Tuesday, March 31, 2015


(a) Upon the death of a holder of jointly held property, a surviving holder may disclaim, in whole or part, the greater of:
(1) a fractional share of the property determined by dividing the number one by
the number of joint holders alive immediately before the death of the holder to whose death the disclaimer relates; or
(2) all of the property except that part of the value of the entire interest attributable to the contribution furnished by the disclaimant.
(b) A disclaimer under subsection (a) takes effect as of the death of the holder of jointly held property to whose death the disclaimer relates.
(c) An interest in jointly held property disclaimed by a surviving holder of the property passes as if the disclaimant predeceased the holder to whose death the disclaimer relates.
The various forms of ownership in which “joint property,” as defined in Section 2- 1102(5), can be held include common law joint tenancies and any statutory variation that preserves the right of survivorship. The common law was unsettled whether a surviving joint tenant had any right to renounce his interest in jointly-owned property and if so to what extent. See Casner, Estate Planning, 5th ed. § 10.7. Specifically, if A and B owned real estate or securities as joint tenants with right of survivorship and A died, the problem was whether B might disclaim what was given to him originally upon creation of the estate, or, if not, whether he could nevertheless reject the incremental portion derived through the right of survivorship. There was also a question of whether a joint bank account should be treated differently from jointly-owned securities or real estate for the purpose of disclaimer.
This common law of disclaimers of jointly held property must be set against the rapid developments in the law of tax qualified disclaimers of jointly held property. Since the previous Uniform Acts were drafted, the law regarding tax qualified disclaimers of joint property interests has been clarified. Courts have repeatedly held that a surviving joint tenant may disclaim that portion of the jointly held property to which the survivor succeeds by operation of law on the death of the other joint tenant so long as the joint tenancy was severable during the life of the joint tenants (Kennedy v. Commissioner, 804 F.2d 1332 (7th Cir 1986), McDonald v. Commissioner, 853 F.2d 1494 (9th Cir 1988), Dancy v. Commissioner, 872 F.2d 84 (4th Cir 1989).) On December 30, 1997 the Service published T.D. 8744 making final proposed amendments of the Regulations under IRC § 2518 to reflect the decisions regarding disclaimers of joint property interests.
The amended final Regulations, § 25.2518-2(c)(4)(i) allow a surviving joint tenant or tenant by the entireties to disclaim that portion of the tenancy to which he or she succeeds upon the death of the first joint tenant (1/2 where there are two joint tenants) whether or not the tenancy could have been unilaterally severed under local law and regardless of the proportion of consideration furnished by the disclaimant. The Regulations also create a special rule for joint
tenancies between spouses created after July 14, 1988 where the spouse of the donor is not a United States citizen. In that case, the donee spouse may disclaim any portion of the joint tenancy includible in the donor spouse’s gross estate under IRC § 2040, which creates a contribution rule. Thus the surviving non-citizen spouse may disclaim all of the joint tenancy property if the deceased spouse provided all the consideration for the tenancy’s creation.
The amended final Regulations, § 25.2518-2(c)(4)(iii) also recognize the unique features of joint bank accounts, and allow the disclaimer by a survivor of that part of the account contributed by the decedent, so long as the decedent could have regained that portion during life by unilateral action, bar the disclaimer of that part of the account attributable to the survivor’s contributions, and explicitly extend the rule governing joint bank accounts to brokerage and other investment accounts, such as mutual fund accounts, held in joint name.
These developments in the tax law of disclaimers are reflected in subsection (a). The subsection allows a surviving holder of jointly held property to disclaim the greater of the accretive share, the part of the jointly held property which augments the survivor’s interest in the property, and all of the property that is not attributable to the disclaimant’s contribution to the jointly held property. In the usual joint tenancy or tenancy by the entireties between husband and wife, the survivor will always be able to disclaim one-half of the property. If the disclaimer conforms to the requirements of IRC § 2518, it will be a qualified disclaimer. In addition the surviving spouse can disclaim all of the property attributable to the decedent’s contribution, a provision which will allow the non-citizen spouse to take advantage of the contribution rule of the final Regulations. The contribution rule of subsection (a)(2) will also allow surviving holders of joint property arrangements other than joint tenancies to make a tax qualified disclaimer under the rules applicable to those joint arrangements. For example, if A contributes 60% and B contributes 40% to a joint bank account and they allow the interest on the funds to accumulate, on B’s death A can disclaim 40% of the account; on A’s death B can disclaim 60% of the account. (Note that under subsection (a)(1) A can disclaim up to 50% of the account on B’s death because there are two joint account holders, but the disclaimer would not be fully tax- qualified. As previously noted, a tax-qualified disclaimer is limited to 40% of the account.) If the account belonged to the parties during their joint lives in proportion to their contributions, the disclaimers in this example can be tax qualified disclaimers if all the requirements of IRC § 2518 are met.
Subsection (b) provides that the disclaimer is effective as of the death of the joint holder which triggers the survivorship feature of the joint property arrangement. The disclaimant, therefore, has no interest in and has not transferred the disclaimed interest.
Subsection (c) provides that the disclaimed interest passes as if the disclaimant had predeceased the holder to whose death the disclaimer relates. Where there are two joint holders, a disclaimer by the survivor results in the disclaimed property passing as part of the deceased joint holder’s estate because under this subsection, the deceased joint holder is the survivor as to the portion disclaimed. If a married couple owns the family home in joint tenancy, therefore, a disclaimer by the survivor under subsection (a)(1) results in one-half of the home passing through the decedent’s estate. The surviving spouse and whoever receives the interest through the decedent’s estate are tenants in common in the house. In the proper circumstances, the

