Massachusetts Estate Planning & Asset Protection Blog

Estate Planning Considerations For Seniors This Tax Season

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Mar 08, 2019

The April 15th deadline to file taxes is fast approaching. As a senior, you may be aware of the steps you need to take to file your taxes as well as most of the information you need to gather and prepare. You may not know, however, that estate planning also plays an important role when it comes to your taxes. To help you be as prepared as possible, let us share a few key estate planning considerations that will guide you through this year’s tax season as a senior.

 First, did you know that that uncompensated gift transfers can penalize you in the future, specifically as it relates to long-term care planning? Any amount of money transferred within a sixty month window prior to needing care without adequate compensation can disqualify you for public benefits. While planning to leave monetary gifts to close friends or loved ones can also help you avoid transferring money at death through the estate planning process, do not act alone. Talk to your estate planning attorney about when lifetime gifting may be right for you.

 You can make gifts of money to your loved ones during your life instead of waiting until the end of your life. When you think about your legacy, however, and leaving money to your loved ones be cautious of the probate process. Probate is the court process of transferring wealth to your loved ones or intended beneficiaries through your last will and testament at death.

 Unfortunately, if you are transferring a high dollar amount to your loved ones at death through your estate planning, you may unwittingly open yourself up to federal estate tax penalties. Consider the recent case of Aretha Franklin who did not plan for the transfer of her wealth. Whether this was an intentional decision or not, this resulted in her being penalized at a forty percent rate for the amount over the federal estate tax limit. Further complicating this issue, our state is one of the last states to keep a state estate tax as well.

 For most seniors, gifting money may not be the best estate planning option. Children and other loved ones can have problems that you may not know about. For example, we encourage you to consider any incapacity or bankruptcy issues the person may have before committing to gifting that person a significant amount of money. While having the ability to shield this money from federal estate taxes may be appealing, be sure that the person you are gifting the money to is responsible enough to receive the gift. If you are eager to leave money to loved ones within the annual exclusion amount, creating a structured gift program with your attorney is one way to effectively accomplish this.

 Above all, it is important that you reflect on and update your estate planning from time-to-time to make sure the tax laws in your state have not changed. Doing some independent research or checking in with an estate planning attorney can help you stay informed about changes you need to be aware of. Remember, we are here to help guide you through each step and can help you evaluate the best planning options for you and your family. If you are ready to discuss your planning needs, do not wait to sign up for a free educational-workshop

Do not wait to think about the estate planning you need to protect yourself and your loved ones. Although tax season can be a great time to get things in order, remember, there is never a “wrong” time to ensure you have the planning you need. Do not wait to contact us with your questions and to schedule your attendance at one of our free Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Workshops.

Tags: Estate Planning, estate tax savings, Massacusetts Estate Tax, taxes

Step Up Basis Part 2

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Mar 10, 2015

Losing the Step Up Basis Could be a Step Back On Your Estate Planning | Massachusetts Estate Planning Attorney

Last week we were discussing potential changes to the tax laws proposed by President Obama that would eliminate the step up in basis.  Obama claims the target is wealthy Americans but the change could have a much bigger impact on average middle class citizens.

     That’s because with the federal estate tax exemption currently at $5.43 million, only estates larger than that number must pay federal estate tax.  While Massachusetts estate taxes kick in on estates greater than $1,000,000, removing the step up in basis still means that many heirs would have to pay additional taxes on the assets they will inherit.

     Here is a common scenario:  Mary passes away and leaves her assets to her children.  Those assets include Exxon stock she and Frank bought many years ago and it is now worth $500,000.  The total estate is worth $1,000,000, including her home which Mary and her husband Frank purchased for $30,000, which is now worth $500,000.

     Under current tax laws, the children get a step up in basis on both the inherited stock and home.  Presuming they sell the home immediately after Mary’s passing, there would be no capital gains tax owed on the home.  The new basis would be the sale price.  The stock would also get a step up in basis.  The estate would owe approximately $25,000 in Massachusetts estate tax but no federal estate tax.

