At some point in our lives, we may inherit a home or another form of real property. In such instances, we need to understand some of the jargon involving inherited real estate. What does “cost basis” mean? What is a “step-up?” What is the home sale tax exclusion, and what kind of tax break does it offer?
Very few parents discuss these matters with their children before they pass away. Some prior knowledge of these terms may make things less confusing at a highly stressful time.
Cost basis is fairly easy to explain. It is the original purchase price of real estate plus certain expenses and fees incurred by the buyer, many of them detailed at closing. The purchase price is always the starting point for determining the cost basis; that is true whether the purchase is financed or all-cash. Title insurance costs, settlement fees, and property taxes owed by the seller that the buyer ends up paying can all become part of the cost basis.1
At the buyer’s death, the cost basis of the property is “stepped up” to its current fair market value. This step-up can cut into the profits of inheritors should they elect to sell. On the other hand, it can also reduce any income tax liability stemming from the transaction.2
Here is an illustration of stepped-up basis. Twenty years ago, Jane Smyth bought a home for $255,000. At purchase, the cost basis of the property was $260,000. Jane dies and her daughter Blair inherits the home. Its present fair market value is $459,000. That is Blair’s stepped-up basis. So if Blair sells the home and gets $470,000 for it, her complete taxable profit on the sale will be $11,000, not $210,000. If she sells the home for less than $459,000, she will take a loss; the loss will not be tax-deductible, as you cannot deduct a loss resulting from the sale of a personal residence.1
The step-up can reflect more than just simple property appreciation through the years. In fact, many factors can adjust it over time, including negative ones. Basis can be adjusted upward by the costs of home improvements and home additions (and even related tax credits received by the homeowner), rebuilding costs following a disaster, legal fees linked to property ownership, and expenses of linking utility lines to a home. Basis can be adjusted downward by property and casualty insurance payouts, allowable depreciation that comes from renting out part of a home or using part of a residence as a place of business, and any other developments that amount to a return of cost for the property owner.1
The Internal Revenue Code states that a step-up applies for real property “acquired by bequest, devise, or inheritance, or by the decedent’s estate from the decedent.” In plain English, that means the new owner of the property is eligible for the step-up whether the deceased property owner had a will or not.2
In a community property state, receipt of the step-up becomes a bit more complicated. If a married couple buys real estate in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, each spouse is automatically considered to have a 50% ownership interest in said real property. (Alaska offers spouses the option of a community property agreement.) If a child or other party inherits that 50% ownership interest, that inheritor is usually entitled to a step-up. If at least half of the real estate in question is included in the decedent’s gross estate, the surviving spouse is also eligible for a step-up on his or her 50% ownership interest. Alternately, the person inheriting the ownership interest may choose to value the property six months after the date of the previous owner’s death (or the date of disposition of the property, if disposition occurred first).2,3
In recent years, there has been talk in Washington of curtailing the step-up. So far, such notions have not advanced toward legislation.4
What if a parent gifts real property to a child? The parent’s tax basis becomes the child’s tax basis with inherited real estate. If the parent has owned that property for decades and the child cannot take advantage of the federal home sale tax exclusion, the capital gains tax could be enormous if the child sells the property.2
Who qualifies for the home sale tax exclusion? If individuals or married couples want to sell inherited real estate, they can qualify for this big federal tax break once they have used that home as their primary residence for two years out of the five years preceding the sale. Upon qualifying, a single taxpayer may exclude as much as $250,000 of gain from the sale, with $500,000 being the limit for married homeowners filing jointly. If the home’s cost basis receives a step-up, the gain from the sale may be small, but this is still a nice tax perk to have.5
If you need additional information on the basis of inherited real estate, do not hesitate to reach out to your dedicated team at Epic Capital. We are here for you.
Most recently, you may have read that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell announced a change in how the Fed views inflation. In the past, the Fed said it would consider adjusting bond market short-term rates when inflation approached 2 percent. But in light of 2020’s many challenges, the Fed’s new policy may allow inflation to … Continue reading “The Bond Market Listens When the Fed Talks Inflation”
A U.S. drug company recently said that it’s in late-stage trials for its coronavirus vaccine and reported that it could be given to Americans as early as the end of the year.1
To some, this may hardly feel like an economy headed for a bright future. But don’t tell that to home builders. Builder confidence in August jumped to an eye-popping 78 in August, according to the Housing Market Index courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders. To put that number in perspective, anything over 50 … Continue reading “Home Builders Confident in Economic Rebound”
When it comes to retirement, some women face obstacles that can make saving for retirement a challenge. Women typically earn less than their male counterparts and often take time out of the workforce to care for children or other family members. Added to the fact that women typically live longer than men, retirement money for … Continue reading “Women Facing and Conquering Retirement Challenges”
Football is back, which means Summer is coming to a close, days will get shorter, and sweaters will soon be in play. This year, there was no pre-season, so professional football started in September, which coincidentally, is a perennial month for stock market volatility.1
Epic Capital provides the following comprehensive financial planning and investment management services: Learn More >