Tax Planning

What is a Transfer on Death (TOD) Account?

Transfer on Death accounts allow for assets to avoid probate and be transferred directly to a beneficiary after the death of the account holder.

Most married couples share a bank account from which either spouse can write checks and add or withdraw funds without approval from the other. When one spouse dies, the other owns the account. The deceased spouse’s will can’t change that.

This account is wholly owned by both spouses while they’re both alive. As a result, a creditor of one spouse could make a claim against the entire account, without any approval or say from the other spouse. Either spouse could also withdraw all the money in the account and not tell the other. This basic joint account offers a right of survivorship, but joint account holders can designate who gets the funds, after the second person dies.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “How Transfer-on-Death Accounts Can Fit Into Your Estate Planning,” explains that the answer is transfer on death (TOD) accounts (also known as Totten trusts, in-trust-for accounts, and payable-on-death accounts).

In some states, this type of account can allow a TOD beneficiary to receive an auto, house, or even investment accounts. However, retirement accounts, like IRAs, Roth IRAs, and employer plans, aren’t eligible. They’re controlled by federal laws that have specific rules for designated beneficiaries.

After a decedent’s death, taking control of the account is a simple process. What is typically required, is to provide the death certificate and a picture ID to the account custodian. Because TOD accounts are still part of the decedent’s estate (although not the probate estate that the will establishes), they may be subject to income, estate, and/or inheritance tax. TOD accounts are also not out of reach for the decedent’s creditors or other relatives.

Account custodians (such as financial institutions) are often cautious, because they may face liability if they pay to the wrong person or don’t offer an opportunity for the government, creditors, or the probate court to claim account funds. Some states allow the beneficiary to take over that responsibility, by signing an affidavit. The bank will then release the funds, and the liability shifts to the beneficiary.

If you’re a TOD account owner, you should update your account beneficiaries and make certain that you coordinate your last will and testament and TOD agreements, according to your intentions. If you fail to do so, you could unintentionally add more beneficiaries to your will and not update your TOD account. This would accidentally disinherit those beneficiaries from full shares in the estate, creating probate issues.

TOD joint account owners should also consider that the surviving co-owner has full authority to change the account beneficiaries. This means that individuals whom the decedent owner may have intended to benefit from the TOD account (and who were purposefully left out of the Last Will) could be excluded.

If the decedent’s will doesn’t rely on TOD account planning, and the account lacks a beneficiary, state law will govern the distribution of the estate, including that TOD account. In many states, intestacy laws provide for spouses and distant relatives and exclude any other unrelated parties. This means that the TOD account owner’s desire to give the account funds to specific beneficiaries or their descendants would be thwarted.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney, if a TOD account is suitable to your needs and make sure that it coordinates with your overall estate plan.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 18, 2019) “How Transfer-on-Death Accounts Can Fit Into Your Estate Planning”

When Should I Review My Estate Plan?

As life changes, you need to periodically review your estate-planning documents and discuss your situation with your estate planning attorney.

WMUR’s recent article, “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan,” says a common question is “When should I review my documents?”

Estate Plan Review
You should review your estate plan each time a major life event occurs or every 5 years, whichever comes first.

Every few years is the quick answer, but a change in your life may also necessitate a review. Major life events can be related to a marriage, divorce, or death in the family; a substantial change in estate size; a move to another state and/or acquisition of property in another state; the death of an executor, trustee or guardian; the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren; retirement; and a significant change in health, to name just a handful.

When you conduct your review, consider these questions:

  • Does anyone in your family have special needs?
  • Do you have any children from a previous marriage?
  • Is your choice of executor, guardian, or trustee still okay?
  • Do you have a valid living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or a do-not-resuscitate to manage your health care, if you’re not able to do so?
  • Do you need to plan for Medicaid?
  • Are your beneficiary designations up to date on your retirement plans, annuities, payable-on-death bank accounts and life insurance?
  • Do you have charitable intentions and if so, are they mentioned in your documents?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance?

In addition, review your digital presence and take the necessary efforts to protect your online information, after your death or if you’re no longer able to act.

