What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax?

Woman works on her tax returnsEstate planning can help you pass on assets to your heirs while potentially minimizing taxes. When gifting assets, it’s important to consider when and how the generation-skipping tax transfer (GSTT) may apply. Also called the generation-skipping tax, this federal tax can apply when a grandparent leaves assets to a grandchild while skipping over their parents in the line of inheritance. It can also be triggered when leaving assets to someone who’s at least 37.5 years younger than you. If you’re considering “skipping” any of your heirs when passing on assets, it’s important to understand what that means from a tax perspective and how to fill out the requisite form. A financial advisor can also give you valuable guidance on how best to pass along your estate to your beneficiaries.

Generation-Skipping Tax, Definition

The Internal Revenue Code imposes both gift and estate taxes on transfers of assets above certain limits. For 2020, you can exclude gifts of up to $15,000 per person from the gift tax, with the limit doubling for married couples who file a joint return. Estate tax applies to estates larger than $11,580,000 for 2020, increasing to $11,700,000 in 2021. Again, these exemption limits double for married couples filing a joint return.

The gift tax rate can be as high as 40%, while the estate tax also maxes out at 40%. The IRS uses the generation-skipping transfer tax to collect its share of any wealth that moves across families when assets aren’t passed directly from parent to child. Assets subject to the generation-skipping tax are taxed at a flat 40% rate.

This tax can apply to both direct transfers of assets to your chosen beneficiaries as well as assets passed through a trust. A trust can be subject to the GSTT if all the beneficiaries of the trust are considered to be skip persons who have a direct interest in the trust.

How Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Works

Generation-skipping tax rules cover the transfer of assets to people who at least one generation apart. A common scenario where the GSTT can apply is the transfer of assets from a grandparent to a grandchild when one or both of the grandchild’s parents are still alive. If you’re transferring assets to a grandchild because your child has predeceased you, then the transfer tax wouldn’t apply.

The generation-skipping tax is a separate tax from the estate tax and it applies alongside it. Similar to estate tax, this tax kicks in when an estate’s value exceeds the annual exemption limits. The 40% GSTT would be applied to any transfers of assets above the exempt amount, in addition to the regular 40% estate tax.

This is how the IRS covers its bases in collecting taxes on wealth as it moves from one person to another. If you were to pass your estate from your child, who then passes it to their child then no GSTT would apply. The IRS could simply collect estate taxes from each successive generation. But if you skip your child and leave assets to your grandchild instead, that removes a link from the taxation chain. The GSTT essentially allows the IRS to replace that link.

You do have the ability to take advantage of lifetime estate and gift tax exemption limits, which can help to offset how much is owed for the generation-skipping tax. But any unused portion of the exemption counted toward the generation-skipping tax is lost when you die.

How to Avoid Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

Accountant prepares a tax return

If you’d like to minimize estate and gift taxes as much as possible, talking to a financial advisor can be a good place to start. An advisor who’s well-versed in gift and estate taxes can help you create a plan for transferring assets. For example, that plan might include gifting assets to your grandchildren or another generation-skipping person annually, rather than at the end of your life. Remember, you can gift up to $15,000 per person each year without incurring gift tax, or up to $30,000 per person if you’re married and file a joint return. You’d just need to keep the lifetime exemption limits in mind when scheduling gifts.

You could also make payments on behalf of a beneficiary to avoid tax. Say you want to help your granddaughter with college costs, for example. Any direct payments you make to the school to cover tuition would generally be tax-free. The same is true for direct payments made to healthcare providers if you’re paying medical expenses on behalf of someone else.

Setting up a trust may be another option worth exploring to minimize generation-skipping taxes. A generation-skipping trust allows you to transfer assets to the trust and pay estate taxes at the time of the transfer. The assets you put into the trust have to remain there during the skipped generation’s lifetime. Once they pass away, the assets in the trust could be passed on tax-free to the next generation.

This strategy requires some planning and some patience on the part of the generation that stands to inherit. But the upside is that members of the skipped generation and the generation that follows can benefit from any income the assets in the trust generates in the meantime. Trusts can also yield another benefit, in that they can offer asset protection against creditors who may file legal claims against you or your estate.

Another type of trust you might consider is a dynasty trust. This type of trust can allow you to pass assets on to future generations without triggering estate, gift or generation-skipping taxes. The caveat is that these are designed to be long-term trusts.

You can name your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and subsequent generations as beneficiaries and the transfer of assets to the trust is irrevocable. That means once you place the assets in the trust, you won’t be able to take them back out again so it’s important to understand the implications before creating this type of trust.

