Frequently Asked Questions-Part One

In my years counseling clients, I have found that each client, couple or family who comes to me have their own unique situations to plan for. But while their situations are unique, the questions that they ask tend to be very similar. Below are some of the most common questions I get and some general answers to those questions.   Later this week, I will post some additional questions and answers:

1) Why do I need to use an attorney? Can I draft my will/estate plan myself? The proliferation of products like Legal Zoom have encouraged do-it-yourselfers to consider drafting their own estate plans with little to no advice from an attorney. In some situations, a “simple will” may be all you need and the harm in using self-preparation software is minimal. However, for most individuals, a simple will does not reflect their complicated lives. Moreover, while Legal Zoom does provide some legal counsel, the professionals they use are likely less dedicated to the do-it-yourselfers than their own clients.

2) Who should I select as my fiduciaries (executors, trustees, guardians)? Can they be the same people? The main criteria for selecting a fiduciary is whether you believe a person is qualified to handle the tasks they are appointed to do.   You may have family or friends who may handle financial situations well, but would struggle in the role as a guardian. There may be individuals whose current life situation is simply too complicated to serve in any capacity while others could handle all roles in a manner that you find appropriate. In the end, your fiduciaries should reflect your values and beliefs in how each role should be handled.

3) Why should I leave property to my children (or other minors) in trust and not outright? Under New York law, any account beneficially owned by a child must be paid to that child by the time they reach age twenty-one (21). For many children, this is a very early age to be given such a large financial responsibility.   The use of a trust for a child can extend the period of time when the property earmarked for that child can be held and managed by another individual (the trustee).

4) I was told that life insurance was tax free, but recently learned that life insurance proceeds are included in my taxable estate. Is there a way to avoid having these proceeds subject to estate tax? By using a vehicle known as an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT for short), life insurance proceeds can be removed from an individual’s taxable estate for both federal and New York estate tax purposes. The inclusion of these proceeds in a taxable estate can increase or even create an estate tax liability where none would exist otherwise.   The creation and administration of an ILIT does require additional time and money, but if properly administered, the benefits far exceeds the cost.

5) My parents have all of their assets in a revocable living trust and recommended I do the same. Is it true that this trust can help me avoid probate? If funded and administered properly, a revocable living trust can help avoid the costs and delays associated with probate and estate administration. However, for many individuals, an estate administration proceeding may be necessary even with a revocable living trust. Oftentimes, assets will not be properly transferred into a revocable trust before a person dies. In these situations, a short ‘pour over will’ will typically transfer the remaining assets into the trust following an estate administration proceeding.

For more information, please contact info@levyestatelaw.com

 

Doing It For Your Kids: Key Estate Planning Decisions For Families with Minor Children

Preparing an estate plan at a young age comes with a series of unique and often difficult decisions for an individual, couple or family to make with regard to how their planning will be structured.   One of the primary difficulties comes from having to think about the care of their children in the event that both parents die before the children reach adulthood. This often holds people back from starting their planning, leaving their assets and their families unprotected from this unlikely-but not impossible-scenario.

To properly protect your minor children, an estate plan is a necessity. A properly drafted estate plan will outline certain key decisions that must be made to ensure that the family’s children are properly cared for. Amongst those decisions to be made are the following, namely:

How will property for the children be held-Money and other property that is held for the benefit of a minor child can be held in several different manners, each with a varying level of protection.   Parents or other relatives can set up custodial accounts for their minor children, which will protect the funds for the children they are set up for until the child reaches an appropriate age. In New York, custodial accounts must be paid out to the beneficiary of the account at age 21.

In some instances, a custodial account is insufficient or inappropriate. If the creator of the account is older, he or she may pass away without naming a successor custodian. A petition would have to be filed by another individual to gain control of the custodial account. Alternatively, the amount being held for a child may be large enough that allowing the child full access to the funds at 21 may not be wanted.   In such instances, the use of a trust can extend the period of time that the funds or property is not directly controlled by a child.

Who will control the property for your children-Careful consideration must be made to determine the persons who will control property for the benefit of a minor child. Factors such as the competence, financial knowledge and temperament should be considered in selecting executors (responsible for a person’s estate), trustees (responsible for managing trust assets) and custodians (responsible for holding custodial accounts. In addition, an individual’s relationship with the child beneficiaries and understanding of your wishes with regard to distributions should be given consideration as well.

