What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax?

Woman works on her tax returnsEstate planning can help you pass on assets to your heirs while potentially minimizing taxes. When gifting assets, it’s important to consider when and how the generation-skipping tax transfer (GSTT) may apply. Also called the generation-skipping tax, this federal tax can apply when a grandparent leaves assets to a grandchild while skipping over their parents in the line of inheritance. It can also be triggered when leaving assets to someone who’s at least 37.5 years younger than you. If you’re considering “skipping” any of your heirs when passing on assets, it’s important to understand what that means from a tax perspective and how to fill out the requisite form. A financial advisor can also give you valuable guidance on how best to pass along your estate to your beneficiaries.

Generation-Skipping Tax, Definition

The Internal Revenue Code imposes both gift and estate taxes on transfers of assets above certain limits. For 2020, you can exclude gifts of up to $15,000 per person from the gift tax, with the limit doubling for married couples who file a joint return. Estate tax applies to estates larger than $11,580,000 for 2020, increasing to $11,700,000 in 2021. Again, these exemption limits double for married couples filing a joint return.

The gift tax rate can be as high as 40%, while the estate tax also maxes out at 40%. The IRS uses the generation-skipping transfer tax to collect its share of any wealth that moves across families when assets aren’t passed directly from parent to child. Assets subject to the generation-skipping tax are taxed at a flat 40% rate.

This tax can apply to both direct transfers of assets to your chosen beneficiaries as well as assets passed through a trust. A trust can be subject to the GSTT if all the beneficiaries of the trust are considered to be skip persons who have a direct interest in the trust.

How Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Works

Generation-skipping tax rules cover the transfer of assets to people who at least one generation apart. A common scenario where the GSTT can apply is the transfer of assets from a grandparent to a grandchild when one or both of the grandchild’s parents are still alive. If you’re transferring assets to a grandchild because your child has predeceased you, then the transfer tax wouldn’t apply.

The generation-skipping tax is a separate tax from the estate tax and it applies alongside it. Similar to estate tax, this tax kicks in when an estate’s value exceeds the annual exemption limits. The 40% GSTT would be applied to any transfers of assets above the exempt amount, in addition to the regular 40% estate tax.

This is how the IRS covers its bases in collecting taxes on wealth as it moves from one person to another. If you were to pass your estate from your child, who then passes it to their child then no GSTT would apply. The IRS could simply collect estate taxes from each successive generation. But if you skip your child and leave assets to your grandchild instead, that removes a link from the taxation chain. The GSTT essentially allows the IRS to replace that link.

You do have the ability to take advantage of lifetime estate and gift tax exemption limits, which can help to offset how much is owed for the generation-skipping tax. But any unused portion of the exemption counted toward the generation-skipping tax is lost when you die.

How to Avoid Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

Accountant prepares a tax return

If you’d like to minimize estate and gift taxes as much as possible, talking to a financial advisor can be a good place to start. An advisor who’s well-versed in gift and estate taxes can help you create a plan for transferring assets. For example, that plan might include gifting assets to your grandchildren or another generation-skipping person annually, rather than at the end of your life. Remember, you can gift up to $15,000 per person each year without incurring gift tax, or up to $30,000 per person if you’re married and file a joint return. You’d just need to keep the lifetime exemption limits in mind when scheduling gifts.

You could also make payments on behalf of a beneficiary to avoid tax. Say you want to help your granddaughter with college costs, for example. Any direct payments you make to the school to cover tuition would generally be tax-free. The same is true for direct payments made to healthcare providers if you’re paying medical expenses on behalf of someone else.

Setting up a trust may be another option worth exploring to minimize generation-skipping taxes. A generation-skipping trust allows you to transfer assets to the trust and pay estate taxes at the time of the transfer. The assets you put into the trust have to remain there during the skipped generation’s lifetime. Once they pass away, the assets in the trust could be passed on tax-free to the next generation.

This strategy requires some planning and some patience on the part of the generation that stands to inherit. But the upside is that members of the skipped generation and the generation that follows can benefit from any income the assets in the trust generates in the meantime. Trusts can also yield another benefit, in that they can offer asset protection against creditors who may file legal claims against you or your estate.

Another type of trust you might consider is a dynasty trust. This type of trust can allow you to pass assets on to future generations without triggering estate, gift or generation-skipping taxes. The caveat is that these are designed to be long-term trusts.

You can name your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and subsequent generations as beneficiaries and the transfer of assets to the trust is irrevocable. That means once you place the assets in the trust, you won’t be able to take them back out again so it’s important to understand the implications before creating this type of trust.

The Bottom Line

Man works on his tax returns

The generation-skipping tax could take a significant bite out of the assets you’re able to leave behind to grandchildren or another eligible person. If you’re considering using this type of trust to pass on assets or you’re interested in exploring other ways to transfer assets while minimizing taxes, it’s wise to consult an estate planning lawyer or tax attorney first.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to best shape your estate plan to minimize taxation. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations for advisors online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Creating a trust can yield some advantages in your estate plan. In addition to helping you minimize tax liability, the assets in a trust are not subject to probate. That’s different from assets you leave behind in a will.

