Beyond the $5 Million Federal Exemption: Today’s Estate Planning Trends

Family estate planning document image, estate planningAs 2015 continues to unfold, estate planning advisors should take note of the latest trends, which appear to be here to stay:


  1. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify (and get back to the basics) – The federal gift, estate, and generation-skipping tax exemptions are, for now, remaining at $5 million (adjusted for inflation). The trend, therefore, will be to simplify and unwind complicated structures, including trusts, which no longer have any estate tax benefit.

    Clients under the tax threshold will not want to pay to establish traditional, revocable bypass trusts, so there will be a trend back to creating simple wills. Managing the complexity and the administrative burden of numerous entities would be frustrating for many of these clients.

    Although the sentiment that “the law may change” will encourage some clients to cling to those structures, the move will be toward simplicity. Clients want transparent, understandable planning tools and no longer believe they need anything complex to accomplish their overall goals. Post-mortem techniques will allow advisors and families to have a “second look” nine months after the date of the decedent’s death to correct any factual mistakes or changes in the law that may have happened since the documents were established.

  3. Increase in Emphasis on State Estate Tax Planning. – For many families, federal estate tax planning will no longer be the main driver – state estate taxes will now be in the spotlight. In some states, there is a minimal $1 million exemption and the state estate tax rates reach 16 percent. For a $10 million estate that may not pay any federal estate taxes, the state estate taxes could be as high as $1.44 million.

    Although the state in which a family is domiciled controls the bulk of the tax, it becomes complicated to calculate the state inheritance taxes when families own property in several different states. If a husband and wife are domiciled in Florida (which does not currently have a separate state death tax), owns a vacation home on Cape Cod, and has commercial real estate in Greenwich, they would have to pay state estate taxes to both Massachusetts and Connecticut because they owned real property in both states. The state that claims estate tax domicile will prevail in assessing the estate tax on more than the real property and tangible personal property physically located in that state – it will reap the tax on the decedent’s intangible assets too, including investments and stock in the family business no matter where it is located. The determination of domicile for state estate tax purposes is fact-driven and differs from the determination of domicile for state income tax purposes. Estate planning professionals need to pay particular attention to these points.

  5. Increased Focus on Intergenerational Planning – As greater wealth passes down unhampered by federal estate taxes, it will become easier to hold broad discussions on family wealth that cut across generational lines. Insurance professionals must shift gears from the old goal – preserving the wealth by making sure that the government interferes as little as possible – to emphasizing the capture, preservation, and management of the assets for the good of a family system for generations to come. This requires a candid and thoughtful conversation with the family to discuss their common goals, their visions for the future, and how the family business will be managed in subsequent generations.

  7. Investment Choices on Dynasty Trusts Established to take Advantage of the Federal Gift Exemption. At the end of 2012, many high net worth families took advantage of their ability to gift $5 million, adjusted for inflation, and transferred assets to trusts. In the year-end rush, many of those trusts now have investments but no investment strategy. Now that this increased exemption has become permanent, many families will continue to implement and fund these trusts. From a leverage point of view, current law dictates that those assets, no matter how much they appreciate, will bypass estate tax for subsequent generations and will do so until the trust terminates. From an estate planning point of view, advisors should consider investment leverage and with their fiduciary duty in mind, contemplate investing those assets for future growth. Many families are also purchasing life insurance as part of this investment strategy, as it provides additional leverage and the funds used to purchase the insurance have already been moved out of the federal transfer tax system.

  9. Understanding the Impact and Influence of Double Inheritors. Many baby boomer women in this country will be double inheritors – they will inherit wealth from their parents and from their spouse. Over the next 20 years, the amount of wealth that will pass through and be controlled by baby boomer women will be staggering. As advisors, it is imperative that we understand the enormity of this market and acknowledge that reaching the woman client is different from reaching the male client. That woman client may be happily married now (and widowed later), single, divorced, widowed or remarried.
    Author Tom Peters, who has written extensively about organizations, leadership, and trends in the marketplace, is convinced that women represent the number one economy – and he believes that the impact of the women’s market on our global economy may be even bigger than the impact of the Internet. Understanding and reaching the double inheritor market is an important client service and an increasingly important business opportunity for estate planning advisors.

Now that the $5 million federal exemption appears to be permanent, estate planners need to refocus their energies – and their clients – to creating estate plans that are less concerned with avoiding federal taxes, and more concerned with managing and maintaining wealth for current and future generations.

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 To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

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 To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,