Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands appeal of 529 plans in estate planning

It’s common for grandparents to want to help ensure their grandchildren will get a high quality education. And, along the same lines, they also want the peace of mind that their wealth will be preserved for their children and grandchildren after they’re gone. If you’re facing these challenges, one option that can help you conquer both is a 529 plan. And it’s become even more attractive under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) recently signed into law by the President and effective January 1, 2018.

529 plan in action

In a nutshell, a 529 plan is one of the most flexible tools available for funding college expenses and it can provide significant estate planning benefits. 529 plans are sponsored by states, state agencies and certain educational institutions. You can choose a prepaid tuition plan to secure current tuition rates or a tax-advantaged savings plan to fund college expenses. The savings plan version allows you to make cash contributions to a tax-advantaged investment account and to withdraw both contributions and earnings free of federal — and, in most cases, state — income taxes for “qualified education expenses.”

Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, and a limited amount of room and board. And beginning this year, the TCJA has expanded the definition of qualified expenses to include not just postsecondary school expenses but also primary and secondary school expenses. This change is permanent.

529 plan and your estate plan

529 plans offer several estate planning benefits. First, even though you can change beneficiaries or get your money back, 529 plan contributions are considered “completed gifts” for federal gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax purposes. As such, they’re eligible for the annual exclusion, which allows you to make gifts of up to $15,000 per year ($30,000 for married couples) to any number of recipients, without triggering gift or GST taxes and without using any of your lifetime exemption amounts.

For estate tax purposes, all of your contributions, together with all future earnings, are removed from your taxable estate even though you retain control over the funds. Most estate tax saving strategies require you to relinquish control over your assets — for example, by placing them in an irrevocable trust. But a 529 plan shields assets from estate taxes even though you retain the right (subject to certain limitations) to control the timing of distributions, change beneficiaries, move assets from one plan to another or get your money back (subject to taxes and penalties).

529 plans accept only cash contributions, so you can’t use stock or other assets to fund an account. Also, their administrative fees may be higher than those of other investment vehicles. Contact us to help you plan for the distribution of your wealth using various estate planning strategies, such as a 529 plan.

© 2018

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Tax reform and estate planning: What’s on the table

As Congress and President Trump pursue their stated goal of passing sweeping new tax legislation before the end of the year, many taxpayers are wondering how such legislation will affect them. One area of particular interest is estate planning; specifically, the future of gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes.

Potential estate tax law changes are emerging

Under current law, the combined federal gift and estate tax exemption, and the GST tax exemption, is $5.49 million. The top tax rate for all three taxes is 40%. The annual gift tax exclusion is $14,000. That means you can reduce your taxable estate by making tax-free gifts of up to $14,000 per year to an unlimited number of people without tapping your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption.

The U.S. House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed on November 16 increases the exemptions to $10 million (adjusted annually for inflation) and repeals the estate tax after 2024. It also terminates the GST tax at that time. Under the bill, the annual gift tax exclusion stays in place (at $15,000 for 2018 due to inflation indexing), and after 2024 the gift tax is retained but the rate falls to 35%.

The Senate’s version of the bill (as initially approved by the Senate Finance Committee) would also double the exemption for gift and estate taxes. It doesn’t address the GST tax, though, and makes no mention of repealing the estate tax. The full Senate will be addressing the bill after the Thanksgiving recess.

All eyes are on Congress

With the disparity between the House and Senate approaches to the estate tax, some prognosticators doubt a final reconciled bill will include an estate tax repeal. And it’s worth noting that the tax has been repealed in the past, only to be resurrected when party control subsequently changed hands in Washington.

At this point, the question of whether any tax bill will pass is still up in the air. But we can help you chart the best course to accomplish your estate planning goals under current and future tax provisions.

© 2017

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Make the holidays bright for you and your loved ones with annual exclusion gifts

As the holiday season quickly approaches, gift giving will be top of mind. While gifts of electronics, toys and clothes are nice, making tax-free gifts of cash using your annual exclusion is beneficial for both you and your family.

Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still benefit your estate plan.

Understanding the annual exclusion

The 2017 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.49 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.

The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.

Making gifts in 2017 and beyond

Be aware that time is running out to make annual exclusion gifts this year: December 31 is the deadline. It’s also important to know that next year the exclusion amount increases for the first time since 2013, to $15,000 ($30,000 for split gifts). And the inflation-adjusted gift and estate tax exemption is currently scheduled to increase to $5.6 million in 2018.

It’s also important to keep an eye on Congress. With both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate now having released their tax reform bills, more details regarding the potential future of the estate tax have emerged. But what, if any, estate tax law changes are ultimately passed remains to be seen. Even if the estate tax is repealed, it likely won’t be permanent. And current proposals retain the gift tax. So making 2017 annual exclusion gifts can still be a tax-smart move.

In the meantime, we can help you determine how to make the most of your 2017 gift tax annual exclusion and keep you abreast of the latest regarding new estate tax laws.

© 2017

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