Re: Estate Tax and GST Tax Provisions Should be Made Permanent
Dear Chairmen Baucus and Camp, and Ranking Members Hatch and Levin:
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the national, professional association of CPAs, with more than 377,000 members, including CPAs throughout the country, urges prompt action to enact permanent gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax provisions and thus provide needed certainty to taxpayers in planning their affairs. In addition, we hope that when Congress makes these provisions permanent (especially the non-controversial GST tax technical modifications), Congress also includes other needed technical changes to permit administrative relief (i.e., granting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permission to grant section 9100 relief) for certain late or defective lifetime (i.e., inter vivos) qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) elections and for late elections by certain qualified revocable trusts (QRTs) to be treated as part of a decedent’s estate.
This letter details each of these concerns.
A. Act Promptly to Enact Permanent Gift, Estate and GST Tax Provisions to Provide Needed Certainty to Taxpayers in Planning their Affairs
The EGTRRA made major revisions to the gift, estate, and generation-skipping transfer tax regimes. In December 2010, the 2010 Tax Relief Act modified and extended temporarily the gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions of EGTTRA and created some new provisions. All the provisions of EGTTRA as well as the provisions of the 2010 Tax Relief Act are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012, and the laws in effect prior to 2001 are scheduled to return. The uncertainty of the tax law impedes proper estate planning for taxpayers, and the necessity to revise estate planning documents multiple times places an undue burden on taxpayers and their advisors. In addition, if no Congressional action is taken, on Jan. 1, 2013, the 2001 legislation will sunset, which will create turmoil for gifts to multigenerational trusts to which GST exemption was allocated between 2001 and 2012.
We are providing you our priority list of suggested reforms of the current estate and gift tax system.
In developing these suggestions, we focused on the complexity of the current system, taxpayer planning and compliance burdens, ease of administration and revenue constraints. Our suggestions, in priority order, follow:
1. Make permanent the technical modifications to the GSTT rules enacted in the EGTRRA and extended temporarily by the 2010 Tax Relief Act, which provide relief from several GSTT “traps” that existed under previous law (as discussed at B., below).
2. Maintain from the 2010 Tax Relief Act an applicable exclusion (exemption) amount indexed for inflation that eliminates planning, filing, and estate tax payment burdens for all but the largest estates.
3. Maintain from the 2010 Tax Relief Act a uniform exemption amount for estate, gift, and generation- skipping transfer tax purposes. This uniform exemption amount simplifies planning for individuals.
4. Maintain from the 2010 Tax Relief Act portability of the estate tax exemption to a surviving spouse because it simplifies estate planning and estate administration for married couples. Consider making the GST exemption portable as well.
5. Reinstate the full state estate or death tax credit, or provide another mechanism (such as a surtax) that would allow states to uniformly “piggyback” on the federal estate tax. To avoid diminishing tax revenues, many states have decoupled from the federal estate tax and enacted their own estate tax regimes, resulting in unnecessary complexity and uncertainty in both planning and administration.
6. Provide broad-based liquidity relief, rather than targeted relief provisions. Broad provisions that would apply to all illiquid estates would be both simpler and fairer to all taxpayers. At a minimum, the section 6166 installment payment rules and its holding company provision should be modernized to allow eligibility to all types of business forms, including pass-through entities (i.e., partnerships, LLCs, etc.) as well as currently allowed corporations.
7. Provide many tax brackets to avoid cliff taxation. We note that there have been some proposals in the past that have included a rate structure with a very limited number of tax brackets and a large gap between brackets. For example, such a system might provide for only two brackets, say 15 percent and 30 percent, with estates over a certain size paying the higher bracket (30 percent in this example), and estates below that number paying the lower bracket (e.g., 15 percent). In such a proposal, there may be significant uncertainty in the planning process for married couples with significant estates. For example, taxpayers may have to consider if estate tax should be paid at the death of the first spouse at a 15 percent rate compared to an alternative of paying the tax in the future but at a higher rate. In addition, this type of “cliff” taxation leaves too much room for disparity among similarly situated taxpayers, where one receives estate planning advice and pays significantly less tax when compared to the individual who does not receive such advice.
B. Make Permanent GSTT Technical Modifications in the EGTRRA as Extended by the Tax Act of 2010
The AICPA urges Congress to make permanent the technical modifications in Title V, Subtitle G of EGTRRA to the generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT) regime.
