Archive for the ‘Wealth Planning’ category

When Do I Get My Money?

May 9, 2013

 By Ashley Alderman

This question is often the first one asked by beneficiaries of an Estate after someone has passed away. They might ask it in a more tactful manner, but the general meaning of the question is the same: When do I get my money?

We’ve all seen the movies…grandfather dies, the family all gathers in the fancy, wood-paneled office around the large conference table, a lawyer begins reading grandfather’s will, and when he’s finished, he hands everyone an envelope with their check. Unfortunately, this scene is purely fiction. For many beneficiaries, however, the movies might be their only exposure to the probate process prior to the death of their loved one, thus creating expectations that the money will be readily available.

Managing the expectations of beneficiaries is one of the first tasks that should be undertaken by the Personal Representative after the Personal Representative is appointed by the Probate Court. In Georgia, the timing of distributions depends on many factors such as statutory notice periods, whether the estate has outstanding liabilities, whether the estate is subject to estate tax, and the terms of the will itself. I briefly address these factors below. Of course, every estate is different, and unique challenges may delay distributions for various other reasons.

After the decedent dies, Georgia law requires the Personal Representative to publish notice of the decedent’s death to debtors and creditors in the legal newspaper of the county of the decedent. The notice to debtors and creditors must be published within 60 days of the date of qualification of the Personal Representative, and must run once a week for four weeks before the Personal Representative can close the estate.

Under Georgia law, the Personal Representative is not required to pay the debts of the estate until six months from the date of qualification. Therefore, the Personal Representative has six months to determine the debts and expenses of the estate so that the Personal Representative may pay them in the correct order (as mandated by Georgia code), and ensure that all debts and liabilities are satisfied prior to making any distributions from the estate. During the course of the estate administration, the Personal Representative may decide to make partial distributions to beneficiaries prior to closing the estate, which may not present a problem as long as there are sufficient assets to pay the expenses and liabilities of the Estate. However, beneficiaries should not receive their final distributions until the Personal Representative has completely paid all taxes, liabilities, and expenses of the Estate.

If the decedent or estate owes any taxes, the payment of these taxes may prolong distributions to beneficiaries for a period extending beyond the Georgia statutory notice periods. In particular, under the Internal Revenue Code, if the estate has a gross estate value of $5,000,000, indexed for inflation (currently $5.25 million in 2013), then the Personal Representative must file a Form 706, Federal Estate Tax Return. This return is not due until nine months after the decedent’s date of death, and may be automatically extended for an additional six months. If there is a possibility that the estate will owe estate taxes, the Personal Representative should not make distributions prior to the payment of the taxes. If the Personal Representative makes distributions, leaving the estate insolvent or unable to pay the full tax liability, the Personal Representative may be personally liable for the underpayment of estate tax. The IRS generally has 3 years from the date of filing in which to audit the estate tax return, but if the IRS is not going to audit the return, it often issues a Closing Letter much earlier than three years after the filing date stating that the tax liability has been satisfied. I strongly encourage Personal Representatives not to make complete distributions of the Estate prior to receiving the IRS Closing Letter.

Finally, the Personal Representative must follow the terms of the Will when making distributions. If the Will contains contingency requirements or timing specifications, the Personal Representative must follow them when making distributions. For example, the Will might provide that a distribution should not be made until one year after the decedent’s death, or until a beneficiary graduates from college.

In summary, many different factors can affect the timing of distributions to an estate beneficiary. In a large, taxable estate, it could be many years before a beneficiary gets his money…a very different situation than depicted in the movies!

 

Drafting your Last Will and Testament – You May Delay, but Time Will Not

May 8, 2013

 By Rose Wilson

You may have heard stories in the news recently about Roman Blum, the multi-millionaire from New York who died without a will, leaving an estate of $40 million without any named beneficiaries.  Today, almost a year and a half from the date of his death, it is possible that the money will stay in the hands of the state government as none of his heirs have been found.

Many people procrastinate when it comes to completing their estate planning, but what happens if you die without a will?  A common misconception is that the government will receive your assets.  In reality, the answer to this question depends on the “intestacy” law of the state in which you reside at the time of your death.  To die “intestate” means to die without a will.  When this occurs, the identity of your heirs will be determined by state law, and intestacy laws vary from state to state.

In the state of Georgia, the intestacy law generally provides for distribution of the estate in the following order.  If you are married and have no children at the time of your death, your spouse will receive all of your assets.  If you are married with children at the time of your death, then your spouse and your children share the estate in equal shares, although your spouse will receive at least one-third of the estate.  If you die unmarried and without descendants, then your property will pass in equal shares to your nearest living relatives (parents, then siblings if your parents are not alive, then your nieces and nephews, and continuing out along the family lines according to degree of kinship).

In the event that you die intestate and no heirs can be identified, then your estate will remain with the government.  The scenario in which an individual has no heirs seems unlikely because one must have a living relative somewhere on the planet.  The real trouble comes in identifying the heirs, but cases where no heirs can be identified are uncommon.

