Maximizing Tax Umbrellas for Estates

You have made it your life’s work to leave your family with substantial assets to provide for them after you are gone. Legacy is extremely difficult to build, but the estate tax law in the United States does not seem to take this into consideration.

Estate tax can rip as much as 40% of your family’s assets from them, depending on the value of your estate and its location in the country.

Right now is the time to protect your estate from federal and state taxes. If you take the time to create a well thought out plan, you can protect a great deal of the wealth than you have earned for your family.

Here are some powerful tips that you need to know.

Knowing Whether Your Estate Will Be Taxed

Estate taxes are not the same everywhere. Depending on the state you reside in, you do not have to be ultra-wealthy in order to be harshly taxed. Federal estate taxes have a minimum threshold that is in the million-dollar estate valuation, but states like Washington or Idaho can very easily tax middle-class families. If you are leaving behind any sort of investments, bank accounts, businesses, property or life insurance packages, the estate tax applies to you regardless of the size of that asset.

Also note, valuation is often subjective, and it is a discussion you should have with your estate planning attorney.  When it comes to estate taxes, you do not know whether the state will try to value your real estate or businesses higher than other sorts of appraisals – you should not leave it up to them to determine a fair valuation.

Geography is also something to take into account – if you live in a premium real estate location, just a couple of properties can push your entire estate value through the roof.  Sometimes this comes as a big surprise to the family after the passing of a loved one.  For example, the children of farmers often find themselves stuck with huge tax bills upon the death of a matriarch or patriarch because of the hidden value of the land on which the farm sits.

Providing Gifts and Charity the Smart Way

If you reduce the value of your estate through gifts to your children and grandchildren, that value cannot be counted against you for estate tax purposes. Every year, individuals save on the estate tax bill by giving away tens of thousands of dollars to their loved ones.

Moreover, making donations to charitable organizations is another great way to reduce your estate tax bill. These donations may also have an additional tax deduction attached to them. Donating to charity is a great way to ensure that the money you earn is used in the way that you prefer after you are gone.

Consult with your lawyer to learn how to maximize this benefit for your present taxes, as well as the ones that will impact your family after your passing.

Knowing When to Use Your Estate Tax Exemption

Everyone has a large (multimillion-dollar) tax exemption for estate taxes that can be used at any time, not only at the time of death. Knowing how to use the exemption can be an essential tool for reducing a tax bill before passing an asset on to a child.

So, what exactly is the estate tax exemption? Let’s say that you have an asset or an account that you expect to grow exponentially in the coming years. Right now, the value of that business is less than the estate tax minimum. In the future, you expect it to grow beyond this exemption. (In most cases, this type of asset will be a business.) Because you can use the lifetime exemption at any time, if you give away the business to a child or grandchild before it passes above the estate tax minimum limit, there will be no estate tax on the asset when you pass on.

Using a Trust Structure for Your Most Important and Valuable Assets

Establishing a trust is one of the best ways to avoid big out of pocket estate tax payments. Many people may hesitate at the idea of handing over large chunks of assets to others inside of a trust. However, the rules say that the person managing a trust can be a trusted family member, or even yourself.

A trust is one of the most sophisticated tax umbrella structures available to individuals. As such, it requires careful planning and coordination of care to establish & employ correctly. The type of trust that you choose can also make a difference.

If you are serious about preserving your legacy, it is essential that you craft your trusts with the right legal help.  

Using Life Insurance to Protect Your Assets

First, this is not financial advice.  However, life insurance is a conversation we often have with clients and there are certainly a lot of tie-ins to your insurance policies and a healthy estate plan. 

Some of the best life insurance policies, for high net worth individuals (HNWIs) for example, may include provisions for paying off any estate taxes that are due at the time of death. To enable this kind of benefit, you might want to, again, set up a trust.  Regardless, these financial maneuvers and plans should be discussed with your estate planning attorney. 

In short, using life insurance smartly is a great move for HNWIs who would be concerned about the effects of estate taxes on their heirs inheritance(s).

Additional Items to Consider Regarding Your Estate Taxes

Now that we have gone over a few strategies that you can employ to shield your assets from estate taxes, let’s go over a few things that you need to know so that you can go to your attorney as informed as possible.

  • A relatively new tax law (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) allows you to give away slightly over $11 million over your lifetime in gifts that will not be taxed subsequently on your estate. This law will only last until the end of 2025. After that, it will fall back to $5 million, meaning that anything more that you give away may get taxed by the IRS starting in 2026.
  • If you are able to get your gifts to your loved ones before 2025, the United States Treasury and the IRS are likely to allow those transfers to stay as tax-favored gifts.
  • However, depending on your situation, using the “step-up” basis may actually save your family more money. The step-up basis allows an asset to be valued at its cost basis at the time of passage rather than at the time of acquisition. Stepping up the cost basis wipes out any paper profit the asset may have generated in the past, reducing the basis for the estate tax.

What Is the Answer? Get the Help That You Need Right Now.

We are here to help you with properly managing and maximizing the tax umbrellas available to you for your estate.

Protecting your estate is an ongoing responsibility – one that will require experienced legal assistance for the entire process of establishing your estate plan and modifying it over the coming years and decades, as necessary.

If you are ready to protect your hard-earned lifetime work, contact us today!

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