How Might Tax Reform Affect Your Estate Plan?
By John Halterman
Whenever a financial change occurs at the government level, there is a domino effect in your personal finances. For example, the much-talked-about Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017 affects more than just your net pay. On the surface, we know that Trump’s tax reform bill lowers tax rates for individuals and corporations, increases the child tax credit, doubles the standard deduction, and caps or eliminates several deductions. But what does it all mean for your estate plan?
Now that we’ve had the chance to see the tax changes in action, let’s take a look at current law, the notable changes, and what they could mean for you.
Estate Planning Law: Then
If you’ve done any amount of estate planning, you know that taxes are an extremely important factor to take into consideration when creating a strategy. Here’s an overview of the estate tax rules prior to the new tax bill.
Estate Tax: The property in your estate is taxed before being passed on to your beneficiaries. There are various tax rates for this, extending up to 40%.
Gift Tax: When you give some of your assets as a gift while you are still alive, that is also subject to tax, up to 40%. However, you don’t have to pay any taxes on the first $15,000 you give each year. That exclusion applies individually to each person you give to.
Generation-Skipping Tax: Property transferred beyond one generation by bequest or gift is also taxed. There is an additional generation-skipping tax with, again, a top rate of 40%.
Basic Exclusion Amount: Any of these three taxes, or any combination of the three, does not apply to the first $5 million of transferred property. This exemption, called the basic exclusion amount, is indexed for inflation, so it was actually $5.6 million for 2018.
Tax Basis: If you give someone an asset while you are still alive, they will take on your tax basis in that property, called a carryover basis. However, if you wait until your death to transfer the asset, their tax basis will be the fair market value of the property at the time of your death, called a step-up in basis.
Estate Planning Law: Now
And now for a look at what the tax bill has changed:
Basic Exclusion Amount: The legislation doubles the basic exclusion amount. Depending on how inflation is calculated, this would amount to around $11.4 million per individual or $22.8 million per couple. This basic exclusion amount would apply to tax years after 2017.
Estate, Gift, And Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes: The bill will double the estate and gift tax exemption for estates of decedents dying and gifts made after December 31, 2017. The basic exclusion amount would increase from $5 million to $10 million and would be indexed for inflation. After 2023, both of these taxes would be repealed. Beneficiaries would still enjoy a step-up in basis for their inherited property.
Gift Tax: The gift tax would remain, but with a top rate of 35%. There would still be an overall lifetime basic exclusion amount as mentioned above, twice the current amount. The annual exclusion would remain the same at $15,000, though it would increase with inflation.
Are The Changes Permanent?
Under the current law, only 0.02% of taxpayers pay federal estate taxes, so these changes do not affect a broad section of the population, but rather a few of the wealthiest Americans. (1)
Because of this, there is a chance that a future administration could repeal it or the taxes could be re-adopted at a later date. This is important to keep in mind when making plans based on these changes in the law.
What This Means For Your Estate Plan
How will these changes affect you? What does this mean for your estate planning?
First of all, the doubling of the exemption amount means that you can increase your giving. It gives you more freedom to be generous and also the opportunity to remove more from your estate in case the taxes are reenacted later on.
This might also be a good opportunity for you to transfer assets from a non-exempt trust to a generation-skipping trust to take advantage of the increased generation-skipping amount. It may also affect how you handle distributions from qualified domestic trusts, as they wouldn’t be taxable after 2024.
Next Steps to Take
If your head is spinning from the details, remember that the changes to the tax law will likely affect different kinds of trusts and estate plans in different ways. As always, tax law is complicated and you should always work with an experienced financial professional for your estate planning needs.
At Beacon Wealth Management, we understand that estate planning and minimizing taxes are an important part of your overall retirement plan. As such, we are here for you as you evaluate your options and seek answers to your questions. If you’re tired of muddling through important retirement planning issues on your own, call (304) 626-3900 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get our help!
John Halterman, best-selling author and nationally published blogger, has been featured as a financial guest expert on the shows of self-help gurus Brian Tracy and Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and has appeared on ABC, FOX, BRAVO, NBC, CBS, and A&E. John is the expert host of the weekly WDTV News 5 segment “Solutions 4 Financial Independence.”
As an authority on wealth management, he has been invited by hundreds of institutions such as universities, federal agencies, professional associations, and large energy and utility corporations to be a guest speaker and educational event host. Event topics include retiring ready, managing down market investment risk, how to reduce your tax burden, and transferring your family wealth in the most tax advantageous way.
John is the founder and owner of Beacon Wealth Management, specializing in helping entrepreneurs, professional practitioners, and retirees overcome the 5 major challenges facing successful families. He is a warm communicator with a passion for helping people transform their financial futures. John understands the multifaceted set of financial worries people face as they become more successful and enter the Retirement Red Zone. He empathizes personally with each client and delivers a collaborative client experience that empowers people to reach their life goals.
With more than two decades of experience, John’s professional credentials include Certified Wealth Strategist, Accredited Investment Fiduciary, Certified Estate Planner, Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant, Professional Plan Consultant, and Registered Financial Consultant. He is also a past member of Ed Slott’s Master Elite IRA Study Group.
A native of Weston, West Virginia, John served in the United States Air Force prior to becoming a wealth advisor. Today, he resides with his family in Clarksburg, West Virginia. He and his wife, Lisa, have been married since 2005 and have three amazing children. A family-oriented man, he enjoys giving back to his community, coaching youth sports, landscaping, architectural design, and playing racquetball.