It may take a little time, effort, and money to review your documents, but doing so helps ensure your intentions are properly executed. Your planning will help to protect your family during a difficult time.

Reference: WMUR (January 24, 2019) “Money Matters: Reviewing your estate plan”

Federal Estate Taxes of Little Worry for Most

If you are worried about the federal estate tax (more commonly referred to as the “death tax”), it is a good problem to have. It means that your asset level is above the limits brought about by the new tax laws. That wasn’t the way things were 10 or 20 years ago, when federal estate tax limits were much lower. As a result, many middle-class families found themselves with big estate tax issues, when estates were settled. A recent article in the Rome Sentinel addresses the estate tax from an historical perspective and what you need to know about it today. The article is titled “2019 update: Should you be concerned about the estate tax?”

For starters, there are many loopholes and nuances in the tax laws. Therefore, every situation is different. Your estate planning attorney will be able to review your individual situation and work with the laws of your state to make sure that your estate plan works for your family and minimizes your estate tax liability.

Estate Tax
Most of us will never have to worry about paying estate taxes.

The estate tax concept is based on laws from past centuries, when the goal was to limit the amount of property that individuals could pass from one generation to the next. The death tax is now government’s way of saying you had too many assets, or assets that could not be fully valued or taxed, except upon your death. After death, the net worth of your estate is calculated by valuing your assets minus any liabilities.

Assets are counted as anything of value. However, they include: cash, insurance policies, stocks, bonds, real estate, annuities, brokerage accounts, business interests and today, digital assets. They are brought to present market value to create the “gross estate.” Liabilities are counted as debts, mortgages, assets, funeral and estate expenses, and any assets lawfully passing to a surviving spouse. The liabilities are deducted from the assets to get to the “net estate” value.

Federal limits to the estate tax deduction were doubled, and today very few estates in the US are subject to the federal estate tax. Here’s a comparison: in 2000, the federal estate tax exemption was $675,00 and an estimated 52,000 estates had to pay taxes. The top 10% of income earners paid almost 90% of the tax, with more than a quarter of that paid by the wealthiest 0.1%. Even those percentages have decreased since 2017.

When the new Tax Cut and Jobs Act became effective, the exclusion for federal estate tax increased from $5.49 million per person to $11.18 million per person. In 2019, there has been a further increase, to $11.4 million per person. That remains in effect until 2025.

Many states impose their own estate taxes. In New York State, the Basic Exclusion Amount for New York State Tax for estates for people who died on or after Jan. 1, 2019, and before Jan. 1, 2020, has increased from $5.49 million per person to $5.74 million per person. These amounts will increase in 2020 and will be adjusted for inflation in the future.  Florida imposes no estate tax.

However, even without the federal death tax, people still need estate plans to protect themselves and their families. A will ensures that your assets are distributed to the people you want to receive your assets. An estate plan includes Power of Attorney, to name the person you want to make financial decisions in the event you are incapacitated. You also want to have a Health Care Power of Attorney, so someone can make decisions about your health care, if you cannot speak on your own behalf. Talk with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your plan will work as intended to protect you and your family.

Reference: Rome Sentinel (Jan. 22, 2019) “2019 update: Should you be concerned about the estate tax?”

How Will My IRA Be Taxed?

The most common of IRA tax traps results in tax bills through Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBTI). The sources of business income from stocks, bonds, and funds like interest income, capital gains, and dividends are exempt from UBTI and the corresponding tax.

Careful consideration of your IRA’s tax treatment is necessary to avoid high taxes.

Fox Business’s recent article, “Your IRA and taxes: Don’t get a surprise tax bill” explains that IRAs that operate a business, have certain types of rental income, or receive income through certain partnerships will be taxed, when the total UBTI exceeds $1,000. This is to prevent tax-exempt entities from gaining an unfair advantage on regularly taxed business entities.

UBIT can take a chunk from an IRA, and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 replaced the tiered corporate tax structure with a flat 21% tax rate. That begins in tax year 2018 (this tax season). These tax bills often have penalties, because IRA owners aren’t even aware that the bill exists.

Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) held within IRAs are a good example of how UBTI can catch investors by surprise. MLPs are fairly popular investments, but when they’re held within an IRA, they’re subject to UBIT. When the tax is due, the IRA custodian must get a special tax ID number and file Form 990-T to report the income to the IRS. That owner must pay the tax, and is typically unaware of the bill, until it arrives as a completed form to be submitted to the IRS (completed and signed on behalf of the owner). In some instances, the owner may have to pay estimated taxes throughout the year. This can mean a significant underpayment penalty.

Working with prohibited investments will also result in a tax bill. Self-directed IRAs can violate the rules. Alternative investments such as artwork, antiques, and precious metals (with some exceptions) are generally considered as distributions and are subject to taxes.

Prohibited transactions are a step above prohibited investments and can result in the loss of tax-deferred status for the entire IRA. This includes using an IRA as security to obtain a loan, using IRA funds to purchase personal property, or paying yourself an unreasonable compensation for managing your own self-directed IRA. Executing a prohibited transaction can result in the entire IRA being treated as a taxable distribution to you.

Therefore, like fund holdings, and other investments, it’s critical to understand exactly what you own and how to deal with the tax liabilities.

Reference: Fox Business (March 6, 2019) “Your IRA and taxes: Don’t get a surprise tax bill”

Can I Use My Life Insurance to Give to Charity?

As Forbes explains in the article “2 Ways To Combine Charitable Giving And Life Insurance,” one of the core products for protecting wealth is life insurance. As you age, your need for life insurance may lessen, but sometimes it will increase. If you have a life insurance policy that you no longer need, one option might be to use your life insurance to give to charity. You can simply donate your policy to a charity of your choosing.  There are several ways that life insurance policies can be gifted or used for charitable purposes.

Donate your life insurance policy to charity
Use your life insurance policy to make a charitable donation.

Gift Your Existing Policy. You can simply give away an existing policy, if you no longer need the policy for estate liquidity or estate taxes. You could gift the policy outright to your favorite charity or use a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). If you give the policy to a charity outright, you can change ownership of the policy and pretty much be done with it. You might get a charitable income tax deduction for the value of the policy at the time of the gift (it’s measured by the sum of the interpolated terminal reserve plus unearned premiums rather than the death benefit amount).

If the policy has ongoing premiums, those would be the responsibility of the charity. However, you can help them, by continuing to make the premium payments on behalf of the charity by directly paying the insurance company. You could also pay the value of the premiums to the charity and let it pay the insurance company. The premiums would then be tax deductible, since the charity owns the policy.

You could also simplify your life as the donor, where you could convert the policy to a reduced and paid-up policy and donate it with no ongoing premiums needed. This may be easier, because you don’t need to create an additional outflow of cash, after the gift is made to keep the policy in effect for the charity. You just transfer the policy value without any further obligations.

Charities typically like to receive gifts of policies with no ongoing premiums, because it eliminates the task of sending the donor a gift receipt, every time a premium payment is made. It also eliminates the issue of whether the donor or the charity is to pay future premiums.

Gift a New Life Insurance Policy. Another tact is to give a new life insurance policy. This can be a bit more involved, because if the charity’s going to be the owner, they must have an insurable interest in the donor. However, if you have a strong ongoing relationship with the charity, this requirement can be satisfied. You can then pay up the policy completely at the start or make ongoing premium payments over time.

Reference: Forbes (March 6, 2019) “2 Ways To Combine Charitable Giving And Life Insurance”

Should I Designate a Trust as Beneficiary of my IRA?

There are many pros and cons to naming a trust, rather than an individual as a beneficiary of the IRA. However, there are some complex rules. You need to get it right, because this may be your biggest asset.

Name a Trust as Beneficiary of my IRA
Naming a trust as beneficiary of your IRA has many benefits.

Investment News’ recent article on this subject asks “Should you name a trust as an IRA beneficiary?” The article explains that individual retirement account assets can’t be put into trusts directly during a person’s lifetime, without destroying the IRA’s tax shelter. Therefore, a trust may only be named as the beneficiary of the IRA. The trust would inherit the IRA upon the owner’s death, and beneficiaries of that trust would have access to the funds.

