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How Does Estate Planning Work with Multiple Homes?

Published: November 29, 2021
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For many people in the Philadelphia and South Jersey region, owning a second home is a dream come true. Whether ‘down the shore or ‘up the mountains’, some folks seek to own a second property to be closer to family, for professional purposes, for leisure, or as an investment. Whatever the circumstances, owning more than one property, particularly in different states, requires special considerations when doing your estate planning. Below we discuss some of the things to consider when creating your estate plan as the owner of multiple homes.

Domicile and Estate Planning

You can have more than one residence, but you can only have one domicile. Your “domicile” is the legal term for your main place of residence, to which you intend to return when you are away. It’s even possible to spend most of your time in one state and be domiciled in another. In most cases, a person’s domicile is obvious, but sometimes, as when a person divides their time equally between homes in two states, a court must decide domicile.

This is important because the state where you are domiciled is where any state estate or income taxes will be paid, and where your estate will go through probate. Though having a domicile in one state won’t necessarily prevent your property in another state from being taxed there, where you are domiciled can have an impact on your overall tax bill. (Even if your estate is exempt from federal estate tax, it may still be subject to a state’s estate tax.) It is possible that if your domicile is unclear, two states could each claim that you are domiciled within their borders, and tax your estate.

You can declare that you are domiciled in a particular state in your estate planning documents. This is helpful, but not dispositive if the facts point in another direction. It’s important to support any declaration of domicile with actions that support it. In general, people have things like their primary physicians, attorneys, voter registration, employment, and bank accounts where they are domiciled.

Talkin’ Probate Law

Real estate is always governed by the laws of the state which contains the property, not by the laws of the state in which the homeowner lives. This means that you may be required to go through probate twice if you live in one state but are the sole owner of real estate in another. Since you can only have one primary residence⁠—the one in which you vote and from which you pay your taxes⁠—you may be frightened by the legal complexities that will face your beneficiaries when you die

If you’re like most people, you know it’s generally desirable to avoid probate. One thing you may not have considered is that real property in another state is subject to probate in that state. Probate in a state other than the one where you are domiciled is known as “ancillary probate.” In addition to the expense and inconvenience that often accompanies the probate process, ancillary probate may take place in a state far from where your executor is located, forcing them to depend on an unknown local attorney.

Fortunately, ancillary probate can be easily avoided using many of the same estate planning tools that you would use to avoid probate in the state in which you’re domiciled. Many people get around ancillary probate by deeding their out-of-state real estate to a revocable living trust they have created. Other options include creating a family limited partnership (FLP) or a limited liability company (LLC) and making the real property an asset of those entities.

Tax Considerations Regarding Out-of-State Real Estate

Real estate may be your estate’s most valuable asset, so it is essential to consider the tax impact of having out-of-state real estate as part of your estate. Some of the devices that allow you to avoid ancillary probate can also help you to avoid estate or inheritance tax in the state where the property is located.

For example, if the property is located outside Pennsylvania, but the property is owned by your LLC located in PA where you are domiciled, the other state may treat the entity as an intangible asset that is located where you are domiciled. In that case, the real property would not be subject to estate tax in the state where it is physically located. Some states will do this; others “look through” to the location of the real property itself and tax it there.

Other options for minimizing the tax impact of owning real property out of state include selling or gifting the property, possibly to a family member or a trust if there is interest in keeping the real estate in the family. Selling or gifting property may avoid estate tax in another state, but could cause problems for your own long-term-care planning if not executed properly.

At Scott Bloom Law, we are a team of advocates who care, always fighting for what is best for our clients and their families. With knowledge, experience, and compassion, we strive to find solutions that make the aging process as emotionally and financially painless as possible. Visit us at scottbloomlaw.com or call 215-364-1111, to talk to find out more.

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