Handing Kids Keys to Your Home Is Never Good Estate Planning

Transferring ownership of the family home to an adult child may seem like a simple approach for avoiding having the house go through probate, or even qualifying easily for Medicaid. However, this seemingly simple solution comes with many problems, including taxes and the potential for years of delay for qualifying for Medicaid. That’s the advice from the article “Don’t Give Your Adult Kids Your House” from Nerd Wallet.

There are many other ways to transfer a house to family members. Estate planning lawyers will be able to help you accomplish this, without creating extra problems for your family.

First, if you leave the house to your children in your will, which means they don’t get it until you die, they receive something called a “step-up in basis.” This means that all of the appreciation of the house that occurred during the time that you owned the house until your death is not taxed.

Here’s an example. A financial planner advises his client not to let his mother gift him the family home. She paid $16,000 for it back in 1976, and the current market value of the house was close to $200,000. None of that increase in value would be taxable if the son inherited the house. However, she signed a quitclaim to give her son the house while she was living and died shortly afterwards. The estimated tax bill was about $32,000.

Some families who realize the impact of this when it’s almost too late, scramble to give the house back to the parents. They do a last-minute deed change, before it’s too late. There isn’t always time for this.

When it comes to transferring the house, so a parent can qualify for Medicaid, there’s a five-year look back that prohibits any transfer of assets, especially of a house. That can lead to a penalty period, so the senior who needs long-term care will not be eligible for Medicaid.

Transferring a home to an adult child with financial or marital problems is asking for trouble. If the house becomes the child’s asset, then it can be attached by creditors. If a divorce occurs, the home will be an asset to be divided by the couple—or lost completely.

As for the family in the example above, the man was almost stuck paying taxes on a $184,000 gain. A tax research firm he engaged learned of a workaround, Section 2036 of the Internal Revenue Code. If the mother retained a life interest in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, then the home would remain in her estate, rather than be treated as a completed gift. The son, as executor of the estate, filed a gift tax return on her behalf to show that he was given a “remainder interest” or the right to inherit, when his mother’s life interest expired at her death.

There are less stressful and less costly ways to avoid the family home being part of the probated estate. Let an experienced estate planning attorney help your family before costly, time-consuming and stressful mistakes are made.

Reference: Nerd Wallet (April 3, 2020) “Don’t Give Your Adult Kids Your House”

Sometimes, Estate Tax Planning Can be a Challenge, Even for a Judge

Five and a half years into the case, the question of whether six life insurance policies at their cash surrender value should be included in the deceased woman’s taxable estate is one question, and the second is whether the estate is liable for the tax underpayment penalties. The policies were purchased for $30 million, reports Bloomberg Tax in the article “$30 Million Estate Tax Going To Be ‘Hard,’ Judge Says.”

The final ruling may also have an impact on the overall attractiveness of using this type of arrangement in estate planning. Known as a ‘split-dollar’ arrangement, this is an agreement between parties to split the cost and benefits of a life insurance policy, where a party paying premiums gets an interest in the payout.

The estate in this case is connected to a set of family businesses, described as the “Interstate Group,” accumulated over the decades after Arthur Morrissette began a moving company in 1943. Arthur’s surviving spouse Clara used her revocable trust to transfer $29.9 million to three trusts for the benefit of each of her three sons. That happened in 2006. The trusts then used the funds to make lump-sum payments for six permanent life insurance policies. Each son’s trust held a policy that insured the lives of the two other brothers.

The transactions were governed by split-dollar arrangements between Clara’s revocable trust and her son’s trusts. When an insured son died or an arrangement was terminated, Clara’s trust received either a policy’s cash surrender value or all of the premium payments on it, whichever was greater. If the policy remained in place until an insured son died, Clara’s payout would be taken out of the death benefit, and the son’s trusts would receive any remaining death benefit.

The first issue at trial was the motivation for setting up this type of split-dollar arrangement in the first place. In order to exclude the cash-surrender value of the life insurance policies from the taxable estate, tax rules require demonstration of a bona fide sale or business transactions. In other words, there needs to have been a significant non-tax reason for the arrangement to be put into place.

Attorneys representing the IRS said that the primary reason for the arrangements was to lower estate taxes, where having to wait to be repaid until the sons passed, lowered the present value of the rights Clara’s trust received in exchange for the $30 million.

One of the sons said that the family entered into the arrangement, so that money from a policy’s death benefit would help the surviving son buy each other’s shares at the time of their deaths, while also repaying their mother. He said that the policies paid a better return than the family was getting by putting the $40 million in investment accounts.

If the Morrissette’s argument about motivation prevails, the tax code also requires proof that Clara’s trust received something that was worth the $30 million that she put in. Experts debate what was the best real-world exchange with which to compare the split trust arrangements.

At the end of the trial, U.S. Tax Court Senior Judge Joseph Goeke said, “I look forward to your briefs, because for me this is going to be a hard case.”

This is a complex case, and estate planning attorneys will be watching it to learn if the split-dollar arrangement has a future.

Reference: Bloomberg Tax (October 14, 2019) “$30 Million Estate Tax Going To Be ‘Hard,’ Judge Says”