Limp money rates. Sour real estate. The specter of estate tax reform. Which presently available ploys might a new president kill in as little as one year from today? These and other goings-on have brought certain planning strategies to the fore. Here are sketches of seven that may make sense for clients right now.
No. 1: Spread Real Estate To Family
Properties that have dropped in value, be they residences, income-generating properties or even vacant land, make great gifts, says estate-planning attorney Arnold Kassoy, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips based in the firm's Los Angeles office. "The lower the appraised value of the gift, the less gift-tax consequence there is."
Gifting can take numerous forms. The client could give property to his adult child outright. Or to make the numbers really sing, he could transfer an undivided fractional interest and discount it, Kassoy says. An undivided interest makes the child a tenant-in-common with his parent. This legally cumbersome arrangement limits the gift's marketability in the child's hands and thus renders its true value less than its pro rata equivalent.
Suppose a couple intends to transfer an apartment complex recently appraised at $2.5 million. You should further assume that each spouse owns a 50% interest in the property. "Each spouse can make a gift of their $1.25 million undivided interest to the children and discount it to $1 million, maybe less," Kassoy says. This consumes both spouses' lifetime gift-tax exemptions, yet they have divested themselves of an asset that may have been worth $3 million a year ago-and which someday could be worth much more.
No. 2: Put The Home, Or The Ranch, In A QPRT
A qualified personal residence trust is useful for removing a home from the estate. In the typical transaction, Kassoy explains, the client transfers his primary or secondary residence to this irrevocable trust while continuing to use it. At the end of the trust term, which the client establishes up front, the residence exits his estate as it passes to the remainder beneficiaries-usually the children or a trust for them.
This constitutes a gift. Its value depends on the grantor's age and trust term, on the appraised value of the home at the start of the term and on other variables. A lower appraisal lowers the gift element, Kassoy says. We'll skip the math.
Also, the longer the term and the older the grantor is when the trust is set up, the smaller the gift. But low interest rates make the gift larger because of an annoying present value calculation. "If rates tick back up later this year because of inflation while housing remains soft, that might be the optimal time to do a QPRT," Kassoy says.
Here, too, undivided interests can garner discounts. "Husband transfers his 50% undivided interest in the Aspen ski chalet to his QPRT. Wife transfers her 50% interest to her trust. You discount both gifts for lack of marketability," Kassoy explains.
Drawbacks? The gift isn't completed until the term is over. Until then, the property remains part of the client's estate. For grantors who do survive the term, the issue becomes surrendering control of the property to the heirs. That's why a treasured vacation home the family wishes to keep can make a better QPRT holding than the client's primary residence.
Like many practitioners, Kassoy sees a per-person death-tax exemption of roughly $5 million in America's future. "I'm mentioning QPRTs to couples with net worths exceeding $10 million, where the residence might be worth $2 million," he says. But for significantly larger estates, other strategies discussed below may prove more helpful.