Shortly after Section 199A was added to the Code at the end of 2017, and again after the IRS proposed regulations under the newly-enacted provision last summer, many clients called us with the following question: “Will my rental real estate activities qualify for the 199A deduction?”

In most cases, we were able to answer confidently that the client’s activities would be treated as a qualified trade or business, and that the deduction would be available, though it could be limited by the so-called “W-2 Wages and Unadjusted Basis” limitations.

In a few others, we were able to reply just as certainly that the activities did not rise to the level of a trade or business and, so, would not qualify for the deduction.

In some cases, however, we had to delve more deeply into the client’s particular facts and circumstances before we could reach any conclusion – often with the proviso that the IRS may disagree with our assessment of the situation.

“Trade or Business”

Like many other areas of the tax law, Section 199A requires a taxpayer to make a threshold determination of whether its activities rise to the level of constituting a trade or business.[i]

In general, courts have held that in order for a taxpayer’s activity to rise to the level of constituting a trade or business, the taxpayer must satisfy two requirements: (1) regular and continuous conduct of the activity, which depends on the extent of the taxpayer’s activities;[ii] and (2) a primary purpose to earn a profit, which depends on the taxpayer’s state of mind and their having a good faith intention to make a profit from the activity.[iii]

Whether a taxpayer’s activities meet these factors depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

In most situations, neither the taxpayer nor the IRS should find it difficult to evaluate the trade or business status of the taxpayer’s activities – the level and quality of the activity will be such that its status will be obvious.

Unfortunately, there remain a number of cases in which the various “triers of fact” – first, the taxpayer, then the IRS, and finally the courts – will have to consider to the taxpayer’s unique “facts and circumstances” in determining whether the taxpayer’s activities rise to the level of a trade or business.

Because it is fact-intensive, while also being subjective, this analytical process can be costly and time-consuming.

It can also generate seemingly inconsistent conclusions by the ultimate trier of fact, a concern that has been borne out historically in the evaluation of smaller rental real estate operations.

Section 199A

One needs to keep the forgoing in mind in order to understand the tentative reaction to the enactment of Section 199A by the owners of many smaller rental real estate operations.

Section 199A provides a deduction to a non-corporate taxpayer[iv] of up to 20 percent of the taxpayer’s qualified business income from each of the taxpayer’s “qualified trades or businesses,” including those operated through a partnership, S corporation, or sole proprietorship, effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.[v]

Although the passage of Section 199A was greeted enthusiastically by most in the business community, some business owners withheld their endorsement of the provision pending the issuance of guidance as to meaning of certain key terms in the statute.

The rental real estate sector, in particular, hoped that the term “qualified trade or business” would be defined so as to provide its members with some certainty as to the application of the Section 199A deduction to their activities.

However, the statute defined a “qualified trade or business” as any trade or business other than a specified service trade or business or a trade or business of performing services as an employee.

Moreover, the legislative history failed to provide a definition of trade or business for purposes of section 199A.

Proposed Regulations

When the IRS proposed regulations in August of 2018, it stated that Section 162(a)[vi] of the Code provides the most appropriate “definition” of a trade or business for purposes of Section 199A.[vii]

The IRS explained that its decision was based on the fact that the definition of trade or business for purposes of Section 162 is derived from a large body of existing case law and administrative guidance interpreting the meaning of “trade or business” in the context of a broad range of industries.

For this reason, the IRS concluded that the definition of a trade or business under Section 162 provides for administrable rules that are appropriate for the purpose of Section 199A, and which taxpayers have experience applying.

That being said, the proposed regulations extended the definition of trade or business for purposes of Section 199A beyond Section 162 in one circumstance.

