Category Archives: Real Property
Dear Liza: Can real estate that still has a mortgage on it be placed in a trust? Yes, you can place real property with a mortgage into a revocable living trust. That is, in fact, quite common. Most people, after all, don’t own their houses free and clear when they set up their living trusts. But transferring real property into the trust does not change your obligation to continue to pay the mortgage–if you don’t pay, they can still take back the house. And, if you refinance the house at some future time, the lender may ask you to take the house out of the trust to get the new loan, then put it back in. This is annoying, but not a deal-breaker. Not all lenders require this, but many do.
Federal legislation passed in the 1980’s (the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Regulation Act) says that the transfer of real property into a revocable living trust does not trigger what’s called a ‘due on sale’ clause in a mortgage–which would allow the lender to demand that you repay the loan in full, as if you’d sold the property to a new owner.
So, to summarize, it’s fine to put your house into a revocable trust to avoid probate, even if that house is subject to a mortgage.
Dear Liza: My mother recently died and I am the Trustee of her trust. She left everything to me and my brother, equally. I live far away from California, where she lived. My brother lives in her house. The bank told me that I need to get a tax identification number for my mother’s trust, is that true? Also, I’m worried that my brother is going to take her furniture and other things in the house before I have the chance to get there. I really don’t know where to start or how to get help. So, first things first. Yes, you DO need to get a tax identification number for your mother’s trust now that she’s died. That’s because now her trust is irrevocable, and, until you distribute the trust property to yourself and your brother, any income earned by the trust during this interim period needs to be reported under this new tax identification number, which is called an ‘EIN’ (employee identification number). You can apply for it online at this website. I’ve written about how to do this on Legal Consumer, which offers national probate information, organized by zip code–click on the article about how to get a tax id number.
Next, you, as Trustee, are responsible for gathering and protecting the trust’s assets until they are distributed to the beneficiaries. That’s the legal answer — but in real life, this can be tricky, especially when you are far away and you two are the only beneficiaries. I would advise seeing how cooperative your brother will be — after all, he benefits from having the house clean and sold for a good price. Ultimately, if he won’t cooperate and you can’t get him to move out, you should seek to have him removed by the local law enforcement authority, but I would hope it doesn’t come to that.
Finally, in terms of getting help, I’d advise you go find an estate planning attorney to advise you on your duties as Trustee. If there are trust assets other than that house, you can use trust money to pay for this advice, and it will be well worth it, since you have to do the job properly or risk personal liability. Nolo has a lawyer directory that should be helpful here.
Dear Liza, My father passed away in 2002 when the federal estate tax limit was $1million. At that time my mother chose to put their home in the Bypass Trust. She has now passed and the home is worth $1.4 million. Do we inherit tax free or pay taxes on the amount over $1million? It’s nice when I get a question that has a clear-cut answer AND an answer that most people would be happy to recieve. And this one’s got both, sort of: you will inherit the assets held in the Bypass Trust free of estate tax, even on the appreciation since 2002. That’s in fact why your mother put the house in the Bypass Trust, to take it (and its appreciation) out of her taxable estate.
However, here’s what you aren’t going to get: a step-up in basis to the date of death value of the house ($1.4 million). Capital gains are calculated on the difference between what you bought an asset for (the basis) and what you sold it for (called gain, if you sold it for more money than you paid for it.) So, a step-up in basis reduces the capital gains taxes that will be due when that asset is sold. A step-up in basis is a good thing if you own appreciated assets that you plan to sell.
When your Dad died, in 2002, your Mom got a step up in basis for the house — if, for example, they’d bought that house in 1953 for $25,000, she would have gotten a new basis of $1 million for that house in 2002, since that’s what it was worth when he died. If she’d decided to sell the house after your father’s death, she would only have had to pay capital gains on the post-death appreciation. (I’m assuming the house was community property because I live and work in California. In other states, the survivor only gets a step up on the assets owned by the deceased spouse.)
But the way the tax code works is that if an asset is held in the Bypass Trust, you don’t get to take another step-up in basis at the second death. It’s kind of a good-news/bad-news story: you don’t have to pay estate tax on the assets (and all of the appreciation) on the assets held in the Bypass Trust. This is why Bypass Trusts exist, they shelter assets and appreciation from the estate tax. But if you sell the house now that your mother’s dead, you will have to pay capital gain taxes on the gain ($400,000) earned since your father’s death.
