Interest Rates and Estate Planning
Estate Planning Strategies in a Low-Interest-Rate Environment
The federal government requires the use of certain interest rates to value various items used in estate planning, such as an income, annuity, or remainder interest in a trust. The government also has interest rates that a taxpayer may be deemed to use in connection with certain installment sales or intra-family loans. These rates are currently at or near historic lows, presenting several estate planning opportunities.
Low interest rates favor certain estate planning strategies over others. For example, low interest rates are beneficial for a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), a charitable lead annuity trust (CLAT), an installment sale, and a low-interest loan. On the other hand, low interest rates have a detrimental effect on a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) or a charitable gift annuity.
Grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT)
In a GRAT, you transfer property to a trust, but retain a right to annuity payments for a term of years. After the trust term ends, the remaining trust property passes to your beneficiaries, such as family members. The value of the gift of a remainder interest is discounted for gift tax purposes to reflect that it will be received in the future. Also, if you survive the trust term, the trust property is not included in your gross estate for estate tax purposes. If the rate of appreciation is greater than the IRS interest rate, more of the value of trust assets escapes gift and estate taxation. Consequently, the lower the IRS interest rate, the more effective this technique is.
Charitable lead annuity trust (CLAT)
In a CLAT, you transfer property to a trust, giving a charity the right to annuity payments for a term of years. After the trust term ends, the remaining trust property passes to your beneficiaries, such as family members. This trust is similar to a GRAT, except that you get a gift tax charitable deduction. Also, if structured so that you are taxed on trust income, you receive an up-front income tax charitable deduction for the gift of the annuity interest. The lower the IRS interest rate, the more effective this technique is.
You may also wish to consider an installment sale to family members. With an installment sale, you can generally defer the taxation of any gain on the property sold until the installment payments are received. However, if the family member resells the property within two years of your installment sale, any deferred gain will generally be accelerated. The two-year limit does not apply to stocks that are sold on an established securities market.
You are generally required to charge an adequate interest rate in return for the opportunity to pay in installments, or interest will be deemed to be charged for income tax and gift tax purposes. However, with the current low interest rates, your family members can pay for the property in installments, while paying only a minimal interest cost for the benefit of doing so.
A low-interest loan to family members might also be useful. You are generally required to charge an adequate interest rate on the loan for the use of the money, or interest will be deemed to be charged for income tax and gift tax purposes. However, with the current low interest rates, you can provide loans at a very low rate and family members can effectively keep any earnings in excess of the interest they are required to pay you.
Effect of low rates on other strategies
- Qualified personal residence trust: You transfer your personal residence to a trust, retaining the right to live in the home for a period of years, after which the residence passes to your beneficiaries, such as family members. The value of the gift of a remainder interest is discounted for gift tax purposes to reflect that it will be received in the future. The lower the IRS interest rate, the less effective this technique is.
- Charitable gift annuity: You transfer property to a charity in return for the charity's promise to make annuity payments for your life (or for you and your spouse's lives). You receive a current charitable deduction for the gift of the remainder interest. The lower the interest rate, the lower the amount of your charitable deduction will be. Also, charities have generally been forced to reduce payout rates offered because of the economic downturn and the low-interest-rate environment.
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