As a result of the current estate tax exemption amount ($11.58 million in 2020), many estates no longer need to be concerned with federal estate tax. Before 2011, a much smaller amount resulted in estate plans attempting to avoid it. Now, because many estates won’t be subject to estate tax, more planning can be devoted to saving income taxes for your heirs.

While saving both income and transfer taxes has always been a goal of estate planning, it was more difficult to succeed at both when the estate and gift tax exemption level was much lower. Here are some strategies to consider.

Plan gifts that use the annual gift tax exclusion. One of the benefits of using the gift tax annual exclusion to make transfers during life is to save estate tax. This is because both the transferred assets and any post-transfer appreciation generated by those assets are removed from the donor’s estate.

As mentioned, estate tax savings may not be an issue because of the large estate exemption amount. Further, making an annual exclusion transfer of appreciated property carries a potential income tax cost because the recipient receives the donor’s basis upon transfer. Thus, the recipient could face income tax, in the form of capital gains tax, on the sale of the gifted property in the future. If there’s no concern that an estate will be subject to estate tax, even if the gifted property grows in value, then the decision to make a gift should be based on other factors.

For example, gifts may be made to help a relative buy a home or start a business. But a donor shouldn’t gift appreciated property because of the capital gain that could be realized on a future sale by the recipient. If the appreciated property is held until the donor’s death, under current law, the heir will get a step-up in basis that will wipe out the capital gain tax on any pre-death appreciation in the property’s value.

Take spouses’ estates into account. In the past, spouses often undertook complicated strategies to equalize their estates so that each could take advantage of the estate tax exemption amount. Generally, a two-trust plan was established to minimize estate tax. “Portability,” or the ability to apply the decedent’s unused exclusion amount to the surviving spouse’s transfers during life and at death, became effective for estates of decedents dying after 2010. As long as the election is made, portability allows the surviving spouse to apply the unused portion of a decedent’s applicable exclusion amount (the deceased spousal unused exclusion amount) as calculated in the year of the decedent’s death. The portability election gives married couples more flexibility in deciding how to use their exclusion amounts.

Be aware that some estate exclusion or valuation discount strategies to avoid inclusion of property in an estate may no longer be worth pursuing. It may be better to have the property included in the estate or not qualify for valuation discounts so that the property receives a step-up in basis. For example, the special use valuation — the valuation of qualified real property used for farming or in a business on the basis of the property’s actual use, rather than on its highest and best use — may not save enough, or any, estate tax to justify giving up the step-up in basis that would otherwise occur for the property.

Contact us if you want to discuss these strategies and how they relate to your estate plan.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

With the federal gift and estate tax exemption now at a record high $11.58 million for 2020, most estates aren’t taxable. But that doesn’t mean making lifetime gifts isn’t without significant benefits — even if your estate isn’t taxable under the current rules. Let’s examine reasons why gifting remains an important part of estate planning.

Lifetime gifts reduce estate taxes

If your estate exceeds the exemption amount — or you believe it will in the future — regular lifetime gifts can substantially reduce your estate tax bill. The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to give up to $15,000 per recipient annually tax-free without using up any of your gift and estate tax exemption. In addition, direct payments of tuition or medical expenses on behalf of your loved ones are excluded from gift tax.

Taxable gifts — meaning gifts beyond the annual exclusion amount and not eligible for the tuition and medical expense exclusion — can also reduce estate tax liability by removing future appreciation from your taxable estate. You may be better off paying gift tax on an asset’s current value rather than estate tax on its appreciated value down the road.

When gifting appreciable assets, however, be sure to consider the potential income tax implications. Property transferred at death receives a “stepped-up basis” equal to its date-of-death fair market value, which means the recipient can turn around and sell the property free of capital gains taxes. Property transferred during life retains your tax basis, so it’s important to weigh the estate tax savings against the potential income tax costs.

Tax laws aren’t permanent

Even if your estate is within the exemption amount now, it pays to make regular gifts. Why? Because even though the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the exemption amount, and that amount will be adjusted annually for inflation, the doubling expires after 2025. Without further legislation, the exemption will return to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026.

