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Passing the Family Vacation Home to the Next Generation?

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Before gifting a holiday property, an individual or couple (who can gift up to $22.8 million against their lifetime estate-tax exclusion through 2025), should find out whether their children want it.

Planning to pass on a vacation home to your family can be challenging. However, at least for estate taxes, it doesn’t need to be. The generous exclusion that allows wealthy individuals to gift up to $11.4 million and not get hit with federal estate taxes came from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Although, it’s not expected to last forever, according to the article “What to Know When Gifting the Family Vacation Home” from Barron’s Penta. Those who can might want to take advantage of this window to be extra-magnanimous before the exemption sunsets to about $5 million (adjusted for inflation) in 2025.

At issue for gifting property is that when someone transfers property, the recipients must account for related taxes, based on the original price paid for the property. This is known as the basis. For example, shares of stock valued at $5 million today that were originally purchased for $1 million 10 years ago would be subject to income taxes on $4 million if the recipient were to sell the stock.

The advice given to wealthy individuals is to make use of that higher estate tax exclusion while it’s still in place, which may include property they expect to gift to beneficiaries. The most likely asset would be the family vacation home, whether it’s a ski chalet or a beach house.

First, make sure your children want the property, and if leaving property to children jointly, include clear guidance about a time frame within which some children can choose to opt out.  If a child will likely not use the home, should they be given something else? There’s no sense going through all the processes unless they plan on enjoying the vacation home. Next, figure out the best way to gift the home while making the most of the high exclusion.

A nice point: you won’t have to give up the use or control of the house during this process. Experts advise not making an outright gift. This can lead to less control or the loss of a share to a child’s spouse in the event of a marital split.

Another option: transfer the property into a trust. There are several kinds of trusts that would work for this purpose. Another option is to consider a Limited Liability Corporation, which also serves to protect the family’s assets against any claims if someone were to be injured on the property. The parents would transfer the property into the LLC and give children interests in the company.

A trust lets an individual or a couple be very specific about how the property will be used, who can use it, and any rules about how they want the home maintained. Making sure that a beloved family vacation home is well cared for and not rented out for college parties, for instance, can provide a lot of comfort for a couple who have poured their hearts into creating a lovely vacation home.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn how you can take advantage of the current federal estate tax exemption to pass your family’s vacation home on to the next generation.

Reference: Barron’s Penta (March 31, 2019) “What to Know When Gifting the Family Vacation Home”