James W. Coleman Sr., president of Coleman Financial Advisory Group in Waterbury, Conn., is on a mission — and he thinks you should be too. “The IRD tax is a ticking time bomb for many people. It lays waiting, building up, getting ready to explode,” he says. “Without proper planning and forethought, a family could lose a good portion of their estate planning benefits. The government could end up confiscating 35 percent to 60 percent of the wealth they hoped to pass on to their heirs.”
IRD — income in respect of a decedent — is income a decedent earned and was entitled to receive but never actually received before his or her death. A typical IRD asset is the decedent’s last paycheck for wages not paid until after death. Because the decedent’s tax year closes on his or her death date, these funds aren’t included in the decedent’s income on his or her final tax return. As an item of IRD, the paycheck is included in the decedent’s estate for estate tax purposes. In addition, it is taxed as ordinary income to whoever receives it. Essentially it is double-taxed, although you do get to take a portion of the IRD taxes paid as a credit against your estate taxes.
Unlike most assets included in an estate that receive a step-up in basis — such as stock with a low income-tax basis or a personal residence — IRD assets don’t receive a new basis at death. So they are subject to both income and estate tax. This double tax burden can surprise beneficiaries who were unaware that they will owe income tax on these assets.
Income in respect of a decedent includes:
o Uncollected salaries, wages, bonuses, commissions, vacation pay, and sick pay of a cash-basis employee
o Certain deferred compensation and stock option plans
o Qualified pension plans, profit sharing plans, SEP, Keogh, and IRA plans (except nondeductible contributions)
o Accounts receivable of a cash basis sole proprietor
o Interest and dividends accrued but unpaid at death of cash basis decedent
o Rents and royalties accrued before death of cash-basis taxpayer
o Gain from the sale of property if the sale is deemed to occur before death, but proceeds are not collected until after death
o Difference between the face amount and the decedent’s basis in an installment sale obligation
o Interest accrued through the date of death on Series EE bonds, unless (1) decedent elected to report interest annually, or (2) the interest was reported on the decedent’s final Form 1040
o Annuity payments in excess of decedent’s investment in the contract
After reviewing 14 pages of U.S. Tax code (IRS Publication 559, www.irs.gov/publications/p559/ar02.html), three pages from Estate Planning and Taxation (a book by John C. Bost, a professor in the department of finance at San Diego State University who holds a juris doctorate and a master’s in taxation), and two pages of explanations with a chart generated via financial planning software — all compliments of Coleman — I reached for the Tylenol bottle and fought the urge to take a nap. I called Coleman instead.
“IRD retains the same character in the recipient’s hands as it would have had in the decedent’s hands had he or she lived to receive it,” Coleman explains. “Items that would have been ordinary income to a decedent are ordinary income to the estate or other recipient. The problem is that the inherited dollars can force the recipient into a higher and unanticipated tax bracket, and the income taxes must be paid by the end of the tax year in which it was received.
“IRAs and other qualified retirement plans are other common examples of property subject to IRD when received by a beneficiary,” Coleman continues. “Additional types of IRD include the decedent’s unpaid bonuses, deferred compensation benefits, uncollected proceeds of a sale made before death, accrued but unpaid interest, dividends and rent, unpaid fees and commissions, and uncollected payments on an installment note.