Who will care for your children-The decision of who to select as a guardian for your children is often fraught with emotion, fear and jealousy on the part of both parents and the persons considered for this important position. However, the key factor must be who will best care for your children.   You should consider not only how well you get along with the chosen guardian, but also how well the children get along with the selected individual(s). If a person has a large family themselves, the prospect of adding one or more children may be more than they can reasonably be expected to handle regardless of how close they are to the parents of the children. Finally, how seamlessly a guardian can take over responsibility for a child should be factored into making your final decision.

How will their education be paid for-College expenses and other educational costs should be a factor in determining how best to plan your estate. The use of savings vehicles such as a 529 plan or crummey trust can help establish a funding mechanism for education at a very young age.   Life insurance can also be a helpful tool either by purchasing permanent coverage with a cash value or by carrying sufficient term life insurance to cover expected expenses.

The benefit to making these crucial decisions early on is that once an initial plan is put in place, it can be modified and changed as your children grow older to meet their changing needs. Being prepared also can be a powerful way to reduce parental anxiety about their children’s future by ensuring that their children will be protected financially and cared for even after they are gone.

 

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about estate planning.

Changes To New York Estate And Gift Taxes-2014 and Beyond

Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo along with both houses of the New York State Legislature, enacted the most sweeping changes to the New York Estate and Gift Tax system in well over a decade. Some of these changes have already gone into effect while others will progressively be phased into how estates and trusts are taxed over the next few years.

Among the changes are the following:

1) A progressive increase in the state exclusion to ultimately index the New York exemption with the federal exemption by 2019.  Beginning April 1, 2014, New York has increased its estate tax exclusion from $1,000,000.00 to $2,062,500. This will remain in effect until next April when the exemption will again increase. A full list of scheduled changes to the exemption is below:

04/01/14-03/31/15                       $2,062,500

04/01/15-03/31/16                       $3,125,000

04/01/16-3/31/17                         $4,187,500

04/01/17-12/31/18                       $5,250,000

From January 1, 2019 on, the state estate tax exemption will be indexed with the federal estate tax exemption every year subject to inflationary increases.

2) A phase out of the estate tax credit for estates valued at 105% or more of the applicable exemption. This change may cause many unintended results if not properly planned for. In short, estates that are above the applicable estate tax exemption but below 105% of the exemption, will be taxed on the portion of their estate above the exemption in effect the year of the death. However, for estates valued at 105% or more of the exemption, the ENTIRE ESTATE will be taxed! This change has been questioned by many planners and tax professionals, but until further guidance or changes are enacted by the legislature, it should be assumed that this was the intended result.

3) Inclusion of gifts made on or after April 1, 2014, but before January 1, 2019, within 3 years of decedent’s death in the decedent’s taxable estate. This change will limit the ability of taxpayers to make lifetime transfers during the final years of their life to avoid estate tax inclusion. While this provision has a limited time-frame, it may make certain gifting strategies less attractive from a tax avoidance perspective.

4) Income taxation of certain trust income from certain trusts. Under the new legislation, income payable to New York residents from exempt resident trusts will now be subject to income tax. Furthermore, income from incomplete non-grantor trusts will be included in the income of the grantor. Both of these changes are subject to certain dates with regard to when the income is received.

5) Creation of a New York Specific QTIP Election. Prior to the new legislation, an individual wishing to leave property to their spouse in a QTIP marital trust would be required to file a federal estate tax return to take advantage of this exclusion. The new legislature now allows New York residents to make a QTIP election specific to New York estate tax law without a corresponding federal election.

These changes come with several planning opportunities and pitfalls. First and foremost, with the changes to the state estate tax exemption, the difference between the state and federal exemptions will shrink and ultimately disappear. This makes the use of mandatory credit shelter trusts more attractive. Previously, the use of such a trust could cause state estate tax to possibly be due at the first spouse’s passing. Now, the bigger risk is failing to utilize both spouses full state exemption. Under federal law, a surviving spouse can ‘inherit’ the unused portion of their spouse’s exemption; under New York law, this is only possible by using a credit-shelter trust.

