Experts have started to calculate the inflation adjustments to key estate and gift exemption amounts for 2018.  Note that these are not the official figures to be released by the IRS, but should be used as a guide.  The IRS will officially release the numbers later this year.

For an estate of any decedent dying during calendar year 2017, the applicable exclusion was increased from $5.45 million to $5.49 million.  This change increased not only the applicable exclusion amount available at death, but also a taxpayer’s lifetime gift applicable exclusion amount and generation skipping transfer exclusion amount.  This means a husband and wife with proper planning could transfer $10.98 million estate, gift and GST tax free to their children and grandchildren in 2017.  The projected 2018 adjustment to the applicable exclusion will increase from $5.49 million to $5.6 million which means that a husband and wife with proper planning could potentially transfer $11.2 million estate, gift and GST tax free to their children and grandchildren in 2018.

For 2017, the estate, gift and GST tax rate remains the same at 40% and the gift tax annual exclusion remains at $14,000.  For gifts made in 2018, the projected gift tax annual exclusion will be adjusted to $15,000 (up from $14,000 for gifts made in 2017).

The New Jersey Estate Tax repeal will be effective as of January 1, 2018.  The current $2 million exemption which increased on January 1, 2017 is set to be eliminated as of January 1, 2018.  Keep in mind that the New Jersey Inheritance Tax is still in effect. This is a tax imposed on transfers to beneficiaries who are not spouses, parents, children or grandchildren (i.e., nieces, nephews, siblings, friends, etc.) New Jersey Inheritance Tax rates start at 11% and go as high as 16%.

The New York exclusion amount was changed as of April 1, 2014.  Beginning April 1, 2014, the exclusion has increased as follows:

•           $2.0625 million for decedents dying between April 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015;

•           $3.125 million for decedents dying between April 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016;

•           $4.1875 million for decedents dying between April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017;

•           $5.25 million for decedents dying between April 1, 2017 through December 31, 2018.  Beginning in 2019, the exclusion would be indexed for inflation, and equal to the Federal exclusion.

In 2017, the gift tax annual exclusion to a non-citizen spouse was increased from $148,000 to $149,000.  This is projected to increase to $152,000 in 2018.  While gifts between spouses are unlimited if the donee spouse is a United States citizen, there are restrictions when the donee spouse is not a United States citizen.

On August 17, 2011, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that substantially revises New York’s trust decanting statute, NY EPTL 10-6.6.  New York was the first state to enact a decanting law in 1992.  The statute offers one effective method to revise or update otherwise irrevocable trusts.  The revisions to the statute significantly expand its scope, including the following changes:

“Absolute discretion” standard expanded.  Under the old New York law, the trustee had to have “absolute discretion” to invade the trust principal in order to be able to decant the trust.  The new law relaxes this requirement.

Under the new law, if the trustee has “unlimited discretion” to distribute the trust principal, the trustee may decant the trust in favor of one or more of the trust beneficiaries, to the exclusion of others.  Similarly, the remainder beneficiaries of the new trust can be one or more of the remainder beneficiaries of the old trust, to the exclusion of others.

For example, if a trust permits distributions to any of four children for the “best interests” of any of them, the trustee could decant the entire trust in favor of only one of the children.  The rationale is that such a distribution falls within the trustee’s broad discretion under the terms of the trust.

If the trustee does not have “unlimited discretion” – for example, the trust only permits principal distributions according to a “health, education, maintenance and support” standard – then the trustee still may decant the trust, but the beneficiaries of the new trust must be the same as the old trust, and the new trust must contain the same standard regarding principal distributions.

Notification.  The revised New York decanting statute still requires that all interested parties be notified of the changes to the trust.  In addition, the revised statute provides that, unless the beneficiaries consent, the decanting will become effective 30 days after service of notice.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the pros and cons of decanting a trust, or the application of New York’s decanting statute.

We were alerted by one of our blog readers last week to a Wall Street Journal editorial published on February 8 stating that, from an estate tax perspective, New Jersey is the worst state in which to die. The article explains that up to 54% of a New Jersey decedent’s wealth could be lost to estate taxes in 2011 (New York decedents would lose 45.4%). While we disagree with some of the factual assertions set forth in the article (including that the state death tax deduction is new in 2011 – it is not and has been in place since 2005), we agree with the larger point that state estate taxes should be a significant concern for New Jersey (and New York) taxpayers.

With the federal estate tax exemption at $5 million per person in 2011 and 2012, the margin between the New Jersey exemption ($675,000) and the New York exemption ($1 million) has widened appreciably. The consequence is that for married taxpayers who want to take advantage of the first spouse to die’s full federal exemption and pass $5 million to their beneficiaries (for example, to an exemption trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse and/or children), then without special planning, a New Jersey/New York estate tax of approximately $391,600 would be due. Parties must consider whether it is worthwhile to pay some state level estate tax in the first spouse to die’s estate, especially in light of the fact that beginning in 2011, a married decedent’s federal estate tax exemption is portable, meaning the surviving spouse can use the first spouse to die’s unused estate tax exemption amount.

A number of variables factor into the decision, including: (1) the size of the surviving spouse’s estate; (2) all appreciation of the assets owned in the exemption trust will pass free of federal and state estate taxes in the future; (3) the current law is in place for two years, and as a result, the federal exemption amount could be reduced and estate tax rates (currently 35%) could be increased; (4) the age of surviving spouse; and (5) future plans of the surviving spouse, who possibly could move to a state with no estate tax (ie, Florida).

All of these decisions lead to another point. Estate plans need to be drafted in a very flexible manner to enable different decisions to be made depending on each taxpayer’s individual circumstances. It is not appropriate in this tax environment to have an inflexible plan.

The IRS and New Jersey Division of Taxation have extended this year’s tax return filing deadline for residents of 12 New Jersey counties due to the flood emergency in the state.  Residents of these counties now have until May 11, 2010 to file their returns.

See the IRS Press Release on this topic by clicking here.

See the NJ Division of Taxation announcement by clicking here.

The extension applies to residents of Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, and Union counties.

There have been a number of new developments related to federal and state level estate taxes over the past few months.

  • House passes 10 year minimum term for GRATs. On March 24, 2010, the House passed the Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act of 2010 which contains a provision instituting a 10 year minimum term for GRATs and a requirement that the remainder interest for GRATs be greater than zero. As we have detailed in prior blog posts, short term GRATs are an effective estate planning tool to transfer significant wealth to younger generations estate and gift tax free. If enacted into law, the use of GRATs will be severely limited. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. If you have been considering implementing a GRAT, you should move forward quickly before it is too late.
  • NJ estate tax extended to non-residents? A bill was introduced on February 8, 2010 in New Jersey seeking to extend the New Jersey estate tax to non-residents who own real or tangible property in New Jersey. Currently, the New Jersey estate tax only applies to New Jersey residents.
  • Florida estate tax on non-residents? Bills were filed in both the Florida House and Senate in February, 2010 to impose a Florida estate tax on non-residents who own real or personal property in Florida and who reside in states that tax Florida residents who own property in those states. If enacted, the law would be effective July 1, 2010.
  • Federal estate tax repeal. We are three months into the one year estate tax repeal and there are no new significant developments. It remains pure speculation at this point whether the repeal will be replaced with a new estate tax law and if so, will the new law be retroactively applied so that the repeal is treated as if it never existed, or whether the repeal will run its course for 2010 and 2011 will bring a reinstated estate tax with much lower exemption amounts ($1 million federal exemption and generation-skipping transfer tax amounts).

We of course will be following all of these developments closely and will post updates if and when the status of the above matters change.