Double Step-Up

Children Donate Naked Ownership Interest Back To Surviving Parent

I've been working with a family recently. Dad passed away without a last will and testament ("intestate"). I explained to the family that since Dad died intestate, Dad's half of the community property would be inherited by Dad's children, subject to Mom's usufruct.

The children wanted to support Mom both emotionally and financially. The children wanted Mom to own everything so they asked me if they could donate their naked ownership interest back to Mom.  I told them that we would have to complete the Succession first in accordance with Louisiana law, and that Dad's half would have to go to the children, but then once the children were put "in possession" of the property, they could donate it back to Mom. Everyone felt good that Mom would own 100% of the property and the other Succession assets.

There were no gift or estate tax issues involved in the transaction since the estate tax exemption in 2018 is so high ($11.2 million). In fact, the children may benefit in the long run because when Mom dies many years from now, the children will benefit from the step-up in basis of Mom's entire estate as it passes to the children.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

4 Estate Planning Tips For 2018

2018 brings some changes to the estate planning horizon. The following are four tips that you can take advantage of to protect your estate in 2018.

(1) Taxes. With the new law changes, there will be less emphasis on gift and estate tax avoidance, and more emphasis on capital gains tax and income tax avoidance. Smart married planners will ensure that their estate gets the valuable "double step-up in basis" (doesn't happen automatically), while other smart planners will arrange their affairs so that they and their heirs and beneficiaries minimize the income tax burden of a transfer of retirement accounts and other valuable assets.

(2) You're Living Longer. Because you are living longer, you need to protect your estate if you get sick for a prolonged period, or, if your mind becomes demented. Arranging all of your assets so that your trusted loved ones have access when you can't, and, for some, protecting your estate from nursing home poverty, is critical. To protect your estate from when you are sick, you must take action while you are well.

(3) Simplify Your Estate Settlement. Many Louisiana families want to arrange their estate so that judicially-supervised court proceeding (some call it "Probate;" other Louisianians call it "Succession"). Whether it's utilizing a revocable living trust or other probate avoidance strategies, act in 2018 to make estate settlement simple. In addition, have conversations with participants in your estate settlement - before your estate settlement. This can go a long way toward having an amicable estate settlement.

(4) Get Started. Procrastination is a big obstacle to estate planning. Put it on your "To Do" list, and then get started so you can check it off your "To Do" list. You'll feel great knowing you have all your legal affairs in order for yourself and your family.

Happy New Year! Make 2018 your best ever.

Paul Rabalais
www.RabalaisEstatePlanning.com
Law Office locations: All over south Louisiana
Toll-free phone: 866-491-3884

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.

How To Complete the Probate of a $1 Million Louisiana Estate

I've handled many Louisiana Successions over the last 25 years. Every one is different and there can be many different ways to "skin the cat." But I want to give you an overview of what typically is involved when a "typical" one million dollar estate is being probated in Louisiana.

First, some terminology - Probate or Succession. When someone dies with assets in their name in the United States, it is up to our government (the judicial system) to see to it that those assets are managed properly and then ultimately transferred to the rightful heirs after all applicable delays and court costs, attorney fees and other administrative expenses have been taken care of. The fact that the government must oversee this is the topic of another discussion.

All other states, except Louisiana, call this court-supervised process "Probate." In Louisiana, it is also commonly referred to as a "Succession." For purposes of this discussion, I will call this procedure in Louisiana - "Probate."

So let's look at an example. Dad died years ago leaving everything to Mom. Now, Mom just passed away three weeks ago. Mom lived in Louisiana when she died. Mom had previously signed a Last Will and Testament ("Will") leaving her entire estate equally to her three children. She named her oldest child ("Sonny") as the executor of her Will. When Mom died, she owned a home worth $300,000, bank accounts valued at $100,000, CDs valued at $200,000, an IRA valued at $150,000, a separate stock account valued at $100,000, an annuity valued at $50,000, US Savings Bonds valued at $50,000, a vehicle valued at $20,000, and other personal effects valued at $30,000. Mom also had a few debts. Mom has two credit cards (each with a $5,000 balance). There are ongoing insurance and maintenance expenses associated with the house. Mom's daughter, Sissy, paid the $10,000 funeral expense out of her own pocket.

