Articles tagged with: estates

Will You Avoid These Estate Planning Mistakes?

Too many wealthy households commit these common blunders.
Many people plan their estates diligently, with input from legal, tax, and financial professionals. Others plan earnestly, but make mistakes that can potentially affect both the transfer and destiny of family wealth. Here are some common and not-so-common errors to avoid.

Doing it all yourself. While you could write your own will or create a will or trust from a template, it can be risky to do so. Sometimes simplicity has a price. Look at the example of Warren Burger. The former Chief Justice of the United States wrote his own will, and it was just 176 words long. It proved flawed – after he died in 1995, his heirs wound up paying over $450,000 in estate taxes and other fees, costs that likely could have been avoided with a lengthier and less informal will containing appropriate language.1

Failing to update your will or trust after a life event. Relatively few estate plans are reviewed over time. Any life event should prompt you to review your will, trust, or other estate planning documents. So should a life event affecting one of your beneficiaries.

Appointing a co-trustee. Trust administration is not for everyone. Some people lack the interest, the time, or the understanding it requires, and others balk at the responsibility and potential liability involved. A co-trustee also introduces the potential for conflict.

Being too vague with your heirs about your estate plan. While you may not want to explicitly reveal who will get what prior to your passing, your heirs should have an understanding of the purpose and intentions at the heart of your estate planning. If you want to distribute more of your wealth to one child than another, write a letter to be presented after your death that explains your reasoning. Make a list of which heirs will receive particular collectibles or heirlooms. If your family has some issues, this may go a long way toward reducing squabbles and the possibility of legal costs eating up some of this or that heir’s inheritance.

Failing to consider what will happen if you & your partner are unmarried. The “marriage penalty” affecting joint filers aside, married couples receive distinct federal tax breaks in this country – estate tax breaks among them. This year, the lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion amount is $5.45 million for an individual, but $10.9 million for a married couple.1,2

If you live together and you are not married, it is worth considering how your unmarried status might affect your estate planning with regard to federal and state taxes. As Forbes mentioned last year, federal and state taxes claimed more than more than $15 million of the $35 million estate of Oscar-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He left 100% of his estate to his longtime partner, and since they had never married, she could not qualify for the marriage exemption on inherited assets. While the individual lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion protected a relatively small portion of Hoffman’s estate from death taxes, the much larger remainder was taxed at rates of up to 40% rather than being passed tax-free. Hoffman also lived in New York, a state which levies a 16% estate tax for non-spouses once estates exceed $1 million.1

Leaving a trust unfunded (or underfunded). Through a simple, one-sentence title change, a married couple can fund a revocable trust with their primary residence. As an example, if a couple retitles their home from “Heather and Michael Smith, Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship” to “Heather and Michael Smith, Trustees of the Smith Revocable Trust dated (month)(day), (year)”. They are free to retitle myriad other assets in the trust’s name.1

Ignoring a caregiver with ulterior motives. Very few people consider this possibility when creating a will or trust, but it does happen. A caregiver harboring a hidden agenda may exploit a loved one to the point where he or she revises estate planning documents for the caregiver’s financial benefit.

The best estate plans are clear in their language, clear in their intentions, and updated as life events demand. They are overseen through the years with care and scrutiny, reflecting the magnitude of the transfer of significant wealth.

Michael Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com
Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – raymondjames.com/pointofview/seven_estate_planning_mistakes_to_avoid [10/16/15]
2 – fool.com/retirement/general/2015/12/11/estate-planning-in-2016-heres-what-you-need-to-kno.aspx [12/11/15]

Understanding the Gift Tax

Most of us will never face taxes related to money or assets we give away.

“How can I avoid the federal gift tax?” If this question is on your mind, you aren’t alone. The good news is that few taxpayers or estates will ever have to pay it.

Misconceptions surround this tax. The IRS sets both a yearly gift tax exclusion amount and a lifetime gift tax exemption amount, and this is where the confusion develops.

Here’s what you have to remember: practically speaking, the federal gift tax is a tax on estates. If it wasn’t in place, the rich could simply give away the bulk of their money or property while living to spare their heirs from inheritance taxes.

Now that you know the reason the federal government established the gift tax, you can see that the lifetime gift tax exclusion matters more than the annual one.

“What percentage of my gifts will be taxed this year?” Many people wrongly assume that if they give a gift exceeding the annual gift tax exclusion, their tax bill will go up next year as a result. Unless the gift is huge, that won’t likely occur.

The IRS has set the annual gift tax exclusion at $14,000 this year. What this means is that you can gift up to $14,000 each to as many individuals as you like in 2015 without having to pay any gift taxes. A married couple may gift up to $28,000 each to an unlimited number of individuals tax-free this year – this is known as a “split gift”. Gifts may be made in cash, stock, collectibles, real estate – just about any form of property with value, as long as you cede ownership and control of it.1

So how are amounts over the $14,000 annual exclusion handled? The excess amounts count against the $5.43 million lifetime gift tax exemption (which is periodically adjusted upward in response to inflation). While you have to file a gift tax return if you make a gift larger than $14,000 in 2015, you owe no gift tax until your total gifts exceed the lifetime exemption.1

“What happens if I go over the lifetime exemption?” If that occurs, then you will pay a 40% gift tax on gifts above the $5.43 million lifetime exemption amount. One exception, though: all gifts that you make to your spouse are tax-free provided he or she is a U.S. citizen. This is known as the marital deduction.1,2

“But aren’t the gift tax and estate tax exemptions linked?” They are. The gift tax exemption and the estate tax exemption are sometimes called the unified credit. So if you have already made taxable lifetime gifts that have used up $4 million of the current $5.43 million unified credit, then only $1.43 million of your estate will be exempt from inheritance taxes if you die in 2015.2

However, the $5.43 million unified credit extended to each of us is portable. That means that if you don’t use all of it up during your lifetime, the unused portion of the credit can pass to your spouse at your death.2

In sum, most estates can make larger gifts during the individual’s life without any estate, gift or income tax consequences. If you have estate planning questions in mind, turn to a legal or financial professional well versed in these matters for answers.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at Ph# 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com 

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Tax-Planning-and-Checklists/The-Gift-Tax-Made-Simple/INF12127.html [2/24/15]

2 – schwab.com/public/schwab/nn/articles/The-Estate-Tax-and-Lifetime-Gifting [1/28/15]