Distribution of Assets: Beware Property Tax Consequences

 A recent experience with a Living Trust client brought up an issue that frequently surfaces for those who are dividing their estates among their children. “Joe” and “Marilyn” were planning to gift real property equally to their son, “Tony” and daughter, “Sarah”. In the beneficiary section of the Trust, they also were granting the residue (the remaining assets after all specific gifts have been made) of their Trust estate to Tony and Sarah equally.

In each case they named an alternate beneficiary in the event something happened to either Tony or Sarah. For both the property and the residue, the alternate beneficiary was the other sibling. This seems straightforward, but it creates potentially significant property tax ramifications for Tony and Sarah.

Background: Prop 58 excludes transfer of real property from reassessment

In 1986, voters in California approved Proposition 58, which excludes real property from being reassessed when it is transferred from parent to child. When the primary residence is transferred, there is no limit on the value of the property. For property other than the primary residence, there is a limit of $1 million per transferor.

This means that instead of reassessing the property at its current value, the assessment of the current Prop 13 value results in significantly lower property taxes. For Joe and Marilyn and their family, this means that when the property is transferred equally to Tony and Sarah, there will be no reassessment at that time (if they wish to exercise their exemption).

Sarah and her family are living in the primary residence

The situation gets a little more complicated with this family, as it does with many of our clients. Sarah and her own family are currently living in the property and plan to remain there after Joe and Marilyn die. Sarah can buy Tony out, but the assessor will treat the transfer this time as that of one sibling to another—which means that this time it will be without the exemption, so that 50% of the property would be reassessed at current values. In today’s inflated real estate market, this could result in an increase of a few hundred thousand dollars in assessed value and skyrocketing property taxes.

This scenario caused our clients to reconsider

Joe and Marilyn began rethinking how they would split their estate between their children. If they included the property as part of the residue of the estate, this gave Tony and Sarah additional options. If the Trustee valued the total of the estate and then split the estate, one half could include the home that one child wanted and the other half would include a total of equal real and liquid assets. With this scenario, the transfer of the home to Sarah would qualify for the exemption on the entire value of the home. No buyout would be required and no transfer from one sibling to the other would be necessary—avoiding the potentially huge property-tax burden. Tony could receive real property and assets equal to the value of the property that Sarah was inheriting.

California Document Preparers assists clients with the creation of Living Trusts, transferring property into the Trusts, and assisting Successor Trustees in transferring properties to beneficiaries. We also can assist in transferring property to your children now. The implications of the Parent-Child Exemption should be considered in any Deed transfers between parents and children.

Contact California Document Preparers at one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment or to get more information to help make informed decisions. We’re helpful, compassionate and affordable.