Solely for purposes of Section 199A, the IRS proposed that the rental of real property to a related trade or business would be treated as a trade or business if the rental and the other trade or business were commonly controlled. In supporting this extension, the IRS explained that it is not uncommon, for legal or other non-tax reasons, for taxpayers to segregate a rental property from an operating business. According to the IRS, this rule would allow taxpayers to effectively aggregate their trades or business with the associated rental property.[viii]

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the IRS received comments from advisers and industry groups that the status of a rental real estate enterprise as a trade or business within the meaning of Section 199A remained a subject of uncertainty for many taxpayers.

Final Regulations[ix]

The final regulations retained the proposed regulation’s definition of trade or business; specifically, for purposes of Section 199A and the regulations thereunder, a “trade or business” continues to be defined as a trade or business under Section 162 of the Code.[x]

The IRS acknowledged comments suggesting guidance in the form of a regulatory definition, a bright-line test, or a factor-based test.[xi] The IRS rejected these, however, pointing out that whether an activity rises to the level of a Section 162 trade or business is inherently a factual question, and the factual setting of various trades or businesses varies so widely, that a single rule or list of factors would be difficult to provide in a manageable manner, and would be difficult for taxpayers to apply.[xii]

However, the IRS also recognized the difficulties that a taxpayer may have in determining whether their rental real estate activity is sufficiently regular, continuous, and considerable for the activity to constitute a Section 162 trade or business.

Proposed Safe Harbor

To help mitigate the resulting uncertainty, the IRS recently proposed – concurrently with the release of the final Section 199A regulations – the issuance of a new revenue procedure that would provide for a “safe harbor” under which a taxpayer’s “rental real estate enterprise”[xiii] will be treated as a trade or business for purposes of Section 199A.[xiv]

To qualify for treatment as a trade or business under this safe harbor, a rental real estate enterprise must satisfy the requirements of the proposed revenue procedure. If the safe harbor requirements are met, the real estate enterprise will be treated as a trade or business for purposes of applying Section 199A and its regulations.

Significantly, an S corporation or a partnership[xv] (pass-through entities; “PTE”) that is owned, directly or indirectly, by at least one individual, estate, or trust may also use this safe harbor in order to determine whether a rental real estate enterprise conducted by the PTE is a trade or business within the meaning of Section 199A.[xvi]

Rental Real Estate Enterprise

For purposes of the safe harbor, a “rental real estate enterprise” is defined as an interest in real property held for the production of rents; it may consist of an interest in one or in multiple properties.

The individual or PTE relying on the proposed revenue procedure must hold the interest directly or through an entity that is disregarded as an entity separate from its owner for tax purposes.[xvii]

A taxpayer may treat each property held for the production of rents as a separate enterprise; alternatively, a taxpayer may treat all “similar” properties held for the production of rents as a single enterprise.[xviii] The treatment of a taxpayer’s rental properties as a single enterprise or as separate enterprises may not be varied from year-to-year unless there has been a “significant”[xix] change in facts and circumstances.

Commercial and residential real estate may not be part of the same rental enterprise; in other words, a taxpayer with an interest in a commercial rental property, who also owns an interest in a residential rental, will be treated as having two rental real estate enterprises for purposes of applying the revenue procedure.

Rental as Section 199A Trade or Business

A rental real estate enterprise will be treated as a trade or business for a taxable year (solely for purposes of Section 199A) if the following requirements are satisfied during the taxable year with respect to the rental real estate enterprise:

(A) Separate books and records are maintained to reflect income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise, as well as a separate bank account for each enterprise;[xx]

(B) For taxable years beginning:

(i) prior to January 1, 2023, 250 or more hours of “rental services”[xxi] are performed per year with respect to the rental enterprise;

(ii) after December 31, 2022, in any three of the five consecutive taxable years that end with the taxable year (or in each year for an enterprise held for less than five years), 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the rental real estate enterprise; and

(C) The taxpayer maintains contemporaneous records, including time reports, logs, or similar documents, regarding the following:

(i) hours of all services performed;

(ii) description of all services performed;

(iii) dates on which such services were performed; and

(iv) who performed the services.

