Seven Unconventional Estate Planning Strategies
Today, most people prefer to place a bankcard in an automatic teller machine instead of speaking with a bank teller to get cash. Few people buy snow tires anymore because nearly all cars are sold with all-season radials. And laser discs are quickly squeezing out videos on the shelves of movie rental stores.
ATMs, radial tires and laser discs were once thought of as unconventional but are now widely accepted as a “best practice” or sound way of doing something. Unconventional does not always mean unworkable.
The same can be said for many “unconventional” wealth transfer strategies that can ultimately help your clients transfer multimillion-dollar estates to their loved ones. In some cases, these unconventional strategies–including estate freezing, discounting and leveraging–can accomplish your clients financial goals more efficiently than “conventional” estate planning tactics.
When it comes to estate planning, conventional wisdom holds that it is better to follow the strategies listed in Figure 1 (see page 12).
All of these “defer now and pay later” strategies can sometimes have flaws when it comes to transferring multimillion-dollar estate assets to lineal descendants. Conventional strategists attempt to justify their methods by relating investment time-value of money theories with estate distribution planning. When it comes to estate planning, any potential time-value of money advantages are often more than offset by increasing marginal federal gift and estate tax brackets. Marginal bracket creep currently can confiscate as much as 50% of assets not protected by annual gift exclusions ($11,000 per donee) or the applicable cumulative lifetime exemption of $1 million in 2002.
In addition to federal taxation, 19 states have death taxes ranging between 2% and 16%, and 29 other states rely on a “sponge” inheritance tax, according to state tax codes. The “sponge” states have an inheritance tax that matches the federal credit allowed. This federal credit for state death taxes ranged from 1% to 16% prior to the Economic Growth Tax Reform & Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) but is now scheduled to phase out over the next four years.
Some states, however, have already indicated that they will continue to use the pre-EGTRRA credit after 2004. Other states have indicated that they may not adopt the federal timetable to increase the lifetime credit exemptions from $1 million this year to $1.5 million in 2004, $2 million in 2006 and $3.5 million in 2009 for transfers of property domiciled within the state that are subject to state inheritance taxes.
Multimillion-dollar estate owners should be concerned about their assets not only appreciating over their lives, but the lives of their surviving spouses as well. The potential shrinkage of assets from a “defer now-pay later” plan could be exponentially magnified. Assets double in value every 10 years if they grow by just 7%–so could the taxes due on those assets through conventional asset transfer plans.
Consider the following “unconventional” strategies to create a more tax-efficient transfer of estate assets under current law: