Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Remember The Port

One thing about this blog is that it likely reflects what’s happening here at Intergalactic Command.

Here goes: it is unlikely that you will need an extensive and expensive estate tax plan, unless you (a) have unique family issues, such as a special needs child, or (b) have a tractor-trailer load of money.

Pass away in 2018 and you will not have a federal estate tax until you get to $11.2 million.
OBSERVATION: This amount increased under the new tax bill.
Folks, that excludes almost everybody.

I suppose you could live in a state with a state estate tax, like Illinois. If you do, here is some tax advice: move.

So how do you get into the federal estate tax?

It is easy enough in concept.  

Here goes:

                          Net FMV of assets you die with
                    Reportable gifts made over your lifetime

BTW, notice that assets you die with and assets you gifted away are added together. The IRS is going to tax you whether you kept stuff or gave it away. The nerd term for this is “unified” tax.

There are tricks and traps to “assets you die with,” but, for the most part, it means what it says. The “net” means you get to deduct your liabilities from your assets. The “FMV” means fair market value. Take a car for example. You might get its FMV from Kelly Blue Book.

What does “reportable gifts” mean?

Let walk around the block on this. Let’s say you made a gift to a family member in 2017. Do you have to report it?

Depends on the amount. For 2017 the annual gift tax exclusion was $14,000. This means that you could gift anyone on the planet $14,000 and the government did not need to know. If you were married, then your spouse and you could double-up, meaning that together you could gift $28,000 without the government needing to know.

Let’s say that you are single. You gifted someone $50,000 in 2017. What have you got?

Easy enough: $50,000 – 14,000 = $36,000 is reportable. Yep, you went over the limit. You have to file a gift tax return.

Mind you, it is very unlikely that you will have any gift tax due on that return.

Why not?

Let’s circle back to the formula:
                          Net FMV of assets you die with
                    Reportable gifts made over your lifetime

You haven’t died yet, so the first line is zero.

But you still have the second line.

Remember that you can die in 2018 with $11.2 million and not be taxed.

Folks, if someone has gifted over $11.2 million (mind you, this is over a lifetime), please call or e-mail me. I want to get into that person’s will – I mean, I want to develop a lifelong friendship with a kindred soul.  

What if you fudge the numbers? You know, play down the gifts a bit? Who will know once you are gone, right?

If you are married, there could be a hitch with this.

Let’s take a look at the Estate of Sower case.

Frank Sower passed away in 2012, leaving Minnie as his surviving spouse. He filed an estate tax return, and it showed an unused estate tax exclusion of $1,250,000.         
COMMENT: Beginning in 2010, any unused estate tax exclusion of the first-to-die spouse could carryover to the surviving spouse. For example, the exclusion for 2011 was $5 million. Let’s say that the first-to-die had a taxable estate of $3.6 million. The balance - $1.4 million – could transfer to the surviving spouse.
This was a big improvement in tax practice. Previously tax professionals used trusts – “family” trusts and “marital” trusts, for example - to make sure that estate tax exclusions did not go squandered. One can still use trusts if one wants, but it is not as mandatory as it used to be. The transfer of the unused exclusion to the surviving spouse is called “portability” (“port” to the nerds) and it required (and still requires) the first-to-die to file a federal estate tax return, whether otherwise required, if only to alert the IRS that some of the exclusion is being ported.

There was however a problem with Frank’s estate return: the preparer left out $940,000 of reportable gifts. That in turn meant that the unused exclusion was overstated, as those unreported gifts would have soaked up a chunk of it.

Minnie died in 2013. Her estate showed the unused exemption ported from Frank. It was wrong, but it was there. The same tax preparer must have done her estate return, as once again her reportable gifts were left off.

The IRS audited her estate return and caught the mistake. They wondered whether Frank’s return had the same issue. It did, of course, so the IRS adjusted Frank’s ported exemption.

When the dust settled, Minnie’s estate owed another $788,165.

Ouch. Folks, the estate tax has one of the highest rates in the Code. A lot of effort goes into minimizing this thing. At least Congress has gotten away from having  taxable estates begin at $600,000, as it did in the nineties. Average folk did not consider $600,000 to be “wealthy,” no matter what Congress and the grievance mongers said.

The estate litigated. They argued that the Frank’s estate had a closing letter (think magical letter, but the estate’s letter was non-magical); that the adjustment to the port was an impermissible second review of Frank’s return; that the IRS position improperly overrode the statute of limitations, and so on. The estate lost on all counts.

What do we learn from Sower?
(1) It is OK to port.
(2) But the IRS can adjust the port if you get it wrong.

What did we learn from this post?

Remember the port.

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