How the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 Impacts Your Estate Plan

Yellow sign with Death & Taxes Ahead painted on itDespite your position on the current President, his signing of the new tax bill (“TCJA”) provides some distinct perks in the realm of estate planning. Here are a few of the distinct perks in the realm of estate planning:

Estate Tax

South Carolina doesn’t have an estate tax, so our clients only have to concern themselves with the federal estate tax. Although the TCJA does not eliminate federal estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes, it almost doubled the exemption. This means that an individual can now pass $10 million (indexed for inflation) through their estate without paying federal estate taxes. Married couples get to double the exemption to $20 million+. WOW! And so you don’t have to Google “indexed for inflation” we can go ahead and report that the 2018 actual amount is $11,210,00 per individual or $22,420,000 per couple. As has been the case in prior years, the unused exemption of the first spouse to die still can be “ported” to the surviving spouse. For those with estates exceeding this amount (yes, we’re jealous), the maximum tax rate remains at 40%.

On a practical level, what does this mean for our clients? It means less than 1% of Americans will ever pay an estate tax. With the exemption set this high, the vast majority of our clients are in the clear (for now). The exemption sunsets after 2025.  However, those with significant family wealth or closely held businesses that could exceed the exemption need to prepare as a 40% loss could be devastating.

Gift Taxes

As we mentioned above, the new law also doubles the lifetime gift tax exemption. Originally enacted to prevent taxpayers from gifting their entire estate before death to avoid estate taxes, it makes sense that these exemptions go hand-in-hand. This means you can give your assets away during your lifetime without fear of tax consequences as long as the cumulative value of the gifts doesn’t exceed the $11,210,000 exemption.

Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

If you aren’t aware of the gift tax exclusion, it’s the law that allows you to give away money to as many people as you wish without those gifts counting towards the lifetime exemption we just discussed. This change isn’t dramatic but it’s still an increase. The annual exclusion for gifts increases to $15,000 this year (up from $14,000 in 2017). This amount remains subject to an inflation adjustment as well.

Stepped-Up Basis

In more good news, the TCJA did not change the law regarding basis step-up at death. In my opinion, this impacts more of our estates than any of the items discussed above because it helps almost everyone. If you’re not familiar with a basis step-up at death, it’s worth discussing with your CPA or Estate Planning Attorney as understanding how this works might help you decide which assets to gift or sell before death and which to pass through your estate. More on that in a later post.

​If you have any questions about other aspects of TCJA, please contact your CPA. If you need more information on how this specifically impacts your estate plan, please schedule a free estate planning consult with us so we can address your unique needs.