Such records are, of course, to be made available for inspection at the request of the IRS.[xxii]

Rental Services

The rental services to be performed with respect to a rental real estate enterprise for purposes of satisfying the safe harbor include the following:

(i) advertising to rent or lease the real estate;

(ii) negotiating and executing leases;

(iii) verifying information contained in prospective tenant applications;

(iv) collection of rent and payment of expenses;

(v) daily operation, maintenance, and repair of the property;

(vi) management of the real estate;

(vii) provision of services to tenants;[xxiii]

(viii) purchase of materials; and

(ix) supervision of employees and independent contractors.[xxiv]

Rental services may be performed by the individual owners (in the case of direct ownership of the real property) or by the PTE that owns the property, or by the employees, agents, and/or independent contractors of the owners.

It is important to note that hours spent by an owner or any other person with respect to the owner’s capacity as an investor are not considered to be hours of service with respect to the enterprise. Thus, the proposed revenue procedure provides that the term “rental services” does not include the following:

(i) financial or investment management activities, such as arranging financing;

(ii) procuring property;

(iii) studying and reviewing financial statements or reports on operations;

(iv) planning, managing, or constructing long-term capital improvements; or

(v) traveling to and from the real estate.[xxv]

Real estate used by the taxpayer (including by an owner of a PTE relying on this safe harbor) as a residence for any part of the year[xxvi] is not eligible for the safe harbor.

Real estate rented under a triple net lease is also not eligible for the safe harbor – it more closely resembles an investment than a trade or business. For purposes of this rule, a “triple net lease” includes a lease agreement that requires the tenant to pay taxes, fees, and insurance, and to be responsible for maintenance activities for a property in addition to rent and utilities. This also includes a lease agreement that requires the tenant to pay a portion of the taxes, fees, and insurance, and to be responsible for maintenance activities allocable to the portion of the property rented by the tenant.

Procedural Requirements, Reliance

A taxpayer or PTE must include a statement attached to the return on which it claims the Section 199A deduction or passes through Section 199A information that the requirements in the revenue procedure have been satisfied. The statement must be signed by the taxpayer, or an authorized representative of an eligible taxpayer or PTE, which states:

Under penalties of perjury, I (we) declare that I (we) have examined the statement, and, to the best of my (our) knowledge and belief, the statement contains all the relevant facts relating to the revenue procedure, and such facts are true, correct, and complete.

The individual or individuals who execute the statement must have personal knowledge of the facts and circumstances related to the statement.

If an enterprise fails to satisfy these requirements, the rental real estate enterprise may still be treated as a trade or business for purposes of Section 199A if the enterprise otherwise meets the general definition of trade or business.[xxvii]

The proposed revenue procedure is proposed to apply generally to taxpayers with taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017; i.e., the effective date for Section 199A.

In addition, until such time that the proposed revenue procedure is published in final form, taxpayers may use the safe harbor described in the proposed revenue procedure for purposes of determining when a rental real estate enterprise may be treated as a trade or business solely for purposes of Section 199A.

What’s Next?

All in all, the final regulations and the proposed safe harbor should provide some welcomed relief and “certainty” for those individual taxpayers and PTEs that own smaller rental real estate operations;[xxviii] and they came just in time – barely – for the preparation of these taxpayers’ 2018 tax returns.

But the proof is in the pudding – or something like that – and the actual impact of the proposed safe harbor will have to await the collection and analysis of the relevant data, including the reactions of taxpayers and their advisers.

As in the case of many other taxpayer-friendly regulations or procedures,[xxix] the benefit afforded requires that the taxpayer be diligent in maintaining contemporaneous, detailed records for each rental real estate enterprise. This may be a challenge for many a would-be qualified trade or business.

