Effective January 1, 2016, the Tennessee inheritance tax has been repealed, based on a law that was enacted in 2012. The repeal does not help individuals who died in 2015. They are still subject to the tax. It only helps families of decedents who die this year or later.
What is the effect of the repeal? First of all, the maximum estate tax rate for decedents who are above the federal estate tax exemption (currently $5,450,000) will only be 40%, rather than approximately 46%. Even though this represents a significant reduction, I see little impact on whether you implement strategies to avoid federal estate taxes. 40% is still a steep rate and most of our clients want to take reasonable measures to minimize or eliminate the federal estate tax.
The repeal will affect the design of documents prepared for our married clients. For many years, our documents have created two credit shelter trusts, a typical credit shelter trust (often referred to as a “Family Trust”) for the amount of the Tennessee inheritance tax exemption, and a second trust (sometimes referred to as a “Tennessee QTIP Trust” or a “Tennessee GAP Trust”) equal to the difference between the federal estate tax exemption and the Tennessee inheritance tax exemption. In 2015, this formula resulted in $5,000,000 going to the Family Trust and $430,000 going to the Tennessee QTIP Trust. Fortunately, we can now place the entire federal estate tax exemption, currently $5,450,000, in the Family Trust and will not need a Tennessee QTIP Trust.
Do you need to modify your current documents that contain Tennessee QTIP Trust provisions? In most cases, the answer is no. The funding language for the Tennessee QTIP Trust will not apply since there is no Tennessee inheritance tax. Feel free to modify your documents if it bothers you to have unnecessary language in your Will; however, my advice is to wait until you need to make a change for other reasons.
A few surviving spouses have asked us whether they can eliminate a Tennessee QTIP Trust that was established by a spouse who died prior to 2016. Unfortunately, it is not possible to merge the Tennessee QTIP Trust into the Family Trust. The Tennessee QTIP Trust will still avoid federal estate taxes upon the surviving spouse’s death. Thus, as a general rule, my advice is to maintain the Tennessee QTIP Trust. If the surviving spouse’s estate has declined below the federal estate tax exemption, then it might be acceptable to liquidate the Tennessee QTIP Trust in whole or in part.
The repeal of the Tennessee inheritance tax is a welcome change. Most individuals do not need to make any adjustments to their estate planning documents or planning in light of this change.
Unfortunately, one of my clients is entering the last stages of her life. Her deductible medical expenses this year have been substantial due to home healthcare and hospice care. I checked with her CPA and confirmed that a portion of her IRA can be converted to a Roth IRA for a modest income tax cost. I talked to her brother, who has her power of attorney, and recommended that he convert a portion of the IRA to a Roth IRA.
The conversion will eliminate future income taxes for my client’s children on future distributions from the Roth IRA. The future savings for the children, one of whom lives in a state with a state income tax, will far exceed the incremental 2015 income taxes that my client will pay.
An ancillary benefit is that my client has a taxable estate for federal estate tax purposes. The incremental income taxes will be deductible for federal estate tax purposes (or will reduce her taxable estate if she unexpectedly lives beyond April 15). This effectively reduces the incremental income taxes by 40%. Assume for example, that $100,000 is converted at a tax cost of $15,000. The net cost after factoring in the estate tax deduction of 40% will only be $9,000. The future tax rate for my client’s children will far exceed 9%. Thus the overall taxes will be reduced.
In summary, a late-in-life Roth IRA conversion may save substantial income taxes for your children. Make sure that you have a durable general power of attorney which authorizes your agent to make a Roth IRA conversion.
I am currently working with an elderly client named John who is the beneficiary of a $6 million trust established by his father. Upon his death, half of the trust will be distributed to his daughter; the other half will be distributed in equal shares to the children of his deceased son. The trust owns a lot of stocks that were transferred to the trust upon his father’s death in 1989. These stocks have a very low basis in comparison to the current fair market value of the stocks. The trust is exempt from GST taxes and will not be subject to estate tax or GST tax upon his death. Because the trust will not be subject to estate or GST tax, there will not be any change in the basis in the stocks of the trust upon his death. Therefore, when the daughter and grandchildren eventually sell the stocks, they will incur substantial capital gains taxes. John would like for his daughter and grandchildren to receive a higher basis in the stocks, if that is possible.
One approach is for the trust to distribute low-basis stocks worth approximately $3.4 million to John. Since he already owns assets of $2 million, the distribution would give him a combined estate of $5.4 million, which is below the current federal estate tax exemption of $5.43 million. His Will distributes his estate consistently with the trust. Therefore, distributing assets out of the trust to John will not change the ultimate beneficiaries of the assets. Because the stocks will be in his estate, they will receive a stepped-up basis upon his death.
The danger with this approach is that the stocks will appreciate, which could result in estate taxes being owed upon John's death. Another danger is that the federal estate tax exemption could be decreased by future law change. For example, the President has proposed a decrease of the exemption to $3.5 million.
