Technology for the Older Generation

There is a common complaint among Baby Boomers when it comes to aging parents and grandparents: It’s hard to keep in touch with them. Most communication among the middle and younger generations now takes place on the computer—e-mail, Facebook, electronic photo-sharing and more. Very rarely do we pick up the phone for a good old-fashioned chat; and when we do it’s usually on the go, in the form of a quick call or text message from our cell phones. Unfortunately, where all this technology helps us to be more connected to friends and family in our own cohort, it ends up leaving our elderly loved ones out of the conversation.

Karen Stabiner, in her article “Elder Tech: What’s Important” argues that it doesn’t have to be this way. Stabiner states that the key to getting elderly relatives involved in high-tech communication is to get out of our own heads and look at it from their point of view. “For technology to become ‘sticky’ with the older generation, we have to get into their heads and understand what would make them think this is fun… The bells and whistles that might attract us are too often counterintuitive [for them.]”

The younger, tech-savvy generations tend to look for high-tech devices that do everything, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to be appealing to grandma or grandpa. This article in GrayTimes.com suggests that single-purpose gadgets—devices designed only for e-mail or only for sharing photos—are more intuitive for elderly users.

New high-tech devices may be harder for parents or grandparents to use, but being able to connect with their loved ones can be a huge motivating factor. Being able to communicate with family makes our elderly parents and grandparents happy, but it also helps keep them safe. Adult children who communicate with their parents on a regular basis are better able to recognize and respond when mom or dad suddenly have trouble caring for themselves.

At Long Last: What to Expect from Estate Taxes in 2011

It has been a long and uncertain year for anybody interested in the future of the estate tax, filled with a few ups, a few downs, and a lot of speculation.  But after the recent passage of the new bipartisan tax bill all of the confusion and speculation is finally at an end, and it’s very close to what we anticipated early last week.  The bill is good news for most taxpayers; the Wall Street Journal says there are “many winners, a few losers,” and according to the New York Times “Almost no one will have to worry about paying the estate tax under the tax legislation just approved by Congress.”

Here is a brief overview of what you can expect in 2011:

New Estate Tax Exemptions and Rates: The new bill sets the estate tax exemption at $5 million per individual ($10 million per married couple), with amounts over the exemption taxed at a 35% rate.  This is opposed to the $3.5 million exemption and 45% rate some lawmakers were hoping for.

Tax Election Option for 2010 Estates: As mentioned in a previous post, this is one of the biggest parts of the new bill. There may have been no estate tax in 2010, but there was also no “step up in basis,” meaning that heirs selling inherited assets were taxed based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death, as is usually the case.  This led to a higher tax paid on the assets if and when they were sold, in spite of the lack of estate tax. Tax election gives 2010 estates the choice of whether to use 2010 or 2011 tax rules—a happy option for 2010 heirs.

Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Taxes: In recent years these three levies have had varying exemption levels, making gift giving and succession planning and challenging exercise at best. The unification of all three makes tax planning and giving gifts to grandchildren much easier than it used to be.

Individual Income and Payroll Taxes: The new bill wasn’t just about estate taxes; it also extends the Bush-era income tax rates; this is good news as it prevents a rise for nearly all taxpayers.

How Long Will It Last? We’re all glad that the waiting is over and we finally know what to expect, but the new law is only effective through 2012, at which point the provisions will “sunset.” This new tax package sets our minds at ease now, but the estate tax issue is far from over.  It looks as if we may have to revisit the issue in 2012-2013.

With the threat of high estate taxes out of the way does any reason remain to create (or update) your estate plan? Absolutely!

Estate planning is about more than just planning for taxes, it’s about taking control of your assets and choosing how your estate will be distributed.  Divorce, second marriages, planning for college, charitable gifts—these are just a few of the reasons why estate planning is essential regardless of the state of the estate tax.

At the very least, the recent fluctuation of the law means that you’ll want to call our office and make an appointment to have your existing plan reviewed and updated to ensure you don’t have any outdated clauses that could negatively affect your heirs.

Estate Tax Update: The End Is Near

It looks as if the long and weary road to estate tax clarity may soon be at an end. Especially if Washington lawmakers vote to approve the tax package negotiated between President Obama and Republican leaders without making too many changes.

Laura Saunders of the Wall Street Journal claims in her recent article that everything looks to be coming up roses, “it seems estate planners got everything they wanted and nothing they didn’t.” Good news for estate planners translates into good news for our clients. We recommend you read the entire article for the full story, but here are some of the highlights of what estate taxes may have in store for us in 2011:

Tax Election for 2010 Estates: This is one of the biggest parts of the deal. “The bill gives 2010 estates the choice of whether to use 2010 or 2011 tax rules.” This is good news because “the tax on heirs who sell assets of those who died in 2010 is based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death, as is usually the case,” meaning that “taxes were higher if they died in 2010 than 2009 or 2011.”

