Wealthy families are racing to change their estate plans and pass hundreds of billions of dollars to their kids in the event of a Biden victory in November, according to attorneys and tax advisors to the wealthy.
With the odds growing of a Biden win and possible blue wave, millionaire and billionaire families are speeding up their plans to pass down wealth, real estate and assets to their kids before the end of the year. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s tax plan calls for steeper taxes on large gifts and inheritances to family members. So families want to make those gifts now before the tax window closes, possibly as early as January.
“Everything is being fast-tacked because of the election,” said Suzanne Thau, trusts and estates attorney with Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. “It’s just an explosion in estate planning activity.”
Of course, if President Donald Trump wins reelection or if the Republicans hold or increase their grip on the Senate, families will likely revert to their original estate plans. But tax advisors and estate planners say they will be so busy if there is a blue wave in November that they won’t be able to process all the requests in time. So high net worth families are taking steps now to create trusts and prepare large transfers so they can drop the money in November or December if they have to.
The savings could be substantial. Under the 2017 tax cuts, wealthy parents can leave up to $11.58 million each, or $23.2 million per couple, during their lifetime without paying an estate or gift tax. Biden would cut that limit to $7 million and increase the current estate tax rate from 40% to 45%. Biden is also getting rid of what’s known as step-up basis, which currently allows families to avoid paying capital gains on appreciated assets that are passed down or given at death.
A couple leaving $20 million to their kids would currently pay no estate tax, since up to $23.2 million is exempt. If Biden gets his tax plan, the same couple would pay $5.9 million in taxes on a $20 million gift.
Advisors say some families are simply speeding up gifts they already planned to make to their kids in the coming years. Others are deciding to make gifts for the first time, opening up other complex and sometimes contentious family discussions about how much money to leave kids and when.
“They’re now having to ask themselves ‘how much do we want to give to the next generation? Are they ready to receive these funds?'” said John Pantekidis, managing partner, chief investment officer and general counsel of TwinFocus, a multifamily office that advises wealthy families. “They’re having to come to grips with a lot of these big questions.”
Of course, the inheritors may not receive the money for years, since trusts can be structured to delay any payouts. Yet the flood of money pouring from older generations to the next at the end of the year could boost everything from consumer spending and home purchases to investing and stock markets. As Americans have gotten older and richer, wealth transfers have surged — from $195 billion in 1989 to $427 billion in 2016.
Advisors say that because many families will fast-forward the gifts they planned to make over the next decade, the windfall to heirs in the weeks after the election total hundreds of billions if not more than $1 trillion in the next few months.
“We have clients that would normally make these distributions over several years, who may do it in a few months,” Thau said. “These are people who like to control where their money goes, and they don’t want to be caught by surprise.”