Avoid these common mistakes when preparing a federal estate tax return

Attention to detail will keep your clients from paying more taxes than they should.

keyword image, estate taxes, estate planning, tax returnsAs a CPA, you may be asked to prepare or review the federal estate tax return, Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return. This form, which is due nine months after a client’s death, provides a snapshot of the assets included in the decedent’s taxable estate. The assets are valued as of the date of the client’s death and this value (for most assets) restarts the income tax basis for the assets included in the decedent’s gross estate. However, unlike on the income tax return, the client’s estate planning documents and how the assets are titled may determine how certain assets are characterized and whether certain elections should be made. Therefore, in my experience, it’s best if you and your client’s estate planning attorney both work on preparing Form 706, especially if it’s not a form that you prepare regularly. That way, you can work together to avoid costly errors such as the following:

      
  1. Missing the filing deadline. The estate tax return must be filed nine months after the date of death. Not doing so can jeopardize elections and cause interest and penalties to be due. If it will not be possible or practical to file the return on time, then you should file Form 4768, Application for Extension of Time to File a Return and/or Pay U.S. Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Taxes in a timely fashion. Keep in mind, however, that while filing Form 4768 provides an automatic six-month extension to file Form 706, it does not automatically extend the time allotted to pay the tax. If your client needs more time to pay, you must request an extension to do so (on Part III of Form 4768), but it’s up to the IRS whether to grant the extension.
  2.   

  3. Not electing portability on the federal estate tax return of the first spouse to die. Sec. 2010(c) allows any unused federal estate tax exemption to be “portable” and therefore available to be used at the surviving spouse’s death—but only if the portability election is made on the federal estate tax return of the first spouse to die. Even if you do not think the surviving spouse will need to use the exemption, elect portability anyway, because his or her financial circumstances may change.
  4.   

  5. Not including prior gift tax returns with the federal estate tax return. If you’re not a client’s first adviser, be sure to check whether his or her previous adviser prepared and filed any gift tax returns for him or her. Clients sometimes do not remember these details, so, after a client dies, have the named fiduciary write to the IRS Service Center and request copies of any prior gift tax returns. This is an important step to take, as prior gift tax returns will affect the amount of available estate and generation-skipping tax exemptions, which, in turn, affect the amount of any tax due on the federal estate tax return.
  6.   

  7. Not including a tax allocation clause in a will and trust. Every will and trust should incorporate what is known as a tax allocation clause that allocates the taxes among the beneficiaries or against the residue of the estate. If there is no such clause in the document, then the law of the state in which the client is domiciled controls the allocation, and tax may be allocated to assets that would otherwise qualify for the marital or charitable deductions.
  8.   

  9. Not providing adequate documentation for the assets that are valued on the return. Assets such as real estate, tangible personal property, and the interests in any closely held businesses can be hard to value. When adequate documentation is not obtained, the risk of an audit dramatically increases. Should taxes be assessed, penalties may also apply. Have appraisals (not opinions of value) made that show the fair market value at the date of death for these assets, and submit them with the tax return. These appraisals should be thorough and show comparable sales. If a discount from value is taken on the return, the appraisal should explain why that discount is the right one. The discount should also be a specific figure and not a range.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at Amazon.com. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

Common Post-ATRA Estate Planning Mistakes

A false sense of security can lead a client (and his or her adviser) to make mistakes.

estate planning imageThe American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), P.L. 112-240, changed the game in estate planning by significantly increasing the amount of wealth that a taxpayer may pass free of federal gift and estate tax to beneficiaries. Many advisers and clients who are under ATRA’s $5.34 million exemption (inflation-adjusted for 2014) believe their past planning is sufficient, that estate taxes are no longer relevant as part of their planning, and no further action is required.
This false sense of security can lead a client (and his or her adviser) to make several mistakes. This article examines three of them.

  1. Mistake: Ignoring the impact of the state estate tax
  2. I recently had a telephone conversation with a very angry client whose mother had recently died. Her mother’s net worth was under the federal exemption, and I told her that the Massachusetts estate tax was estimated to be $160,000. I wanted her to reserve the cash now to pay the tax instead of investing it. All the publicity about the increased federal exemption had led the daughter (and many Americans) to believe that estate taxes were no longer relevant. I explained to her that her mother had been very aware of the Massachusetts estate tax and did not want to gift any of her assets to reduce it, as she had begun her planning when her estate would have been subject to a much more significant federal estate tax.

    Many states have an estate tax, and the rates in some rise as high as 20%. Fewer people paid attention to state taxes back when the federal estate tax exemption was much lower. Now that the federal estate tax is out of play for some of them, clients need to revisit their planning for state estate taxes.

    This is especially true for clients who have real estate or tangible personal property located in more than one state. That’s because the estate may be subject to state estate tax in several jurisdictions and there may be a dispute as to which state the decedent was domiciled in. It is important to review the plans of those clients and consider what options exist now.

  3. Mistake: Blind reliance on “portability”
  4. For federal estate tax purposes, the gift and estate tax exemption is now portable, meaning that if one spouse does not fully use his or her exemption during his or her lifetime, the surviving spouse can take advantage of it later.

    While clients and advisers may rely on portability as a default strategy, other considerations should be taken into account. Portability does not include an inflation-adjustment factor for the first spouse to die’s exemption. (This is different from a credit shelter trust where the funded assets and their appreciation will bypass estate tax at the death of the surviving spouse.) Portability is federal and is not recognized at the state estate tax level.

    Portability is an important planning strategy, but it should not be used as the absolute strategy. All factors should be considered and reviewed on an ongoing basis before assuming it is the “right” answer.

  5. Mistake: Failing to understand that the cost of long-term care may cause more significant erosion to family wealth than estate or income taxes

Families whose assets are under the exemption threshold and no longer have to plan to avoid or reduce the estate tax should still be concerned about the erosion of the family’s wealth. With an aging population that is living longer and needing additional assistance with custodial care, the key goals of estate planning could very well shift. Instead of focusing on how they can help clients protect their accumulated wealth from taxation, CPA planners may concentrate on helping clients protect their accumulated wealth from the escalating cost of health care. While the focus may change, the need for financial planning will be just as critical. The CPA, as a trusted adviser, is well-positioned to start that vital conversation and keep reviewing it as the client’s situation changes.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning. She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about. Annino recently released her new book, “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy” available at Amazon.com. To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

css.php