[Updated 2020/2021 Ed.] Gifting and Other End of Year Estate Planning for 2020 and 2021

The pandemic, numberous changes in state and federal law have made end of year issues more important than ever.  And, there is not much time left in 2020 to complete vital end‑of‑year tasks (including estate planning, gifts to children, grandchildren, or others). 

In addition, with a pending reduction in the amount you can give during your lifetime and at death (without paying estate or gift taxes) and with several presidential candidates proposing higher estate tax rates, gifting may be even more important.

But gifting at the end of the year (or at any time) isn’t the only issue. There are many strategies to protect a surviving spouse or heirs, and to minimize fees and taxes.

So let’s help to prioritize your options and make a few suggestions. 

Not all of these techniques will be right for you but better to know more about them so that you can an informed decision.

1. Annual Gifts to Children, Grandchildren, and Others.

First, if you wish to make gifts to children, grandchildren or other members of the family (even unrelated friends can be included) the Internal Revenue Code allows you to gift (in 2018, 2019 and now in 2020) up to $15,000.00 per person. 

In addition, if you're married, each spouse can do this to as many individuals as he or she wishes. That makes this a very powerful technique for moving significant assets to the next generation and free from estate and gift taxation. See the examples below.

NOTE:  This number can change each year so check back here periodically to see what Congress and the IRS has to help or hurt taxpayers.

So, a married couple could, therefore, give up to $30,000.00 in 2020, and again in 2021 (assuming the government doesn't change the rules), to a child and/or grandchild AND, if you wanted to, you could do the same to your grandchild's  spouse & their children.  These gifts can also be outright or gifted to a trust, 529 plan, or UTMA account.

That's quite a bit of money that can be moved out of your estate each year.

EXCLUSIVE TIP: Make sure that the checks are cashed before the end of the year or the IRS can argue that it was not completed in 2020

PRO TAX TIP: If you’re making a gift of appreciated stock or other appreciated assets be sure to consult us  and/or your income tax advisor as your children will get your basis in the property.  (That means that they may incur in capital gains taxes when the stock is sold.) Once again, these gifts need to be completed before the end of the year. 

BONUS SECRET TIP: ​You can actually gift more than the annual gift tax exclusion in any year but it will use up some of your lifetime/death tax exemption. If you want to gift amounts in addition to the $15k be sure to consult your estate planning attorney and/or accountant as many gifts require the filing of a Form 709 gift tax return on or before April 15 (or October 15th if you apply for an extension of time to file). For more details see “2. Want To Make A Larger Gift?” below.

For those with larger estates, this might be the year to make larger gifts, but check with your advisers as your particular facts matter very much.

EXTRA BONUS TIP:  You can also make additional gifts for education over and above the $15,000 dollars, make sure that tuition checks are made out directly to the school. Call your attorney or tax advisor for more specifics.

WARNING:  While these gifts are permitted by federal law, they might have unexpected effects on your ability to qualify for Medicaid (if you're facing long-term nursing care) or long term government health care benefits.  Be sure to consult an elder law attorney before making gifts if you do not have long term care coverage and/or if the value of your assets are below ($1,000,000) one million dollars per spouse.

MORE INFO?  If you need to know more about how to gift to children and grandchildren for college, get our free report here.

2. Want to Make a Larger Gift?

If you’re planning on making a large gift before the end of the year, or at any time next year, remember that, in addition to the annual gift tax exclusion (the renewable amount you get to give every year).  In 2020 could also give up to a total of $11,580,000 during your lifetime or at death.  In 2021 the estate and gift tax exemption will rise or fall depending on the outcome of the election.

However, any such larger gifts require that a gift tax return (709) be filed and that will also reduce the amount available to you to shelter in your estate at the time of your death. 

It is also possible for spouses to join together to make larger gifts but that might also require a special form of 709 gift tax filing called a "split gift". See WARNING above.

So if you’re considering a larger gift, give us a call and we can give you advice about the best way to structure it. It's not hard but it needs to be done right.

3. Is 2020 The Time to Graduate From a Will to a Trust? 

While this doesn't technically need to be done by the end of the year it’s a good idea to put this on your list of New Year’s resolutions. 

Should you change your estate planning from simply a will to "pour over will" and a revocable living trust? 

This decision is an important and complicated one but we can help you to simplify it. 

