Category Archives: Property Tax

Should We Get Married? Estate Planning for Same Sex Couples Now

wedding-91797_150Dear Liza: My long term domestic partner of 30 years and I were registered domestic partners for a few years and then she decided she wanted to be totally financially independent of me so we terminated the agreement last year.  We are still together as a couple and live five minutes away from each other.  Our intention is to leave everything we own to each other and have named each other as executors in our wills.  She owns a house that she may or may not be selling but in general our estates are pretty modest.  I am wondering since we are still a couple is there is an advantage in terms of avoiding probate in getting married versus doing a living trust? First, can I just say I love being able to have this conversation! Now, down to business. There’s a lot packed into your question. I’m going to answer on a general level, but I think it would be worth it for you and your partner to sit down with an accountant and an attorney and see how my advice addresses your particular concerns.

There are three key  estate planning advantages to getting married for same sex couples now, but I wouldn’t frame it as a living trust versus marriage. That’s kind of apples and oranges.  A living trust will still allow you to transfer your assets to each other without probate, regardless of whether or not you marry. But being married has two key federal and one state TAX advantage, all of which you’d realize with or without a living trust.

1.  Married couples get a step up in basis when one spouse dies on all community property assets. That means that the surviving spouse won’t have to pay capital gains on any appreciated assets that she sells after the first death, other than any gain that happened after the death of the first spouse.  For example, if your partner’s house has appreciated a lot since she bought it, and you marry and make that house community property, when one of you dies, that house would be valued at its date of death value, not the original purchase price.

2. Married couples get an unlimited marital deduction from federal estate and gift tax.  That means that you and your spouse can give an unlimited amount of assets to each other, at death or during life, and no federal estate or gift tax will be due for those gifts. For those with modest estates (which are most of us) this isn’t as big a concern now that the federal estate and gift tax exemption is $5.25 million, but that number may be reduced by Congress in the future, and it is a benefit that only spouses receive.  This, in fact, was the basis for Edie Windsor’s challenge to DOMA.

3. Married couples can pass real property to each other in California without a change in property tax rates.  A transfer between spouses is an exception to Proposition 13’s reassessment requirement.  Since you and your partner terminated your Registered Domestic Partnership, and it sounds like she purchased the property alone, her transfer of the house to you via a Will would trigger a change of ownership and reassessment for at least 1/2, if not all, of the property, depending on how she holds title at her death.

Change of Ownership Means Reassessment

house from momDear Liza:  I live in California. I have no children or family. If I leave my house to a friend will the property taxes go up under Prop 13? I just find information about kids and trusts, but not unrelated persons inheriting.  Yes, if you leave your house to a friend, the property taxes will be reassessed. The way Proposition 13 works is that any “change of ownership” results in a reassessment of that property based on its current fair market value, unless an exception applies.  There are exceptions to reassessment for a transfer of property from parents to children (or children to parents).  There is an exception to reassessment for a transfer of property from an individual to a revocable trust for his or her benefit.  But there is no exception for a transfer from you to your friend.

Can I See the Will?

Will being signedDear Liza: My adult son just passed away.  I would like to know whether, when his Will is probated, I will be able to see a copy?  My condolences on your loss.   Your son’s Will must be filed in the probate court in the county in which he died as part of the probate process. Once it is filed, it is public record and you can request a copy from that court. I don’t know where you live, but here’s how it works in the Santa Clara County Superior Court, where I live, and the process should be similar where you are.

What Do I Put In a Living Trust?

