Property Transfers and Property Tax

Dear Len & Rosie,

My father died and left some cash and the house to my mother. She is 82 years old. She has put the house in my name as well as hers. Her doctor has informed her she needs a pacemaker, and now she wants to put the house solely in my name.

I have several concerns. The first is tax purposes for me. How will this affect me and my husband's taxes for the next year? I also have other sisters and a brother who will eventually inherit part of the home. Mom's lawyer says that she is safe with just my name on the deed, but I am not sure.



Dear Linda,

We normally do not recommend to my clients that they add their children's names to the title of their homes. One reason why is that if you get sued if you declare bankruptcy, your mother could lose her home. Also, she would not be able to sell her home without your permission.

There will not be any particular tax consequences to you this year if your mother signs her home over to you. Gifts are not subject to income tax. Your mother will have to file a gift tax return with the IRS, but she won't have to send a check to the IRS unless she has given away more than $1,000,000 of gifts in excess of the annual gift tax exclusion (currently $13,000).

The property tax of the home will remain the same. Thanks to Propositions 13 and 58 there will be no reassessment. You will lose the $7,000 Homeowner's property tax exclusion unless you live in the home, but that will increase the property tax by less than $100. It's no big deal.

The big deal comes in when you sell the home after your mother's death. If she gives you the home to you, it will not get a new cost basis when she dies. If you ever sell the home, you will have to pay capital gains tax on the increase in value since either your father's death.

You will have tax problems even if you don't sell the home. There is no property tax transfer exclusion for transfers among siblings. If you add your brother and sisters on title the way your mother wants you to, either before or after her death, the home will get reassessed and the property taxes will increase dramatically.

Your mother would be much better off if she keeps the entire home in her name, and creates a revocable trust to both avoid probate and take advantage of the basis adjustment that will happen upon her death. As an added benefit, if the children get their shares directly from their mother instead of from you, there will be no property tax reassessment.

Your mother should seriously consider a transfer of the home only if your she is in a nursing home or is likely to need nursing home care and Medi-Cal benefits during her lifetime. And in that event, it's still not best to simply give her home to her children. An irrevocable trust designed to shelter her home from Medi-Cal estate recovery claims is a better bet.

Len & Rosie