Summary of The 2010 Tax Act

To summarize, the 2010 Tax Act makes significant estate and gift tax changes.  Almost every estate plan needs to be rewritten immediately.  The key points discussed above in the blog series include the following:

  • The estate tax exclusion amount increase to $5 million per person for 2010 through 2012.
  • The gift tax is reunified with the estate tax, and up to $5 million in lifetime gifts will be exempt (over and above the annual gift tax exclusion of $13,000 per donor for every donee each year).  Taxable gifts would be taxed at a top rate of 35 percent.  One would certainly have to make a very large gift to fall into the taxable range.
  • The maximum estate and gift tax rate is reduced from the 55 percent maximum rate under prior law to a maximum estate and gift tax rate of 35 percent for 2011 and 2012.
  • A “portability” provision is included, which allows surviving spouses to use any applicable exclusion amount that is not used by the first spouse to pass away.  This is not only true of very large estates, but also of those smaller estate plans that were drafted when the exemption was smaller and credit shelter trusts and outright bequests were drafted with maximum language.  The net result when such documents are interpreted under the new rules would be to pass entire estates into credit shelter trusts and not provide for other beneficiaries, perhaps not even for spouses.
  • The GST exemption amount is increased to $5 million for 2010 through 2012.
  • The Act sunsets at the end of 2012, thus making the foregoing changes temporary in nature.

As always, we recommend that clients review their estate plans periodically and/or whenever a significant life event occurs (e.g., birth of a child, death of a spouse, purchase of new home, etc.).

For clients with substantial amounts of wealth and with closely held businesses, we highly recommend that such clients consider using lifetime gifts to take advantage of the current $5 million lifetime gift tax applicable exclusion amount, which will expire absent further Congressional action at the end of 2012.

As more becomes known about this Act, we will be available to discuss it further.  If we can be of assistance to you in the area of income tax or estate/gift tax planning, or, if you have any questions or wish to discuss your estate plan in light of the Act, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Please call our office at (818) 501-5800 at your earliest convenience, and we will gladly schedule time to meet with you and review your estate planning documents.  In some cases, no changes will be required.  In others, we will recommend changes.  We cannot know, in advance, whether your documents will require changes to best take advantage of the current state of the estate tax law until we have a chance to review your documents with you.

Nonetheless, we strongly believe that it is important that your estate planning documents produce the result you want.

Start reading from the beginning of this blog series on the 2010 Tax Act:

Important Estate Tax Aspects of the 2010 Tax Act (the “Act”)

Gift Taxes, GST and Misc Effects of The 2010 Tax Act

Gift Taxes

A “gift” is considered any transfer of property (real or personal) without receiving its full value in return.  For gifts made in 2010, the maximum gift tax rate is 35 percent and the applicable exclusion amount is $1 million. For gifts made in 2011 and 2012, the Tax Act limits the maximum gift tax rate to 35 percent and increases the applicable exclusion amount to $5 million.   As discussed below, this change provides an opportunity to move significant amounts of wealth free of estate and gift taxes.

Donors continue to be able to use the annual gift tax exclusion before having to use any part of their applicable exclusion amount. For 2010 and 2011, the annual exclusion amount is $13,000 per donee (married couples may continue to “split” their gift and may make combined gifts of $26,000 to each donee).

Generation Skipping Transfer (“GST”) Tax

The Act provides a $5 million GST exemption amount for 2010 (equal to the applicable exclusion amount for estate tax purposes) with a GST tax rate of zero percent for 2010. For transfers made after 2010, the GST tax rate would be equal to the highest estate and gift tax rate in effect for the year (35 percent for 2011 and 2012). The Act also extends certain technical provisions under prior law affecting the GST tax.

Miscellaneous

The Act also extends through 2012 several modifications enacted as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA).