     If the step up is eliminated, the estate would still owe the same Massachusetts estate tax but now there would be an additional capital gains tax.  Obama’s proposal does suggest that some amount of capital gain be excluded from tax but let’s assume in my example there is no exemption.  Let’s also assume that the capital gains tax rate is 25%.  In that case, the tax on the home gain would increase to $95,000, almost four times what it is now.

     The tax on the stock would be more complicated to calculate.  We would need to figure out what Mary and Frank bought the stock for in order to determine the original basis. If Mary and Frank didn’t keep good records of their, it may be very difficult for their children to get them since they didn’t buy the stock themselves. The problems will only increase as well if there were stock splits or if the stock was bought in increments over time and different portions have a different basis.

     In any case, if the stock was held for many years then, it is safe to assume there would be substantial capital gains and the tax could easily exceed $100,000.  Add that to the tax on the sale of the home and you can see that a small estate of $1,000,000 could have additional tax of $200,000 or more, on top of the estate tax.

President Obama claims that he wants “wealthy Americans to pay their fair share”, but he doesn’t tell us that in the process everyone else will be paying more than their own fair share. Sure, the wealthy would be subject to this additional tax as well, but Obama’s plan clearly misses the mark.

Click here for more information on  Estate Planning and Asset Protection

At the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center, we provide a unique education and counseling process which includes our unique 19 Point Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Review to help people and their families learn how to protect their home, spouse, life-savings, and legacy for their loved ones, click here for more information. We provide clients with a unique approach so they understand where opportunities exist to eliminate problems now as they implement plans for a protected future.

We encourage you to attend one of our free educational workshops, call 800-964-4295 and register to learn more about what you can do to enhance the security of your spouse, home, life savings and legacy.


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Tags: estate tax, estate tax savings, taxes, Tax Savings, Inheritance, 2015, heir, stock, step up basis

Discuss These Estate Plan Topics With Your Children

Posted by Wellesley Estate Planning Attorney, Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM on Thu, Jun 07, 2012


From Your Smart Money Moves (May 31, 2012) “What Four Estate Planning Things Parents Should Tell Their Children”

1. Who is the executor of the estate?  If you have a will set up, it’s important to tell which child or children are the executors of your estate.  Inevitably, they should know where is your will is stored.  It is in a safe deposit box?  It is somewhere at the house?  Or, what’s the name of the attorney that has the will on file?  As the executors of the estate, they’re the ones that are going to be responsible for the orderly administration of all of your assets.  So it’s important to at least let them know that they are the executors. Sometimes, kids don’t want this responsibility. This doesn’t mean you need to talk about how much money you have, but you should be able to let them know that they will be the ones that will be helping to administer the estate down the road.

Estate Planning, Family, Loved One, Asset Protection, Long-Term Care2. What’s the game plan for long term care?  This is one that parents will avoid all day long due to the challenging nature of the question.  Many parents that hit the age of 60, 65, or 70, may or may not have nursing home insurance.  If they don’t have long term care insurance, one of the questions they should be discussing with you is who might be available to help in the future.  Sometimes, the kids want to pay for long term care insurance if in fact the parents cannot afford it themselves.  You may think it’s your middle daughter or you may think it’s going to be your youngest son that will take care of you.  The kids may have thoughts themselves about who’s going to do what or worse yet they may have not talked at all.  So it’s important to have some discussion that if something happens your children have some idea of how the chain of command and responsibilities will roll down at that time.  I had an uncle of mine that unfortunately went into a nursing home and wiped out their entire financial situation.  This is a quality discussion to have as a family.

3. Advanced Medical Directive / Living Will?  You should talk to your kids about whether you have a living will or an advanced medical directive as part of your overall estate planning.  Letting your children know these types of things and if you are an organ donor can at least prepare your children for your wishes somewhere down the road.  You may be uncertain about your wishes if you had some tragic situation that actually put you on some sort of thing that’s keeping your life going.  And if you’ve already pre-made decisions about what’s going to happen, that would be an important thing to share with them.

