Articles Posted in Gift tax

News this week is dominated by one topic: the federal government shutdown. Like most others, you may be wondering how (or if) the developments out of D.C. will affect you.

The Background

The shutdown itself is caused by Congress’s failure to pass an appropriations bill allowing for the spending of money to fund day-to-day government operations. More specifically, Republicans in the House of Representatives are refusing to pass a bill that includes funding for the Affordable Care Act. Usually disagreements about these issues are handled separately from daily government funding, but the House GOP has combined the issues and refused to budge, leading to the shutdown.

A post over at Think Advisor last week provides some helpful insight into one financial and estate planning tool which might be appropriate for some New York residents. The tool is know as a GRAT – Grantor Retained Annuity Trust. As with many other trusts, one key purpose of the GRAT is to minimize tax liability, particularly for those with significant assets.

How It Works

The basic concept behind the GRAT is straightforward. Assets are placed in trust. The grantor (person creating the trust) then retains the right to receive fixed payments from the trust. Those payment can last either for a set period of time designated in advance or over the grantor’s life. At the end of the trust’s life the assets placed in the trust then fall to the beneficiaries.

One of the most common questions that local families ask related to estate planning and assets protection involve gifts: Whether to give them, when to give, how much, and in what form.

Of course, no two situations are identical, and so it is impossible to list a set of rules regarding when and how large-scale gifting should be done in every case. However, a Forbes article this week on the topic provides a good starting point for New York families to familiarize themselves with the basic concept and major issues to consider.

Helping Children Now

The gift tax has implications in a variety of New York estate planning situations, from deciding the best way to provide aid to loved ones to conducting business succession planning. As with many other tax issues, timing is important because lawmakers at the federal and state level can change these rates. While the risk of rate changes always exists, there has been significant discussion as of late about a variety of potential changes involving the 12-member federal “Super Committee.” The Super Committee has been charged by Congress with reducing the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. To do so, the group will have to enact a combination of spending reductions and tax changes. No matter what combination they ultimately decide upon, it is highly likely that their work will have effects on local residents crafting their New York estate plan.

For example, last week the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch published a story explaining proposed changes to gift tax exclusions. The specific committee meetings are mostly private, so some of the recent thoughts on the committee’s actions are speculative. However, it is known that one of the President’s proposed recommendations to the committee includes reducing the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax thresholds. The proposal would reduce the tax-free gift threshold to its 2009 level of $1 million. Currently the tax-free threshold is supposed to stay at $5 million until the end of 2012. However, many are speculating that the committee may decide to return the exclusion back to $1 million a year early as a cost-saving measure.

The story’s author summarizes the changes by noting, “Overall tax planning and gift tax thresholds that are now available could be at risk for families…not much good can come from the committee’s recommendations from a wealth preservation perspective.” Clearly, the potential actions by this group may make it important for some local residents to take long-term financial actions now. Our New York estate planning attorneys urge all community members who may be affected by these changes to visit with a professional to either create a plan or update an existing one. Depending on the advice received, it may be prudent to accelerate planned lifetime gifts, review estate-tax funding mechanisms, or otherwise revise estate plans.

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