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Estates And Trusts Taxation

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Estates And Trusts Taxation

Trusts and estates are separate entities, often called fiduciaries. Each has been created under a fiduciary relationship in which assets (called principal, or “corpus”) have been transferred to the entity so that a person with fiduciary responsibility for the entity can hold legal title to the property for the benefit of named “beneficiaries.”


Holds property for which another person has beneficial title or interest and/or
Receives and controls income of another.

Estates and trusts are separate income tax paying entities. Distributions made by these entities are deductible by the entity but taxable to the recipient. Since amounts are not taxed at both the estate or trust level and the recipient level, double taxation is avoided. Because of this distribution deduction, estates and trust are said to be conduits. Gifts may also be subject to taxation, and gift tax is payable by the donor.

Before the enactment of the Tax Reforms Act of 1976, Federal law imposed a tax on the gratuitous transfer of property in one of two ways. If the transfer was during the owner’s life, it was subject to the Federal gift tax. If the property passed by virtue of the death of the owner, the Federal estate tax applied. The two taxes were governed by different rules including a separate set of tax rates. As Congress felt that lifetime transfers of wealth should be encouraged, the gift tax rates were lower than the estate tax rates.

The Tax Reform Act of 1976 significantly changed the approach taken by the Federal gift and estate taxes. Recognizing that prior rules had no significantly stimulated a preference for lifetime over death transfers, Congress decided that all transfers should be taxed the same way. Consequently, much of the distinction between life and death transfers was eliminated. Instead of subjecting these different types of transfers to two separate tax rate schedules, the Act substituted a unified transfer tax that covered all gratuitous transfers. Thus, gifts were subject to tax at the same rates as those applicable to transfers at death. In addition, the law eliminated the prior exemptions allowed under each tax and replaced them with a unified tax credit.

The Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 made further changes. Reacting to general public sentiment, Congress concluded that the Federal estate tax was objectionable because it leads to the breakup of family farms and other closely held businesses. This was not the case with the gift tax, since lifetime transfers are voluntary and within the control of the owner of the property. Thus, by scheduled increase in the unified tax credit applicable to estates, the estate will be eliminated by the year 2010, but the gift tax is retained. For budget reasons, all changes made by the 2001 Act are eliminated after December 31, 2010 (referred to as a “sunset” provision). Thus the estate tax is reincarnated for transfers by death after 2010.

The Federal estate (or death) tax is designed to tax transfers at death. The tax differs, in several respects, from the typical inheritance tax imposed by several states and some local jurisdictions. First, the Federal estate tax is imposed on the decedent’s entire taxable estate. It is a tax on the right to pass property at death. Inheritance taxes are taxes on the right to receive property at death are therefore levied on the heirs. Second, the relationship of the heirs to the decedent usually has a direct bearing on the inheritance tax. In general, the more closely related the parties, the larger the exemption and the lower the applicable rates. Except for transfers to a surviving spouse that may result in a marital deduction, the relationship of the heirs to the decedent has no effect on the Federal estate tax.

The Federal gift tax is imposed on the right of one person (the donor) to transfer property to another (the done) for less than full and adequate consideration. The tax is payable by the donor. If the donor fails to pay the tax when due, the done may be held liable for the tax to the extent of the value of the property received.

To determine whether a transfer is subject to the Federal gift tax, first ascertain if the donor is a citizen or resident of the United States. If the donor is not a citizen or a resident, it is important to determine whether the property involved in the gift was situated within the United States.

The Federal gift tax is applied to all transfers by gift of property wherever located by individuals who, at the time of the gift, were citizens or residents of the United States. The term ” United States” includes only the 50 states and the District of Columbia; it does not include U.S. possessions or territories. For a U.S. citizen, the place of residence at the time of the gift is irrelevant.

For individuals who are neither citizens nor residents of the United States, the Federal gift tax is applied only to gifts of property situated within the United States. A gift of intangible personal property (e.g. stocks and bonds) by a non resident alien usually is not subject to the Federal gift tax.


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