Asset protection is one rationale for making this move, because some trusts shield IRA assets from lawsuits, business failures, divorce and creditors. Taxpayers enjoy state and federal protections for IRA assets during their lifetime. However, heirs who inherit an IRA directly—not through a trust—don’t receive those protections, unless provided by state law. Trusts also allow for some control over the assets. The terms of a trust can stipulate the way in which distributions are made if an heir is a minor, disabled, financially unreliable, incapacitated or vulnerable.

Naming a trust as an IRA beneficiary may not be practical for people who plan to bequeath their IRA to a spouse, rather than their children, grandchildren or others. Spouses are allowed roll over the decedent’s IRA assets into their own IRA tax-free.

There are some technical rules to follow, like the IRA beneficiary form must indicate before a person’s death, that the trust is the primary beneficiary. After death, the IRA must be retitled as an inherited IRA. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) would still also be required for the IRA. This is an area where using the right type of trust is important. A “see-through” or “look-through” trust may be the best bet.

Structuring a trust this way maintains the IRA’s preferential tax treatment. That allows a trust beneficiary to spread the RMDs over a long period based on his life expectancy. This is called a “stretch IRA.” The RMD amount would be based on the oldest beneficiary of the trust. However, beneficiaries with separate trust shares would have different RMDs.

In addition, the trust’s language must also state that distributions from the IRA can only go to “designated beneficiaries,” not to pay expenses. The risk of not creating the trust as a see-through or including this language, is that the IRA assets are distributed and the resulting tax paid within a much shorter time frame—potentially five years.

Trusts may also be set up as “conduit” or “discretionary” trusts. With a conduit trust, the annual RMDs pass through the trust to beneficiaries, who pay tax at their individual rates. Discretionary trusts don’t distribute the RMDs out of the trust and they pay tax at the more punitive trust tax rates. However, they keep the most post-death control over assets.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about these trusts and how they can work with your IRA.

Reference: Investment News (February 22, 2019) “Should you name a trust as an IRA beneficiary?”

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

There’s quite a bit that a revocable trust can do to solve big estate planning problems for many families.

As Forbes explains in its recent article, “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning,” trusts are a critical component of a proper estate plan. There are three parties to a trust: the owner of some property (settler or grantor) turns it over to a trusted person or organization (trustee) under a trust arrangement to hold and manage for the benefit of someone (the beneficiary). A written trust document will spell out the terms of the arrangement.

One of the most useful trusts is a revocable trust (inter vivos) where the grantor creates a trust, funds it, manages it by herself, and has unrestricted rights to the trust assets (corpus). The grantor has the right at any point to revoke the trust, by simply tearing up the document and reclaiming the assets, or perhaps modifying the trust to accomplish other estate planning goals.

Revocable Trust
A Revocable Trust is one of the most useful estate planning tools

After discussing trusts with your attorney, he or she will draft the trust document and re-title property to the trust. The grantor has unrestricted rights to the property and assets transferred to a revocable trust and can be reclaimed at any time. During the life of the grantor, the trust provides protection and management, if and when it’s needed.

Let’s examine the potential lifetime and estate planning benefits that can be incorporated into the trust:

  • Lifetime Benefits. If the grantor is unable or uninterested in managing the trust, the grantor can hire an investment advisor to manage the account in one of the major discount brokerages, or he can appoint a trust company to act for him.
  • Incapacity. A trusted spouse, child, or friend can be named to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. They will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning for a guardianship. After the grantor has recovered, she can resume the duties as trustee.
  • Guardianship. This can be a stressful legal proceeding that makes the grantor a ward of the state. This proceeding can be expensive, public, humiliating, restrictive and burdensome. However, a well-drafted trust (along with powers of attorney) avoids this.

The revocable trust is a great tool for estate planning because it bypasses probate, which can mean considerably less expense, stress and time.

In addition to a trust, ask your attorney about the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

Any trust should be created by a very competent trust attorney, after a discussion about what you want to accomplish.

