They say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. When your life comes to an end, your loved ones can be left facing both certainties at the same time. The good news is that to some extent, we can postpone both, and we can avoid (notice I did not say evade) taxes almost entirely. Postponing death is a matter of staying as healthy as we can through diet, exercise, meditation, having an emotional support system, and maintaining a positive state of mind. Of course, if we don’t look both ways before we cross the street, then all those vegan rice cakes, pickleball games and Ommm sessions go out the window. On the other hand, postponing or avoiding taxes takes a lot less work and can be almost as fun as staying healthy.
The taxes that could take a swipe at your loved ones after you die are mostly these: income tax, capital gains tax, estate tax, and generation-skipping transfer tax. Although the gift tax only applies to transfers made during your lifetime, your lifetime transfers may impact your ultimate estate tax liability. Other taxes may apply as well, but those are the big ones collected by the IRS. Each state also imposes and collects a variety of taxes. Hawai‘i does not officially have a gift tax, but it does collect the other taxes listed above. Hawai‘i’s estate tax takes into account lifetime gifts, so while there is no state gift tax during your lifetime, your estate may have to pay additional Hawai‘i estate taxes that more or less make up for the fact that you did not have to pay Hawai‘i gift tax during your lifetime.
But don’t despair. There are relatively painless ways to minimize or avoid all of these taxes, especially if you would prefer to support your favorite charity instead. When it comes down to it, estate tax can be completely avoided through a combination of taking advantage of the estate tax “coupon” (the amount that you can give away estate tax free) and the unlimited estate tax charitable deduction. If the value of your estate exceeds the coupon amount, you can give the coupon amount to your loved ones (so far, no tax) and any excess to your favorite charity, just like that, you have passed on significant wealth without giving any of it to the tax man.
Disinheriting both the IRS and the State of Hawai‘i means that some assets that could have gone to family will instead go to good causes that will benefit your community, possibly for years after you are gone. Not only that, you will have proven that taxes may not be a “certainty” after all. Your trusted advisors can show you the way.