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Florida Estate Planning Attorneys assist with estate tax planning, keeping assets in the family

Estate and gift taxes can take a big bite out of your estate. If you have substantial assets, the Florida estate planning attorneys of The Karp Law Firm can help you minimize, and sometimes eliminate federal estate taxes, allowing your heirs to inherit the maximum amount of tax-free money.

Regardless of the value of an estate, most people want their assets to be distributed to their own family members. With today's high divorce and remarriage rate, making sure your money ends up in the right hands requires careful estate planning, too.

Our South Florida estate planning attorneys in Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and St. Lucie can help you craft an estate plan best suited to your family and financial circumstances. Here is a sampling of possible estate planning strategies:

Note: Effective January 1, 2020 the federal lifetime unified estate and gift tax exemption is $11.58 million per individual, $23.16 million per married couple. In January 2026, the exemption is scheduled to revert to its 2017 levels: $5.6 million per individual, $11.2 million per married couple, with inflationary adjustments. 


Gift to Transfer Tax-Free Money and Reduce Your Taxable Estate

A program of gift-giving can help reduce the size of your taxable estate, provide financial assistance to your family, and, since you make these gifts while you're alive, give you the pleasure of knowing you are assisting your loved ones.

An individual can give away up to $15,000 per year per recipient (effective Jan. 1, 2018) to as many recipients as desired, without incurring any gift tax or affecting the unified lifetime gift tax exemption, currently $11.58M per individual.  For example, a single person with two children can transfer $15,000 to each child per year for a total of $30,000, and retain his $11.58M exemption. A married couple with two children can transfer $60,000 per year ($15,000 per child per parent) and each spouse will still retain the $11.58M exemption. 

There are no restrictions on who you may make gifts to. In addition to your family members, you may make gifts to any individual up to $15,000 per year without affecting your gift tax exemption. These gifts are not tax-deductible for you, or income taxable to the recipient.

A person may give away in excess of $15,000 per year to any recipient if the gift is made directly to a medical provider or educational institution for that recipient's benefit. For example, you may pay your granchild's annual college tuition of $33,000 without in any way impacting your unified credit, provided you write the check directly to the school, in addition to giving $15,000 to your grandchild in the same year. None of these gifts would affect your lifetime gift tax exemption.


Credit Shelter Trust can Double Tax-Free Assets  Florida Spouses Can Pass to Heirs

A Credit Shelter trust (also known as the A-B Trust or Bypass Trust) may be beneficial if you are married and your combined marital assets exceed the current estate tax exclusion (the amount you can pass on to your heirs free of estate taxes). The exclusion as of January 1, 2018 is $11.58 M per individual. In addition to keeping your estate out of probate, this type of Trust allows both your and your spouse's estate tax exclusions to be used, thus effectively doubling what can be passed on to heirs estate tax-free.

A Credit Shelter Trust is structured so that when the first spouse dies, the couple's assets are divided into two Trusts: the deceased spouse's Trust, which contains the current exclusion amount; and the survivor's Trust. Upon the death of the first spouse, assets flow into two Trusts: the Credit Shelter Trust containing the deceased's assets up to $11.58M, and the survivor's Trust. The surviving spouse has full use of the income from the Credit Shelter Trust during his or her lifetime, as well as the right to draw on the principal for health, education, maintenance and support. Upon the survivor's death, assets from both Trusts pass on to the beneficiaries. Thus, each spouse has made full use of his/her estate tax exclusion and can pass on twice the amount of tax-free money to heirs.  


Life Insurance Trust Can Provide Heirs Cash to Pay Estate Taxes

For estates on which estate taxes will be owed, the issue of what assets should be used to pay the taxes can be problematic.  Frequently a family business is involved which cannot be sold or mortgaged without causing great harm to the business and family members who work in it and rely upon it for their and their family's future. If qualified plan money [ IRA, 401(k), 403(b) ] is a large portion of a decedent's estate, liquidating these funds to pay estate taxes can create negative income tax complications and cause a major dissipation of those retirement funds.