These technical modifications are taxpayer favorable, are non-controversial, have minimal revenue effect,
and provide relief from several GSTT “traps” that existed under the law prior to enactment of EGTRRA.
We note that the Administration’s budget proposals for fiscal year 2012 would make permanent the portability provisions enacted in the 2010 Relief Act. In addition, the Administration’s budget proposals for fiscal year 2012 would make permanent at the 2009 law levels the provisions enacted in 2001, so these GSTT technical provisions would be made permanent as part of the broader effort to accomplish estate tax reform by making permanent certain estate, gift and GST tax provisions enacted in 2001.
We applaud this effort to permanently extend these expiring provisions. Furthermore, the AICPA advocates that the GSTT technical provisions in EGTRRA, as extended by the 2010 Tax Relief Act, should be made permanent, without any interruption in their applicability, due to undue burdens upon taxpayers who relied on these provisions in managing their affairs since 2001 and the need for the simplicity provided by these provisions going forward.
Section 901(b) of EGTRRA provides that the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 shall be applied “as if the provisions and amendments of [EGTRRA] had never been enacted.” The technical modifications to the GSTT regime in EGTRRA provided: (1) new rules for the automatic allocation of GST exemption to transfers in trust;
(2) retroactive allocation of GST exemption in the event of an unnatural order of death of beneficiaries of a trust;
(3) severance of a trust to create GSTT-exempt and GSTT-nonexempt shares;
and (4) the Secretary of the Treasury with the ability to grant Section 9100 relief in the event a taxpayer is unaware of how his or her GST exemption is allocated.
All of these provisions were enacted to make the complicated rules of allocating GST exemption more easily administrable by taxpayers and give relief to taxpayers from the harsh consequences of misunderstanding these rules. Interpreting Section 901(b) of EGTRRA literally as if the GSTT provisions in Title V, Subtitle G of EGTRRA were never enacted means that all GSTT planning taxpayers accomplished since 2001 would be undone and taxpayers would be left with widespread uncertainty as to their current GSTT position – especially those taxpayers who were granted Section 9100 relief during this period.
We note that H.R. 4154, the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Businesses Act of 2009, as passed by the House of Representatives on December 3, 2009, included certain legislative language to address repeal of the estate and GST tax, and also addressed the then applicable EGTRRA sunset on the GSTT technical provisions. The key legislative language is in Section 2 of Division A of the bill.
We propose that an easy legislative fix, and one that specifically targets the GSTT technical modifications, would be to have the following language (which tracks the language of Section 2, Paragraph B of Division A, as modified in brackets below) of H.R. 4154 modified as follows:
SUNSET NOT TO APPLY.—Section 304 of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 and section 901 of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 shall not apply to [Subtitle G of] title V of Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001.
EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by this section shall apply to estates of decedents dying, and gifts made, after December 31, 2012.
These comments on the GSTT technical modifications supplement our prior comments, submitted most recently on January 13, 2010.
C. Enact Legislation Permitting Administrative Relief for Certain Late Lifetime Qualified Terminable Interest Property Elections and Certain Late Qualified Revocable Trust Elections
Transfers of property interests that meet the requirements to be a QTIP are eligible for the marital deduction for gift and estate tax purposes if the QTIP election is made. For QTIP transfers made when an individual dies in a year other than 2010, the QTIP election must be made by the decedent’s executor on the Federal estate tax return. For an inter vivos QTIP transfer, the QTIP election must be made on the Federal gift tax return for the calendar year in which the interest is transferred. A QTIP election, once made, is irrevocable.
The IRS has the authority to provide taxpayers relief from certain missed or late elections by granting extensions of time to make those elections. This relief, known as section 9100 relief, requires the taxpayer to establish to the satisfaction of the IRS Commissioner that the taxpayer acted reasonably and in good faith, and the grant of relief will not prejudice the interests of the Government. Section 9100 relief is available for elections, the timing of which is prescribed by regulation (Treas. Reg. § 301.9100-3(a)), rather than by statute.
Section 9100 relief has been available for failures to make a QTIP election on a Federal estate tax return for over two decades, since the deadline for making that election is prescribed by regulation (Treas. Reg. § 20.2056(b)-7(b)(4)(i)). For an inter vivos QTIP, section 2523(f)(4)(A) provides that the QTIP election shall be made on or before the date prescribed by section 6075(b) for filing a gift tax return with respect to the transfer. Because the statutory language of the gift tax and estate tax QTIP provisions is different, the IRS has determined that the deadline for making the gift tax QTIP election is statutory, and, therefore, section 9100 relief is not available. See PLR 201109012
(March 4, 2011), PLR 200314012
(April 4, 2003), and PLR 9641023 (July 10, 1996). The present situation imposes a hardship on taxpayers as it provides no remedy – other than a malpractice action – for a taxpayer who loses the gift tax marital deduction due to an error on the part of the taxpayer’s advisor.