Dear Liza: My mother gave her house to my sister just before she passed away. My sister is going to sell the house. Do we have to pay taxes on that? If your mother’s house had appreciated in value between the time your mother purchased it, and her death, then the answer is yes. I can’t answer even a fraction of the questions that people send to me, so I try to pick ones that I think will have value to many people. Your sister is going to owe capital gains taxes on the difference between what your mother paid for that house and what your sister sells it for. Capital gains taxes are levied on the difference between what someone paid for an asset (that’s called the basis) and what they sell that asset for later (they’re taxed on the gain, or difference between the basis and the sale price.)
Because your mother gave the house to your sister before her death, your sister received that gift with your mother’s original tax basis. For example, if your mother purchased her house in 1976 for $65,000, and your sister sells it in 2015 for $365,000, your sister is going to owe capital gains on the $300,000 in value that the house gained between 1976 and 2015. (There’s a $250,000 exclusion from this tax for the sale of a primary residence if you’ve lived there for 2 of the last 5 years, but I don’t know if that applies to your mother’s house here. It could, I suppose.)
If your mother had instead gifted that house to your sister upon her death, via a Will or a trust, your sister would have inherited it with a stepped-up basis, which means that her basis in that house would have been the value the house had at your mother’s date of death. In the example I just used, if your sister inherited the house with a value of $365,000 (as shown by a qualified appraisal) and then sold that house for $365,000, she would have owed zero in capital gains taxes. That’s the difference between lifetime gifts (donor’s basis) and gifts made as a result of death (date of death value basis).
Dear Liza: We live in Nebraska. I own a ranch with my brother. Part of it we inherited and a small part we purchased from family members. The total value of the ranch is $2.7 million. We have a buy sell agreement between us. We have estate questions and aren’t sure where to go. We each have other assets of approximately $2 million and $4 million respectively. We have considered a trust; however I have two children and my brother has a second wife and four children. We do not want our offspring to have to deal with each other.
So, that’s a REALLY interesting question, and one that involves trusts, but only tangentially, really. The thing is, regardless of whether your estate plan consists of a Will or a trust, your families are most certainly going to have to deal with each other upon the death of you and your brother. You wrote that you own the ranch together….usually, siblings would own a ranch like that as tenants in common, which means that you each own one-half of it and are free to leave it to whomever you’d like to leave it to upon your death. (The less usual alternative, for siblings, would be as joint tenants, which would mean that the survivor would own the entire property at the death of one of you.)
Assuming you each own your half and can leave it at death to others, how on earth are you going to avoid each family having to work something out? Even a buy-sell agreement will require, at a minimum, that one family buys and the others sells, right? Placing your property into a trust will avoid having to go through probate, and gives you the opportunity to try and plan for reducing conflict down the road. You can each place your interests in different trusts, and specify how each half should be managed upon your deaths.
If you don’t do a trust, then your estate will go through probate, and that in no way reduces the possibility of inter-family conflicts–in fact, it almost invites it, because probate is public, and all interested parties are required to get proper notice and have an opportunity to object to the proposed distribution. With a multi-million property on the table, I would advise you and your brother to hire a good estate planning attorney now to do what you can to anticipate problems and structure the management of the property down the road.
Dear 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.
Dear Liza: I have been wondering if my husband dies, do I have to be on the deed to our house to have right of survivorship? We have been married 5 yrs., his name only is on the deed, he has no ex-wife or children. Yes, if you want to inherit that house without a probate proceeding, you do need to be on that deed in a way that provides you with right of survivorship–which means that upon your husband’s death, you are the sole owner by operation of law alone. Property owned in this way passes to the surviving owner without any probate requirement. Any two people can own property with right of survivorship as Joint Tenants. But married couples have special ways of owning property together. In Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin, they can own property as Community Property with Right of Survivorship–which combines right of survivorship with a special tax advantage available to surviving spouses who own community property. In many other states, married couples can own property in Tenancy by the Entirety, which combines right of survivorship with certain creditor protections. Without such a form of property ownership, you would inherit the property as your husband’s surviving heir (if he has no kids), but that will require a probate proceeding, which will cost you both time and money.