Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic turndown in some areas, you may have family members in need of financial support. If you’re interested in lending money to loved ones in need, consider establishing a “family bank.” These entities enhance the benefits of intrafamily loans, while minimizing unintended consequences.

Intrafamily loans

Lending can be an effective way to provide your family with financial assistance without triggering unwanted gift taxes. So long as a loan is structured in a manner similar to an arm’s-length loan between unrelated parties, it won’t be treated as a taxable gift. This means, among other things, documenting the loan with a promissory note, charging interest at or above the applicable federal rate, establishing a fixed repayment schedule, and ensuring that the borrower has a reasonable prospect of repaying the loan.

Even if taxes aren’t a concern, intrafamily loans offer important benefits. For example, they allow you to help your family financially without depleting your wealth or creating a sense of entitlement. Done right, these loans can encourage responsible financial behavior, promote accountability and help cultivate the younger generation’s entrepreneurial capabilities by providing financing to start a business.

Family banks

Too often, however, people lend money to family members with little planning and regard for potential unintended consequences. Rash lending decisions can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts among family members and false expectations. That’s where the family bank comes into play.

A family bank is a family-owned, family-funded entity designed for the sole purpose of making intrafamily loans. Often, family banks are able to make financing available to family members who might have difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank or other traditional funding sources or to lend at more favorable terms. By “professionalizing” family lending activities, a family bank can preserve the tax-saving power of intrafamily loans while minimizing negative consequences.

Build a strong governance structure

The key to avoiding family conflicts and resentment is to build a strong family governance structure that promotes communication, group decision-making and transparency. It’s important to establish clear guidelines regarding the types of loans the family bank is authorized to make and allow all family members to participate in the decision-making process. This ensures that family members are treated fairly and avoids false expectations.

Ease financial hardships

It’s possible that someone in your extended family has faced difficult financial circumstances recently. Contact us to learn more about intrafamily loans and family banks.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Don’t choose your executor too hastily

Haste makes waste. Or, in the case of estate planning, it can lead to other problems and, possibly, financial loss. Notably, if you don’t take enough time to choose the best executor for your estate, this “wrong call” can cost your family.

Many responsibilities

You may think that there’s not much to the job, but an executor’s responsibilities are extensive. As your personal representative, he or she will be entrusted with several significant duties, including collecting, protecting and taking inventory of your estate’s assets; filing the estate’s tax return and paying its taxes; handling creditors’ claims and the estate’s claims against others; making investment decisions; distributing property to beneficiaries; and liquidating assets, if necessary.

Whom should you choose as executor? Usually, it comes down to a decision between a family member or close friend and a professional.

Your first thought might be to choose a family member or a trusted friend. But this may be a mistake for one of these reasons:

  • The person may be too grief-stricken to function effectively,
  • If the executor stands to gain from the will, there may be a conflict of interest — real or perceived — which can lead to will contests or other disputes by disgruntled family members,
  • The executor may lack the financial acumen needed for the position, or
  • The executor may hire any necessary professionals, but they might not be the professionals you’d hire.

To avoid these risks, you might instead consider choosing an independent professional as executor, particularly if the professional is familiar with your financial affairs.

Form a team of executors

Finally, it’s common to appoint co-executors — one person who knows the family and understands its dynamics and an independent executor with the requisite expertise. Whether you decide to use co-executors or only one, be sure to designate at least one backup to serve in the event that your first choice is unable to do so.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

A generous gift and estate tax exemption means only a small percentage of families are currently subject to federal estate taxes. But it’s important to consider state estate taxes as well. Although many states tie their exemption amounts to the federal exemption, several states have exemptions that are significantly lower — in some cases $1 million or less.

Moving out of state isn’t necessarily the answer

One way to avoid this tax burden is to retire in a state that imposes low or no estate taxes. But moving to a tax-friendly state doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve escaped taxation by the state you left. Unless you’ve cut all ties with your former state, there’s a risk that the state will claim you’re still a resident and are subject to its estate tax.

Even if you’ve successfully established residency in a new state, you may be subject to estate taxes on real estate or tangible personal property located in the old state (depending on that state’s tax laws). And don’t assume that your estate won’t be taxed on this property merely because its value is less than the exemption amount. In some states, estate taxes are triggered when the value of your worldwide assets exceeds the exemption amount.

Establishing residency in your new state

If you’re relocating to a state with low or no estate taxes, learn about the steps you can take to terminate residency in the old state and establish residency in the new one. Examples include acquiring a residence in the new state, obtaining a driver’s license and registering to vote there, receiving important documents at your new address, opening bank accounts in the new state and closing old ones, and moving cherished personal possessions to the new state.