4. Where Is Everything Located?  I’ve yet to see someone pass away without the family having to deal with some level of mystery on where documents, collectibles, or bank accounts are located.  With today’s technology, getting your finances organized in an electronic account aggregation type software or at least collecting all of your documents in one place with instructions on where everything is located will be important for your children.   Often, families can have a major struggle over personal possessions especially if one member of the family has more knowledge than another including brothers and sisters as well as children.  The goal of doing this isn’t to share your financial picture, but merely give your family a go to person or a location so things can be sorted out easily in the event of a premature death.

As a parent you don’t have to discuss money, your net worth, or what’s happening with your overall budget.  Many parents don’t want to be a burden on their children or they don’t want their children counting on a future inheritance.   Make sure to discuss with your kids these important points so at least they can take the opportunity to discuss and plan their own lives to best support you and your overall estate plan.

For more information on estate planning, asset protection, and elder law we invite you to attend one of our free Trust, Estate, and Asset Protection Workshops.  Register online at or by calling (800) 964-4295 (24/7).  At the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center we help families protect what matters most: their spouse, home, and life savings, from the rising cost of medical and nursing home care.  Did you know that resaerch shows that 86% of estate plans DO NOT WORK.  Research conducted by a colleague with more than 30,000 clients demonstrated the need to review plans.  To help people evaluate the areas in which an existing plan meets a family’s goals and objectives and where significant problems may exist we have developed the 19-Point Trust, Estate & Asset Protection Guide


Tags: asset protection, long term care, Estate Planning, Estate Planning, probate, elder care, gift tax, estate tax, estate tax savings, family, power of attorney, executor, disinherit, Beneficiary, Estate Planning Tip, estate, gifts

7 Major Errors In Estate Planning

Posted by Wellesley Estate Planning Attorney, Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq., CPA, LLM on Wed, May 16, 2012

As estate planning and asset protection professional we often times help people and their family by reviewing existing planning.   As discussed in a recent Forbes article, the following is a list of major estate omissions and poor choices we see on a consistent basis.  Estate Planning, Asset Protection, Tax Changes, Estate Tax, Gift TaxIt is crucial to have your planning reviewed and updated consistently.  As a result of changes in the law, in health and in personal circumstance an old estate plan may not be working to accomplish your goals.  To learn more about how the Estate Planning & Asset Protection Law Center of Dennis Sullivan & Associates can help you and your family visit or call (800) 964-4295 (24/7). 

1. Not having a plan

In a sense, everyone does have an estate plan; state law makes this point a certainty.  It simply may not be the plan that you had in mind, or that your family would have preferred.  Not having a will means that at your death the distribution of your assets will be dictated by the inheritance laws of the state where you were domiciled when you died.  These “intestacy laws” vary from state to state but, typically, leave percentages of your assets to various family members.  There is always a remote chance that these laws will accomplish what you would have intended – but not likely. It is highly improbable that, by chance, your dispositive intentions as to who gets what, when and in what form will be fulfilled.  This is true even if your estate is below the tax threshold.  Your will applies to the disposition of your “probate assets” – those assets NOT otherwise following a beneficiary designation or the titling of the asset. Non-probate assets will pass by operation of law or contract. For example, whoever the beneficiary designation may have been when you originally began your 401(k) or IRA at the start of your work life will override either your will or the laws of intestacy.  Even a simple plan that is well thought out and results from the identification of your personal objectives will be much more successful than nothing at all.

