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The Estate Tax Lien Automatically Arises

Estate Tax Lien

When an individual dies, the estate tax lien automatically arises upon death for any estate tax liability. The IRS is not required to take any action to create the estate tax lien. This means that the estate tax lien is in existence before the amount of the tax liability it secures is even determined. Detroit Bank v. United States, 317 U.S. 329 (1943).

The estate tax lien is a function of the amount of the estate tax a decedent’s estate ultimately owes. The lien attaches to the decedent’s entire “gross estate,” exclusive of property used to pay charges against the estate and administration expenses, for a period of ten years from the date of the decedent’s death. IRC § 6324(a)(1). The majority of courts have held that the ten-year estate tax lien is of absolute duration and thus, lien foreclosure must be completed before expiration of ten years. SeeUnited States v. Davis, 52 F.3d 781 (8th Cir. 1995); United States v. Cleavenger, 517 F.2d 230 (7th Cir. 1975). The Service follows this majority rule. On the other hand, an administrative levy is completed once the notice of levy is served or in the case of tangible property, when the notice of seizure is given. Thus, any suit outside the ten-year period to enforce a levy would not be barred.

The estate tax lien attaches to the “gross estate” of the decedent. The gross estate, arising under federal law, includes certain types of property not included in the probate estate. For example, property held by trusts established by the decedent many years before death may be includible in the gross estate by reason of the trust instrument reserving to the decedent certain “powers,” such as the power to revoke the trust, change beneficiaries, etc.

Under IRC § 6324(a)(2), special rules exist for property included in the “gross estate” but not passing through probate. For nonprobate property, if the estate tax is not paid when due, then the spouse, transferee, trustee, surviving tenant, person in possession, or beneficiary of the estate is generally liable for the payment of the estate tax to the extent of the value of the estate’s property held by, or passing to, such person. IRC § 6324(a)(2). This means that the estate tax lien will encumber such property in the hands of persons within the above classes without regard to any filing of notice of lien or the need for a separate assessment of tax.

If a spouse, transferee, trustee, surviving tenant, person in possession, or beneficiary of the estate transfers nonprobate property to a purchaser or holder of a security interest, then that property is divested from the estate tax lien. IRC § 6324(a)(2). The Service, however, may still collect from the spouse, transferee, trustee, surviving tenant, person in possession, or beneficiary of the estate. IRC § 6324(a)(2) provides that if a transfer of nonprobate property to a purchaser or holder of a security interest removes the estate tax lien, then a “like lien” shall attach to the transferor’s property.

The statute of limitations applicable to the personal liability established by IRC § 6324(a)(2) is not the 10-year period from the date of death set forth in IRC § 6324(a)(1); rather it is 10 years from the date the assessment is made against the estate upon the filing of the estate tax return, in accordance with IRC § 6502(a). The section 6324(a)(2) personal liability arises independently of the estate tax lien; accordingly, it may be collected within the ordinary collection period of 10 years from the date of assessment. A separate assessment against the transferees is not required. SeeEstate of Mangiardi v. Commissioner, T.C.M. 2011-24 aff’d, 442 Fed. Appx. 526 (11th Cir., October 12, 2011); United States v. Bevan, 2008 WL 5179099 (E.D. Cal. 2008); United States v. Degroft, 539 F.Supp.42 (D.Md. 1981).

If property is included in the estate under IRC § 2033 (probate assets), it is divested of the lien upon transfer to a purchaser or holder of a security interest only if the estate’s executor has been discharged from personal liability under IRC § 2204. See IRC § 6324(a)(3); United States v. Vohland, 675 F.2d 1071, 1075 (9th Cir. 1982); United States v. Estate of Young, 592 F.Supp. 1478, 1486 (E.D. Pa. 1984). See also Rev. Rul. 69-23, 1969-1 C.B. 302

As with the general tax lien, there are some exceptions to the special lien for estate taxes. IRC § 6324(c). Thus, the estate tax lien will not be valid as against a mechanic’s lienor and against the superpriorities listed under IRC § 6323(b) if the conditions set forth in that section are satisfied. In addition, if a lien or security interest has priority over the estate tax lien, interest and allowable expenses based on the lien or security interest will have priority based on state or local law. Thus, for example, if A has a valid mortgage on B’s real property, A’s priority over the special lien will include not only the amount of the mortgage debt owed but also the amount of interest and allowable expenses.

IRC § 6324A creates a special lien for estate taxes deferred under IRC § 6166. The executor of the estate makes an election under IRC § 6166 to defer payment of the estate tax for a period of up to 14 years. This period can be extended if the estate requests an extension to make a payment under the deferral election pursuant to IRC § 6161(a)(2)(B). If an estate qualifies and elects to defer the payment of estate tax pursuant to IRC § 6166, the Service must evaluate whether a bond should be required as security for deferral or whether it will require any security at all based on the facts and circumstances of each case. See IRC § 6165; Estate of Roski v. Commissioner, 128 T.C. 113 (2007); IRM The Service’s decision to require a bond can be appealed to the Tax Court. See IRC § 7479(a). See Notice 2007-90, 2007-46 I.R.B. 1003 regarding the factors the Service will consider in deciding to require security. If the Service does require security, the estate may elect to provide an IRC § 6324A special lien in lieu of the bond.

IRC § 6324B creates a special lien for the pending additional estate tax attributable to the estate’s election to use a “special use value” for certain “qualified” property for estate tax calculations. See IRC § 2032A (valuation of farm real property and certain real property used in family business).

Have a question? Contact Jason Freeman, Freeman Law.

Jason Freeman

Mr. Freeman is the founding and managing member of Freeman Law, PLLC. He is a dual-credentialed attorney-CPA, author, law professor, and trial attorney. Mr. Freeman has been recognized multiple times by D Magazine, a D Magazine Partner service, as one of the Best Lawyers in Dallas, and as a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters service.
He was honored by the American Bar Association, receiving its “On the Rise – Top 40 Young Lawyers” in America award, and recognized as a Top 100 Up-And-Coming Attorney in Texas. He was also named the “Leading Tax Controversy Litigation Attorney of the Year” for the State of Texas” by AI.

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