“Portability” is the ability of a surviving spouse to use not only his or her own estate tax exemption, but also some or all of the exemption of the first spouse to die, as long as the first spouse died in 2011 or later. With the estate tax exemption for 2017 at $5,490,000, this can allow estates of nearly $11,000,000 to escape estate tax. While a full discussion of portability is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that portability can save the day in one or more of these situations: if proper estate planning has not been done, if life insurance, IRAs or retirement plans left to the surviving spouse constitute a very large portion of a couple’s assets, or if a couple’s assets of any type are worth near the value of one exemption but less than both (e.g., $4,500,000 to $10,500,000).
The catch is that if the deceased spouse’s assets are worth less than his or her exemption amount, the deceased spouse’s executor has to file a federal estate tax return (Form 706) for the deceased spouse to “claim” the deceased spouse’s unused exemption and thus invoke “portability.” This is the direct opposite of the normal rule that if a decedent’s estate is worth less than the estate tax exemption amount (after taking lifetime gifts into account), no estate tax return filing is necessary. But if the deceased spouse’s executor does not file a timely estate tax return for the deceased spouse (nine months after the date of death, or an additional six months thereafter if a request for an extension was properly filed by the nine month deadline), the ability to use portability is permanently lost. (more…)
The Internal Revenue Service has issued important new guidance that can allow a charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT) to qualify under Internal Revenue Code section 664 in a low-interest environment.
Section 664 confers substantial tax benefits on charitable remainder trusts that meet its requirements. These are irrevocable trusts that during their term distribute a formula amount to one or more non-charitable beneficiaries, with the remainder distributed to charity upon termination of the trusts. There are two allowable formulas. A charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT) distributes a fixed percentage of the value of trust assets determined every year. There are some allowable variations for CRUT distributions, but in general this means that distributions from a CRUT can go up or down from year to year, depending on increases or decreases in the value of trust assets. While CRUTs are by far the more popular of the two main varieties, some clients and donors prefer the CRAT, which distributes the same amount every year during its term, which is fixed at the time the trust is created and which must be at least 5% of the value of assets contributed to the trust. (more…)
When someone inherits assets, he or she is supposed to have a tax basis in the inherited asset for income tax purposes equal to the “fair market value” of the inherited asset at the date of death. The IRS is concerned that it is losing billions of dollars due to improper basis reporting for inherited assets: that is, the executor reports the assets on the estate tax return at one value, and then when those same assets are later sold, exchanged, or transferred by the beneficiary, the beneficiary reports the basis at a higher value. To tackle this concern, all estates which file an estate tax return after July 31, 2015, also must now file, within 30 days after filing the estate tax return, new IRS Form 8971, and provide a Schedule A to each beneficiary. A beneficiary’s Schedule A must also be given to the beneficiary within the same time frame. (Note that for all estate tax returns filed between August 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016, the due date of Form 8971 was postponed to June 30, 2016, leading to a flood of recent filings.) (more…)
Many headlines have been generated over recent attempts to recover highly desired data from a locked smart device after the death of the device’s owner. While the legal battle between Apple and the FBI over information stored by one of the San Bernardino shooting suspects in an iPhone pitted law enforcement against the technology community, it should also serve as a high profile reminder of the need to address digital passwords as part of an estate plan. (more…)