Companion piece: Create a “road map” for your estate plan

No matter how much effort you’ve invested in designing your estate plan, your will, trusts and other official documents may not be enough. Consider creating a “road map” — an informal letter or other document that guides your family in understanding and executing your plan and ensuring that your wishes are carried out.
Navigating your world
Your road map should include, among other things:
• A list of important contacts, including your estate planning attorney, accountant, insurance agent and financial advisors,
• The location of your will, living and other trusts, tax returns and records, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, stock certificates, automobile titles, and other important documents,
• A personal financial statement that lists stocks, bonds, real estate, bank accounts, retirement plans, vehicles and other assets, as well as information about mortgages, credit cards, and other debts,
• An inventory of digital assets — such as email accounts, online bank and brokerage accounts, online photo galleries, digital music and book collections, and social media accounts — including login credentials or a description of arrangements made to provide your representative with access,
• Computer passwords and home security system codes,
• Safe combinations and the location of any safety deposit boxes and keys,
• The location of family heirlooms or other valuable personal property, and
• Information about funeral arrangements or burial wishes.
Laying out your intentions
Your road map can also be a good place to explain to loved ones the reasoning behind certain estate planning decisions. Perhaps you’re distributing your assets unequally, distributing specific assets to specific heirs or placing certain restrictions on an heir’s entitlement to trust distributions. There are many good reasons for these strategies, but it’s important for your family to understand your motives to help avoid hurt feelings or disputes.
Finally, like other estate planning documents, your road map won’t be effective unless your family knows where to find it, so it’s a good idea to leave it with a trusted advisor (and consider giving copies to other trusted parties). Please contact us if you’d like help drafting your road map.
© 2019

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The 2018 gift tax return deadline is almost here

Did you make large gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs last year? If so, it’s important to determine whether you’re required to file a 2018 gift tax return — or whether filing one would be beneficial even if it isn’t required.
Filing requirements
Generally, you must file a gift tax return for 2018 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
• That exceeded the $15,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
• That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $30,000 annual exclusion,
• That exceeded the $152,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
• To a Section 529 college savings plan and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($75,000) into 2018,
• Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
• Of jointly held or community property.
Keep in mind that you’ll owe gift tax only to the extent an exclusion doesn’t apply and you’ve used up your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.18 million for 2018). As you can see, some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax.
No return required
No gift tax return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of gifts that are tax-free because they qualify as:
• Annual exclusion gifts,
• Present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse,
• Educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, or
• Political or charitable contributions.
But if you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
Be ready for April 15
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2018 returns, it’s April 15, 2019 — or October 15, 2019, if you file for an extension. But keep in mind that, if you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is April 15, regardless of whether you file for an extension. If you’re not sure whether you must (or should) file a 2018 gift tax return, contact us.
© 2019

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What you need to know about filing gift and estate tax returns

Have you made substantial gifts of wealth to family members? Or are you the executor of the estate of a loved one who died recently? If so, you need to know whether you must file a gift or estate tax return.
Filing a gift tax return
Generally, a federal gift tax return (Form 709) is required if you make gifts to or for someone during the year (with certain exceptions, such as gifts to U.S. citizen spouses) that exceed the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2018 and 2019); there’s a separate exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse ($152,000 for 2018 and $155,000 for 2019).
Also, if you make gifts of future interests, even if they’re less than the annual exclusion amount, a gift tax return is required. Finally, if you split gifts with your spouse, regardless of amount, you must file a gift tax return.
The return is due by April 15 of the year after you make the gift, so the deadline for 2018 gifts is coming up soon. But the deadline can be extended to October 15.
Being required to file a form doesn’t necessarily mean you owe gift tax. You’ll owe tax only if you’ve already exhausted your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption ($11.18 million for 2018 and $11.40 million for 2019).
Filing an estate tax return
If required, a federal estate tax return (Form 706) is due nine months after the date of death. Executors can seek an extension of the filing deadline, an extension of the time to pay, or both, by filing Form 4768. Keep in mind that the form provides for an automatic six-month extension of the filing deadline, but that extending the time to pay (up to one year at a time) is at the IRS’s discretion. Executors can file additional requests to extend the filing deadline “for cause” or to obtain additional one-year extensions of time to pay.
Generally, Form 706 is required only if the deceased’s gross estate plus adjusted taxable gifts exceeds the exemption. But a return is required even if there’s no estate tax liability after taking all applicable deductions and credits.
Even if an estate tax return isn’t required, executors may need to file one to preserve a surviving spouse’s portability election. Portability allows a surviving spouse to take advantage of a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption amount, but it’s not automatic. To take advantage of portability, the deceased’s executor must make an election on a timely filed estate tax return that computes the unused exemption amount.
Preparing an estate tax return can be a time consuming, costly undertaking, so executors should analyze the relative costs and benefits of a portability election. Generally, filing an estate tax return is advisable only if there’s a reasonable probability that the surviving spouse will exhaust his or her own exemption amount.
Seek professional help
Estate tax rules and regulations can be complicated. If you need help determining whether a gift or estate tax return needs to be filed, contact us.
© 2019

