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How to Take Paul Newman’s “The Sting” Out of Your Taxes

paul_newman0final.jpgWith the rise of the internet, cloud and smart phone economy, more and more people have the option of living in one state while working in another – remotely. The possibilities for reducing state income taxes through this scenario haven’t been lost on savvy hi-tech employees and business owners in California. By simply moving across state borders and working for a California business (or even running it) through the internet, they become nonresidents, potentially free of California’s high income tax rates, while still being able to participate in California’s thriving economy.

Of course this situation isn’t lost on California’s taxing authorities either. Because of that “remote workers” need to be careful and understand the tax rules for nonresidents working for California firms.

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California residents who plan to move to another (by definition lower income tax) state, either to retire or for business purposes, often face the problem of how to handle their business interests situated in California. Mostly these interests are LLCs, the preferred entity for most modern business operations. The taxpayer often wants to hold onto the LLC interests and continue to get the income stream until some later date after the move. The question that arises is, what are the California income tax consequences of selling a California LLC interest after the taxpayer changes residency to another state?

I’m assuming the business owner has already weighed the risk of retaining his California business interests while disentangling himself from California by reducing his contacts here and establishing residency elsewhere. Obviously any continued contacts with California are red flags for California’s taxing authority, the Franchise Tax Board, which determines residency in part through a “contacts test,” evaluating which state the taxpayer has the most contacts with. Business interests are just the type of substantial contact that can weigh heavily in determining residency, and can trigger a costly residency audit. In addition, unless the circumstances are very unusual, the income allocated from the LLC to the taxpayer will be California source even after the taxpayer leaves the state. That means the former Californian will have to file nonresident tax returns with Sacramento (the Form 540NR), and the FTB will know about his global income. If the income is high, it again sends up a red flag that could lead to a residency audit.

But assuming that this decision has already been made, and the taxpayer decided to keep his California business interests despite the risks of an audit, the next issue is planning for the eventual sale of the interest as an out-of-state resident.

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Helped along by the depressed US housing market in the past few years, the Palm Springs, California, area has become a hot spot for Canadians to purchase vacation homes or rental property. Often the same property is used for both purposes: vacations for snow-weary owners, and rentals when they go back to Canada. With the year about to end, it’s a good time to go over the basic tax rules for Canadians who own or rent real property in California.

Assuming the Canadian owner doesn’t have a green card or hold other residency status, the tax implications of owning real estate in the US will depend on how the property is used and how often it’s used.

If the property is solely used as a vacation home – and never rented out during the year – there should be no US tax implications until the house is transferred, either by sale, retitling into a trust or business entity, or at the owner’s death. In our wireless connected world, Canadians who mix vacation with work while at the property need to be careful about running afoul of US federal and California state income tax rules, especially when it comes to the very aggressive California tax authorities and their rules about California source income. But that’s another topic.

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So the California Revocable Trust seems like a very practical ownership form for the Canadian (Great Britain or even the American from a state other than Cal) who wishes to see their heirs spared (and I do mean spared) the California court system, inlcluding the time and cost (probate). Is it true, however, that the contribution of appreciated property can lead to a payment of tax requirement?

Is There a Tax Required in Either Canada or the US Upon Contributing the US House to the California Revocable Trust?

Remember, there’s one of two times the trust will first own the property: either (a) at the inception of the house purchase (for example, Canadians Harriet and Thomas decide to purchase a La Qunita California home, they enter a 30 day escrow period- prior to the closing date, Harriet and Thomas simply inform their escrow agents that they plan to own the house as trustees of their California Revocable Trust- escrow complies, and as of Day 1 the Harriet and Thomas Trust owns the home); or (b) after the home has been owned for a while by Thomas and Harriet, the house is transferred to the trust-. Is there a tax in Canada (or the US) if the trust is deemed owner from Day 1? No, no tax in either country. But what about if Harriet and Thomas have owned the house for years, and then want to transfer it to their California Revocable Trust, does that cause a tax obligation in either Canada or the US? In the US, a transfer of a house owned by H & W to the H&W Revocable Family Trust is not a taxable transaction, so there is no US or California tax. But on their Canadian tax return, Harriet and Thomas have a different conclusion. When Harriet and Thomas transfer their La Quinta house they’ve owned for a few years to their new Cal. Revocable Trust, there very well may be a taxable event in Canada. The tax is based on the appreciation (if any) in the value of the house from when Harriet and Thomas originally bought it until today, the day of transfer to the trust. The appreciation is all speculative, of course, it’s not like there’s been a recent sale to prove there’s been an appreciation in the property. But presumably by reaching out to a local realtor, by checking in with their neighbor (or head of your homeowner’s association), or even by reviewing the recent state property tax bill, they can have a good idea whether the property has appreciated. If it has, they will likely pay a deemed disposition tax on their Canadian tax return, but no tax (or return) will be required in the US upon the transfer to the trust. But, see below for an exception to that rule…..