Whether to treat “similar” rental properties as a single enterprise may also present some difficulties for taxpayers, at least until they figure out what it means for one property to be similar to another. Based upon the term’s placement in the proposed revenue procedure, it may be that all residential properties are similar to one another, just as all commercial properties are similar to one another. In that case, a taxpayer may be able to treat all of its residential rentals, for example, as a single enterprise, which may allow it to satisfy the “250 or more hours of rental service” requirements of the safe harbor.

Just as challenging may be a taxpayer’s distinguishing between business-related services and investment-related services.[xxx]

Regardless of how the proposed safe harbor is ultimately implemented and administered, the fact remains that the IRS has clearly considered and responded to the requests of the rental real estate industry.

The questions remain, however: Will Section 199A survive through its scheduled expiration date in 2025; and, if so, will it become a “permanent” part of the Code? Or is all this fuss just a way to drive folks like me crazy?

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[i]
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/199A

For example, expenses are deductible if they are incurred “in carrying on any trade or business.” IRC Sec.162.

[ii] Which may distinguish a trade or business from an “investment.”

[iii] As opposed to a “hobby.”

[iv] Individuals; also trusts and estates.

[v] Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, PL 115-97, Sec. 11011. The deduction disappears for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2025.

[vi] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/162. In general, Section 162 of the Code provides that the ordinary and necessary expenditures directly connected with or pertaining to a taxpayer’s “trade or business” are deductible in determining the taxpayer’s taxable income.

[vii] https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/reg-107892-18.pdf

[viii] The final regulations clarify the rule by limiting its application to situations in which the related party tenant is an individual or an PTE (not a C corporation).

[ix] https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/td-reg-107892-18.pdf

[x] Other than the trade or business of performing services as an employee.

[xi] It also considered and rejected suggestions that it define trade or business by reference to Section 469 of the Code, explaining that the definition of trade or business for Section 469 purposes is significantly broader than the definition for purposes of Section 162 as it is intended to capture a “larger universe” of activities, including passive activities. According to the IRS, Section 469 was enacted to limit the deduction of certain passive losses and therefore, serves a very different purpose than the allowance of a deduction under section 199A. Further, Section 199A does not require that a taxpayer materially participate in a trade or business in order to qualify for the Section 199A deduction.

The IRS also declined to adopt a suggestion that all rental real estate activity be deemed to be a trade or business for purposes of Section 199A.

[xii] In determining whether a rental real estate activity is a section 162 trade or business, relevant factors might include, but are not limited to (i) the type of rented property (commercial real property versus residential property), (ii) the number of properties rented, (iii) the owner’s or the owner’s agents day-to-day involvement, (iv) the types and significance of any ancillary services provided under the lease, and (v) the terms of the lease (for example, a net lease versus a traditional lease and a short-term lease versus a long-term lease).

[xiii] Yes, another defined term.

[xiv] Notice 2019-07. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-19-07.pdf

[xv] Other than a publicly traded partnership.

[xvi] You may recall that it is up to the PTE (not its owners) to determine whether it is engaged in a qualified trade or business.

[xvii] Reg. Sec. 301.7701-3; for example, a single-member LLC; so, two tiers of entities at most (one of which must be disregarded) – an S corp. that owns an interest in a 2-person partnership that owns rental real estate would not qualify.

[xviii] There is no in-between, where some similar properties are treated as one enterprise while others as separate enterprises.

[xix] As of yet undefined.

[xx] Query how this may affect a taxpayer’s decision to treat all “similar” properties held for the production of rents as a single enterprise?

[xxi] You guessed it. C’mon, it’s tax – we love defined terms within defined terms. They put Russian nesting dolls to shame.

[xxii] The contemporaneous records requirement will not apply to taxable years beginning prior to January 1, 2019.

[xxiii] Although not spelled out in the proposed revenue procedure, presumably this includes some of the following: providing and paying for gas, water, electricity, sewage, and insurance for the property; paying the taxes assessed thereon; providing insect control, janitorial service, trash collection, ground maintenance, and heating, air conditioning and plumbing maintenance.

[xxiv] This does not purport to be an all-inclusive list.

