Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Client Alert: Are Changes Afoot for Estate and Gift Taxes?

Wealth taxUnder the current administration and "composition of Congress," changes to estate and gift taxes are likely. Senator Bernie Sanders recently proposed tax reform legislation that would "make major changes to the current estate and gift tax rules." 

If the legislation were adopted, there would be a reduction to the estate tax lifetime exemption. Under the proposed legislation, the current exemption ($11.7 million per taxpayer) would drop to $3.5 million, which would not be adjusted for inflation. Further, the gift tax lifetime exemption would be reduced to $1 million. 

Also, "gifts to irrevocable trusts and certain family entities, and gifts of assets subject to prohibitions on sale and those that cannot immediately be liquidated will be subject to a limit of $30,000 per donor annually." 

The rate of the estate tax which would change to a progressive rate and increase from 40 percent to 45 percent for taxable estates between $3.5 million and $10 million, "50 percent for estates between $10 million and $50 million, 55 percent for estates between $50 million and $1 billion, and 65 percent for estates over $1 billion." 

If adopted, the new legislation would affect the usefulness of grantor trusts, GRATs, and family entity discounts. 

The proposed legislation would also greatly affect trusts that are considered to be owned by a grantor for income tax purposes, which would be subject to federal estate tax upon the death of the grantor. Further, distributions from grantor trusts would be considered gifts from the grantor. 

Assuming that the proposed legislation, which would take effect in January 2022, would not be retroactive, taxpayers should consider taking advantage of the current laws so that they do not miss out on them if the proposal passes. 

See Carol A. Sobczak, Client Alert: Are Changes Afoot for Estate and Gift Taxes?, Shumaker, April 9, 2021. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 14, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 2, 2021

U.S. Senate Introduces Legislation for Higher Taxes on Wealth

Wealth taxOn March 25, 2021, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the For the 99.5 Percent Act (the 99.5 percent Act). The Act looks to modify the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax. 

If accepted, the Act would "reduce the estate tax exemption, set the gift tax exemption at an amount lower than the estate tax exemption, and increase tax rates on large gifts and estates, effectively returning the gift and estate tax rules to the law in effect in 2009, but with higher rates." The changes would apply to transfers occurring after December 31, 2021. 

Other changes under the Act include: 

  • The estate tax exemption amount would be reduced to $3.5 Million per individual ($7 Million for married couples), with no adjustment for changes in the cost of living. Under current law, the estate tax exemption amount is $11.7 Million per individual ($23.4 Million for married couples), adjusted annually for changes in the cost of living. However, the current exemption amount is scheduled to be reduced by 50% after December 31, 2025. 
  • The amount of the exemption available to shelter lifetime transfers from gift tax would be reduced to $1 Million per individual ($2 Million for married couples), with no adjustment for changes in the cost of living. The portion of the $1 Million exemption used during an individual’s lifetime to shelter lifetime gifts from gift tax would reduce the amount of the $3.5 Million exemption available to shelter transfers at the individual’s death from estate tax. Under current law, the gift tax exemption is the same as the estate tax exemption (and will also be reduced by 50% after December 31, 2025), and any amount not used during an individual’s lifetime is available to shelter transfers at death from estate tax. 
  • The estate tax rate would increase using a progressive tax rate based upon the value of the decedent’s estate:
    • There would be no tax on the first $3.5 Million of the estate.
    • There would be a 45% tax on the estate in excess of $3.5 Million up to $10 Million.
    • There would be a 50% tax on the estate in excess of $10 Million up to $50 Million.
    • There would be a 55% tax on the estate in excess of $50 Million up to $1 Billion.
    • There would be a 65% tax on the estate in excess of $1 Billion.

See U.S. Senate Introduces Legislation for Higher Taxes on Wealth, Greenberg Glusker, March 26, 2021. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

April 2, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 1, 2021

The 2020 Election and the Effect on Current Gift, Estate and Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes

TaxDue to the election results and President Joe Biden taking Trump's position in the Oval Office, conversation continues to grow surrounding the area of taxes and estate planning. 

As many are aware of by now, Biden has brought forth a few proposals that will greatly impact estate planning for Americans. 

Gift tax, estate tax and generation-skipping transfer are among federal taxes that would be affected if Biden's proposals took effect.