So, here are the typical steps involved in settling this million dollar estate.

  1. Attorney For The Children. Generally, each child must have an attorney since all of the children are participants in this court proceeding. For purposes of this situation, let's assume that all of the children are represented by the same attorney. All communications with the attorney will be with all of the children present. There is no conflict between any of the children. If there is any conflict among the children, then different children will have different attorneys and the proceeding will likely move much slower through the court system - in fact, many contested probates never wind up getting fully resolved.
  2. IRA and Annuity. Let's assume that Mom designated her three children as the equal designated beneficiaries on the IRA and the annuity with the particular financial institutions. If so, then the three children can apply directly to these financial institutions to get their benefits. We'll talk taxes later, but the beneficiaries will include distributions they receive from Mom's IRA as taxable income, and they will also have to pay income tax on the gain that was recognized inside of Mom's annuity.
  3. Get Sonny Confirmed as Independent Executor. Court pleadings will be prepared, signed, and filed at the courthouse to open the Probate and to petition to be confirmed as the Independent Executor. Let's assume Mom's Will not only designated Sonny as the executor, but she authorized him to act as an Independent Executor. It is critical that Sonny be confirmed as the Independent Executor so that he can start to gain access to Mom's accounts, pay bills on behalf of the estate, and perhaps sell estate assets that need to be sold. When the judge signs this first court order, the clerk of court will issue certified copies of the "Letters of Independent Executorship."
  4. Open Estate Account. Once Sonny receives the court-issued Letters of Independent Executorship, he will go to a bank and open an Estate Account. Sonny cannot open an estate account until he has these "Letters."  Let's assume he opens the Estate Account at the same bank that Mom used. The bank will open the Estate Account and they will transfer Mom's frozen bank account funds and her frozen CD funds into the estate account. There will be no penalty for early surrender of the CDs when the bank transfers the funds out of Mom's CDs into the Estate Account.
  5. Detailed Descriptive List of Assets and Liabilities. The family provides information to the attorney regarding the specifics of Mom's assets and debts when she died. The court requires that a detailed listing of all assets and debts be filed into the court record before a judge can authorize a distribution of estate assets to the heirs.
  6. Separate Stock Account. The children talked and decided that since they have no emotional attachment to the stock that Mom owned, it would be best to sell the stock and divide the proceeds of the sale among the children. Sonny, armed with his Letters of Independent Executorship giving him authorization to sell estate assets, sells the stock. The check from the sale is made out to: Estate of Mom. Sonny deposits this check into the Estate Account at the bank.
  7. Mom's Home. Since all three children have their own homes, the children agree that it would be best to sell the home. The children quickly clean out the house and Sonny, as the Independent Executor, gets with a realtor to list the home for sale. Two months later, they find a buyer to buy the house from the estate. Sonny attends the closing. The check for $300,000 produced at the house closing is payable to "Estate of Mom." Sonny deposits these funds into the estate account.  There is no tax on the sale of the house because, even though Mom and Dad purchased the home years ago for $120,000, the children will enjoy the "step-up in basis" at Mom's death. Since the new basis is the value of the home at Mom's death, and since there is no better way to determine fair market value than what a willing buyer and willing seller agree to shortly after death, it is fair to say that the basis was the sales price ($300,000). So, there was no capital gains tax to be paid upon the sale of the home.
  8. U.S. Savings Bonds. When Mom died, she owned 87 U.S. Savings Bondsthat were valued at $50,000 when Mom died. Mom had originally paid $33,000 for these savings bonds. The children decide to keep things simple by selling all of the bonds. Sonny goes through the process of selling all of the bonds, as the Independent Executor, and depositing those proceeds into the Estate Account. Income tax will have to be paid on the difference between what the US Savings Bonds were sold for ($33,000) and what they were sold for ($50,000). This taxable gain is $17,000.
  9. Mom's Vehicle. The children decide to sell Mom's old Lincoln. Sonny sells the vehicle. The check is payable to Estate of Mom. Check deposited in Estate Account.
  10. Personal Effects. The children get together at Mom's home shortly after Mom died and, informally, agreed on how Mom's personal effects are to be divided. Perhaps Mom may have even communicated to the children, or made an informal list of instructions, regarding her personal effects. Since these personal effects are not "titled," like an account or a piece of property is, the children are satisfied with their own personal division of personal effects. The attorney does not have to get involved in this aspect of settling the probate.
  11. Paying Estate Bills. Sonny will use the funds in the Estate Account to reimburse Sissy for the funeral expenses she incurred, and Sonny will also use the Estate Account to pay off Mom's credit cards, and to pay house maintenance expenses of the home from the time Mom died until the house is sold. Sonny may very well be required to prepare and file a final income tax return for Mom, which will be due April 15 of the year after Mom died.
  12. Executor Fee. As executor, Sonny is entitled to an executor's fee of 2.5% of the Succession Assets. Sonny does the math and concludes that he is entitled to an executor's fee of $25,000. Sonny has a decision to make: Does he collect the $25,000 executor's fee from the estate (he will pay income tax on this amount because he is being compensated for the services he rendered). Or does he waive some or all of the fee and allow the three children to simply inherit the estate assets one-third each without income tax consequences.
  13. Estate Tax. No federal estate tax is due because the value of Mom's estate is less than the applicable estate tax exemption of $5.45 million. No Louisiana Inheritance Tax is due because Louisiana no longer has an inheritance tax. We discussed above income tax consequences to the children's receipt of the annuity and IRA and US Savings Bonds.
  14. Judgment of Possession. Finally, a judge signs a Judgment of Possession which may close the estate and order that all remaining estate assets be transferred to the three children equally. Sonny, as executor, may want to hold back a sum of money just in case bills come in after all of the funds would have been otherwise distributed.