[xxv] The number of times I have seen taxpayers count such travel time in trying to establish their material participation for purposes of the passive activity rules!

[xxvi] Under section 280A of the Code. In general, a taxpayer uses a property during the taxable year as a residence if he uses such property for personal purposes for a number of days which exceeds the greater of: 14 days, or 10 percent of the number of days during such year for which such property is rented at a fair rental.

[xxvii] Under Section 162, which may be small comfort – after all, that’s why the safe harbor was proposed.

[xxviii] Not that everything was rosy. Example 1 of proposed §1.199A-1(d)(4) described a taxpayer who owns several parcels of land that the taxpayer manages and leases to airports for parking lots. The IRS shared that some taxpayers questioned whether the use of the lease of unimproved land in the example was intended to imply that the lease of unimproved land is a trade or business for purposes of section 199A. The IRS explained that the example was intended to provide a simple illustration of how the 199A calculation would work; it was not intended to imply that the lease of the land is, or is not, a trade or business for purposes of section 199A beyond the assumption in the example. In order to avoid any confusion, the final regulations removed the references to land in the example.

[xxix] For example, the material participation regulations under Reg. Sec. 1.469-5T.

[xxx] For example, attending a hearing of a local zoning board.

The Joy – and Tax Benefits – of Gifting

As we enter the “season of giving” and the end of yet another year, the thoughts of many tax advisers turn to . . . tax planning.(i) In keeping with the spirit of the season, an adviser may suggest that a client with a closely held business consider making a gift of equity in the business to the owner’s family or to a trust for their benefit.(ii)

Of course, annual exclusion gifts(iii) are standard fare and, over the course of several years, may result in the transfer of a not insignificant portion of the equity in a business.

However, the adviser may also recommend that the client consider making larger gifts, thereby utilizing a portion of their “unified” gift-and-estate tax exemption amount during their lifetime. Such a gift, the adviser will explain, may remove from the owner’s gross estate not only the current value of the transferred business interests, but also the future appreciation thereon.(iv)

The client and the adviser may then discuss the “size” of the gift and the valuation of the business interests to be gifted, including the application of discounts for lack of control and lack of marketability. At this point, the adviser may have to curb the client’s enthusiasm somewhat by reminding them that the IRS is still skeptical of certain valuation discounts, and that an adjustment in the valuation of a gifted business interest may result in a gift tax liability.

The key, the adviser will continue, is to remove as much value from the reach of the estate tax as reasonably possible, and without incurring a gift tax liability – by utilizing the client’s remaining exemption amount – while also leaving a portion of such exemption amount as a “cushion” in the event the IRS successfully challenges the client’s valuation.

“Ask and Ye Shall Receive”(v)

Enter the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”).(vi) Call it an early present for the 2018 gifting season.

One of the key features of the Act was the doubling of the federal estate and gift tax exemption for U.S. decedents dying, and for gifts made by U.S. individuals,(vii) after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.

This was accomplished by increasing the basic exemption amount (“BEA”) from $5 million to $10 million. Because the exemption amount is indexed for inflation (beginning with 2012), this provision resulted in an exemption amount of $11.18 million for 2018, and this amount will be increased to $11.4 million in 2019.(viii)

Exemption Amount in a Unified System

You will recall that the exemption amount is available with respect to taxable transfers made by an individual taxpayer either during their life (by gift) or at their death – in other words, the gift tax and the estate tax share a common exemption amount.(x)

The gift tax is imposed upon the taxable gifts made by an individual taxpayer during the taxable year (the “current taxable year”). The gift tax for the current taxable year is determined by: (1) computing a “total tentative tax” on the combined amount of all taxable gifts made by the taxpayer for the current and all prior years using the common gift tax and estate tax rate table; (2) computing a tentative tax only on all prior-year gifts; (3) subtracting the tentative tax on prior-year gifts from the tentative tax computed for all years to arrive at the portion of the total tentative tax attributable to current-year gifts; and, finally, (4) subtracting the amount of the taxpayer’s unified credit (derived from the unused exemption amount) not consumed by prior-year gifts.

