FIVE WAYS TO PASS ALONG MORE OF YOUR ASSETS TO YOUR HEIRS
(MONEY Magazine) – Only members of the polo set need concern themselves with estate planning, right? Wrong. Start totting up the value of your house, pension, investment portfolio and personal effects, and you'll probably find you could use a few ways to trim estate taxes, which can devour as much as 55% of what you leave to heirs. Each of the moves below involves creating some type of trust. That can be expensive--$1,000 to $3,000 or more to set up plus administrative fees of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year, depending on the complexity of the trust. But trusts can save many times that amount by sidestepping probate--the time- and cash-consuming process of validating a will--and by reducing the bite of federal estate taxes. Here are five savvy trust arrangements you may want to consult an estate-planning attorney about:
1. FAMILY TRUST. Also called a credit shelter trust, a family trust can double the amount of assets that a married couple can pass on free of estate taxes. Assume, for example, you and your spouse have an estate worth $1.2 million. When you die, the unlimited marital deduction lets your spouse inherit all you own without incurring estate taxes. But when your spouse dies and leaves everything to your children, the value of the estate exceeding $600,000 will be whacked with estate taxes of roughly 37%. To avoid that hit, stipulate in your will that $600,000 of your assets go into a family trust. Your spouse can receive all the income from the trust--and some of the principal, as needed--for life. When your spouse dies, the trust assets go to your children, free of estate taxes--as can up to $600,000 of your spouse's estate. Voile! A $1.2 million estate escapes estate taxes entirely. To assure that you're covered no matter who dies first, you and your spouse should set up separate trusts with $600,000 worth of property in your own names.
2. QUALIFIED PERSONAL RESIDENCE TRUST. You can transfer your residence to your children-and retain the right to live there, say, for 10 years--by creating a personal residence trust. After the 10 years, the trust ends and the house goes to your kids as a gift. You can still stay--provided you pay your children/landlords the market rent. Your heirs have no claim on the house until the trust expires, so the transfer occurs at a sizable discount to the house's current market value--a major plus since you will burn up less of your and your spouse's lifetime gift-and-estate-tax exemption of $600,000 each.
3. IRREVOCABLE LIFE INSURANCE TRUST. We hate to see family heirlooms put on the block to pay estate taxes. By placing a life insurance policy inside an irrevocable life insurance trust, however, you can be sure there will be cash to pay the IRS. We recommend buying a so-called second-to-die policy that pays off only after both spouses die and that costs roughly 35% less than individual policies. To assure that the policy's proceeds skirt probate as well as income and estate taxes, designate the trust as the owner and beneficiary of the insurance.
4. CHARITABLE REMAINDER TRUST. Anyone who wants to leave a legacy to a favorite charity and cut taxes while doing so should look into a charitable remainder trust. This vehicle works especially well if you donate highly appreciated assets, such as stocks or mutual funds. When you place the assets in the trust, you qualify for an immediate charitable income tax deduction. The trustee can then sell the appreciated assets-without triggering capital-gains taxes--and invest in interest- and dividend-paying securities. The trust would pay you an annuity--essentially, a stream of payments--for the rest of your life or a fixed number of years. When you die, the charity gets the assets.
5. REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST. If your net worth consists mostly of securities or if you own out-of-state property, consider a revocable living trust. This arrangement can get complicated, since you must transfer title of all your assets to the trust's name. But the payoff can be substantial: Assets in the trust will dodge probate and be divvied up as you wish even if your will is challenged. If you form a family trust within a revocable living trust, you can beat probate and slash estate taxes. And that is a one-two combination too lucrative to pass up. Trust us.
--Ken and Daria Dolan
The authors write the monthly newsletter Straight Talk on Your Money ($75 a year; 800-777-2002) and are co-authors of the book Straight Talk on Money. They also serve as hosts of a daily national personal-finance show on the WOR Radio Network.