What if your heir under state law is your third cousin twice removed, whom you barely know, and you prefer that your money go to friends or charity?  Then you must sign a will to make that happen.  Whether you’re a multi-millionaire like Roman Blum, or simply an average Joe, a last will and testament may be one of the most important legal documents you will ever prepare.  Not only does it provide for the disposition of your assets in the manner that you desire, it can provide numerous other benefits to your estate beneficiaries, such as asset protection, tax savings, and more.

What Gifts are Excluded from Gift Tax? The Answer is Not Always Easy

August 10, 2012

 By Rose Wilson

The federal gift tax annual exclusion is an easy to use and often overlooked planning tool.  Gifts qualifying for gift tax annual exclusions are not subject to gift tax and do not trigger gift tax reporting obligations.  The gift tax annual exclusion amount is $13,000 per donee in 2012.  With this exclusion amount available, a married couple could give away as much as $26,000 per year to every child and grandchild of theirs, every year, with no gift tax liability or reporting obligations resulting from such gifts (note, however, that these gifts need not be made to a relative to qualify for the annual exclusion from gift tax).  If the annual gifts to any one individual exceeds $13,000, all gifts must be reported. The application of gift tax annual exclusions can result in significant tax savings, especially if utilized regularly over a number of years.

The annual gift tax exclusion is only available for gifts of present interests in property.  I.R.C. § 2503(b).  A present interest in property is “an unrestricted right to the immediate use, possession, or enjoyment of property or the income from property (such as a life estate or term certain).”  Treas. Reg. § 25.2503-3(b).  Any direct or indirect restriction on enjoyment of the transferred property can prevent the donor from using the benefit of annual exclusions.  Restrictions can be imposed in a number of ways, such as through written agreements governing the permissible uses of the property, state or federal laws governing the type of property given, or existing third party rights to the property.  Thus, the determination of whether a gift of property qualifies as a present interest depends on the legal rights and restrictions resulting from the nature of the property given and the method by which such property is transferred to the donee.  While this determination is relatively easy when the gift is an outright transfer of cash or publicly traded stocks, it can become quite difficult when more complicated property interests, such as gifts of closely held business interests, are involved.

The United States Tax Court recently analyzed a gift transaction involving gifts of interests in a closely held partnership.  In Estate of Wimmer v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2012-157, a married couple created a limited partnership and subsequently gave limited partnership interests to their children, grandchildren, and other relatives.  The couple made gifts of partnership interests over a period of years and claimed the benefit of annual gift tax exclusions against such gifts.  The IRS argued that the gifts did not qualify for gift tax exclusions because the partnership interests were restricted.

When gifts of partnership interests are concerned, the rights and restrictions affecting a donee’s use of the partnership interest or the income from the partnership is governed primarily by the partnership agreement and state law.  Therefore, the Tax Court in Wimmer examined the partnership agreement to determine if the donees’ rights to use, possess or enjoy the partnership interests or the income from the partnership were restricted by the agreement.  The Tax Court found that the donees’ right to use the partnership interests was restricted because the partnership agreement provided that a partner could not transfer his or her partnership interest without the prior written consent of the general partners and 70% in interest of the limited partners (with some exceptions for certain transfers to related parties).   However, the Tax Court found that the donees’ right to income from the partnership was not restricted by the partnership agreement or otherwise.  Accordingly, the Tax Court held that the gifts of limited partnership interests were not unduly restricted by the governing partnership agreement and therefore qualified for the annual gift tax exclusion.

Although the Wimmer case was favorable for the taxpayer involved, the case is an important reminder that the application of annual gift tax exclusions may be denied based on the facts and circumstances of a particular case.  Taxpayers who are concerned with the eligibility of a particular gift may be well advised to consult with legal counsel before claiming the benefit of gift tax annual exclusions.

Wandry v. Commissioner: Defined Formula Transfers Provide Significant Planning Opportunity in 2012

May 1, 2012

 By Ashley Alderman

As we continue to emphasize, 2012 is the year to make transfers to family members.  The current gift tax exclusion amount is $5.12 million, which will be reduced to only $1 million as of January 1, 2013, unless Congress acts.  Therefore, most wealthy clients should use their $5.12  million exclusion amount to the greatest extent possible by the end of the year.

Many clients, however, may not have the liquidity to make transfers of $5.12 million in cash.   Instead, these clients may have family-held business interests or other business interests that could be transferred to younger generations.  The inherent problem with the transfer of business interests is the valuation of those interests.  If the IRS audits the gift tax return and adjusts the valuation of the business interests, the client may have created an unintended gift tax liability.  For example, suppose that the client transfers 500 membership units in the family LLC worth $5.12 million therefore fully utilizing the exclusion amount.  Following the IRS audit, however, the value of each membership unit is increased.  Now, the client has transferred 500 units worth $6 million and caused an unintended gift tax liability because the gift now exceeds the client’s available exclusion amount.

