Mother Nature knew exactly what she was doing when she made babies cute. In fact, evolutionary biologists at Oxford University recently concluded they evolved that way to survive by encouraging the rest of us to look after them. "This is the first evidence of its kind to show that cuteness helps infants to survive by eliciting care-giving, which cannot be reduced to simple, instinctual behaviours," says professor Morten Kringelbach. (And couldn't Oxford have found something less obvious to study?)
Half the fun of meeting a new baby is looking to see what features they inherit from their parents. Daddy's bright blue eyes? Mommy's adorable button-nose? (Hopefully not the next-door neighbor's goofy jug ears!) But did you know that some babies inherit more than their parents' physical features? In California, some babies inherit their parents' tax breaks!
Back in 1978, a group of Californians led by a cranky retired reporter named Howard Jarvis passed a ballot measure called Proposition 13. That law capped property taxes at 1% of a property's assessed value and limited increases to 2% per year — regardless of how much its value actually goes up — until the owner sells. The goal was to keep inflation from raising taxes so high that they pushed owners, especially retirees living on fixed incomes, out of their homes.
Eight years later, Proposition 58 juiced that break by letting parents pass along their valuations, along with their houses, to their kids. The goal was to make it possible for them to keep living in the family home. But since then, we've discovered some unintended consequences. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun even said it's created "sort of a class of nobility in California." His colleague, Justice Stevens, said it “establishes a privilege of a medieval character: Two families with equal needs and equal resources are treated differently solely because of their different heritage.”
Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported how this can pay off for heirs who don't even live in their houses. In 2009, actors Jeff and Beau Bridges, along with their sister, inherited a Malibu house that their father Lloyd bought in the 1950s. And you can rent it today for the bargain price of $15,995/month! Yet the annual tax on the property, which Zillow estimates is worth $6.8 million, was just $5,700. The carryover valuation has saved the Bridges heirs more than $300,000 since they inherited it. In total, the Times reports it's cost Los Angeles County $280 million last year.
California is the only state that dangles that particular property tax goodie. But Uncle Sam offers a similar break when Mom and Dad move to that great nursing home in the sky. It's called "stepped-up basis." Let's say Mom and Dad paid $12,000 for a house in San Jose, back when you could do that. Now they're smack in the middle of Silicon Valley, and developers are salivating to pay $2 million for the place. If Mom and Dad sell today, they'll owe beaucoup tax on that gain. But if they hold it until death, you'll avoid tax on any of the run-up in value before you inherit.
There's good news here for everyone, even if you didn't inherit a house on Malibu Beach. The federal and state tax laws are full of similar deductions, credits, loopholes, and strategies to pay less. You just have to go out and find them. That's where we come in. So call us today, while there's still time to plan for 2018, and see how much you're overpaying. Than start planning for your next beach vacation!
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John Leidy, EA
DIY Books Coach
It was the third day of the very first income tax course when I realized that it will become my mission to help people understand their taxes better to be able to make better decisions and STOP wasting money on taxes they should not have to pay.