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Building an on-off switch into your estate plan

The right estate planning strategy for you likely is the one that will produce the greatest tax savings for your family. Unfortunately, there can be tension between strategies that save estate tax and ones that save income tax. This is especially true now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the gift and estate tax exemption — but only temporarily. Through 2025, income tax might be a greater concern, but, after that, estate taxes might be a bigger issue.

Fortunately, it’s possible to build an “on-off switch” into your estate plan.

Why the conflict?

Generally, the best way to minimize estate taxes is to remove assets from your estate as early as possible (through outright gifts or gifts in trust) so that all future appreciation in value escapes estate tax. But these lifetime gifts can increase income taxes for the recipients of appreciated assets. That’s because assets you transfer by gift retain your tax basis, potentially resulting in a significant capital gains tax bill should your beneficiaries sell them.

Assets held for life, on the other hand, receive a stepped-up basis equal to their fair market value on the date of death. This provides an income tax advantage: Your beneficiaries can turn around and sell the assets with little or no capital gains tax liability.

Until relatively recently, estate planning strategies focused on minimizing estate taxes, with little regard for income taxes. Why? Historically, the highest marginal estate tax rate was significantly higher than the highest marginal income tax rate, and the estate tax exemption amount was relatively small. So, in most cases, the potential estate tax savings far outweighed any potential income tax liability.

Today, the stakes have changed. The highest marginal estate and income tax rates aren’t too different (40% and 37%, respectively). And, the gift and estate tax exemption has climbed to $11.40 million for 2019, meaning fewer taxpayers need to be concerned about estate taxes, at least for now.

Flipping the switch

With a carefully designed trust, you can remove assets from your taxable estate while giving the trustee the ability to direct the assets back into your estate should that prove to be the better tax strategy in the future. There are different techniques for accomplishing this, but typically it involves establishing an irrevocable trust over which you retain no control (including the right to replace the trustee) and giving the trustee complete discretion over distributions. This removes the assets from your taxable estate.

If it becomes desirable to include the trust assets in your estate because income taxes are a bigger concern, the trustee can accomplish this by, for example, naming you as successor trustee or granting you a power of appointment over the trust assets.

Of course, irrevocable trusts also have their downsides. Contact us to discuss what estate planning strategies make the most sense for you.

© 2019

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Why you shouldn’t wait to file your 2018 income tax return

The IRS opened the 2018 income tax return filing season on January 28. Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline, this year consider filing as soon as you can. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and reap other benefits, too.

What is tax identity theft?

In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund.

You discover the fraud when you file your return and are informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with your Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. While you should ultimately be able to prove that your return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay your refund.

Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a would-be thief that will be rejected — not yours.

What if you haven’t received your W-2s and 1099s?

To file your tax return, you must have received all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 was the deadline for employers to issue 2018 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2018 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.

If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.

What are other benefits of filing early?

Besides protecting yourself from tax identity theft, the most obvious benefit of filing early is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get that refund sooner. The IRS expects more than nine out of ten refunds to be issued within 21 days.

But even if you owe tax, filing early can be beneficial. You still won’t need to pay your tax bill until April 15, but you’ll know sooner how much you owe and can plan accordingly. Keep in mind that some taxpayers who typically have gotten refunds in the past could find themselves owing tax when they file their 2018 return due to tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and reduced withholding from 2018 paychecks.

Need help?

If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2018 return early, please contact us. While the new Form 1040 essentially does fit on a postcard, many taxpayers will also have to complete multiple schedules along with the form. And the TCJA has changed many tax breaks. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all of the breaks available to you.

© 2019

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