According to the IRS, completed gifts to an irrevocable grantor trust will not receive a trust step-up basis upon the grantor’s death. Revenue Ruling 2023-2 concludes this is the appropriate result because such property is not acquired from a decedent for purposes of Section 1014(a) of the IRC of 1986 as amended in Section 1014(b) of the Code, as reported by Reuters in the article “IRS confirms that completed gifts to grantor trusts are not eligible for Section 1014 step-up.”
Upon their death, assets received from a decedent are afforded a basis step-up under Code Section 1014. These are assets usually included in the taxable estate for estate tax purposes. However, before the Ruling, many practitioners wondered whether the assets of an irrevocable grantor trust would be eligible for the same benefit.
The irrevocable “grantor trust” is an anomaly under the Code. A “grantor trust” is not recognized as a separate taxpayer for income tax purposes during the lifetime of the creator (usually referred to as the “grantor” or the “settlor”). All income earned during the grantor’s lifetime is reported on the grantor’s individual income tax returns. However, suppose the grantor trust is irrevocable and transfers to the trusts are deemed to be completed gifts. When the grantor dies, the assets of the grantor trust are not included in the grantor’s taxable estate for estate tax purposes. Thus, the grantor trust is deemed to be owned by the grantor for income tax but not estate tax. This led to uncertainty over the eligibility of the grantor trust assets for the Code Section 1014 basis step-up on the grantor’s death.
“Intentionally defective” grantor trusts are widely used, where the grantor is treated as the owner of the grantor trust for income tax purposes and is responsible for paying the income taxes incurred by the trust. The payment by the grantor of the grantor trust’s income taxes effectively lets the grantor make additional tax-free gifts to the grantor trust and increases the grantor trust’s rate of return.
However, since the grantor trust is not a separate taxpayer for income tax purposes, there’s no recognition of gain on the sale or interest income on the note. The interest rate on the note can be the lowest rate which will not cause adverse tax consequences. If the interest sold to the grantor trust grows faster than the applicable interest rate, the excess growth passes, transfer-tax-free, to the grantor trust.
The “Sale Technique” has been used many times since the IRS released Revenue Ruling 83-15, supporting the position that a property sale from a grantor to a grantor trust is not a taxable event. If no gain is recognized on such a sale, the grantor trust takes a carryover basis in the grantor’s property.
With the release of Revenue Ruling 2023-2, how should estate planning attorneys advise their clients to allow a trust step-up basis? There are a few strategies to consider:
Power to Exchange Assets. Many grantor trusts allow the grantor to substitute trust property for other assets of equivalent value. If a grantor trust has an asset with a low basis, during the grantor’s lifetime, they could exercise the Substitution Power to exchange the low-basis asset for property with a higher basis but of equal value. The low basis asset now becomes part of the grantor’s estate and, as long as the grantor retains it until their death, will be eligible for the Code Section 1014 basis step-up.
Second Sale to Trust. If the trust agreement establishing the grantor trust doesn’t grant Substitution Power, the grantor could purchase low-basis assets from the trust for high-basis assets. The grantor may engage in a series of sales to ensure appreciated stock continues to cycle back to the grantor so that the estate may take advantage of the Code Section 1014 basis step-up.
Granting a General Power of Appointment. In certain situations, it may be possible to grant a testamentary general power of appointment over a grantor trust to a parent or other elderly relative, the “Powerholder.” The grant of a general power of appointment results in the assets subject to such power being includable in the estate of the Powerholder for estate tax purposes. The trust assets in the Powerholder’s estate will then be eligible for the Code Section 1014 basis step-up upon the death of the Powerholder.
The grant of the general power of appointment should not exceed the Powerholder’s available estate tax exemption and only apply to assets with built-in gain. This strategy will require consideration of the Powerholder’s creditors and any possible risks to the grantor trust.
These are complex strategies requiring the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Reference: Reuters (June 21, 2023) “IRS confirms that completed gifts to grantor trusts are not eligible for Section 1014 step-up.”