"The gift tax (which applies to lifetime transfers) and estate tax (which applies to transfers at death) are “unified,” meaning that a single rate schedule applies to both taxes and there is a single “exemption” amount that each individual may transfer during life or at death without paying gift or estate taxes. The GST tax is an additional tax imposed on certain transfers made to persons more than one generation below the donor. The GST tax applies to transfers during life and to transfers at and after death." 

Under current law, gift, estate, and GST exemptions are currently at $11.7 million. These rates are expected to "sunset" on January 1, 2026. However, if Biden's proposals are adopted and implemented, the rates could return back to $5 million before 2026. 

Although it is not clear what changes will be adopted or made in the tax arena, it is important to stay updated and informed of what is going on. 

Some things to consider: 

  • Retroactivity and risk 
  • Disclaimer
  • Marital deduction
  • Loans and forgiveness 

See Daniel R. Donovan & Beth Abraham, The 2020 Election and the Effect on Current Gift, Estate and Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes, Faegre Drinker, February 22, 2021.  

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

March 1, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 12, 2021

Article: An Estate Planner's Guide to Specific Testamentary Gifts

Estate planningGerry W. Beyer recently published an article entitled, An Estate Planner's Guide to Specific Testamentary Gifts, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2021). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. 

Clients are excited to make specific gifts in their wills. For some, the goal is to pass treasured family heirlooms and other property with significant emotional attachment to the appropriate family members. Others seek instead to transfer assets of value to family members, friends, and charities so the recipients may keep or, more likely, sell the property to gain funds they desire for their needs.

This article discusses the variety of issues that arise with specific gifts with the aim of making it easier for an estate planner to structure them to effectuate their clients’ intentions.

February 12, 2021 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Trusts and Estates 2021 Tax Update

TaxWith the combination of the new president, Joe Biden, and the rebalancing of the House and Senate, it may be necessary to prepare for tax changes. During his campaign las year, Joe Biden announced a tax plan that "would decrease he federal estate tax exemption from the current amount of $11.7 million to $3.5 million. In addition, Biden’s tax plan, if implemented, would raise the individual income, capital gains, and payroll taxes for individuals with high levels of income. The changes to the capital gains tax would appear to be the most significant." 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) doubled the estate, gift and generation skipping transfer tax exemption to $10 million ($11.7 million adjusted for inflation) set to run from 2018 until 2025. However, with President Biden's tax plan, the exemption amount would be reduced to $5 million before the set date of the end of 2025. It is possible that the rate goes as low as $3.5 million, the amount the rate was in 2009. 

It may be necessary to take a look at your estate plan as these changes could have a big effect. You may want figure out what gifts are linked to the amount of exemption and use the exemption before it is reduced.

If you believe that these changes will or could affect you, it is imperative that you visit with an estate planner to review your financial situation and the implications of the potential tax changes.

See Trusts and Estates 2021 Tax Update, Downs, Rachlin, Martin PLLC, January 22, 2021. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 27, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Article on Tax Benefits, Higher Education and Race: A Gift Tax Proposal for Direct Tuition Payments

Bridget J. Crawford and Wendy C. Gerzog recently published an article entitled, Tax Benefits, Higher Education and Race: A Gift Tax Proposal for Direct Tuition Payments, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law ejournal (2020). Provided below is the abstract to the Article. Tax

A tax system should be fair. According to conventional wisdom, this fairness mandate means that similarly situated taxpayers should pay similar taxes. Notably absent from most discussions about tax fairness or equity is any consideration of race. This makes sense, if one focuses on the tax laws’ facial neutrality, as well as the Internal Revenue Service’s failure to collect official data about the race of taxpayers. But if one is interested in equity among taxpayers, we must also examine to what extent different groups of taxpayers benefit from a Code section that reduces their tax liability. In the context of distributional equity, race and other identity characteristics must inform any analysis. This Article intervenes in this discussion with three principal claims: one descriptive, one normative, and one utilitarian.