2. Online or DIY rather than professionals

There has been a noticeable uptick in the number of people who will look to the Internet to prepare their own wills and trusts. There are dozens upon dozens of websites that will profess to offer you just the right discounted estate planning documents.  Even wealthy clients who stand to benefit the most from expert planning advice have been impacted. Unfortunately, relying on web-based, do it yourself solutions is a recipe for disaster.  Estate planning documents should represent the culmination of a well thought out financial and estate plan. An amalgam of stand-alone documents does not a plan make.  Furthermore, those pesky nuanced requirements (i.e. the “formalities”) for a validly written and executed document will vary from state to state.  Internet sites can provide you with documents but no actual advice that fits you in the context of your specific financial and personal life.  What happens when the laws change? Does the document create an unnecessary tax if the state and federal tax laws diverge substantially?  Also, use an experienced estate attorney.  All wills are perfect documents while they are in your desk drawer.  Only when examined post-mortem are the inadequacies revealed.

3. Failure to Review Beneficiary Designations and Titling of Assets

One of the most basic and most overlooked items on every estate-planning checklist is the review of beneficiary designations and the proper titling of accounts. Unwittingly, many people will often let beneficiary designations and asset titling determine their estate plans for them, contrary to their intentions. Why? Regardless of what your well developed wills and trusts say, your beneficiary designations and the title of your assets will control the ultimate distribution of those assets. Most investment accounts allow for the designation of a beneficiary (IRAs, 401(k)s, company plans, etc.).  More recently, many states have enacted legislation to convert even otherwise ordinary brokerage accounts into accounts with beneficiary designations via Payable/Transfer Upon Death Registrations. All of these beneficiary designations absolutely control who gets the asset at your death.  The titling of assets is a property law concept with estate implications. An account that is held jointly with right of survivorship will pass automatically to the survivor of the joint owners.  Why does this matter?  Assets can flow to the wrong people due to old, wrong and/or out-of-date designations, often with unintended estate and income tax implications.

4. Failure to Consider the Estate and Gift Tax Consequences of Life Insurance

Life insurance proceeds are included in the estate when owned by the insured at death. However, the insured may choose to transfer all incidence of ownership during his/her lifetime thereby avoiding any potential estate tax inclusion. Notwithstanding this accessible planning fix (usually via trust), relinquishing ownership and control is not necessarily an automatic decision. In some instances, large sums of available, tax-advantaged and asset-protected cash has accumulated in permanent life insurance policies (i.e. whole life).  Accordingly, the decision as to how an insurance policy should be owned and, as importantly, controlled, can be complex and is highly individualized. In the right fact patterns, especially when tax is not the only important consideration, credible arguments can be made for both trust ownership and direct ownership. As in most estate planning, it is very much dependent on individual circumstances: family dynamics, net worth, financial / liquidity position, personal preferences and, even, your philosophy on the transfer of assets to future generations.

5. Maximizing annual gifts

Gifting is, probably, the oldest and best way to minimize future estate taxes. The entire universe of exemptions and deductions available for the reduction of estate taxes consist of:  the lifetime exemption ($5.12 million in 2012), the marital deduction (for gifts to citizen spouses during life or at death), the gift and estate tax charitable deduction, annual exclusion gifts ($13,000 in 2012) and direct transfers (not to be treated as gifts) for education (tuition) and medical care (both theoretically unlimited). For the wealthy, maximizing all of these is smart planning. Making annual exclusion gifts every year to as many family members (this includes anyone close to you) as is financially prudent (given your financial situation) is good planning. Over the long run, you can transfer significant sums of money out of your estate along with any appreciation, thereby reducing the tax. Even better planning would be to use your annual exclusion gifts, strategically,  so that each annual gift can be leveraged into larger sums being transferred out of your estate. Strategies such as sales/gifts to defective grantor trusts, the use of LLCs/FLPs in the case of hard to value assets and life insurance are just a few ways to leverage the annual exclusion gifts. In the case of gifting, leverage is a very good thing and strategies that allow you to leverage this scarce resource – tax-free gifts – are crucial to successful estate planning.

