Insights Articles Navigating Estate Taxes: 4 Mistakes to Avoid


Navigating Estate Taxes: 4 Mistakes to Avoid

In the past decade, estate tax conversations have been steadily decreasing. As the lifetime credit has climbed to unprecedented highs, many wealthy Americans have come to believe that they are safely out of Uncle Sam’s reach. However, recent history is just that, it’s recent. Historically, estate taxes have been a major factor for both middle class and high-net-worth Americans. Furthermore, estate taxes are often easy targets for adjustments when fiscal gaps need closing. This article explores why estate taxes should continue to be a priority in your wealth planning, and how you can be prepared for whatever the future may hold.

Don’t Assume Estate Taxes Won’t Be a Problem

The current estate tax lifetime exemption is $13.61MM per individual, or $27.22MM per couple. These numbers have become so high in recent years, that many high-net-worth Americans have come to believe that they no longer need to worry about estate taxes. My advice is to be careful, because congress can change the rules at any time. As recently as 2008, the exemption was only $2MM per individual, and it was even lower than that in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even under current law if nothing else changes, the $13.61MM exclusion will be cut in half on January 1st of 2026. When tax shortfalls arise, estate taxes are often viewed as low hanging fruit for Washington. The current exclusion level is an aberration, not the historical norm.

Don’t Let Your Estate Documents Become Stale

The rule of thumb for most families is to have their estate plan documents reviewed every 5 years. However, if you are a high-net-worth individual with an estate tax issue, these reviews should be much more frequent. In fact, estate tax considerations should be a part of your financial plan to be reviewed and discussed at least annually and perhaps more if there is a significant change in the law. Vehicles such as irrevocable trusts and joint insurance policies can help mitigate the risk of owing estate taxes, and these vehicles and strategies should be a part of the normal cadence of planning.

Don’t Forget to Incorporate Charitable Giving into Your Estate Plan

Charitable giving is one of the many strategic ways to avoid estate taxes, especially if you’ve already set aside the amounts that you plan to leave to your children. Wealth that is left to charitable organizations is not subject to the 40% estate tax. This means that instead of giving $600K to your children and $400k to the government, you give $1MM to an organization you care about, or to a foundation or Donor Advised Fund that is run by your children. Most people would prefer that their heirs decide which causes receive those funds rather than a large chunk being sent to Washington.

Make Sure You Have the Right Team:

Your team of professionals should include not only an excellent wealth manager who can help you plan around these issues, but also an attorney and a CPA who are experts in their fields when it comes to estate taxes. These issues are complex, and they can change quickly. Make sure that you are working with professionals who have the knowledge and the bandwidth to give these issues the attention they deserve.

Estate planning is a dynamic field that requires regular attention, especially for those with significant wealth. High-net-worth individuals should not only reassess their estate plans frequently but should also consider incorporating charitable giving as part of their strategy. Be sure your planning team includes knowledgeable wealth managers, attorneys, and CPAs as this is crucial as you navigate the ever-changing landscape of estate taxes. Complacency can be costly – proactive estate planning should remain a critical element of your financial health.

If we can be of help to you and your family, please give us a call!

Randy Holcombe
About the Author

The opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives is why Randy chose a career in wealth management. He is passionate about helping his clients achieve their goals and cut through the…

Confluence Financial Partners and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

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