If a prime objective of your estate plan is to leave a lasting legacy, a dynasty trust may be the right estate planning vehicle for you. And, thanks to the substantially increased generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption amount established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a dynasty trust is more appealing than ever.

GST tax and dynasty trusts

A dynasty trust allows substantial amounts of wealth to grow and compound free of federal gift, estate and GST taxes, providing tax-free benefits for your grandchildren and future generations. The longevity of a dynasty trust varies from state to state, but it’s becoming more common for states to allow these trusts to last for hundreds of years or even in perpetuity.

Avoiding GST tax liability is critical to a dynasty trust’s success. An additional 40% tax on transfers to grandchildren or others that skip a generation, the GST tax can quickly consume substantial amounts of wealth. The key to avoiding the tax is to leverage your $11.40 million GST tax exemption.

For example, let’s say you haven’t used any of your $11.40 million combined gift and estate tax exemption. In 2019, you transfer $10 million to a properly structured dynasty trust. There’s no gift tax on the transaction because it’s within your unused exemption amount. And the funds, together with all future appreciation, are removed from your taxable estate.

Most important, by allocating your GST tax exemption to your trust contributions, you ensure that any future distributions or other transfers of trust assets to your grandchildren or subsequent generations will avoid GST taxes. This is true even if the value of the assets grows well beyond the exemption amount or the exemption is reduced in the future.

Setting up a dynasty trust

A dynasty trust can be established during your lifetime, as an inter vivos trust or part of your will as a testamentary trust. An inter vivos transfer to a dynasty trust may have additional benefits associated with transferring assets that have greater appreciation potential out of your taxable estate.

After creating the trust, you must determine which assets to transfer to it. Because the emphasis is on protecting appreciated property, consider funding the trust with securities, real estate, life insurance policies and business interests.

Finally, you must appoint a trustee. Your choices may include a succession of family members or estate planning professionals. For most people, however, a safer approach is to use a reputable trust company with a proven track record, as opposed to assigning this duty to family members who might not be born yet.

If you think a dynasty trust might be right for your family, talk with us before taking action. A currently effective dynasty trust is irrevocable — meaning that, once you create it, you may be unable to modify the arrangement if your family dynamic changes. Contact us with questions at 205-345-9898 and info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Here’s a fast fact: The percentage of U.S. children who live with an unmarried parent has jumped from 13% in 1968 to 32% in 2017, according to Pew Research Center’s most recent poll.

While estate planning for single parents is similar to estate planning for families with two parents, when only one parent is involved, certain aspects demand your special attention.

5 questions to ask

Of course, parents want to provide for their children’s care and financial needs after they’re gone. If you’re a single parent, here are five questions you should ask:

1. Have I selected an appropriate guardian? If the other parent is unavailable to take custody of your children should you become incapacitated or unexpectedly die, your estate plan must designate a suitable, willing guardian to care for them.

2. What happens if I remarry? Will you need to provide for your new spouse as well as your children? Where will you get the resources to provide for your new spouse? What if you placed your life insurance policy in an irrevocable trust for your kids to avoid estate taxes on the proceeds? Further complications can arise if you and your new spouse have children together or if your spouse has children from a previous marriage.

3. What if I become incapacitated? As a single parent, it’s particularly important to include in your estate plan a living will, advance directive or health care power of attorney to specify your health care preferences in the event you become incapacitated and to designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. You should also have a revocable living trust or durable power of attorney that provides for the management of your finances in the event you’re unable to do so.

4. Should I establish a trust for my children? Trust planning is one of the most effective ways to provide for your children. Trust assets are managed by one or more qualified, trusted individuals or corporate trustees. You specify when and under what circumstances funds should be distributed to your kids. A trust is particularly important if you have minor children. Without one, your assets may come under the control of your former spouse or a court-appointed administrator.

5. Am I adequately insured? With only one income to depend on, plan carefully to ensure that you can provide for your retirement as well as your children’s financial security. Life insurance can be an effective way to augment your estate. You should also consider disability insurance. Unlike many married couples, single parents don’t have a “backup” income in the event they can no longer work.

Review your estate plan

If you’ve recently become a single parent, it’s critical to review your estate plan. We’d be pleased to help you make any necessary revisions. 205-345-9898 and info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

An unexpected outcome of the recent death of designer Karl Lagerfeld is that the topic of estate planning for pets has been highlighted. Lagerfeld’s beloved cat, Choupette, played a major role in his brand. The feline was the subject of a coffee table book and has a large Instagram following. Before his death, Lagerfeld publicly expressed his wishes to have his ashes, and those of his cat if she had died before him, to be scattered with those of his mother’s. It’s unknown if Lagerfeld accounted for his beloved Choupette in his estate plan, but one vehicle he could have used to do so is a pet trust.

Another celebrity who famously set up a pet trust for her dog was hotel heiress Leona Helmsley. She left $12 million in a trust for her white Maltese, Trouble. (A judge later reduced the trust to $2 million and ordered the remainder to go to Helmsley’s charitable foundation.) Thanks to the pet trust, Trouble lived a luxurious life until she died in 2011, four years after Helmsley’s death.

ABCs of a pet trust

A pet trust is a legally sanctioned arrangement in all 50 states that allows you to set aside funds for your pet’s care in the event you die or become disabled. After the pet dies, any remaining funds are distributed among your heirs as directed by the trust’s terms.

The basic guidelines are comparable to trusts for people. The “grantor” — called a settlor or trustor in some states — creates the trust to take effect during his or her lifetime or at death. Typically, a trustee will hold property for the benefit of the grantor’s pet. Payments to a designated caregiver are made on a regular basis.

Depending on the state in which the trust is established, it terminates upon the death of the pet or after 21 years, whichever occurs first. Some states allow a pet trust to continue past the 21-year term if the animal remains alive. This can be beneficial for pets that have longer life expectancies than cats or dogs, such as parrots or turtles.

Specify your wishes

Because you know your pet better than anyone else, you may provide specific instructions for its care and maintenance (for example, a specific veterinarian or brand of food). The trust can also mandate periodic visits to the vet and other obligations. Feel more secure knowing that your pet’s care is forever ensured — legally. Contact us for additional details at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Have you made substantial gifts of wealth to family members? Or are you the executor of the estate of a loved one who died recently? If so, you need to know whether you must file a gift or estate tax return.

Filing a gift tax return

Generally, a federal gift tax return (Form 709) 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 2018 and 2019); there’s a separate exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse ($152,000 for 2018 and $155,000 for 2019).

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.

The return is due by April 15 of the year after you make the gift, so the deadline for 2018 gifts is coming up soon. But the deadline can be extended to October 15.

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 ($11.18 million for 2018 and $11.40 million for 2019).

Filing an estate tax return

If required, a federal estate tax return (Form 706) is due nine months after the date of death. Executors can seek an extension of the filing deadline, an extension of the time to pay, or both, by filing Form 4768. Keep in mind that the form provides for an automatic six-month extension of the filing deadline, but that extending the time to pay (up to one year at a time) is at the IRS’s discretion. Executors can file additional requests to extend the filing deadline “for cause” or to obtain additional one-year extensions of time to pay.

Generally, Form 706 is required only if the deceased’s gross estate plus adjusted taxable gifts exceeds the exemption. But a return is required even if there’s no estate tax liability after taking all applicable deductions and credits.

Even if an estate tax return isn’t required, executors may need to file one to preserve a surviving spouse’s portability election. Portability allows a surviving spouse to take advantage of a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption amount, but it’s not automatic. To take advantage of portability, the deceased’s executor must make an election on a timely filed estate tax return that computes the unused exemption amount.

Preparing an estate tax return can be a time consuming, costly undertaking, so executors should analyze the relative costs and benefits of a portability election. Generally, filing an estate tax return is advisable only if there’s a reasonable probability that the surviving spouse will exhaust his or her own exemption amount.

Seek professional help

Estate tax rules and regulations can be complicated. If you need help determining whether a gift or estate tax return needs to be filed, contact us at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) offer closely held business owners an exit strategy and a tax-efficient technique for sharing equity with employees. But did you know that an ESOP can be a powerful estate planning tool? It can help you address several planning challenges, including lack of liquidity and the need to provide for children outside the business.

An ESOP in action

An ESOP is a qualified retirement plan, similar to a 401(k) plan. But instead of investing in a selection of stocks, bonds and mutual funds, an ESOP invests primarily in the company’s own stock. ESOPs are subject to the same rules and restrictions as qualified plans, including contribution limits and minimum coverage requirements.

Typically, companies make tax-deductible cash contributions to the ESOP, which uses the funds to acquire stock from the current owners. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up control, though. The owners’ shares are held in a trust, and the trustees vote the shares.

An ESOP’s earnings are tax-deferred: Participants don’t recognize taxable income until they receive benefits — in the form of stock or cash — when they leave the company, die or become disabled.