In order to accomplish John's goals, while hedging against the appreciation and legislative risks, I have proposed the following solution:
Step One - The Trustee of the trust will establish a new trust that is identical to the 1989 trust, except that John will have a power in his Will to appoint a portion of the trust assets to creditors of his estate. The amount that can be appointed will equal the maximum amount that does not result in estate taxes being payable. The power of appointment will apply in sequential order to the most highly appreciated assets.
Step Two – The Trustee of the 1989 Trust will distribute approximately $4 million in appreciated assets to the new trust. Tennessee law allows the transfer of assets between trusts for the same beneficiaries in certain circumstances. This process is referred to as “Decanting.”
The power of appointment will have the following consequences upon John's death. John does not have any creditors, therefore, there is very little risk that he will exercise his power of appointment in favor of creditors. Even though the power is virtually meaningless, the Internal Revenue Code requires the amount that could be appointed to be included in John's estate for estate tax purposes. However, since the amount that can be appointed is limited to the amount that will not cause estate taxes, no estate tax will be owed. Once the formula amount is determined, the Trustee will then determine which assets had the most appreciation and, thus, which assets are subject to the power of appointment. These assets will receive a stepped-up basis upon John's death. His daughter and grandchildren would then be able to sell those assets without any capital gains (except for appreciation that may occur following John's death). Based upon the current disparity between basis and fair market value of the stocks in the trust, there would be approximately $2.7 million of additional basis gained by this technique. John's daughter lives in California (which has state income taxes on capital gains), while the grandchildren live in Tennessee. Based upon the maximum federal and state income tax rates, the increased basis could reduce future income taxes by as much as $800,000.
Your $5.43 million federal estate exemption is a very generous gift that Congress has provided to you. You should look for opportunities to leverage the exemption to give your heirs a higher basis for income tax purposes.
Two of my clients have already contacted me about the renewal form sent to them by the Tennessee Department of Revenue regarding the exemption of their LLC from Tennessee franchise and excise tax. If your LLC (or limited partnership) is exempt from Tennessee franchise and excise tax, it is very important to fill out this form each year. You do not have to pay anything to renew the exemption.
The most common exemption is obligated member entity (“OME”). The OME exemption applies when the members waive liability protection. If you are relying on this exemption, check the obligated member entity box and all the boxes on Schedule F. Additionally, if any new members have been admitted, they must sign an Amendment to the Articles of Organization that waives liability protection and file it with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
The two most common other exemptions for our clients are the family owned non-corporate entity (“FONCE”) and the farming/personal residence exemptions. My recommendation is to allow your CPA who prepares the tax return for the LLC to complete the form, if you are relying on either of these exemptions. There is information from the LLC’s federal income tax return (Form 1065) that will be needed.
Not all LLCs are exempt from franchise and excise taxes. Generally, these LLCs operate a business or own commercial real estate. Even though not exempt, the earnings from an LLC operating a business may not be subject to tax if they are treated as self-employment income by the owners of the LLC for federal income tax purposes. No application for exemption is filed to claim this benefit.
In summary, you can avoid an unpleasant tax bill for your LLC if you or your CPA annually renews the exemption of your LLC from Tennessee franchise and excise taxes.
A recent case, In re: Estate of Lois Whitten, illustrated a tricky area of the law for creditors’ claims against an estate.
When you probate a Will, the Court publishes a Notice to Creditors. Creditors have 4 months from the first publication of Notice to file their claims against the Estate. In order to benefit from the 4 month statute of limitations, the Executor must search the Decedent’s records and send a copy of the Notice to any likely creditors. The 4 month deadline also applies to any creditors that the Executor should not have expected after searching the Decedent’s records. If the Executor fails to send a copy of the Notice to a creditor whom the Executor should have known about, then the creditor has 1 year from the date of death to file a claim.
Instead of sending the Notice to Creditors in Whitten, the Executor sent a letter to the creditor with a check. The letter stated “This pays her bill in full. If not, please do not cash the check but return it to me.” The creditor rejected the check and returned it to the Executor. Six months after the Notice to Creditors had been published, the creditor then filed a claim against the estate for a larger amount. Had the Executor included the Notice to Creditors with the letter, this claim would have been disallowed. However, the court allowed the claim because the Executor did not send the required Notice.
Lessons from this case:
1. If you are a creditor of someone who dies, file your claim promptly (especially if your claim is such that the Executor may not discover it).
2. If you are an Executor, send all potential creditors a copy of the Notice to Creditors.
When an IRA account owner dies, his or her designated beneficiary can choose to withdraw the account or maintain the IRA as an “Inherited IRA.” Numerous beneficiaries of Inherited IRAs have declared bankruptcy and claimed that the Inherited IRA was exempt from attachment by the creditors. Some Circuit Courts of Appeal had held that inherited IRAs are exempt funds in a bankruptcy setting. Other Circuits had ruled to the contrary.
