Changes in the White House and the Senate have many people wondering how federal estate and gift tax laws may change and when those changes will occur.
While campaigning, Joe Biden pledged to undo many of the prior administration’s tax policies, promising a progressive approach to taxation focusing on shifting the burden of taxes to high-income individuals and businesses.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) temporarily doubled the federal estate and gift tax exemption to $10 million (adjusted annually for inflation) until 2025. For 2021, the exemption stands at $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. These amounts were set to expire after 2025 to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for married couples (adjusted for inflation), but changes are expected to arrive sooner.
Biden also said he would end the “step-up” in basis that spares beneficiaries from having to pay capital gains taxes on inherited assets that appreciated in value, typically stocks, mutual funds and real estate. If a beneficiary sells an inherited asset now, the capital gains generated is the difference between the asset’s fair market value at the time of the sale minus the stepped-up basis, i.e., the fair market value of the asset at the date of the deceased’s death, rather than the basis at the date of the original purchase.
Without the step-up in basis, the capital gains generated upon the sale of the inherited assets would be far higher, increasing capital gains taxes paid by heirs.
Does it make sense to prepare or review your estate plan now, in light of the potential changes ahead? Having an outdated estate plan might be a bigger risk. When it comes to big changes in future tax laws, there are two things to keep in mind:
Making changes out of fear of tax law changes that have not occurred yet, could have lasting effects, and not always good ones. It is prudent to remain informed and prepared, but not to assume changes that have not become law yet.
What is more important is to be prepared for change, by understanding your current estate plan and being sure that it still works to minimize taxes and accomplish goals.
A few questions to consider:
- Do you fully understand your current estate plan?
- Do you know the total value of your assets and liabilities?
- Do you know if federal and state estate taxes will be an issue for your heirs, i.e., for their planning?
- Have you reviewed your beneficiary designations recently?
- When was your estate plan last updated? That includes your last will, revocable living trust, power of attorney and health care directives.
Changes are coming to estate law, but what they will be and when they will become effective are still unknown. Having an experienced estate planning attorney create or review your estate plan right now is more important than waiting to see what the future will bring.
Reference: St. Louis Business Journal (Jan. 27, 2021) “Estate planning in light of a new presidential administration: What should you do now?”
Read more about upcoming or potential changes in our tax laws here.