6. Failure to Take Advantage of the Estate Tax Exemption in 2012

As every estate and financial planning practitioner will tell you (and probably already has told you), making lifetime gifts is a simple and effective estate tax minimization strategy.  Simply giving away assets at no gift tax cost will allow both the corpus and its appreciation to escape the Federal estate tax on the passing of the donor.  Using the exemption equivalent amount during your life is better than leaving it for use at death.  The urgency is to act now to take advantage of the current estate tax regime that it is set to expire at the end of 2012.  Above and beyond the annual exclusion gift limit of $13,000, the federal applicable exemption amount for transfers during life (gifts) and death (estates) has increased (by indexing) to $5,120,000 per person for 2012 — by far the highest it has ever been since the establishment of the estate tax. Wealthy individuals who have both the means and desire to do so, should plan on making these gifts during 2012.

7. Leaving assets outright to Adult Children

In recent years, there has been a growing opinion among advisors for wealthy families that assets should remain in trust, even for adult children, for as long as possible for the asset protection and other benefits that a trust can offer. For a wealthy couple with adult children, the question may no longer be a one of legal capacity or maturity (although those issues may still remain). The bigger questions may, more accurately, become: who should really benefit from the fruits of my labor and how do I protect those assets from creditors, potential creditors and ex-spouses.  Depending on your perspective, dictating from the grave may or may not be a pejorative expression. For as long as trusts have been in existence (800+ years), the idea of controlling assets for as long as allowed with a set of instructions has been considered acceptable and often sought after planning.  In fact, centuries ago, keeping assets in trust forever was, more likely than not, the goal; hence the genesis of the “rule against perpetuities.” This rule was law in all 50 states to prevent perpetual or “dynasty” trusts. Over the last several years, many states have been modifying this rule to allow for longer trusts or have outright abolished the rule. Whether or not to leave assets in trust for adult children depends on many factors; not the least of which is personal preference. However, in our litigious society of high divorce rates, leaving some assets in trust with fairly liberal access is certainly worth consideration.

For more information on how you can avoid major errors in your estate planning register to attend an educational workshop hosted by our team of estate planning professionals by going to or by calling (800) 964-4295 (24/7).  You can also access several free guides and reports on our website by clicking HERE

We look forward to helping you and your family.


Tags: asset protection, Estate Planning, Estate Planning, GST tax, gift tax, estate tax, estate tax savings, Massacusetts Estate Tax, 401(k), Massachusetts estate tax, Estate Planning Tip, estate, gifts

Avoid Taxes on Life Insurance

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Thu, Apr 28, 2011

Since most of just finished filing our annual income tax return, we may not be in the mood to further discuss the topic of taxes … unless it’s all about avoiding them. Which is why now is a good time to turn to the topic of life insurance, taxes and your estate plan.

The primary purpose of life insurance, for most people, is to replace income that would be lost should you die prematurely. The good news is that life insurance death benefits are generally received by your beneficiaries free of any federal income tax (and usually free of any state income tax as well).

But what about the federal estate tax? Contrary to popular belief, the death benefit of life insurance could be subject to estate tax. If the tax rules treat you as the owner of a policy on your own life, the death benefit is included in your taxable estate – unless the money goes to your surviving spouse (they then will become part of his or her estate). If you are the owner of the policy and the death benefits go to anyone else, a child or sibling even, then money is included in your estate.

The estate tax exemption is currently set at $5 million through 2012, and although this is historically quite high, a large life insurance policy could push an otherwise non-taxable estate above the limit. And don’t forget that the current rule is in place only through 2012, and there are quite a few who believe lowering the exemption might be the answer to reducing our federal debt.

Smart Money last week laid out pretty clearly how the life insurance / estate tax scenario plays out. To quote them: “The tax rules say you own a life insurance policy if you possess so-called ‘incidents of ownership.’ You have them if you retain the power to change policy beneficiaries, change coverage amounts, cancel the policy and so forth.”

