Legislators were very busy New Year’s Eve and into the early morning hours of New Year’s Day to draft and ultimately pass legislation to avoid what was commonly referred to as “The Fiscal Cliff.” But what really happened? In summary, not much new was passed, but rather the legislation in large part made permanent the system of estate and income tax that has been in effect for the past two years. The new law did put off for two months some important spending cuts that must take place due to a process called “sequestration.” It is these additional cuts that could have a significant impact on our senior population and their loved ones.
This issue of the ElderCounselorTM will take a look at the new legislation and what is yet to come in the next several weeks in the way of spending cuts, including possible cuts to programs that serve the elderly.
The Bottom Line on What Was Passed
This newsletter provides a summary of the legislation that was passed and what remains to be decided. If you have questions or need additional information, please contact us directly.
Estate taxes. An estate tax is a federal tax (and in some states also includes a state tax) on the transfer of a deceased person’s assets to his heirs and beneficiaries, and can include prior transfers made to those heirs and beneficiaries. However, under federal law, there is a certain amount that can be transferred without incurring any tax liability. In 2010, every individual could transfer (gift) up to $5 million tax-free during life or at death to avoid paying estate taxes on that amount. This amount is called the “basic exclusion amount” and is adjusted for inflation (usually on an annual basis). In 2012 it was raised to $5.12 million per person.
This year’s new “fiscal cliff legislation” did not change how much an individual could transfer during life or at death to avoid paying federal estate taxes on that amount. And, on January 11, 2013, the IRS announced that the estate tax exclusion amount for individuals who die in 2013 is now $5.25 million, as the prior figure has now been adjusted for inflation.
What if no action had been taken with regard to estate taxes?
Without the new legislation, the $5.12 figure would have automatically reverted to $1 million per person, and the rate for most estates would have gone up to 55%. Instead, the only thing the new legislation changed was the gift and estate tax rate, which has gone up to a top rate of 40%, from a maximum of 35% in 2012.
Married couples. The new legislation did not change prior law that stated that spouses do not have to pay estate tax when they inherit from the other spouse. Rather, when the first spouse dies, the other spouse can inherit the entire estate and any estate tax due would be postponed until the second spouse dies. This is called the “marital deduction.” If the surviving spouse is not a U.S. citizen, then there are restrictions on how much can be passed to the surviving spouse tax-free. It is also important to remember that this type of tax benefit between spouses is not always automatic – any married couple who may be subject to estate tax should seek the advice of an attorney to make sure their estate plan is properly set up to take advantage of this particular tax incentive.
What about lifetime gifts? The current basic exclusion amount of $5.25 million per individual is an exclusion for both lifetime gifts and gifts at death. This is often referred to as the “unified credit” amount. For example, an individual could transfer assets of $2 million duringtheir lifetime and an additional $2.25 million at death, and the total, $5.25 million, would not be subject to either gift or estate tax. However, if an individual transferred more than the $5.25 limit, that individual (or the heirs) will owe a tax of up to 40%.
The donor should report any gifts made during their lifetime to the IRS so a proper calculation can be made at the donor’s death. Using the above example, the $2 million lifetime gift would have been reported to the IRS even though no gift tax would be due. And, the IRS would then know that individual had $2.25 remaining to pass at death free of estate taxes.
There are additional gifting advantages available to married couples during their lifetime, and advice should be sought from an attorney versed in this area to determine what, if any, gifting incentives may be available.
Lifetime gifts that do not count toward the $5.25 million exclusion amount. There is an amount each year that can be transferred without counting toward the $5.25 exclusion amount. In 2013, that amount is $14,000 per year, per person (called an “annual exclusion amount”). For example, an individual can give three different people $14,000 in 2013, and it will not count toward the $5.25 lifetime exemption amount. Couples can double this amount and give $28,000 per person per year.
Planning Note: It is important to remember that any gift (unless designated as an exempt transfer under the federal and state Medicaid rules) will cause a penalty for Medicaid purposes. Individuals often believe that because they can transfer $14,000 per year per person under the tax rules, the same applies to Medicaid. The rules are very different for Medicaid, and a penalty will apply if that type of gift is made.
Changes to the income tax rules. This newsletter highlights the main points of the income tax rules that could directly affect seniors and their loved ones. For additional information on the alternative minimum tax or charitable gifting, please contact us directly.
