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Inheritance and Estate Tax

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Coordinating Property Ownership and Your Estate Plan

Coordinating Property Ownership and Your Estate Plan

When planning your estate, you must consider how you hold title to your real and personal property. The title and your designated beneficiaries will control how your real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, vehicles and investments are distributed upon your death, regardless of whether there is a will or trust in place and potentially with a result that you never intended.

One of the most important steps in establishing your estate plan is transferring title to your assets. If you have created a living trust, it is absolutely useless if you fail to transfer the title on your accounts, real estate or other property into the trust. Unless the assets are formally transferred into your living trust, they will not be subject to the terms of the trust and will be subject to probate.

Even if you don’t have a living trust, how you hold title to your property can still help your heirs avoid probate altogether. This ensures that your assets can be quickly transferred to the beneficiaries, and saves them the time and expense of a probate proceeding. Listed below are three of the most common ways to hold title to property; each has its advantages and drawbacks, depending on your personal situation.

Tenants in Common: When two or more individuals each own an undivided share of the property, it is known as a tenancy in common. Each co-tenant can transfer or sell his or her interest in the property without the consent of the co-tenants. In a tenancy in common, a deceased owner’s interest in the property continues after death and is distributed to the decedent’s heirs. Property titled in this manner is subject to probate, unless it is held in a living trust, but it enables you to leave your interest in the property to your own heirs rather than the property’s co-owners.

Joint Tenants:  In joint tenancy, two or more owners share a whole, undivided interest with right of survivorship. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the surviving joint tenants immediately become the owners of the entire property. The decedent’s interest in the property does not pass to his or her beneficiaries, regardless of any provisions in a living trust or will. A major advantage of joint tenancy is that a deceased joint tenant’s interest in the property passes to the surviving joint tenants without the asset going through probate. Joint tenancy has its disadvantages, too. Property owned in this manner can be attached by the creditors of any joint tenant, which could result in significant losses to the other joint tenants. Additionally, a joint tenant’s interest in the property cannot be sold or transferred without the consent of the other joint tenants.

Community Property with Right of Survivorship: Some states allow married couples to take title in this manner. When property is held this way, a surviving spouse automatically inherits the decedent’s interest in the property, without probate.

Make sure your estate planning attorney has a list of all of your property and exactly how you hold title to each asset, as this will directly affect how your property is distributed after you pass on. Automatic rules governing survivorship will control how property is distributed, regardless of what is stated in your will or living trust.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Year End Gifts

Year End Gifts

If you’re like most people, you want to make sure you and your loved ones pay the least amount of tax possible. Many use year-end gift giving as a way to transfer wealth to younger generations and also reduce the overall potential estate tax that will be due upon their death. Below are some steps you can take to make gifts to your heirs without triggering any gift tax liability. Some of these techniques may also reduce your own income tax liability.

A combination of estate and gift tax exemptions can be used to significantly reduce the overall tax liability of your estate. Upon your death, federal estate tax may be owed. A portion of your estate is exempt from the tax. That exemption amount is set by Congress and can change from year to year. For deaths that occur in 2011, the exemption amount is $5 million and the value of an estate in excess of that amount is subject to estate tax.

Many taxpayers make annual gifts to loved ones during their lifetimes, to reduce the overall value of the estate so that it does not exceed the exemption amount in effect at the time of death. It is important to consider that gifts made during your lifetime are subject to a gift tax (equal to the estate tax). However, certain gifts or transfers are not subject to the gift tax, enabling you to make tax-free gifts that benefit your loved ones and reduce the overall taxable value of your estate upon your death.

The annual gift tax exclusion allows each individual to make annual gifts of up to $13,000 to each recipient. There is no limit to the number of recipients who may each receive up to $13,000 totally tax-free. Married couples may gift up to $26,000 to each recipient without triggering any tax liability. This annual exclusion expires on December 31 of each year, and larger gifts may be made by splitting it up into two payments. By making a payment in December and one the following January, you can take advantage of the gift tax exclusion for both years. Keeping annual gifts below $13,000 per recipient ensures that no gift tax return must be filed, and that there is no reduction in the estate tax exemption amount available upon your death.

Annual gifts may also be made in the form of contributions to a §529 College Savings Plan. These, too, are subject to the $13,000 annual gift tax exclusion. Additionally, such contributions may afford the giver with a state tax deduction.

Payment of a beneficiary’s medical expenses is also excluded from the gift tax. There is no limit to the amount of medical expense payments that may be excluded from tax. To qualify, the payment must be made directly to the health care provider and must be the type of expenses that would qualify for an income tax deduction.

If you have a large estate that may be subject to taxes upon your death, making annual gifts during your lifetime can be a simple way to reduce the size of your estate while avoiding negative tax consequences.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tennessee Phases Out Inheritance Tax

The Tennessee Legislature has passed legislation to phase out the Tennessee Inheritance Tax. Effective 2016, the tax is complete repealed. In 2012, the exemption amount is $1,000,000. In 2013, the exemption increases to $1,250,000. In 2014, the exemption increases to $2,000,000. In 2015, the exemption increases to $5,000,000. The inheritance tax is repealed for 2016 and thereafter.

Now we will have to wait and see what the U.S. Congress does with the federal estate tax. The exemption amount for the federal estate tax is $5,120,000 in 2012, but is reduced to $1,000,000 in 2013 and beyond, unless legislation is passed to change the law. The tax rate of 35% in 2012 will increase to 55% in 2013 and beyond, unless legislation is passed to change the law.

I have given up on making predictions on this topic except to say that I do not believe that there will be a complete elmination of the federal estate tax. There was such talk a few years back before the economic meltdown in 2008. But with the large national debt, the expenses of two simultaneous wars and a sluggish economy, complete repeal does not appear realistic no matter who wins the White House in November. 

Even if Congress changes the law to provide an increased exemption and/or lower tax rate, there is nothing to say that Congress won't change it again in the future to a less favorable exemption and/or tax rate.

Bottom line: for estates in excess of $1,000,000, estate tax planning may still be prudent in light of the uncertain times we live in.





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The Elder and Special Needs Law Center - Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is a service of attorney John H. Baker III, of counsel with the law firm of Bullock, Fly, Hornsby & Evans. Offices are located at 307 Hickerson Drive, Murfreesboro (Rutherford County), TN 37129. Surrounding communities include Smyrna and LaVergne (Rutherford County), Franklin and Brentwood (Williamson County), Woodbury (Cannon County), Manchester and Tullahoma (Coffee County), Lebanon (Wilson County) and Shelbyville (Bedford County).