As a result of a 2010 tax law, a surviving spouse can receive his or her deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exemption. This is called a “portability” election. You may have seen it called the “deceased spousal exclusion amount” or “DSUE amount.”
In essence, a portability election allows a surviving spouse to apply the DSUE amount to his or her own taxable transfers during life and after death. Using the portability election can save a significant amount of estate tax and income tax, depending on your circumstances and assets.
Portability under the 2010 law was originally only a temporary option, available for estates of people dying during 2011 and 2012. But as a result of a 2012 tax law, the portability election became “permanent.” But, as you’ll see below, this change and other legal developments have created a great deal of confusion about portability.
In summary, a portability election is available for estates of people who died after January 1, 2011, and who left surviving spouses. Making a portability election can save you a significant amount of estate tax and income tax, depending on your circumstances and assets.
How And When is the Portability Election Made?
In order to make an effective portability election, the executor of the estate of the deceased spouse must timely file an estate tax return (Form 706) and include a computation of the DSUE amount. The due date for Form 706 is the later of (i) 9 months after the deceased person’s date of death, or (ii) the last day of the period covered by an extension if an extension of time for filing has been obtained. Extensions are typically six months. So you usually have, at most, 15 months after a spouse dies to file an estate tax return.
The portability election is not automatic. Instead, the executor of the estate of the deceased spouse must timely file a federal estate tax return to affirmatively make a portability election.
Decision in Windsor v. United States Adds Confusion to Timely Filing a Portability Election
On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Windsor v. United States. In the Windsor case, the Court held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which states that “the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” is unconstitutional.
In response to the Windsor decision, Treasury and the IRS issued a ruling in August 2013 which stated that same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. This ruling gave the surviving spouse of a same sex marriage the right to make the portability election.
Special Portability Rules for Deaths Occurring Between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013
The confusion surrounding the status of federal estate taxes and portability at the end of 2012 coupled with the Windsor decision and related IRS ruling in the summer of 2013 prompted the IRS to issue Rev. Proc. 2014-18 in early 2014.
Under Rev. Proc. 2014-18, the executors of the estates of certain decedents may make a late federal estate tax portability election by filing Form 706 on or before December 31, 2014.
To qualify for making a late portability election, the estate must meet the following criteria:
The deceased person must:
(a) Have left a surviving spouse; and
(b) Died after December 31, 2010, and on or before December 31, 2013; and
(c) Been a citizen or resident of the United States on the date of death.
The estate was not otherwise required to file a federal estate tax return (as determined based on the value of the gross estate and adjusted taxable gifts); and
The estate, in fact, did not file a federal estate tax return in order to elect portability; and
A person permitted to make the election on behalf of a decedent (usually the executor) files a completed and properly-prepared federal estate tax return on or before December 31, 2014; and
The person filing the federal estate tax return on behalf of the decedent’s estate must state at the top of the return that it is being “FILED PURSUANT TO REV. PROC. 2014-18 TO ELECT PORTABILITY UNDER § 2010(c)(5)(A).”
What this means for you is that you may be able to file an estate tax return to elect portability, even if it’s outside the normal 9 month window. But, time is running out. A properly made portability election can save hundreds of thousands of dollars of estate and income taxes, depending on your circumstances.
If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.