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust is one solution to this quandary. The insurance can either be on the life of a single individual, or upon the second to die of a married couple (the point at which the estate tax customarily has to be paid). The Trust is set up with a trustee(s) other than the insured.  The trustee is generally an adult child, or a third party like a bank or an attorney. Properly done, gifts are made by the insured to the trustee, for the benefit of the ultimate beneficiaries (usually children or grandchildren). Those gifts are used to purchase and continue to pay for life insurance on the life of the insured. Upon the death of the insured or insureds, the life insurance proceeds are paid to the trustee, for the benefit of the beneficiaries, free of both income tax and estate tax.  Those funds are then used to pay any estate taxes due, thus avoiding the need to sell the family business, real estate, or the qualified plan. 

Use a Heritage Trust to Keep Your Assets in Your Family

Today's high divorce and remarriage rates make keeping assets "in the  family"  an  increasing concern. If your child divorces, chances are you want your child and your own grandchildren -- not your former in-law and that in-law's children -- to inherit your assets. A properly drafted Heritage Trust can help ensure that your assets pass to your blood relatives, as well as potentially protect those assets from their creditors in the event your heirs encounter financial hardship. 

You set up a Heritage Trust naming your child as beneficiary and trustee of the Trust when you pass on. At that time, assets from your Trust are retitled into the Heritage Trust. Your child then has complete access to both the principal and income. When your child dies, any unused portion of his inheritance goes to his children. (If his children are too young to manage the monies, the funds may be held in trust for them, and a trustee, usually another one of your adult children, can use the assets for the grandchildren's health, education, maintenance and support.) If your child dies without children of his own, any unused funds are divided among your blood relatives, generally surviving children or grandchildren.

Another advantage of the Heritage Trust is that assets passing through it, unlike those passing through a traditional Will or Trust, are automatically segregated from your child's marital assets. This spares your child the potentially awkward situation of informing his spouse that he wishes to keep his inheritance separate from his marital funds.

Heritage Trust Graphic


Spousal Option Trust Can Keep Your Estate Plan Flexible as Tax Laws Change

The Credit Shelter Trust allows couples with taxable estates to pass the maximum amount of tax-free money to heirs. However, it requires some extra work after the first spouse dies. The survivor needs to maintain assets in two pots: the Credit Shelter Trust and the survivor's Trust. That involves tracking, managing, and filing income tax returns for each Trust.

The problem is this: the definition of "taxable" is constantly changing. This law as of January 1, 2018, provides for an estate tax exemption of $11.58 M per individual. When a couple has a Credit Shelter Trust, the survivor is required to set up two Trusts - even if the estate tax law at that time means the estate is not taxable. It becomes a lot of bother for no benefit.

The Spousal Option Trust (also known as the Disclaimer Trust) addresses this problem of changing estate tax exemptions by giving the survivor the option, not the obligation, to set up two Trusts upon the death of the first spouse. If at the first death a Credit Shelter Trust is unnecessary from a tax standpoint, it need not be established. The decedent's assets would then go directly into the survivor's Ttrust.


Spousal Option Trust Graphic



Charitable Remainder Trust: Give to Charity and Reap Estate Tax Benefits

The Charitable Remainder Trust can be a useful tax-savings tool if you have significantly appreciated assets, such as stocks and real estate. A Charitable Remainder Trust may allow you to avoid paying capital gains taxes on these assets, as well as remove them from your estate and therefore reduce estate taxes. When you place highly appreciated assets in a Charitable Remainder Trust whose ultimate beneficiary is a charity of your choice, you receive an immediate income tax deduction equal based on the fair market value of the assets. Your designated charity (trustee) then sells the asset and invests the monies in income-producing investments, and you receive income for life from the Trust. When you die, your designated charity receives the principal of the trust. Although the Trust is irrevocable, you still have the power to change or add charitable beneficiaries at any time.