Thus, taxable gift transfers(xi) that do not exceed a taxpayer’s exemption amount are not subject to gift tax. However, any part of the taxpayer’s exemption amount that is used during their life to offset taxable gifts reduces the amount of exemption that remains available at their death to offset the value of their taxable estate.(xii)

From a mechanical perspective, this “unified” relationship between the two taxes is expressed as follows:

• the deceased taxpayer’s taxable estate is combined with the value of any taxable gifts made by the taxpayer during their life;
• the estate tax rate is then applied to determine a “tentative” estate tax;
• the portion of this tentative estate tax that is attributable to lifetime gifts made by the deceased taxpayer is then subtracted from the tentative estate tax to determine the “gross estate tax” – i.e., the amount of estate tax before considering available credits, the most important of which is the so-called “unified credit”; and
• credits are subtracted to determine the estate tax liability.

This method of computation is designed to ensure that a taxpayer only gets one run up through the rate brackets for all lifetime gifts and transfers at death.(xiii)

What Happens After 2025?(xvi)

However, given the temporary nature of the increased exemption amount provided by the Act, many advisers questioned whether the cumulative nature of the gift and estate tax computations, as described above, would result in inconsistent tax treatment, or even double taxation, of certain transfers.

To its credit,(xv) Congress foresaw some of these issues and directed the IRS to prescribe regulations regarding the computation of the estate tax that would address any differences between the exemption amounts in effect: (i) at the time of a taxpayer’s death and (ii) at the time of any gifts made by the taxpayer.

Pending the issuance of this guidance – and pending the confirmation of what many advisers believed was an expression of Congressional intent not to punish individuals who make gifts using the increased exemption amount – many taxpayers decided not to take immediate advantage of the greatly increased exemption amount, lest they suffer any of the consequences referred to above.

Proposed Regulations

In response to Congress’s directive, however, the IRS proposed regulations last week that should allay the concerns of most taxpayers,(xvi) which in turn should smooth the way to increased gifting and other transfers that involve an initial or partial gift.

In describing the proposed regulations, the IRS identified and analyzed several situations that could have created unintended problems for a taxpayer, though it concluded that the existing methodology for determining the taxpayer’s gift and estate tax liabilities provided adequate protection against such problems:

Whether a taxpayer’s post-2017 increased exemption amount would be reduced by pre-2018 gifts on which gift tax was paid. If the taxpayer makes additional gifts during the post-2017 increased exemption period, would the gift tax computation apply the increased exemption to the pre-2018 gifts, thus reducing the exemption otherwise available to shelter gifts made during the post-2017 period, effectively allocating credit to a gift on which gift tax in fact was already paid, and denying the taxpayer the full benefit of the increased exemption amount for transfers made during the increased exemption period?

Whether the increased exemption amount available during the increased exemption period would be reduced by pre-2018 gifts on which gift tax was paid. If the taxpayer died during the increased exemption period, would the estate tax computation apply the increased exemption to the pre-2018 gifts, thus reducing the exemption otherwise available against the estate tax during the increased exemption period and, in effect, allocating credit to a gift on which gift tax was paid?

Whether the gift tax on a post-2025 transfer would be inflated by the theoretical gift tax on a gift made during the increased exemption period that was sheltered from gift tax when made. Would the gift tax determination on the post-2025 gift treat the gifts made during the increased exemption period as gifts that were not sheltered from gift tax given that the post-2025 gift tax determination is based on the exemption amount then in effect, rather than on the increased exemption amount, thereby increasing the gift on the later transfer and effectively subjecting the earlier gift to tax even though it was exempt from gift tax when made?

