Wednesday, May 23, 2018
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that was signed into law on December 22, 2017, represents a major change to many provisions of the tax Code that impact individuals and business entities. I have discussed of the major changes impacting farm and ranch taxpayers and businesses in prior posts. But, the TCJA also makes substantial changes with respect to the income taxation of trusts and estates. Those changes could have an impact on the use of trusts as an estate planning/wealth transfer device. Likewise, the TCJA changes that impact decedent’s estate must also be noted.
The TCJA’s changes that impact trusts and estates – that’s the focus of today’s post.
While the media has largely focused on the TCJA’s rate reductions for individuals and C corporations, the rates and bracket amounts were also modified for trusts and estates. The new rate structure for trusts and estates are located in I.R.C. §1(j)(2)(E) and are as follows: 10%: $0: $2,550; 24%: $2,551-$9,150; 35%: $9,151-$12,500; 37% - over $12,500. As can be noted, the bracket structure for trusts and estates remains very compressed. Thus, the pre-TCJA planning approach of not trapping income or gains inside a trust or an estate remains the standard advice. That’s because the TCJA did not change the tax rates for qualified dividends and long-term capital gains, although the bracket cut-offs are modified slightly as follows: 0%: $0-$2,600; 15%: $2,601-$12,700; 20%: Over $12,700. Those rates and brackets remain advantageous compared to having the income or gain taxed at the trust or estate level.
Other Aspects of Trust/Estate Taxation
Post-TCJA, it remains true that an estate or trust’s taxable income is computed in the same manner as is income for an individual. I.R.C. §641(b). However, the TCJA amends I.R.C. §164(b) to limit the aggregate deduction for state and local real property taxes and income taxes to a $10,000 maximum annually. But, this limit does not apply to any real estate taxes or personal property taxes that a trust or an estate incurs in the conduct of a trade or business (or an activity that is defined under I.R.C. §212). Thus, an active farm business conducted by a trust or an estate will not be subject to the limitation.
The TCJA also suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions for a trust or an estate. That means, for example, that investment fees and expenses as well as unreimbursed business expenses are not deductible. This will generally cause an increased tax liability at the trust or estate level as compared to prior law. Why? With fewer deductions, the adjusted taxable income (ATI) of a trust or an estate will be higher. For simple trusts, this is also a function of distributable net income (DNI) which, in turn, is a function of the income distribution deduction (IDD). I.R.C. §651(b) allows a simple trust to claim an IDD limited to the lesser of fiduciary accounting income (FAI) or DNI. Under prior law, all trust expenses could be claimed when determining DNI, but only some of those expenses were allocated to principal for purposes of calculating FAI. Now, post-TCJA, ATI for a trust or an estate will be higher due to the loss of various miscellaneous itemized deductions (such as investment management fees). As ATI rises, DNI will decline but FAI won’t change (the allocation of expenses is determined by the trust language or state law). The more common result is likely to be that FAI will be the actual limitation on the IDD, and more income will be trapped inside the estate or the trust. That’s what will cause the trust or the estate to pay more tax post-TCJA compared to prior years.
But, guidance is needed concerning the deductibility of administrative expenses such as trustee fees. It’s not clear whether the TCJA impacts I.R.C. §67. That Code section does not apply the two percent limitation to administrative expenses that are incurred solely because the property is held inside a trust or an estate. There is some support for continuing to deduct these amounts. I.R.C. §67(g) applies to miscellaneous itemized deductions, but trustee fees and similar expenses are above-the-line deductions for a trust or an estate that impact the trust or estate’s AGI. Thus, I.R.C. §67 may not apply. I am told that guidance will be forthcoming on that issue during the summer of 2018. We shall see.
A trust as well as an estate can still claim a $600 personal exemption (with the amount unchanged) under I.R.C. §642. Don’t confuse that with the TCJA’s suspension of the personal exemption for individuals. Also, don’t confuse the removal of the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for corporations or the increased exemption and phaseout range for individuals with the application of the AMT to trusts and estates. No change was made concerning how the AMT applies to a trust or an estate. See I.R.C. §55.(d)(3). The exemption stays at $24,600 with a phaseout threshold of $82,050. Those amounts apply for 2018 and they will be subsequently adjusted for inflation (in accordance with the “chained” CPI).