So, how do you avoid these “incidents of ownership”? You can establish an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to purchase a new policy on your life. If that’s not possible, you could consider transferring an existing policy. But there are some potential land mines in that strategy. First, if you transfer the policy and die within three years, the IRS pulls the proceeds back into your estate as if the transfer had not occurred. Second, if you transfer a policy with cash value in excess of $13,000, it could trigger adverse gift tax consequences.

You can read more about irrevocable life insurance trusts in the Estate Planning Strategies section on our website. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our free estate planning e-newsletter to stay informed of important matters affecting your estate plan.

Tags: estate tax, estate tax savings, Massacusetts Estate Tax, life insurance

Dynasty Trusts Under Fire

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Mar 15, 2011

As budget debates continue to escalate, yet another estate planning tool has come under fire, reports The Wall Street Journal. If you’re interested in a “Dynasty Trust” you may want to act sooner rather than later.

The main objective of a Dynasty Trust is to continue for as long as possible, benefiting several succeeding generations. Usually, beneficiaries are allowed access to income only, so the trust’s principal assets remain intact to provide an income stream for future generations. Dynasty trusts have become increasingly popular since the 1986 tax overhaul and the current version of the “generation-skipping tax.” (GST). The GST imposes a levy that on transfer that skip one generation – such as those from grandparent to grandchild while the grandchild’s parent is still alive. You can avoid the GST, however, if your transfer skips more than one generation.

The Journal uses an example to illustrate:

Robert, a widower, has a net worth of $15 million and his heirs include children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If he leaves everything to his children and they in turn leave everything to theirs and so on, there could be an estate tax toll with each generation.

Robert would like to put his entire estate into a trust and skip layers of tax. But if he does, the generation-skipping tax kicks in and replaces the lost taxes—except for an exempted amount, which is currently $5 million per individual or $10 million per married couple. That $5 million can be pumped up using discounts, life insurance and other leveraging techniques.

Dynasty trusts push that generation-skipping tax exemption to the max, putting the exempted amount beyond the reach of estate taxes for the life of the trust. That, in turn, means the heirs don't have to "spend" their own exemptions on those assets.

Dynasty trusts are now allowed in 23 states and the District of Columbia. (You don’t have to live in a state to establish a trust there.)

When the Journal reports that Dynasty Trusts are under attack, they mean that the President’s budget proposal would remove the federal tax exemption after 90 years. So the trust can continue indefinitely, but the tax exemption cannot.

The Journal also suggests that the measure is unlikely to pass this year, but taxpayers should know that the idea is in play. As proposed, the change would apply to new trusts or additions of money to existing ones, but not to those already funded.

Bottom line: if you are considering setting up a Dynasty Trust, now is the time. You can take advantage of the current generous terms of the estate and gift tax – a $5 million individual exemption and top 35% rate, and lock in family wealth that may continue in perpetuity for your heirs.

For more information, check out our Estate Planning Strategies page, or attend a free Trust, Estate and Asset Protection Workshop.

Tags: Estate Planning, GST tax, estate tax savings, massachusetts estate planning strategies, applicable exclusion, Metro West Estate Plan

How To Craft, Revise and Maintain A Well-Thought-Out Estate Plan

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Wed, Mar 09, 2011

"Because there is no April 15th for Estate Planning and Asset Protection, many people try to procrastinate or avoid it.  However, there can be grave consequences to neglecting it." --Dennis Sullivan, Esq. CPA, LLM

It certainly is understandable that no one enjoys a conversation about death – especially their own! And, with the estate tax exemption now set at $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple, many people may believe they have no reason to consult an attorney about their estate planning.

Massachusetts will assess a tax on estates over $1 million. Without proper planning a married couple will have only $1 million between them.  See a lawer to be sure that you and your spouse get the $2 million exemption available to you.

Also, Massachusetts clients and taxpayers need to watch out for estate plans created based on maximum federal applicable exclusion planning, common for many estate plans prior to 2003. Now with the $5 million federal exempt amount, there could be a COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE Massachusetts estate tax triggered at the first death. The cost to your spouse and family could be as much as $400,000 in unnecessary estate taxes.