Second, given the significant taxation that becomes due once an estate exceeds 105% of the state estate exemption, individuals may wish to consider gifting a portion of their estates to a spouse, their children or making a charitable bequest.

Finally, for those individuals who are looking to make gifts over the next four and half years, it may be advisable to consider alternative gifting vehicles other than outright gifts.

It is likely that these changes will evolve during the next few years and clarifications will be made to certain provisions of the new legislation. For this very reason, the proper legal and tax advice is crucial to ensure that your estate is properly protected from excess taxation.

For more information, please contact info@levyestatelaw.com

Major Changes Coming To New York Estate (and Gift) Tax Laws

Over the last decade, the federal estate and gift tax system has seen numerous changes to both the individual exemptions and tax rates. During that same period, New York state has consistently refused to make changes to its state specific exemptions and rates. After “decoupling” from the federal estate and gift tax system, the state specific exemptions and rates have remained $1 million per individual with a maximum rate of 16% respectively.

In the next few weeks, this is very likely to change. Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a series of major changes to the state’s estate and gift tax system. These changes, if agreed to by the State’s Assembly and Legislature, would greatly change both how estates, individuals and trusts are taxed and how estate planners advise their clients with regard to New York taxation.
The proposed changes include:

1) Increasing the individual estate tax exemption and lowering the maximum tax rate-Governor Cuomo’s proposal would, over the next four years, increase the individual estate tax exemption to $5.25 million. The exemption would be indexed to inflation thereafter, similar to the current increases to the federal exemption. The maximum tax rate would be reduced over the same period of time from 16% to 10%.

2) Reinstating the state gift tax-New York has not had a state specific gift tax for well over a decade, but under the governor’s proposal, taxable gifts would be included in a decedent’s estate. This would have the net effect of reducing an individual’s estate exemption by the value of all taxable gifts made during their lifetime.

3) Repealing the state Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax-This is a tax imposed on any transfers from an individual to an individual two or more generations below them (grandchildren and all subsequent generations).

4) Taxing distributions to New York beneficiaries of income accumulated in non-resident and exempt resident trusts-Typically, income accumulated by non-resident and exempt resident trusts is exempt from taxation. However, if the governor’s proposals are enacted, some income to New York beneficiaries of these trusts will be subject to tax.

The response to the governor’s proposals have generally been positive from both houses of the legislature. However, the Democrat controlled Assembly is seeking to tweak the governor’s estate tax proposal by increasing the exemption to $3 million and keeping the current rate structure in place. This difference of opinion is minor in the context of whether or not a change will likely take effect.

The practical effect of these proposals will not be known until the final budget is proposed and ultimately passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo. Once this takes place, it is important that all New York resident reevaluate their current planning to determine if it needs to be updated to reflect the changes to the law.

For more information, please contact info@levyestatelaw.com

Estate Planning For Same Sex Couples in a “Post DOMA” World

It has been two weeks since the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Windsor in which the 5-4 majority found that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) was unconstitutional.  This historic decision nullified the federal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and qualified same sex married couples for federal benefits that were previously available only to heterosexual married couples.

Windsor specifically dealt with a same sex surviving spouse who had been required to pay over $300,000 in federal estate taxes due to her inability to claim the federal estate tax marital deduction.  This was despite the fact that the plaintiff, Edith Windsor, had been legally married to her spouse under the laws of the State of New York.  The majority’s decision, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, held that DOMA created “two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state” and causes same sex marriages to be treated as “second tier marriages.”   The majority held DOMA unconstitutional for violating the Fifth Amendment due process rights of same sex married couples.

The practical result of this decision is that same sex married couples in the 13 states (and the District of Columbia) which allow same sex marriage are entitled to the same protections and rights under federal law as heterosexual married couples.  With 1/3 of the United States population and ¼ of the states now allowing full marriage equality, estate planning for same sex married couples in these states has changed significantly.  Amongst the new estate planning benefits are the following:

Federal Marital Deduction-The inability to qualify for this deduction was injury that allowed DOMA to be challenged.  Previously, same sex married couples could not protect their assets from federal estate tax using this deduction.  Now, assets passing to all surviving spouses pass free of both federal and state estate tax.

