A district court has now granted the IRS permission to issue a summons to the State of California Board of Equalization, as part of a gift tax enforcement initiative to detect transfers of real property between nonspouse relatives that weren’t reported on gift tax returns. California now joins Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, as states where the state governments must turn over records about property transfers to the IRS. If you transferred property to nonspouse relatives and did not complete the appropriate gift tax return, the State of California may be on the verge of telling the IRS all about you.
Gift Tax Background
Intra-family transfers of property are extremely common. Remember that in 2011, decedents can exclude up to $5 million of their estate before having to pay estate tax on the remainder. Likewise, in 2011 individuals can “gift” up to $5 million and not pay a tax on the gift amount (the Internal Revenue Code therefore “unifies” the estate tax and the gift tax.) However, any individual who makes gifts to any one donee during a calendar year above the $13,000 annual exclusion must file a gift tax return (an IRS Form 709). A return must be filed even if no tax is payable (due to the $5 million lifetime exclusion).
When the IRS issues a Summons to the State of California, what Information can it Gather about You?
With a summons served upon the state of California, the IRS can uncover transfers of real property to nonspouse family members. How? Property transfers in California generally constitute a “change in ownership” so that the county assessor may reassess a property for property tax purposes. Absent a change in ownership, the state may only increase a California property owner’s taxes by 2% per year. In order to claim an exclusion from the change in ownership reassessment rule, California taxpayers must file Forms BOE-58-AH (Claim for Reassessment Exclusion for Transfer Between Parent and Child) or BOE-58-G (Claim for Reassessment Exclusion for Transfer Between Grandparent and Grandchild). These forms are filed with the local county assessor’s office. California property owners are generally very diligent about completing these forms, because they do not want their property reassessed for fear of considerably higher property taxes. The state of California maintains a statewide database of the information garnered from these forms. And now the IRS has access to the Forms BOE-58-AH and BOE-58-G filed by California transferors of property (to relatives) seeking to avoid a reassessment of the property.
California tells the IRS of the Property Transfer, now the IRS is Looking for The Transferor’s Form 709
The rest is relatively simple. The state of California allows the IRS to review the Forms BOE-58-AH and BOE-58-G, and the IRS simply follows up by seeing whether that individual completed a Form 709 (and paid gift taxes, if appropriate). IRS survey results concluded that at least 50% and up to 90% of individuals who transferred property to nonspouse family members failed to file a Form 709.
California residents- if you transferred property since 2005 to a nonspouse family member, and you should have filed a Form 709 and didn’t (and didn’t pay the appropriate gift tax, if any), go file it now. Because there is a very good chance the IRS is going to find this out anyway, and the penalties of their discovering your lack of compliance will be much worse if you have not already rectified the situation.