Individuals with significant assets who want to transfer wealth to heirs tax-free, as well as minimize estate taxes, should take advantage of proven tax strategies such as gifting and direct payments to educational institutions; however low interest rates and a volatile stock market are creating additional opportunities. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies available:
The annual gift tax exclusion provides a simple, effective way of cutting estate taxes and shifting income to heirs. For example, in 2020, you can make annual gifts of up to $15,000 ($30,000 for a married couple) to as many donees as you desire. The $15,000 is excluded from the federal gift tax so that you will not incur gift tax liability. Furthermore, each $15,000 you give away during your lifetime reduces your estate for federal estate tax purposes. Any amounts above this limit, however, will reduce an individual’s federal lifetime exemption and require filing a gift tax return.
Direct payments for medical or educational purposes indirectly shift income to heirs; however, it only works if the payments are made directly to the qualifying educational institution or medical provider. This strategy allows you to give more than the annual gifting limit of $15,000 per donee. For example, if you’re a grandparent, you can pay tuition directly to your grandchild’s boarding school, college, or university. Room and board, books, supplies, or other nontuition expenses are not covered. Likewise, in the case of direct payments to a hospital or medical provider. Medical expenses reimbursed by insurance are not covered, however.
Loans to Family Members
This strategy works by loaning cash to family members at low interest rates, which is then invested with the goal of reaping significant profits down the road. With mid and long-term applicable federal rates (AFR) rates for June 2020, as low as 0.43 and 1.01 percent, respectively, heirs can lock in these rates for many years – three to nine years (mid-term) and nine to more than 20 years (long-term).
Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT)
Another relatively low-risk strategy is the grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), where the donor transfers assets to an irrevocable trust and receives an annuity payment back from the trust each year. This strategy enables heirs to profit from their investments long-term – as long as returns are higher than the IRS interest rate. This is easier than ever now that IRS interest rates are so low. In June 2020, the interest rate used to value certain charitable interests in trusts such as the GRAT is 0.60 percent.
Roth IRA Conversions
Contributions to a traditional IRA are made pre-tax, which means distributions are considered taxable income; however, with a Roth IRA, the tax is paid up front, and distributions are completely exempt from income tax. It is this feature that makes converting a traditional IRA to Roth IRA and rolling it over to an heir an attractive option, especially during a financial crisis. The conversion is treated as a rollover, and typically would be accomplished via a trustee to trustee transfer where the trustee of the traditional IRA is directed to transfer an amount from the traditional IRA to the trustee of the Roth IRA. The account owner pays income tax on the amount rolled over in the year the account is converted, which allows the account to accumulate assets tax-free and future distributions are tax-free.