Gift Tax Implications-Prior to Windsor, lifetime transfers between same sex spouses were considered taxable gifts and had to be counted towards a spouse’s annual exclusion and lifetime exemption amounts.  Lifetime transfers between spouses are now considered non-taxable events for gift tax purposes.  Furthermore, same sex married couples can now utilize gift splitting to maximize their annual gift tax exclusion.  Prior to Windsor, this was available only to heterosexual married couples.

Portability-With the 2013 Tax Act, President Obama made the concept of portability, which allows a surviving spouse to claim the unused portion of a deceased spouse’s federal estate tax exemption, permanent.  This benefit will now be extended to same sex married couples as well.  However, it should be noted that portability only applied to federal estate tax and not New York or other state estate tax exemptions.

Qualified Retirement Plans-The Employee Retirement Income Service Act (“ERISA”) requires that the beneficiary of a qualified retirement plan must be the owner’s spouse unless the spouse consents to a substitute beneficiary.  Same sex spouses will now be entitled to the same default treatment.

While these changes are significant, many issues remain.  First, the decision in Windsor did not invalidate DOMA as a whole and did not find that states must allow same sex marriage.  This poses a significant burden on same sex couples in the states that do not allow same sex marriage.  Second, the available options for legally married same sex couples looking to move to other states remain limited.  Finally, because DOMA remains applicable to the states where marriage bans remain, there still remains a possibility that a state where same sex marriage is allowed could eventually reverse course and change its laws to ban same sex marriage.

Nevertheless, this change is welcomed by same sex couples and their advisors alike.  And while Windsor makes estate planning for same sex couples significantly easier, it still requires careful planning and consideration to ensure that their families are protected.

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about estate planning for same sex couples.

Thanksgiving Food For Thought: Talking To Your Parents and Grandparents about Estate Planning

Tomorrow, families across the United States will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Both immediate and extended families will be spending a significant portion of the next few days with each other and inevitably, interesting discussions will emerge.  One discussion point that will be less likely to emerge than most is about estate planning, specifically the plans parents and grandparents have in place. But while talking about this topic may not be the happiest way to spend your holiday, having a conversation with your older relatives is essential to protecting them, their assets and your own planning.

There are several reasons why a child (or grandchild) should be concerned with their parents’ and grandparents’ estate plans.  First, knowing what your senior relatives plans are will allow for a smoother transition and administration of their assets if they die, become severely disabled or incapacitated.  Second, with nearly 75% of all adults over 65 having some form of a long-term care event during their lifetime, children and grandchildren may have to coordinate the payment of their elder relatives long-term care expenses.   Third, in the event of death, severe disability or incapacity, children and grandchildren may be asked to serve as fiduciaries for senior family members as executors of their estates, trustees of trusts or agents under power of attorneys and health care proxies.  Finally, children and grandchildren may be named as beneficiaries of their parents’ and grandparents’ estates.  An inheritance can raise issues for the inheriting children and grandchildren including tax and creditor related problems.

Understanding why you should speak to your parents and grandparents about estate planning is significantly easier than actually speaking to them about the subject.  Each family member has their own temperament when it comes to discussing financial and other personal matters, so an awareness of how a relative will react is key to avoiding unnecessary conflict.  If they are open to having a discussion about estate planning, explain that you are coming from a place of concern.  Inquire about what they have and have not done in terms of their planning.

If, like many parents and grandparents, they don’t want to discuss this issue, there are other ways to ensure that they are protected.  If they have already worked with an estate planner, encourage them to check in with their advisor to ensure their plan is up to date.  If they have not prepared an estate plan, offer them the names of attorneys, financial planners and accountants that you work with and with whom you trust.   While some older relatives may not want to openly discuss their planning with their younger relatives, many will appreciate the opportunity to speak with a professional with no personal connection to them.

Once you are able to begin the discussion, by yourself or through a professional, there are certain subjects that should be discussed.  Among them:

1)   Nature and location of the estate planning documents;

2)   What assets do they own and where are they located;

3)   Who are their professional advisors;

4)   How are they planning to pay for any long-term care expenses;

5)   Who are the beneficiaries of their estate; and

6)   Who are the fiduciaries that will be in charge of their affairs if they die, become severely disabled or incapacitated.

