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5 tax planning actions to take before year-end
The challenges and opportunities that families with significant wealth face can be unique both in scale (e.g., funding a new university library) and in kind (e.g., financing a child’s startup).
As a result, such families often require a myriad of specialized financial services. Taking the time to think through, and stay current with, a family’s goals and needs can lead to financial security and peace of mind for generations.
Here, we offer 10 questions as a framework to help you—as the primary wealth owner—ensure that you are doing all you can to make the most of your family’s finances and prepare for the future.
Values (as in “our family values education”) are relatively permanent, and every family should articulate theirs. However, a family’s ability to realize their goals evolves as their balance sheet becomes more complex (e.g., they can now afford to endow a university chair), and as the family tree grows through marriage or birth (there are now more children to be educated and more alma maters to support).
Goals also change as family members come of age or pass away, individuals’ interests shift and tax laws change.
To help make sure your family’s goals are realized, we recommend that you regularly and thoroughly examine how the family is—and ideally should be—handling such essential financial services as asset custody and reporting, bookkeeping, borrowing, cash management, cybersecurity and fraud protections, financial and estate planning, governance, preparation of the next generation, insurance, investing, philanthropy, property management, tax preparation—and more.
To meet a family’s needs, some rely on outsourced services, others have a family office, and many have a combination of both.
If you are considering a family office, among the many questions to answer:
Who will be served by the family office? What services should the family office provide? Which organizational form should it take?
Should the family office handle all your family’s needs, or would some services be more efficiently provided by outside sources? And of course: Who will lead the family office today and in the future?
Whatever structure you have in place, it can be a valuable exercise to have a specialist analyze where you might be more tax-efficient. For example, there may be ways to make some family office expenses tax-deductible or to reduce (or even eliminate) state fiduciary income taxes paid by family trusts.
Meanwhile, for your personal finances, there’s a lot you can do to minimize your overall tax liability. Key pillars of what we call “tax-aware wealth management” are simply to make sure that you:
Our clients find it empowering to organize their wealth into four “mental” buckets that can help them optimize the management of their resources: liquidity (cash), lifestyle (spending), legacy and perpetual growth. In this way, you can determine how much you wish to allocate to different goals.
In the liquidity (cash) bucket, you may consider having enough cash to make you feel psychologically safe. We also recommend having enough operating cash for typical expenses (1–5 years), taxes, anticipated purchases and upcoming business expenses. Some people tend to want some “dry powder” available to take quick advantage of attractively priced investments.
In your lifestyle (spending) bucket, you should set aside funds intended to reliably support your ongoing needs and wants.
The legacy bucket should contain the assets intended for use beyond your lifetime: gifts to family as well as philanthropic donations via donor-advised funds (DAFs) or family foundations.
In your perpetual growth bucket you should consider putting any funds that can potentially provide capital growth for decades to come, even forever. For these assets, you’ll need a clearly articulated succession plan.
A good financial advisor—outsourced or through your family office—can help you make these mental allocations to different purposes and make sure they are supported by suitable account types and investments.
Everyone needs an estate plan that is updated when you experience a major life event or significant change in the value of your assets.
Core estate planning includes: a will and/or revocable trust; a healthcare power of attorney; and a power of attorney for property. Among other things, these instruments should name guardians for minor children, appoint trustees for any trusts created and designate an executor for your estate.
Families with significant wealth also need to consider their estate tax liability (the federal estate tax rate is currently 40%, and additional state estate tax also may apply).1 You may want to mitigate your estate taxes by making lifetime philanthropic gifts or gifts to family members (such as putting assets in irrevocable trusts for their benefit).
Now may be a good time to transfer assets free of gift taxes to family members. In 2023, the lifetime transfer tax exclusion amount is $12.92 million per person ($25.84 million for married couples). This amount is set to decrease in 2026, likely to between $6-7 million per individual (with inflation adjustments).
As part of this planning, you also should consider purchasing life insurance to make sure your family will be able to pay any estate taxes due or as a tax-efficient way to fund your heirs’ inheritances.
Families with significant wealth are often eager to share their values with their children and educate the next generation on sound financial management and decision making.
There are many paths to achieving these goals. You could discuss the reasoning behind your estate plan with your children. You could have family office staff or trustees of trusts established for the benefit of your children regularly coach them on budgeting and investing. Many families encourage the next generation to participate actively in philanthropy as a way to share family values and gain financial management skills. Family meetings provide a great forum for these conversations and can increase awareness about the family’s finances and legacy.
Many families with significant wealth make capital available to their children and grandchildren to help them meet their own financial goals. That assistance can come in the form of outright gifts, equity investments or loans.
To promote family harmony, we recommend that you consider discussing with your family members what the acceptable uses of funds from the family coffers should be. Is it to buy a house? To fund just the down payment or the entire cost? Is it to start a business? Is it to make other types of investments and/or to co-invest along with other members of the family?
You also should think about how that financial support will be funded. We’ve seen families use their own liquidity. Or a wealth owner may borrow from a financial institution or draw on a line of credit because they themselves may not have the funds immediately on hand or may want to avoid triggering capital gains by generating liquidity.
When intra-family loans are made, it’s critical to adopt certain formalities in order to avoid unintended tax consequences. Such loans should be documented and supported by a promissory note that bears interest at a rate that is no less than the applicable federal rate (AFR) in effect at the time. Interest then needs to be collected in a timely manner.
Giving well and having an impact can be very challenging—and require a strategy. If your family is interested in philanthropy, there are many key questions to answer. One of the most important: Who in the family will be involved in the giving, and how much time do they have to devote to the effort?
Other questions include: How much might you donate, and on what scale and pace? Will you give anonymously or publicly? Might your focus shift if the next generation has a different interest, or will you dedicate funds to a specific cause in perpetuity?
Once you’ve decided what you want to do, you’ll need the right legal structures in place (i.e., a private foundation or donor-advised fund, or some combination of both).
Unfortunately, wealth can make your family a target for fraud and cybercrime as well as threats to physical safety, reputation and finances. Ongoing vigilance is necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones.
If you have a family office, it should adopt procedures that include preventive and detective controls; for example, there should be a system of checks and balances to make sure one person does not have money-movement authority.
Regular training for family members and family office employees is key because the weakest link is always human. You’ll want to run tests periodically to make sure your family office and family members aren’t falling for the latest phishing, vishing and other cyber tricks.
Technology is vital, and so are key decisions about what you will invest in, who will maintain your systems, how much will be on- or off-premises, and what kind of malware and cyber-ransom preventatives will be installed (and updated regularly).
Whatever structures and service providers you put in place today for your family, you’ll want to consider what might happen in the future. Do you have a transition plan to cover a generational shift in stewardship of the family assets? Who are the decision makers going to be? If you own a family business, what does that look like going forward? If you have a family office, how will it work down the road?
Have you spoken with your adult children about their expectations for taking over stewardship of the family assets and legacy, and how they’re going to jointly make decisions?
During our more than 200 years, J.P. Morgan has worked with many families for multiple generations. Your J.P. Morgan team is available to help you (and any of your family members you wish to join the conversation) think through how best to meet the family’s many needs today, tomorrow and well into the future.
1 Andrey Yushkov, “Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax?” Tax Foundation, Oct. 10, 2023.
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