Why you Should Elect Portability

Clients frequently have heard of the estate and gift tax, and have heard of the high exemption amounts.  The exemption is currently at a staggering $12.06 million, higher than it has ever been.  Many clients have also learned that for a married couple can double that exemption, so they have essentially $24 million combined. With these high exemption amounts, many clients ignore the estate tax or don’t believe it will be relevant for them.

However, it is important to recognize that a surviving spouse only gets the first spouse’s exemption by electing something called “portability.”  I’m going to talk about what portability, the process of electing it, and how it is beneficial even when your assets aren’t anywhere near the current exemption amount.  The recent article “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ For Your Farm Estate” from Ag Web Farm Journal describes it as well, specifically in the context of family farms.

When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can choose to make a portability election. This means that any unused federal gift or estate tax exemption can be transferred from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse.  This is why the second spouse may have $24 million.  They are electing to keep the first spouse’s exemption of $12 million, and have their own $12 million exemption.   It is critical to recognize, however, that it is not automatic, and that is where most married couples make a mistake.

The process of electing portability involves filing an estate tax return with the IRS.  In most portability cases, no taxes are due, but you must file a form to obtain the exemption.  Essentially, the process involves filing the return to show the IRS what the decedent’s exemption was, and that the surviving spouse will be entitled to it in the future.  In many cases where you are only filing to elect portability, the IRS has relaxed standards for describing and valuing assets which go to a surviving spouse.  They do this because in those scenarios, they recognize you are only filing to elect portability, and that the value of assets won’t be relevant as no tax will be due.

The time frame for filing the return varies based upon the case, but you should act quickly.  The standard due date is 9 months from death, although in some cases it can be extended up to 2 years from death.  That is especially helpful where the surviving spouse didn’t speak to an accountant or lawyer after the first spouse died, and they only learn about the benefit of portability long afterwards.

Before portability was an option, spouses each owned about the same amount of assets, or the amount of assets which would use up each other’s exemptions. They would then leave as much as possible to a trust for the spouse and potentially other family members designed to use as much of the first exemption as possible, because if you didn’t use it, it was lost.  This planning made sense, but also required more complicated estate planning that got you the same result as portability does now.  Once portability arrived we were able to simplify many estate plans that no longer needed this complexity of planning.

Here’s an example. A married couple owns assets jointly and their net worth is about $14 million. When the husband dies, the wife owns everything. However, she neglects to speak with the family’s estate planning lawyer. No estate taxes are due at this time because of the unlimited marital deduction between the two spouses.

However, when she dies, she owns $14 million dollars (or more based upon growth) and dies with an exemption of $12 million.  Her estate will pay the estate tax on the difference between the exemption and her assets.  That tax bill is about $800,000.

If the wife had filed an estate tax return electing portability when her husband died, her exemption would be $24 million, and no tax would be due.

Now, I said earlier that this will apply to more than just people with $24 million dollars.  The reason is the current exemption amount is set to return to its prior level of $5 million dollar indexed to inflation in 2026.  So, let’s go through that scenario again with updated, more realistic numbers.

Husband and wife own $14 million, everything goes to the wife when husband dies and wife doesn’t elect portability.  When she dies in 2026, her exemption is $6 million (this is an estimate based upon inflation).  So, the tax will apply on the difference between her $14 million and the $6 million dollar exemption.  That is roughly $3.2 million in tax.

With the exemption as high as it is now and with the expectation of it lowering in the future, portability is critical.  If husband died when the exemption was $12 million and wife elected portability, she would get both his $12 million exemption and her own of $6 million dollars.  The combined exemption of $18 million exceeds her $14 million in assets, and no tax is due.  It saved over $3 million dollars.

Hopefully this last scenario explains how timely this is.  We raise this issue in nearly every estate administration of a married couple as electing portability now is nearly perfect insurance against future estate tax.  It is worth considering in any case where the combined assets will be close to one person’s exemption, especially where more volatile assets such as insurance, businesses and real estate are involved as the market may value them higher than expected at the time of death.

An experienced estate planning attorney can work with the family to evaluate their tax liability and see if portability will be sufficient, or if other tools are necessary.  It is also worth discussing this with an attorney if you recently lost a spouse and want to take advantage of portability.  If estate tax is a concern for you, you may also want to review this article.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/practice-areas/estate-tax-planning/  

Reference: Ag Web Farm Journal (April 18, 2022) “It’s So Important to Elect ‘Portability’ For Your Farm Estate”

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Benefits of Pre-Planning Your Funeral

Yahoo Life’s recent article entitled “Should You Pre-Pay for Your Own Funeral as Part of Estate Planning?” says there are major benefits to pre-planning and even pre-paying for a funeral now—no matter what your age or health status.

Many professionals would agree that pre-paying your funeral has valuable benefits for people.  A major benefit to pre-planning and pre-paying is the emotional support and relief they offer family members and friends.

Maggie McMillan, vice president of the Los Angeles-based Wiefels Group and All Caring Solutions Cremation and Funeral Services, explains that “if and when the unexpected happens, you want everyone to already know what your wishes are, because that will make it easier when hard emotions inevitably come up after you are gone.”

Knowing that your family is prepared and taken care of with prepayment can also help alleviate your own stress and better your mental health.

Anecdotally, I noticed over the years that some clients are very interested in this process.  It is the main reason they call us for an estate plan.  For clients like this, it is a way to give a final expression of their creativity or a positive farewell to their loved ones.

Another plus of pre-paying  your funeral is that, depending on what method of pre-payment you get, you can often lock in a price guarantee on services and merchandise based on current pricing on the day that you plan. This can protect your family from industry inflation and price fluctuation.  Funeral costs double every decade, on average. Therefore, if you’re looking at pre-paying for a service that costs $3,000 today but didn’t pre-pay and pass away 10 years later, your fees might be upwards of $6,000 for the exact same service.  Many clients tell me they are electing cremation solely to avoid the costs of funerals.

For some people, aspects of pre-planning and paying may not seem the right option.

For instance, a plan that isn’t transferable to different states doesn’t make sense for individuals who move around frequently. In that case, talking to loved ones about what your final wishes are (including where you’d like to end up, and the disposition method) would be a relief for them, in case the unthinkable happens.

For others, they may strategically put off pre-paying a funeral so that it is available as a Medicaid spend down technique.  In other words, don’t spend money on it until they have to.

In all cases, if you pre-plan and/or pre-pay your funeral, make sure you reflect that in your Appointment for the Disposition of Remains.  The Appointment is a legal document in which you name a person to execute your final wishes and can include those instructions.  It is an often overlooked, but sometimes very critical, estate planning document.

If you are interested in learning more on how to pre-plan your funeral or other final wishes, see this article.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/funeral-planning-not-a-festive-thought-but-a-kind-one/

Reference: Yahoo Life (Feb. 17, 2022) “Should You Pre-Pay for Your Own Funeral as Part of Estate Planning?”

 

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