Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, P.C. is please to announce that 15 of the firm’s have been selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America 2023.
A number of firm clients are interested in charitable giving, whether made during lifetime or upon death. The reasons behind the differing approaches are varied.
One of the benefits of a lifetime gift to charity is the immediate income tax deduction that may be available.1 Unlike lifetime gifts to charity, deathtime gifts are not deductible for income tax purposes, although they may be deductible for estate tax purposes.2 The federal estate tax is applicable to taxable estates in excess of $12.06-million, and as a result, generally taxpayers will benefit more from a lifetime gift to charity than a deathtime transfer.
Despite the potential tax benefits available to taxpayers through life gifts, there is a reason why taxpayers might prefer to make a gift at death rather than during lifetime. During lifetime it is difficult for an individual to predict how much they will need to support themselves. For that reason alone, many clients opt to provide their charitable gifts after death.
We are proud to announce 4 of our attorneys have been selected to the 2022 New Jersey Super Lawyers® list, and 2 have been selected to the 2022 New Jersey Rising Stars® List. This recognition in The Super Lawyers© 2022 and Rising Stars® 2022 lists, identifies each attorney for their leading legal talent in their corresponding practice areas.
The following Lindabury attorneys were named as Super Lawyers honorees:
- David G. Hardin – Estate & Probate
It has been our hope that estate and gift tax reform would be settled by the time this article goes to print. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Revenue issues involving the debt ceiling and stop-gap spending are circulating in Congress at the same time as legislative priorities, like infrastructure, are being hashed out, and procedural steps, like filibuster and reconciliation, are being threatened. Tax reform is but one issue in the mix, and its ultimate resolution is influenced by, and dependent upon, the resolution of a number of the others which are still unresolved. This article will provide a summary of the most recent available information.
Perhaps the most significant proposal on the table is the reduction of the lifetime estate and gift tax exemption, often referred to as the “unified credit,” from its current $11,700,000 per person to $6,020,000 per person in 2022 as estimated by the staff on the Joint Committee on Taxation. The lifetime exemption was increased from $5.5-million to $11-million (with adjustments for inflation) as part of the 2017 Tax Act. The increased exemption amount is due to sunset by its own terms on December 31. 2025, but the current proposal would accelerate that timetable. Individuals looking to make maximum use of the higher lifetime exemption currently available will want to consider making gifts before any reduction becomes effective. Under the proposed bill, the provision would apply to decedents dying and gifts made after December 31, 2021.
The current proposals would eliminate the use of discounts for transfer tax purposes when valuing passive, nonbusiness assets. Discounts are generally based on concepts of minority interest and lack of control, and can reduce the value of an asset for gift or estate tax purposes by as much as 50% or more. The proposal would not affect the valuation of assets that are used in the conduct of a trade or business, which could continue to be valued at a discount. Discounts have been useful in leveraging lifetime estate and gift tax exemptions. The new rule, if adopted, would be effective as of the date of enactment.
We are proud to announce 11 of our attorneys have been named to the 2021 Best Lawyers® list, two of which were named “Lawyer of the Year.” This recognition in The Best Lawyers in America© 2021, identifies each for their leading legal talent in their corresponding practice areas.
The following Lindabury attorneys were named as Best Lawyers honorees:
- Steven Backfisch: Litigation – Labor and Employment
As estate planning attorneys, we are frequently asked by clients how often they should review their estate planning documents. Should it be every three years … every five years … every ten years? Rather than consider the response in terms of time, we prefer to advise clients to think in terms of need or life stage. On occasion, reviewing estate planning documents after a specified period of time has passed will be prudent, but more often other factors will weigh more heavily. This article will provide guidance to individuals who might wonder whether their estate planning documents are due for review.
The first consideration should be whether there is a need to change a document. For example, after a move to a new state, the estate planning documents should be reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice in that state. Further, if the executor named in a will has died, moved out of state, or is no longer the appropriate person to serve, then the will should be updated to substitute another executor for the one who will no longer serve. Similarly, if a guardian for a minor child is no longer appropriate because he or she has relocated to another state, or because the guardian’s personal circumstances have changed, it may be necessary to revise the will to name a new guardian. A change in the tax laws may also suggest a need for revision of a will or trust.
New life stages may also provide reasons to update estate planning documents. For example, when children are minors, it is oftentimes appropriate to establish a trust to hold a child’s inheritance until a child reaches a specific age in order to safeguard the funds and minimize potential waste. As a child grows up, the need for a trust may be eliminated, or the terms of a trust might warrant a change to give a child different benefits or more control. Similarly, when a child becomes an adult, it may be appropriate to name the child to a position of responsibility, as perhaps appointing the child as an executor.
One of the hallmarks of estate planning is the use of terms of art in legal documents. Terms of art are often encountered in a will or revocable trust. This article will discuss the Latin phrase “per stirpes” and related concepts in the context of estate distributions to beneficiaries.
A. Per Stirpes. The term “per stirpes” literally means “by roots or stocks.” In the context of a disposition in a will or trust, the term is frequently used, for example, as part of a distribution to “surviving descendants, per stirpes.” The term is defined in New Jersey law as follows:
If a governing instrument requires property to be distributed “per stirpes,” the property is divided into as many equal shares as there are: (1) surviving children of the designated ancestor; and (2) deceased children who left surviving descendants. Each surviving child is allocated one share. The share of each deceased child with surviving descendants is allocated in the same manner, with subdivision repeating at each succeeding generation until the property is fully allocated among surviving descendants.
