Posts Tagged ‘will’

It May Be Time to Review Your Estate Plan

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 @ 09:03 AM
Author: Steven Ness

For more than a decade the estate planning landscape has been foggy at best.  During that entire period, existing laws created “automatic” changes that many tax and legal professionals found difficult to predict.  The passing of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the “2012 Act”) at the close of 2012, finally makes the estate and gift tax laws “permanent,” meaning that they are not scheduled to expire, be repealed or rolled back. This is a significant change because since 2001 taxpayers and their advisers have had to plan based on an uncertain statutory framework.

The 2012 Act sets the estate tax exemption amount at $5 million. This is the amount of money that can pass estate tax free to any individual without triggering federal estate tax.  Since this exemption amount will be adjusted for inflation, the exemption amount in 2012 was actually $5.12 million and it is predicted to rise to $5.25 million this year.

The 2012 Act unifies the estate tax with the gift tax, making the lifetime gift tax exemption amount also equal to $5 million (adjusted for inflation). The generation-skipping tax (“GST”) exemption amount is also set at $5 million (adjusted for inflation). As a result, a person can gift over $5 million during life ($10 million between spouses) and not trigger any transfer tax.

The maximum estate and gift tax rate was increased from 35% to 40%.

The “portability” of exemptions between spouses has been permanently extended so that a surviving spouse will be able to utilize his or her last deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount. This does require the filing of a federal estate tax return, but with proper elections built into a carefully prepared estate plan, a surviving spouse can protect up to $10 million (adjusted for inflation) if his or her deceased spouse did not utilize any of his or her exclusion amounts.

While the exemption amounts are high and portability enables a surviving spouse to use both spouses’ exemptions, there are still many reasons why planning during life is very important, including:

  1. All appreciation on gifted assets escapes federal and state estate taxes. For this reason, it still may make sense to make lifetime gifts if you anticipate that assets may appreciate and/or grow to a level that exceeds the exemption amounts.
  2. While the federal exemption amount is $5 million, the Minnesota estate tax exemption amount is still $1 million. A $10 million estate may not be subject to federal estate tax but will be subject to approximately $1 million in Minnesota estate tax.  Proper planning can reduce or eliminate this $1 million state estate tax exposure.
  3. While the estate tax exemption is portable, the state level estate tax exemption and the federal GST exemption are not portable. If not properly planned for, these valuable exemptions can be wasted, costing significant tax dollars.

Steven E. Ness is an estate planning attorney for Business Law Center, PLC in Bloomington, Minnesota.

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