If you own real estate in the old state, consider transferring it to a limited liability company or other entity. In some states, interests in these entities may be treated as nontaxable intangible property.

Before putting up the “for sale” sign and moving to lower-tax pastures, consult with us about addressing your current and future states’ estate taxes in your estate plan.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Too often, people planning their estates focus on tax and asset-protection issues and overlook long-term health care needs. But the high cost of long-term care (LTC) can quickly devour resources you need to maintain your lifestyle during retirement and provide for your children or other heirs after your death. Here are a few insurance options available to help cover the costs of long-term care.

LTC insurance

An LTC insurance policy supplements your traditional health insurance by covering services that assist you or a loved one with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs). Generally, ADLs include eating, bathing, dressing and transferring (in and out of bed, for example).

LTC coverage is relatively expensive, but it may be possible to reduce the cost by purchasing a tax-qualified policy. Generally, benefits paid in accordance with an LTC policy are tax-free. In addition, if a policy is tax-qualified, your premiums may be deductible (as medical expenses) up to a specified limit.

To qualify, a policy must:

  • Be guaranteed renewable and noncancelable regardless of health,
  • Not delay coverage of pre-existing conditions more than six months,
  • Not condition eligibility on prior hospitalization,
  • Not exclude coverage based on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar conditions or illnesses, and
  • Require a physician’s certification that you’re either unable to perform at least two of six ADLs or you have a severe cognitive impairment, which has lasted or is expected to last at least 90 days.

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of tax-qualified policies. The primary advantage is the premium deduction. But keep in mind that medical expenses are deductible only if you itemize and only to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Thus, some people may not have enough medical expenses to benefit from this advantage. Also weigh any potential tax benefits against the advantages of nonqualified policies, which may have less stringent eligibility requirements.

Hybrid insurance

Also known as “asset-based” policies, hybrid policies combine LTC benefits with whole life insurance or annuity benefits. These policies have several advantages over standalone LTC policies. For example, their health-based underwriting requirements typically are less stringent, and their premiums are usually guaranteed — that is, they won’t increase over time.

Most important, LTC benefits, which are tax-free, are funded from the death benefit or annuity value. So, if you never need to use the LTC benefits, those amounts are preserved for your beneficiaries.

Employer-provided plans

Employer-provided group LTC insurance plans offer significant advantages over individual policies, including discounted premiums and “guaranteed issue” coverage, which covers eligible employees (and, in some cases, their spouse and dependents) regardless of their health status. Group plans aren’t subject to nondiscrimination rules, so a business can offer employer-paid coverage to a select group of employees.

Employer plans also offer tax advantages. Generally, C corporations that pay LTC premiums for employees can deduct the entire amount as a business expense, even if it exceeds the deduction limit for individuals.

Contact us to learn more about the various LTC insurance options.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Estate planning and investment risk management go hand in hand. After all, an estate plan is effective only if you have some wealth to transfer to the next generation. One of the most effective strategies for reducing your investment risk is to diversify your holdings.

However, it’s not unusual for affluent people to end up with a significant portion of their wealth concentrated in one stock. There are several ways this can happen, including the exercise of stock options, participation in equity-based compensation programs, or receipt of stock in a merger or acquisition.

Ease risk by diversifying

To reduce your investment risk, the simplest option is to sell some or most of the stock and reinvest in a more diversified portfolio. But this may not be preferable if you don’t want to pay the resulting capital gains taxes. Or it may not be an option if there are legal restrictions on the amount you can sell and the timing of a sale. And in some cases, you may simply wish to hold on to the stock.

To soften the tax hit, consider selling the stock gradually over time to spread out the capital gains. Or, if you’re charitably inclined, contribute the stock to a charitable remainder trust (CRT). The trust can sell the stock tax-free, reinvest the proceeds in more diversified investments, and provide you with a current tax deduction and a regular income stream. (Be aware that CRT payouts are taxable — usually a combination of ordinary income, capital gain and tax-free amounts.)

Ease risk without selling the stock

What if you don’t want to sell the stock? You have a few options, including:

  • Using a hedging technique, such as purchasing put options to sell your shares at a set price. 
  • Buying other securities to rebalance your portfolio. Consider borrowing the funds you need, using the concentrated stock as collateral. 
  • Investing in a stock protection fund. These funds allow investors who own concentrated stock positions in different industries to pool their risks, essentially insuring their holdings against catastrophic loss. 