Reference: Forbes (February 20, 2019) “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning”

How Do I Include Charitable Giving in My Estate Plan?

One approach frequently employed to give to charity, is to donate at the time of your death. Including charitable giving into an estate plan, is great way to support a favorite charity.

Baltimore Voice’s recent article, “Estate planning and charitable giving,” notes that there are several ways to incorporate charitable giving into an estate plan.

Charitable Giving
Incorporating charitable giving in your estate plan is one of the most common ways to give to charity.

Dictate giving in your will. When looking into charitable giving and estate planning, many people may start to feel intimidated by estate taxes, thinking that their family members won’t get as much of their money as they hoped. However, including a charitable contribution in your estate plan will decrease estate tax liabilities, which will help to maximize the final value of the estate for your family. Talk to an experienced estate attorney to be certain that your donations are set out correctly in your will.

Donate your retirement account. Another way to leverage your estate plan, is to designate the charity of your choice as the beneficiary of your retirement account. Note that charities are exempt from both income and estate taxes. In choosing this option, you guarantee that your favorite charity will receive 100% of the account’s value, when it’s liquidated.

A charitable trust. Charitable trusts are another way to give back through estate planning. There is what is known as a split-interest trust that lets you donate assets to a charity but retain some of the benefits of holding the assets. A split-interest trust funds a trust in the charity’s name. The person who opens one, receives a tax deduction when money is transferred into the trust. However, the donors still control the assets in the trust, and it’s passed onto the charity at the time of their death. There are several options for charitable trusts, so speak to a qualified estate planning attorney to help you choose the best one for you.

Charitable giving is a component of many estate plans. Talk to your attorney about your options and select the one that’s most beneficial to you, your family and the charities you want to support.

Reference: Baltimore Voice (January 27, 2019) “Estate planning and charitable giving”

What Will The Taxes Be on My IRA Withdrawal?

Sometimes, the amount of taxes owed on your IRA withdrawal will be zero. However, in other cases, you will owe income tax on the money you withdraw and sometimes have to pay an additional penalty, if you withdraw funds before age 59½. After a certain age, you may be required to withdraw money and pay taxes on it.

IRA Withdrawals
Know the rules for IRA Withdrawals

Investopedia’s recent article, “How Much are Taxes on an IRA Withdrawal?” says there are a number of IRA options, but the Roth IRA and the traditional IRA are the most frequently used types. The withdrawal rules for other types of IRAs are similar to the traditional IRA, but with some minor unique differences. The other types of IRAs—the SEP-IRA, Simple IRA, and SARSEP IRA—have different rules about who can start one.

Your investment in a Roth IRA is with money after it’s already been taxed. When you withdraw the money in retirement, you don’t pay tax on the money you withdraw or on any gains you made on your investments. That’s a big benefit. To use this tax-free withdrawal, the money must have been deposited in the IRA and held for at least five years, and you have to be at least 59½ years old.

If you need the money before that, you can take out your contributions without a tax penalty, provided you don’t use any of the investment gains. You should keep track of the money withdrawn prior to age 59½, and tell the trustee to use only contributions, if you’re withdrawing funds early. If you don’t do this, you could be charged the same early withdrawal penalties charged for taking money out of a traditional IRA. For a retired investor who has a 401(k), a little-known technique can allow for a no-strings-attached withdrawal of a Roth IRA at age 55 without the 10% penalty: the Roth IRA is “reverse rolled” into the 401(k) and then withdrawn under the age 55 exception.

Money deposited in a traditional IRA is treated differently, because you deposit pre-tax income. Every dollar you deposit decreases your taxable income by that amount. When you withdraw the money, both the initial investment and the gains it earned are taxed. But if you withdraw money before you reach age 59½, you’ll be assessed a 10% penalty in addition to regular income tax based on your tax bracket. There are some exceptions to this penalty. If you accidentally withdraw investment earnings rather than only contributions from a Roth IRA before you are 59½, you can also owe a 10% penalty. You can, therefore, see how important it is to maintain careful records.

