Don’t Give Away the House Too Soon



Retired couples typically have choices about how to pass on the family home. Might they make a mistake and give away the house too soon? They could sell the home and put the cash in the bank and rent. Another way people sometimes handle this is to draw up and record a deed transferring a home now to their children. The logic is that the children are going to get the house anyway so why not just given to them now. The third choice is to continue ownership of the house until both husband and wife have passed away and transfer the house to the children through their will or better yet through their living trust.

ight they make a mistake and give away the house too soon?


  1. Sell now. However, if they make more than $500,000 gain on the sale of the house there will be income tax to pay. Also, they would still have to have a place to live which would cost rent and use up part of the gain on the sale. Moreover, selling the house at the present time would give up future appreciation.
  2. Give it up now. By giving the house to the children at the present time, the couple could still live in the house by making arrangements with the children. However, the income tax basis of the couple would carry over to the children since under the tax laws this is a gift during lifetime. The income tax basis is what the couple paid for the house plus the cost of any documented improvements. When the couple have passed away, the children could sell the house but most likely would have capital gains if the house has gone up in value over what the couple paid. For example, assume the couple paid $200,000 to purchase the house in 1990 and spent 30,000 on remodel costs. That would make their tax basis $230,000. Now supposing the children sell the house in 2016 after their parents are gone and at that time the house is worth $800,000.  The children would have reportable capital gains of the difference between $800,000 and $230,000 which is $570,000. Assuming a federal and state tax rate of about 33% combined, there would be about $180,000 tax to be paid. The only way the children could get out of paying most of the tax would be for the children to move into the house, claim it  as their personal residence, and utilize the $500,000 exclusion from available to married couples.
  3. Retain it until they pass away — NO TAX!.  There is an income tax law that causes the tax bases of real estate to increase (“step up”) to the fair market value at date of death.  Thus, in the above example where the house tax basis is $230,000, upon the death of the couple the value would go up to the date of death value which in the above example would be $800,000.  Their children would then inherit the property with a tax basis of $800,000 and could sell the house the next day for $800,000 with no income tax on the gain. That is because there is no gain by definition under the tax law with the property value being stepped up.


Joint tenancy is a form of ownership whereby upon the death of one the other owner succeeds to 100% ownership.  People sometimes do this thinking it will eliminate having to bother with trusts, wills or any type of estate planning. However, the tax law says that if you put a property in joint tenancy with someone you have made a gift of one half of it at that time and the tax basis of the half given carries over. Thus, in the above example, if the property with the tax basis of 230,000 put into the names of the parents and the children in joint tenancy, the tax law would say that the children received a gift of half of the property with the tax basis of $115,000.  If the children outlived the parents, and inherit the property of the parents, they would only be inheriting one- half of the property and only the half inherited would step up in basis.   The children would have the basis of the half gifted from the parents of  $115,000.  They would add that to the $400,000 in value of half of the property inherited at the parents’ passing. So the tax basis would be $400,000 plus $115,000 for a total of $515,000. A sale at $800,000 would cause a taxable gain of $285,000. At tax rate of roughly 33% it would be about $94,000 of income tax due on the sale.

CALL  (949) 851-1771  to speak with Lawyer  David L. Crockett


Before making any gifts, sales, or transfers of a personal residence, a qualified tax attorney or CPA should be consulted to chart out what the taxes would be in each type of situation.  Once a transaction has been done, it cannot be unwound. Tax planning has to be done in advance.

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