Brad Bedingfield, Esq., Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
As we have reported in the past (here and here), because of an apparently accidental disconnect between various federal and Massachusetts statutes, it appears that assets passing from Massachusetts decedents in 2010 and thereafter may no longer receive a full step-up in cost basis for purposes of Massachusetts capital gains tax. The Boston Bar Association has promulgated and promoted Bill # H2559, which in essence would provide for a continuation of prior Massachusetts law in this regard, under which property passing upon death will receive a full step-up in cost basis for decedents regardless of the year in which they have died. Such a result avoids an unfair double tax (estate tax and capital gains tax) on the heirs of decedents who die in 2010 or thereafter.
On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue issued, for practitioner comment, a two-part draft Directive addressing this issue. In Directive 2, the DOR has interpreted the law as providing that the Massachusetts cost basis of property acquired from decedents who die in 2011 or thereafter is “stepped-up” basis. Although a legislative solution would be preferable to provide certainty regarding the law in this regard, Directive 2 would be a welcome relief to taxpayers facing possible double taxation with regard to property passing at death in 2011 and beyond.
Directive 1, however, addressing 2010 decedents, comes up short. Instead of providing for a full step-up in cost basis for Massachusetts purposes, in Directive 1 the DOR has interpreted the law as providing for the “modified carryover” basis regime applicable under IRC Section 1022 to estates of 2010 decedents whose executors elect out of application of estate tax (as discussed in more detail here and here).
Under federal law, this modified carryover basis regime was intended to be a “trade-off” for repeal of the estate tax. Current federal law provides the executor of a 2010 decedent’s estate with a choice – (1) no estate tax, but a potential capital gains tax burden on assets passing from the decedent (after application of certain cost basis allocations allowed under IRC Section 1022), or (2) application of estate tax, but full step-up in cost basis. Under no circumstances does federal law impose both estate tax and capital gains liability resulting from denial of step-up in cost basis at death.
Massachusetts law does not allow an election out of estate tax for 2010 decedents. Therefore, avoidance of double taxation requires a full step-up in cost basis for Massachusetts purposes in all cases. Although Directive 1, if put into effect, would potentially mitigate the effects of double taxation in some situations, many estates would still be subject to double taxation in Massachusetts.
The Boston Bar Association continues to support H2559, which would alleviate the need for the aforementioned Directives, would provide certainty regarding cost basis of assets received from a decedent after 2009 for Massachusetts purposes, and would conform Massachusetts practice in this regard with the federal policy, and with the historic Massachusetts practice, of subjecting assets passing at death to either estate tax or capital gains tax, but not both.
H2559 is currently before the Joint Committee on Revenue. Please consider contacting your representatives and asking them (1) to urge the members of the Joint Committee to report H2559 favorably out of the committee and (2) to vote for it. The phone numbers and email addresses of the members of the Joint Committee on Revenue may be found here.
To identify your representatives, and for contact information, please click here.
A template letter for your consideration may be found here.
Thank you for your support.
Update as of October 24, 2011: The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has extended the deadline for comments on the draft Directive from October 28, 2011 to November 11, 2011.