This is the type of estate planning decision that requires a closer look with an estate planning attorney to evaluate the pros and cons, as well as the short and long-term consequences. First, you’ll need to know the value of the house, which will be based on its fair market value on the date of the owner’s death, according to a recent article from NJ.com, “Complex inheritance taxes on a home.”
If you have a home valued at over $1 million, it may sell for close to that amount. Let’s say that you’re single and are 80 years old. You live with your widowed sister. Your will instructs that your sister should have life ownership when you pass and then it is left in trust for nieces and nephews. What would their tax bill be?
The home's value is generally determined through an appraisal that would establish the home's fair market value.
Fair market value, in these circumstances, is typically defined as "the amount at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, when the former is not under any compulsion to buy, and the latter is not under any compulsion to sell, both parties having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts."
The transfer of a life estate to the sister, followed by placing the home in a trust for the nieces and nephews, would mean they’d have an inheritance tax liability in New Jersey. The sister is a Class "C" beneficiary under the state’s inheritance tax laws, and the nieces and nephews are deemed to be Class "D" beneficiaries.
Generally, Class "C" beneficiaries have a $25,000 exemption and anything over that exemption is taxed at 11% on the next $1.075 million. The rates then go higher as the amount increases. Transfers to Class "D" beneficiaries are taxed at 15% on the first $700,000 and 16% on amounts exceeding $700,000.
This is unlike the situation where a beneficiary receives a readily determinable amount at death. In such cases, the tax can be calculated easily by reference to the beneficiary classes and applicable tax rates. However, in this scenario, the value of the interests the beneficiaries will ultimately receive is uncertain.
The estate and the New Jersey Division of Taxation use the “Compromise Tax” procedure to come up with an acceptable inheritance tax liability. This is based on actuarial factors including the life expectancy of the current beneficiary, their beneficiary class and the likelihood of assets passing to remainder beneficiaries and what beneficiary classes they belong to.
An estate planning attorney will be able to explain how this works, as the “Compromise Tax” is a fairly complex process.
Reference: NJ.com (June 19, 2017) “Complex inheritance taxes on a home”