Many residents of the United Kingdom own property in Florida and in other parts of the United States. In the years past, the U.S. estate tax obligation on U.K. residents who died while owning property in the U.S. titled in their personal names could be quite significant. Recent changes in the U.S. estate tax laws have provided substantial benefits to United Kingdom residents owning property in the U.S.
Effective January 1, 2013, persons domiciled in the U.S., subject to U.S. estate tax on the value of their worldwide assets, did not pay U.S. estate tax unless the value of those worldwide assets exceeded $5,250,000. On January 1, 2016, this exemption increased to $5,450,000, as it is adjusted for inflation for years after 2013.
Individuals who are not domiciled in the U.S. can be subject to U.S. estate tax. However, their estates are subject to estate tax on specific U.S. assets only, not worldwide assets. Instead of receiving the benefit of a $5,450,000 exemption, they are entitled to an exemption of only $60,000. The U.S. estate tax rates start at 18% and increase to a maximum of 40% on property valued at $1,000,000 and above. There is no automatic deduction for property passing to the spouse, unless the surviving spouse is a U.S. citizen.
The estate tax on nonresidents of the U.S. can be quite onerous. To illustrate the severity of the tax, property valued at $500,000 would result in a U.S. estate tax of $142,800. This is payable to the U.S. Treasury no later than 9 months after date of death and, if not paid timely, is subject to penalties and interest, which would be due in addition to the estate tax.
Individuals domiciled in the U.K. have significant advantages over residents of other countries due to the favorable provisions contained in the estate tax treaty between the U.S. and the U.K., which has been in effect since November 11, 1979. Article 8, Paragraph 5 of the treaty provides that the estate tax imposed in the U.S. on a domiciliary of the U.K. shall be limited to the estate tax that would have been imposed if the decedent had been domiciled in the U.S. immediately before his death. For decedents dying in 2016, this means that if the worldwide estate of the U.K. resident was valued at $5,450,000 or less at date of death, the U.S. estate tax would be zero, regardless of the value of the U.S. assets in relation to the value of the assets outside of the U.S. Even if no tax is due, the filing of a U.S. estate tax return is required if the value of the U.S. assets exceed $60,000 at date of death.
U.K. residents with worldwide assets in excess of $5,450,000 may still have planning opportunities available to them. For example, instead of taking title in their individual names, they could take title of their U.S. real estate in the name of a corporation. Upon their death, the value of the shares of the corporation would not be subject to U.S. estate tax. However, the disadvantage of this is that the corporate income tax upon sale of the property could far exceed the U.S. income tax due had the property been held in their individual names.
Since this article deals exclusively with U.S. taxation, it is recommended that the U.K. resident consult his U.K. tax advisor to determine the tax effect in the U.K. before any final decision is made.