Good News about Connecticut Estate Taxes (Avoid Accidental Disinheritance of Surviving Spouse)

Good News about Connecticut Estate Taxes. Governor Malloy recently signed a new state budget into law, including significant changes to the Connecticut estate tax exemption that will phase in over the next three years.

The current exemption of $2 million will be increased to $2.6 million in 2018; $3.6 million in 2019; and will be set to match the federal estate tax exemption (currently $5.49 million) in 2020. While this is good news for those who are worried about estate taxes at death, it could also cause unintended consequences for those with a particular kind of estate plan designed to avoid or minimize estate taxes.

Warning for Surviving Spouses! In many cases, the surviving spouse could be disinherited as the estate tax exemption increases over time. Under the terms of many Wills and revocable trust agreements, the increasing estate tax exemption will effectively shift more of the estate away from the surviving spouse and to an “Exemption Trust” or to family members other than the surviving spouse.

The Devil is in the Details. Many married couples in Connecticut, who expected their combined estates to exceed the pre-2018 $2,000,000 estate tax “exemption,” chose an estate plan (an “Exemption Trust Plan”) that distributes a portion of the estate that is equal to the estate tax exemption into a trust (the “Exemption Trust”) for the benefit of the surviving spouse and descendants. Usually, in an Exemption Trust Plan, the remaining assets pass either outright to the surviving spouse or to a “Marital Trust” for the surviving spouse’s benefit.

The Exemption Trust Plan eliminates the estate tax when one spouse passes away with the other spouse surviving. By the time both spouses have passed away, two exemptions ($4,000,000—the exemptions of both husband and wife) have shielded up to $4,000,000 from the Connecticut estate tax.

The Exemption Trust Plan uses a formula based on the size of the exemption available at the time of death. As the exemption increases, more passes to the Exemption Trust leaving less to pass to the surviving spouse. For example, suppose that you chose the Exemption Trust Plan when you prepared your documents many years ago and suppose that, when you pass away, your estate is worth $5 million. If you were to pass away in 2017, that would mean $2,000,000 (the 2017 Connecticut exemption) would go to the Exemption Trust, while the remaining $3,000,000 would go to your surviving spouse, either outright or in trust. However, if you were to pass away in 2020. after the new estate tax exemption reaches its maximum, your entire estate of $5 million would go to the Exemption Trust, with nothing left for the surviving spouse.

Avoid Accidental Disinheritance of Surviving Spouse. This accidental disinheritance of the surviving spouse can be avoided with proper planning. For example, documents could be amended to modify the formula described above, perhaps requiring that a minimum amount will pass to the surviving spouse regardless of the estate tax exemption that would apply at death. This would be particularly helpful in plans where the marital share is supposed to pass outright to the surviving spouse, since it would guarantee some kind of outright gift to the spouse.

If you have an estate plan that could be impacted by these new tax changes, or if you simply have not revisited your estate plan in some time, please contact our office to discuss the best way to take care of your family after you pass away.

Posted November 26, 2017, by Chipman, Mazzucco, Land & Pennarola, LLC.  For a related treatment of the topic see: Video on Basic Estate Planning after ATRA Updated for 2017.

Explore posts in the same categories: Estate Tax and Estate Planning Developments

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