Staying abreast of current tax changes is critical to getting the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to estate planning. 2018 had significant, albeit likely temporary, increases in the federal estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions. For example, individuals who previously used their previous lifetime gift tax exemption amounts can now effectively double the amount of assets and money that can be transferred without incurring any federal gift tax consequences. As such, it is a good idea to reevaluate your current estate planning to determine if your estate planning goals are being met and if there are now unexploited taxation opportunities with the recent changes in law. For example, many people, in light of the increased lifetime gift tax exemption amount and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption amount, are making gifts to children, grandchildren, or close family friends with either outright distributions or through new or existing trusts. The first step, however, in manipulating recent changes in federal law to your personal benefit is understanding the underlying tax structures. One significant theory of taxation is the generation-skipping transfer tax. This tax, however, is only one of many which may affect your estate, as such, contact an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney to make sure the most goes to your friends and family.
- What is the GST Tax?
First question is the most common, what is the generation-skipping transfer tax? The generation-skipping transfer tax or, “GST”, is a flat, 40% tax on transfers to specific persons, sometimes called “skip persons,” such as grandchildren, other family members more than one generation from you, nonfamily members more than 37.5 years younger than you, and also certain trusts. Whether or not transfers to a particular trust are subject to GST taxation is primarily focused on who are named as beneficiaries and their generational status to the grantor(s). Avoiding GST taxation and preserving the most amount of your money and assets is one of the primary goals for you and your estate planner.
- How is it triggered?
GST taxation can be triggered either intentionally or unintentionally via transfers of assets or money. Intentional transfers, such as purposefully leaving bequests, trust distributions, or inheritance to “skip persons.” Unintentional transfers, such as children predeceasing grandchildren and an estate plan failing to take this possibility into account when calculating future distribution structures.
When a particular transfer is deemed to trigger the GST tax, the next step is to calculate whether it falls into any exemption categories and if there is any money left in any of those categories to shield the transfer from GST taxation. The two major exemptions are the annual gift tax exclusion, currently $14,000 per recipient; $28,000 for married couples, and the Unified Tax Credit, approximately $11.8 million lifetime exemption and approximately double that amount for married couples.
- How do I use exemptions to avoid GST?
Utilizing tax exemptions to avoid GST essentially boils down to properly documenting and earmarking transfers that may trigger GST taxation and filing any appropriate paperwork with the IRS. Again, regardless of whether these transfers are made during the grantor’s lifetime or at their death, as long as transfers either skip a generation or are made in trust for multiple generations, GST taxation must be considered and addressed.
Estate planners take the transfers you want to make, then plot different tactics for transfer dependent on your overall goals and realities for your particular estate. Many, few, or no options may be available to avoid GST in your circumstances. Sometimes certain gifts are not applied toward the exemption, such as “annual exclusion” gifts and direct payments for medical or education purposes, thus these can be made completely tax-free. Other times decisions have to be made to temporary hold off on a transfer or to shift a transfer to another spouse to use their tax exemption amounts. Furthermore, the estate planner must decide whether to file a gift tax return or plan the transfer so it appears as an incomplete gift. Just because a transfer looks like it falls within the bounds of a taxation exemption doesn’t mean the transfer magically is ignored by the IRS, your estate planning still has a lot of paperwork and legal leg work to do.
- How to Avoid GST with trusts
Trusts provide a multitude of estate planning benefits, one of the most popular uses for them is minimizing or avoiding estate taxation, in this context, GST taxation. A-B trusts, bypass trusts, and dynasty trusts are all examples of trust vehicles that can mitigate or completely avoid any concerns you might have with generation-skipping transfers. Trust use here primarily concerns manipulating trust funding and available exemption amounts in conjunction with the practical needs of you and your family. Each trust type, however, has their own benefits and disadvantages. As such, it is important to talk with an Ohio estate planning attorney to find out the pro’s and con’s of using a trust in your circumstances.
Regardless of whether a trust is right for your estate planning goals, now is the time to review your current estate planning documents to ensure they remain in accordance with your intent and the recent changes in law. Often many estates are planned around and use trusts that are funded according to formulas tied to now changed federal estate exemption amounts. As such, with the recent increased estate tax exemptions, such trusts may be funded with significantly larger amounts than you anticipated when you originally met with your estate planner. Further, a comprehensive review of your trust and estate planning documents will allow you to assess their effectiveness in light of the changes to the law, changes in your personal life, and changes to your estate planning goals.
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.