There you have it. While every Louisiana Succession or Probate is different, this is just one example of things that occur during the legal proceedings related to settling a $1 million dollar probate. Actually, the procedure would be the same whether the estate was worth $200,000 or $4,000,000.

If you have lost a family member, and you want to work with an attorney who will help your family get through all of this quickly and easily while keeping the family relationships intact, give us a call at 866-491-3884 to start a discussion about handling the Louisiana Succession.

Double Step-Up in Basis Helps Louisiana Families Save Taxes at Death

The traditional married couple estate plan often was established in a way through their Last Wills or the Revocable Living Trust so that when the first spouse died, that spouse's share of the assets would go to an irrevocable trust, whereby the surviving spouse is often the trustee and income beneficiary of the irrevocable trust, and the deceased spouse's children are the principal beneficiaries of this irrevocable trust. The reason many estate plans were established this way was for estate tax avoidance - so that the assets of the deceased spouse (in the irrevocable trust after the first spouse dies) would not be included in the taxable estate (for federal estate tax purposes) of the surviving spouse.

But with the Estate Tax Exclusion Amount now $5.45 million - which is in theory $10.9 million for married couples. It is often irrelevant whether the assets of the first spouse to die get lumped into the surviving spouse's estate for federal estate tax purposes.

Example: Mom and Dad have a combined estate of $3 million - each owns half. Dad dies and structures his estate planning legal program in a way so that his entire $1.5 million estate gets lumped into Mom's estate, so that after Dad dies, Mom has the entire $3 million of assets in her taxable estate. But even if the $3 million in Mom's estate appreciates in value to $4 million prior to when Mom dies, there will be no estate tax when Mom dies because her estate was valued at less than $5.45 million.

The above example assumes that a portability election was not filed on Dad's estate tax return when he died. In fact there was no estate tax return filed after Dad died at all. Had they filed a Form 706 after Dad died and elected portability, Mom's estate would have been able to shield much more than $5.45 million from estate tax when she die.

So, since Mom and Dad don't have estate tax concerns, it would be great for the kids (and not so great for Uncle Sam and the IRS) if there is not only a step-up in basis of the estate when Dad dies, but also another step-up in basis of the entire estate when Mom dies - to eliminate there EVER being capital gains tax on any appreciation from when items were purchased to the date that Mom dies. If the executor, or the trustee, or the kids sell these appreciated assets shortly after Mom dies, they will get all of the proceeds of these sales completely tax-free thanks to the double step-up in basis that occurred at each parent's death.

Estate planning these days involves so much more than just writing a Will or trust or power of attorney. You can save your spouse, your kids, and your loved ones significant taxes - even if you don't have a "taxable estate."