The Bottom Line

Man works on his tax returns

The generation-skipping tax could take a significant bite out of the assets you’re able to leave behind to grandchildren or another eligible person. If you’re considering using this type of trust to pass on assets or you’re interested in exploring other ways to transfer assets while minimizing taxes, it’s wise to consult an estate planning lawyer or tax attorney first.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to best shape your estate plan to minimize taxation. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations for advisors online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Creating a trust can yield some advantages in your estate plan. In addition to helping you minimize tax liability, the assets in a trust are not subject to probate. That’s different from assets you leave behind in a will.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ljubaphoto, ©iStock.com/baona, ©iStock.com/svetikd

The post What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School

With a brand new PhD under her belt, our latest Mint audit recruit, Renee, is ready to take on the real world with gusto. The 34-year-old is eager to buy a home and ramp up her retirement savings. She currently lives in San Francisco and has just started a full-time earning $87,000 a year (before taxes).

Renee also received a sizeable inheritance, totaling about $200,000 of which she used $30,000 to pay off her student loans.

So, why does Renee want an audit, exactly? Her finances seem perfectly in order, it seems.

As Renee explains, she wants advice around the best ways to plan for big goals like home ownership and retirement. “I’m especially eager to buy my own apartment, but it is extremely daunting (and expensive) in the Bay area,” she says. As a result, she’s leaning to move to New York City (Brooklyn, specifically, where she thinks may offer more bang for her buck in some neighborhoods.)

She wants to know how much of a down payment she can reasonably afford and how to budget for monthly housing costs.

First, though, I wanted to learn more about Renee’s finances. Here’s what the quick audit revealed:

  • Retirement savings: $40,000 in a 403(b) and Roth IRA. She allocates $200 month from her paycheck to the 403(b).
  • Rent: $1,850 per month
  • Groceries: $400 per month
  • Where is all that savings parked? $100,000 in index and mutual funds, another $50,000 in an 11-month CD earning 1.5%, and remaining $20,000 in checking.

My Advice…

Play Retirement Catch-Up

For a 35-year-old worker, one rule of thumb is that you should have an amount equal to your salary in retirement savings. For Renee, who is nearing age 35, that means $80,000 to $90,000. She’s only about halfway there, so my recommendation is to play some retirement catch up. While it’s not realistic to think that she can invest another $40,000 this year, she can do better.

For starters, what about taking advantage of her company’s 403(b) match? She believes her company offers one, but wasn’t sure about the details. I suggested she learn the specifics and try to capitalize on that offer by contributing at least enough to earn the full match. Allocating closer to 10% of her salary would be ideal. (And PS. that contribution is tax deductible!)

Worried that this would stretch her paycheck too thin, I reminded Renee that she can always adjust her retirement contributions each month, but urged her to give it a try. (My bet is that it won’t be as painful as she suspects.)

Pad the Rainy Day Account?

I wasn’t sure how far her $20,000 in checking would last her. She said it would be about a 6-month reserve, which I feel is adequate. No need to make adjustments there. One thought: She may want to move that $20,000 to a savings account that’s a little less accessible (like an online account without a debit card), so that she isn’t tempted to cash it out on a whim.

Protect Your Down Payment

Renee has $100,000 in a brokerage account, which she plans to use towards a down payment in the near future. But here’s something to consider: What if the market plunges six months before you want to make a bid for a home? And you suddenly lose 15 or 20% of your investments? It would take time to recover, more time than you want.

I would personally never risk money in the stock market if I anticipated needing that money in the next five years. And according to Renee, she hopes to buy a home in the next two years. My advice: Protect the down payment from market fluctuations by moving 50% of that money over to a short-term CD and with the other $50,000 she’s got saved in an 11-month CD, use all that savings towards a future down payment.

Know How Much House You Can Really Afford

To buy in NYC or San Francisco, a 20% down payment is standard. With $100,000 to put down, that means that she’s looking at homes valued at around $500,000. With today’s current mortgage rates nearing 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, she’s looking at close to $2,000 a month in payments. But we’ve yet to get to taxes, maintenance and home insurance.

Instead, consider a starter apartment, a studio or junior one-bedroom closer to $400,000. A 20% down payment would be $80,000, leaving her with another $20,000 for closing costs. Her monthly payments would come to around $1,500 per month, close to 30% of her take-home pay, which is a smart cap for housing payments.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Joint and Survivorship Insurance: What You Need to Know

A joint insurance policy is one taken by two people, offering benefits that aren’t provided by single policies and allow you to save a few bucks in monthly premiums. If you’re married and want your spouse to receive a benefit if you die and your children to receive one if you both die, it seems like the best choice.

But that isn’t necessarily the case. Joint life insurance policies certainly serve a purpose, but there are some major flaws to consider as well.

What is Joint and Survivorship Insurance?

There are two types of joint life insurance policies: First-to-die and Second-to-die. In both cases, these options are generally cheaper than a single life insurance policy that offers the same benefit. As a result, they’re often taken by married couples who only have each other and their children to consider.

