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House Democrats Propose Sweeping Changes To Tax Laws That May Have Major Impact On Estate Planning

On September 13, 2021, Democrats in the House of Representatives released a new $3.5 trillion proposed spending plan that includes a wide array of changes to federal tax laws. Specifically, the Democrats have proposed a number of significant tax increases and other changes to fund the plan, including increases to personal income tax rates and the capital gains tax rate, along with a major reduction to the federal estate and gift tax exclusion and new restrictions on Grantor Trusts that would basically eliminate such trust’s ability to be used as planning vehicles.

While the proposed legislation is still under consideration and far from being finalized, given the broad-reaching impact these changes stand to have, we strongly encourage you to take action now if you would be affected by the proposed legislation if it does pass. With the exception of capital gains rate increase, which could go into effect on transactions that occur on or after Sept. 13, 2021, most of the proposed changes would be effective after December 31, 2021, meaning that you have time to plan now. That said, due to the time it takes to plan and execute some of the financial and estate planning actions we’d need to support you with, we suggest you start strategizing now. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to take the appropriate action before the end of the year. With that in mind, here we’ll outline how the proposed tax law changes stand to affect your financial, tax, and estate planning, so you can contact us if you would be impacted if the new bill does pass.

Reduction in Estate and Gift Tax Exclusion

Proposed changes: The bill would dramatically reduce the federal estate and gift tax exclusion from its current level of $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples to its 2010 level of $5 million per individual, adjusted for inflation, which would bring the estate and gift tax “coupon” to roughly $6 million. The proposed reduction would apply to estates of descendants who die or make gifts after December 31, 2021. This reduction would expose estates and gifts above the exclusion amount to a 40% federal estate tax.

Potential planning solutions: In light of the proposed reduction, individuals with assets in excess of $6 million (including life insurance) should take a “use it or lose it” approach to gifting, and make any gifts before the end of the year to qualify for the higher exclusion rate. That said, some families should consider making such gifts before the legislation is officially passed due to the changes to Grantor Trusts and other estate planning strategies described below. If your estate is already over the $6 million exemption, or you expect it to be in the future, contact us now. Again, do not wait.

New Restrictions On Grantor Trusts

Proposed changes: The new bill targets Grantor Trusts and would effectively shut them down as planning vehicles. Currently, a Grantor Trust is a trust that can be considered separate and apart from the grantor (individual who creates the trust) and contributor to the trust for estate tax purposes, but be considered as owned by the grantor for income tax purposes. Since the grantor is considered the owner of the trust for income tax purposes, transactions between the trust and the grantor are “disregarded,” meaning that assets can be sold or exchanged with the trust, without triggering any income tax consequences. However, that same trust can also be used to move assets outside of your estate for estate tax purposes, freezing the value of those assets at their current value, such that when you die, any appreciation in the value of those assets is not taxed for estate tax purposes, saving your family 40% or more.

The new bill provides that any Grantor Trust created on or after the date of the legislation’s enactment will now be included in your estate for estate tax purposes. Distributions from Grantor Trusts (other than to the grantor or the grantor’s spouse) would be treated as gifts made by the grantor, and therefore subject to the gift tax exemption. If the bill is enacted and Grantor Trust ceases to be treated as such during the grantor’s life, the grantor would be deemed to make a gift of the trust assets, and sales of assets between a grantor and the Grantor Trust would no longer be disregarded for income tax purposes.

The good news is that under the new bill Grantor Trusts established and funded before the enactment of the new law would be “grandfathered” in, as would promissory notes that are in place at the time of the law’s enactment.

Potential planning solutions: Contact us if your assets are above the proposed estate tax exemption amount of approximately $6 million, or you anticipate they will be, so we can move some of your assets outside of your estate this year.

Impact To Discounts & Other Estate Planning Vehicles

Proposed changes: The bill would not only affect the use of Grantor Trusts, but it would also eliminate valuation discounts, unless the asset gifted or sold is an “active trade or business.” Moreover, depending upon how the legislation is applied and interpreted, the new bill may also prevent planners from being able to use irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs)—at least to some degree (more about ILITs below)—as well as Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRTs), and Grantor Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts (CLATs).

Irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs) are among the most commonly used irrevocable trusts for estate planning, and since most ILITs have traditionally been structured as Grantor Trusts, these trusts will be largely undermined by the new bill. Since the trust would be included in your estate, new ILITs will no longer be feasible. As a workaround, new ILITs may need to be structured as non-Grantor Trusts to avoid estate inclusion. However, this structure will create an array of problems. First, it will require the trust to expressly prohibit trust income from being used to pay life insurance premiums on your life as the creator of the trust. Second, for those existing trusts that are grandfathered in, no new gifts should be made to the ILIT, or a portion of the trust assets (including life insurance proceeds) will also be included in your estate.

Potential planning solutions: If your estate plan includes any of these trusts or planning strategies, contact us right away for guidance in amending your estate plan to offset the impact of these changes.

As we approach the end of 2021, if your family stands to be impacted by any of these changes, it’s imperative to take action as quickly as possible to ensure that whatever actions that need to be taken can be planned and executed before the end of the year. Not only that, but given the number of proposed changes that are coming, financial advisors and estate planners are sure to be extremely busy in the coming months.

Given this, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with us, your Personal Family Lawyer®. The sooner you meet with us, the sooner we can make certain that you can amend your planning strategies accordingly to minimize the impacts of this new bill on your financial and estate planning.

This article is a service of Megan Campbell, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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