These days, it’s difficult to turn on the television, read the newspaper, or surf the Net without encountering doom-and-gloom stories about the current real estate market. The credit crisis, increased foreclosure rates, falling prices, and weakening home sales provide ample fodder for financial news outlets. I certainly don’t know when the real estate market will begin to recover, but I do believe that, as the market falls, the potential to capture future opportunities increases. Advisor may want to prepare their clients’ financial plans to take advantage of those potential opportunities.
From a personal standpoint, as a homeowner in the volatile San Diego real estate market I’ve been wondering how homeowners might take advantage of the significantly reduced housing prices that I have witnessed over the last two to three years. Many would say the answer is obvious–prices are low, so now is the time to buy more. Aside from the fact that not everyone wants to be a real estate investor or a property manager, I do agree that this may be a time for real estate investors to consider acquiring more property. But I also believe that there’s an alternate way to benefit from the market–one that considers the potential estate planning opportunities available from the recent decrease in real estate values.
Gift and Estate Tax Savings
Many of your clients are undoubtedly homeowners. Some clients may own more than one residence–a vacation home, perhaps. As with any market correction, your clients may be expressing concerns over how this recent real estate downturn will affect their financial plans.
For clients who are not on the brink of foreclosure, and for those who did not opt for the interest-only loan, the long-term effects are probably minimal. This is especially true for clients who view their house primarily as a home and not as a tradable commodity. Can these clients do anything to take advantage of depressed housing prices? Possibly, but as with any planning strategy, it depends on the clients’ goals and overall situation.
For some clients, a house is the most valuable asset they own; therefore, it’s a significant factor in determining whether your clients’ estate will be subject to estate taxes when they pass away. A qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) could be a valuable gift and estate tax planning instrument for clients who face the possibility that their estate may be subject to taxation.
To determine whether any of your clients may benefit from a QPRT, you need to understand how it works, what its benefits are, and which are the standard concerns associated with implementing this type of trust.
How It Works
A QPRT is a type of irrevocable grantor-retained income trust into which a homeowner transfers title to a personal residence or vacation home. The homeowner retains the right to live in the residence for a term of years. Assuming that the homeowner survives the completion of the trust term, the residence passes to those named as remainder beneficiaries to the trust. If the original homeowner wants to continue living in the house after the completion of the QPRT term, she must pay rent at fair market value to the remainder beneficiaries who now own the property.
At this point, you may have a hard time identifying any clients who would be willing to give away their residence when they might have to pay rent to continue living in a home that was rightfully theirs prior to the existence of the QPRT. There are potentially valuable benefits to consider, however.
The Benefits It Delivers
The primary benefits of a QPRT lie in the gift and estate tax savings this trust offers. A QPRT is an estate-freeze technique that allows clients to transfer their interest in a principal residence or vacation home out of their estate–thereby reducing the amount ultimately subject to estate taxes.
The transfer of the residence is a taxable gift, but the tax is not based upon the fair market value of the residence upon the transfer. Rather, it is based on a value that is discounted for gift tax purposes, due to the interest (the right to live in the residence) the homeowner retains during the term of the trust. The longer the term of the retained interest, the greater the discount. In other words, the value of the gift is based upon the present value of the remainder interest to be transferred to the trust beneficiaries.
Once the residence is transferred to the QPRT, all future appreciation associated with the residence is removed from the client’s estate. (This assumes that the client survives the term of the trust, which will be discussed in more detail below.) If the original homeowner wishes to continue living in the residence when the QPRT term is complete, he must pay fair market value rent to the remainder beneficiaries who now hold title to the residence.
While some may see this as a negative, the rent payments are actually another estate reduction benefit. Because the payments satisfy a lease, they are not considered a gift; instead, they represent a transfer of value to the beneficiaries without applying gift taxes or exhausting the available annual gift tax exclusion. Just remember that the recipients of the rental payments must declare those payments as income.
Given that a QPRT is not only an effective instrument to reduce gift and estate taxes, but also provides limited asset protection (see “Get Protected” sidebar), you may be asking, “Why not implement a QPRT now?” As with any planning technique, you must weigh the benefits against the possible concerns that the client may have. Below we’ll explore some of the issues to consider when analyzing how a QPRT will fit within the client’s financial and estate plan.