At a top current rate of 45%, the federal estate tax automatically makes the IRS the single largest creditor of most large estates. If the estate tax is looming in the background it’s imperative that every decision made by the parties and their lawyers with respect to how they characterize and prosecute their trust/probate claims be considered against this backdrop. I recently presented a national NBI seminar on this very same topic [click here].

At long last probate litigators and their clients have clearer guidance from the IRS on exactly how to make sure they maximize the tax-deduction benefits of estate litigation. The IRS has issued final regulations under IRC § 2053 governing estate tax deductions for administration expenses and claims against estates. Click here for a link to the new reg’s, which became effective on October 20, 2009.

In its background summary for the new reg’s [click here] the IRS explained its thinking for why they were needed:

The amount an estate may deduct for claims against the estate has been a highly litigious issue. See the Background in the notice of proposed rulemaking published in the Federal Register on April 23, 2007 (REG-143316-03, 2007-1 C.B. 1292 [72 FR 20080]). Unlike section 2031, section 2053(a) does not contain a specific directive to value a deductible claim at its value at the time of the decedent’s death. Section 2053 specifically contemplates expenses such as funeral and administration expenses, which are only determinable after the decedent’s death.

The lack of consistency in the case law has resulted in different estate tax treatment of estates that are similarly situated, depending only upon the jurisdiction in which the executor resides. The Treasury Department and the IRS believe that similarly-situated estates should be treated consistently by having section 2053(a)(3) construed and applied in the same way in all jurisdictions.

Accordingly, in an effort to further the goal of effective and fair administration of the tax laws, the Treasury Department and the IRS published proposed regulations in the Federal Register on April 23, 2007. In formulating the proposed rule, the Treasury Department and the IRS carefully considered: the statutory framework and legislative history of section 2053 and its predecessors; the existing regulatory provisions under section 2053, particularly those that are generally applicable to all amounts deductible under section 2053; the numerous judicial decisions involving an issue under section 2053(a)(3) and the analysis and conclusion in each; and, the practical consequences of various possible alternatives for determining the amount deductible under section 2053(a)(3).

To help us make sense of it all estate-tax gurus Steve R. Akers and Jonathan G. Blattmachr/Mitchell M. Gans published excellent materials pointing out opportunities and pitfalls built into the new reg’s for practitioners and clients alike [click here, here].