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More on When We Use the Canadian Irrevocable Trust to Purchase US Property…

So we pick up where we left off last week: super-wealthy Canadians who own more than $5.34M in worldwide assets, and who loathe the idea of paying a US estate tax, should consider (1st and foremost) putting the US house into a Canadian Irrevocable Trust. You can do this with relative ease if the trust owns the house from the inception. But be careful for the scenario where the Canadians own the house individually at first, and then transfer (usually via a sale) the house to a Canadian Irrevocable Trust later. This is thought by some (but by no means all) practitioners to subject to the Canadians to the US gift tax (even though it’s a sale). I’ve yet to see any evidence of this, except for indirect case law from 50 plus years ago, so who knows. Nonetheless, Canadians transferring a US house to a Canadian Irrevocable Trust after owning it individually first (as opposed to when the trust buys the US property first) should remain mindful they are taking a risk, and that IRS may impose a gift tax on this transfer (sale). Call us at Sanger and Manes (760-320-7421) to discuss the Canadian Irrevocable Trust for California (and especially) Coachella Valley properties. This is a highly complex cross-border estate planning area, but Sanger & Manes can help.

For the vast majority of Canadians purchasing US real estate, the biggest concern is not the US estate tax, it’s the excessive cost and time required for a Canadian’s heirs to inherit their parents’ California real estate- i.e. the cost of probate (the California process whereby a California court orders the Canadian snowbird’s US house to be distributed to their designated beneficiary(ies)).

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Us, at Sanger & Manes, lecture on this topic regularly for Canadians in the Palm Springs area. We copy my lecture materials on the question of how the Canadian might consider owning the US home. First, let’s introduce a couple concepts worth considering before we choose the ownership form: the US estate tax and the dreaded California probate. Then we’ll get into evaluating various forms of home ownership.

What is the US Estate Tax? Can it Be Imposed on Canadians?

The US estate tax is a death tax imposed on Americans (on the value of all their assets worldwide) and possibly Canadians, but only if the Canadian owns US property at death (US property generally=US real estate or securities of US corporations). If so, the tax imposed is generally 30-40% of the value of the US property owned at death.

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In Revenue Ruling 2013-17, the IRS has now had the opportunity to delve further into the question of what now since the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act? The IRS proceeded to answer a series of questions, but the most question I found addressed in RR 2013-17 was the following: Whether, for Federal tax purposes, the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” include individuals (whether of the opposite sex or same sex) who have entered into a registered domestic partnership, civil union, or other similar formal relationship recognized under state law that is not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state and whether, for those same purposes, the term “marriage” includes such relationships.” In other words, since for years the biggest commitment same-sex couples could make was entering into a “registered domestic partnership”, does the IRS now consider registered domestic partners as being married couples for tax purposes? Or do those couples now have to go actually get married to be deemed married for federal tax law? Let’s take a look at that question, and a couple others brought up by the revenue ruling.

Issue One- Are same-sex couples Who Have Actually Married Considered Married for the IRS Purposes?

Well, we know the answer to this one already. If the same-sex couple is married in any state where same sex marriage is legal, no matter what state their domicile is, they are considered married for federal tax purposes (and that’s great for estate planning, where the unlimited spousal deduction is now available for same sex spouses).

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Summer allows us a little break in our Palm Springs law office, and it also allows us to take a break from our blogs. But as Fall is now upon us (and it is gorgeous outside, trust me), it’s time to get back to business. We get a a lot of questions about the probate process here in California (something our Firm gets involved in regularly), and how it may differ when the deceased was not a US citizen/ resident.

Before We Describe the Probate Process, Remember, Your Estate Will Save Time and Money if You Put Your House in a Trust While You’re Living

California probate is a both time consuming (think 8 months to over a year to complete…) and costly (the family of a deceased will have to pay attorneys approximately 3% of the value of the property being probated in California…plus extra costs as well associated with the estate tax return of the estate and even potentially other costs). On the other hand, property placed into a valid trust (under California law) does not have to go through probate, which generally saves the estate thousands of dollars and speeds up the process by which the heirs receive the property considerably. Sanger and Manes drafts trusts for Canadians owning Palm Springs area real estate (and all of California property generally).

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We’ve held off a little starting our same-sex tax blog, because until the IRS finally chimes in on the impact of the post-DOMA world, there really wasn’t much more to do other than speculate on the impact. But with the first pronouncement from the IRS since DOMA’s demise, we finally have some concrete rules from which we can advise our clients. On August 29th, the IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2013-72 which gives us the IRS’ perspective (the Federal perspective, not the state of California’s perspective) on what the fall of DOMA means. In this first part of this series, let’s take a look at the IRS’ rules on what constitutes a marriage:

Rev. Rul. 2013-72 Says That The IRS Will Recognize Your Same-Sex Marriage As Long as You Were Married in a State Which Recognized Same-Sex Marriage.

So what is the IRS saying here? They’re saying, as long as you are actually married in a state where same-sex marriage was legal at the time of the marriage (i.e., the state which issued you the marriage license, where the service was) then the IRS will view you as legally married for IRS (federal) purposes (the significance of this we will discuss later posts on this topic). If a same-sex couple was married in California, but lives in Oklahoma (the couple’s “domicile”), the IRS does view the Oklahoma couple as legally married for its purposes.

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This blog was written by Attorney Lorraine D”Alessio, who works Of Counsel for Sanger and Manes in Palm Springs, with a focus on immigration issues. She also heads the D’Alessio Law Group based in Los Angeles.

US Immigration for Same-Sex Spouses

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal law purposes as between a man and a woman only. President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano released a statement that effective immediately the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse. Also, same-sex marriage cases previously denied by USCIS may be reopened.