Estate Planning, Tax, and Probate Law

By Kevin C. Curry

Act Number 323 of the 2011 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature modified the rules on small successions in Louisiana. In addition to some other changes, the law allows the use of the small succession procedure, which generally involves filing an affidavit rather than opening judicial proceedings, to transfer title to

By Carey J. Messina and Kevin C. Curry

After a long delay, Congress has passed and President Obama has signed into law the new federal estate and gift tax legislation. It has been very difficult for some individuals to prepare an appropriate estate plan not knowing what the potential federal estate and gift taxes will be. For the next two years, 2011 and 2012, there is some certainty. Parts of the new legislation may not impact everyone, but questions always abound concerning "death taxes". Now is an excellent time to review your estate planning documents to determine whether or not they continue to carry out your intentions.

Federal Estate Tax Exemption Amount and Federal Gift Tax Exemption Amount

Beginning January 1, 2011 and continuing through 2012, the federal estate tax exemption amount will be $5 million and the federal gift tax exemption will also be $5 million. This essentially means that a married couple can pass $10 million in assets to their children without any federal estate or gift tax, with proper estate planning. The top tax rate for the federal estate and gift taxes for 2011 and 2012 will be thirty-five percent (35%). The new exemption and rate provisions are applicable only for deaths or gifts in 2011 or 2012.

Effectively, the exemption for the federal estate and gift taxes are unified again. The gift tax exemption and the estate tax exemption will be the same $5 million amount. Also, the Generation Skipping Tax (GST) Exemption is now $5 million, making it easier to transfer wealth to grandchildren.


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By Carey J. Messina and Kevin C. Curry

As estate planning attorneys, we receive calls from clients concerning the use of revocable living trusts in estate planning. The general public is invited to seminars on the subject, they receive literature in the mail, and, in some cases, receive in-home visits from parties, who are usually not attorneys, who advocate the use of the revocable living trust. Over the years, we have responded to clients to answer their questions concerning what the living trust will do and what it will not do. What follows is a discussion of what we call the “Six Myths” of the revocable living trust. 

Myth No. 1: A living trust saves taxes.

A blanket statement that a living trust saves taxes is subject to examination. First of all, what types of taxes are being discussed? One should know that the Louisiana inheritance taxes disappeared in 2004. Accordingly, State of Louisiana inheritance taxes do not come into play with respect to a trust or a will. The Federal Estate Tax may be applicable whether there is a will or a trust. Some parties advocating the revocable living trust indicate that the trust is necessary in order to obtain the benefit of the $5 million Federal Estate Tax exemption. This is not true. The $5 million Federal Estate Tax exemption can be obtained without the use of a will or a trust. The exemption is not utilized when bequests are made through a trust or a will to a surviving spouse; however, federal law for the years 2011 and 2012 provides for “portability” of the exemption of the spouse whose Federal Estate Tax exemption has not been used. This portability applies to the estate of that deceased spouse’s surviving spouse, at least for 2011 and 2012.

Many assets in an estate are referred to as “non-probate assets,” such as annuities, IRAs, and 401k plans. In the event that a trust is made the beneficiary of such accounts, there could be potentially higher federal income taxes. This is clearly a trap for the unwary. Income tax consequences will turn on the design of the trust and, in particular, the design for distribution of income from the trust assets.


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By Kevin C. Curry

On December 23, 2008, President Bush signed the Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (the Act) into law.  Section 201 of the Act waives any required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2009 from retirement plans that hold each participant’s benefit in an individual account, such as § 401(k) plans and § 403(b) plans, and certain § 457(b) plans.  The Act also waives any RMD for 2009 from an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA).


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by Kevin C. Curry

Taxpayers often own a vacation home or other residential property that they desire to exchange in a tax-deferred like kind exchange under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code. Under Section 1031, no gain or loss is recognized on the exchange of property held for use in a trade or business or for investment if the property is exchanged solely for property of like kind that is to be used in either a trade or business or for investment. Personal residences and similar personal-use property generally do not qualify as property held for investment or used in a trade or business within the meaning of Section 1031. When it comes to vacation homes and similar property that a taxpayer uses occasionally for personal use, there has generally been uncertainty as to whether or not that property would qualify for a Section 1031 exchange.


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by Kevin C. Curry

The IRS issued Notice 2008-25 explaining how the recapture rules for the 50% bonus depreciation under the GO Zone legislation applies to GO Zone property involved in either a like kind exchange under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code (the "Code") or an involuntary conversion under Section 1033 of the Code.

In general, for qualified GO Zone property, taxpayers can claim a 50% bonus depreciation deduction for the qualified Go Zone property. However, this depreciation deduction is subject to recapture if the property ceases to be substantially used in the GO Zone or in the active conduct of a trade or business by the taxpayer. If GO Zone property is no longer GO Zone property in the hands of the same taxpayer at any time before the end of the GO Zone property’s recovery period under the normal depreciation rules, then the taxpayer must generally recapture in the taxable year in which the GO Zone property is no longer GO Zone property (the recapture year) the benefit derived from claiming the GO Zone bonus depreciation deduction. The benefit derived from claiming this bonus depreciation deduction is equal to the excess of the total depreciation claimed, including the bonus depreciation, for the property for the taxable years before the recapture year over the total depreciation that would have been allowable for the taxable years prior to the recapture year under the normal depreciation rules. The recapture amount will be treated as ordinary income in the recapture year.


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by Kevin C. Curry

In IRS News Release 2007-134 issued on July 31, 2007, the Internal Revenue Service has granted an additional year to the time limit for victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma to sell the vacant land upon which their home had sat and was destroyed as a result of the hurricanes. 


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by Kevin C. Curry

On February 16, 2007, the IRS issued a formal ruling approving a sale of a life insurance policy to a grantor trust. This ruling is a rare formal ruling by the IRS in the grantor trust area. Grantor trusts, or intentionally defective grantor trusts, are used often in a variety of estate planning situations. Grantor trusts are typically used in estate planning situations where the parties want the income of the trust to be taxed to the grantor of the trust (the person who set up the trust) or where they want the grantor to be deemed to be the owner of the trust property for income tax purposes.


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The need for “estate planning” is often dismissed by individuals as being a luxury which can only be utilized by the wealthy. However, anyone who owns any property has need for at least some knowledge of estate planning in order to determine who will receive his or her property at the time of death. The term “estate planning” is not restricted to planning or drafting of wills for individuals who will have a federal estate tax consequence at death. “Estate planning”, when used in its broadest sense, is necessary for the husband and wife who want to leave as much as they can to their surviving spouse for that surviving spouse’s economic well-being and protection. It is also necessary for the young husband and wife who have several children, a house with a large mortgage, a small savings, and life insurance. Estate planning is also necessary for the single individual with no children who desires to distribute his or her property in a manner different from the statutory course. Do not let the term “estate planning” fool you. It applies to each of us in some form or fashion.
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