disclaimed one-half could help to use up the decedent’s unified credit. Without the disclaimer, the interest would automatically qualify for the marital deduction, perhaps wasting part of the decedent’s applicable exclusion amount.
In a multiple holder joint property arrangement, the disclaimed interest will belong to the other joint holder or holders.
Example 1. A, B, and C make equal contributions to the purchase of Blackacre, to which they take title as joint tenants with right of survivorship. On partition each would receive 1/3 of Blackacre and any of them could convert his or her interest to a 1/3 tenancy in common by unilateral severance (which, of course, would have to be accomplished in accordance with state law). On A’s death, B and C may each, if they wish, disclaim up to 1/3 of the property under subsection (a)(1). Should one of them disclaim the full 1/3, the disclaimant will be deemed to predecease A.
Assume that B so disclaims. With respect to the 1/3 undivided interest that now no longer belongs to A the only surviving joint holder is C. C therefore owns that 1/3 as tenant in common with the joint tenancy. Should C predecease B, the 1/3 tenancy in common interest will pass through C’s estate and B will be the sole owner of an undivided 2/3 interest in Blackacre as the survivor of the joint tenancy. Should B predecease C, C will be the sole owner of Blackacre in fee simple absolute.
Alternatively, assume that both B and C make valid disclaimers after A’s death. They are both deemed to predeceased A, A is the sole survivor of the joint tenancy and Blackacre passes through A’s estate.
Finally, assume that A provided all the consideration for the purchase of Blackacre. On A’s death, B and C can each disclaim the entire property under subsection (a)(2). If they both do so, Blackacre will pass through A’s estate. If only one of B or C disclaims the entire property, the one who does not will be the sole owner of Blackacre as the only surviving joint tenant.
Such a disclaimer would not be completely tax qualified, however. The Regulations limit a tax qualified disclaimer to no more than 1/3 of the property. If, however, B or C were the first to die, A could still disclaim the 1/3 interest that no longer belongs to the decedent under subsection (a)(1), the disclaimer would be a qualified disclaimer for tax purposes under the Regulations, and the result is that the other surviving joint tenant owns 1/3 of Blackacre as tenant in common with the joint tenancy.

2004 Amendment. This comment was amended in 2004 to correct an error in the joint bank account example and to provide a more complete explanation for the result in Example 1

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