Now is a great time to start making gifts from your estate or start planning to make those gifts before the end of the year. Provisions of The Tax Relief Act of 2010, set to expire at the end of 2012, increased the lifetime gift tax exemptions to $5.12 million for individuals and $10.24 million for married couples, while keeping the estate and gift tax rate at 35 percent. If no legislative action is taken before the end of the year, the lifetime exemption will drop to $1 million in 2013 and the tax rate will increase to 55 percent.

As a result, if you transfer $5.12 million in assets in 2012, you will pay no gift tax. If you wait and make that same transfer in 2013, the result would be a $2.266 million tax liability.

“That’s a significant increase,” says Kaz Unalan, CPA, director, tax and business advisory services at GBQ Partners LLC. “If you are considering transferring assets, do it this year before these tax provisions expire.”

Smart Business spoke with Unalan about how to take advantage of the tax cuts while there’s still time.

How does the economic environment play into estate planning?

Based on the current economic climate, many values are depressed. These lower values give you the opportunity to gift more at a lower cost. A prime example is real estate. Those values are creeping back, but they’re still much lower compared to values in 2007 and 2008.

Values of closely held businesses are no different. Because these are at historic lows, it is an ideal time to consider gifting a closely held business. In addition to low values, marketability and minority interest discounts could further enhance your gifting capacity. Currently, interest rates are also historically low and very favorable when gifting assets into a trust. Trusts are appealing gifting vehicles for retaining control of an asset while freezing its value. The interest rate is important in that the lower the interest rate the less the income interest is worth, and conversely, the more the remainder interest is worth. This is extremely beneficial for gifting strategies related to Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts and Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts.

When gifting nonmarketable assets such as real estate or interests in a closely held business you should have a professional appraisal or business valuation performed.

How does the future tax environment affect estate and gift tax opportunities?

There’s a lot of uncertainty going into 2013, which has to do with the political environment and the current administration’s budget proposal. Currently, there are valuation provisions in place that are favorable for taxpayers as they relate to the ability to discount valuations of family-controlled entities for gifting purposes. The proposed budget would eliminate those discounts. Part of the current budget proposal also includes restrictions on the use of GRATs. Those proposed restrictions would make GRATs less favorable as an estate planning tool. You need to work with your advisers — your CPA and legal team — to make sure you stay on top of these changes. Those are the best and biggest allies when you’re trying to find out more about these laws and changes and how it impacts you and your business. Those advisers know the rules and have a good understanding of your personal situation. That’s a key component to planning.

What are some strategies to take advantage of this favorable time?

A lot of it starts with looking at your business and family situation. Many considerations are made based on how your personal beliefs and your values align with the tax and legal aspects. You need to answer some big-picture questions such as what you want to leave your heirs, how you want to ensure the financial security of your family now and when you are gone, and who is ultimately going to receive your estate.

Start looking at those big-picture questions and then boil it down to a specific vision. It can then be as simple as making an outright gift and taking advantage of the increased exemption by transferring the gift by the end of the 2012. You can also look at it from a comprehensive planning perspective. Gifting can be part of a family-owned business strategy and include other elements of planning such as the use of trusts.

What are the benefits and risks of estate and gift planning?

The benefit is preserving your estate for your heirs. By doing that now, you take advantage of a tax environment that hasn’t been this favorable for a very long time. Being more efficient in your tax planning can also significantly add value and preserve more of your estate.

By not working with the right professionals you risk missing big opportunities. Beyond the opportunities, you want to make sure you are working with professionals who understand the tax laws and the compliance elements that go along with estate and gift planning. Failing to document and execute the plan is a risk that can be avoided with the right professionals. It’s important to fully understand all of the steps that are necessary for estate and gift planning in order to reduce any kind of risk you may have.

Kaz Unalan, CPA, is director, tax and business advisory services at GBQ Partners LLC. Reach him at (614) 947-5309 or kunalan@gbq.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by GBQ Partners LLC

Published in Columbus

When it comes to estate planning, timing is everything, as variations in tax law make some years more favorable than others for transferring assets.

Ask any estate planner about 2012 and they’re likely to say things haven’t looked this good in a long time. But they will also tell you there’s a catch: Conditions will likely change Jan. 1, 2013.

