Dissecting the contents of a will

For many people, the first thing they think of when they hear the words “estate plan” is a will. And for good reason, as it’s the cornerstone of any estate plan. But do you know what provisions should be included in a will and what are best to leave out? The answers to those questions may not be obvious.

Understanding the basics

Typically, a will begins with an introductory clause, identifying yourself along with where you reside (city, state, county, etc.). It should also state that this is your official will and replaces any previous wills.

After the introductory clause, a will generally explains how your debts and funeral expenses are to be paid. Years ago, funeral expenses were often paid out of the share of assets going to an individual’s children, instead of the amount passing to his or her spouse under the unlimited marital deduction. However, now that the inflation-adjusted federal gift and estate tax exemption has increased to $11.7 million for 2021, this may not be as critical as before.

A will may also be used to name a guardian for minor children. To be on the safe side, name a backup in case your initial choice is unable or unwilling to serve as guardian or predeceases you. 

Making specific bequests

One of the major sections of your will — and the one that usually requires the most introspection — divides up your remaining assets. Outside of your residuary estate, you’ll likely want to make specific bequests of tangible personal property to designated beneficiaries.

If you’re using a trust to transfer property, make sure you identify the property that remains outside the trust, such as furniture and electronic devices. Typically, these items aren’t suitable for inclusion in a trust. If your estate includes real estate, include detailed information about each property and identify the specific beneficiaries.

Finally, most wills contain a residuary clause. As a result, assets that aren’t otherwise accounted for go to the named beneficiaries.

Addressing estate taxes

The next section of the will may address estate taxes. Remember that this isn’t necessarily limited to federal estate tax; it can also apply to state death taxes. You might arrange to have any estate taxes paid out of the residuary estate that remains after assets have been allocated to your spouse.

Naming an executor

Toward the end of the will, the executor is named. This is usually a relative or professional who’s responsible for administering the will. Of course, the executor should be a reputable person whom you trust. Also, include a successor executor if the first choice is unable to perform these duties. Frequently, a professional is used in this backup capacity.

Turn to the professionals

Regardless of your age, health and net worth, if you want to have a say in what happens to your children and your wealth after you’re gone, you need a will. Contact us for assistance with tax-saving estate strategies and contact your attorney to help you draft your will.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As President-elect Joe Biden moves forward with the transition and prepares for the inauguration next month, you may be wondering how the federal estate tax may be affected.

During the campaign, Biden pledged to roll back many of President Trump’s tax policies. In response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), Biden has promised a progressive approach to taxation, focused primarily on increasing the burden on high-income individuals and businesses.

Bear in mind that his odds of translating his proposals into legislation in the next couple of years largely hinges on the outcomes of runoff elections for the two Georgia seats in the U.S. Senate. Biden’s party needs to win both seats to take a majority in the Senate. These elections are scheduled for January 5, 2021.

Proposals for gift and estate taxes

The TCJA temporarily doubled the federal gift and estate tax exemption to $10 million (adjusted annually for inflation), through 2025. The 2020 exemption is $11.58 million for individuals and $23.16 million for married couples; for 2021, it’s $11.7 million and $23.4 million, respectively. These TCJA amounts are scheduled to expire after 2025 to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for married couples, adjusted annually for inflation. 

Biden has proposed reducing the exemption to $3.5 million for estate taxes and exempting $1 million for the gift tax. He also favors imposing a top estate tax rate of 45%, from the current rate of 40%.

In addition, Biden would like to end the “step-up” in basis that spares beneficiaries substantial tax liability for capital gains on inherited assets that have appreciated in value, such as stock or a house. If a beneficiary sells an inherited asset now, the capital gains generated is the difference between the asset’s fair market value at the time of sale less the stepped-up basis (the fair market value of the asset at the date of the deceased’s death), rather than the basis at the date of the original purchase. Without the step-up in basis, the capital gains generated on sale would be a larger amount.

Review your estate plan

As mentioned above, the ability of Biden to implement his proposals rests largely on the outcome of the Georgia runoff elections for Senate early next month. In the meantime, it would be worth your while to review your estate plan and make any necessary revisions. Potential tax law changes are a reason to trigger a review, as well as life changes, such as a marriage, the birth of a child or a divorce. Please turn to us for help reviewing your plan and making changes based on your specific circumstances.

© 2020 Covenant CPA