Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

What Is the Advantage of a Step-Up Basis for Estates?

The adjustment in the cost basis is sometimes overlooked in estate planning, even though it can be a tax game-changer. Under this tax provision, an inherited asset’s cost basis is determined not by what the original owner paid but by the value of the asset when it is inherited after the original owner’s death.

Since most assets appreciate over time, as explained in the article “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up” from Montgomery County News, this adjustment is often referred to as a “step-up” basis. A step-up can create significant tax savings when assets are sold and is a valuable way for beneficiaries to maximize their inheritance.

In most cases, assets included in the decedent’s overall estate will receive an adjustment in basis. Stocks, land, and business interests are all eligible for a basis adjustment. Others, such as Income in Respect of the Decedent (IRD), IRAs, 401(k)s, and annuities, are not eligible.

Under current tax law, the cost basis is the asset’s value on the date of the original owner’s death. The asset may technically accrue little to no gain, depending on how long they hold it before selling it and other factors regarding its valuation. The heir could face little to no capital gains tax on the asset’s sale.

Of course, it’s not as simple as this, and your estate planning attorney should review assets to determine their eligibility for a step-up. Some assets may decrease in value over time, while assets owned jointly between spouses may have different rules for basis adjustments when one of the spouses passes. The rules are state-specific, so check with a local estate planning attorney.

To determine whether the step-up basis is helpful, clarify estate planning goals. Do you own a vacation home you want to leave to your children or investments you plan to leave to grandchildren? Does your estate plan include philanthropy? Reviewing your current estate plan through the lens of a step-up in basis could lead you to make some changes.

Let’s say you bought 20,000 shares of stock ten years ago for $20 a share, with the original cost-basis being $400,000. Now, the shares are worth $40 each, for a total of $800,000. You’d like your adult children to inherit the stock.

There are several options here. You could sell the shares, pay the taxes, and give your children cash. You could directly transfer the shares, and they’d receive the same basis in your stock at $20 per share. You could also name your children as beneficiaries of the shares.

As long as the shares are in a taxable account and included in your gross estate when you die, your heirs will get an adjustment in basis based on the fair market value on the day of your passing.

If the fair market value of the shares is $50 when you die, your heirs will receive a step up in basis to $50. The gain of $30 per share will pass to your children with no tax liability.

Tax planning is part of a comprehensive estate plan, where an experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family minimize tax liabilities.

Reference: Montgomery County News (Dec. 20, 2023) “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up”

What You Need to Know About Estate Taxes

Most Americans don’t have to worry about federal estate and gift taxes. However, if you’re even moderately wealthy and want to transfer wealth to your children and grandchildren, you’ll want to know how to protect your ability to pass wealth to the next generation. A recent article from Woman’s World, “If You’re Rich, Read This—Your Estate Taxes Could Be at Stake (And Your Kids at Risk of Losing Their Inheritance” provides a good overview of estate taxes. If any of these issues are relevant to you, meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn how your state’s tax laws may impact your children’s inheritance.

A well-created estate plan can help you achieve your goals and minimize tax liability. There are three types of taxes the IRS levies on gifts and inheritances.

Few families worry about federal estate taxes for now. However, this will change in the future, and planning is always wiser. In 2023, the federal estate tax exemption is $12.92 million. Estates valued above this level have a tax rate of 40% on assets. People at this asset level usually have complex estate plans designed to minimize or completely avoid paying these taxes.

An estate not big enough to trigger federal estate taxes may still owe state estate taxes. Twelve states and the District of Columbia impose their own state taxes on residents’ estates, ranging from 0.8 percent to 20 percent, and some have a far lower exemption level than the federal estate tax. Some begin as low as $one million.

Six states impose an inheritance tax ranging between 10 percent and 18 percent. The beneficiary pays the tax, even if you live out of state. Spouses are typically exempt from inheritance taxes, which are often determined by kinship—sons and daughters pay one amount, while grandchildren pay another.

Taxpayers concerned about having estates big enough to trigger estate or inheritance taxes can make gifts during their lifetime to reduce the estate’s tax exposure. In 2023, the federal government allows individuals to make tax-free gifts of up to $17,000 in cash or assets to as many people as they want every year.

A couple with three children could give $17,000 to each of their children, creating a tax-free transfer of $102,000 to the next generation ($17,000 x 3 children x 2 individuals). The couple could repeat these gifts yearly for as long as they wished. Over time, these gifts could substantially reduce the size of their estate before it would be subject to an estate tax. It also gives their heirs a chance to enjoy their inheritance while their parents are living.

It should be noted that gifts over $17,000 in 2023 count against the individual estate tax limit. Therefore, your federal estate tax exemption will decline if you give more than the limit. This is why it’s essential to work with an estate planning attorney who can help you structure these gifts and discuss other estate tax and asset protection strategies.

Reference: Woman’s World (April 5, 2023) “If You’re Rich, Read This—Your Estate Taxes Could Be at Stake (And Your Kids at Risk of Losing Their Inheritance”

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%”

How Do Inheritance and Estate Taxes Work?

The federal estate tax has continued to increase. In 2023, the federal estate tax only applies to estates worth more than $12.92 million. For a married couple, the exemption is $25.84 million, explains a recent article from The Alliance Times-Herald, “Estate, Inheritance Taxes.” Some people believe there should not be a federal estate tax, since anyone with enough assets to pay it also has the resources to avoid paying it.

Every year, married couples can give away a large amount of tax-free gifts to other people, including family members. The annual gift tax limit is currently $17,000 per person, so a married couple may gift $34,000 in annual tax-free gifts, reducing the value of their taxable estate ad benefiting their beneficiaries.

Estate taxes can also be avoided through the use of trusts. Most trusts give the surviving spouse rights to the assets with no estate tax on the assets put into the trust. For example, the surviving spouse may draw income from the trust, live in the house, etc. When the surviving spouse dies, the trust assets are then distributed to beneficiaries.

A charitable trust names a charitable organization as the beneficiary of the trust assets. Assets in the charitable trust can include cash, stocks, real estate and other property. Extremely high-net-worth families benefit from the use of foundations to own assets.

A Family Limited Partnership (FLP) is useful, since it allows family members to pool assets and then shift them to other family members. This is commonly seen in privately held family businesses and agriculture. Assets in an FLP transferred to others are removed from the estate, with significant estate tax savings. They are also used as a strategy to transition family farms from one generation to the next. The older generation manages the operation at first, and the younger generation, over time, can take over the operation.

Six states are still collecting inheritance taxes, Pennsylvania and Nebraska among them. Inheritance taxes are not calculated on the estate’s total but on the amount paid to each person who receives something from the estate.

Inheritance taxes are levied on property inherited from parents, siblings, extended family and non-relatives. Only spouses are exempt. Tax amounts are typically based on the kinship relationship between the beneficiary and the deceased.

Families don’t have to be extremely wealthy to use trusts to protect assets from state estate taxes. They are also helpful when the family wishes to maintain their privacy, since assets held in trust do not go through probate and will not become part of the public record.

For families with privately owned businesses of any size, an experienced estate planning attorney can help create a Family Limited Partnership to work with the rest of the family’s estate plan. This will ensure the family business passes to the next generation without conflicting with the estate plan.

Reference: The Alliance Times-Herald (March 22, 2022) “Estate, Inheritance Taxes”

Search
Join Our eNewsletter

Recent Posts
Categories