2019 Year-End and 2020 Planning

December 30, 2019

As the year is drawing to a close, we offer you some general advice regarding year-end planning.

Annual Exclusion Gifts

In 2019, the annual exclusion amount is $15,000 per donee, and a married couple may gift $30,000 per donee. The limitation on gifts to non-citizen spouses is $155,000 in 2019. In 2020, the annual gift exclusion will remain at $15,000 per donee, and $30,000 for a married couple per donee. The limitation on gifts to non-citizen spouses will increase to $157,000 in 2020.
Gifts in cash may be made up until 11:59 p.m. on December 31 and will still count as 2019 gifts. Gifts to non-charitable beneficiaries by check must be cashed by the donee before January 1, 2020.

Please remember that contributions to 529 college savings plans and transfers to insurance trusts and other inter vivos trusts that are subject to “Crummey” powers of withdrawal count toward a donor’s total gifts to the donee for that year. For example, if a single donor contributes $3,000 to a 529 plan for a child in 2019, the maximum remaining annual exclusion amount the donor may gift that child for 2019 will be $12,000. Gifts in excess of that amount will constitute taxable gifts and will reduce the donor’s lifetime exemption amount.

Direct payments for tuition, medical expenses and health insurance premiums in respect of a donee do not count toward the annual exclusion amount for that donee and do not reduce the donor’s lifetime exclusion amount.

Trustees of insurance trusts and other inter vivos trusts should make sure that Crummey notices are up to date. If a trust includes a Crummey power or withdrawal right, the Trustee should send notices to the Crummey power holders in a timely fashion. The Trustee should keep the Crummey notices with the trust records.

If you are considering making any year end gifts in excess of your annual exclusion amount, please contact us so that we may discuss your plans in more detail.

Distributions from Retirement Accounts

If you are in pay status, you must take your required minimum distribution before year end.
The SECURE (“Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement”) Act was signed into law as part of the government’s spending bill. Starting on January 1, 2020, the following changes have been made to IRAs:

  • The age at which you must take your required minimum distribution increases from 70.5 to 72.
  • The maximum age for traditional IRA contributions is eliminated.
  • For most beneficiaries of IRAs, inherited stretch IRAs are eliminated for decedents dying on or after January 1, 2020. As a result, most non-spousal beneficiaries (excluding minors and certain disabled beneficiaries) are required to withdraw all assets of such an inherited IRA account within 10 years. (IRA accounts that were inherited prior to January 1, 2020 will be grandfathered).

You should check with the custodian of your IRA to determine whether you must take a distribution before year end.

Periodic Document Review

It is important to review your estate planning documents. You should also review your documents periodically following changes in your personal circumstances, such as a change in marital status, the birth of a child, a change in the net value of your assets or a change of domicile.

Wills and trust arrangements that contain a “formula bequest” tied to the maximum amount sheltered from federal estate tax may need to be reviewed in light of differences between the federal estate tax exemption and your state’s estate tax exemption. The doubling of the federal estate tax exemption in 2018 may necessitate review of your will and trust arrangements if your assets are distributed according to tax formulas. For example, with the doubling of the estate tax exemption, a funding formula that bequeaths the maximum amount possible without incurring estate tax to a credit shelter trust or other third-party beneficiaries may result in significantly more of the estate, or even the entirety thereof, passing to the credit shelter trust or such beneficiaries, and not to or for the benefit of the surviving spouse.

Life Insurance

If you have not already done so, consider whether it makes sense for your life insurance to be owned by an irrevocable life insurance trust. Such a trust could result in the death benefit of your life insurance escaping tax inclusion at your death and your spouse’s death.

Successor Owners of 529 Accounts

You should consider naming a successor owner for any 529 college savings accounts that you have created.

Successor Custodians

It is also important to name a successor custodian of Uniform Transfers to Minors Act and Uniform Gifts to Minors Act accounts. Remember that if you are the donor to a UTMA or UGMA account, you should not be the custodian. (If you are the donor and the custodian of your child’s UTMA account, the account will be includible in your taxable estate if you should die prior to the child’s attainment of the age of majority).

Estate, Gift and Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes

The gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption will increase from $11,400,000 in 2019 per individual (or $22,800,000 for married couples) to $11,580,000 in 2020 per individual (or $23,160,000 for married couples). There is portability of a deceased spouse’s unused federal estate tax exemption (but not generation-skipping transfer tax exemption or state estate tax exemption) to the surviving spouse.

The increased exemption is scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2025 and revert to what it would have been had the 2017 Tax Act not been enacted (which is to say $5 million, indexed for inflation from 2010.) In November 2019, the Treasury Department issued final regulations to reassure taxpayers that there would be no claw-back of the exemption should a taxpayer make gifts in excess of the pre-2017 exemption amount and then die following the sunset of the 2017 Tax Act. Nevertheless, taxpayers who do not fully utilize their increased exemptions through lifetime gifts may lose the additional exemptions following the sunset of the 2017 Tax Act.

The exemption for nonresident aliens remains at $60,000 in the absence of an estate tax treaty.

State Estate and Gift Taxes

New York’s exemption from estate tax is currently $5,740,000 and will increase to $5,850,000 in 2020. However, estates worth more than 105% of the New York exemption are subject to tax on the entire estate, without any benefit from the exemption. New York does not provide for portability of a deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption.
New York has no gift tax, but currently does include gifts made within 3 years of death in the estates of New York resident decedents who die on or between January 16, 2019 and December 31, 2025.

New Jersey’s estate tax was repealed for decedents dying on or after January 1, 2018. New Jersey does not have a gift tax, but it does impose an inheritance tax on transfers to collateral relatives, including siblings, nieces, nephews, and unrelated individuals.

In 2019, Connecticut’s estate and gift taxes apply to estates and aggregate gifts in excess of $3,600,000, with a top rate of 12.2%. The exemption will rise to $5,100,000 in 2020, with the exemption ultimately matching the federal exemption in 2023.

GRAT Annuity Payments

If you have a GRAT, annuity payments must be paid at least annually, and more frequently if the trust so provides.

Promissory Notes

Make sure interest payments under promissory notes are made on time, and compounded if the promissory note so provides.

Charitable Bunching

The increase in the standard deduction as a result of the 2017 Tax Act means that itemizing tax deductions each year might not make sense for donors because the sum of the taxpayer’s itemized deductions will not exceed the larger standardized deduction. The tax strategy of “bunching” allows a taxpayer to group together his or her deductions into a single year in order to surpass the itemization threshold. Different methods of bunching include making larger gifts in some years and not gifts in other years and using donor-advised funds to hold charitable funds for staggered deductions.

Identity Theft

An increasing number of individuals are victims of identity theft. Make sure you take steps to prevent identity theft. For example, collect your mail every day or place your mail on hold if you are away, shred receipts, account statements and expired credit cards, review your credit reports annually, and be cautious about sharing personal information, such as your birthdate, social security number or bank account number.

Additional Estate Planning
Interest rates remain stubbornly low. Accordingly, clients who wish to engage in estate planning beyond efficient use of their exemptions should consider strategies that are maximally effective in a low interest rate environment, such as Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts, and installment sales to defective grantor trusts. Please contact us if you would like to discuss any of these in more detail.

For additional information on recent tax developments with respect to private wealth planning, please contact Hume R. Steyer (212-574-1555), Scott M. Sambur (212-574-1445), David E. Stutzman (212-574-1219), Lori A. Sullivan (212-574-1406), Sara Veith (212-574-1257), Samuel Thomas (212-574-1609) or Christina Costa (212-574-1509).st