Q&A: Updating old trusts, estate plans

Dear Liz: I am 97 with two sons and have a trust prepared in 1991, shortly before my husband died. You warned there can be problems with bypass trusts created in older estate plans. I suspect that’s what I have. The attorney who created my trust died years ago, so I asked my son to do the research. He found an attorney near where I live who told us we should terminate my existing trust. We’re told it would avoid capital gains and my sons would enjoy a stepped-up basis in the assets. The charge would be close to $5,000. If I do nothing, the assets transferred to my sons will have no stepped-up basis and will incur capital gains taxes. I am thinking of a second opinion.

Answer: A second opinion might be a good idea, but please don’t delay. Your sons could wind up paying a potentially large and unnecessary tax bill if you don’t take action soon.

As mentioned in previous columns, bypass trusts were a common feature in estate plans back when the exemption limit was much lower. Although the trusts still have their uses, they’re often not necessary and cause problems for survivors and heirs.

Estate plans should be revisited after a major life change, a revision in estate tax laws or five years, whichever comes first.

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