Monday, September 19, 2011

IRS Extends Key Deadline for 2010 Estates

On September 13, 2011 the IRS announced that estates of 2010 decedents will have until next year to file certain tax forms and pay the related taxes. In addition, the IRS is also providing relief for beneficiaries of those estates.

The timing was critical, as 2010 estate tax returns for decedents dying on or before 12/16/2010 were due Monday, September 19, 2011. Estate tax returns are normally due nine months after death, but there was an exception because of last year’s tax law flux.

Remember there was no estate tax for most of 2010. On December 17, 2010, the President signed a tax bill that reinstated the estate tax retroactively to January 1, 2010. That law set a 35% estate tax rate and provided an estate tax exemption of $5 million. The advantage to this scheme is that estate assets get “stepped-up” to their fair market value at the date of death. This means that the inheritors can (generally) sell the assets right away without incurring any income tax. To complicate matters, the bill also made this scheme an option for 2010. Estates of 2010 decedents could opt out of the new tax and use a modified basis carryover regime. There would be no estate tax, but the heirs received the same basis in assets as the decedent (with a $3 million exception for the surviving spouse and a $1.3 million exception for non-spousal beneficiaries). This opt-out required the beneficiaries to know the carryover basis in the assets inherited, so the IRS created a new form (Form 8939 - Allocation of Increase in Basis for Property Acquired From a Decedent). Opting-out of the estate tax is an irrevocable election.

As I write this, the IRS has not finalized Form 8939, although a draft version is available.

The IRS is providing the following filing relief:

·    If the estate is opting out of the new estate tax regime (that is, an estate of $5 million or more) it will have until January 17, 2012, to file Form 8939. This form was previously due November 15, 2011. The new due date will apply automatically; the estate does not need to file any anything.
·    Estates between 1/1/2010 and 12/16/2010 that request an extension to file their estate tax returns and pay any estate tax due will have until March 19, 2012, to file. The IRS will not assess penalties for either late filing or late payment.  Interest will be due on any estate tax paid after the original due date.
·    Estates between 12/17/10 and 12/31/10 will be due 15 months after the date of death. The IRS will not assess penalties for either late filing or late payment.  Interest will be due on any estate tax paid after the original due date.
·    The IRS is providing penalty relief to beneficiaries who received property from a 2010 decedent and also sold the property in 2010. The taxpayer should write “IRS Notice 2011-76” on the amended return to identify the issue to the IRS.
Confused? It is easy to be.  Some thoughts:
(1)   Seems to me that an estate under $5 million would generally elect-out, especially if the appreciation in estate assets is less than $1.3 million. In that event, we don’t even need the spousal $3 million to protect all the step-up.
a.   Remember that there are assets that do not receive a step-up. These are sometimes referred to as IRD (income in respect of a decedent) assets. The most common – by far – are 401(k) s and IRAs.
(2)   Estates over $5 million are a tougher call.
a.   Even then, it depends on the mix of assets. If the majority of assets are IRD assets, the step-up may be modest, as IRD assets do not step-up. That would incline one to the carryover regime.
b.   We are now balancing the estate tax with looming income taxes when the beneficiaries sell the assets.  If there is modest appreciation, then the carryover regime would appeal. If there is substantial appreciation, then the new tax regime would appeal – maybe.
                                          i.    Why maybe? Because it depends on the tax rate. If the assets would generate capital gains, an Ohio beneficiary would face an approximate 21% income tax rate (15% federal plus 6% Ohio). Why would one pay 35% when one could pay 21%?
c.   Frankly, I am not sure how one could determine the best course of action without assembling the fair market values and basis for all estate assets and considering the intentions of the beneficiaries. If the beneficiary intends to sell the asset right away, then one could incline to a different decision than if the beneficiary intends to retain the asset forever.
d.   There is an issue in the carryover regime that concerns tax practitioners. How do you determine the basis of an asset that has been owned forever and for which cost records do not exist? This is not a small matter, as the default IRS response is to say that the asset has a basis of zero. If this fact pattern is a significant for the estate, then one would be inclined to the new tax regime as the assets would step-up to fair market value on the date of death.

No comments:

Post a Comment