualified disclaimer has been executed and submitted, you as the “disclaimor” are treated as if you died before the decedent. Whoever receives the inheritance instead depends upon what the last will or trust provides, or the intestate laws of the state where the decedent lived.

In most cases, the last will or trust has instructions in the case of an heir disclaiming. It may have been written to give the disclaimed property to the children of the disclaimor, or go to someone else or be given to a charity. It all depends on how the will or trust was prepared.

Once you disclaim an inheritance, it’s permanent and you can’t ask for it to be given to you. If you fail to execute the disclaimer after the nine-month period, the disclaimer is considered invalid. The disclaimed property might then be treated as a gift, not an inheritance, which could have an impact on your tax liability.

If you execute a non-qualified disclaimer relating to a $100,000 inheritance and it ends up going to your offspring, you may have inadvertently given them a gift according to the IRS. You’ll then need to know who needs to report the gift and what, if any, taxes are due on the gift.

Persons with Special Needs who receive means-tested government benefits should never accept an inheritance, since they can lose eligibility for benefits.

A Special Needs Trust might be able to receive an inheritance, but there are limitations regarding how much can be accepted. An estate planning attorney will need to be consulted to ensure that the person with Special Needs will not have their benefits jeopardized by an inheritance.

The high level of federal exemption for estates has led to fewer disclaimers than in the past, but in a few short years—January 1, 2026—the exemption will drop down to a much lower level, and it’s likely inheritance disclaimers will return.

Reference: NWI Times (Nov. 14, 2021) “Estate Planning: Disclaimers”

estate planning actions

Estate Planning Actions to Consider before 2020 Ends

When it comes to estate planning, there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” solution. That is especially true before a presidential election. However, there are several factors that should be considered and discussed with your estate planning attorney, as recommended in this recent article from The National Law Review “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020.”

The estate, gift and generational-skipping transfer tax exemption is now $11.58 million per person. It’s scheduled to increase every year by an inflationary indexed amount through 2025 and in 2026 will revert to $5 million. If Biden wins the election, don’t be surprised if changes are made earlier. The IRS has already said that if the exemption is used this year, there will be no claw back. This is a “use it or lose it” scenario. If you are planning on using it, now is the time to do so.

It is possible that Discounts, GRATS, Grantor Trusts and other estate planning techniques may go away, depending upon who wins the election and control of Congress. Consider taking advantage of commonly used estate planning tools before it is too late.

Married couples who are not ready to gift significant amounts to their children or to put assets into trusts for their children should consider the SLAT–Spousal Lifetime Access Trust. They can create and gift the exemption amount to a SLAT and still maintain access to the assets.

Single individuals who similarly are not ready to make large gifts and give up access to assets may also create and gift an exemption amount to a trust in a jurisdiction based on “domestic asset protection trust” legislation. They can be a beneficiary of such a trust.

Interest rates are at an all-time low, and that is when tools like intra family loans, GRATs and GLATs are at their best.

Moving to Florida, Nevada, Texas and other low- or no-income tax states has become very popular, especially for people who can work remotely. Be aware that high tax states like New York and California are not going to let your tax revenue leave easily. Check with your estate planning attorney to make sure you’re following the rules in giving up your domicile in a high-income tax state.

Reference: The National Law Review (Oct. 6, 2020) “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020”

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