Basis is the cost of purchasing the asset. For real estate, it is the cost, plus any closing costs and improvements made later. Basis is important, because upon the sale of the property, capital gains liability is calculated based on the difference between the sale price and the basis.

Carry Over Basis: If the asset is gifted from the donor to the donee during the donor’s life, the donee inherits the basis of the donor. Imagine a house that was purchased for $100,000 40 years ago, and is now worth $1.5MM. If the owner gifts the house outright to her son, the son will inherit the mother’s basis of $100,000, and when he later sells it, he will have to pay capital gains taxes on $1.4MM.

Step Up Basis: property that transfers at death is stepped up to the fair market value of the property on the date of death. If the house above was transferred at death to the son, the son can later sell it for $1.5MM without paying any capital gains taxes.

Flexibility is Crucial: there are multiple methods of giving up outright possession of the asset, while retaining some powers that enable the asset to “step up” at death. One method is a life estate (in a real estate property). Another method is keeping a testamentary power of appointment in a trust. Yet another method is retaining the right to income from the asset.

Disclaimer: This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING