Francis Roper's estate consisted largely of $17.6 million worth of Colonial Bancgroup stock. She died in 2007. Unfortunately, the value of the stock sank like a stone, and it was worth only $8.5 million on the alternate valuation date, six months later. That was the value used on the estate tax return filed in 2008. But in 2009 the federal government undertook a fraud investigation that, upon its resolution in 2010, rendered the bank stock completely worthless. The estate asked for a refund in 2013 of the estate taxes that had been paid on the now valueless stock.

No refund is allowed, the District Court ruled. In the first place, the refund request is so late that the Court no longer has jurisdiction over it. The taxpayer-executrix claimed that the tardiness was due to her disability, and she had the medical documentation to back up the assertion. Unfortunately, while that excuse may be available to individuals, it is not permitted for estates. But even if the Court looked at the case on the merits, no refund would be allowed. The market for the bank stock had not yet collapsed on the alternate valuation date, even if the stock would have been worthless based upon nonpublic information. It is valued on the date of death and alternate valuation dates that must control the determination of tax obligations.

The amount exempt from federal estate tax was far lower in 2007 than it is today--an $8.5 million estate would owe no federal estate tax at all. Still, today's higher exemptions are set to expire in 2026. Some estate planning experts have suggested that the expiration could come sooner if control of the levers of power in Washington, D.C., changes hands before then.

(October 2019)
© 2019 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.