The subprime crisis and financial meltdown certainly has taken its toll on the real estate market, and most areas of the country have made slow strides to recover. But the fact remains that home ownership has traditionally been the foundational instrument of wealth building in the United States and most Americans would likely still tell you that their homes are their most valuable asset.
When the market is healthy and appreciation is robust it can certainly make sense to invest a large percentage of your income into your residence. So when you're inventorying your assets as you prepare your estate plan you may find that it is the value of your home that pushes your overall worth above the estate tax exclusion of $5 million.
If the value of your home is making your estate vulnerable to the 35% federal death levy one option that is available to you is the creation of a qualified personal residence trust or QPRT. With these trusts you name your beneficiary, appoint a trustee, and fund the trust with the residence. By doing so you remove the value of your home from your estate for estate tax purposes, but it is considered to be a gift into the trust and it is taxable as such.
However, the trust states a term during which you will continue to reside in the house. By so doing you retain an interest in the home, so the taxable value of the gift is reduced by the amount of your retained interest. When the retained income period ends ownership of the residence will be transferred to the beneficiaries designated in the trust and this asset will no longer be subject to an estate tax in your estate.