Attorney’s prepare powers-of-attorney documents for clients in order to communicate their wishes and delegate an entrusted person to make decisions on the clients’ behalf when their clients no longer can. But when it comes to actually using those documents at the time of a healthcare crisis, clear and powerful documents are just the beginning. The decision points can (and must) be put down on paper in advance, but when it comes to end-of-life situations, the clarity on which we lawyers thrive can be very hard to find.
Sitting in her lawyer’s office, the client may have been quite certain about health-care decisions. She does not want her life prolonged by a battery of aggressive treatments, where these would not preserve her quality of life. She does not want blood transfusions, dialysis, repeated courses of antibiotics and chemotherapy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or breathing and feeding tubes. She does not want to die inert in the ICU, surrounded by machines and strangers. She wants to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, at a time when she retains the presence of mind to make her peace.
But that goal doesn’t just happen from wishing it and stating it. It happens with additional careful preparation for the realities. As the end of life approaches, the clarity we lawyers enjoy can be elusive. When a person gets a prognosis of two to five years (maybe), where, along that continuum, would be the time to start declining aggressive treatment? When there’s always one more intervention that may (or may not) produce a good result? When one decision could create an ever-widening array of complications? When, step by step, the patient becomes less and less able to exercise autonomy, and where treatment decisions by caregivers are not in line with the care the patient was clear about when she was sitting in the lawyer’s office?
No matter how clear the powers-of-attorney documents, with all these imponderables, the patient can end up in a situation many miles away from what she wanted. And there’s no possible do-over.
Powerful and clear power-of-attorney documents are an essential first step and we lawyers are glad to take care of that part. Beyond that, though, thorough preparation is essential.
Consider that the best result may be one that cares for comfort right now, at the moment. The question is not necessarily about how long life can be prolonged. The question may be, rather, how comfort can be maintained – at this moment, and then the next moment, and the next. The question is how life can be made better right now. Watch a video by palliative-care physician B.J. Miller, on why this is so important, here.
Make concrete plans. These include specifying what you want to happen if you’re no longer able to live independently; choosing wisely whom you want to act for you, to make sure your plans will be followed; being ready with your health-care documents before you find yourself deposited in the emergency room or ICU; and seeking the reassurance that your loved ones will be cared for when you’re no longer there. Judy MacDonald Johnson has prepared simple, forthright worksheets to help with this process, here. She speaks about these worksheets in this moving video.
There is no doubt that the process of safeguarding the quality of life at the end of it is possibly the most challenging of all. But if that process can create as much pleasure as possible through an extremely difficult time of life, and if forthrightly engaging in that process would facilitate a passing more in line with what we would envision, the worth of the process will be felt. The transition will be smoother and more meaningful for the dying person, and a kinder legacy will be left behind for those who accompany us on this journey.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help you or a loved one with a plan. If you need assistance or would like to talk about your specific situation, contact our Cincinnati office at (513) 815-7006.
A new tax law proposal greatly impacting estate planning may soon be enacted into law. While it is too early to know what will become law, the House Ways & Means Committee tax plan draft indicates that change is coming soon. While new details emerge and changes are made to the proposals over the coming weeks, it is critical to understand how these possible tax changes may affect your estate planning.
What are the Major Proposed Changes that Impact Estate Planning?
One of the most significant changes to affect estate planning is that as of January 1, 2022, the federal estate and gift tax exemption is facing a reduction from $11.7 million to approximately $6 million. Ambitious budget and spending proposals require additional sources of revenue. While technically not yet a law, there is little doubt, per the Congressional Budget Office, that this particular estate and gift exemptions will become law. This near certainty provides a small window for individuals to make full use of their 2021 permissible exemption.
Other major change proposals include grantor trusts which may not have until December 31, 2021, to take full advantage of existing planning opportunities. For decades grantor trusts permitted the grantor to be individually liable for income taxes on earned income, yet the grantor trust remained excluded from the grantor’s taxable estate. If the proposed changes take effect, there will be an elimination of grantor’s trusts in estate gift planning.
Under the current rules, existing grantor trusts are exempt from the law change proposal (grandfathered) with one significant limitation. A gift pre-existing proposed grantor trust law change will be exempt; however, the portion attributable post-act contribution is under the new rules. Therefore that new rule portion is included in the grantor’s taxable estate. Grantor trusts include life insurance trusts. Therefore, pre-funding this trust type with enough cash to pay premiums for several years to ensure its exemption status is required to remain outside the taxable estate. Execution and funding must happen before enacting the proposal to take full advantage of existing grantor trust laws.
Finally, the proposal regulations upend rules regarding the sale of appreciated assets by a grantor to their grantor trust. Today, this action is not an income tax recognition event. The proposal act, however, would deem such a sale as being between unrelated parties. This change means the sale to a grantor trust becomes an income tax recognition event to the grantor. Typically, assets sold to grantor trusts have substantial gains already built-in. Therefore the strategy to sell to a grantor trust largely disappears with the change proposal enactment, and not even losses could have recognition upon such a sale.
Valuation rules such as discounts on ownership interests in passive assets face elimination. Any individual wishing to claim a valuation discount on a gift of interest of an entity must complete the gift before enacting the proposed legislation. Again, the window of opportunity for claiming these types of valuation discounts may close, even long before December 31, 2021.
Understanding Proposed Changes to Tax income Rules
Tax income rules are also under scrutiny and ripe for change. A new surcharge proposal of three percent of a trust’s modified adjusted gross income or an estate above $100,000 is likely to enact into law. Realizing income gains in 2021 rather than 2022 can help to preserve your wealth.
Also, expect individual and capital gains and dividends tax rate increases. Individual tax rates may increase from 37 to 39.6 percent, and the income level threshold for these higher rates will decrease. The current level for higher-income taxpayers’ capital gains will change from 23.8 percent to as high as 31.8 percent. Part of these taxes includes a three percent surtax applying to high-income individuals, estates, and trusts.
The current draft legislation does not propose eliminating the step-up in basis at death or implementing a carryover basis at death, nor transfers of lifetime gifts (other than sales to a grantor trust, see above) or upon the death of an income tax realization event. The legislation does not propose setting a minimum term for grantor retained annuity trusts or eliminating zeroed out grantor retained annuity trusts. Nor does the draft legislation increase the estate tax rate from forty percent or create a progressive estate tax rate structure, limit the annual exclusion to trusts or gifts, and finally will not create new limitations on the use of dynasty trusts.
The recently unveiled Build Back Better Act has the possibility of implementing wide-sweeping changes to the US tax code and has drastic impacts on commonly used estate planning techniques. Whether you have an existing estate plan or need to create one, speak with an attorney today to understand how these proposed changes may affect your existing or future estate plans. If you need assistance or would like to talk about your specific situation, contact our Cincinnati office at (513) 815-7006.