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Federal estate tax law provides a method by which families can reduce the tax consequences of transferring the family home to the younger generation. The device for accomplishing this is called a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT).
An individual may create a QPRT by transferring his or her residence to a trust (usually for the benefit of family members), while retaining for a particular period of time the right to live in the residence for free. The tax laws treat the transaction as a gift of the remainder interest in the trust, rather than as an outright gift of the residence itself. There is a tax on that gift, but there is no later tax on the value of the whole residence at the time of the grantor’s death, as there otherwise could be but for the use of the QPRT. As a rule, the more that a home can be expected to appreciate over the term of a trust, the more beneficial is the use of a QPRT.
A QPRT results in tax savings only if the grantor outlives the period of the retained interest. Even if the grantor does not survive the period established for the trust, the worst that could happen is that the full value of the residence would be taxed. The result is the same as if there had been no QPRT in the first place.
The QPRT has two generally recognized drawbacks. While the grantor, usually a father or mother of a family, can continue to occupy the residence after the period of retained interest has run, he or she must pay rent to avoid inclusion of the residence in his or her estate. Some individuals may not like the prospect of being their children’s rent-paying tenants. Second, the QPRT does not provide a “step-up” in the cost basis of the residence as there normally would be if a residence is inherited. If a QPRT is used, the gain on the sale of the residence is measured against the price that the grantor paid for the property originally, rather than against the value of the residence at the time of the grantor’s death. The result could be higher income tax liability when the residence is sold.
As with most estate planning issues, the advice and guidance of a qualified professional is recommended before establishing a QPRT.