Q: I am 52 and divorced. I live with, and care for, my 88-year old mother. She owns a large piece of property of about 77 acres, 54 acres of which are wetland. She has no other children or grandchildren.
Development in the area is at an all time high and I am concerned that estate taxes could be a problem. I’ve been doing some investigation, and one suggestion given to me was to have my mother pass some or all of this property to me as an undivided gift. Another attorney suggested she obtain life insurance for the purpose of paying the estate taxes on this asset.
What do you think? Where can I go to learn more about the different options available to her?
A: Estate tax laws are changing, and when your mother dies could affect how much tax she pays. Depending on the year of death, she may be able to pass down $1 million, $3 million or everything she owns tax-free.
For example, if your mother dies in 2002, she can pass down $1 million to you tax-free. If she passes in 2010, everything she owns, even if it is worth $20 million, passes tax-free.
You’d be wise to spend some time with an estate planner or estate attorney about which strategies you can use to minimize any estate taxes.
Purchasing life insurance in a trust to cover the cost of some or all of the estate taxes owed is one option, however at your mother’s advanced age, the cost of the insurance could be prohibitive. Another option is for her to sell the property to you in pieces. Giving you the property now could pose other tax issues.
Have you and your mother discussed what she wants to do with the property? If she wants it to stay as is, forever, then perhaps you should look into selling it to a conservancy group while retaining the right to live on the land for as long as she, and perhaps you, are alive. If you do that, you would get far less money for your property, but you would also receive a large tax deduction if the conservancy is a tax-exempt organization. In essence, the land would stay as is, you and she would get to live on it, you would both get some money, and the tax issue would be resolved.
You should sit down and discuss with your mother what her wishes are regarding the property, and then make an appointment with an estate attorney and perhaps a real estate attorney to figure out how to best carry out her intentions.
Feb. 28, 2001.