By Senior Associate Attorney, Dan Vu
Too often estate planners do not consider their client's legislative risk. In other words, they plan without consideration to the very high probability that the current rules will change. In Washington and Columbus, every new bill passed by the legislature is touted as the new permanent law of the land, but in reality it is only “permanent” until the next time they decide to change it. So if your plan does not provide the flexibility for the changing rules, you can actually be in a worse position than you would without any plan.
Let's review an example that just recently occurred in Ohio. Governor Kasich was able to defeat the odds stacked against him when he was able to repeal the Ohio Estate Tax, effective January 1, 2013. Few thought this would actually occur, since Ohio, like most states, is facing budget constraints. For many Ohioans, this law made their current estate plan obsolete. Tradition revocable trust planning contained provisions that were meant to shelter the estate from the Ohio Estate Tax. These types of trusts were called A/B Trusts. But now that the Ohio Estate Tax has been repealed these these older trusts are not only not helpful but they can even now be hurtful. For example, an A/B Trust would now have a less favorable capital gains treatment than having no trust at all!
However, just as it is not a good idea to keep an obsolete trust, it is also not a good idea to pretend that the repeal of the Ohio Estate Tax is permanent. A trust should be flexible. We have for many years used “Spousal Options Trusts.” These trusts allow our clients to utilize the traditional benefits of an A/B trust if an estate tax is in effect at the time of death. If there is no Ohio Estate Tax at death, the same trust can instead opt into obtaining favorable capital gains treatment and ignore the estate tax provisions.
All of our trusts have similar types of built-in flexibility. For example, our Heritage Trust is a trust that allows you to leave to your children a protected IRA “stretched” over their individual lifetime. But since we know that the IRA rules may change, it has built-in provision that allows for tax changes to be made even after you and your spouse have long passed away.
So, of course, not planning at all is not the answer. You just need a plan that builds in flexibility so that as the laws change you can always avail yourself to the advantages that the new laws provide and protect yourself from the disadvantages that new laws might impose.
How can you tell if your plan has built-in flexibility? Consider meeting with an experienced elder law attorney for a review.