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GANDELOT HARTMANN Law Blog

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012- What It Means For You

As you probably know, Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff by passing – at the 11th hour –the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), signed into law by the President on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Tax Act makes several important revisions to the tax code that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. What follows is a brief description of some of these revisions – and their impact:

  • The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news for all Americans; for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained built-in expiration dates. And while “permanent” in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have more certainty with which to plan.
  • The federal gift and estate tax exemptions will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains. So if you did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012, you can still do so – and there are advantages to doing so sooner rather than later. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, expect to be able to transfer even more each year in the future.
  • The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than the transferor; in other words, transfers that “skip” a generation. Having this exemption be “permanent” allows to take advantage of planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
  • Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
  • The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
  • The “portability” provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up a trust specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
  • Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased from $13,000 to $14,000, meaning anyone can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary, per year free of federal gift, estate and GST tax – in addition to the $5 million gift and estate tax exemption. By making annual tax-free transfers while alive, you can transfer significant wealth to your children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries, thereby reducing their taxable estate and removing future appreciation on transferred assets. And, they can significantly enhance this lifetime giving strategy by transferring interests in a limited liability company or similar entity because these assets have a reduced value for transfer tax purposes, allowing you to transfer more free of tax.

For most Americans, the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on estate tax planning and put it back on what, are the true motivators to do estate planning: taking care of you and your families the way you want. This includes

  • Protecting you, your families, and your assets in the event of incapacity;
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want;
  • Protecting your legacy from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
  • Providing for loved ones with special needs without losing valuable government benefits; and
  • Helping protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits.

For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax free to future generations, but it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. With Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated. Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.

Further, as is well publicized, the 2012 Tax Act included several income tax rate increases on those earning more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly). Combined with the two additional income tax rate increases resulting from the recent healthcare bill, income tax planning is now more important than ever.

If you have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over. Now that we have increased certainty with “permanent” laws, there is no excuse for you to postpone planning any longer. Please schedule an appointment today.




GANDELOT HARTMANN, Counselors at Law, assist clients within Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan as well as Harper Woods, Detroit, Saint Clair Shores, Grosse Pointe, Eastpointe, Warren, Roseville, Centerline, Hamtramck, Fraser, Clinton Township, Utica, Shelby Township, Macomb Township, Chesterfield, New Baltimore, New Haven, Washington, Romeo, Armada, Sterling Heights, Troy, Royal Oak, Southfield, Oak Park, Auburn Hills, Pontiac, Oxford, Metamora, Berkley, Lathrup Village, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, South Lyon, Ortonville, Dryden, Milford, New Hudson, Northville, Clarkston, Lake Orion, Madison Heights, Rochester, Birmingham, Bloomfield, Bingham Farms. We service all counties throughout Michigan, including Wayne County, Macomb County and Oakland County. We also coordinate the individual planning needs of our clients across the United States and internationally.



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