 Having an estate planning conversation with your parents and grandparents will be difficult.  Even if they are completely transparent and willing to talk, the subject matter can be difficult to think about.  Nevertheless, as a loving relative, it is important that your relatives are protected and that their ultimate wishes as to their estates and well-being are known and able to be fulfilled in a timely and proper manner.

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about multi-generation estate planning.

Giving While You Can: The 2012 Gift Tax Planning Opportunity-Part III Planning Techniques and Strategies For Making A 2012 Gift

Over the past two days, I have discussed why the 2012 Gift Tax Planning Opportunity is a big deal and provided several ‘best fits’ for making a 2012 Gift.  Today, I conclude this series with some examples of planning techniques and strategies that can be used to maximize your 2012 gifts.  As with any estate planning strategy, most of these techniques require careful coordination with an estate planning attorney, accountant and other advisers to ensure that they are properly structured:

1)   Outright Gifts-The simplest gifting technique requires very little work and time to complete.  This can be accomplished by any properly executed form of transfer and also requires less setup fees than the other techniques listed below.

There are several downsides to outright gifts.  First, assets gifted directly to a beneficiary remain exposed to the claims of creditors.  Second, if the gift is being made to a minor or an adult that is ill prepared to handle such a large-scale gift, the transferred assets can be wasted.  Finally, while making such a gift removes it from the donor’s taxable estate, it will be included in the beneficiary’s estate.

2)   Gifts to Trust-As an alternative, a gift to a trust may be more appropriate if there are concerns about creditor claims, taxes or waste.  An irrevocable trust can hold the gifted property outside the beneficiary’s taxable estate and the assets can be distributed to beneficiaries at the discretion of the named trustees.  Setting up a trust will require additional fees for set up and administration that are not required of a direct gift.  A suitable trustee will also be required that fits the grantor’s specifications.

3)   Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)-Several of the more complicated trust arrangements could be useful for 2012.  A GRAT, for example, can be used to pass property to beneficiaries while retaining annuity for the donor for a set period of years.  Depending on the donor’s goals, the GRAT can be structured to have minimal annuity payments or as a means to ‘freeze’ the value of the donor’s estate.

4)   Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust (IDGT)-Using an IDGT can provide several benefits.  First, it can provide a way to remove an appreciating asset from a donor’s estate.   Second, if a portion of the transferred assets are transferred in exchange for a promissory note, the donor can retain an income stream through the repayment of interest and the principal.  Finally, because IDGTs are taxed to the Grantor of the Trust rather than the Trust for income tax purposes, the donor can further reduce the size of his estate while increasing the value of the property passing to their beneficiaries.

5)   Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT)-Individuals who own their primary residences may utilize the 2012 Gift by transferring their residence to a QPRT.  The donor retains the exclusive right to live in the residence for a set period of years.  At the end of that period, ownership transfers to the remainder beneficiaries of the trust.  The donor can still live in the residence if they pay rent to the remainder beneficiaries.  The longer the term of the trust, the smaller the gift would be.  With the larger exemption in 2012, donors can set up a QPRT with a relatively short term to maximize their gifts.

6)   Family Limited Partnerships/LLCs-If a donor wishes to pool several assets into a single entity, they can utilize a family limited partnership or LLC as a means to centralize the management of certain assets.  A gift of an LLC or FLP interest can receive a valuation discount that would not be available to transfers of the underlying assets.

7)   Intrafamily Loan Forgiveness-2012 provides individuals and families to consider removing outstanding loans from a donor’s taxable estate.  Rather than continue to receive payments on a loan, the holder of a promissory note or other debt instrument can forgive all or a portion of the outstanding debt by making a gift of the forgiven amount.

8)   Funding a large life insurance policy-Donors can utilize all or a portion of a 2012 gift to fund a large life insurance policy.  If the beneficiaries do not need immediate access to the funds, this may be an attractive option to provide for a later benefit.  To fully protect the gift from any taxation, the insurance policy should be purchased by an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT).

