What CA Beneficiaries, Trustees & Homeowners Need to Know

New California Prop 19 Property Tax Transfer

New California Prop 19 Property Tax Transfer

Tax Basis Portability

As of Feb. 2021, so-called “tax basis portability” has been available to beneficiaries and homeowners, under the new Proposition 58 quasi-replacement, CA Proposition 19.  Tax basis portability is a way to reduce the assessed value of your home.  As a result, you have the generally significant benefit of lower property tax liability.

With “tax basis portability”, you can transfer the old assessed value of your previous home, to your next home. For instance, if you own  a house with an assessed value of, say, $400,000. You sell it for $600,000, and purchase a house for, let’s say, $550,000.  So rather than a new reassessed value of $550,000, you can apply to reverse  the value of the property back to the previous assessed value of $400,000. Therefore, the lower value can shave roughly $1,800 off your property taxes every year.  OK, it’s not a million dollars, but it adds up…

As long as you can verify that you are –

  1. age 55 or older;
  2. or severely disabled;
  3. or own a home that has been significantly damaged by forest-fire or wildfire, or a natural disaster, such as a flood.or severely disabled;
  4. plus, are inheriting a home that was a principle residence; and are moving into the property only as a principle residence.

“Portability” is language used to define estate tax law that enables a surviving spouse to use an estate tax exemption left by a deceased spouse to protect valuable assets during the surviving spouse’s life, or at the surviving spouse’s death.

Potential Issues with a Replacement Property

A “replacement property” can be purchased prior to the sale of home you are currently living in. Of course there may be some problems property tax relief critics, realtors, politicians, and the Legislature doesn’t like to acknowledge – such as the size of an inherited home, your family may be way too large for it.  Or the inherited home may be in an undesirable area. 

If you have children in school, the school in the new school district you may find yourself in might be completely  inferior to the previous school, upsetting your children. Or your commute to work may end up being an extra 4 hours on the freeway, getting to and from your new inherited home!

These issues can be exhausting and debilitating in the long run. Certainly something to consider.  In a perfect world, these issues would not surface and become a big problem when you inherit a home from a parent. However, it’s generally not a perfect world.

Improvements to Propositions 60, Prop 90 & 110

Revisiting several of the new property tax relief options… One can safely say, despite components that are perhaps not so helpful – that Proposition 19 is, in some ways, less restrictive than the old Proposition 60, Prop 90, and Prop 110.  There are no more county or sales price restrictions, and people can use the Proposition 19 property tax benefit more than once in a lifetime.

Proposition 19 Benefits

a) County restrictions are eliminated… The older rules limited the location of the properties in question. Proposition 60 restricted the tax basis portability within one county. Proposition 90 expanded that to a certain list of counties, so you could sell in one county and buy in another, but only if they were on that list.

b) Under Proposition 19… instead of limiting the counties of transfer, you can use this benefit anywhere in California.

c) No more sales price restrictions… Under Propositions 60 and 90, only transfers of “equal or lesser value” were eligible for tax basis portability.

d) A transfer of low tax basis… is now enabled by Proposition 19, regardless of value. However, certain adjustments to the tax basis are required if the purchase price of the replacement property is higher than the sale price of the previous home. 

New Proposition 19 Restrictions for Inherited Properties

On the other hand, under Proposition 19, beneficiaries could see a substantial increase in their property taxes for inherited property. While property tax relief in California had no exclusion or exemption limitations under Proposition 58, current property tax law exclusions under Proposition 19 apply strictly to the first $1,000,000 of inherited property value.

For instance, should your inherited property (i.e., primary residence) be assessed with a market value of $2,000,000 upon transfer to you as the official beneficiary, newly assessed value will be $1,000,000. In other words, $2,000,000 minus $1,000,000 (i.e., the first $1,000,000 of property value) – will equal a $1,000,000 limited exclusion.

Although you are most likely aware of other changes and limitations imposed on California property tax relief, it bears repeating.  As a beneficiary inheriting CA property taxes from a dad or mom, you now have to reside in a home only as a primary residence, if you are to take advantage of the Proposition 19 tax break, providing an exclusion from property tax reassessment at current market rates. You can no longer receive an exclusion from reassessment for an investment property.