In prior years, everyone enjoyed a 2% Social Security tax reduction as a stimulus measure. Under the 2013 legislation, this “tax holiday” was not extended; therefore, everyone will see a decrease in their net pay.
Ordinary income tax rates increase from 35% to 39.6% for singles earning more than $400,000 a year ($450,000 a year for married couples). All other ordinary income tax rates effective in 2012 were made permanent.
For those individuals earning over $250,000, and for married couples who earn over $250,000, there is a new Medicare 0.9% surtax on ordinary income and a new 3.8% surtax on investment income. These additional taxes were part of the 2010 health care legislation, much of which begins implementation in 2013.
The top capital gains and dividend rate increased to 20% for those earning more than $400,000 a year ($450,000 for married couples).
Additional Cuts Are on the Way
The current fiscal cliff legislation did not address the automatic spending cuts that were to take place on January 1, 2013. Instead, the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, were pushed back two months to March 1, 2013. Sequestration was one portion of the spending cuts included in the Budget Control Act, passed and signed in August 2011.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 allowed the president to raise the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion, and it instituted two rounds of significant spending cuts. One round of cuts involved government programs like defense spending, education funding, the FBI and other government agencies that would receive automatic budget cuts relative to their scheduled growth over the next 10 years.
The second half of the spending cuts was supposed to be decided on by Congress through a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This Committee (referred to as the “supercommittee”) was to come up with a list of cuts that would then be put to Congress for a full vote. If the committee couldn’t agree on the cuts, $1.2 trillion in further spending reductions over 10 years would be implemented starting Jan. 1, called the “sequester.” No cuts have yet been agreed upon, and the automatic spending reductions have been moved back to March 1, 2013, to allow Congress time to come to an agreement.
Programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have been the topic of discussion for the second portion of the spending cuts. We will continue to monitor and report on the progress of Congress as it pertains to these spending cuts and how they will impact our senior population and their families.
The fiscal cliff legislation is in place; however, there is more legislation to occur that could have a significant impact on those affected by programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. While many families may not be affected by the current estate and income tax rules, there are many who could have their life savings consumed by long term care costs. We help seniors and their families plan ahead to avoid a financial crisis, even if a health care crisis occurs. If you would like to learn more or if we can help someone you know, please give us a call.
To comply with the U.S. Treasury regulations, we must inform you that (i) any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this newsletter was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding U.S. federal tax penalties that may be imposed on such person and (ii) each taxpayer should seek advice from their tax advisor based on the taxpayer’s particular circumstances.
|Estate planning sometimes has income tax effects. All advisors, therefore, should be at least aware of some basics of income tax planning to best serve their clients.
In this issue of The Wealth Counselor, we will examine some of the basics of income tax planning and some of the techniques used in estate tax planning that have income tax impacts.
The Goals of Income Tax Planning
Typically, the amount of tax due is reduced by having the income be in a class that has favorable treatment. Favorable rate treatment is granted to long-term capital gains and qualified corporate dividends. Some income is excluded from taxation altogether, such as interest paid by state and local governments, certain gain realized on the sale of the taxpayer’s residence, and certain income earned while not living in the United States. The last two are subject to limiting rules and so not always available.
Income tax liability usually arises when an asset changes hands other than by gift or inheritance. However, the tax liability can sometimes be postponed. Examples are certain like-kind exchange transactions and certain installment sales. Sometimes, the fact of an asset changing hands is ignored for income tax purposes because the tax laws treat the transferring party and the transferee as the same taxpayer.
Basic Estate Planning Has No Income Tax Impact
Advanced Estate Planning Can and Often Does Have Income Tax Implications
Sometimes, advanced estate planning is used to reduce income taxes by shifting income from a taxpayer in a high bracket to a taxpayer in a lower bracket. Irrevocable trusts are often used for this purpose when the “kiddie tax” does not apply. The “kiddie tax,” when applicable, imposes the parent’s tax rate to the income of the taxpayer’s child who is under age 24.
For this donor to donee income tax liability shift to occur, the trust cannot be a grantor trust with respect to the donor. On the other hand, if the trust is a grantor trust, the donor’s paying the income tax on the trust’s income is not an additional gift. Thus not shifting the tax responsibility can be used to transfer additional wealth to children and grandchildren without using the donor’s gift tax exemption.