For instance, if you’re married with two young children and all your death benefit will be paid to your spouse and then, if they die, to your children, it can seem like the best option. You’ll be offered cheaper premiums, you’ll get your wish, and at the same time, you’ll be covered if anything happens to your partner.

Perfect, right? Well, not quite, as there are some problems to consider.

First-to-Die

A first-to-die policy pays money to one policyholder when the other dies. If you have a $500,000 policy charging $100 a month, then you and your spouse are responsible for paying the $100 and if one of you dies, the obligations will end and the $500,000 will be released to the surviving spouse.

Pros and Cons of First-to-Die Insurance

This insurance policy seems like a win-win on the surface. Insurance companies can save money by acquiring two customers at once and reducing liabilities slightly, while the policyholders can get the benefits provided by two policyholders.

But what happens if you break up? These policies are often acquired by married couples in their 30s and can last for several decades. At that point, they may have spent anywhere from 5 to 15 years together and are assuming they will spend the next 30 or so years together as well. But the average marriage lasts for just 8 years and no matter how connected you feel today, there’s just no way of knowing that your relationship will last.

If anything does happen, all those premiums could be for nothing. The policy will still exist and if you keep making the payments, you’ll keep the death benefit alive. But if you remarry, you’ll likely want the money to go to your new partner and not your ex.

This is the biggest issue with these policies and it’s why many insurance experts don’t recommend them for young couples. If you had two policies, you could just as easily make your spouse the beneficiary and if the relationship ends, you could remove them from the contract and add the name of your new partner.

What’s more, there’s no guarantee that this policy will be cheaper than two separate policies. First-to-die policies are actually quite rare, which means the market isn’t very strong. When competition is weak, prices are high, and in many cases, you may struggle to find a joint policy that is cheaper than separate ones.

Finally, let’s assume that the applicants are in their thirties and one of them dies when they reach 50. The surviving spouse then collects the money and can live comfortably thereafter. But what about their children? What about their new partner, assuming they find one? That policy will have finished, which means the surviving policyholder now needs to pay for additional insurance if they want to remain covered. That can be tricky for a 50-year-old widower, as premiums will have increased significantly.

Second-to-Die

A survivorship policy, also known as a “second-to-die” policy, is more common than the option outlined above. It is frequently acquired by married couples who want to provide cover for their children, and it pays out only when both of them die.

Pros and Cons of Need Second-to-Die Insurance

A second-to-die life insurance policy has its uses. It’s often recommended to individuals with large and valuable estates, as it can give heirs money to cover inheritance taxes and other costs and allow them to better prepare for the transition. 

However, if you’re an average married couple without sizeable assets, it likely won’t provide the benefits you need. Firstly, the surviving spouse won’t be provided with a death benefit and will be tasked with continuing to pay insurance premiums every month. If they have any financial issues, not only will they struggle to stay in the black, but they may be forced to stop making those monthly payments, thus rendering all previous payments redundant.

On the plus side, second-to-die life insurance is often cheaper than purchasing separate life insurance policies. It’s also much easier to acquire, as the insurance company is insuring two people and not one, which greatly reduces their risk and means they are less concerned about health questions and medical exams.

It can also improve the value of your estate, which is important if you’re giving this away to one or more heirs. Again, though, we have to stress that the benefits may not be enough for the average married couple and they should instead look into separate life insurance policies.

Which Policy is Right for You?

With all things considered, how do you know which policy is right for you?

Multiple options and several factors to consider, but it’s actually quite simple. Unless you have a large estate, you should look into getting separate life insurance policies for both you and your spouse. You can make each other the main beneficiaries and then add the names of your children just in case you both die at the same time.

If you have a large estate and your spouse will not be left financially destitute in the event of your demise, second-to-die life insurance should be considered. 

With all options, however, you can get quotes, compare the premiums, payouts, and benefits, and then see which one stands out the most. 

Look into term-life insurance, whole-life insurance, and accidental death insurance when considering an individual policy, as they all provide something a little different and both the costs and cover varies greatly.

Joint and Survivorship Insurance: What You Need to Know is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings [account], and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings [account] as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Can I Inherit Debt?

Man trying to role a huge boulder labeled "DEBT" up a steep hillWhen someone passes away leaving debts behind, you might be wondering if you have any personal liability to pay them. If you have aging parents, for instance, you may be worried about having to assume responsibility for their mortgage payments, credit cards or other debts. If you’ve asked yourself, “Can I inherit debt?” the answer is typically no, even though those debts don’t automatically disappear. But there are situations in which you may have to deal with a loved one’s creditors after they’re gone.

How Debts Are Handled When Someone Passes Away

Debts, just like assets, are considered part of a person’s estate. When that person passes away, their estate is responsible for paying any and all remaining debts. The money to pay those debts comes from the asset side of the estate.