The Supreme Court has resolved the conflict by ruling that inherited IRAs are not exempt for bankruptcy purposes. The court’s rationale was that the purpose of the bankruptcy exemption for retirement funds is to protect the money for the person who earned the money. The exemption was not meant to protect heirs of the person who earned the money.
Some states have exempted Inherited IRAs from bankruptcy. Depending on where the beneficiary of the Inherited IRA lives, he or she may be able to use the state exemption and not be affected by the Supreme Court ruling.
The practical effect of the ruling for debtors living in the wrong states is to make Inherited IRAs the same as any other account owned in the debtor’s name. The account will not be protected if the debtor declares bankruptcy.
In light of this ruling, surviving spouses should consider segregating an IRA that they inherit from their spouse in a separate account. The law allows you to combine your spouse’s IRA with your own IRA; however, that may bring into question the creditor protection benefits of your own IRA. Further, if you maintain separate accounts, you should make withdrawals from the Inherited IRA rather than your own IRA.
When designating the beneficiary of your own IRA, you should consider establishing a trust as the beneficiary. A properly drafted trust will give your beneficiary the flexibility to withdraw the funds over several years without exposing the funds to the beneficiary’s creditors.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, you can still achieve creditor protection for the portion of your IRA that you pass on to your beneficiaries. However, the process to obtain the creditor protection has become more complicated.
You can download the 2014 Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors free.
On April 14, 2014, the Tennessee Legislature approved a new type of trust known as a Tenants by the Entirety Trust (“TBET”).
A TBET is a joint trust for a married couple that provides the same protection from the claims of the separate creditors of the husband and wife as would exist if the husband and wife owned the trust assets directly as tenants by the entirety.
Being able to transfer tenants by the entirety property to a TBET without sacrificing creditor protection will make it more feasible for couples to use revocable trusts for their various benefits, including incapacity management, probate avoidance, and privacy.
A TBET only provides creditor protection for property that was held by the spouses as tenants by the entirety property prior to the conveyance of the property to the trust. The additional requirements of a TBET include: (1) the husband and wife must remain married; (2) the property must continue to be held in trust by the trustee(s) or their successors in trust; (3) while both the husband and wife are living, the trust must be revocable by either spouse or by both of them acting together; (4) both spouses must be beneficiaries of the trust; and (5) the trust instrument, deed, or other instrument of conveyance must specify that the provisions of the new statute apply to the property.
Traditional tenants by the entirety property automatically passes to the survivor upon the death of the first spouse. A TBET is more flexible. For example, the TBET could convert to an irrevocable trust for the benefit of the survivor, with the remainder to pass to children after the survivor’s death. This structure would provide better asset protection for the survivor as well as better protection to the children if the survivor remarries.
After the death of the first spouse to die, the property will continue to be exempt from the claims of the decedent’s separate creditors. To the extent the survivor may withdraw the trust assets, the property will be subject to the claims of the survivor’s separate creditors.
Creditor protection may be waived as to any specific creditor or any specifically described trust property, but only if expressly permitted by the trust instrument, deed, or other instrument of conveyance or if the husband and wife both give their written consent. This provision allows a house subject to a mortgage to be transferred to a TBET.
TBETs may be created on or after July 1, 2014.
2014 Trust and Estate Planning Steps - PART 3: Asset Protection Trusts Facilitate Income Tax Savings
This is the third article of a series regarding 2014 Trust and Estate Planning
For the prior articles, see:
The previous article highlighted the opportunity of making a distribution from a trust by March 6th in order to reduce income taxes. The problem for some of our clients is that they don’t want the beneficiary to get their hands on a large sum of money. One trust would like to make a distribution of $265,000 in order to reduce overall income taxes.
Several of our clients have utilized asset protection trusts to capture income tax savings in a manner that does not result in their children receiving a lot of cash. These clients have been able to persuade their child to establish an asset protection trust with the parent as the trustee. The child’s trust (typically established by the child’s parent or grandparent) then makes a distribution directly to the asset protection trust.
The asset protection trust uses the social security number of the child as its taxpayer identification number. The trust income tax rules treat the distribution from the child’s trust to the asset protection trust as a distribution to the child. The income will be taxed on the child’s Form 1040 where it will enjoy a lower tax rate than if the child’s trust had not made a distribution.
You can use an asset protection trust even if it is established after March 6. First, make a distribution to the child on March 6 and have the child deposit the distribution in a savings account. After the asset protection trust is established, the child will then move the funds to the asset protection trust. This technique is not as good as the direct trust-to-trust transfer, because the child has access to the funds for some period of time.
Minors are not able to establish asset protection trusts. However, there are other techniques that can be used to make a distribution to a minor in order to reduce income taxes. All of these techniques have flaws, but the flaws should be evaluated against the potential income tax savings.