The recently passed tax reform bill has received a considerable amount of press, and for good reason. As the most comprehensive tax reform in over 30 years, the new tax laws will impact every individual & business in America. Its impact also extends to the way we approach financial planning for our clients.
The most significant change in regards to estate planning is the doubling of the Estate & Gift Tax Exemption. Beginning in 2018, this means that individuals will be able to claim exemptions up to $11.2 million, and $22.4 million for couples. For many high net worth individuals, this could simplify estate planning, as only amounts over the exemption limits will be subject to Federal tax. This provision is set to expire at the end of 2025, at which time the exemption amounts will revert to their pre-2018 levels, with inflation adjustments.
For those who are charitably inclined, the doubling of the standard deduction means that giving levels may need to be increased in order to receive a tax benefit. For a married couple, if itemized deductions are under the new standard deduction amount of $24,000, there will be no tax benefit to itemizing. For individuals, this limit will be $12,000. In order to maximize the tax benefits, donors may want to consider the use of a Donor Advised Fund. A Donor Advised Fund allows taxpayers to contribute an amount of their choosing to the fund and take a tax deduction for the full amount in the year the contribution is made. They may then choose to direct gifts from the Donor Advised Fund to specific charities over an extended time frame.
The annual gift tax exclusion has also been increased to $15,000 per person for 2018, meaning that couples can gift up to $30,000 per year without incurring any tax, and without using any of their lifetime exemption amount. Single taxpayers can gift up to $15,000 per person.
Under the new tax bill, the ability to recharacterize a Roth conversion is eliminated. Previously, taxpayers had up until the tax filing deadline plus extensions to recharacterize any amount converted from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, if the account had fallen in value, or if the amount converted results in a higher tax than originally anticipated. Under the new laws, this will no longer be allowed. This is one of the few permanent changes within the bill. Note that this change only applies to the recharacterization of Roth conversions; contributions to either Traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs are still able to be recharacterized.
For planning purposes, this means that individuals wishing to convert need to be certain of their ability and willingness to pay the taxes. It will also likely lead to more conservative recommendations regarding the amount to convert in a given year. As always, a potential Roth conversion should be discussed with a tax professional prior to implementing.
Distributions from 529 Plans
Distributions from 529 Plans of up to $10,000 per year, per individual used for the cost of K-12 expenses will now be considered qualified and therefore will be non-taxable. Funds may be used for students enrolled in public, private or religious school. Post-secondary education expenses remain qualified.
While many of the changes within the tax reform bill are temporary and will revert back after 2025, some changes are permanent, including the increase in standard deduction, the elimination of the personal exemptions, the elimination of the ability to recharacterize Roth IRA conversions, and the changes regarding the use of 529 Plan funds.