As we draw closer to the so-called “Taxmageddon,”  the opportunity to fully take advantage of the current tax rates and exemptions shrinks.  Many of the techniques discussed above require time to set up and fund, so for those looking to make a 2012 Gift, time is not on your side.  The time to start planning your 2012 Gifts is now.

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about 2012 Gift Tax Planning.

Old Problems, New Solutions: Estate Planning For Non-Traditional Families. Part 3-Planning Complications For Non-Traditional Families

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”-President Barack Obama, May 9, 2012

The historic comments made by President Obama regarding his support for gay marriage marks another important step towards same-sex couples receiving the same legal treatment as heterosexual couples.  This progress was further augmented by a ruling earlier this week by 1st Circuit Court of Appeals which held that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional.  As public support for these changes increases, it is likely that more progress will be made.

But as quickly as social views may be changing, the laws relating to estate planning are unlikely to change in such a rapid manner.  Additionally, other forms of non-traditional families such as domestic partnerships, single parents and parenting partners are unlikely to see their rights change.

With the optimism attached to the president’s words and the realistic knowledge that laws are slow to change, non-traditional families should be aware of the following issues related to their estate plans:

1)   Guardianship of Minor Children-The care of minor children when one or both parents die is a difficult one in any circumstance, but it becomes much more difficult when the choices may be limited or may be conflicted with other familial relationships.  For single parents and parents who have entered into parenting partnerships, it is incredibly important to determine who your child’s guardian will be if you should die or become disabled.

This issue can also become highly problematic if a former spouse is still alive or if other relatives disapprove of your relationship.  Without the fallback legal protections of marriage, who is appointed guardian after a parent dies could become tangled up in a lengthy court proceeding.

Preparing a will or a similar guardianship appointment document can ensure that your wishes as to the care of your child are known and respected.  Notifying your family members about your selection can also reduce the likelihood of a conflict after you have passed.

2)   Inheritance-Married couples, both heterosexual and same-sex, have automatic inheritance rights under the New York intestacy statute.  However, relying on this statute may cause fifty percent of your estate to pass to your children outright regardless of their age.

For other non-traditional families, no automatic inheritance rights exist.  Rather than inheriting fifty percent of a deceased parent’s estate, a child of a non-married couple would inherit the entire estate of their predeceased parent if no will exists.  Having a will in place allows a surviving domestic partner to inherit property from their deceased partner.  A will can also include a trust for the benefit of the deceased’s children, which can protect the assets from waste by a child who may be unprepared to manage an inheritance.

Alternatively, families may choose to use one or more revocable trusts to pass property to their surviving spouses, partners or children.  A revocable trust avoids the probate process for any assets contributed to it during an individual’s lifetime and can be coupled with a “pour over” will to receive any assets that remain in the deceased person’s estate.  A revocable trust should also be considered if a family believes that another family member may challenge their estate plan.

3)   Estate Taxes-The New York Marriage Equality Act allowed same-sex couples to utilize the New York state marital deduction for estate tax purposes.  Same-sex couples can now pass unlimited assets to their spouses upon their death without incurring a New York State estate tax.  However, because of DOMA, the corresponding federal marital deduction is not available to same-sex couples.

For other non-traditional families, estate taxes will apply to any assets above the federal ($5.12 million) and New York ($1 million) estate tax exemptions.  Families can reduce their potential estate tax liability by utilizing the annual gift tax exclusion of $13,000 per beneficiary per year or by contributing a portion of their estate to charity.

Families may also prepare for an eventual estate tax liability by purchasing additional life insurance to provide the necessary liquidity to their estate.  In order to avoid additional estate taxation, the life insurance should be owned and administered by an irrevocable life insurance trust.

4)   Gift Taxes-All non-traditional families must also be mindful of potential gift tax liability under the federal tax code.  While a heterosexual married couple can pass assets freely between spouses, non-traditional families may incur a gift tax if they pass assets to their spouses, partners or children above the annual gift tax exclusion of $13,000 per person.  Any excess will be credited towards their lifetime gift tax exemption.  And while that exemption is currently $5.12 million, it is scheduled to be reduced to $1 million at the end of 2012.

This gives families additional incentive to maximize their use of the annual gift tax exclusion every year.  For larger transfers, families may wish to consider the use of more advanced planning structures like sales to defective grantor trusts or GRATs to zero out the gift tax liability.  Families can also use family owned entities such as limited partnerships and LLCs to reduce the value of the assets being transferred.

