With most tax planning, there are certain strategies that are generally effective and should not 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 Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (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 do not own the policy, the proceeds will not be included in your taxable estate. One effective strategy for keeping life insurance out of your estate is to set up an 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. However, 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 them at your death will be included in their 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 their 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 are not included in their estate. Plus, your own exemption shields the trust assets from estate tax.
3. Take Advantage of a Gifting Strategy
Do not 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 do not 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 Professional
There is much to consider when developing or reviewing your estate plan. Contact us to help achieve your goals and keep your plan on the right track.