Fortunately, on March 26, 2012, the Tax Court issued an opinion in the case Wandry v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2012-88 that may provide significant assistance to taxpayers interested in these types of transfers.  In Wandry, the taxpayers made gifts of “a sufficient number of so that the fair market value of such Units for federal gift tax purposes” was a stated amount to their children and grandchildren.  In the assignment documents, the taxpayers acknowledged that the gift could be “subject to challenge by the Internal Revenue Service,” and that if a final determination was made by the IRS or a court of law that was different from the taxpayer’s appraisal, “the number of gifted Units shall be adjusted accordingly so that the value of the number of Units gifted to each person” equaled the stated amounts.   By making this defined value formula gift, the taxpayers intended to limit the value of the property transferred, thus eliminating the possibility of incurring unintended gift tax liability.   The Tax Court rejected several objections by the IRS to this type of formula gift and upheld the transfer.

Prior cases have upheld similar formula clauses when the excess value (if determined by audit or court) was transferred to a charity.  In those cases, no additional gift tax was incurred because the excess value received a charitable deduction.

Wandry, however, is the first case to address this formula transfer when a charity was not available as a back-stop.   Therefore, Wandry provides a significant planning opportunity for clients who have not fully utilized their $5.12 million exclusion amount.   Now, pursuant to Wandry,  using the example above, a client could make a gift of the number of units in the family LLC worth $5.12 million.  At the time of the gift, pursuant to an independent appraisal, the client may anticipate that this gift will equal 500 units, but if the IRS audits the return and a final determination results in the increase in the value of each unit, it might actually be that only 425 Units are transferred by the client, pursuant to the gift worth $5.12 million.   Rather than transferring a set number of membership units and adjusting the value later, Wandry allows the client to transfer a set value and adjust the number of units transferred later.

Because of the nuances in the Wandry case, a client should seek professional assistance before making these types of transfers to ensure that the transfer complies with the Tax Court’s opinion in Wandry.  If done correctly, however, the client will now be able to fully utilize his $5.12 million exclusion amount in 2012 without incurring any gift tax liability.

President Obama’s Estate Plan Reminds Us of the Power of the Annual Exclusion

April 17, 2012

 by David Kovsky

On April 13, 2012, The Washington Free Beacon ran an article deriding President Obama’s reliance Section 2503(b) of the Internal Revenue Code to transfer $48,000 to his daughters, free of any federal wealth transfer taxes.  Under that section of the Code, each taxpayer may transfer $10,000 to any number of individuals on an annual basis, free of the federal gift tax.  This is the so-called “annual exclusion.”  Section 2503(b) further provides that the annual exclusion will be indexed for inflation.  As such, the amount that may be transferred to each donee in 2012, free of the federal gift tax, is $13,000.”

The rationale behind the annual exclusion is to not mire the taxpayer or the IRS in tracking the aggregate of annual birthday presents, holiday gifts or dinners on “mom and dad.”  Only when the amount rises to the level of what is deemed wealth transfer, will the gift tax be triggered.

Although the article run by The Washington Free Beacon had a political slant, it is also a great reminder of how useful the annual exclusion can be from an estate planning perspective.  Take, for example, the following hypothetical:  Grandmom and Grandpop have three married children and six grandchildren.  By utilizing the annual exclusion, Grandmom and Grandpop can transfer an aggregate of $312,000 of wealth to Generation 2 and Generation 3, without incurring a gift tax or a generation-skipping transfer tax (another federal wealth transfer tax with its own set of annual exclusion rules), every single year.  If these gifts are made in December of year 1 and January of year 2, our hypothetical Grandmom and Grandpop can transfer over $600,000 during a several week period, free of any federal wealth transfer taxes.  Here is breakdown of the transfers in year 1 (which may be replicated in year 2):

Donee:

Grandmom

Grandpop:

Child 1

$13,000

$13,000

Spouse 1

$13,000

$13,000

Child 2

$13,000

$13,000

Spouse 1

$13,000

$13,000

Child 3

$13,000

$13,000

Spouse 3

$13,000

$13,000

Grandchild 1

$13,000

$13,000

Grandchild 2

$13,000

$13,000

Grandchild 3

$13,000

$13,000

Grandchild 4

$13,000

$13,000

Grandchild 5

$13,000

$13,000

Grandchild 6

$13,000

$13,000

TOTAL:

$156,000

$156,000

This type of estate planning could be as simple as writing checks to all of your immediate family.  However, for many clients, these transfers should be made in conjunction with the establishment of a specially designed trust that qualifies for the annual exclusion and assists clients in meeting their goals of providing the children (and grandchildren) with a measure of asset management assistance, creditor protection and future transfer tax savings.

In whatever form it takes, outright transfers or in trust, fully utilizing the annual exclusion is a powerful estate planning tool that is often overlooked.