The staggering cost of college makes it critical for families to plan carefully for this major expense, and in many cases grandparents want to play a role. As you examine the many financing options for your grandchildren, be sure to consider their impact on your estate plan.

Make direct payments

A simple, but effective, technique is to make tuition payments on behalf of your grandchild. So long as you make the payments directly to the college, they avoid gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax without using up any of your $11.4 million gift or GST tax exemptions or your $15,000 annual gift tax exclusion.

A disadvantage of direct payments is that, if your grandchild is young, you have to wait until the student has tuition bills to pay. So there’s a risk that you’ll die before the funds are removed from your estate.

Draft a grantor trust

Trusts offer several important benefits. For example, a trust can be established for one grandchild or for multiple beneficiaries, and assets contributed to one, together with future appreciation, are removed from your taxable estate. In addition, the funds can be used for college expenses or for other purposes. Also, if the trust is structured as a “grantor trust” for income tax purposes, its income will be taxable to you, allowing the assets to grow tax-free for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

On the downside, for financial aid purposes a trust is considered the child’s asset, potentially reducing or eliminating the amount of aid available to him or her. So keep this in mind if your grandchild is hoping to qualify for financial aid.

Explore all of your options

Other college financing options include Sec. 529 college savings and prepaid tuition plans, savings bonds, retirement plan loans, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, and various other tax-advantaged accounts. If you’d like to learn more about your options to help fund your grandchild’s education expenses, please contact us at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Protecting assets from creditors is a critical aspect of estate planning, but you need to think about more than just your own creditors: You also need to consider your heirs’ creditors. Adding spendthrift language to a trust benefiting your heirs can help safeguard assets.

Spendthrift language explained

Despite its name, the purpose of a spendthrift trust isn’t just to protect profligate heirs from themselves. Although that’s one use for this trust type, even the most financially responsible heirs can be exposed to frivolous lawsuits, dishonest business partners or unscrupulous creditors. A properly designed spendthrift trust can protect assets against such attacks.

It can also protect your loved ones in the event of relationship changes. If one of your children divorces, your child’s spouse generally can’t claim a share of the trust property in the divorce settlement.

Also, if your child predeceases his or her spouse, the spouse generally is entitled by law to a significant portion of your child’s estate, including property you left the child outright. In some cases, that may be a desirable outcome. But in others, such as second marriages when there are children from a prior marriage, a spendthrift trust can prevent your child’s inheritance from ending up in the hands of his or her spouse rather than in those of your grandchildren.

A variety of trusts can be spendthrift trusts. It’s just a matter of including a spendthrift clause, which restricts a beneficiary’s ability to assign or transfer his or her interest in the trust and restricts the rights of creditors to reach the trust assets.

Additional considerations

It’s important to recognize that the protection offered by a spendthrift trust isn’t absolute. Depending on applicable law, it may be possible for government agencies to reach the trust assets — to satisfy a tax obligation, for example.

Generally, the more discretion you give the trustee over distributions from the trust, the greater the protection against creditors’ claims. If the trust requires the trustee to make distributions for a beneficiary’s support, for example, a court may rule that a creditor can reach the trust assets to satisfy support-related debts. For increased protection, it’s preferable to give the trustee full discretion over whether and when to make distributions.

Protect wealth after transfer

Protecting your wealth after you’ve transferred it to your family is just as important as other estate planning strategies such as reducing tax liability on the transfer. One way to do this is to include spendthrift language in a trust. Contact us to learn whether a spendthrift trust is right for your estate plan at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Charitable giving is a key part of estate planning for many people. If you have a collection of valuable art and are charitably minded, consider donating one or more pieces to receive tax deductions. Generally, it’s advantageous to donate appreciated property to avoid capital gains taxes. Because the top federal capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, donating art is particularly effective.

Considerations before donating

If you’re considering a donation of art, here are four tips to keep in mind:

1. Get an appraisal. Given the subjective nature of art valuation and the potential for abuse, the IRS scrutinizes charitable donations and other transactions involving valuable artwork. Most art donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.

IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $20,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.

2. Donate to a public charity. To maximize your charitable deduction, donate artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status. These donations generally entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, your deduction will be limited to your cost. Keep in mind that the amount you may deduct in a given year is limited to a percentage of your adjusted gross income (30% for public charities, 50% for private charities) with the excess carried over to future years.