Contact us to learn about additional asset-protection strategies so that you can preserve the greatest amount of your wealth for your heirs.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Your estate plan may include a power of attorney for property that appoints another person to manage your investments, pay your bills, file your tax returns and otherwise handle your property if you’re unable to do so. But not all powers of attorney are created equal. Thus, it’s a good idea to periodically review your power of attorney with your advisor to ensure that it continues to serve its intended purpose. Questions to consider can include:

When does it take effect? If you live in a state that permits “springing” powers of attorney, your attorney-in-fact (that is, the person who holds your power of attorney) is authorized to act only on the occurrence of the event stated in the power of attorney. Typically, the power is designed to “spring” when you become incapacitated. If a power of attorney isn’t a springing power, the attorney-in-fact can act at any time after you’ve executed the document.

Is it durable? A durable power of attorney is one that continues in force after you’ve become incapacitated. Some states’ laws presume that a power of attorney is durable, but others don’t, in which case a power may be unenforceable unless it expressly states that it’s durable.

Is it powerful enough? Careful planning is required to ensure that your attorney-in-fact has the authority he or she needs to carry out your wishes. There are certain powers that you should expressly include to ensure such authority. For example, you must specify whether your attorney-in-fact has the power to make gifts or to make estate planning decisions, such as transferring assets to a trust.

Is it too old? Your attorney-in-fact’s ability to act on your behalf depends on whether third parties are willing to honor the power of attorney. Sometimes banks and others are reluctant to rely on a power of attorney that’s several years old. Therefore, consider signing a new one every two or three years.

If you have questions regarding power of attorney, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help answer your questions.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If your estate includes significant real estate investments, the manner in which you own these assets can have a dramatic effect on your estate plan. One versatile estate planning option to consider is tenancy-in-common (TIC) ownership.

What is tenancy-in-common?

A TIC interest is an undivided fractional interest in property. Rather than splitting the property into separate parcels, each owner has the right to use and enjoy the entire property.

An individual TIC owner can’t sell or lease the underlying property, or take other actions with respect to the property as a whole, without the other owners’ consent. But each owner has the right to sell, mortgage or transfer his or her TIC interestThis includes the right to transfer the interest, either directly or in trust, to his or her heirs or other beneficiaries.

Someone who buys or inherits a TIC interest takes over the original owner’s undivided fractional interest in the property, sharing ownership with the other tenants in common. Each TIC interest holder has a right of “partition.” That is, in the event of a dispute among the co-owners over management of the property, an owner can petition a court to divide the property into separate parcels or to force a sale and divide the proceeds among the co-owners.

How is it used in estate planning?

Here are two ways TIC interests can be used to accomplish your estate planning goals:

Distributing your wealthIf real estate constitutes a significant portion of your estate, dividing it among your heirs can be a challenge. If you transfer real estate to your children, for example — as joint tenants — their options for dealing with the property individually will be limited. What if one child wants to hold on to the real estate, but the other two want to cash out? Transferring TIC interests can avoid disputes by giving each heir the power to dispose of his or her interest without forcing a sale of the underlying property.

Reducing gift and estate taxesFractional interests generally are less marketable than whole interests. Plus, because an owner must share management with other co-owners, they provide less control. As a result, TIC interests may enjoy valuation discounts for gift and estate tax purposes.

Get an appraisal

If you’re considering using TIC interests as part of your estate plan, it’s critical to obtain an appraisal to support your valuation of these interests. Keep in mind that appraising a TIC interest is a two-step process: an appraisal of the real estate as a whole, followed by an appraisal of the fractional interest. In some cases, it may be desirable to use two appraisers: a real estate appraiser for the underlying property and a business valuation expert to quantify and support any valuation discounts you claim. Contact us with questions.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

With most tax planning, there are certain strategies that are generally effective and shouldn’t be ignored. The same holds true for estate planning. Here are three essential estate planning strategies to consider that may help you achieve your goals.

1. Use an ILIT to hold life insurance 

Do you own an insurance policy on your life? Then be aware that a substantial portion of the proceeds could be lost to estate taxes if your estate is large enough to be liable for them. The exact amount will depend on the estate tax exemption available at your death as well as the estate tax rates that apply.

However, if you don’t own the policy, the proceeds won’t be included in your taxable estate. One effective strategy for keeping life insurance out of your estate is to set up an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to buy and hold the policy.

If you already own your life insurance policy, you can transfer the policy to an ILIT. But watch out for the “three-year rule,” which provides that certain assets, including life insurance, transferred within three years of your death are pulled back into your estate and potentially taxed.

2. Place assets in a credit shelter trust

Designating your spouse as your sole beneficiary may seem like a good strategy. But doing so can waste your estate tax exemption.