In terms of who is responsible for making sure the estate’s debts are paid, this is typically done by an executor. An executor performs a number of duties to wrap up a person’s estate after death, including:

  • Getting a copy of the deceased person’s will if they had one and filing it with the probate court
  • Notifying creditors and other entities of the person’s death (for example, the Social Security Administration would need to be notified so any Social Security benefits could be stopped)
  • Completing an inventory of the deceased person’s assets and their value
  • Liquidating those assets as needed to pay off any debts owed by the estate
  • Distributing the remaining assets to the people or organizations named in the deceased person’s will if they had one or according to inheritance laws if they did not

In terms of debt repayment, executors are required to give notice to creditors who may have a claim against the estate. Creditors are then giving a certain window of time, according to state laws, in which to make a financial claim against the estate’s assets for repayment of debts.

If a creditor doesn’t follow state guidelines for making a claim, then those debts won’t be paid from the estate’s assets. But if creditors are less than reputable, they may try to come after the deceased person’s spouse, children or other family members to collect what’s owed.

Not all assets in an estate may be used to repay debts owed by a deceased person. Any assets that already have a named beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy, a 401(k), individual retirement account, payable on death accounts or annuity, would be transferred to that beneficiary automatically.

Can I Inherit Debt From My Parents?

Pencil erasing the word "DEBT"

This is an important question to ask if your parents are carrying high amounts of debt and you’re worried about having to pay those bills when they pass away. Again, the short answer is usually no. You generally don’t inherit debts belonging to someone else the way you might inherit property or other assets from them. So even if a debt collector attempts to request payment from you, there’d be no legal obligation to pay.

The catch is that any debts left outstanding would be deducted from the estate’s assets. If your parents were substantially in debt when they passed away, repaying them from the estate may leave little or no assets for you to inherit.

But you should know that you can inherit debt that you were already legally responsible for while your parents were alive. For instance, if you cosigned a loan with them or opened a joint credit card account or line of credit, those debts are legally yours just as much as they are your parents. So, once they pass away, you’d be solely responsible for repaying them.

And it’s also important to understand what responsibility you may have for covering long-term care costs incurred by your parents while they were alive. Many states have filial responsibility laws that require children to cover nursing home bills, though they aren’t always enforced. Talking to your parents about long-term care planning can help you avoid situations where you may end up with an unexpected debt to pay.

Can I Inherit Debt From My Children?

The same rules that apply to inheriting debt from parents typically apply to inheriting debts from children. Any debts remaining would be paid using assets from their state.

Otherwise, unless you cosigned for the debt, then you wouldn’t be obligated to pay. On the other hand, if you cosigned private student loans, a car loan or a mortgage for your adult child who then passed away, as cosigner you’d technically have a legal responsibility to pay them. Federal student loans are an exception.

If your parents took out a PLUS loan to pay for your higher education costs and something happens to you, the Department of Education can discharge that debt due to death. And vice versa, if your parents pass away then any PLUS loans they took out on your behalf could also be discharged.

Can I Inherit Debts From My Spouse?

When marriage and money mix, the lines on inherited debt can get a little blurred. The same basic rule that applies to other situations applies here: if you cosigned or took out a joint loan or line of credit together, then you’re both equally responsible for the debt. If one of you passes away, the surviving spouse would still have to pay.

But what about debts that are in one spouse’s name only? That’s where it’s important to understand how living in a community property state can affect your liability for marital debts. If you live in a community property state, debts incurred after the marriage by one spouse can be treated as a shared financial obligation. So if your spouse opened up a credit card or took out a business loan, then passed away you could still be responsible for paying it. On the other hand, debts incurred by either party before the marriage wouldn’t be considered community debt.

Consider Getting Help If You Need It

If a parent, spouse, sibling or other family member passes away, it can be helpful to talk to an attorney if you’re being pressured by debt collectors to pay. An attorney who understands debt collection laws and estate planning can help you determine what your responsibilities are for repaying debts and how to handle creditors.

The Bottom Line

Son talks with his mother about her debtWhether or not you’ll inherit debt from your parents, child, spouse or anyone else largely hinges on whether you cosigned for that debt or live in a community property state in the case of married couples. If you’re concerned about inheriting debts, consider talking to your parents, children or spouse about how those financial obligations would be handled if they were to pass away. Likewise, you can also discuss what financial safety nets you have in place to clear any debts you may leave behind, such as life insurance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to manage and pay off debts you owe or any debts you might inherit from someone else. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with an advisor in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized advisor recommendations online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act caps the statute of limitations for unpaid debt collections at a maximum of six years, although most states specify a much shorter time frame. However, some debt collectors buy so-called zombie debts for pennies on the dollar and then – unscrupulously – try to collect on them. Here’s how to deal with such operators.

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