3. Beware the related-use rule. To qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. So, for example, if you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university for use in art classes, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule.

Even if the related-use rule is satisfied initially, you may lose some or all of your deductions if the artwork is worth more than $5,000 and the charity sells or otherwise disposes of it within three years after receiving it.

4. Transfer the copyright. If you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.

Fractional donations

At one time, it was possible to give art away gradually using a series of fractional gifts, and claim increasing deductions if the art continued to appreciate. Under current rules, however, the deduction for future fractional gifts is limited to the value of the initial fractional gift (or, if lower, the fair market value of the later fractional gift).

The rules surrounding donations of art can be complex. We can help you achieve your charitable giving goals while maximizing your tax benefits. Contact us today at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

If your estate plan includes a revocable trust — also known as a “living” trust — it’s critical to ensure that the trust is properly funded. Revocable trusts offer significant benefits, including asset management (in the event you become incapacitated) and probate avoidance. But these benefits aren’t available if you don’t fund the trust.

Funding the trust

Funding a living trust is a simple matter of transferring ownership of assets to the trust or, in some cases, designating the trust as beneficiary. Assets you should consider transferring include real estate, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks and other investments, partnership and business interests, vehicles, and personal property (such as furniture and collectibles).

Be aware that moving an IRA or qualified retirement plan to a revocable trust can trigger unwanted tax consequences. Rather than transfer these assets to the trust, be sure that the trust is properly designed to allow you to designate the trust as beneficiary and enjoy the tax benefits of doing so. For insurance policies and annuities, you can either transfer ownership or change the beneficiary designation. In some cases, it may be advisable to hold a life insurance policy in an irrevocable life insurance trust to shield the proceeds from estate taxes.

Avoiding a pitfall

Most people are diligent about funding a trust at the time they sign the trust documents. But trouble can arise when they acquire new assets after the trust is established. Unless you transfer new assets to your trust, or designate the trust as beneficiary, they won’t enjoy the trust’s benefits.

So to make the most of a revocable trust, be sure that each time you acquire a significant asset, you take steps to transfer it to the trust or complete the appropriate beneficiary designation. A living trust is a key component of many people’s estate plan. Contact us to help ensure yours is properly funded at 205-345-9898 or email us at info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

For years, life insurance has played a critical role in estate planning, providing a source of liquidity to pay estate taxes and other expenses. Today, the gift and estate tax exemption has climbed to $11.4 million, so estate taxes are no longer a concern for the vast majority of families. But even for nontaxable estates, life insurance continues to offer estate planning benefits.

Replacing income and wealth

Life insurance can protect your family by replacing your lost income. It can also be used to replace wealth in a variety of contexts. For example, suppose you own highly appreciated real estate or other assets and wish to dispose of them without generating current capital gains tax liability. One option is to contribute the assets to a charitable remainder trust (CRT).

As a tax-exempt entity, the CRT can sell the assets and reinvest the proceeds without triggering capital gains tax. In addition, you and your spouse will enjoy an income stream and charitable income tax deductions. Typically, distributions you receive from the CRT are treated as a combination of ordinary taxable income, capital gains, tax-exempt income and tax-free return of principal.

After you and your spouse die, the remaining trust assets pass to charity. This will reduce the amount of wealth available to your children or other heirs. But you can use life insurance (a cost-effective second-to-die policy, for example) to replace that lost wealth.

You can also use life insurance to replace wealth that’s lost to long term care (LTC) expenses, such as nursing home costs, for you or your spouse. Although LTC insurance is available, it can be expensive, especially if you’re already beyond retirement age. For many people, a better option is to use personal savings and investments to fund their LTC needs and to purchase life insurance to replace the money that’s spent on such care. One advantage of this approach is that, if neither you nor your spouse needs LTC, your heirs will enjoy a windfall.

Finding the right policy

These are just a few examples of the many benefits provided by life insurance. We can help determine which type of life insurance policy is right for your situation. 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

No matter how much effort you’ve invested in designing your estate plan, your will, trusts and other official documents may not be enough. Consider creating a “road map” — an informal letter or other document that guides your family in understanding and executing your plan and ensuring that your wishes are carried out.