There are some hardship exceptions to penalty charges for withdrawing money from a traditional IRA or the investment portion of a Roth IRA before you hit age 59½. Some of the common exceptions include:

  • A required distribution in a divorce;
  • Qualified education expenses;
  • A qualified first-time home purchase;
  • The total and permanent disability or the death of the IRA owner;
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses; and
  • The call to duty of a military reservist.

Another way to avoid the tax penalty, is if you make an IRA deposit and change your mind by the extended due date of that year’s tax return, you can withdraw it without owing the penalty (but that cash will be included in the year’s taxable income). The other time you risk a tax penalty for early withdrawal, is when you’re rolling over the money from one IRA into another qualified IRA. Work with your IRA trustee to coordinate a trustee-to-trustee rollover. If  you make a mistake, you may end up owing taxes.

With IRA rollovers, you can only do one per year where you physically remove money from an IRA, receive the proceeds and within 60 days subsequently deposit the funds in another IRA. If you do a second, it’s 100% taxable.

You shouldn’t mix Roth IRA funds with the other types of IRAs, because the Roth IRA funds will be taxable.

When you hit 59½, you can withdraw money without a 10% penalty from any type of IRA. If it’s a Roth IRA, you won’t owe any income tax. If it’s not, there will be a tax. If the money is deposited in a traditional IRA, SEP IRA, Simple IRA, or SARSEP IRA, you’ll owe taxes at your current tax rate on the amount you withdraw.

Once you reach age 70½, you will need to take a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from a traditional IRA. The IRS has specific rules as to the amount of money you must withdraw each year. If you don’t withdraw the required amount, you could be charged a 50% tax on the amount not distributed as required. You can avoid the RMD completely, if you have a Roth IRA because there aren’t any RMD requirements. However, if money remains after your death, your beneficiaries may have to pay taxes.

The money you deposit in an IRA should be money you plan to use for retirement. However, sometimes there are unexpected circumstances. If you’re considering withdrawing money before retirement, know the rules for IRA penalties, and try to avoid that extra 10% payment to the IRS.

If you think you may need emergency funds before retirement, use a Roth IRA for those funds, and not a traditional IRA.

Reference: Investopedia (February 9, 2019) “How Much are Taxes on an IRA Withdrawal?”

How Do I Calculate Estate Taxes?

Handling the affairs of a loved one’s estate can be stressful and difficult. However, to receive the full benefit of the gift a loved one leaves you, it’s critical to be prepared for the taxes that gift may incur. This is the advice in Investopedia’s article, “Estate Taxes: How to Calculate Them.” The article explains the potential tax liability, upon transfer of an estate after death.

The high rate of the federal estate tax (40%) motivates most people to calculate their potential estate tax beforehand. It’s a good idea to figure the amount you might owe in estate tax before something happens, instead of leaving your family to deal with the consequences afterwards.

Estate tax is calculated on the federal and state level. Florida does not have an estate tax, however, there are now still several states that have their own estate tax: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

The federal estate tax starts when the fair market value of your assets hits $11.18 million per individual. Each state that has an estate tax has its own minimum on when the estate tax kicks in, ranging from $675,000 to $1 million. As a result, you can be eligible to pay the state estate tax, the federal, or both. Because the estate tax is determined based on the current market value of your assets instead of what you paid for them, calculating that number can be more complex.

There’s no need to include any property you intend to leave your spouse or an eligible charitable organization. Initially, you’ll need to calculate the value of the gross estate. Debt, administrative fees, and assets that will be left to charities or a surviving spouse will then be deducted from the total market value of those assets.

Next, add any gifts, including gifts that fall above the gift tax exemption. The $11.18 million exemption includes gifts (it’s a way of keeping people from giving away their fortune before their death to avoid estate taxes).

If the loss of a loved one is imminent, preparing for the tax burden of estate transference ahead of time, can make the grieving process a little easier and can be a comforting distraction.

You can also prepare for taxes on your own estate to lessen the burden of the friends and family you leave behind. If you have questions, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia “Estate Taxes: How to Calculate Them”

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