Estate Taxes and those pesky Pay on Death Accounts

Let’s say granny wanted to avoid probate and also keep her FDIC insurance exposure low and ran around to fifty banks buying CD’s and names children and grandchildren as pay on death beneficiaries of each account. There is no will and no probate of her estate and no executor qualified.

So, one of the POD beneficiaries figures out that granny was maybe worth over $5 Million and there is a necessity to file an estate tax return.

So he goes to Head in the Sand Credit Union and asks for details of any CD’s owned by the decedent and even gets his siblings to give him a notarized permission to find out the information in the accounts.
HITSCU says, “no way” we cannot accept that permission slip and we have to follow our own procedures and protect their privacy.

This little cautionary tale, points out the problem with pay on death accounts. Yes, they avoid probate, but they also create a mess in trying to locate the decedent’s assets when there may be an estate tax due. In such situations a revocable trust is more beneficial as the owner and provides more centralized control of the assets if granny wants to avoid probate.

Portability of Estate Tax Exemption

Susie and Nate have an estate of $5 Million. Everything is in joint name and Nate dies in January, 2012. Since Susie inherited everything, she figured no estate tax return was needed. She went to see Joe Probate, a local probate attorney, and he confirmed, “nuthin to probate”, he said. Susie went merrily on her way. In January, 2013, the estate tax exemption went down to $1 Million. Susie died in June of 2013. Her kids go to Joe Probate again, and he says, go see the accountant in town, that the estate is over $1 Million, so there is a potential estate tax. So, when they go to the Accountant, the accountant asks where was Nate’s Federal Estate Tax Return for 2012. The kids shake their heads, they ask Joe Probate, he says none was required. However, because Susie never filed an estate tax return for Nate, she did not capture his portability rights. She could have claimed, 1/2 of his property on a timely filed Federal Estate Tax return for Joe (15 months for portability return). Because she failed to do so, her estate will not get to use his estate tax exemption. Had she filed that return her kids would have had to pay an estate tax upon her death of $660,000. Instead, they will have to pay an estate tax of $2 Million. So it is very important for anyone dying in 2011 and 2012 to file those Federal Estate Tax returns within 15 months of the date of death.

New Tax Act passed

I’ve been waiting on Congress to do its job and finally some legislation has come through. There is something in the new Tax Act for everyone.
First, the highlights:
The tax benefits of the 2001, 2003 Tax Acts were extended for two years. This means that the tax rates for 2010 will hold for two more years including on capital gains. With regard to Alternative Minimum Taxes, the relief is in the Act. So, there will not be a jump in people affected by AMT next year.

With regard to Estate and Gift Taxes two huge changes.
(1) Reunification of Gift and Estate tax exemptions. Since 2001, gift tax exemption was capped at $1 Million. Now it will be the same as the estate tax exemption of $5 Million.
(2) Estate tax unified credit increased to $5 Million for years beginning in 2011. There is also a retroactive election for 2010 relating to step-up in basis. If the estate is under $5 Million, it would appear that the one can elect to step-up the basis of the assets. If its above $5 Million we’ll need to assess your personal situation to decide whether you want to pay estate tax to get a step-up in basis. The rate will stay at the current 35% rate for estates over $5 Million. There is also portability for married couples. This means that if one spouse dies after December 31, 2010 and the other dies later and the first spouse used up $3 Million of his or her credit amount, the second spouse can take up to $7 Million of the first spouse’s unused credit. Given the limited period of this law, it might be wise to look at gifts, although there is a basis trade-off if that occurs. Either way, its a huge change in the law.
These changes are only for two years. So, after December 31, 2012, the exemption amount falls back to $1 Million and estate tax rate to 55%.

With regard to the 2% payroll tax holiday for 2011, it also applies to self-employed individuals.

Energy Efficient Home Credit is extended to through 2011. Energy efficient appliances credit is extended through 2011 as well. Credits for windows, wood stoves, water heaters will continue.

Deductions for school teachers shall be continued through 2011. Sales tax deduction continued through 2012. Tax free distributions to charities from retirement plans extended through 2011.
Lots of continuation of popular business credits, research credit, and other industry specific credits.


First, when the father started the business or at least when the boys started working there, he should have considered giving them portions of the business over the years. This would have created minority discounts in the business upon the deaths of the parents. As to the IRA, when Dad got sick, pop the IRA’s right away and don’t withhold any taxes. That way, you get an income tax deduction on the estate tax return. In essence trading a 39% tax for a 50% tax. Make sure Mom has assets in her name alone in case she were to die first. The family should have utilized revocable trusts and perhaps buy some life insurance owned by a Life Insurance Trust or an LLC owned by the sons. These are minimal steps which might have averted this confiscatory scenario. As you can see, for 2011, things can get real ugly and planning should be done.

What should the boys do?

A little post-mortem estate planning. First the wife’s executor should disclaim $1.0 Million of assets preferably in the stock of the company (we’ll explain later). That way, his estate gets to use its $1.0 Million exemption and her estate gets to use her $1.0 Exemption. This reduces the tax by $500,000. Not there yet. However, since she disclaimed her interest in the business, it is still worth $2.5 Million, but her interest may be subject to some discounts as high as 25%. This means that her interest may only be $1.0 Million. That leaves the IRA and the houses and the condo to be taxed at $700,000. Sell the houses, since there is no capital gains there and pay the taxes with the proceeds. That leaves the $800,000 IRA which can be drawn down over time.