Some say the underside to this reveals a change that mainly benefits the realtor community in California – using the Bridges family as their one and only singular example of inheriting CA property taxes from a wealthy parent, in this case a luxury beach- front property being used as a lucrative investment property; saving a great deal in taxes – while renting out to wealthy vacationers for $15,000 per month.

For whatever reason, critics of property tax relief have as yet produced very few specific examples of this type of inherited property used for “rental revenue” purposes, as opposed to “primary residential” purposes.  Incredibly, the property tax law removing Prop 13 and Prop 58 property tax breaks from investment properties is apparently based on this one oft-told, tired tale of the Bridges family!

As you probably also know – as an inheritor, you have only 12-months in order to establish your inherited property as a principal or primary residence, to avoid property tax reassessment. However, if your inherited property value is more than $1,000,000 over the original tax basis, you are most likely still facing property tax reassessment – and this can hit the pocketbook hard. This may encourage you to sell out, if that’s the case.

Help From Property Tax Specialists

If you don’t want to sell your inherited home, you may be inclined  to enlist the help of a property tax consultant like Michael Wyatt Consulting, or Devin Lucas Real Estate for example (great proponents of property tax breaks, and supporters of Propositions 13 and 58); or a trust lender like Commercial Loan Corp, with a loan to an irrevocable trust – and buyout your siblings, if you have siblings, who prefer to sell their property shares from the same inherited property you have received from your parents. 

You can establish a permanent, low Proposition 13 tax base this way, and take over 100% of the inherited property equity, with the trust loan paying off anything owed on the inherited home.   Plus, your siblings will end up with a good deal more cash from the trust loan than if they had sold out to an outside buyer.

Proposition 19 Changes  to the CA Parent-Child Exclusion

Let’s say a parent owns a home that is his or her primary residence plus a rental property (such as an apartment building or commercial building) in California. The home has an assessed value of $500,000 and a fair market value of $3,000,000. The rental property also has an assessed value of $500,000 and a fair market value of $2,000,000. Even though these properties have different current market values, their property tax liability is similar because they have the same assessed value. The combined annual property tax of both properties with a property tax rate of 1.25% is $12,500.

Prior to Proposition 19:  Let’s say the parent in this example wanted to transfer both properties to his son. There was no reassessment on the transfer of either the home or the rental property from father to son. The home before Proposition 19, under Proposition 58, could be transferred to the son irrespective of its’ value, since it was the father’s primary residence, and the assessed value of the rental property falls below the $1,000,000 threshold.

Therefore the combined annual property tax stays at $12,500. Moreover, there were no restrictions on the son’s usage of either property – therefore the son might have used both properties as investment properties if that is what he wished to do. 

Outcomes Under Proposition 19: Let’s say new assessed value of a house is $2,000,000 since the current market value is larger than the assessed value by more than $1,000,000 (i.e., the new assessed value has a current market value of $3,000,000 minus $1,000,000). The new assessed value for the rental property is its fair market value of $2,000,000 because no exclusion or exemption from reassessment at current market rates applies to transfers of property from parent-to-child other than a primary residence.

Yet if it is indeed a principle residence that beneficiary or heirs  are moving into, in keeping with the 12-month inherited property move-in deadline – all the bells and whistles really are still there to be taken advantage of – such as inheriting CA property taxes from parents,    having the right to continue transferring property taxes while avoiding property tax reassessment, while being able to use a Proposition 19 loan to an irrevocable trust to keep a parents low property tax base as well as buying out siblings’ inherited property shares – formerly a Proposition 58 transfer of property between siblings…

By the same token, heirs or beneficiaries of inherited property can make full use of any property tax transfer as long as these new restrictive requirements are met…  an inheritor can transfer parents property taxes and likewise keep parents property taxes thereafter upon inheriting CA property taxes from ones’ father or mother – and complete the process with a parent-to-child transfer and parent-child exclusion.  Californians are still able to successfully avoid property tax reassessment by inheriting CA property taxes from parents, in the final analysis, keeping a low property tax base when inheriting a home. The key to property tax relief in all 58 counties in California.  

The new combined annual property tax will be $50,000. In addition, the son has to use the inherited family house as his primary residence or that property is sure to be reassessed at the current market value of $3,000,000, which will increase the combined annual property tax for both properties to $62,500.

You see the difference? This accounts for the growing push-back on Proposition 19…despite all the positive elements that come with this property tax measure.