Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Pay Attention to Income Tax when Creating Estate Plans

While estate taxes may only be of concern for mega-rich Americans now, in a relatively short time, the federal exemption rate is scheduled to drop precipitously. Estate planning underway now should include consideration of income tax issues, especially basis, according to a recent article titled “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis” from National Law Journal.

Because of these upcoming changes, plans and trusts put into effect under current law may no longer efficiently work for income tax and tax basis issues.

Planning to avoid taxes has become less critical in recent years, when the federal estate tax exemption is $10 million per taxpayer indexed to inflation. However, the new tax laws have changed the focus from estate tax planning to coming tax planning and more specifically, to “basis” planning. Ignore this at your peril—or your heirs may inherit a tax disaster.

“Basis” is an oft-misunderstood concept used to determine the amount of taxable income resulting when an asset is sold. The amount of taxable income realized is equal to the difference between the value you received at the sale of the asset minus your basis in the asset.

There are three key rules for how basis is determined:

Purchased assets: the buyer’s basis is the investment in the asset—the amount paid at the time of purchase. Here’s where the term “cost basis” comes from

Gifts: The recipient’s basis in the gift property is generally equal to the donor’s basis in the property. The giver’s basis is viewed as carrying over to the recipient. This is where the term “carry over basis” comes from, when referring to the basis of an asset received by gift.

Inherited Assets: The basis in inherited property is usually set to the fair market value of the asset on the date of the decedent’s death. Any gains or losses after this date are not realized. The heir could conceivably sell the asset immediately and not pay income taxes on the sale.

The adjustment to basis for inherited assets is usually called “stepped up basis.”

Basis planning requires you to review each asset on its own, to consider the expected future appreciation of the asset and anticipated timeline for disposing the asset. Tax rates imposed on income realized when an asset is sold vary based on the type of asset. There is an easy one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to basis planning.

Estate planning requires adjustments over time, especially in light of tax law changes. Speak with your estate planning attorney, if your estate plan was created more than five years ago. Many of those strategies and tools may or may not work in light of the current and near-future tax environment.

Reference: National Law Review (July 22, 2022) “Be Mindful of Income Tax in Estate Planning, Particularly Basis”

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”

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