Happy New Year: The “Fiscal Cliff,” Your Taxes and Estate Planning

Happy New Year! While the nation technically went over the “fiscal cliff” at 12:01 am Tuesday morning, the U.S. Congress has reached a deal to retroactively avert the fiscal cliff crisis and the bill has passed the House and Senate. Here’s the scoop:

  • Portability survives – you can use your deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption. Using portability requires filing an federal estate tax return (even if no estate tax is owed) and careful tax planning with your attorney.
  • Estate and gift tax exemptions are $5.25 million per person (inflated adjusted). Using portability, a married couple can give their children $10.50 million. The maximum estate tax rate is 40% on estates over $5.25 million. See Sec. 101 (c)(2) (page 11) of the Senate bill for exact estate tax rates. See Sec. 101(c)(3)(A) (estate and gift transfers after 12/31/2012).
  • Annual gift tax exclusion is now $14,000 per person/year ($28,000 per couple/year), as the IRS announced an inflation adjustment in November 2012.
  • Generation skipping tax exemption is $5.25 million per person. See Sec. 101(c)(3)(A) (generation skipping transfers after 12/31/2012).
  • Grantor income tax trust rules the same. So intentionally defective grantor and beneficiary defective trusts (IDGTs and BDITs) are legal wealth transfer techniques for estate and business planning. These trusts allow parents to transfer wealth, businesses, farms, and other assets to their families without the assets being included in the parents’ estates, while being income taxable to the grantor or the beneficiary, depending on the trust’s design.

The fiscal cliff deal also includes new income tax rates, capital gain tax rates, and other tax provisions of interest to individuals, couples, small business owners, farmers, and ranchers. Individuals earning more than $400,000 per year, or couples earning more than $450,000 per year, should contact their accountant immediately on these issues. Forbes has this helpful article on how the fiscal cliff deal affects various taxes, IRAs, charitable deductions, and other planning considerations.

If I can help you or your family with estate planning or small business or family farm transfer planning, please contact our office, Johnson Law KC LLC – call us at (913) 707-9220 or email us at steve@johnsonlawkc.com.

In reaching the fiscal cliff deal, Congress delayed until March dealing with the massive spending cuts that are required by law as part of the last budget deal (the sequestration cuts). While it seems unlikely, it’s possible that Congress will revisit some of these rules in March or add additional restrictions to existing estate planning techniques. If Congress did change these rules in March, there’s a small probability of having 2 estate tax regimes (as we did in 2010, where an estate could elect a stepped-up basis and pay estate tax, or use a carryover basis without owing estate tax).

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.