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Families Can Save Close to $100,000 Under New Rules

By Hyman G. Darling, Esq.


At long last, Massachusetts has passed a law increasing the estate-tax exemption. Under the prior law, if a person died with less than $1 million, there was no estate tax due. However, if they died with more than $1 million, the $1 million exemption basically disappeared, and taxes were due on all assets back to the first dollar. This includes assets such as real estate, stocks, bonds, retirement plans, life insurance, annuities, etc.

Under the new law, the exemption has increased to $2 million, but this is a true exemption. Therefore, if a person dies with less than $2 million, there is no estate tax due. If their estate is greater than $2 million, the tax will be calculated on all assets, but basically, the first $2 million is exempt from tax.

Hyman G. Darling

This does have the effect of taxing all assets at a bit higher rate, but the exemption of $2 million basically applies to a credit. The credit is $99,600, which would have been the tax on the first $2 million. In other words, if a person dies under the new law, and if the estate was greater than $2 million, the family basically saves $99,600, which would have been the tax on the first $2 million. The law is retroactive to any individual who dies on or after Jan. 1, 2023. Therefore, if you are reading this article, you have the benefit of the increased exemption amount.

Under the new law, there is also a provision that attempts to impose an estate tax on out-of-state property, which was not the case under the old law. The new law will allocate the tax and charge only a proportionate share of the estate tax as it applies to the Massachusetts property, but the out-of-state property is included, thus increasing the total of the taxable estate. This probably will be challenged by an individual who has a significant amount of out-of-state property, which would therefore increase their estate tax in Massachusetts. However, it may be some time before the litigation on this matter makes its way through the court system.

For a married couple, they each now have an exemption of $4 million. However, they must use the exemption, or it is otherwise lost. For instance, if one spouse dies, leaving all assets to the surviving spouse, there is no tax because the unlimited marital deduction allows a spouse to receive an unlimited amount of money from the deceased spouse. If this is the case, then the person who died did not use their $2 million exemption, and the assets are then in the surviving spouse’s estate. If that surviving spouse has greater than $2 million, there will be a tax, and only the exemption will be allowable on the second to die.

Therefore, the first spouse should consider establishing a trust with up to $2 million in assets. The trust fund will be available for the surviving spouse, and that spouse may receive income and principal at the discretion of the trustee. At the death of the second spouse, the funds remaining in this trust will pass to the children or other contingent beneficiaries without any estate tax, and the surviving spouse will still have their $2 million exemption available. Thus, they have sheltered $4 million of assets to pass to beneficiaries, which is a significant change over the prior law.

An alternative would be to have $2 million of assets left outright to the children on the death of the first spouse, but then the surviving spouse will not have availability of those assets to use during their lifetime. The use of the trust is more advisable since it is flexible in allowing the surviving spouse to have access to income and principal, but not have those assets taxed in their estate.

An additional benefit of utilization of a trust is that the funds may be held in the trust for the benefit of children until they attain desired ages when they may be more mature to receive their funds for distribution. The funds may also be distributed in intervals such as one-third at age 25, one-third at age 30, and one-third at age 35, with also giving the trustee discretion to utilize funds for the children for their health, maintenance, education, support, etc.

While the increase in the exemption has finally increased, it is still not as desirable as many other states that have either no estate tax or a significantly higher exemption. The federal exemption is currently $12.92 million for each person who dies as a U.S. citizen, but this amount is proposed to be reduced in 2026 to approximately half of this amount unless Congress extends the higher exemption amount.

In any event, this is a good time to review all estate -planning documents to be sure they are up to date, including a will, a healthcare proxy, a power of attorney, and any other estate-planning documents a person may have. Of course, use of the new tax credit should be considered to reduce or eliminate the tax.


Hyman Darling, a shareholder at Bacon Wilson and chair of the firm’s Estate Planning and Elder Law department, is recognized as the area’s preeminent estate planner, with extensive experience with all aspects of estate planning, trusts, tax law, probate and estates, guardianships, special-needs trusts and planning, elder law, and long-term care planning, and additional specialties including adoption and real estate; (413) 781-0560.


Employers, Take Note

By Amelia J. Holstrom, Esq.


The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law is a relatively new statute that employers have to comply with in the Commonwealth. Under that law, eligible employees can take up to 26 workweeks of job-protected leave each benefit year for various reasons, including leave for their own serious health conditions or the serious health condition of their family members; leave to bond with children after birth, adoption, or placement; and leave for certain military-based reasons.

During any PFML leave, an employee is paid a portion of their regular pay as a PFML benefit. While some Massachusetts employers have a private PFML plan, the majority provide PFML to their employees through the Commonwealth’s Department of Family and Medical Leave.

Recently, two very important changes were announced regarding the PFML law. As a result of those changes, employers need to take action in the coming weeks. Here is what you need to know.