We note that legislation to provide administrative relief for inter vivos QTIP elections has been introduced previously and was even reported by the Senate. Specifically, in the 109th Congress, on June
28, 2006, S. 1321
, the Telephone Excise Tax Repeal Act of 2005, as reported by the Senate, included Section 713, Administrative Relief for Certain Late Qualified Terminable Interest Property Elections (see Report 109-336
). In addition, on July 25, 2006, H.R.5884
was introduced in the House of Representatives to authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to extend the date for making a gift tax QTIP election.
This gift tax relief is important because it would extend to the gift tax the same relief that is available for errors on estate tax returns concerning the identical issue. In addition, a QTIP election does not forgive estate or gift tax; it merely defers imposition of the tax until the death of the donee spouse. Therefore, this provision would be of minimal cost (estimated in 2006 at $2 million over 10 years per JCX-29-06
Effective with respect to estates of decedents who die after August 5, 1997, an election may be made to have certain revocable trusts treated and taxed as part of the decedent’s estate. If both the executor (if any) of an estate and the trustee of a QRT elect the treatment provided in section 645 (originally enacted as section 646), the trust is treated and taxed for income tax purposes as part of the estate (and not as a separate trust) during the election period. Section 645(c) provides that the election to treat a QRT as part of the decedent’s estate shall be made not later than the time prescribed for filing the return of tax imposed for the first taxable year of the estate (determined with regard to extensions).
Because the time for making the election to treat the QRT as part of the estate is prescribed by statute, we believe that the IRS would take the position that it does not have the authority to grant relief for late elections. Decedent’s estates that do not make the election timely have no recourse to cure the problem and are disadvantaged because of the errors committed by their tax advisors.
Details of the QTIP and QRT Proposals
The problems for late QTIP and QRT elections are similar to the problem that existed with the allocation of GST exemption prior to EGTRRA. There, the time for making an allocation of GST exemption was fixed by statute, and numerous taxpayers were being penalized for the failures of their tax advisers and tax return preparers to properly make the allocation. EGTRRA added section 2642(g)(1)(B) of the Code, which states “[f]or purposes of determining whether to grant relief under this paragraph, the time for making the allocation (or election) shall be treated as if not expressly prescribed by statute.” That language opened up the possibility of section 9100 relief for failed allocations of GST exemption. Given that statutory authority, the IRS has granted 9100 relief in hundreds of cases.
We urge the enactment of legislative provisions stating that the due dates for the inter vivos QTIP election and for the QRT election to be part of the estate are treated as if not prescribed by statute. These proposals would make the same sort of statutory change in section 2523(f)(4) and section 645(c) as was done by EGTRRA in section 2642(g)(1)(B), so that taxpayers would not be penalized for the errors of their tax advisers and tax return preparers in failing to make a QTIP election on the Federal gift tax return or a QRT election to be part of an estate on the estate’s first Federal income tax return. The provisions would apply to requests for relief pending on or filed after the date of enactment with respect to elections due before, on, or after such date. These proposed prospective effective dates are similar to the prospective effective date provision applicable to the GST exemption relief in EGTRRA.
These comments supplement our prior comments, submitted most recently onNovember 16, 2010
, September 21, 2010
, and January 13, 2010.
* * * * * *
We urge you to act quickly to address transfer taxes, permanently extend the GST technical modifications, and include a technical modification to allow administrative relief for certain late QTIP and QRT elections. We hope you will consider our suggestions. We look forward to working with you to achieve simplicity, effectiveness, and efficiency as Congress considers legislation regarding the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax system.
If you have any questions or if we can be of further assistance, please contact F. Gordon Spoor, Chair, AICPA Trust, Estate, and Gift Tax Technical Resource Panel, at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (727) 343-7166; Frances Schafer, Chair, AICPA Elections Task Force, at email@example.com,
or 202 521-1511; Roby Sawyers, Chair, AICPA Transfer Tax Reform Task Force, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or (919) 515-4443; or Eileen Sherr, AICPA Senior Technical Manager, at email@example.com
, or (202) 434-9256.