“The question you should be asking yourself is, ‘Am I in a position to take advantage of the current opportunities in the estate and gift tax code?’” says Wonsun Willey, Tax Partner at Sensiba San Filippo.

If you’re not sure, she says, it’s probably time to talk to an estate planning expert.

Smart Business spoke with Willey about how to take advantage of estate and gift tax code opportunities before they disappear.

What makes the estate and gift tax provisions of 2012 so favorable?

At the close of 2010, the Tax Relief Act of 2010 created a temporary opportunity for tax-advantaged wealth transfer. The act increased the estate and gift tax lifetime exemptions to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for married couples, while the estate and gift tax rate remained at 35 percent.

Coupled with a historically low interest rate and an unprecedented suppressed real estate market, this provides excellent opportunities for gifting.

How much time is left to take advantage of these provisions?

It’s not clear what will happen beyond 2012. We do know, however, that if Congress does not take action, the lifetime exemption will drop to $1 million in 2013 and the tax rate will increase to 55 percent. This means an individual transferring $5 million in assets in 2012 could pay no gift tax, while that same transfer in 2013 could generate a $2.2 million tax liability.

What’s the best way to take advantage of this opportunity?

Get an estimated current value inventory of the asset portfolio in the estate. Determine the assets that are more likely to appreciate in value, giving considerations to those that also carry other intangible values, such as family legacy. By transferring assets now, the estate can utilize an estate freeze, in which the future appreciation of the asset transferred is outside the estate and escapes estate tax at the donor’s event. Another way to achieve this is by giving a fractional interest rather than a whole interest in an asset to take advantage of discounts.

Why might transferring interest in a partnership or a business be advantageous?

There are two types of discounts: lack of marketability discount, which is transferring less than 100 percent interest in an asset, and minority interest discount, or transferring less than 50 percent interest. These discounts might apply when you’re moving a fractional interest of a business or real estate out of an estate.

Say a couple owns a business valued at $20 million. They want to gift a 30 percent interest to each of their two children. Because they’re only giving a fractional, noncontrolling interest to each, the marketability of that interest might be significantly impaired.

A qualified valuation may substantiate a 35 percent discount in the transferred share of the business. By utilizing discounts, the couple only transferred 65 percent of the $6 million, or less than $4 million to each child. The result is that instead of exceeding their combined lifetime exemption and paying significant estate tax, the couple now has flexibility to gift even more out of the estate from a different asset to their children because of the allowed discount applied in the gift valuation. This also creates another opportunity for discount for estate tax purposes at death because the parents now own less than 50 percent of the business.

However, there have been discussions in Washington to disallow the minority interest discount on family gifting to other family members, so this opportunity could go away in the future.

You’ve mentioned ongoing estate planning. What does this mean?

Every individual has life-changing events — marriage, children, divorce, sale of a business, stock option IPO — along with change in their view of who their beneficiaries are. A good estate planner will know both the changing estate tax environment and the individual’s life changes in order to provide the best estate planning.

Where is the best place to start in this process?

If you aren’t working with an estate planner, it is best to get recommendations from a variety of sources. Your CPA, personal financial planner, banker or attorney could give you references. It is important that the team you choose to work with comprises estate and trust specialists.

How can individuals select and ensure that they are working with the right service providers?

Estate planning is a very personal business for both the service provider and the individual client. Look for someone you trust who will bring a personal interest to the relationship. As gifting involves giving up some control and is not something that can easily be reversed, understanding family dynamics and getting family members comfortable in all facets of the gift is important.

Communication and coordination are essential to make sure the overall tax, financial and personal outcomes are the best in the current tax regime. Keep in mind that in this process you’ll need help from multiple advisers. Financial planners can bring significant value in helping to select the best assets to transfer, while attorneys are essential to carrying out the intentions of the estate.

Wonsun Willey is a Tax Partner at Sensiba San Filippo, a regional CPA firm based in the San Francisco Bay area. She specializes in working with high-net-worth taxpayers and their estates and is fluent in Korean. Reach her at (408) 776-8900 or wwilley@ssfllp.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Sensiba San Filippo

Published in Northern California