The good news is that the IRS issued final regulations in late 2019 that should provide comfort to taxpayers interested in making large gifts under the current gift and estate tax regime. The concern was that a taxpayer would make gifts during his or her lifetime based on the higher exemption, only to have their credit calculated based on the amount in effect at the time of death.

To address this fear, the final regs provide a special rule for such circumstances that allows the estate to compute its estate tax credit using the higher of the exemption amount applicable to gifts made during life or the amount applicable on the date of death.

Gifts provide nontax benefits

Tax planning aside, there are other reasons to make lifetime gifts. For example, perhaps you wish to use gifting to shape your family members’ behavior — for example, by providing gifts to those who attend college.

Regardless of the amount of your wealth, consider a program of regular lifetime giving. We can help you devise and incorporate a gifting program as part of your estate plan.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to transfer up to $15,000 per beneficiary gift-tax-free for 2020, without tapping your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. And you can double the exclusion to $30,000 per beneficiary if you elect to split the gifts with your spouse.

It’s important to understand the rules surrounding gift-splitting to avoid unintended — and potentially costly — consequences.

Understanding the pitfalls

Common mistakes made when splitting gifts include:

Failing to make the election. To elect to split gifts, the donor must file a gift tax return and the nondonor must consent by checking a box on the return and signing it or, if a gift exceeds $30,000, filing his or her own gift tax return. Once you make the election, you must split all gifts to third parties for the year.

Splitting gifts with a noncitizen. To be eligible for gift-splitting, one spouse must be a U.S. citizen.

Divorcing and remarrying. To split gifts, you must be married at the time of the gift. You’re ineligible for gift-splitting if you divorce and either spouse remarries during the calendar year in which the gift was made.

Gifting a future interest. Gift-splitting can be used only for present interests. So, a gift in trust qualifies only if the beneficiary receives a present interest — for example, by providing the beneficiary with so-called Crummeywithdrawal rights.

Benefiting your spouse. Gift-splitting is ineffective if you make the gift to your spouse, rather than a third party; if you give your spouse a general power of appointment over the gifted property; or if your spouse is a potential beneficiary of the gift. For example, if you make a gift to a trust of which your spouse is a beneficiary, gift-splitting is prohibited unless the chances your spouse will benefit are extremely remote.

Be aware that, if you die within three years of splitting a gift, some of the tax benefits may be lost.

Extended gift tax return deadline is approaching

Remember that when you elect to split gifts with your spouse, you, the donor, must file a gift tax return and your spouse, the nondonor, must consent by checking a box on the return and signing it. Bear in mind that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS extended the gift tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020, so now is the time to act. Contact us with any questions regarding making gifts.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

You may have heard that the federal income tax filing and payment deadline has been extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, to provide relief for taxpayers adversely affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What you may have missed is that the U.S. Treasury Department also extended the April 15, 2020, federal gift tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020.

Filing gift tax returns

Generally, filing Form 709 — “United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return” is required if you make gifts to or for someone during the year (with certain exceptions, such as gifts to U.S. citizen spouses) that exceed the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2019 and 2020). There’s a separate exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse ($155,000 for 2019 and $157,000 for 2020).

Also, if you make gifts of future interests, even if they’re less than the annual exclusion amount, a gift tax return is required. Finally, if you split gifts with your spouse, regardless of amount, you must file a gift tax return.

As mentioned above, the deadline for filing a gift tax return has been extended to July 15, 2020. Being required to file a form doesn’t necessarily mean you owe gift tax. You’ll owe tax only if you’ve already exhausted your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.40 million for 2019 and $11.58 million for 2020). And you’re still allowed to request a filing and payment deadline extension to October 15, 2020.

Penalties and interest

Be aware that no interest, penalty or additions to tax for failure to file a Form 709 or to pay federal gift tax will be calculated on the postponed taxes for the period from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. However, interest, penalties and additions to tax will begin to accrue on July 16, 2020.

Seek professional help

Estate tax rules and regulations can be complicated. If you need help determining whether a gift tax return needs to be filed, contact us. We’d be pleased to help.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The IRS has issued final regulations that should provide comfort to taxpayers interested in making large gifts under the current gift and estate tax regime. The final regs generally adopt, with some revisions, proposed regs that the IRS released in November 2018.

The need for clarification

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) temporarily doubled the gift and estate tax exemption from $5 million to $10 million for gifts made or estates of decedents dying after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2026. The exemption is adjusted annually for inflation ($11.40 million for 2019 and $11.58 million for 2020). After 2025, though, the exemption is scheduled to drop back to pre-2018 levels.

With the estate tax a flat 40%, the higher threshold for tax-free transfers of wealth would seem to be great news, but some taxpayers became worried about a so-called “clawback” if they die after 2025. Specifically, they wondered if they would lose the tax benefit of the higher exemption amount if they didn’t die before the exemption returned to the lower amount.

The concern was that a taxpayer would make gifts during his or her lifetime based on the higher exemption, only to have their credit calculated based on the amount in effect at the time of death. To address this fear, the final regs provide a special rule for such circumstances that allows the estate to compute its estate tax credit using the higher of the exemption amount applicable to gifts made during life or the amount applicable on the date of death.

Examples

Let’s say that you made $9 million in taxable gifts in 2019, while the exemption amount of $11.40 million is in effect. But you die after 2025, when the exemption drops to $6.8 million ($5 million adjusted for inflation).

Under the new regs, the credit applied to compute the estate tax is based on the $9 million of the $11.4 million exemption used to compute the gift tax credit. In other words, your estate won’t have to pay tax on the $2.2 million in gifts that exceeds the exemption amount at death ($9 million less $6.8 million), and the credit to the estate tax will reflect the $2.4 million of the amount remaining after the gifts were made ($11.4 million less $9 million).

If, however, you made taxable gifts of only $4 million, the new regs won’t apply. The total amounts allowable as a credit when calculating the gift tax ($4 million) is less than the credit based on the $6.8 million exemption amount at death. So, the estate tax credit is based on the exemption amount at death, rather than the amount under the TCJA.

Act now

Even though the TCJA and the final regs provide a strong tax incentive to transfer assets, it’s important to remember that the offer is “use it or lose it.” The new regs apply only to gifts made during the 2018-2025 period, so contact us now to formalize your gifting strategies.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

With the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption at $11.40 million for 2019 ($11.58 million for 2020), you may think you don’t have to worry about gift and estate taxes.

However, there are no guarantees that estate tax law won’t be revised in the future or that your accumulated assets won’t eventually exceed the available exemption (which is scheduled to drop significantly in 2026). Thus, there’s a need to investigate other tax-saving possibilities.

Beyond annual exclusion gifts

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can reduce your taxable estate without using up any of your lifetime exemption by giving each recipient gifts valued up to $15,000 a year. For example, if you have three children and seven grandchildren, you can give each one $15,000 tax free, for a total of $150,000 in 2019. If your spouse joins in the gifts, the tax-free total is doubled to $300,000.

But what if you want to give away more without dipping into your lifetime exemption? Then direct payments of medical expenses or tuition may be right for you.

Ins and outs of direct payments

If you pay medical expenses on behalf of someone directly to a health care provider, those payments are exempt from gift tax above and beyond any amount covered by the annual gift tax exclusion. The same is true for paying the tuition expenses of a student directly to the school.

For example, if you give your granddaughter $15,000 in 2019 and then pay her $35,000 tuition bill at an elite private college, the entire $50,000 is sheltered from gift tax. But remember that the gift must be made directly to the educational institution (or health care provider). If you give the money to your granddaughter and she uses it to pay the tuition, the amount won’t be eligible for the direct payment exemption.

On the other hand, direct payments of tuition can reduce a student’s eligibility for financial aid on a dollar-for-dollar basis, while with gifts made directly to the student, only 20% of the gifted assets would be counted as assets of the student for financial aid purposes. Accordingly, careful analysis of the trade-offs between the potential tax savings and impairment of financial aid eligibility should be considered. Contact us with any questions.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

As we head toward the gift-giving season, you may be considering giving gifts of cash or securities to your loved ones. Taxpayers can transfer substantial amounts free of gift taxes to their children and others each year through the use of the annual federal gift tax exclusion. The amount is adjusted for inflation annually. For 2019, the exclusion is $15,000.

