The estate tax is one component of the federal transfer tax system, which also includes the gift tax and the generation-skipping transfer tax. The estate tax is a tax imposed on the transfer of property at death. It is a transfer tax, which is a different tax than the familiar income tax.
Generally, the estate tax is determined by applying the transfer tax rate to the value of property on the date of death owned by the decedent in excess of a threshold amount (currently $5.43 million per person in 2015). The tax is technically imposed on the transfer of the decedent’s property either outright or in trust to the decedent’s heirs, but not including property transferred to the surviving spouse.
Most people will not be subject to the estate tax because most people will never own property with a total value in excess of the threshold amount. The threshold amount is referred to as the exemption amount, and is $5.43 million if you die in 2015. The exemption amount increases every year at the rate of inflation.
Estate Tax is discussed in more detail in my book “Nothing But The Truth About Estate Planning, Probate And Living Trusts”. Download your copy here: Nothing But The Truth About Estate Planning, Probate And Living Trusts by Larry Israeloff CPA & tax attorney.
Probate assets consist only of assets owned by the decedent at death that do not pass automatically (i.e., by operation of law) to the intended beneficiaries. A person’s will deals only with probate assets – it does not control the transfer of non-probate assets.
Examples of non-probate assets include life insurance policies (because the insurance proceeds are paid to the beneficiaries of the policy according to the terms of the policy contract, not according to a will), retirement accounts (because upon the death of the owner of a retirement account such as an IRA or 401(k), the monies are paid to the person or persons listed on the decedent’s beneficiary designation form) , and jointly owned property (such as a house or apartment owned jointly by a husband and wife). But keep in mind that a person’s taxable estate for estate tax purposes includes both probate and non-probate assets. The estate tax is discussed in more detail later in this book.
Creating A Trust Can Help Avoid Probate
Property that is owned by a trust is non-probate property, because at the creator’s death the terms of the trust agreement determine what happens to the property, not the creator’s will. Unlike a will, a trust does not have to go through probate. Thus, property owned by a trust avoids probate and is managed without the hassles and expense of probate court proceedings.
“Probate?” is discussed in more detail in my book “Nothing But The Truth About Estate Planning, Probate And Living Trusts”.Download your copy here: Nothing But The Truth About Estate Planning, Probate And Living Trusts by Larry Israeloff CPA & tax attorney.
Estate planners are often asked whether trusts are only for the wealthy. Though it is not necessary for some people of modest means to establish a trust, it can be a useful estate planning tool, even if you are not rich.
Trusts establish a legal relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another. Trusts offer peace of mind that your assets will be dispersed according to your wishes once you are gone. Like a will, trusts can be used for any type of property and allow flexibility in the distribution of this property.
When you create a trust, you transfer ownership of some or all of your property to the trustee, who holds that property for the trust’s beneficiaries. For instance, if you want to place real estate in a trust, you would have that property titled in the name of the trustee. Trustees can be family members, friends, a trust company, a law firm, or a specific attorney or advisor.
Who Needs a Trust?
Anyone can avoid court administered probate upon death with use of a trust, but you should carefully consider if the expense connected with forming a trust is worth the investment. You should consider a trust if you have:
• Privacy or probate concerns
• Substantial real estate assets
• Large life insurance policies
• Specific instructions for how your estate is to be distributed once you are gone
• Desire to minimize estate taxes
• Need to protect your estate from creditors or lawsuits
If your accounts are held in joint tenancy or you have named beneficiaries for specific accounts or property, a trust might not be necessary. These assets automatically become the property of the beneficiaries upon your death without probate. For instance, if you own a home jointly with your spouse and both of your names are on the deed, your spouse will automatically become the full owner once you are gone.
An attorney can help you determine if a trust is the best option for you and your family.
What are the Benefits of a Trust?
The primary benefit of using a trust is to provide direction for managing your assets if you become incapacitated and upon your death.
A trust offers a great deal of flexibility. It can be revocable, which means you can make changes to any part of it or terminate it until the moment you are no longer capable of making decisions or communicating.
A trust also ensures your beneficiaries avoid dealing with probate at your death, thus saving time and money. Probate is the court process by which your will is proved valid, and through which your estate is administered after your death.
Finally, trusts are private, so the value and contents of the trust do not become a matter of public record once you die.
Have questions about your personal need for a trust? Then just call us to discuss your situation.