Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Incident to Divorce | Tax Lawyer & Attorney

This article introduces a series of articles on 26 U.S.C. §1041 and specifically the issue of tax treatment of ex-spouse property transfers incident to divorce. As a result of a divorce, it is very common for ex-spouses to transfer properties to each other as part of their settlement agreement. A question arises: are these ex-spouse property transfers taxable?

Note that this article covers a situation only when both spouses are US citizens and only direct transfers between ex-spouses (i.e. the transfers on behalf of an ex-spouse are not covered here).

General Rule for Ex-Spouse Property Transfers under 26 U.S.C. §1041

A property transfer between spouses is generally not subject to federal income tax. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(1). Transfers of property between former spouses are also not taxable as long as they are “incident to divorce”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(2). For income tax purposes, the law treats the transferee spouse as having acquired the transferred property by gift. 26 U.S.C. §1041(b)(1). This means that “the basis of the transferee in the property shall be the adjusted basis of the transferor”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(b)(2).

It is important to emphasize that only transfers of property (real, personal, tangible and/or intangible) are governed by 26 U.S.C. §1041; transfers of services are not subject to the rules of this section. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(a), Q&A-4.

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Incident to Divorce

The key issue for the ex-spouse property transfers is whether they are “incident to divorce”. The statute and the temporary Treasury regulations describe two situations when a transfer between ex-spouses will be considered “incident to divorce”: “(1) The transfer occurs not more than one year after the date on which the marriage ceases, or (2) the transfer is related to the cessation of the marriage.” Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6; 26 U.S.C. §1041(c).

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Not More Than One Year After the Cessation of a Marriage

Any transfers of property between former spouses that occur not more than one year after the date on which the marriage ceases are subject to the nonrecognition rules of 26 U.S.C. §1041(a). This is case even if a transfer of property is not really related to the cessation of the marriage. Treas Reg § 1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6.

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Related to the Cessation of the Marriage

26 U.S.C. §1041 does not actually define the meaning of “transfers related to the cessation of the marriage”. Rather, the temporary Treasury regulations explain this term.

The temporary regulations establish a two-prong test that states that a transfer of property is treated as related to the cessation of the marriage if: (1) “the transfer is pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument, as defined in section 71(b)(2)”, and (2) “the transfer occurs not more than 6 years after the date on which the marriage ceases”. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7. The definition of divorce or separation instrument in the first prong also includes a modification or amendment to such decree or instrument.

If either or both of the prongs of this test are not satisfied (for example, the transfer occurred more than six years after the cessation of the marriage), then a transfer “is presumed to be not related to the cessation of the marriage.” Id. This is a rebuttable presumption and, in a future article, I will discuss how a taxpayer may rebut this presumption.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help Concerning Tax Consequences of a Property Transfer to an Ex-Spouse

If you are engaged in a divorce or you are an attorney representing a person who is engaged in a divorce, contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced help with respect to taxation of transfers of property to an ex-spouse as well as other tax consequences of a divorce proceeding.

Itemized Deductions Limitation in 2013

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 added a limitation for itemized deductions claimed on 2013 returns of individuals with incomes of $250,000 or more ($300,000 for married couples filing jointly).

In reality this is not a new law; this is basically a re-birth of the famous “Pease limitation” that was the part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. This limitation was later phased out during the era of Bush tax cuts and completely eliminated for the year 2010. Subsequently, additional legislation extended the elimination of the Pease limitation from 2010 through 2012. Now, as part of the New Year’s compromise, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 reinstated the provision with an upgrade; the provision is codified as 26 USC §68.

In order to understand how the provision works, it is important to emphasize that the idea is to limit the impact of certain itemized deductions, but not to completely eliminate the tax advantages of such deductions.

Types of Itemized Deductions Affected by the Limitation

Armed with this understanding, let’s look at the details of the Pease limitation. First, the provision mostly applies to the following types of itemized deductions: charitable contributions, mortgage interest, state/local/property taxes and miscellaneous itemized deductions. However, the statute expressly excludes medical expense deductions, the investment interest deduction, casualty, theft, or gambling loss deductions (see 26 USC §68(c)).

Limitation and Thresholds

For the tax year 2013, 26 USC §68 starts to limit the itemized deductions once the AGI exceeds $250,000 for individuals and $300,000 for joint filers (these are the items indexed for inflation). The limitation will consist of the less of (a) 3% of the adjusted gross income above the threshold amount, or (b) 80% of the amount of the itemized deductions otherwise allowable for the taxable year.

For example, in a hypothetical where a an individual earns $300,000 in 2013 and his itemized deductions consist of mortgage interest and property tax deductions of $50,000, the individual’s itemized deductions will be reduced by $ 1,500.

Based on the information in our hypothetical (and disregarding any other facts and factors), here are the calculations:

(a) $300,000 AGI – $250,000 (threshold for 2013) = $50,000; 3% x $50,000 = $1,500;
(b) 80% x $50,000 of itemized deductions = $40,000.

Since $1,500 is less than $40,000, this is the amount that should be used to reduce the taxpayer’s itemized deductions.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Tax Planning Help Regarding Pease Limitation

If you are potentially facing the limitation of your itemized deductions, it is possible that you are overlooking tax alternatives that may mitigate the impact of Pease Limitation. If you wish to explore such alternatives as part of your overall tax plan, contact the experienced tax firm of Sherayzen Law Office.