President Obama proposed 2014 budget: Changing the Estate Tax and Gift Tax Rates AGAIN!!!
From January 1, 2001 through December 31, 2012, Congress seemed intent on making planning for death more complicated than it already is by creating a series of “temporary” estate tax laws. These temporary tax rates and estate tax and gift tax exclusion amounts created turmoil for software companies, lawyers, accountants and ordinary people.
As part of the 2012 “Fiscal Cliff” compromise, President Obama signed legislation that appeared to make permanent the 2012 estate tax exclusion amount of $5 million for estate and gift taxes and a top estate tax rate of 40 percent. The exclusion amounts would be indexed for inflation. The statements from Congress and the President made it seem we FINALLY had permanent rules regarding federal estate and gift taxes. Software companies could stop revising code. Families could make permanent plans for death.
So much for compromise. The Obama “Green Book” Budget for 2014 puts us back in the guessing game about estate and gift tax rules. Page 138 of the budget has these words: ”Beginning 2018, the proposal would make permanent the estate, GST and gift tax parameters as they applied during 2009. The top tax rate would be 45 percent and the exclusion amount would be $3.5 million for estate and GST taxes, and $1 million for gift taxes. There would be no indexing for inflation.”
FINALLY! The first temporary rules were passed by Congress in 2001. Twelve years later and two major tax changes in between, it appears we FINALLY have permanent estate tax rules. Software companies, estate lawyers and financial planners should all be breathing easier after Congress passed the American Taxpayers Relief Act.
Here’s a brief summary of the federal estate tax laws included in the Act. The only change from the current federal estate tax rules that went into effect in 2011 is an increase in the tax rate.
1. The federal estate tax exemption allowance stays at $5 million.
2. Portability stays. Portability gives married couples the ability to exempt $10 million of assets from any federal estate taxes by filing a Deceased Spouse Unused Exemption Allowance form when the first spouse dies.
3. The estate tax rate on estates exceeding the $5 million estate tax exemption allowance will be 40%, a change from the current 35% tax rate.
When creating a trust managing family affairs, many of us designate a family member to serve as the trustee. A surviving spouse. The eldest child. In many cases, a family member does this job without compensation.
If you have agreed to serve as a trustee, you may not really know what you just agreed to do. You might even assume there is no legal risk in agreeing to serve as a trustee.
It’s not easy to find articles describing the job of a trustee that is not filled with legalese. This articled titled “A Novice Trustee Primer” does a great job of describing the responsibilities of a trustee and is is recommended reading if you have a trust, are thinking about setting up a trustee, or if you have agreed to serve as a trustee.
Today’s front page article in the San Jose Mercury News is titled “The Cost of Dying.” The article talks about the cost and blessing of taking care of a loved one dying a lingering death.
If you are one of the estimated 55 million caregivers now caring for a parent, a spouse, or a child, you are familiar with the pain and strain of a lingering death. Costs that families pay out of their own pockets because Medicare pays only for treatment, not in-home “custodial care.” Hospice helps, but patients must be judged to be within six months of death and its benefits don’t cover prolonged care. Private insurance doesn’t cover care, unless the patient has a long term care policy. Costs that aren’t included in our retirement budgets, but can bankrupt a family.
Today is National Health Care Directives Day. A day to talk about death. A day to talk about Living Wills and Health Care Power of Attorney forms, referred to as advance health care directives.
Why is it important to talk about dying and health care directives. It’s simple. We will all die. However, the way we will die will be different than the way our grandparents died. They died fast, due to acute illnesses like influenza or pneumonia. A government study envisions that today, 80 percent will die a lingering death from things like Alzheimer’s, emphysema, cancer and Parkinson’s. Our children or our spouse will need to make choices on our behalf between life…and quality of life.
When having dinner with your friends or family tonight, think about that sobering number. Three out of the four people sitting at the dinner table will die a lingering death. Someone will need the legal authority to make health care choices on your behalf. Someone will be hoping they are making the choice you would have wanted.
Rather than talking about the engagement ring Brad gave Angelina….make your dinner conversation important. Ask yourself these questions:
Who do you want to make health care choices on your behalf?
What choices do you want them to make?
Do you want to donate your organs or your tissues?
Have you completed a living will and a health care power of attorney form documenting these wishes. If so, where are they? In California and some other states, these two forms are combined in a single form referred to as an Advance Health Care Directive.
Your estate planning lawyer can help you complete a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney form. You have the right to complete these forms without involving a lawyer.
Hers’s some resources that may help you start the discussion:
A great presentation by Dr. Peter Saul at the TED conference called “Let’s talk about dying.”