capital gains

5 Ways to Avoid Probate

5 Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate is a dirty word to most people. It's time-consuming, expensive, public, and brings with it the possibility of infighting and costly litigation. So how can you avoid it? The short answer: estate planning. But as we have written before, estate planning is a very broad topic. So here are five ways you can use estate planning to avoid probate:

1. Give away your entire estate.

This might seem like the most logical solution and, sadly, many people do it without thinking of the consequences. If you give away your assets, you also give away control over them. If, for example, you give your home to your child, you cannot control who lives there or if it is sold or mortgaged or seized by your child's creditors — even if you're living there. Giving away your estate may also trigger a federal gift tax. What's more, if you give your child your home as a gift during your lifetime, they cannot take advantage of a concept known as stepped-up basis and could instead be forced to pay large capital gains taxes in the future.

What is stepped-up basis?

What is stepped-up basis?

"Stepped-up basis" refers to a tax rule that minimizes or eliminates capital gains tax liability. Say, for example, your Uncle Buck owns Apple stock. He purchased 100 shares of the stock when it was worth $1/share. In tax lingo, his cost to buy the stock is known as his "basis." Apple stock is now worth about $170/share. If Uncle Buck sold his shares today, he would have to pay a capital gains tax on the $169/share appreciation in the value of his stock. Similarly, if Uncle Buck gifted you the stocks today, you would "inherit" his basis, meaning you would have to pay capital gains tax on the $169/share appreciation if you sold the stock tomorrow.

But let's say Uncle Buck decided to hold onto his shares. He placed them in a trust that names you as the sole beneficiary. If Uncle Buck died today, leaving you the stocks, the Internal Revenue Code provides that the value of the stock today (Uncle Buck's date of death) is your new basis in the stock. In other words, your basis is "stepped-up" from $1/share to $170/share. So if you turned around and sold the Apple stock for $170/share, you would pay no capital gains tax.