Metairie estate planning

Is Estate Tax Owed on Living Trust Assets?

Assets that are either in your name or in your Living Trust are going to be included in your estate when you die for federal estate tax purposes. The federal government assesses about a 40% tax on the value of your assets when you die, but only if they exceed a certain amount.

Starting in 2018, as a result of our new tax law, an individual will be able to exempt $11.2 million of assets from the 40% estate tax. To take it a little further, married couples can exempt up to $22.4 million from the federal estate tax.

In fact, for most families, it is more advantageous for assets to be included in your estate for tax purposes than excluded. Assets that are in your estate, for tax purposes, get a step-up in capital gains tax basis when you die. This permits your heirs to sell assets after you die and pay no tax on the appreciation from the time of your initial purchase until the time of your death. This can save a load of tax.

In fact, since Louisiana is a community property state, we get to benefit from the special rule that says that all of the married couple's community property gets a step-up in basis at the first death, not just the deceased spouse's half. And if you set up your estate planning program the right way, the entire estate will get another step-up in basis when the surviving spouse dies. We call this the "Doube Step-Up." But it doesn't happen automatically, you have to actively work with the right estate planning attorney who can guide you through this.

It's worth mentioning at this point that the federal gift and estate tax are unified. Here's what that means. If, in 2018, you donate more than $15,000 to anyone, no one owes tax. By giving more than the annual exclusion amount ($15,000 for 2018), you simply start using up some of your $11.2 million estate tax exemption. That's right - no one owes taxes if a gift is in excess of $15,000 (unless, of course, you give away more than $11.2 million, but that would be one heckuva gift!

And note that based on the new tax law, the estate tax exemption is scheduled to revert back to $5 million (indexed for inflation), in 2026, unless, of course, Congress and the President change it again.

If You Have Usufruct, You Have Debt

This post should help you understand the full consequences of either leaving someone the Louisiana usufruct of an estate, or inheriting the usufruct of an estate.

Here's an example. Dad dies leaving a Last Will which left the usufruct of his estate to Mom. Together, Mom and Dad had about $1 million in the bank (checking, savings, and a number of CDs). About a year later, after Dad's Succession was complete, all of these bank accounts were put in Mom's name only - which the usufructuary is permitted to do. Family circumstances warranted that Mom change her Will. Mom died a couple of years after that.

All of Mom's heirs assumed that since all of the money was in Mom's name, and that Mom left a Last Will and Testament, that all of the money would go to them. But there were dead wrong - pun intended.

Since Dad left Mom the usufruct of his estate, Mom (or Mom's estate) owed a debt to Dad's heirs (also called a usufructuary accounting due to the naked owners). Dad had left Mom the usufruct of about $500,000. That "usufructuary debt to Dad's naked owners" needed to be satisfied first before any of Mom's heirs inherit a penny.

And if Mom had spent some of the money and only had enough at her death to satisfy the usufructuary debt, then Mom's heirs would not inherit - even though she had a very clear Will leaving her money to her heirs.

While usufruct can be appropriate in some circumstances, you and your spouse need to be aware - on the front end - about what might happen on the back end. While usufruct might be the way to go, there are a number of other alternative ways you can leave your estate to your loved ones. To start a discussion, call our office at 866-491-3884.

Go TIgers!