An $11 Million Exemption?! Estate Planning Considerations and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

January 1, 2018 ushered in more than a new year for taxpaying Americans. Tax professionals of all areas of concentration continue to study the changes to the Internal Revenue Code enacted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  Most media reports have focused on the changes affecting income tax, such as doubling the standard deduction, eliminating personal exemptions, cutting back on certain deductions and adding a new treatment of “passthrough” income.  Few reports have addressed the one change in the federal estate tax:  doubling the exemption amount.  While this change is not nearly as exciting as the changes to the income tax, it does warrant consideration as taxpayers of varying degrees of net worth attempt to implement tax efficient estate plans.

Under the new law, individuals now have approximately $11 million of exemption before they are subject to federal estate tax. The “portability” of a spouse’s unused exemption has not been changed, which means that a married couple has a collective exemption amount of approximately $22 million.  Note, however, that the new law sunsets on January 1, 2026, with a reversion to the pre-2018 exemption amount thereafter.  So, what does one do?

Taxpayers whose net worth is above the new exemption amount should consider using the increased exemption amount as a further opportunity to continue moving value out of their estates. The use of irrevocable gift trusts, grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs), qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs), transfers to intentionally defective grantor trusts (IDGTs) and  family limited partnerships (FLPs) are still viable methods to move value (particularly rapidly appreciating assets) from one generation to the next by minimizing the sting of the estate tax.

Also, taxpayers subject to a state estate tax should determine whether the change in the federal law also increases the exemption at the state level. For example, Illinois has a fixed exemption amount of $4 million that is not indexed to the federal exemption amount.  Other states, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, also have exemptions significantly less than the federal exemption.  Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, and Maine currently have exemption amounts that are indexed to the federal exemption amount.  Maryland and New York are set to have exemption amounts indexed to the federal exemption as of January 1, 2019.

Furthermore, taxpayers who are no longer affected by the estate tax due to the increase in exemption, but have previously implemented value-based estate planning techniques to remove value from their estates, should consider options to utilize the step-up in basis wherever possible. Assets that are considered part of a decedent’s estate at death receive a “step-up” in basis to the fair market value of such assets as of the decedent’s date of death.  Effectively utilizing this rule will be more important so as to minimize post-death capital gains tax.

Taxpayers with a net worth significantly less than both the federal and, if applicable, state estate tax exemptions should still be concerned with post-death income tax planning considerations, such as an effective use of the step-up rule to minimize post-death capital gains (as discussed above) and the transfer of income to taxpayers who are taxed at a lower income tax rate.

Finally, annual per donee exclusion gifting is still an option for making gifts to individuals. An individual may gift up to $15,000 per year to an individual without any gift tax implications.

Opportunity exists for planning at all levels and the implications of the increased federal estate tax exemption should be considered in the context of a taxpayer’s specific circumstances.

Income Tax 101 For Homeowners!

Most individual taxpayers are aware of the annual income tax benefits of owning a home, such as the ability to deduct from gross income any mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid during the taxable year.  There are, however, other income tax rules of which homeowners should be aware, especially those who are disposing of a primary residence — either by sale or gift — or changing the home’s use from a primary residence to investment/rental property.  The article, 7 Tax Tricks For Homeowners , offers a good overview of the income tax implications that most taxpayers overlook in these circumstances.  As always, there’s no substitute for professional advice in these situations.

Avoid Paying Penalties To The IRS!

Today marks the extension deadline for 2014 partnership and calendar-year corporate returns.  Before it’s too late, now is a good time to remember October 15, which is the extension deadline for personal returns.  If you timely filed an extension for your 2014 personal tax filing, make sure you file your return on or before October 15.

Around the April 15 deadline, the following press release was issued regarding the extent to which penalties may be assessed for federal income tax that’s not paid by April 15:  Tax Attorney Advice on Avoiding Interest and Penalties for Outstanding Tax Liabilities.  It may be worthwhile to review your particular tax situation so that you can avoid paying unnecessary penalties and interest in the future!

Win Big In Vegas? Uncle Sam Does Too!!!

If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you know first-hand the allure of the gambling scene. Rows of card game tables, flashing lights on the slot machines and the shouts of joy as fellow gamblers strike it big—these are the sights and sounds that entice casino patrons to place the wager on the line. If you’re fortunate to come out ahead of the game, you may not be the only one winning. Gambling winnings are subject to income tax.

The Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) defines gross income as “. . . all income from whatever source derived . . .”[1] While this Code section lists various types of income that fit into this definition, the Regulations provide that gross income “. . . is not limited to the items so enumerated.”[2]

Internal Revenue Service Publication 525 provides that gambling winnings are to be included in line 21 of the taxpayer’s Form 1040.[3]

Furthermore, the IRS requires the payer of gambling winnings to report any winnings that meet the following criteria: (1) the winnings are $1,200 or more from bingo or slot machines, (2) the winnings are $1,500 (reduced by the wager) or more from a keno game, (3) the winnings are more than $5,000 (reduced by the wager or buy-in) from a poker tournament, (4) the winnings, reduced by the wager, are $600 or more and 300 times the amount of the wager, or (5) the winnings are subject to federal income tax withholding.[4] So, if your winnings meet any of these criteria, you will receive a Form W2-G listing your winnings and any income tax withheld.

For most infrequent gambling patrons, this question is more pertinent: are gambling losses deductible? The answer: it depends. The Code provides that wagering losses are deductible to the extent of gains derived from such transactions.[5] Additionally, the Code categorizes wagering losses as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the two percent limitation.[6] As a result, in order to be able to deduct any portion of incurred gambling losses, the taxpayer must (a) itemize his or her deductions for the applicable tax year and (b) incur expenses categorized as miscellaneous itemized deductions in excess of two percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.[7] Any portion of miscellaneous itemized deductions that exceeds the two percent limitation may be deducted on Schedule A.

Separate rules apply to “professional gamblers,” which are beyond the scope of this brief explanation.

[1] IRC § 61(a).

[2] Treas. Reg. § 1.61(a)

[3] IRS Pub. 525.

[4] IRS Instructions for Forms W2-G and 5754.

[5] IRC § 165(d).

[6] Id. at § 67(b)(3).

[7] For further discussion on itemizing expenses, see “Can I Write That Off?

Trusts and Tax Planning

Trusts have become a very common element to modern estate planning. Clients are often confused as to the different types of trusts available for various planning needs. One major distinction among the types of trusts is whether it is revocable or irrevocable. This distinction may have significant income and gift tax consequences that need to be explored in the planning process.
See this brief article to begin exploring the income tax consequences of creating an irrevocable trust.