First, the Article uses data from the higher education sector to demonstrate that primarily wealthy, white taxpayers capture the most generous educational tax benefits. Black taxpayers appear to benefit the least from these tax provisions. Black college graduates have greater education-related debt (both in incidence and quantum) than any other group of their peers. Furthermore Black college graduates have lower average wages and higher rates of unemployment compared to their Asian, Hispanic/Latinx counterparts. Black families are the least likely to be able to contribute to a 529 college tuition savings program or to make tax-free, direct tuition payments. While Black college graduates and families can take advantage of some tax benefits for higher education, the greatest tax expenditures are for those that benefit whites.
The Article next argues that achieving a more racially just society requires attention to the ways that tax laws exacerbate existing race-based economic inequality. This Article uses the example of the gift tax exemption for direct tuition payments to illustrate the ways that tax rules can exacerbate the racial wealth gap. In the context of any tax benefit statute, there are abundant opportunities for future research at the intersection of race and taxation. That work is made more difficult by the absence of readily available tax data on the basis of race, but other data sources can help fill the gaps.
Finally, the Article proposes a test for evaluating the distributional equity of any tax exclusion or deduction that results in an understatement of the donor’s or decedent’s transfer of wealth. Unlike a wealth transfer that is considered an item of consumption, a wealth transfer that has concomitant lifelong benefits, such as direct tuition payments for education, should not be allowed to reduce the donor’s transfer tax base. In the case of wealth transfer taxes, a particular tax benefit is inequitable if (1) it has disparate impacts on the basis of race and (2) the benefit is inconsistent with the overall policy objective of imposing a gift tax on inter vivos transfers that create substantial capital-like advantages to the donee while simultaneously reducing the value of the transferor’s estate. The gift tax exemption for direct tuition payments fails both parts of this test and should be repealed.

January 8, 2021 in Articles, Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 3, 2021

President signs year-end funding, COVID-19 relief legislation; tax provisions are enacted

TaxOn December 27, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021." The legislation includes "over $900 billion fo coronavirus (COVID-19) relief programs, government funding of $1.4 trillion, and myriad tax provisions." 

The legislation includes a tax provision that will allow recipients of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to deduct related costs. The CARES act will also be extended as well as expanded. 

Tax measures that will result from the new legislation includes:

COVID-Related Tax Relief Act

  • Extension time for repayment
  • Additional 2020 Recovery Rebates
  • Clarification that no deduction is denied, no tax attribute is reduced, and no basis increase is denied by reason of the exclusion from gross income from forgiveness of PPP loans
  • Allowance of an election regarding the tax treatment of certain farming losses for 2018, 2019, and 2020
  • and more

There will always be permanent extensions of temporary provisions and long-term extensions of temporary provisions. Also included will be short-term extensions of temporary provisions. 

There are also numerous miscellaneous tax provisions that include: 

  • Modifications to the low-income housing tax credit rate, including a new minimum rate of 4% for certain buildings
  • Depreciation of certain residential rental property over 30-year period, allowing for the use of 30-year ADS depreciation for residential real property placed in service prior to January 1, 2018, held by an electing real property trade or business in certain circumstances
  • Expansion of current section 48 energy credit to include waste “energy recovery property”
  • Extension of current section 48 energy credit for offshore wind facilities to January 1, 2026
  • Minimum rate of interest for certain determinations related to life insurance contracts
  • Retirement provisions
    • Modification to minimum age for distributions during working retirement
    • Temporary rule preventing partial plan termination
  • Employee retention credit (ERC) and rehiring tax credit
    • Clarifications and technical improvements to the CARES Act employee retention credit, including a clarification regarding the definition of “gross receipts,” a modification to the treatment of health plan expenses, and improved coordination with the PPP
    • Extension of the ERC to July 1, 2021, and expansions including increase in the credit percentage from 50% to 70%, increased per employee limitation, and modifications to the definition of eligible employer
  • Business meals deduction—a temporary allowance of a full deduction for business meals paid or incurred between December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2023
  • Earned income tax credit and child tax credit—a temporary special rule for determination of earned income
  • Charitable contributions
    • Extension of the CARES Act non-itemizer charitable contribution deduction for certain contributions through 2021
    • Extension of the CARES Act modification of donor percentage-of-income limitations for certain charitable contributions through 2021
    • For corporations, a temporary suspension of limitations on the deduction for charitable contributions associated with qualified disaster relief made from January 2020 through late February 2021
  • Health and dependent care flexible spending arrangements, temporary special rules for health and dependent care flexible spending accounts with unused balances
  • Life insurance—reduce the required interest rates used to determine if a policy meets the definition of life insurance for federal tax purposes

Special thanks to Mark J. Bade (CPA, GCMA, St. Louis, Missouri) for bringing this article to my attention. 