Unification of the Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Taxes: “In recent years the exemptions for the three levies have been out of synch, complicating succession planning for family businesses and other matters.” With the new deal, however, there would be a simple $5 million per-individual exemption for all three.

And of course we can’t have a conversation about estate taxes without discussing Effective Date and Duration: The effective date of the new provisions is set to be January 1, 2011. As for duration, “The Senate’s bill makes this regime effective only for 2011 and 2012, at that point the provisions ‘sunset.’” What this means is that the new tax package may be only a temporary reprieve, and we could be going through all of this again in 2012-2013.

Make This Year Memorable: A 2010 Gift-Giving Guide

Fruit baskets, kitchen gadgets, and Kindles aren’t the only gifts you can give loved ones this year (although you’ll see below that video game systems still make the cut.) Instead, why not give something unique that will leave a lasting impression and help protect your loved one? Here are a few non-traditional ideas for friends and family of every age.

Young Adults: What do you get the kid who already has all the video games he could want? How about a meeting with a financial planner? It may not sound exciting, but young adults are leaving home with less financial experience than ever, making it difficult for them to know how to budget for their own household, plan to eventually buy a house, or even stick to a strategy to pay of credit debt or student loans.

Parents of Young Children: A nomination of guardians drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney is an excellent gift for young parents. So also are advanced healthcare directives and a last will and testament. All of these will help protect the young family as well as provide peace of mind.

Baby-Boomer Friends and Family: The big concern among Baby-Boomers right now is long-term care. After paying for their elderly parents to grow old Boomers are now turning a concerned eye to their own futures.

Elderly Parents and Grandparents: Forget your teenage nephew; your elderly grandparent is the person who could benefit from having a video game. According to this story in the New York Times game systems such as the Xbox Kinect and Nintendo Wii Fit help get the elderly up and moving and can significantly improve their balance.

This year, forget about the impersonal gift cards or scented candles; instead give a gift that will leave a legacy.

A Good Year for Giving

The season of giving is upon us… and thanks to 2010’s unusual tax laws we may see some very large gifts before the year is out! If you are considering being particularly generous this year, this article from Reuters explains why the federal government is making 2010 an exceptionally good year for giving.

Most people know that for this year only there is no estate tax. But the year is almost over, and next year the estate tax is slated to go up to an astounding 55%. The more you can afford to give away now, the less that will eventually be subject to the estate tax. However, “the incentive to give stems not just from a looming increase in the estate tax, but also from the lowest tax rate on gifts in a generation — a maximum of 35 percent. That top rate was 45 percent in 2009 and jumps to 55 percent next year unless Congress acts.”

Those last three words, “unless Congress acts,” carry a lot of weight. Congress could choose instate lower and more reasonable tax rates in 2011; but right now we just don’t know, and the clock is ticking to the end of this “golden year.” There is nothing wrong with waiting to see what happens, but you may want to at least have the conversation with your estate or financial planner, so you know your options and can act swiftly when the time comes.

Very few people really want to give away their hard-earned money; but as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you, and most people would rather leave their legacy to their family rather than the government.

Make It Easy for Your Heirs to Say “No”

People have been known to do crazy things when taxes are as unpredictable as they are currently. No, we don’t mean “offing” their relatives (although there have been plenty of those kinds of jokes going around this year), we’re talking about saying “No thanks” to an inheritance (also called disclaiming.) This article in Investors.com explains that “By disclaiming, one heir can abstain from taking an inheritance, leaving the assets for other beneficiaries. Planning in advance for such a move can save huge amounts of estate tax. That means more money for heirs.”

We realize that with no estate tax in 2010, disclaiming an inheritance is not a likely scenario this year; but next year the tax is expected to come back, although at what rate or with what exemption is still anybody’s guess. That means there are plenty of reasons why someone might want to pass on a large inheritance, including:

  • To pass the benefit of the inheritance on to another family member (generally a younger family member who could use the money for college, a first house, etc.)
  • To avoid passing the inheritance directly on to creditors if the initial beneficiary is in debt or involved in a lawsuit.
  • To avoid being bumped into a higher tax bracket.

The best reason to account for the possibility of disclaiming in your will or estate plan is that it provides your heirs with flexibility. “Even if a new estate tax law is passed, uncertainties will remain. You don’t know when you’ll die. You can’t know for sure how much you’ll be worth. Congress may create new exemptions, tax levels and other rules.”

You never know what the future may hold—for you or your heirs. When in doubt, it pays to make provisions for any eventuality.