The exclusion covers gifts that you make to each person each year. Therefore, if you have three children, you can transfer a total of $45,000 to them this year (and next year) free of federal gift taxes. If the only gifts made during the year are excluded in this way, there’s no need to file a federal gift tax return. If annual gifts exceed $15,000, the exclusion covers the first $15,000 and only the excess is taxable. Further, even taxable gifts may result in no gift tax liability thanks to the unified credit (discussed below).

Note: this discussion isn’t relevant to gifts made from one spouse to the other spouse, because these gifts are gift tax-free under separate marital deduction rules.

Gifts by married taxpayers

If you’re married, gifts to individuals made during a year can be treated as split between you and your spouse, even if the cash or gift property is actually given to an individual by only one of you. By “gift-splitting,” up to $30,000 a year can be transferred to each person by a married couple, because two annual exclusions are available. For example, if you’re married with three children, you and your spouse can transfer a total of $90,000 each year to your children ($30,000 × 3). If your children are married, you can transfer $180,000 to your children and their spouses ($30,000 × 6).

If gift-splitting is involved, both spouses must consent to it. We can assist you with preparing a gift tax return (or returns) to indicate consent.

“Unified” credit for taxable gifts

Even gifts that aren’t covered by the exclusion, and that are therefore taxable, may not result in a tax liability. This is because a tax credit wipes out the federal gift tax liability on the first taxable gifts that you make in your lifetime, up to $11,400,000 (for 2019). However, to the extent you use this credit against a gift tax liability, it reduces (or eliminates) the credit available for use against the federal estate tax at your death.

Giving gifts of appreciated assets

Let’s say you own stocks and other marketable securities (outside of your retirement accounts) that have skyrocketed in value since they were acquired. A 15% or 20% tax rate generally applies to long-term capital gains. But there’s a 0% long-term capital gains rate for those in lower tax brackets. Even if your income is high, your family members in lower tax brackets may be able to benefit from the 0% long-term capital gains rate. Giving them appreciated stock instead of cash might allow you to eliminate federal tax liability on the appreciation, or at least significantly reduce it. The recipients can sell the assets at no or a low federal tax cost. Before acting, make sure the recipients won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax,” and consider any gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax consequences.

Plan ahead

Annual gifts are only one way to transfer wealth to your loved ones. There may be other effective tax and estate planning tools. Contact us before year end to discuss your options.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

One of the primary goals of estate planning is to put in writing how you want your wealth distributed to loved ones after your death. But what if you’d like to use that wealth to help a family member in need while you’re still alive? One way to do so is through intrafamily lending. If you’re considering making an intrafamily loan to your children or other family members, it’s worth a look at establishing a “family bank.”

Loan structure is important

Lending can be an effective way to provide your family financial assistance without triggering unwanted gift taxes. So long as a loan is structured in a manner similar to an arm’s-length loan between unrelated parties, it won’t be treated as a taxable gift.

This means, among other things:

  • Documenting the loan with a promissory note,
  • Charging interest at or above the applicable federal rate,
  • Establishing a fixed repayment schedule, and
  • Ensuring that the borrower has a reasonable prospect of repaying the loan.

Even if taxes aren’t a concern, intrafamily loans offer important benefits. For example, they allow you to help your family financially without depleting your wealth or creating a sense of entitlement. Done right, these loans can promote accountability and help cultivate the younger generation’s entrepreneurial capabilities by providing financing to start a business.

Too often, however, people lend money to family members with little planning or regard for potential unintended consequences. Rash lending decisions can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts among family members and false expectations. That’s where the family bank comes into play.

Family bank professionalizes intrafamily lending

A family bank is a family-owned, family-funded entity — such as a dynasty trust, a family limited partnership or a combination of the two — designed for the sole purpose of making intrafamily loans. Often, family banks are able to make financing available to family members who might have difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank or other traditional funding sources or to lend at more favorable terms.