January 3, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Estate Tax, Gift Tax, Income Tax, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Philanthropists Push for Charitable Giving Reforms

CharityIn order to increase the amount of money available for nonprofits, a group of high-profile philanthropists have been working together with estate and gift tax experts to push for reforms in charitable giving laws. 

The objective is to "unlock some of the US $1 trillion sitting in private foundations and DAFs that is not obligated to be distributed to nonprofits under current law." Basically, they want the money to be accessible to working charities so they can work. 

According to Ray Madoff, a professor of estate and gift tax estate planning at Boston College, "The government shouldn't be subsidizing putting money aside where it might or might not be spent for the benefit of society." 

Madoff also stated that private foundations are obligated only to pay out 5% of their assets to public charities annually, with the foundation being able to put the rest to place of its choosing. 

With Donor Advised Funds (DAFs), individuals are allowed to make donations into an investment fund managed by a public nonprofit. However, the funds are not required to be distributed to a public charity because the DAF is managed by one.

According to Madoff, these "tax-advantage vehicles" are not producing many benefits for society. One reason for this is that the law cannot keep up with the ever-growing DAF investments. Another issue is that private foundations can meet their annual 5% payout by distributing funds to a DAF instead of operating a charity. 

The philanthropist groups are proposing that Congress—with the help of Joe Biden—engage in "emergency charitable stimulus" legislation that raises the required annual payout rate to 10%. 

See Abby Schultz, Philanthropists Push for Charitable Giving Reforms, Barrons, December 23, 2020. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

January 2, 2021 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

MacKenzie Scott gives away $4.2 billion in four months

ScottMacKenzie Scott has been giving away money at an "unprecedented pace" as she has donated more than $4 billion in the last four months after giving away $1.7 billion in gifts in July. 

Scott is the world's 18th richest person and has been outlining her contributions in blog posts. On Tuesday she stated in a blog post that she has been working with her team to "figure out how to give away her fortune faster." This year alone, Scott's wealth grew from $23.6 billion to $60.7 billion as Amazon.com Inc., has surged. 

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” she wrote in the post on Medium. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

Scott donations and gifts this year are close to $6 billion, which is one one of the highest annual contributions by a living individual, according to Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. 

See Sophie Alexander and Ben Steverman, MacKenzie Scott gives away $4.2 billion in four months, Bloomberg Wealth, December 15, 2020. 

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.  

December 17, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Gift Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

2020-2021 TREASURY-IRS PRIORITY GUIDANCE PLAN

Estate planningOn November 17, 2020, the Treasury Department and the IRS released their Priority Guidance Plan for the 12 months from July 2020 through June 2021. 

The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) posted an overview of what the Treasury and the IRS will focus on for the next seven months. 

Part 1 of the plan is titled "Implementation of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)" and contains 38 items. Of the 38 items, there are two in particular that will interest estate planners. 

Item 4 of Part 1 will have some focus on the deduction of estate and trust expenses. The item includes Notice 2018-61 which was originally published on July 30, 2018, which stated, "“the Treasury Department and the IRS intend to issue regulations clarifying that estates and non-grantor trusts may continue to deduct expenses described in section 67(e)(1)” despite the eight-year “suspension” of section 67(a) in the 2017 Tax Act by new section 67(g)." 

Item 33 of Part 1 provides "significant reinforcement for the proposition that the death of the grantor does not by itself cause the recognition of gain with respect to appreciated assets held in a grantor trust."

The Priority Guidance Plan also includes information on burden reduction, relief regarding GST exemption allocations and elections, and more general guidance. The ACTEC website also provides information on omissions from the Priority Guidance Plan. 

The aforementioned information and more is available in the source cited below. 

See 2020-2021 TREASURY-IRS PRIORITY GUIDANCE PLAN, The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, November 30, 2020. 

December 2, 2020 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax, Income Tax, New Legislation, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)