Dear Liza:  I am trying to prepare a living trust on behalf of my father.  He owns his home and vehicles outright and also has two bank accounts.  I am the POD beneficiary of all of his accounts, as well as being a secondary signer on his checking and savings accounts.  My confusion comes from not knowing what assets should be put in the living trust.  Should it just be the home, since that has the highest value?  Or should the cars and bank accounts also be included?  Or can everything but the house be designated in the pour-over will that I also intend to create? Your father’s living trust has just one purpose: to allow his estate to avoid probate upon his death.  If your father’s assets are owned by the trust, not by him, when he dies, then his estate won’t need to go through probate.  Not all items are subject to probate, though: retirement accounts, life insurance policies and bank accounts with designated beneficiaries (that’s what a POD account is), go directly to the named beneficiary. Cars can be transferred via the DMV, and so don’t need to go through probate either. So, for your Dad, that leaves his house. You should transfer legal ownership of the house to his trust by filing a trust transfer deed with the county.  When you record the deed, you’ll also need to file a Preliminary Change of Ownership Form (PCOR).  This form tells the county assessor what kind of transfer just happened; the assessor wants to know if they can raise property taxes on that property, which they can’t, because a transfer to or from a living trust is NOT a change of ownership under Proposition 13. That pour-over Will is just a backup for your Dad. If he doesn’t transfer his house to the trust, and then dies, the Will says transfer whatever property he owned at death to this trust  (that’s the pour-over part). But, if the value of that property is more than $150,000, you’ll need to go through probate to make the transfer.  Put another way, the Will makes sure that all of your father’s assets get distributed as directed by the trust, but it won’t help his estate avoid probate first.

 

 

 

Property Taxes and Inheriting a House in California

Dear Liza: We are pondering whether or not to assume a home that belongs to my wife’s parents.  The home is currently being valued as part of an estate that will be designated to my wife and her brother.  Our question is will the property tax be adjusted from its purchase price in 1968 to its current estate value?  My wife’s parents lived in California.  No. If your wife’s parents left their house to their son and daughter,  the heirs can request an exclusion from reassessment from the county assessor where the house is located.  A parent can leave their primary residence to their children and there will be no reassessment upon that transfer. Your wife and her brother can inherit the house and pay the property taxes that their parents paid.  But they have to file a form requesting that exclusion from reassessment.  This form, called a Claim for Reassessment Exclusion for Transfer Between Parent and Child (Proposition 58), can be downloaded at each county’s assessor website.  Of course, if they someday sell the house to a new owner, that new owner’s property taxes will be calculated on the home’s new value.

Does Putting Properties into a Living Trust Trigger Reassessment?

Dear Liza: When putting property into a Living Trust does it trigger a tax reassessment under Prop 13? My parents purchased their property in 1968 and we didn’t want moving it into a Living Trust to trigger a reassessment.  Nope. If your parents put their house into their own living trust, no reassessement is triggered.  There are no ‘new’ owners, really.  It’s just your parents owning the property under a different legal title. Putting property into a revocable trust for your own benefit is an exception to Prop. 13 reassessment. When your parents record the deed changing title to the trust, they will also need to file what’s called a Preliminary Change of Ownership Report (PCOR). This form tells the county assessor about the transaction. There are a whole list of checkboxes on the first page of the form, and one box is that the transfer is to or from a living trust.  Once the assessor sees that, they know that they can’t reassess the property. Note: This is an issue for my California readers. Proposition 13 freezes property tax rates at a value that’s set when the property is purchased by a new owner.  Needless to say, those with low property tax rates do NOT want to see that rate reassessed while they still own the property.

Living Trusts and Property Tax in California

Dear Liza, My Wife and I own two pieces of real-property that we purchased long ago, in Los Angeles.  Because of Prop. 13, our property taxes are quite low. If we pass these properties to our children via a living trust, will they have to pay more property taxes? NO! I love being able to give you a simple, happy answer. But, you are in luck. By placing these properties into a living trust, you will be able to pass them to your children without a costly probate proceeding AND because you are passing properties from a parent to a child, they will inherit your property tax rate in both properties! The transfer of real property from parents to children is currently an exception to Property 13 reassessment. Your children will have to file a form requesting that this exception be applied to the properties within three years of the transfer, but unless the law changes in CA, they won’t be reassessed. For those of my readers who do not live in California, I apologize, this is a completely state-specific blog post. California passed Prop. 13 in the 1970″s, limiting the amount of property tax that’s assessed on real property until there’s a new owner, at that point, the property tax is applied to the then-current value of the property. However, parent-to-child is one of a few exceptions to this rule.