Have an old binder with your will and estate plan? Even if you had your paperwork set up a few years ago, all of your documents are now out of date, thanks to tax laws that went into effect in 2018.
“Blow the dust off and see if it’s even needed anymore,” said Leon LaBrecque, a tax attorney in Troy, Mich.
Strategies that financial planners and trust attorneys have been using for years to help families avoid paying estate taxes may now fall by the wayside, because the exemption for the size of estates has doubled to $22 million for couples, from $11 million. It was just $600,000 in 1997.
Those with estates under $22 million will not need to bother with things like credit-bypass trusts, qualified terminable interest property trusts and many life insurance trusts.
But that does not mean trusts will fade away and that all estate planning can just cease. The most important parts of the process have to do with your financial health while you are still alive: You need power of attorney forms and health care proxies in case you are incapacitated.
You also need to make sure your beneficiaries are updated on all your accounts, especially life insurance policies and 401(k)s from old jobs.
Estate planning at its core is about keeping control over your assets even after you die.
Austin Frye, a financial planner based in Aventura, Fla., said his practice does more trusts now than ever, and he expects that to continue.
“They are for protective reasons and not for tax savings,” Frye said. “A rise in the diagnosis of autism, special needs, drug and alcohol addictions, Alzheimer’s and other problems including multiple marriages and nontraditional relationships — these have kept our trust department busier than ever.”
Another reason for trusts is to keep the state out of your affairs after you die. Property that is not jointly owned or set up to transfer directly to a beneficiary — like a bank account — can end up being evaluated in an expensive and time-consuming probate process.
Even with the doubling of the estate tax limit, charitable trusts can ease your tax burden.
Houston financial planner Scott Bishop said that by leaving a substantial IRA to charity through a trust you can avoid the taxes your heirs would pay when they liquidate the account.
Giving appreciated stock to a charity through a trust or a donor-advised fund can bypass capital gains taxes and still offset income in the year you donate if you itemize deductions. With all of these changes, planners said to keep in mind the new law sunsets in 2025.
Beth Pinsker writes for Reuters.