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Philadelphia PA Estate Planning Blog

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gifting the House For $1: Good Idea or Not?

 

Many people ask us if it is a good idea to give their home to their children. While it is relatively easy to do, giving away your house can have major tax consequences, among other negative results.
 
GIFT TAX ISSUES: When you give anyone property valued at more than $13,000 in any one year, you have to file a gift tax form.  Also, under current law you can gift a total of $5.12 million over your lifetime without incurring a gift tax. If your residence is worth less than $5.12 million, you likely won't have to pay any gift taxes, but you will still have to file a gift tax form. Congress may change the gift tax exemption, which is now scheduled to revert to $1 million in 2013 unless Congress acts.
 
CAPITAL GAINS TAX ISSUES: While you may not have to pay gift taxes on the gift, if your children sell the house right away, they may be facing steep taxes. The reason is that when you give away your property, the tax basis (or the original cost) of the property for the giver becomes the tax basis for the recipient. For example, suppose you bought the house years ago for $150,000 and it is now worth $350,000. If you give your house to your children, the tax basis will be $150,000. If the children sell the house, they will have to pay capital gains taxes on the difference between $150,000 and the selling price. The only way for your children to avoid the taxes is for them to live in the house for at least two years before selling it. In that case, they can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a couple) of their capital gains from taxes.
 
Inherited property does not face the same taxes as gifted property. If the children were to inherit the property, the property's tax basis would be "stepped up," which means the basis would be the current value of the property. However, the home will remain in your estate, which may have estate tax consequences.
 
PA INHERITANCE TAX ISSUES: In Pennsylvania, there is no gift tax. However, to avoid PA Inheritance Taxes (the rate is 4.5% for assets passed to children or grandchildren), you must live at least one year from the time the gift was made. Often times, 4.5% of inheritance tax is worth paying rather than gifting the house in this manner, due to the risks involved.
 
ASSET PROTECTION ISSUES: By transferring your house to your children, you are making all of their future financial and family problems YOUR problems. That means the house could end up being taken away due to creditor problems, bankruptcy, litigation, or divorce. Would you want your son-in-law to get part of your house while you're still living?
 
MEDICAID/LONG-TERM CARE ISSUES: Beyond the tax consequences, gifting a house to children can affect your eligibility for Medicaid coverage of long-term care.  There are other options for giving your house to your children, including putting it in a trust or selling it to them. Before you give away your home, consult with an elder law firm such as our law firm, where we can advise you on the best method for passing on your home.
 
CONCLUSION: "Gifting the house for $1" is a phrase that's tossed around quite a bit, and several families go ahead with this planning. As you can see, casual planning like this is fraught with potential landmines. Be careful. There are options out there to transfer the house properly. Speak with an estate planning or elder law attorney about this type of planning.

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The Law Offices of Jeremy A. Wechsler assist clients with Estate Planning matters in Willow Grove, PA as well as Abington, Hatboro, Dresher, Horsham, Bryn Athyn, Huntingdon Valley, Fort Washington, Jenkintown, Glenside, Oreland, Warminister, Wyncote, Ambler, Elkins Park, Flourtown, Philadelphia, Warrington, Cheltenham, Gwynedd Valley, Jamison, Feasterville Trevose, Richboro, North Wales, Blue Bell, Lafayette Hill, King of Prussia, Collegeville, Oaks, Phoenixville, Oxford Valley, Langhorne, Penndel, Bristol, Fairless Hills, Bensalem, Plymouth Meeting, Furlong, Philadelphia County, Bucks County and Montgomery County.

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