Changes on the Horizon?

The hot topic in Congress right now is tax reform. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have included language in their respective bills that will change the estate tax as we know it. Presently, any individual can leave up to $5.49 million to their beneficiaries without estate tax. Amounts to spouses and charity are not counted towards this exemption. Because the exemption is quite high, the estate tax impacts very few people.  For example, in 2013 only 11,300 estates paid an estate tax out of 2.6 million who died (See Tax Policy Center article).

The House bill initially doubles the estate tax exemption — to $11 million for individuals and $22 million for couples – and then repeals the estate tax entirely after 2023. I have read that the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the House plan would cost the government $150 billion over the next 10 years. That’s certainly a big number, but federal budget each year is in the $4 trillion range, and so the “cost” to repeal the estate tax is not particularly significant in the overall budget.

The Senate’s tax reform bill doubles the estate tax exemption to $11 million but does not repeal the tax.

The differences between these bills with regard to the estate tax are not very significant. If both Houses can compromise on other differences between their tax reform bills, then perhaps a compromise on how to handle the estate tax will result. After their Thanksgiving break, we will know how this will play out.

We wonder how charities will fare with this change. If an individual or married couple can give even more sums to their families without estate tax consequence, will wealthier families leave less to charity?

How to protect yourself from the Equifax breach

From our friends at Sabal Trust Company:

As one of the largest data breaches in history that is affecting 143 million American consumers, this may leave you concerned that you are vulnerable to identity theft, and we recommend that you take the following steps:

• Assess the impact to you,
• Work to protect yourself from identity theft, and
• Monitor your credit accounts and reports on a regular basis.

Assess Impact

• Equifax set up a dedicated web page, to help you find out whether your information was compromised: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. You can also access the site through Equifax’s homepage, www.equifax.com, and if you would rather call, there is a phone line dedicated to the breach: 866-447-7559.

• Check your credit reports. The Equifax breach may have started several months ago, so consider looking through your credit reports for any suspicious activity. A free copy of your credit report is available once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.

• Because Equifax is not notifying those affected directly, some people will be left without the resources to find out if they were compromised and subsequently protect their identity. With that in mind, consider helping your loved ones with this process, particularly the elderly and those without computer access.

Protect Yourself

• Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring program. Credit monitoring can help you spot errors or signs of identity theft, so you can take steps to address them.

• Consider placing a “credit freeze” to prevent someone from opening new credit using your information. When you freeze your credit, you will be required to unfreeze your account by providing the PIN you received when you froze your credit. To ensure you fully understand how it works before you start the process, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs. To freeze your credit, call each of the credit bureaus using these phone numbers:

o Equifax: 1-800-349-9960
o Experian: 1-888-397-3742
o TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872

• Set a fraud alert on your credit. When a fraud alert is set, credit card companies and others will be required to verify your identity before opening an account. Once the alert is in place, it will last 90 days. To place a fraud alert on your credit, call each of the credit bureaus using these phone numbers:

o Equifax: 1-888-766-0008
o Experian: 1-888-397-3742
o TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

Monitor

• Periodically review your credit report to ensure that no fraudulent activity has taken place. A free copy of your credit report is available once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
• Limit the sharing of your credit information and pre-screened offers. At www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling 888-567-8688, you can limit credit bureaus from sharing your credit file information without your authorization.
• Be vigilant during tax season. Identity thieves can use social security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and receive refunds.

Reprinted with permission from Sabal Trust Company (www.sabaltrust.com)

 

Is this the year for Estate Tax Repeal?

Each year, members of both houses of Congress will sponsor bills that repeal the estate tax. In years’ past, these bills did not go very far given the make-up of our elected officials. This year, though, Donald Trump is in office, and he campaigned on several things, including the repeal of the estate tax.

To be clear, the estate tax comes into play when one has an estate exceeding $5.49 million. Assets passing to a US citizen spouse are not taxed at death. So, you can have a very large estate and pay no estate tax at your death if you leave everything to your spouse. This is not a panacea, though, as your spouse could have an estate tax problem. In other words, you might just be kicking the can down the street for someone else to deal with.

President Trump talked about replacing the estate tax with a capital gains tax on inherited assets. Presumably, this would mean that inherited assets would get a carry-over basis at death. Under current law, we value all assets as of date of death, and that valuation becomes the new basis. This is called “stepped-up basis.” If the estate tax is repealed, then perhaps we would not a step-up in basis, but rather we would keep the basis from the decedent who left us a gift.

Naturally, no one really knows what Congress is going to do, and more importantly, what might happen when we have a new administration. For now, we know that we have an estate tax. According to the Tax Policy Center, one in 517 individuals who die this year will pay an estate tax.

If you are one of the few who have estate tax exposure, consider a plan to minimize (or eliminate it). Even if you do not have exposure, don’t think that planning is not for you. Changes are that you want to provide for your family, which can only be done with proper planning.