Navigating your world

Your road map should include, among other things:

  • A list of important contacts, including your estate planning attorney, accountant, insurance agent and financial advisors,
  • The location of your will, living and other trusts, tax returns and records, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, stock certificates, automobile titles, and other important documents,
  • A personal financial statement that lists stocks, bonds, real estate, bank accounts, retirement plans, vehicles and other assets, as well as information about mortgages, credit cards, and other debts,
  • An inventory of digital assets — such as email accounts, online bank and brokerage accounts, online photo galleries, digital music and book collections, and social media accounts — including login credentials or a description of arrangements made to provide your representative with access,
  • Computer passwords and home security system codes,
  • Safe combinations and the location of any safety deposit boxes and keys,
  • The location of family heirlooms or other valuable personal property, and
  • Information about funeral arrangements or burial wishes.

Laying out your intentions

Your road map can also be a good place to explain to loved ones the reasoning behind certain estate planning decisions. Perhaps you’re distributing your assets unequally, distributing specific assets to specific heirs or placing certain restrictions on an heir’s entitlement to trust distributions. There are many good reasons for these strategies, but it’s important for your family to understand your motives to help avoid hurt feelings or disputes.

Finally, like other estate planning documents, your road map won’t be effective unless your family knows where to find it, so it’s a good idea to leave it with a trusted advisor (and consider giving copies to other trusted parties). Please contact us if you’d like help drafting your road map. 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

People who live in states with high income taxes sometimes relocate to a state with a more favorable tax climate. A similar strategy can be available for trusts. If a trust is subject to high state income taxes, you may be able to change its residence — or “situs” — to a state with low or no income taxes.

What can a “trust-friendly” state offer?

In addition to offering low (or no) tax on trust income, some states:

  • Authorize domestic asset protection trusts, which provide added protection against creditors’ claims,
  • Permit silent trusts, under which beneficiaries need not be notified of their interests,
  • Allow perpetual trusts, enabling grantors to establish “dynasty” trusts that benefit many generations to come,
  • Have directed trust statutes, which make it possible to appoint an advisor or committee to direct the trustee with regard to certain matters, or
  • Offer greater flexibility to draft trust provisions that delineate the trustee’s powers and duties.

If another state’s laws would be more favorable than your own state’s, you might benefit from moving a trust to that state — or setting up a new trust there.

Take states’ laws into consideration

It’s important to review both states’ laws for determining a trust’s “residence” for tax and other purposes. Typically, states make this determination based on factors such as:

  • The grantor’s home state,
  • The location of the trust’s assets,
  • The state where the trust is administered (that is, where the trustees reside or the trust’s records are kept), and
  • The states where the trust’s beneficiaries reside.

Keep in mind that some states tax income derived from in-state sources even if earned by an out-of-state trust.

Making the right move

To enjoy the advantages of a trust-friendly state, establish the trust in that state and take steps to ensure that your choice of residence is respected (such as naming a trustee in the state and keeping the trust’s assets and records there). It may also be possible to move an existing trust from one state to another.

We can assist you in determining if setting up trusts in another state would help you achieve your estate planning goals. Contact us at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

If you hold significant real estate investments, tenancy-in-common (TIC) ownership can be a powerful, versatile estate planning tool. A TIC interest is an undivided fractional interest in property. The property isn’t split into separate parcels. Rather, each TIC owner has the right to use and enjoy the entire property.

TIC in action

An individual TIC can’t sell or lease the underlying property, or take other actions with respect to the property as a whole, without the other owners’ consent. But each owner has the right to sell, mortgage or transfer his or her TIC interest. This includes the right to transfer the interest, either directly or in trust, to his or her heirs or other beneficiaries.

Someone who buys or inherits a TIC interest takes over the original owner’s undivided fractional interest in the property, sharing ownership with the other tenants in common. Each TIC interest holder has a right of “partition.” That is, in the event of a dispute among the co-owners over management of the property, an owner can petition a court to divide the property into separate parcels or to force a sale and divide the proceeds among the co-owners.

TIC and estate planning

Here are a couple of the ways TIC interests can be used to accomplish your estate planning goals:

Distributing your wealth. Dividing real estate among your heirs — your children, for example — can be a challenge. If you transfer real estate to them as joint tenants, their options for dealing with the property individually will be limited. What if one child wants to hold on to the real estate, but the other two want to cash out? Transferring TIC interests can avoid disputes by giving each heir the power to dispose of his or her interest without forcing a sale of the underlying property.

Reducing gift and estate taxes. Fractional interests generally are less marketable than whole interests. Plus, because an owner must share management with several co-owners, fractional interests provide less control. As a result, TIC interests may enjoy valuation discounts for gift and estate tax purposes.