But avoiding the topic of estate planning can mean unnecessary expense, confusion and conflict.  Why do you need an estate plan? A comprehensive estate plan ensures that your estate is distributed according to your wishes, provides protection for you in the event of your own disability, and allows you to plan for your family. 

Can I write my own will? You certainly can; however, improperly drafted or last-minute,wills frequently are contested and invalidated in court. Massachusetts does NOT recognize handwritten wills. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the outcome could be much different than you expect. 

What should every estate plan have?  The list should include a will, powers of attorney for financial affairs and for health care, and a living will along with appropriate trusts.  Trusts not only reduce estate taxes, but they also help their heirs to avoid probate. Trusts also can shield assets from nursing home and medical expenses, loss due to unforeseen circumstances, such as bankruptcy, divorce or lawsuits of your heirs.

Two common mistakes people make in their estate planning: failure to plan for their personal effects and failure to review and update their plans over time. You can learn more about comprehensive estate planning by attending one of our Trust, Estate & Asset Protection Workshops and also by downloading our Unique Self-Guided 19-Point Trust, Estate & Asset Protection Legal Guide on our website.  Once you become a client, we have a Lifetime Protection Program to ensure that your planning stays up to date with the changes in law, fincial, health and family situations.

Tags: Protective Trusts, Estate Planning, Estate Planning, Mistakes, HIPAA, health care proxy, estate tax, estate tax savings, Massacusetts Estate Tax, living will, massachusetts estate planning strategies, trusts, power of attorney, Massachusetts estate tax, will, New estate tax law

How the 2010 Tax Relief Act Could Affect Your Estate

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Tue, Mar 08, 2011

The 2010 Tax Relief Act brought significant changes to the estate and gift tax rules – and an excellent opportunity for you to review your estate planning goals, and the legal documents to achieve them. The new law is complex, and the rules are only in place for two years – this year and next. SmartBusiness recently ran an article highlighting some of the more important provisions:

  • Estate Taxes. The estate tax exemption will be $5 million ($10 for a married couple), with a maximum tax rate of 35 percent. The new law also provides a “portability” feature of the exemption amounts for married couples. Any exemption amount that remains unused at the death of a spouse is available for use by the surviving spouse. These two changes – the increase in the exemption amount and the portability feature – could impact your estate plan if your planning strategy includes a Credit Shelter Trust. Under certain circumstances, your credit shelter trust could be over-funded, leaving limited assets for your surviving spouse. It also is possible that you may no longer need a credit shelter trust at all.
  • Gift Taxes. The new gift tax exemption is set at $5 million, up from just $1 million. Generally, you may consider gifting property that you believe will appreciate in value. Gifting now will now only remove the current value of the property from your estate, but also any future appreciation.

Remember, even if your total estate is less than $5 million, you (and your family) still need comprehensive estate planning to take advantage of tax planning opportunities available to you and to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event of your death or disability.

Massachusetts Residents  remain subject to Massachusetts estate taxes on amounts above one million dollars. Regardless of the federal estate tax increased exemption for the next two years, Massachusetts will assess an estate tax on all estates above $1 million. However a married couple many times will only get one exempt amount to split, unless they take the necessary steps to ensure their estate plan is up to date and funded correctly so they will be eligible to receive the $2 million combined exemption, as there is NO PORTABILITY in Massachusetts.

Also, Massachusetts clients and taxpayers need to watch out for estate plans created based on maximum federal applicable exclusion planning, common for many estate plans prior to 2003. Now with the $5 million federal exempt amount, there could be a COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE Massachusetts estate tax triggered at the first death. The cost to your spouse and family could be as much as $400,000 in unnecessary estate taxes.

You can learn more about estate tax in the Tax Planning Strategies on our website. Be sure to check out our handy Determining the Estate Tax page too.  To learn how you can protect your family, home, lifesavings and legacy, attend a free Estate Planning and Asset Protection Workshop in Wellesley.