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How to Change the Executor of a Will

A last will and testamentDrafting a last will and testament can help to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. You can also use your will to name a legal guardian for minor children or choose an executor for your estate. It’s possible to make changes to your will after it’s written, including removing or adding an executor if necessary. If you’re wondering how to change the executor of a will after the fact, the process is easier than you might think. As you go about the process, it may behoove you to find a trusted financial advisor in your area for hands-on guidance.

Executor of a Will, Explained

The executor of a will is the person responsible for carrying out the terms of a will. When you name someone as executor, you’re giving him or her authority to handle certain tasks related to the distribution of your estate.

Generally, an executor can be any person you name. For example, that might include siblings, your spouse, adult children or your estate planning attorney. Minor children can’t serve as executors and some states prohibit convicted felons from doing so as well.

There’s no rule preventing a beneficiary of a will from also serving as executor. While beneficiaries can’t witness a will in which they have a direct interest, they can be charged with executing the terms of the will once you pass away.

What Does the Executor of a Will Do?

Being executor to a will means there are certain duties you’re obligated to carry out. Those include:

  • Obtaining death certificates after the will-maker passes away
  • Initiating the probate process
  • Creating an inventory of the will-maker’s assets
  • Notifying the will-maker’s creditors of the death
  • Paying off any outstanding debts owed by the will-maker
  • Closing bank accounts if necessary
  • Reading the will to the deceased person’s heirs
  • Distributing assets to the persons named in the will

Executors can’t change the terms of the will; they can only see that its terms are carried out. An executor can collect a fee for their services, which is typically a percentage of the value of the estate they’re finalizing.

Reasons to Change the Executor of a Will

While you may draft a will assuming that your choice of executor won’t change, there are different reasons why making a switch may be necessary. For example, you may need to choose a new executor if:

  • Your original executor passes away or becomes seriously ill and can’t fulfill his or her duties
  • You named your spouse as executor but you’ve since gotten a divorce
  • The person you originally named decides he or she no longer wants the responsibility
  • You’ve had a personal falling out with your executor
  • You believe that a different person is better equipped to execute your will

You don’t need to provide a specific reason to change the executor of a will. Once you’re ready to do so there are two options to choose from: add a codicil to an existing will or draft a brand-new will.

Using a Codicil 
to Change the Executor of a Will

Woman changes her will

A codicil is a written amendment that you can use to change the terms of your will without having to write a new one. Codicils can be used to change the executor of a will or revise any other terms as needed. If you want to change your will’s executor using a codicil, the first step is choosing a new executor. Remember, this can be almost anyone who’s an adult of sound mind, excluding felons.

Next, you’d write the codicil. In it, you’d specify the changes you’re making to your will (i.e. naming a new executor), the name of the person who should serve as executor going forward and the date the change should take effect. You’d also need to validate the codicil the same way you did your original will.

This means signing and dating the codicil in the presence of at least two witnesses. Witnesses must be legal adults of sound mind and they can’t have an interest in the will. So, a beneficiary to the will couldn’t witness your codicil but a neighbor or coworker could if they don’t stand to benefit from the will directly or indirectly.

Once the codicil is completed and signed by yourself and the witnesses, you can attach it to your existing will. It’s helpful to keep a copy of your will and the codicil in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to give a copy to your estate planning attorney if you have one.

Writing a New Will to 
Change the Executor of a Will

If you need to change more than just the executor of your will, you might consider drafting a new will document. The process for drafting a new will is similar to the one you followed for making your original one.

You’d need to specify who your beneficiaries will be, how you want your assets to be distributed and who should serve as executor. The new will would also need to be signed and properly witnessed.

But you’d have to take the added step of destroying all copies of the original will. This is necessary to avoid confusion and potential challenges to the terms of the will after you pass away. If you’re not sure how to draft a new will to replace an existing one, you may want to talk to an estate planning attorney to make sure you’re doing so legally.

What Happens If You Don’t Name an Executor?

Probate court hearing form

If, for any reason, you choose not to name an executor in your will the probate court can assign one. After you pass away, eligible persons can apply to become the executor of your estate. The person the court chooses would then be able to carry out the terms of your will. If you don’t have a will at all, then your assets would be distributed according to your state’s inheritance laws.

That’s why it’s important to take the time to at least write a simple will. This way, there’s no question of your estate being divided among your heirs the way that you want it to be.

The Bottom Line

Making a will can be a good starting point for shaping your estate plan. Naming an executor means you don’t have to rely on the probate court to do it. But if you need to change the executor of your will later, it’s possible to do so with minimal headaches.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about creating an estate plan and what you might need. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you may need as part of your estate plan. You may also consider setting up a trust, for example, if you have extensive assets or own a business. Life insurance is something you may also need to have, along with an advance health care directive and/or power of attorney.

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Fiduciary Bonds: Definition, Types, Costs

Couple considers a fiduciary bond

A fiduciary bond, otherwise known as a probate bond, is a protective court bond that ensures a fiduciary will honor the expectations placed on them according to the law. The fiduciary bond upholds the interests and protection of the estate or trust owner. To understand who needs a fiduciary bond, how it works and the costs involved, here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Fiduciary Bond?