Get an appraisal

If you’re considering using TIC interests in your estate plan, it’s critical to obtain an appraisal to support your valuation of these interests. Keep in mind that appraising a TIC interest is a two-step process. It begins with an appraisal of the real estate as a whole. Then an appraisal of the fractional interests follows. In some cases, it may be desirable to use two appraisers: a real estate appraiser for the underlying property and a business valuation expert to quantify and support any valuation discounts you claim. Contact us with questions at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

If you are about to receive an inheritance from a family member, you can use a qualified disclaimer to refuse the bequest. The assets will then bypass your estate and go directly to the next beneficiary in line. It’s as if the successor beneficiary, not you, had been named as the beneficiary in the first place.

But why would you ever look this proverbial gift horse in the mouth? For beneficiaries who already have large estates themselves, using a legally valid disclaimer can save gift and estate taxes, often while redirecting funds to where they ultimately would have gone anyway.

Estate planning benefits

Federal estate tax laws are fairly rigid, but a qualified disclaimer offers some unique flexibility to a forward-thinking beneficiary. Currently, the gift and estate tax exemption can shelter a generous $11.18 million in assets for 2018. By maximizing portability of any unused exemption amount, a married couple can effectively pass up to $22.36 million in 2018 to their heirs free of gift and estate taxes.

However, despite these lofty amounts, wealthier individuals, including those who aren’t married and can’t benefit from the unlimited marital deduction or portability, still might have estate tax liability concerns. Plus, the gift and estate tax exemption is currently scheduled to drop roughly by half in 2026.

By using a disclaimer, you avoid having the exemption further eroded by the inherited amount. Assuming you don’t need the money, shifting it to the younger generation without it ever touching your hands not only allows it to bypass your taxable estate, but saves gift and estate tax for the family as a whole.

5 legal requirements for qualified disclaimers

To be legally valid as a qualified disclaimer, the following five requirements must be met:

  1. The disclaimer must be made in writing and signed by the disclaiming party.
  2. The disclaimer must be irrevocable and unqualified.
  3. The disclaimant (that is, the person disclaiming) must not accept the interest or any of its benefits.
  4. The disclaimer must be delivered to the person or entity charged with the obligation of transferring the assets no more than nine months after the date the property was transferred or nine months after a disclaimant who is a minor reaches age 21.
  5. The interest must pass to a person other than the disclaimant without any direction by the disclaimant. Bear in mind that the spouse of the deceased is specifically authorized to be the person receiving the property by virtue of a disclaimer.

Look before you leap

Using a qualified disclaimer can provide flexibility if your net worth is already high and you’re in line for an inheritance from your parents or other loved ones. Before taking action, consult with us to help ensure a disclaimer is right for you and, if it is, that it meets the five legal requirements. Call us at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

No matter how much effort you’ve invested in designing your estate plan, your will, trusts and other official documents aren’t enough. You should also create a “road map” — an informal letter or other document that guides your family in understanding and executing your plan and ensuring that your wishes are carried out. Your road map should include, among other things:

  • A list of important contacts, including your estate planning attorney, accountant, insurance agent and financial advisors,
  • The location of your will, living and other trusts, tax returns and records, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, automobile titles, and other important documents,
  • A personal financial statement that lists stocks, bonds, real estate, bank accounts, retirement plans, vehicles and other assets, as well as information about mortgages, credit cards, and other debts,
  • An inventory of digital assets — such as email accounts, online bank and brokerage accounts, online photo galleries, digital music and book collections, and social media accounts — including login credentials or a description of arrangements made to provide your representative with access,
  • Computer passwords and home security system codes,
  • Safe combinations and the location of any safety deposit boxes and keys,
  • The location of family heirlooms or other valuable personal property, and
  • Information about funeral arrangements or burial wishes.

The road map can also be a good place to explain to your loved ones the reasoning behind certain estate planning decisions. Perhaps you’re distributing your assets unequally, distributing specific assets to specific heirs or placing certain restrictions on an heir’s entitlement to trust distributions. There are many good reasons for these strategies, but it’s important for your family to understand your motives to avoid hurt feelings or disputes.

Finally, like other estate planning documents, your road map won’t be effective unless your family knows where to find it, so it’s a good idea to leave it with a trusted advisor. Contact us at 205-345-9898 to start your road map.

© 2018 Covenant CPA