If you expect your estate to have a significant estate tax liability at your death, be sure to include a well-thought-out tax apportionment clause in your will or revocable trust. An apportionment clause specifies how the estate tax burden will be allocated among your beneficiaries. Omission of this clause, or failure to word it carefully, may result in unintended consequences.
There are many ways to apportion estate taxes. One option is to have all of the taxes paid out of assets passing through your will. Beneficiaries receiving assets outside your will — such as IRAs, retirement plans or life insurance proceeds — won’t bear any of the tax burden.
Another option is to allocate taxes among all beneficiaries, including those who receive assets outside your will. Yet another is to provide for the tax to be paid from your residuary estate — that is, the portion of your estate that remains after all specific gifts or bequests have been made and all expenses and liabilities have been paid.
There’s no one right way to apportion estate taxes. But it’s important to understand how an apportionment clause operates to ensure that your clause is worded in a way that your wealth will be distributed in the manner you intend.
Suppose, for example, that your will leaves real estate valued at $5 million to your son, with your residuary estate — consisting of $5 million in stock and other liquid assets — passing to your daughter. Your intent is to treat your children equally, but your will’s apportionment clause provides for estate taxes to be paid out of the residuary estate. Thus, the entire estate tax burden — including taxes attributable to the real estate — will be borne by your daughter.
One way to avoid this result is to apportion the taxes to both your son and your daughter. But that approach could cause problems for your son, who may lack the funds to pay the tax without selling the property. To avoid this situation while treating your children equally, you might apportion the taxes to your residuary estate but provide life insurance to cover your daughter’s tax liability.
Omission of apportionment clause
What if your will doesn’t have an apportionment clause? In that case, apportionment will be governed by applicable state law (although federal law covers certain situations).
Most states have some form of an “equitable apportionment” scheme. Essentially, this approach requires each beneficiary to pay the estate tax generated by the assets he or she receives. Some states provide for equitable apportionment among all beneficiaries while others limit apportionment to assets that pass through the will or to the residuary estate.
Often, state apportionment laws produce satisfactory results, but in some cases they may be inconsistent with your wishes.
If you ignore tax apportionment when planning your estate, your wealth may not be distributed in the manner you intend. We can answer your questions about taxes and estate planning.
The stretch IRA: A simple yet powerful estate planning toolThe IRA’s value as a retirement planning tool is well known: IRA assets compound on a tax-deferred (or, in the case of a Roth IRA, tax-free) basis, which can help build a more substantial nest egg. But if you don’t need an IRA to fund your retirement, you can use it as an estate planning tool to benefit your children or other beneficiaries on a tax-advantaged basis by turning it into a “stretch” IRA.
Stretching the benefits
Turning an IRA into a stretch IRA is simply a matter of designating a beneficiary who’s significantly younger than you. This could be, for example, your spouse (if there’s a substantial age difference between the two of you), a child or a grandchild.
If you name your spouse as beneficiary, he or she can elect to roll the funds over into his or her own IRA after you die, enabling the funds to continue growing tax-deferred or tax-free until your spouse chooses to begin withdrawing the funds in retirement or must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) starting after age 70½. (Note that RMDs don’t apply to Roth IRAs while the participant is alive.)
If you name someone other than your spouse as beneficiary, he or she generally will have several options:
Usually the inherited IRA is the best choice because it maximizes the benefits of tax-deferred or tax-free growth.
Naming a trust as beneficiary
A disadvantage of naming your child or grandchild as beneficiary of your IRA is that there’s nothing to prevent him or her from taking a lump-sum distribution, erasing any potential stretch IRA benefits.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, you can name a trust as beneficiary. In order for a trust to qualify for stretch treatment, it will need to meet certain requirements, such as distributing RMDs received from the IRA to the trust beneficiaries.
Contact us for additional details.
A life insurance policy can be an important part of an estate plan. The tax benefits are twofold: The policy can provide a source of wealth for your family income-tax-free, and it can supply funds to pay estate taxes and other expenses.
However, if you own your policy, rather than having, for example, an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) own it, you’ll have to take extra steps to keep the policy’s proceeds out of your taxable estate.
3-year rule explained
If you already own an insurance policy on your life, you can remove it from your taxable estate by transferring it to a family member or to an ILIT. However, there’s a caveat.
If you transfer a life insurance policy and don’t survive for at least three years, the tax code requires the proceeds to be pulled back into your estate. Thus, they may be subject to estate taxes.
Fortunately, there’s an exception to the three-year rule for life insurance (or other property) you transfer as part of a “bona fide sale for adequate consideration.” For example, let’s say you wanted to transfer your policy to your daughter. You could do so without triggering the three-year rule as long as your daughter paid adequate consideration for the policy.
Determining adequate consideration isn’t an exact science. One definition is fair market value, which is essentially the price on which a willing seller and a willing buyer would agree.