Basically, you should give strong consideration to a trust if you fit one or more of the following: 

      1) you have real estate in multiple states;

      2) you are single or widowed and have assets in excess of $5 million dollars;

      3) you have a family member or other person who is expecting an inheritance and whom you’re disinheriting;

      4) if you’re quite elderly and want someone to manage your assets and to pay the bills starting now; or

      5) you wish to organize your affairs now to simplify and save your heirs money including minimizing probate fees and other expenses, 

If one or more of these indications are true for you, get personalized information on the benefits of a trust.

Protecting Your Heirs From Divorce & Lawsuits

Want to know more about how trusts created in your estate plan, or will, can protect your children and grandchildren from divorce and lawsuits?  

Get our Enhanced Estate Planning Guide here. or if you know  you want this upgrade to your estate plan, please call us for an appointment at 610-933-8069.

Elder Law Protection, ​Aging In Place With A Long Term Care Contract, Or Moving To An Assisted Living or Retirement Community.

Want to know more about Elder Law Trusts and how they can protect your assets from the high cost of long term and/or nursing home care?  Click Here.

Also, if you’re considering a significant move or change of lifestyle in 2020 we have great news.

So many clients have been calling and asking about moving to a retirement, assisted living or other community OR about aging in place and having a long term care contract, that we have developed a special bundle of services for you.

This change of life review includes a review of all your estate planning documents (such as wills, trusts, powers-of-attorney, living wills and other health care documents) as well as review of any housing or related contracts (that can contain. Many surprises.

So if you or a loved one are facing these issues in 2021 please call to reserve a complete review.  CALL 610-933-8069 for all of the information.

Need to Know More About Revocable Trust and Trustees?

We have published a Trustee Manual of over 170 pages of advice, checklists, and step by step actions for trustees.  Get one for your heirs.  The client discounts are available if  you're a client and if you call 610-933-8069.  We will not charge you until the manual ships to you or the person you're giving it to.  The regular price of $297 is discounted to $197 for existing clients, extra copies are only $137 each.

If you need help deciding call 610-933-8069.  Existing clients can have a complimentary consultation on this issue.

4. Do You Need a Nursing Home Trust?

We call our special versions of these trusts Asset Guardian Trusts (TM).  To hear more, click here to see a video on Elder Law Trust & House Calls from our Mobile Elder Law program.

You should also consider using an irrevocable trust for nursing home planning during the next year. 

If you have assets that exceed what you need to live and you may be facing nursing home care in the future you may want to preserve and protect some of those assets for your spouse and/or heirs. 

While it’s possible to do emergency nursing home planning, much more can be done by planning in advance. 

You can also call for a complimentary phone consultation, 610-933-8069.

5. The Supreme Court Took Away IRA Asset Protection for Your Heirs.  Here's how to get it back - an IRA Protection Trust. 

If you have left your IRAs to one or more children or grandchildren and their children or grandchildren are currently the direct beneficiaries, it’s definitely time to consider using stand-alone trusts when your IRA assets exceed $200,000.00 or $300,000.00 per child/beneficiary. 

These trusts can help to give back the protection that the Supreme Court took away AND can protect your hard earned IRA assets for your children or grandchildren to grow for their own retirements. If you need one of these trusts to protect your heirs from losing an inherited IRA to a lawsuit or divorce please call to schedule a consultation.

6. Do an Insurance Check Up.

Remember to check your car and homeowner’s insurance policies to make sure that your underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage is sufficient.  This coverage affects you if you’re hit by a driver who does not have adequate insurance and we find many of our clients have very minimal coverage and this very inexpensive insurance can be easily increased. 

Make sure that you have a personal umbrella liability policy to protect you in the event of a car accident or other lawsuit. 

These policies can provide $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5 million dollars and even more on top of your homeowners or car insurance. 

They could be vital in protecting your assets in the event of a serious accident or other liability.  Be sure to check with your insurance advisor.  

Our insurance book is available by clicking here.

7. BONUS END OF YEAR POINTER - Do a beneficiary review of all of your life insurance, IRA's, 401(k)s and other accounts.

If it's been a while, consider doing a full review to make sure that your life insurance, annuity, and other account beneficiary designations are correct.  

Failure to do this properly might override your wills and/or trusts and create very serious tax problems for your heirs.

It's a good idea to review both your primary and contingent beneficiary designations and to note that they may be different for life insurance as opposed to retirement and deferred tax accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s.



David M. Frees, III
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Attorney, Speaker and Author
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