These include:

  • Expanding the availability of installment payments for estates with interests in qualified lending and finance business;
  • Clarifying installment payment provisions, requiring that only the stock of the holding companies, not that of operating subsidiaries be nonreadily tradable.  (Estates taking advantage of these two provisions would have to make the required payments over five years rather than fifteen);
  • Expanding the availability of estate tax installment payments by broadening the definition of an interest in a closely held business; and
  • Allowing a deduction of estate taxes paid to any state or the District of Columbia for decedents dying after December 31, 2009.

The Act further grants extensions of time for the filing of a tax return for certain estates, making tax payments, or making a disclaimer with respect to an interest of property passing by reason of the decedent’s death.  In the case of an estate for a decedent dying after December 31, 2009, and before the Act’s date of enactment, the due date for this compliance will be the date nine months after the date of enactment.

Contact our Estate Planning Attorney in Los Angeles to review your estate plan today.

Continue reading blog series:

General Observations Regarding The 2010 Tax Act

Why (almost) Every Estate Plan in the U.S. Needs to be Rewritten Immediately

Almost every estate plan in the United States needs to be rewritten immediately.  Before the 2010 Tax Act, the federal estate tax was gradually reduced over several years and then eliminated for decedents dying in 2010.  Prior law provided that the estate tax, with a maximum tax rate of 55 percent and a $1 million applicable exclusion amount, would be reinstated after 2010.  Additional changes scheduled for years after 2010 affected the gift and generation- skipping transfer (“GST”) taxes.

The Act reinstates the estate tax for decedents dying during 2010, but at a significantly higher applicable exclusion amount of $5 million, and a lower maximum tax rate of 35 percent.  The exemption will be indexed for inflation, beginning in 2012.  This estate tax regime continues for decedents dying in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately, this new regime is itself temporary and will sunset on December 31, 2012 and the prior estate tax regime, with a 55 percent maximum estate tax rate and a $1 million applicable exclusion amount, will be reinstated at that time.  There is no guarantee that the rules will remain in place permanently.  Among the range of possibilities is another complete repeal (highly unlikely) or a tightening of the rules.  However, Congress has shown that it has a difficult time generating a consensus on tax issues, so the status quo could continue beyond the next two years.

The Act also eliminates the modified carryover basis rules for 2010 and replaces them with the stepped-up basis rules that had applied before 2010. Property with a stepped-up basis generally receives a basis equal to the property’s fair market value on the date of the decedent’s death. Under the modified carryover basis rules that applied during 2010 before the Act, executors could increase the basis of estate property only by a total of $1.3 million (plus an additional $3 million for assets passing to a surviving spouse, for a total increase of $4.3 million), with other estate property taking a carryover basis equal to the lesser of the decedent’s basis or the property’s fair market value on the decedent’s death.

Leave it to Congress to create a “ginormous” loophole, a historic rift in the entire time-space continuum through which several billionaires waltzed on their way out of this mortal coil, even while TSA agents were frisking, x-raying, and imaging elderly people boarding airplanes.  The Act gives estates of decedents dying during 2010 the option to apply (1) the estate tax based on the new 35 percent top rate and $5 million applicable exclusion amount, with stepped-up basis, or (2) no estate tax and modified carryover basis rules under prior law.

The Act also provides for “portability” between spouses of the estate tax applicable exclusion amount for estates of decedents dying in 2011 and 2012 if both spouses die before 2013. Generally, portability allows surviving spouses to elect to take advantage of the unused portion of the estate tax applicable exclusion amount (but not any unused GST tax exemption) of their predeceased spouses, thereby providing surviving spouses with a larger exclusion amount.   Special limits apply to decedents with multiple predeceased spouses.  To preserve the first deceased spouse’s unused applicable exclusion amount, the executor for such spouse must file an estate tax return and make an election on such return, even if such an estate tax return would otherwise not be required.

Now is the time to take advantage of the increased exclusion amount. Contact our Estate Tax Planning Attorney in Los Angeles today.

Continue reading blog series:

Gift Taxes, GST and Misc Effects of The 2010 Tax Act
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