With respect to the first two situations described above, the IRS determined that the current methodology by which a taxpayer’s gift and estate tax liabilities are determined ensures that the increased exemption will not be reduced by a prior gift on which gift tax was paid. As to the third situation, the IRS concluded that the current methodology ensures that the tax on the current gift will not be improperly inflated.

New Regulations

However, there was one situation in which the IRS concluded that the methodology for computing the estate tax would, in effect, retroactively eliminate the benefit of the increased exemption that was available for gifts made during the increased exemption period.

Specifically, the IRS considered whether, for estate tax purposes, a gift made by a taxpayer during the increased exemption period, and that was sheltered from gift tax by the increased exemption available during such period, would inflate the taxpayer’s post-2025 estate tax liability.

The IRS determined that this result would follow if the estate tax computation failed to treat such gifts as sheltered from gift tax.

Under the current methodology, the estate tax computation treats the gifts made during the increased exemption period as taxable gifts not sheltered from gift tax by the increased exemption amount, given that the post-2025 estate tax computation is based on the exemption in effect at the decedent’s death rather than the exemption in effect on the date of the gifts.

For example, if a taxpayer made a gift of $11 million in 2018, (when the BEA is $10 million; a taxable gift of $1 million), then dies in 2026 with a taxable estate of $4 million (when the BEA is $5 million), the federal estate tax would be approximately $3,600,000: 40% estate tax on $9 million – specifically, the sum of the $4 million taxable estate plus $5 million of the 2018 gift that was sheltered from gift tax by the increased exemption. This, in effect, would impose estate tax on the portion of the 2018 gift that was sheltered from gift tax by the increased exemption allowable at that time.

Alternatively, what if the taxpayer dies in 2026 with no taxable estate? The taxpayer’s estate tax would be approximately $2 million, which is equal to a 40% tax on $5 million – the amount by which, after taking into account the $1 million portion of the 2018 gift on which gift tax was paid, the 2018 gift exceeded the BEA at death. This, in effect, would impose estate tax on the portion of the 2018 gift that was sheltered from the gift tax by the excess of the 2018 exemption over the 2026 exemption.

The IRS determined that this problem arises from the interplay between the differing exemption amounts that are taken into account in the computation of the estate tax.

Specifically, after first determining the tentative tax on the sum of a decedent’s taxable estate and their adjusted taxable gifts,(xvii)

i. the decedent’s estate must then determine the credit against gift taxes for all prior taxable gifts, using the exemption amount allowable on the dates of the gifts (the credit itself is determined using date of death tax rates);
ii. the gift tax payable is then subtracted from the tentative tax, the result being the net tentative estate tax; and
iii. the estate next determines a credit based on the exemption amount as in effect on the date of the decedent’s death, which is then applied to reduce the net tentative estate tax.

If this credit (based on the exemption amount at the date of death) is less than the credit allowable for the decedent’s taxable gifts (using the date of gift exemption amount), the effect is to increase the estate tax by the difference between the two credit amounts.

In this circumstance, the statutory requirements for computing the estate tax have the effect of imposing an estate tax on gifts made during the increased exemption period that were sheltered from gift tax by the increased exemption amount in effect when the gifts were made.

In order to address this unintended result, the proposed regulations would add a special computation rule in cases where (i) the portion of the credit as of the decedent’s date of death that is based on the exemption is less than (ii) the sum of the credits attributable to the exemption allowable in computing the gift tax payable. In that case, the portion of the credit against the net tentative estate tax that is attributable to the exemption amount would be based upon the greater of those two credit amounts.

Specifically, if the total amount allowable as a credit, to the extent based solely on the BEA, in computing the gift tax payable on the decedent’s post-1976 taxable gifts, exceeds the credit amount based solely on the BEA in effect at the date of death, the credit against the net tentative estate tax would be based on the larger BEA.

For example, if a decedent made cumulative taxable gifts of $9 million, all of which were sheltered from gift tax by a BEA of $10 million applicable on the dates of the gifts,(xviii) and if the decedent died after 2025 when the BEA was $5 million, the credit to be applied in computing the estate tax would be based upon the $9 million of exemption amount that was used to compute the gift tax payable.