Retirement and estate planning benefits

If a large portion of your wealth is tied up in a closely held business, lack of liquidity can create challenges as you approach retirement. Short of selling the business, how do you fund your retirement and provide for your family?

An ESOP may provide a solution. By selling some or all of your shares to an ESOP, you convert your shares into liquid assets. Plus, if the ESOP owns 30% or more of the company’s outstanding common stock immediately after the sale, and certain other requirements are met, you can defer or even eliminate capital gains taxes. How? By reinvesting the proceeds in qualified replacement property (QRP) — which includes most securities issued by U.S. public companies — within one year.

QRP provides a source of retirement income and allows you to defer your gain until you sell or otherwise dispose of the QRP. From an estate planning perspective, a simple but effective strategy is to hold the QRP for life. Your heirs receive a stepped-up basis in the assets, eliminating capital gains permanently.

If you want more investment flexibility, you can pay the capital gains tax upfront and invest the proceeds as you see fit. Or you can invest the proceeds in qualifying floating-rate long-term bonds as QRP. You avoid capital gains, but can borrow against the bonds and invest the loan proceeds in other assets.

If estate taxes are a concern, you can remove QRP from your estate, without triggering capital gains, by giving it to your children or other family members. These gifts may be subject to gift and generation-skipping transfer taxes, but you can minimize those taxes using traditional estate planning tools.

Weigh the pros and cons

ESOPs offer significant benefits, but they aren’t without their disadvantages. Contact us to help determine if an ESOP is right for you at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Estate planning aims to help individuals achieve several important goals — primary among them, transferring wealth to loved ones at the lowest possible tax cost. However, if you have creditors, you need to be aware of how fraudulent transfer laws can affect your estate plan. Creditors could potentially challenge your gifts, trusts or other estate planning strategies as fraudulent transfers.

Creditor challenges

Most states have adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA). The act allows creditors to challenge transfers involving two types of fraud.

The first is actual fraud. This means making a transfer or incurring an obligation “with actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud any creditor,” including current creditors and probable future creditors.

The second type is constructive fraud. This is a more significant risk for most people because it doesn’t involve intent to defraud. Under UFTA, a transfer or obligation is constructively fraudulent if you made it without receiving a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the transfer or obligation and you either were insolvent at the time or became insolvent as a result of the transfer or obligation.

“Insolvent” means that the sum of your debts is greater than all of your assets, at a fair valuation. You’re presumed to be insolvent if you’re not paying your debts as they become due. Generally, constructive fraud rules protect only present creditors — those whose claims arose before the transfer was made or obligation incurred.

Avoid mistakes

When it comes to actual fraud, just because you weren’t purposefully trying to defraud creditors doesn’t mean you’re safe. A court can’t read your mind, and it will consider the surrounding facts and circumstances to determine whether a transfer involves fraudulent intent. So before you make gifts or place assets in a trust, consider how a court might view the transfer.

Constructive fraud is risky because of the definition of insolvency and the nature of making gifts. When you make a gift, either outright or in trust, you don’t receive reasonably equivalent value in exchange. So if you’re insolvent at the time, or the gift you make renders you insolvent, you’ve made a constructively fraudulent transfer. This means a creditor could potentially undo the transfer.

To avoid this risk, calculate your net worth carefully before making substantial gifts. We can help you do this. Even if you’re not having trouble paying your debts, it’s possible you might meet the technical definition of insolvency.

Finally, remember that fraudulent transfer laws vary from state to state. So you should consult an attorney about the law where you live. Call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

Portability allows a surviving spouse to apply a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption amount toward his or her own transfers during life or at death. To secure these benefits, however, the deceased spouse’s executor must have made a portability election on a timely filed estate tax return. The return is due nine months after death, with a six-month extension option.

Unfortunately, estates that aren’t otherwise required to file a return (because they don’t meet the filing threshold) often miss the deadline. Several years ago, the IRS offered a simplified procedure for obtaining an extension, but it was available only through the end of 2014. After that, the only option was to request a private letter ruling from the IRS, a time-consuming, expensive process with no guarantee of success.

In 2017, however, the IRS made it easier (and cheaper) for estates to obtain an extension of time to file a portability election. For all deaths after 2010, IRS Revenue Procedure 2017-34 grants an automatic extension, provided:

  • The deceased was a U.S. citizen or resident,
  • The executor wasn’t otherwise required to file an estate tax return and didn’t file one by the deadline,
  • The executor files a complete and properly prepared estate tax return on Form 706 within two years of the date of death, and
  • The following language appears at the top of the return: “FILED PURSUANT TO REV. PROC. 2017-34 TO ELECT PORTABILITY UNDER §2010(c)(5)(A).”

If your spouse predeceases you and you’d benefit from portability, be sure that your spouse’s estate files a portability election by the applicable deadline. Contact us with any questions you have regarding portability at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

Sometimes estates that are large enough for estate taxes to be a concern are asset rich but cash poor, without the liquidity needed to pay those taxes. An intrafamily loan is one option. While a life insurance policy can be used to cover taxes and other estate expenses, a benefit of using an intrafamily loan is that, if it’s properly structured, the estate can deduct the full amount of interest upfront. Doing so reduces the estate’s size and, thus, its estate tax liability.

Deducting the interest

An estate can deduct interest if it’s a permitted expense under local probate law, actually and necessarily incurred in the administration of the estate, ascertainable with reasonable certainty, and will be paid. Under probate law in most jurisdictions, interest is a permitted expense. And, generally, interest on a loan used to avoid a forced sale or liquidation is considered “actually and necessarily incurred.”

To ensure that interest is “ascertainable with reasonable certainty,” the loan terms shouldn’t allow prepayment and should provide that, in the event of default, all interest for the remainder of the loan’s term will be accelerated. Without these provisions, the IRS or a court would likely conclude that future interest isn’t ascertainable with reasonable certainty and would disallow the upfront deduction. Instead, the estate would deduct interest as it’s accrued and recalculate its estate tax liability in future years.

The requirement that interest “will be paid” generally isn’t an issue, unless there’s some reason to believe that the estate won’t be able to generate sufficient income to cover the interest payments.

Ensuring the loan is bona fide

For the interest to be deductible, the loan also must be bona fide. A loan from a bank or other financial institution shouldn’t have any trouble meeting this standard.

But if the loan is from a related party, such as a family-controlled trust or corporation, the IRS may question whether the transaction is bona fide. So the parties should take steps to demonstrate that the transaction is a true loan.

Among other things, they should:

  • Set a reasonable interest rate (based on current IRS rates),
  • Execute a promissory note,
  • Provide for collateral or other security to ensure the loan is repaid,
  • Pay the interest payments in a timely manner, and
  • Otherwise treat the loan as an arm’s-length transaction.

It’s critical that the loan’s terms be reasonable and that the parties be able to demonstrate a “genuine intention to create a debt with a reasonable expectation of repayment.”

If you’re considering making an intrafamily loan, contact us at 205-345-9898. We’d be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

Many people choose to pass assets to the next generation during life, whether to reduce the size of their taxable estate, to help out family members or simply to see their loved ones enjoy the gifts. If you’re considering lifetime gifts, be aware that which assets you give can produce substantially different tax consequences.

Multiple types of taxes

Federal gift and estate taxes generally apply at a rate of 40% to transfers in excess of your available gift and estate tax exemption. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the exemption has approximately doubled through 2025. For 2018, it’s $11.18 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).

Even if your estate isn’t large enough for gift and estate taxes to currently be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus, the gift and estate tax exemption is scheduled to drop back to an inflation-adjusted $5 million in 2026.

Minimizing estate tax

If your estate is large enough that estate tax is a concern, consider gifting property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.

If estate tax isn’t a concern, your family may be better off tax-wise if you hold on to the property and let it appreciate in your hands. At your death, the property’s value for income tax purposes will be “stepped up” to fair market value. This means that, if your heirs sell the property, they won’t have to pay any income tax on the appreciation that occurred during your life.

Even if estate tax is a concern, you should compare the potential estate tax savings from gifting the property now to the potential income tax savings for your heirs if you hold on to the property.

Minimizing your beneficiary’s income tax

You can save income tax for your heirs by gifting property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.

On the other hand, hold on to property that has already appreciated significantly so that your heirs can enjoy the step-up in basis at your death. If they sell the property shortly after your death, before it’s had time to appreciate much more, they’ll owe no or minimal income tax on the sale.

Minimizing your own income tax

Don’t gift property that’s declined in value. A better option is generally to sell the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.

Capital losses can offset capital gains, and up to $3,000 of losses can offset other types of income, such as from salary, bonuses or retirement plan distributions. Excess losses can be carried forward until death.

Choose gifts wisely

No matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Please contact us at 205-345-9898 to discuss the gift, estate and income tax consequences of any gifts you’d like to make.

© 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