Other TCJA Impacts on Trusts and Estates
The new 20 percent deduction for pass-through entities under I.R.C. §199A can be claimed by an estate or a trust with non-C corporate business income. The deduction is claimed at the trust or the estate level, with the $157,500 threshold that applies to a taxpayer filing as a single person applying to a trust or an estate. The rules under the now-repealed I.R.C. §199 apply for apportioning between fiduciaries and beneficiaries any W-2 wages and unadjusted basis of qualified property under the limitation based on W-2 wages and capital. There is no separate computation required for alternative minimum tax purposes.
The eligibility of a trust or an estate for the I.R.C. §199A deduction may provide some planning opportunities to route pass-through income from a business that is otherwise limited or barred from claiming the deduction through a non-grantor trust so that the deduction can be claimed or claimed to a greater extent. For example, assume that a sole proprietorship farming operation nets $1,000,000 annually, but pays no qualified wages and has no qualifying property (both factors that result in an elimination of the deduction for the business). If business income is routed through a trust (or multiple truss) with the amount of trust income not exceeding the $157,500 threshold, then an I.R.C. §199A deduction can be generated. However, before this strategy is utilized, there are numerous factors to consider including overall family estate planning/succession planning goals and the economics of the business activity at issue.
Clarification is needed with respect to a charitable remainder trust (CRT) that has unrelated business taxable income (UBIT). UBIT is income of the CRT that comes from an unrelated trade or business less deductions “allowed by Chapter 1 of the Code” that are “directly connected” with the conduct of a trade or business. Treas. Reg. §1.512(a)-1(a). Is the new I.R.C. §199A deduction a directly connected deduction? It would seem to me that it is because it is tied to business activity conducted by the trust. If that construction is correct, I.R.C. §199A would reduce the impact of the UBIT on a CRT. Certainly, guidance is needed from the Treasury on this point.
Related to the CRT issue, the TCJA would appear to allow an electing small business trust (ESBT) to claim the I.R.C. §199A deduction on S corporate income. But, again, guidance is needed. An ESBT calculates the tax on S corporate income separately from all other trust income via a separate schedule. The result is then added to the total tax calculated for the trust’s non-S corporate income. Thus, the ESBT pays tax on all S corporate income. It makes no difference whether the income has been distributed to the ESBT beneficiaries. Also, in computing its tax, the deductions that an ESBT can claim are set forth in I.R.C. §641(c)(2). However, the TCJA does not include the I.R.C. §199A deduction in that list. Was that intentional? Was that an oversight? Your guess is as good as mine.
Another limiting factor for an ESBT is that an ESBT can no longer (post-2017 and on a permanent basis) deduct 100 percent of charitable contributions made from the S corporation’s gross income. Instead, the same limitations that apply to individuals apply to an ESBT – at least as to the “S portion” of the ESBT. But, the charitable contribution need not be made from the gross income of the ESBT. In addition, the charitable contribution must be made by the S corporation for the ESBT to claim the deduction. If the ESBT makes the contribution, it is reported on the non-ESBT portion of the return. It is not allocated to the ESBT portion.
Under the TCJA, an ESBT can have a nonresident alien as a potential current beneficiary.
If a trust or an estate incurs a business-related loss, the TCJA caps the loss at $250,000 for 2018 (inflation-adjust for future years). The $250,000 amount is in the aggregate – it applies at the trust or estate level rather than the entity level (if the trust or estate is a partner of a partnership or an S corporation shareholder). I.R.C. §461(l)(2). Amounts over the threshold can be carried over and used in a future year.
The TCJA impacts a broad array of taxpayers. Its impacts are not limited to individuals and corporate taxpayers. Trusts and estates are also affected. For those with trusts or involved with an estate, make sure to consult tax counsel to make sure the changes are being dealt with appropriately.