Unfortunately, the changes that may be coming to estate planning are likely to be felt by not just ultra-high-net-worth families, but by upper middle-class families whose net worth is comfortable, but not in the stratosphere. Estate planning lawyers are talking with their clients now about how to plan for transferring assets to families without overly aggressive tax avoidance strategies, according to the article “Are We Leaving a ‘Golden Age’ For Estate Planning?” from Financial Advisor Magazine.
The lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $11.7 million per person and $23.4 million for couples for 2021, which touched only the extremely wealthiest Americans. However, new tax policies are being debated in Congress, including the possible rollback of those estate tax exemptions. Tax-aware estate planning has already gotten underway for many Americans who are not in the top 1%.
There are two proposed changes that may push more families into using trusts and other planning strategies. The first is a proposed increase in the capital gains tax rate for high earners to bring it more in line with their income tax bracket. That would mean they might lose the advantage of deriving income from investments versus a salary.
The second is the possible elimination of step-up in cost basis for assets upon death. Other changes under discussion have been the elimination or decrease of valuation discounting within an estate.
The rush to change estate plans has begun. Estate plans are being revised, trusts are being created and giving strategies are being planned to remove assets from the grantor generations’ estates and take advantage of the current high tax exemption.
Congress is still figuring out what changes will be made. In addition, no one knows if these changes will be retroactive to 2021 if they are made in the third quarter of 2021, or if they will be enacted on January 1, 2022.
Without knowing what the final changes will be, any planning now should be made with a long-term framework for the family.
Estate planning can be considered in three steps:
The grantor generation needs to consider the purpose of their wealth. Do they want to continue a family business, give the majority of their wealth to a charitable organization, or pass it all to their children and grandchildren?
What does it mean to treat beneficiaries fairly? If one child is teacher, while the other has built and grown a highly successful business, do both children inherit the same amount? What if one of the children has a child with Special Needs?
The grantor generation needs to communicate with their heirs. Heirs often don’t learn about their parent’s intentions, tax planning or charitable giving, until after they have passed. It’s far better to talk about the parent’s wishes and their reasoning while they are living. Without these conversations, families suffering from loss must add sibling quarrels and sometimes, estate litigation, to an already difficult time.
Reference: Financial Advisor Magazine (May 20, 2021) “Are We Leaving a ‘Golden Age’ For Estate Planning”