One of the useful documents in the estate planner’s tool kit is the power of attorney. Briefly, a power of attorney allows a person (the “principal”) to name another individual (the “agent” or the “attorney-in-fact”) to act on the principal’s behalf, typically in financial and health matters. A power of attorney may be “general” or “limited,” meaning it can authorize the attorney-in-fact to act broadly on the principal’s behalf, or it may restrict the attorney-in-fact’s authority to certain enumerated types of conduct (i.e., a limited power of attorney may apply solely to acts involved in the sale of a principal’s real estate). In addition to being “general” or “limited,” a power of attorney may also be “durable,” meaning the power of attorney remains effective in the event of a future disability or incapacity of the principal. For purposes of this article, the power of attorney is to be considered a durable general power of attorney, meaning the power of attorney is effective immediately upon execution, it authorizes the attorney-in-fact to act broadly on the principal’s behalf, and it remains effective in the event of any subsequent disability or incapacity of the principal.
New Jersey’s Revised Durable Power of Attorney Act, as codified in N.J.S. 46:2B-8.1 et seq. (the “Act”), grants broad authority to an attorney-in-fact to act on a principal’s behalf. The Act provides: “All acts done by an attorney-in-fact pursuant to a durable power of attorney during any period when the power of attorney is effective in accordance with its terms, including any period when the principal is under a disability, have the same effect and inure to the benefit of and bind the principal and the principal’s successors in interest as if the principal were competent and not disabled.” N.J.S. 46:2B-8.3. This section purports to state that the acts of the attorney-in-fact are binding upon the principal and the principal’s successors in interest, suggesting that the acts of the attorney-in-fact have the same effect as if the principal had acted himself or herself. While this is true, the law in New Jersey requires more.
New Jersey law imposes a higher duty upon an attorney-in-fact acting on behalf of a principal under a power of attorney. An attorney-in-fact in New Jersey has a fiduciary obligation to the principal and must act “within the powers delegated by the power of attorney and solely for the benefit of the principal.” N.J.S. 46:2B-8.13.a [emphasis added]. A common situation in which a power of attorney may expressly authorize an attorney-in-fact to act, but where the act will be prohibited, involves lifetime gifts. While an individual generally has broad power to make lifetime gifts of his or her own property, unfettered by any restrictions or constraints, an attorney-in-fact operating under a power of attorney does not have that same authority. An attorney-in-fact may not use the principal’s resources unilaterally to favor himself or herself in ways that are contrary to the principal’s wishes.
Real estate is oftentimes one of the more valuable assets an individual may own, and thus can comprise a substantial asset in the estate following an individual’s death. Typically, it is the personal representative of the estate who has responsibility to dispose of a decedent’s real estate.1 Real estate can either be conveyed directly to one or more of the estate beneficiaries or it can be sold. The disposition of real estate in an estate can be one of the more significant responsibilities for the personal representative. This article will address a number of issues facing a personal representative involved in the disposition of real estate through sale of the property following an owner’s death.2
The first issue generally faced by a personal representative is determining the fair market value of the property. For purposes of the federal estate tax law, fair market value is defined as “the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” Treas. Reg. §2031-1(b). For New Jersey estate and inheritance tax purposes, tax is “computed upon the clear market value of the property transferred.” N.J.S. 54:34–5. See also N.J.A.C. 18:26–8.10. In general, an appraisal of real estate prepared by a member of the Appraisal Institute will be recognized as an acceptable appraisal by taxing authorities.3 An arms-length purchase by an unrelated third party, if completed within a reasonable time period after death, is generally accepted by the taxing authorities as an alternative to an appraisal.
The actual process of selling real property owned by an estate can also present challenges to a personal representative. Oftentimes a personal representative will wish to minimize the expenditure of funds to “update” an estate property, preferring instead to enter into a contract selling the property in “as is” condition without addressing any repair issues. While this is often an attractive approach, particularly when a personal representative has never resided in the property or has limited or no knowledge concerning its condition, there are limitations to this approach in New Jersey, which a recent case points out.
A previous article appearing in Planning Matters discussed the use of lifetime gifts to reduce New Jersey estate taxes. The article pointed out that although there can be advantages to lifetime gifts, there are situations where embarking on a lifetime gifting program in New Jersey is ill-advised. This article will address some of those circumstances where lifetime gifts will not result in a tax benefit.
The starting point for this discussion is the income tax concept of basis. Basis is relevant for determining the gain realized from the sale or other disposition of property for capital gain tax purposes. In general, the basis of property is the cost of the property to the taxpayer. There are special rules with respect to basis where property is acquired by lifetime gift and where property is acquired from a decedent.
In the case of property acquired from a decedent’s estate, Section 1014 provides the general rule that the basis of property in the hands of a beneficiary is the fair market value of the property at the date of the decedent’s death. This concept is oftentimes referred to as “stepped-up basis” because the taxpayer receives a free step-up in basis to the value of the property at the time of the decedent’s death without being subjected to the payment of a capital gain tax.