Suppose you leave everything to your spouse. There will be no current estate tax at your death because of the unlimited marital deduction (assuming your spouse is a U.S. citizen). When your spouse dies, however, the assets transferred to him or her at your death will be included in his or her taxable estate (assuming the assets remain intact). A portion of your spouse’s estate could be subject to estate tax, depending on a variety of factors such as the size of your spouse’s total estate and the estate tax exemption available at his or her death.

You can preserve your exemption and reduce or even eliminate estate taxes by placing assets in a credit shelter trust. If properly structured, the trust provides your spouse with income for life — and access to the principal as needed — but the assets aren’t included in his or her estate. Plus, your own exemption shields the trust assets from estate tax.

3. Take advantage of a gifting strategy

Don’t underestimate the tax-saving power of making gifts. Currently, the annual exclusion is $15,000 per recipient ($30,000 if you split gifts with your spouse).

Annual exclusion gifts can be more effective because, unlike lifetime exemption gifts, they don’t reduce the amount of wealth you can transfer tax-free at death under your estate tax exemption. Gifting, whether under the annual exclusion or lifetime exemption, also removes future appreciation from your taxable estate.

Work with a pro

There’s much you need to consider when developing or reviewing your estate plan. Contact us so you can keep your plan on the right track.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As many states continue to struggle with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, the “new normal” demands continued social distancing in many areas of life. What does this mean for estate planning? Clearly, estate planning is as important today — or arguably more important — than ever. But how do you plan your estate and execute critical documents if you’re uncomfortable with face-to-face meetings or are required to self-quarantine?

Fortunately, many estate planning activities may be able to be done from the safety of your own home. Here are some options to consider, but keep in mind that requirements vary significantly from state to state, so it’s important to discuss your plans with your estate planning advisor.

Most planning can be done remotely

There are definite advantages to meeting with your advisor in person to talk about creating or updating your estate plan. But these discussions can be conducted in video conferences or phone calls, and document drafts can be transmitted and reviewed via email, secure online portals or even “snail mail.”

Traditionally, estate planning documents are executed in an attorney’s office in the presence of witnesses and a notary public. In-office document signings may still be possible with appropriate precautions, but there are other options that may allow you to avoid traveling to an attorney’s office.

The options available depend in part on the type of document being signed:

Wills. In most states, a typewritten will (as well as a modification or codicil to an existing will) must be signed in the physical presence of at least two witnesses. Typically, those witnesses must be disinterested — that is, they don’t stand to inherit or otherwise benefit under the will. But some states permit family members or other interested parties to serve as witnesses. In those states, it may be possible to conduct a will signing at home (with instructions from your attorney) and have members of your household witness it.

What about notarization? Wills are usually notarized as a best practice, but in most states it’s not required. However, wills are often accompanied by a self-proving affidavit, which must be notarized.

Another option in some states is a “holographic,” or handwritten, will, which generally doesn’t require witnesses or notarization.

Trusts. In many states, you can sign a trust document without witnesses or notarization, and it may even be possible to sign it electronically. One potential strategy for avoiding traditional will-signing requirements is to sign a holographic “pour over” will that transfers all assets to a revocable trust, which can accomplish many of the same objectives as a traditional will.

Monitor legal developments

Requirements for signing estate planning documents have been evolving in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic may accelerate the process more. A few states permit electronic wills (e-wills) and online notarization, which makes it possible to execute these documents without the need for physical interaction with anyone. These technologies are still in their infancy, but they’re being considered by lawmakers in many states. Contact us with any questions regarding your estate planning documents.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Some people make video recordings of their will signings in an effort to create evidence that they possess the requisite testamentary capacity. For some, this strategy may help stave off a will contest. But in most cases, the risk that the recording will provide ammunition to someone who wishes to challenge the will outweighs the potential benefits.

Video will be closely scrutinized

Unless the person signing the will delivers a flawless, natural performance, a challenger could pounce on the slightest hesitation, apparent discomfort or momentary confusion as “proof” that the person lacked testamentary capacity. Even the sharpest among us occasionally forgets facts or mixes up our children’s or grandchildren’s names. And discomfort with the recording process can easily be mistaken for confusion or duress.

You’re probably thinking, “Why can’t we just re-record portions of the video that don’t look good?” The problem with this approach is that a challenger’s attorney will likely ask how much editing was done and how many “takes” were used in the video and cite that number as further evidence of a lack of testamentary capacity.

Employ alternative strategies

For most people, other strategies for avoiding a will contest are preferable to recording the will signing. These include having a medical practitioner examine you and attest to your capacity immediately before the signing. It can also involve choosing reliable witnesses and including a “no contest clause” in your will. In addition, you might consider using a funded revocable trust, which avoids probate and, therefore, is more difficult and expensive to challenge.

Before pressing “record” and signing your will, talk with us about how to proceed.

© 2021 Covenant CPA