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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.

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…so, let’s first show you the rest of the editorial that ran in the Desert Sun on April 21, 2013, and then we will discuss the latest events concerning the possibility for Canadians to stay in the US more than 6 months a year.

we continue…

Any U.S. immigration reform must include a provision for Canadians

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So let’s walk the Form 8840, and discuss some of the more uncertain questions. Again, we’re focusing on Canadian snowbirds (and not necessarily people from foreign countries other than Canada).

Part 1

Question 1 asks you the following: “Type of U.S. visa (for example, F, J, M, etc.)”. We suggest the Canadian snowbird answer the “B-2 Visa”. We say this even though Canada is a visa exempt country (so theoretically answering “no visa” on Question 1, or “Canadian- no visa” should be fine too. This is the typical visa utilized by a tourist to the United States. This question is a little challenging for the Canadian snowbird, because they generally simply present a passport at the border, and not an official visa. The US and Canada really do have a special relationship, and so typical formalities are not always required for Canadians visiting the US (and Americans visiting Canada). While a Canadian snowbird visiting the US may not need a visa. the proper answer on the Form 8840 is probably citing the B-2 Visa (the tourist visa).

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So, like so many Canadians in the Palm Springs/ Palm Desert area, you’ve determined you probably should fill out the Form 8840. Why? Because you’re in the United States year in, year out, over 4 months but less than 6 months in a calendar year (and if you’re in the Coachella Valley right now, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be here as much as possible…save July and August that is). And if you are in the US more than 4 months every (calendar) year, and you don’t fill out the Form 8840, the risk you take is that the IRS will deem you a US tax resident for the taxable year (as they are permitted to do if you are here, year in, year out, over 4 months a calendar year). While that may not be the end of the world (you can always hire a guy like me to get you out of that situation, and it will not lead to a double tax (once in Canada and once in the US)), it will lead to a logistical headache, which you will have to straighten out. So, be safe, complete the Form 8840 if you’re in the US every year between 4 to 6 months, like so many Canadian snowbirds are in this area of California.

When is the Form 8840 Due?

You must complete the Form 8840 by June 15 (the due date of the IRS Form 1040NR) of the year after the year for which you are reporting (so for the 2012 Form 8840, you should send it in by June 15, 2013). You actually have until the due date (June 15) plus extensions, which would be months later (so, yes, you could send in your 2012 Form 8840 in July 2013). But let’s not do that. You want to get the Form 8840 in by June 15 of the year after the year to which the form relates (so for 2012, let’s send them in by June 15, 2013).

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We’ve talked about the need for Canadians (or any non-US citizen who regularly spends between 4 to 6 months in the US) to fill out the Closer Connection Form (the IRS Form 8840) before. Well, it’s a good time of year (Spring) to review this rule again.

Who Needs to Fill Out the Closer Connection Form?

Any non US citizen individual who has a “substantial presence” in the US must fill out the Form 8840 (every year they have a substantial presence). Is there a mathematical formula designed to determine whether you have substantial presence” in the US (and then need to fill out the Form 8840)? Yes. And I’m going to spell out the formula in a moment. BUT IF YOU ARE IN THE UNITED STATES EVERY YEAR BETWEEN 4 AND 6 MONTHS, FORGET THE FORMULA AND JUST FILL OUT THE 8840…THE FORMULA IS JUST DESIGNED TO DETERMINE WHETHER YOU SHOULD HAVE A SUBSTANTIAL US PRESENCE AND NEED TO FILL OUT THE 8840 TO BEGIN WITH. IF YOU ARE IN THE US EVERY YEAR, YEAR IN YEAR OUT,BETWEEN 4 AND 6 MONTHS, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE FORMULA AND JUST FILL IT OUT EVERY YEAR!!!