Time to Act?

By addressing the unintended results presented in the situation described – a gift made the decedent during the increased exemption period, followed by the death of the decedent after the end of such period – the proposed regulations ensure that the decedent’s estate will not be inappropriately taxed with respect to the gift.

With this “certainty,” an individual business owner who has been thinking about gifting a substantial interest in their business may want to accelerate their gift planning. As an additional incentive, the owner need only look at the results of the mid-term elections, which do not bode well for the future of the increased exemption amount. In other words, it may behoove the owner to treat 2020 (rather than 2025) as the final year for which the increased exemption amount will be available, and to plan accordingly. Those owners who decide to take advantage of the increased exemption amount by making gifts should consider how they may best leverage it.

And as always, tax savings, estate planning, and gifting strategies have to be considered in light of what is best for the business and what the owner is comfortable giving up.

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(i) What? Did you really expect something else? Tax planning is not a seasonal exercise – it is something to be considered every day, similar to many other business decisions.
(ii) Of course, the interest to be gifted should be “disposable” in that the owner can comfortably afford to give up the interest. Even if that is the case, the owner may still want to consider the retention of certain “tax-favored” economic rights with respect to the interest so as to reduce the amount of the gift for tax purposes.
(iii) Usually into an irrevocable trust, and coupled with the granting of “Crummey powers” to the beneficiaries so as to support the gift as one of a “present interest” in property. A donor’s annual exclusion amount is set at $15,000 per donee for 2018 and $15,000 for 2019.
(iv) In other words, a dollar removed today will remove that dollar plus the appreciation on that dollar; a dollar at death shields only that dollar.
The removal of this value from the reach of the estate tax has to be weighed against the loss of the stepped-up basis that the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate would otherwise enjoy if the gifted business interest were included in the decedent’s gross estate.
(v) Matthew 7:7-8. Actually, many folks asked for the repeal of the estate tax. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” The Rolling Stones.
(vi) P.L. 115-97.
(vii) For purposes of the estate tax, this includes a U.S. citizen or domiciliary. The distinction between a U.S. individual and non-resident-non-citizen is significant. In the absence of any estate and gift tax treaty between the U.S and the foreign individual’s country, the foreign individual is not granted any exclusion amount for purposes of determining their U.S. gift tax liability, and only a $60,000 exclusion amount for U.S. estate tax purposes.
(viii) https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rp-18-57.pdf
(ix) Only individual transferors are subject to the gift tax. Thus, in the case of a transfer from a business entity that is treated as a gift, one or more of the owners of the business entity will be treated as having made the gift.
(x) They also share a common tax rate table.
(xi) As distinguished, for example, from the annual exclusion gift – set at $15,000 per donee for 2018 and for 2019 – which is not treated as a taxable gift (it is not counted against the exemption amount).
(xii) An election is available under which the federal exemption amount that was not used by a decedent during their life or at their death may be used by the decedent’s surviving spouse (“portability”) during such spouse’s life or death.
(xiii) A similar approach is followed in determining the gift tax, which is imposed on an individual’s transfers by gift during each calendar year.
(xiv) As indicated above, the increased exemption amount is scheduled to sunset after 2025, at which point the lower, pre-TCJA basic exclusion amount is reinstated, as adjusted for inflation through 2025. Of course, a change in Washington after 2020 could accelerate a reduction in the exemption amount.
(xv) I bet you don’t hear that much these days.
(xvi) https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/11/23/2018-25538/estate-and-gift-taxes-difference-in-the-basic-exclusion-amount; the regulations are proposed to be effective on and after the date they are published as final regulations in the Federal Register.
(xvii) Defined as all taxable gifts made after 1976 other than those included in the gross estate.
(xviii) Post-TCJA and before 2026.