In June of 2021, we looked into the well known California estate law firm Cunningham Legal, who specializes in Estate Planning, Trust Administration, Asset Protection and Advanced Tax Planning — to see how they interpret and answer questions regarding property tax relief benefits in California in 2021, in a Q & A format.
As the firm points out, were it not for Proposition 13, and now Proposition 19, in terms of protecting your property from reassessment, all properties in California would be immediately reassessed at full current market value when a change of ownership occurs either by death, gift, or sale. When a property is “transferred,” or what the California State Board of Equalization calls a “change in ownership.” Which is why the parent-to-child exclusion is so crucial, with respect to protecting your property from reassessment.
Question: How does Proposition 13 affect the amount of property taxes California property owners have to pay every year?
Answer: Proposition 13, an amendment to the California Constitution which passed overwhelmingly in 1978, rolled back residential property taxes on a principal residence to 1975 levels, capping them at 1% of assessed value (plus some local additions by county). Assessments were allowed to rise at a maximum of 2% a year — even though real estate prices in California continued to skyrocket.
Question: How can heirs inheriting property from a parent still claim a limited exclusion from reassessments under Proposition 19?
Answer: If you don’t take pre-emptive action, such as establishing a Family Property LLC, then whether you give your child a home or they inherit it you must apply Proposition 19 rules and regulations to a principal residence, unless it is a farm.
Question: What Prop 19 regulations are now in effect for new homeowners inheriting a home from a parent?
Answer: The child of a parent leaving property must move into a transferred or inherited home (or family farm) as their principal residence within one year. Assuming the child does occupy the home — if the value is less than the factored base year value plus one million dollars (indexed for inflation), the base year value will not change.
Question: Who can take advantage of a limited exclusion from property reassessment under Proposition 19 inherited property transfers, moving a low property tax base over to a new home?
Answer: If you’re over 55, protecting your property from reassessment has actually gotten easier… You can now do this three times during their life instead of just once. Other eligible people include those with severe disabilities as well as victims of natural disasters and wildfires.
Question: What happens with multiple children under Prop 19? Must all the children move into the home as their principal residence?
Answer: This still remains to be seen…The California courts are still determining how a lot of details will be handled under Prop 19.
Question: Do you have to occupy an inherited house forever? How long must you live there as your principal residence before a reassessment is triggered?
Answer: Again, we don’t yet know, and further guidance is needed from the CA Legislature.
Question: Does this mean that all properties, principal residences or otherwise, are subject to possible reassessment when ownership is transferred by inheritance or otherwise, so the math can be done on new property taxes?
Answer: Probably yes. This will greatly increase the workload on assessment offices, and possibly create a significant backlog in cases.
This is why law firms such as Cunningham Legal are not simply waiting for answers from the California Courts and the Legislature. Estate law firms like this are proactively building programs to aid in protecting your property from reassessment — such as their Family Property LLC to help middle class families save on property taxes. Lawyers like Rachelle Lee-Warner, Esq., Partner at Cunningham Legal, are always closely watching legal and legislative opinions to devise the best possible outcomes for their clients.
According to Cunningham Legal, these days even regular middle class families in California need an attorney to guide them regarding inherited property, to make sure Proposition 19 and Proposition 13 are being taken advantage of correctly; to avoid common errors. The firm stresses the avoidance of common mistakes with grave consequences…
Question: What are some examples of mistakes people make with Prop 13 when it comes to the title of inherited property?
Answer: If you change the title of a house, you are possibly triggering property tax reassessment.
Question: What is a big mistake people make when they leave property in a Living Trust?
Answer: You name multiple beneficiaries in a Living Trust, which includes your house. Some of the beneficiaries are your children and some are not. As a result, the possibility of your children avoiding a reassessment may be lost.
Question: Are forms a potential area for mistakes?
Answer: Certainly. For example, you move your industrial property into an LLC so you can protect yourself while renting it out, accidentally triggering a reassessment because you didn’t file the right form on time. This is precisely why a good attorney is so important, to protect your properties from reassessment.
Question: What paperwork mistake can parents make with respect to leaving property to their children?
Answer: They do not consider creating a Family Property LLC to protect your properties from reassessment when you die.
Question: What else would be a common paperwork error?
Answer: Your heirs simply don’t know they have to file a claim for reassessment exclusion under Proposition 13 within three years, or they may lose it.
Question: What is another common mistake many beneficiaries make after inheriting a home from a parent?
Answer: Many beneficiaries do not realize that under Prop 19 they must reside in your primary home to claim an exclusion after your death, never establishing clear residency.
Question: Are there other frequent mistakes people make after inheriting property, with a home transferring from parent to child?
Answer: A transfer occurs without proper registration with the state—and 20 years later, the new owner owes 20 years of “supplemental” back taxes at an enormously higher rate.
Question: What is a common error often made by parents leaving property to children?
Answer: People think that they are passing on a “principal residence” but they haven’t lived there for years, and the state objects.
Question: What about avoiding fair market rates on the transfer of a residential multi-unit property?
Answer: People think they can pass on the parent-to-child exclusion for a multi-unit property, but they only occupy part of it, and the state objects. There are no simple solutions. That’s why folks involved in any of these issues require legal support. They need a good lawyer!
Families and individual property owners can set an appointment for Estate Planning, Trust Administration, Asset Protection, or Advanced Tax Planning by calling their office at 1-866-988-3956. You can also contact Rachelle Lee-Warner, Esq., Partner at Cunningham Legal; Office: (805) 342-0970 Web: http://www.cunninghamlegal.com