For some clients, tax minimization or avoidance makes up a large part of the work related to their estate plan. Usually, those with higher net worths confront these issues. Among them are the gift tax, estate tax, income taxes, and property taxes. Let's briefly touch upon each one.
Gift Taxes occur as a result of making lifetime transfers of assets to others. As a practical matter, only a small number of individuals face this issue. This is because until 1/1/2026, a person may transfer approximately $11,200,000 in assets without facing gift taxes. In some scenarios transfering assets and paying gift taxes can be more beneficial than having those assets continue to be part of the estate and therefore taxable for estate tax purposes.
In simple terms, Estate Taxes are paid based on a valuation of the assets you own at the time of your death. If your estate is less than $11,200,000 (as of 2018), then you may not owe any estate taxes (depending on whether you made transfers during your life that utilized the estate tax exemption amount). Many estate plans for married couples take advantage of the "marital deduction" to defer estate taxes until the death of the surviving spouse.
One area that estate planning lawyers focus on when it comes to income tax is the tax basis for a transferred asset. For example, recipients of assets by lifetime gift generally have the same tax basis as what the gifting party had. On the other hand, recipients of assets through an inheritance after the death of the owner may receive the asset with a "stepped-up" basis. Consequently, if you receive an asset from a living person, you may pay higher capital gains tax than if you had received the asset from someone who has passed away (for example, through that person's will or trust) if you later decide to sell it.
In California, real property is reassessed for property tax purposes whenever there's a change of ownership. Transfers between parents and children and grandparents and grandchildren may be exempt from reassessment entirely or up to a certain dollar amount.
Because of the property tax system in California, it's possible that someone with highly appreciated property is still paying very little in property taxes. This is especially true if this person has owned the property for a long period of time. Planning how to transfer your real estate intelligently may allow your family to reap significant benefits in the form of maintaining low property taxes.
These are just some of the considerations and potential obstacles that taxes pose in estate planning.