Since 2011, when one member of a married couple passes away, the surviving spouse is eligible to carry over any unused portion of the deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption amount. This rule, allowing “portability” of the deceased spouse’s unused exemption (DSUE) amount, provides a substantial reduction in estate tax exposure for couples whose combined net worth is more than $5 million (or is expected to grow above that amount in the future), and reduces or eliminates the need for many couples to utilize a bypass trust in their estate plan.
However, the caveat to portability of the estate tax exemption at the death of the first spouse is that it only applies if a Form 706 estate tax return is filed in a timely manner to claim portability – even, or especially, if the estate under the filing threshold and otherwise wouldn’t even need to file an estate tax return.
Unfortunately, though, many executors don’t even realize that there is a requirement to file an estate tax return for those who are not subject to an estate tax, and the oversight often isn’t discovered until the surviving spouse subsequently passes way. And by that time, it’s too late to go back and file for portability. At least, not without submitting a potentially costly request to the IRS for a private letter ruling to be granted an extension.
To help ameliorate this common oversight of executors – and the high volume of PLRs the IRS was receiving – in 2014 the IRS granted executors the opportunity to retroactively claim portability by filing an estate tax return for anyone who had passed away since 2011, under Rev. Proc. 2014-18. Yet since those rules lapsed (at the end of 2014), it has once again become increasingly common for executors to submit PLR requests to the IRS to receive an extension for an accidentally missed Federal estate tax return deadline.
Thus, the IRS has now issued Rev. Proc. 2017-34, which grants a permanent automatic extension for the time to file an estate tax return just to claim portability, beyond the original 9 months requirement. In order to utilize the extension, the executor merely needs to file a not-otherwise-required-to-be-filed Form 706 estate tax return within 2 years of the decedent’s date of death, and note on the return that it is being filed as a permissible extension under Rev. Proc. 2017-34.
In addition, the IRS has granted prior estates yet another opportunity for retroactive portability as well. For any member of a married couple who died after 2010, there is once again an opportunity to file a (now very late) Form 706 estate tax return to claim portability, with a deadline of January 2nd of 2018. Which allows surviving spouses (including same-sex married couples) to claim a carryover of the DSUE amount for any spouse who passed away in 2011 or later. And in situations where the then-surviving spouse also passed away and owed an estate tax, there’s even an opportunity to retroactively claim portability, and then file an amended estate tax return, and receive an estate tax refund of up to $2 million!
For most, though, the new rules simply provide an extended time window for executors to realize the need to file a Form 706 estate tax return to claim portability in the first place. Nonetheless, in situations where at least one member of a married couple passed away in 2011 or later, there is a limited time window to claim retroactive portability through the end of the year as well!