For non-traditional family, estate planning is more complicated and with less advantages than are afforded to traditional families.  Nevertheless, a properly drafted and administered estate plan can provide any family with the financial protection and security that they deserve.

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about estate planning for non-traditional families.

Real and Adequate Considerations: Estate Planning for Real Estate

Real estate is one of the most common types of property disposed of by an estate plan.  For many individuals and families, a house or other real property will be one of the most valuable assets that they will transfer during their lifetimes or at their death.  In order to achieve the best results, certain aspects of the transfer must be considered from the initial planning stages through the completion of the transfer.

The following are the most important factors to consider when planning a transfer of real property:

1. Consider How The Property Is Titled-Property owned by more than one person can be titled in several ways, either with a right of survivorship or without one.  Property titled as “tenancy by the entirety” (which is available only to married couples) or “joint tenancy” have a rights of survivorship and will pass outside of probate to the surviving owner.  Property owned as “tenancy in common” property have no rights of survivorship and passes through the probate process.  Ensuring that jointly owned property can pass outside of the probate process is an easy way to avoid the delay and cost related to property passing through probate.

2. Consider How the Property Is Owned-The simplest form of property ownership is outright ownership.  However, under some circumstances, it may be advantageous to consider the use of a trust or business entity such as an LLC or family limited partnership to own real estate.

Property owned by a trust or business entity can be shielded from certain forms of creditor claims or limit the liability of its owners.  In addition, the use of a trust or business entity may allow the property to be discounted for gift and estate tax purposes.  Finally, for larger families, a trust or business entity may allow for a centralized management and administration of family property.

Owners of condominiums and coops should consult with their respective board of directors before transferring property to a trust or a business entity.  Some boards prohibit the use of one or both of these ownership forms.

3. Consider When A Transfer Should Be Made-The decision of when a real estate transfer will take place requires considering several things.  The age of the transferor, the type of real estate being transferred and whether the transferor wishes to retain an interest in the property for a term of years should all be factored into the decision making process.

Additionally, the cost basis of the property should be determined.  A Gift of real estate during the transferor’s lifetime will result in the transferee assuming the transferor’s basis.   If the property has appreciated significantly since the transferor acquired the property, the transferee will be assuming a large capital gain when the property is ultimately sold.  If the property is transferred upon the transferor’s death, the cost basis receives a step up to the value of the property at the transferor’s date of death or an alternative valuation date six months after the date of death, whichever value is lower.

4. Consider Transfer Taxes-In addition to a potential capital gains tax, the transfer of real estate may subject the transferor or his or her estate to gift or estate tax liability.  Before making a transfer or planning a transfer, owners of real estate should review their financial records with an accountant, estate planning attorney or other financial professional to determine how much of their lifetime gift tax /estate tax exemption has been used.  If the proposed transfer would result in a tax liability, the use of  estate planning instrument such as a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT), an LLC or a family limited partnership should be considered to reduce the value of the transfer for gift or estate tax purposes.

5. Consider Where the Property is Located-Unlike intangible assets such as cash, stocks and bonds, the physical location of real estate will dictate which state’s probate laws will apply.  If an individual owns real estate in one or more states or countries outside of New York, they may be required to file a secondary probate proceeding known as ancillary probate.  This may create an additional burden on the family of a deceased individual at a time when they will already be stretched thin.

Proper titling of the property can protect joint property if a right of survivorship is included.  In other instances, it may be beneficial to transfer the property to a revocable trust or another trust or entity to ensure that the property(ies) will not be subject to ancillary probate.

As with other forms of property, proper planning with real estate can be the difference between a successful transfer and one that is plagued with delay, additional taxes and other complications.  It is essential to take the above-mentioned factors into consideration before preparing an estate plan for your real estate.

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about estate planning for real estate.

A Spring Cleaning Checklist For Your Estate Plan

Spring has begun to blossom and although we had a very mild winter, the improved weather is a welcome change.  And while we are only a few weeks into the new season, thoughts of summer and various travel plans have begun to enter many of our minds.