Tags: gift tax, estate tax, estate tax savings, Massacusetts Estate Tax, massachusetts estate planning strategies, Massachusetts estate tax, New estate tax law

New Estate Tax Law Gives Family Businesses Great Opportunity

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Fri, Mar 04, 2011

The new estate tax law, in effect this year and next, offers a unique opportunity to family business owners who want to pass their business on to the next generation. As a recent Wall Street Journal Article points out, taking advantage of the low gift tax levels (while you still can) could save your family business a hefty amount in potential estate taxes. But transferring ownership can raise complicated succession and estate planning issues that you should consider carefully before giving away any stock.

The recent tax law changes brought the gift tax threshold up to $5 million for an individual and to $10 million for couples in 2011 and 2012. Yes, that means you can give away that much now, without incurring a penny in gift tax. But, since this law is in effect for only two years, you’ll have a narrow window of opportunity and thorny decisions to make quickly.

While you can transfer ownership without necessarily giving up control, you will have to make some difficult decisions, including: who will eventually lead the business, how to treat non-business family members fairly, and how to fund your own retirement.

The answers to those questions will help determine which estate planning techniques make the most sense for your family, and your family business. Whatever your ultimate goals, now is the time to start exploring your options. There are large sums of money at stake, and only a short time to seize this opportunity.

You can learn more about business succession issues on the Business Exit Planning on our website, as well as pages on Family Owned Businesses and Tax Planning Strategies

Tags: 2011, gift tax, estate tax, estate tax savings, Tax Savings, New estate tax law, Business Succession Planning

Think you Don't Need to Worry About Estate Taxes? Think Again.

Posted by Dennis Sullivan & Associates on Wed, Mar 02, 2011

Think You’re Estate Tax Exempt? Maybe Not.

You might think that only the "rich" need to worry about the estate tax.  In fact, many unsuspecting middle-class people are exposed to the tax, which at the federal level is a painful 35% currently.

SmartMoney recently ran a reminder to all possible victims of the estate tax. The fact is that you could have a taxable estate, and not even realize it.

 Most people assume that since they don’t “feel” wealthy, they don’t have to worry about estate taxes -- but they don’t actually do the math. Your “taxable estate” includes (minus liabilities): proceeds from life insurance policies; your primary residence and any vacation and/or rental properties; retirement accounts, investment accounts; cars, furniture, collectibles, and the rest of your “stuff.” Plus any private business ownership interests (such as shares in a family business or partnership).

Smart Money offers a hypothetical example:

Stephanie is a divorced single parent. Since she earns a healthy salary, she has a $4 million term life policy to provide for her three teenagers. She also has $800,000 of equity in her home, $1 million in retirement plan accounts, and $500,000 worth of assorted personal assets (cars, clothes, furniture, jewelry, and so forth). Stephanie has no significant debts beyond her home mortgage. Since she has never considered herself to be anything close to “rich” she has never done any estate-tax-avoidance planning. However, if she died tomorrow, her estate would be worth a whopping $6.3 million for federal estate tax purposes ($4 million + $800,000 + $1 million + $500,000), and her estate would owe the Feds $455,000 ($6.3 million estate – $5 million exemption) x 35% tax rate). Yikes! There may be a state estate tax bill too.

The bottom line is that estate planning means planning for contingencies. Consulting an estate planning attorney will not only help you plan for a potential estate tax liability, but also deal with important non-tax issues like probate avoidance, distribution of your hard-earned assets, providing for your own care in the event of long-term illness or disability, and the naming of guardians for any minor children.

You can learn more about the estate tax, by visiting the Determining Your Estate Tax page or read some of our past blogs on the Massachusetts Estate Tax.  If you are interested in other Estate Planning Strategies, sign up for a free workshop on Trusts, Estates & Asset Protection.

Tags: estate tax, estate tax savings, massachusetts estate planning strategies, Massachusetts estate tax, applicable exclusion, New estate tax law

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