When an asset is sold, the tax is determined by the amount of gain realized. Gain is generally the difference between the net proceeds of the sale and the taxpayer’s basis in the asset. If the taxpayer receives the asset as a gift, the taxpayer’s basis is the previous owner’s basis plus any subsequent investment by the taxpayer. If the taxpayer received the gift as an inheritance, the basis is the asset’s value at the death of the prior owner plus any subsequent investment by the taxpayer. Advanced estate planning, therefore, weighs the estate and gift tax avoided against the increased capital gain that would be due on the recipient’s sale of a gifted asset as opposed to an inherited asset.
Some advanced estate planning involves charities. Trusts with charity and non-charity beneficiaries all have income tax effects. Such trusts are characterized as charitable lead trusts (CLTs) if the charity beneficiaries take before the non-charity beneficiaries and charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) if the charity beneficiaries get what is left over after payment to the non-charity beneficiaries. Both CLTs and CRTs can be grantor trusts or non-grantor trusts, depending on what the client is trying to achieve.
Advanced planning with income tax aspects also includes:
Deciding which of these techniques should be used in a particular case requires advanced estate planning experience and probably accounting analysis. It is, however, important for every advisor to be at least aware that they exist so that the appropriate team member can be called on when needed.
Planning Tip: Remember, there is nothing illegal or improper about rearranging our clients’ business affairs to take maximum advantage of all lawful strategies to reduce taxes.
Taxation of Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships, and Non-Grantor Trusts
Partnerships, for example, are not taxed at all. They report income and deductions, but the taxes are paid by the partners individually.
Some corporations and LLCs are eligible to elect to be taxed under Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code’s Chapter 1. They are called S-corporations, and they are treated for income tax purposes very much like partnerships – as pass-through entities. Corporations that do not elect or are not eligible for Subchapter S treatment are taxed as separate taxpayers under Subchapter C. They are called C-corporations.
LLCs can elect to be taxed as corporations, otherwise they are taxed as partnerships or are disregarded. Some are eligible to be taxed as Subchapter S corporations.
Partnerships and LLCs that are taxed as partnerships, have special allocation rules. S-corporation taxation is available only if a number of qualification conditions are met. Some trusts, for example, are not qualified to be Subchapter S owners. Entities in which they own interests, therefore, are ineligible for Subchapter S tax treatment. And with corporations that are not Subchapter S corporations, there are adverse taxation, liquidation and distribution of property issues.
Some Specific Income Tax Planning Techniques
Planning Tip: Many clients have more than one residence. With planning and a responsive market, a client can use this exclusion every two years to sell multiple properties. For example, sell the principal residence first. Then move into the vacation home, make it the principal residence for two years, then sell it.
Converting Income Taxable Assets into Non-Taxable Assets
Solution #1: Stretch out the inherited IRA as long as possible to offset the double tax. The longer tax-deferred growth will allow it to earn back some of the amount paid in estate taxes. Naming a young beneficiary will provide the maximum stretch out, allowing for more growth over a longer period of time. To make sure this happens, consider a special-purpose trust designed to receive and stretch inherited retirement plan benefits.
Solution #2: Convert the IRA to a Roth IRA. It may make sense to convert and pay the tax now if the IRA assets are expected to increase substantially over the next few years. As with a regular IRA, naming a young beneficiary will provide the maximum stretch out, allowing for more tax-free growth over a longer period of time.
Solution #3: Liquidate the IRA now and pay income tax at the current rates. Then gift the net proceeds to an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) where the trustee can use the money to purchase life insurance. This will work well in 2011 and 2012 when the gift tax exemption is $5 million. Using this approach, a $1 million taxable IRA could be converted to over $1 million in tax-free assets for multiple generations.
Getting Out of the C-Corporation Trap
A better solution is to liquidate the C-corporation, re-form as an LLC, and make the election to be taxed as an S-corporation. This will eventually eliminate the double taxation. However, a 10-year rule applies, so it is best to get the process started as soon as the problem is detected because any disposition of corporate assets within this 10-year period will result in some double taxation.
Deferring Income Recognition
Exchange of Insurance Policies (Code Section 1035)
Like-Kind Exchange of Tangible Property (Code Section 1031)
Certain Corporate Reorganizations (Code Section 368)
Installment Sale (Code Section 453)
Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT)
Tax Deferral with a CRT
Charitable Lead Trust (CLT)
Tax Deferral with a CLT