Fiduciary bonds are legal instruments that act as insurance to protect heirs, beneficiaries or other creditors when a fiduciary commits acts of fraud, embezzlement or other forms of dishonesty. To prevent damage, as a result, the court may require anyone with a fiduciary responsibility to another party to get a fiduciary bond.

Generally speaking, a fiduciary is an individual responsible for safeguarding the interest of another party. Fiduciaries may include trustees, guardians, financial professionals or another party with control over someone’s assets or property. Typically, a fiduciary will take control of someone’s assets when they are no longer able to manage them independently.

For example, a will may name a fiduciary to maintain the decedent’s assets. However, in the absence of a will, the spouse or children may take control, followed by relatives.

A fiduciary bond can range in price and ultimately depends on the value of the estate, as well as a few other factors. It may only be required to pay a portion to fund the bond, rather than the entire amount. For instance, if the fiduciary bond is $100,000, you may only need to pay about $400 to $600, depending on whether you receive approval.

Example of a Fiduciary Bond

Let’s say that John Smith is an elderly man who can no longer manage his property and assets. He didn’t appoint anyone to manage his finances, so the court appoints his daughter, Sally, to manage them in his place. To protect these assets, she may need to secure a fiduciary bond to guarantee she will meet her role’s duties and responsibilities.

The bond will help ensure that Sally won’t sell her father’s estate or embezzle money from him. If someone thinks Sally is not fulfilling the role of a fiduciary, they can make a claim against her. The company that issued the bond will then step in and fulfill the claim.

The company would likely reimburse John Smith for any money lost and then pursue Sally for the reimbursement of funds. If Sally no longer wants to be the estate’s fiduciary, she must find a suitable replacement and get approval from the court to resign. Until she does so, she is accountable for the duties and responsibilities of the fiduciary.

Who Needs a Fiduciary Bond?

A fiduciary bond isn’t always required. If it is mandatory, the fiduciary will receive a notification from the court.

In some cases, beneficiaries or creditors may request a fiduciary bond if they have concerns about the integrity of the fiduciary.

Usually, when banks, trusts or other corporate fiduciaries are in the mix, the courts don’t require a fiduciary bond. This is because there is less of a risk that a corporate fiduciary will compromise the payout.

Fiduciary Bond Types, Costs

Some of the common types of fiduciary bonds include:

  • Personal Representative Bond – This bond reassures the parties invested and connected to an estate that the fiduciary will manage the estate affairs in a responsible and ethical manner. The latter will also comply with local, state and federal laws and duties.
  • Executor Bond – This bond reassures the beneficiaries of an estate that even if the fiduciary doesn’t fulfill their duties, the bond will protect them and they will also receive compensation.
  • Guardianship Bond – This bond protects an individual who is receiving day-to-day care from a guardian. If the guardian fails to perform his or her obligations, someone can make a claim against the person.
  • Trustee Bond – It’s the trustee’s duty and responsibility to handle the trust’s property and assets. This bond ensures that the trustee fulfills his duties appropriately.
  • Administrator Bond – This bond ensures that the administrator of an estate distributes the estate assets according to local, state and federal laws.
  • Conservatorship Bond – A conservator handles the monetary matters of someone who needs to be cared for by a guardian. This type of bond ensures that the conservator upholds the duties and responsibilities of the role.

A fiduciary bond can range in price and ultimately depends on the value of the estate, as well as a few other factors. It may only be required to pay a portion to fund the bond, rather than the entire amount. For instance, if the fiduciary bond is $100,000, you may only need to pay about $400 to $600, depending on whether you receive approval.

Duties and Obligations of a Fiduciary

Financial advisor talks to clientsThere are many different types of fiduciaries; therefore, their duties and obligations vary. For example, an executor’s duties include taking control of a decedent’s property, collecting debts and arranging appraisals of assets. On the other hand, a trustee may have duties such as directing audits, challenging improper claims and determining claimants. In comparison, guardians and conservators may have the extra responsibility to care for an incapacitated individual or minor.

When fulfilling the role of a fiduciary, the individual must have a high level of loyalty since it’s one of the highest standards of care by either equity or law.

It’s important to note that anyone who gives financial advice or handles funds is also a fiduciary. However, if they work for a company, the company is required to obtain a fidelity bond, which differs from a fiduciary bond.

The Takeaway

Two men shake hands

A fiduciary bond protects individuals who have their estate or trust managed and handled by a fiduciary. While the court may not always require a fiduciary bond, there are some instances where it may make sense to protect an individual’s assets. A fiduciary bond is a crucial protection to aid those who may not have other forms of recourse. Bonded fiduciaries are often members of a person’s immediate family.

Estate Planning Tips

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor experienced in estate planning. Finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool can set you up with three personalized financial advisor options in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • If you have a sizable estate, estate taxes on either the state or federal level could be hefty. However, you can easily plan ahead for taxes to maximize your loved ones’ inheritances. For example, you can gift portions of your estate in advance to heirs or even set up a trust.

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