"In a lot of ways, estate tax is voluntary if you do enough planning, says Christopher Hesse, LarsonAllen, Firm-wide Tax Resource Group. Hesse spoke Monday during the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.
He discussed 10 questions farmers should get answered in order to protect their assets.
How to determine taxable estate.
Current tax rate and exemptions.
Should I hold my assets in a trust?
Will giving away assets avoid estate tax?
How to give assets to kids.
How do I keep my estate plan flexible?
What is basis step-up in the farm context?
Should I purchase life insurance?
How do I keep my estate from appreciating?
How do I divide my estate between on-farm and off-farm heirs?
The problem in determining taxable estate is the fact that the current exemption is $5.12 million. But it drops to $1 million in 2013. "We don't expect Congress to keep it at $1 million but with an election year Congress may wait until 2013 to take action on it," says Hesse. "It's hard for Congress to plan at this point since they don't know what the regime will look like."
Anything you can do in a trust to protect assets, you can do it a will, stated Hesse. However, a trust might reduce probate costs. Important thing is beneficiary designations. Such things as second marriages, divorce can raise issues. "Make sure beneficiary designations are changed in all documents – trust, wills, life insurance, IRAs, etc."
Discussing stepped-up basis, Hesse drew laughter from the audience when he stated, "Timing is important. It's better to die after harvest and before the crop is sold. If corn is $7 at harvest, that's the basis for the corn income. And if the spouse sells the corn for $7.10, 10 cents is income. If it is sold for $6.50, it's a 50-cent loss."
Finally, evaluate "fair" versus "equal" in bequeathing assets. "It might be more fair, but not necessarily equal, to give more to kids who helped you grow your assets.
The important thing is to plan."