Triggering the transfer-for-value rule
The problem with the bona fide sale exception is that, when life insurance is involved, it may trigger another, equally devastating, rule: the transfer-for-value rule. Under this rule, a transferee who gives valuable consideration for a life insurance policy will be subject to ordinary income taxes on the amount by which the proceeds exceed the consideration and premiums the transferee paid.
So, in the previous example, even if your daughter purchased the policy for the appropriate amount to avoid the three-year rule, she could be subject to some income tax when she receives the proceeds.
Recipe for success: Selling to a trust
It may be possible to avoid the three-year rule — without running afoul of the transfer-for-value rule — by selling an existing life insurance policy for adequate consideration to an irrevocable grantor trust. A grantor trust is a trust structured so that you, the grantor, are the owner for income tax purposes but not for estate tax purposes.
While there’s been talk of an estate tax repeal, it’s still uncertain if and when that will happen. So if your estate is large enough that estate taxes could be an issue, it’s best to continue to factor that into your planning. Please contact us if you have questions about how you should address your life insurance policy in your estate plan.
02/18/17. Attorney Tony Yu, President of Taiwanese American Lawyers Association Organizes 10-Lawyer Panel for Community Legal Seminar
An IRA can be a powerful wealth-building tool, offering tax-deferred growth (tax-free in the case of a Roth IRA), asset protection and other benefits. But if you leave an IRA to your children — or to someone else other than your spouse — these benefits can be lost without careful planning.
“Inherited IRA” stretches tax benefits
Surviving spouses who inherit IRAs are permitted to roll them into their own IRAs, allowing the funds to continue growing tax-deferred or tax-free until they’re withdrawn in retirement or after age 70½. Beneficiaries other than your spouse, such as your children, are treated differently.
To take full advantage of an IRA’s tax benefits, nonspouse beneficiaries must transfer the funds directly into an “inherited IRA.” Although the beneficiaries will have to begin taking distributions by the end of the following year, they’ll be able to stretch those distributions over their life expectancies, allowing earnings to grow tax-deferred or tax-free as long as possible.
Your children or other nonspouse beneficiaries won’t have this option, however, unless you name them as beneficiaries (or secondary beneficiaries) of your IRA. If you leave an IRA to your estate, your children or other heirs will still receive a share of the IRA as beneficiaries of your estate, but they’ll have to withdraw the funds within five years (or, if you die after age 70½, over what would otherwise be your remaining actuarial life expectancy).
If you name multiple nonspousal beneficiaries (several children, for example), they’ll have to establish separate inherited IRA accounts by the end of the year after the year of your death in order to take distributions over their own life expectancies. If they miss the deadline, they’ll have to use the oldest beneficiary’s life expectancy.
Be aware that, unlike other IRAs, inherited IRAs aren’t protected from creditors in bankruptcy.
Inherited IRA rules
The following special rules apply to an inherited IRA:
Sharing your wealth with a favorite charity can benefit those in need and reduce your taxable estate. In addition, your donations can ease your income tax liability. But you must meet IRS substantiation requirements. If you fail to do so, the IRS could deny the corresponding deductions you’re claiming. Let’s take a look at the requirements for different asset types.
Generally, you can substantiate gifts of less than $250 with a canceled check, written receipt or other reliable record (such as a credit card statement) that indicates the name of the charity and the amount and date of your gift.
If you donate more than $75 in exchange for goods or services other than intangible religious benefits (such as admission to religious ceremonies), the charity must provide you with a statement that 1) advises you that your deduction is limited to the amount by which your gift exceeds the value of those goods and services, and 2) provides a good-faith estimate of that value.
Gifts of $250 or more require a “contemporaneous” written acknowledgment from the charity that includes the amount and date of your gift and the estimated value of any goods or services you received or a statement that no goods or services were received. If goods or services received consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits, a statement to that effect must be included. An email will suffice.
To satisfy the contemporaneous requirement, you must have the acknowledgment in your possession before you file your income tax return. If you file later than the extended due date of your return, you must have received the acknowledgment by that extended due date.
If you make noncash gifts totaling more than $500 for the year, you must file Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions,” with your federal income tax return. And for gifts of property valued at more than $5,000 ($10,000 for closely held stock) you’ll need to obtain a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser” and have the appraiser sign Sec. B, Part III, “Declaration of Appraiser.” If property is valued at more than $500,000, you’re required to attach a copy of the appraisal report to your return. No appraisal is required for publicly traded securities, regardless of value.
A qualified appraiser is a professional who meets certain education, experience and accreditation requirements. A qualified appraisal must 1) be prepared, signed and dated by a qualified appraiser other than the taxpayer or the recipient of the donation, 2) be conducted within 60 days of the gift, 3) provide certain information about the property, the appraiser and the valuation methods used, and 4) not involve fees based on a percentage of the appraised value or deduction amount.
Don’t leave it to chance
If you’ve made substantial charitable donations, their deductibility depends on compliance with IRS substantiation rules. Contact us to ensure you’ve properly substantiated your donations and can maximize your deductions on your 2016 income tax return.