The Contribution Rate Is Increasing

Employees (and employers at companies with 25 or more employees) fund the PFML program through contributions deducted from their wages. For employers who provide PFML through the Commonwealth, rather than a private program, the Department of Family and Medical Leave sets the contribution rates annually, and it recently announced that contribution rates will increase in 2024.

“Recently, two very important changes were announced regarding the PFML law. As a result of those changes, employers need to take action in the coming weeks.”

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, the PFML contribution rate for businesses with 25 or more employees is increasing from 0.63% of wages to 0.88%. Of the 0.88%, 0.18% applies to the family-leave portion of the law and may be paid for solely by the employee. The remaining 0.7% is applicable to the medical-leave portion of the law, of which 0.28% may be paid for by the employee, with the remaining 0.42% to be paid for by the employer.

Similarly, the PFML contribution rate for businesses with fewer than 25 employees is increasing from 0.318% to 0.46%. Employers with fewer than 25 employees may require the employee to pay the full 0.46% contribution, or they can pay a portion of the contribution at their option.

Individual contributions are still capped by the federal Social Security taxable maximum. In other words, PFML contributions are not paid by the employee or employer on any income over that maximum. For 2024, that maximum is $168,600.

The increase is not surprising given statistics recently released by the Department of Family and Medical Leave in its FY 2023 Report. The report, which covered July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023, indicates that the department approved more than 143,000 applications for PFML in FY 2023, which was a 27.39% increase in approved applications over FY 2022. With more PFML claims receiving approval, the department is paying out more in benefits, which are funded by employer and employee contributions.


A New Notice Is Now Required

The change in the contribution rate means that employers need to issue a new PFML notice to employees. Under the law, employers are required to give employees a written notice, which includes information on the contribution rates, among other things, at the time of hire and 30 days in advance of any contribution-rate change.

The new contribution rates will be effective Jan. 1, 2024. As a result, employers must provide notice to their employees no later than Dec. 2, 2023. The Department of Family and Medical Leave issues a model notice for employers to use each year, which will be found on the department’s website once it is released.


‘Topping Off’ PFML Payments

Since its inception, the PFML statute prohibited an employee from using company-provided paid time, including but not limited to vacation, personal, and sick time (collectively, PTO) and receiving PFML benefits from the Department of Family and Medical Leave at the same time.

In other words, an employee who chose to use PTO during their PFML leave was not permitted to receive any payment from the state. Employees could not even supplement — frequently referred to as ‘topping off’ — their reduced-PFML benefit using PTO to receive 100% of their pay during their leave. This, however, has recently changed.

Employees who apply to the department for PFML benefits on or after Nov. 1, 2023 will be allowed to supplement their PFML benefits with accrued PTO provided by their employer at their option. This will enable an employee to receive their full pay while on PFML leave, if they choose to do to. It is important to note that employers cannot require an employee to use their company-provided paid time to top off.

Employers with private plans may need to make some changes, too. Prior to Nov. 1, 2023, employers with private plans could choose whether or not to permit employees to top off their reduced PFML benefit by utilizing company-provided PTO. There is no longer a choice. Beginning on Nov. 1, employees working for employers with private plans will also be permitted to utilized company-provided paid time off, at their option, to supplement their PFML benefit to receive their full pay while on leave.


What Should Employers Do Next?

Employers should review the Department of Family and Medical Leave website regularly for the new contribution-rate notices and send those out to employees no later than Dec. 2, 2023. Additionally, now that employees have the option to top off their PFML benefits with PTO offered by the employer, employers should review their PFML policies and other related documents to make any necessary changes in light of the new topping-off option.

Employers who have questions about the changes to the law or edits to their policies and related documents should work with their labor and employment counsel to address those questions.


Amelia Holstrom is a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., with a practice that focuses on litigation avoidance, employment litigation, and labor law and relations; (413) 737-4753.

Accounting and Tax Planning Special Coverage

Save and SECURE

By Dan Eger

The SECURE Act, or Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, was signed into law in December 2019. This legislation made it easier and more affordable for individuals to save for retirement by introducing new rules and incentives that promote long-term savings.

The SECURE Act also supports small businesses by making it easier for them to offer retirement plans to their employees.

Overall, the SECURE Act aimed to make retirement savings more accessible and secure for Americans of all ages and economic backgrounds.

The 2019 legislation included changes that affected traditional 401(k)s and IRAs, such as expanded eligibility for opening a Roth IRA, new requirements for minimum distributions from retirement accounts, and incentives for small businesses to offer retirement plans. The law also included provisions to benefit those who are retired or disabled, such as increasing the age at which a person must begin taking required minimum distributions from 70½ to 72.

Legislation commonly referred to SECURE 2.0 Act (the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023) was signed into law on Dec. 29, 2022. The SECURE Act 2.0 bolsters the benefits offered in 2019’s version, making it more enticing for employers to provide retirement plans and improve employees’ retirement prospects along the way.

