IRS Releases Proposed Regulations on Taxing Expatriates’ Gifts and Bequests to U.S. Citizens and Residents

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By, Caitlin Glynn of Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster

Recent guidance has been issued to implement Internal Revenue Code Section 2801 (“Section 2801”) which imposes a succession tax on U.S. citizens and residents who receive gifts or bequests from individuals who relinquished U.S. citizenship or ceased to be lawful permanent residents of the United States on or after June 17, 2008 and were “covered expatriates” as defined by the Statute.

IRC Section 2801 Explained

Section 2801 was added to the Internal Revenue Code by The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008 (“HEART Act”).  In passing the HEART Act Congress determined that it was appropriate and in the interests of tax equity to impose a tax on U.S. citizens and lawful residents who receive from an expatriate a gift or bequest that would otherwise not be subject to U.S. estate and gift tax.  Under Section 2801 the receipt of covered gifts or covered bequests by U.S. citizens or residents from covered expatriates is subject to tax.  For purposes of calculation of the tax on the gift or bequest, the amount of the gift is its fair market value as of the date of receipt and the tax imposed is the highest applicable gift and estate tax rate (currently 40 percent).

Section 2801 is distinctive in that it imposes the tax on the recipient of the gift or bequest, rather than the donor or estate of the decedent.  The tax will be imposed whether the donor or decedent acquired the property transferred before or after expatriation.  The tax will not apply to those gifts that do not exceed the gift tax annual exclusion amount for the year.   The tax is also reduced by the amount of any gift or estate tax paid to a foreign country with respect to a covered gift or bequest.

Previous Guidance from the IRS

On July 20, 2009 the Treasury Department and the IRS issued Announcement 2009-57.  This Announcement states that the IRS intends to issue guidance under Section 2801.  The Announcement further provides that tax payments and filing requirements of the statute are deferred pending the issuance of final regulations.

The Proposed Regulations

The Proposed Regulations amend Title 26 by adding Part 28, “Imposition of Tax on Gifts and Bequests from Covered Expatriates.”  The proposed Regulations are divided into seven sections and include Sections 28.2801-1 to 28.2801-7.  See Internal Revenue Bulletin 2015-39.

Section 28.2801-1 sets forth the general rule of liability for the tax, that the tax is imposed on U.S. citizens or residents who receive covered gifts or covered bequests from a covered expatriate.  Domestic trusts and foreign trusts electing to be treated as domestic trusts are treated in the same manner as U.S. citizens.  Section 28.2801-2 provides definitions for Section 2801, including important terms such as “covered expatriate,” “covered bequest,” “domestic trust,” “foreign trust” and “power of appointment.”  “Covered expatriate” is defined by reference to Section 877A(g)(1).  Section 877A(g)(1) generally defines a “covered expatriate” as an individual who expatriates on or after June 17, 2008, and whose average annual net income for the period five taxable years before expatriation exceeds $124,000 (subject to a cost of living adjustment), or whose net worth as of expatriation is $2 million, or who cannot certify that they have complied with filing requirements for the five taxable years before expatriation, subject to certain exceptions.

Section 28.2801-3 addresses rules and exceptions applicable to the definitions of covered gift and covered bequest.  In general, the following transfers are excluded from such definitions: qualified disclaimers of property made by the covered expatriate; taxable gifts reported on a covered expatriate’s timely filed gift tax return and property included in the covered expatriate’s gross estate and reported on such expatriate’s timely filed estate tax return, provided that the gift and estate tax due is timely paid; donations to a charitable organization that would be deductible for gift or estate tax purposes; or transfers to a U.S. citizen spouse if such transfer would otherwise qualify for the gift or estate tax marital deduction.

Section 28.2801-4 provides specific rules regarding who is liable for the payment of the Section 2801 tax as well as how to compute the tax. As outlined above, a U.S. citizen or resident who receives a covered gift or a covered bequest is liable for the tax.  A domestic trust that receives a covered gift or covered bequest is treated as a U.S. citizen and is thus liable for the tax.  Of note, a non-electing foreign trust is not liable for the Section 2801 tax.  Thus, a U.S. citizen or resident who receives a distribution from a non-electing foreign trust is liable for the Section 2801 tax to the extent the distribution is attributable to covered gifts or covered bequests.  This Section also provides rules for contributions to charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) made by covered expatriates for the benefit of one or more charitable organizations and the benefit of a U.S. citizen or resident other than the charitable organization. The value of the charitable organization’s remainder interest in a CRT is excluded from the definition of a covered gift or covered bequest.  The value of the interest of the non-charitable U.S. citizen or resident in such contributions to the CRT is a covered gift or bequest and thus taxable, unless otherwise excluded.

Section 28.2801-5 provides guidance on the treatment of foreign trusts.  If a covered gift or covered bequest is made to a foreign trust, the tax applies to any distribution from that trust to a recipient who is a U.S. citizen or resident. The section also discusses how a foreign trust can elect to be a U.S. trust for purposes of Section 2801.

Section 28.2801-6 addresses how the basis rules under Sections 1014, 1015(a) and 1022 impact the determination of the U.S. recipient’s basis in the covered gift or the covered bequest.  This Section also clarifies the applicability of the GST tax to some Section 2801 transfers, among other special rules and cross-references.  Of note, unlike Section 1015(d), which generally allows gift tax paid on the gift to be added to the donee’s basis, Section 2801 does not provide for a similar basis adjustment.

Section 28.2801-7 provides guidance on the responsibility of a U.S. recipient to determine if a tax under Section 2801 is due.  The Treasury Department and IRS recognize that because the tax imposed by Section 2801 is on the recipient, rather than the donor or the estate of the decedent (that has access to the information related to whether the donor or decedent is a covered expatriate), U.S. taxpayers may have difficulty determining whether a tax is due. To aid the taxpayer, the IRS may disclose returns and return information upon request.

December 9, 2015 is the deadline for written or electronic comments to the above regulations.