This time of year is a very common time for reviewing, adjusting and creating estate plans.  With tax season nearly over, getting your estate plan in order is a good next step to ensure all your planning is properly in place for the remainder of the year.

Below is a to-do list for your estate plan.  Some of the items may not be applicable to your specific situation, but all are worth considering.

1. Review your current estate planning documents with your attorney-For a typical individual or family, an estate plan should be reviewed every 3-4 years.  If you have had major life changes or your planning is complicated by health, money or interpersonal issue, you should review your plan even more frequently.

2. Complete your beneficiary designations for “transfer on death” accounts-One of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve your estate plan is to ensure that the beneficiary designations for all “transfer on death” accounts are properly completed.  Certain bank accounts, retirements accounts and life insurance all pass outside of a probate estate as long as the beneficiary designations are executed.  If you fail to designate beneficiaries, these accounts and assets will pass to your estate through the probate process, delaying their transfer.

3. Review all deeds and real estate documents-Real estate that is owned with a right of survivorship will pass outside the probate process.  To ensure a smooth transition, it is important make sure all jointly owned real estate is titled as a tenancy by the entirety property (for married couples) or as joint tenancy property (for non-married couples).

People who own multiple pieces of real estate may wish to consider consolidating their properties in a trust or an entity such as an LLC.  This is especially important if you real estate in multiple states or if you own real estate outside of New York.

4. Meet with your financial planner or insurance agent to discuss your insurance coverage-Like an estate plan, it is crucial that your insurance policies (life, disability and long-term care) are periodically reviewed alongside your trusted advisor.  This allows the advisor to determine if you have sufficient coverage for your current situation and allows the client to determine if they are satisfied with their current policies.

5. Speak with your current or named fiduciaries-In time between a person is named a fiduciary under a will and trust and the time when they actually are asked to serve, the named fiduciary’s relationship with you and their personal circumstances may change.  While most named fiduciaries are close friends or relatives, it is helpful to frequently confirm their willingness and ability to serve.

For those with existing fiduciary relationships, frequent communication about the fiduciary’s administration of an estate or trust is a good way to avoid conflict at a later date.  It also gives the fiduciary the ability to communicate any suggestions or concerns they may have with their current role.

6. File Gift Tax and Fiduciary Income Tax Returns-If you and your spouse have made any large-scale gifts during 2011, it will be necessary to file a gift tax return.  Similarly, nongrantor trusts and estates are required to file fiduciary income tax returns since the income of each will be taxed as a separate entity.

The April 17th filing deadline for personal income tax returns also applies to gift and fiduciary income tax returns.  So while it may be too late to have a return filed before then, it is not too late to file for an extension.

7. Plan your 2012 gifts-With 2012 almost a third over, there remains nine months in which large scale gifts may be made that take advantage of the current $5.12 million gift tax exemption.  On January 1, 2013, absent an intervening action, the exemption drops to $1 million.

For those looking to make more modest gifts, utilizing your annual gift tax exclusion is a great way to benefit your children and reduce the size of your taxable estate.  Individuals may gift $13,000 to as many beneficiaries as they like while married couples can gift up to $26,000 per beneficiary.

8. Plan 2012 charitable gifts-Philanthropically minded individuals should consider the different ways of benefiting charities while also creating tax benefits for themselves.  Individual gifts, charitable annuities, the use of charitable trusts and the creation of a private foundation are all great ways to benefit the causes or organizations that matter most to you.

9. Consider Lifetime Trust Planning-Whether planning for your child’s education, removing your life insurance from your taxable estate or making gifts to your children, lifetime trust planning provides a great mechanism for protecting assets while also providing your children and other relatives with a significant financial benefit.  This is especially true this year while the lifetime gift tax exemption is at an all time high and interest rates are at a historic low.

10. Update your business succession/organization plan-Business owners should be aware of the potential negative consequences of not having a succession plan in place.  Failure to plan for your business, much like failing to create an estate plan, could create unexpected and undesired consequences for your family, business and associates.

A good estate plan requires consistent review and updates to ensure yourwishes are properly enacted.  Before you make your summer plans, make sure that your estate plan is up to date.  It will be one less thing that will keep you from having a great summer.

Please contact info@levyestatelaw.com for more information about estate planning.