What follows is a summary of some of the provisions, but keep in mind that the act includes more than 90 provisions that potentially affect retirement-savings plans.


Mandatory Automatic Enrollment

Effective for plans beginning after Dec. 31, 2024, new 401(k) and 403(b) plans must automatically enroll employees when eligible. Automatic deferrals start at between 3% and 10% of compensation, increasing by 1% each year to a maximum of at least 10%, but no more than 15% of compensation. Participants can still opt out.

“Overall, the SECURE Act aimed to make retirement savings more accessible and secure for Americans of all ages and economic backgrounds.”


Automatic Escalation

Beginning in 2025, for new retirement plans started after Dec. 29, 2022, contribution percentages must automatically increase by 1% on the first day of each plan year following the completion of a year of service until the contribution reaches at least 10%, but no more than 15%, of eligible wages. Governmental organizations, churches, and businesses with 10 employees or fewer, as well as employers in business for three years or fewer, are exempt from this policy.


Expanded Eligibility for Long-term, Part-time Employees

Under current law, employees with at least 1,000 hours of service in a 12-month period or 500 service hours in a three-consecutive-year period must be eligible to participate in the employer’s qualified retirement plan. SECURE 2.0 reduces that three-year rule to two years for plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2024.


Increase in Catch-up Limits

Effective after tax year 2024, SECURE 2.0 provides a notable rise in the amount of contributions for those aged between 60 to 63. Generally, the additional catch-up limit for most plans is $10,000 and only $5,000 for SIMPLE plans. These amounts are subject to inflation adjustment just like the normal catch-up contributions. Furthermore, those more than 50 years old are eligible for increased contribution limits on their retirement plans (known as ‘catch-up contributions’). For 2023, the maximum catch-up contribution amount has been set to $7,500 for most retirement plans and will be subject to inflation adjustments.


Rothification of Catch-up Contributions for High Earners

For plans that permit catch-up contributions, high earners ($145,000 in paid wages from the employer sponsoring the plan the preceding year, indexed to inflation) can no longer enjoy the privilege of tax-deferred catch-up contributions, as their contributions need to be characterized as designated Roth contributions.


Treatment of Student-loan Payments for Matching Contributions

Starting in 2024, student-loan payments can be treated as part of your retirement contribution to qualify for employer-matched contributions in a workplace retirement account. Employers will have the flexibility to provide contributions to their retirement plan for employees who are paying off student loans instead of saving for retirement.


Emergency Savings Accounts

Starting in 2024, retirement plans will have the option of providing ‘emergency savings accounts’ that allow non-highly paid employees to make after-tax Roth contributions to a savings account within their own retirement plan. Employers may automatically opt employees into these accounts at no more than 3% of eligible wages. Employees can opt out of participation. No further contributions can be made if the savings account has reached $2,500 (indexed), or a lesser limit established by the employer. The Department of Labor and/or the Treasury Department may issue guidance on these provisions.


Withdrawals for Certain Emergency Expenses

Penalty-free distributions are allowed for “unforeseeable or immediate financial needs relating to necessary personal or family emergency expenses” up to $1,000. Only one distribution may be made every three years, or one per year if the distribution is repaid within three years. Penalty-free withdrawals are also allowed for small amounts for individuals who need the funds in cases of domestic abuse or terminal illness.


Federal Contribution Match

Starting in 2027, low-income employees can gain access to a federal matching contribution of up to $2,000 each year that will be deposited into their retirement savings account. The matching contribution is 50% of the contributions, but it decreases according to income — for example, married taxpayers filing jointly between $41,000 and $71,000, and single taxpayers between $20,500 and $35500.


Required Minimum Distributions

Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, the age for required minimum distribution (RMD) from an IRA is increased to age 73. Starting in 2033, the RMD age will be 75. (IRA owners turning age 72 in 2023 would not be required to take RMDs in 2023.) Furthermore, the penalty for not taking your RMD has been decreased from 50% of what was required to be withdrawn to 25%, and even further down to 10% if corrected within two years.


Facilitation of Error Corrections

The act expands the self-corrections system, allowing more types of errors to be fixed internally without having to amend returns in the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System.


Immediate Incentives for Participation

At this moment, employers use matching contributions as a means to motivate employees to save for their retirement. Beginning in 2023, employers can incentivize employees with gifts cards or other small monetary rewards to increase engagement, although any financial rewards should be small and cannot come from retirement-plan assets.

In summary, the SECURE Act 2.0 provides many new benefits and opportunities to save for retirement. It allows employers to offer more flexible contributions and encourages employees with incentives to become engaged in their own financial health. With reduced penalties and expanded self-correction rules, this act gives Americans more control over their retirement savings, allowing them to become better prepared for their future.

As always, it’s important to consult with your advisor for advice, as guidance and changes to provisions are expected, and everyone’s situation is unique.


Dan Eger is a tax supervisor at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 536-8510.