By “professionalizing” family lending activities, a family bank can preserve the tax-saving power of intrafamily loans while minimizing negative consequences. The key to avoiding family conflicts and resentment is to build a strong family governance structure that promotes communication, group decision making and transparency.

Establishing clear guidelines regarding the types of loans the family bank is authorized to make — and allowing all family members to participate in the decision-making process — ensures that family members are treated fairly and avoids false expectations.

Contact us to learn more about the ins and outs of intrafamily lending.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

A common estate planning mistake that people make is to own property jointly with an adult child or other family member. True, adding a loved one to the title of your home, bank account or other property can be a simple technique for leaving property to that person without the need for probate. But any convenience gained is usually outweighed by a variety of negative consequences. Here are four:

1. Higher gift and estate taxes. Depending on the size of your estate, joint ownership may trigger gift and estate taxes. When you add a family member’s name to an asset’s title as joint owner, for example, it’s considered a taxable gift of half the asset’s value. And your interest in the asset — including any future appreciation — remains in your taxable estate. These taxes usually can be minimized or even eliminated by transferring the asset to an irrevocable trust.

2. Higher income taxes. Generally, property transferred at death receives a stepped-up basis, allowing your heirs to sell it without incurring capital gains tax liability. But if you add an heir to the property’s title as joint owner, only your interest in the property will enjoy this benefit. Any appreciation in the value of your heir’s interests between the date he or she is added to the title and the date of your death is subject to capital gains tax.

3. Exposure to creditors’ claims. Unlike property transferred to a properly designed trust, jointly held property may be exposed to claims by the joint owner’s creditors (and also claims from a former spouse).

4. Loss of control. A joint owner has the right to sell his or her interest to an outside buyer without your consent and the buyer may be able to go to court to force a sale of the property. In addition, when you die, the entire property will go to the surviving owner(s), regardless of the terms of your will or other estate planning documents.

If you currently jointly own property with a family member, contact us at 205-345-9898 and info@covenantcpa.com. We can suggest alternative estate planning techniques to ease any gift, estate and income tax liability, and limit your exposure to creditors’ claims.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Kickbacks return a portion of the money exchanged in a business transaction as compensation for favorable treatment. They’re illegal in the United States and many other countries. But because kickbacks are often disguised as gifts, travel and entertainment, they can be hard to identify.

Intention of the gift-giver

Gifts, gratuities or courtesies of modest value associated with ordinary business practices are usually acceptable. The key consideration is the intention of the giver. Your employees shouldn’t accept any gift offered with the intent to improperly influence business decisions — or that would give the impression of compromising the employee’s ability to act in the best interests of the company.

The same integrity test should be applied in deciding whether to offer a gift to a customer or any other third party. You must take care to avoid not only an actual impropriety, but also the appearance of impropriety.

But defining what is proper or improper with a specific dollar amount can be difficult. Common sense often determines when a gift becomes extravagant or excessive. Professional organizations may provide their members with gift standards, and your employee handbook should set guidelines and spell out your policy.

Detection methods

Kickback schemes in progress often are uncovered when an employee or vendor reports it. So make sure your company operates a confidential fraud hotline. Without an eyewitness, you might look for a pattern of lavish business entertainment or irregular purchasing behavior. Watch for repeated instances of ordering materials at a time other than the optimal reorder point and consistently placing orders with the same vendor.

Failure to follow general bidding policies also signals the need for a closer look. And if costs of materials seem out of line, the cause may be kickbacks in general purchasing.

Bidding irregularities

Kickbacks sometimes sneak into the bidding process when employees accept money in return for advance information about bids. Irregularities in the bid solicitation and submission process — for example, tailoring requirements in solicitation documents to fit the products or capabilities of a single contractor — may be signs of a kickback scheme.

Other signals of possible trouble include prequalification procedures restricting competition and bypassing necessary review procedures. A foreshortened bid submission schedule might allow only those with advance information time to prepare proposals.

Spell out your policy

The line between an acceptable gift offered with integrity and a kickback given as an illegal inducement for favorable treatment can be thin. Contact us for assistance in detecting and preventing kickbacks. 205-345-9898, info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA