By Michael Ettinger, Esq.
In our experience, a majority of New Yorkers are unaware (blissfully?) that New York State levies an estate tax.
New York’s estate tax starts on estates over one million dollars. What is your estate for tax purposes? All of your real and personal property, your bank accounts, investments, IRA’s, etc. as well as any life insurance that you own. Add it all up and, if you’re under a million, then no problem.
But, if you’re over a million, the tax rate starts at 41% (yikes!) and gradually goes down to about 10%. Below is a New York Estate Tax schedule prepared by our firm to help you see where you stand.
Fortunately, if you have a spouse, you can avoid paying up to about $100,000 of these estate taxes by creating two estates, one for the husband and one for the wife, and get two one million dollar exemptions.
For example, let’s say a couple has two million in assets. Essentially, what happens here is that each spouse sets up a trust and we put one-half of the house and other assets into each trust. Both spouses are trustees, or managers, of both trusts. Now, say husband dies. Before, everything went to wife and while there is no tax on what you leave to your spouse, when she dies her estate has the whole two million and generates a $99,600.00 tax bill. Instead, with the two trusts, husband’s assets stay in his trust, wife is in charge and can buy, sell, trade and spend. But when wife dies, husband’s trust goes to the children, or preferably their inheritance trusts, and “bypasses” her estate. He passes one million tax-free. Her estate is also only one million and also passes tax-free. Savings = $99,600.00. Why don’t more people do this? In fact they do. Ettinger Law Firm has used this technique for over twenty years in more than 10,000 estate plans to save thousands of New York families many millions in estate taxes.
Remember, you don’t get the two exemptions just because you have a spouse. You only get the two exemptions if you set up the two trusts before the first spouse dies…in other words, if your estate is over one million dollars and you have a spouse, the time is now.