How to Obtain a U.S. Federal Transfer Certificate for International Estates

Navigating the complexities of estate management across international borders can be challenging, especially when it involves U.S. tax laws and regulations. A critical step in this process for estates of nonresident citizens and non-citizens of the United States is obtaining a U.S. Federal Transfer Certificate. This document is necessary for the legal transfer of assets located in the U.S. to beneficiaries or legal heirs. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to obtain this certificate for both categories of estates.

Understanding the U.S. Federal Transfer Certificate

A U.S. Federal Transfer Certificate (also known as IRS Form 5173) is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to certify that the estate’s tax obligations in the United States have been fulfilled, allowing for the transfer of U.S.-situated assets to the beneficiaries. Even if the estate does not owe any U.S. estate tax due to being below the exemption amount, a Transfer Certificate may still be required by financial institutions to ensure compliance. 

For Estates of Nonresident Citizens of the United States

Nonresident citizens may have assets in the U.S. but live abroad. In the event of their death, their estate must settle any U.S. tax liabilities before transferring assets.

For Estates of Nonresidents Not Citizens of the United States

Nonresidents who are not U.S. citizens but own assets within the United States are also subject to U.S. estate tax laws. The process ensures compliance with U.S. tax obligations before the distribution of assets.

Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining a Federal Transfer Certificate for Estates

Step 1: Assess the Estate to Determine Tax Liability

  • For Nonresident Citizens: Assess all U.S.-situated assets to determine estate tax liability under U.S. law. Confirm that the total value of the decedent’s worldwide assets is indeed below the federal estate tax exemption threshold for the year of the decedent’s death. For deaths occurring in recent years, this exemption has been significantly high (over $11 million, adjusted annually for inflation).
  • For Nonresident Non-Citizens: Similar assessment must be done, considering treaties that may affect tax obligations.

Step 2: File Form 706 and other Required Documents

  • IRS Form 706-NA: Nonresident aliens and nonresident citizens must file this form if the estate includes U.S.-situated assets. Even if the estate is below the exemption threshold, it is generally recommended to file Form 706 [United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return] to officially document the estate’s value and establish that no estate tax is due. This step may not be mandatory if the estate’s value is below the threshold, but filing can facilitate the issuance of a Transfer Certificate.
  • Death Certificate: A copy must be provided.
  • Legal Documentation: This includes documents proving the executor’s authority and the legal right to transfer assets.

The deadline for filing Form 706 is nine months after death, with a possible six-month extension.

Step 3: Submit an Application for a Transfer Certificate

  • Prepare Documentation: Prepare a packet for the IRS that includes:
    • A cover letter explaining that the estate is below the federal exemption threshold and requesting the issuance of a Transfer Certificate or simply requesting the issuance of a Transfer Certificate if the estate is over the threshold.
    • The death certificate.
    • Any applicable will or trust documents.
    • An inventory of U.S.-situated assets and their estimated values at the time of death.
  • Submit the Request: Send this information to the IRS office that handles estate tax matters. It’s helpful to include any legal documentation affirming authority to act on behalf of the estate, such as letters testamentary.

Step 4: IRS Review

The IRS will review the submitted documents, which may take several months. During this period, the IRS may request additional information. If taxes are not due, the process may be faster.

Step 5: Issuance of the Transfer Certificate

Once the IRS is satisfied that all tax obligations have been met, it will issue the Transfer Certificate. This document is then used to legally transfer U.S.-situated assets to the beneficiaries.

Tips for a Smooth Process

  • Start Early: The process can be lengthy, so begin as soon as possible after the decedent’s death.
  • Seek Professional Help: Consider hiring a tax professional or attorney specializing in international estate law to navigate the complexities of the process.
  • Keep Records: Maintain detailed records of all communications with the IRS and copies of submitted documents.

Obtaining Power of Attorney & Account Transcripts

To obtain an IRS Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, for a decedent, you will follow the general process for completing and submitting the form, but with specific considerations given to the fact that the taxpayer is deceased. Form 2848 allows an individual to authorize an eligible person to represent them before the IRS. For a decedent, the executor, administrator, or a person legally responsible for the decedent’s estate typically assumes this role.

Here are the steps and considerations for obtaining and using Form 2848 in the context of a decedent:

  1. Download the Form

First, download the latest version of Form 2848 from the IRS website. Ensure you are using the most current form to comply with the latest IRS guidelines.

  1. Fill Out the Form

When filling out the form for a decedent, specific sections must be completed accurately to reflect the situation:

  • Taxpayer Information: In the case of a decedent, include the deceased’s name and social security number as the taxpayer. You might need to indicate that the individual is deceased, either next to their name or in the address field by including “Estate of (the deceased’s name).”
  • Representative(s): List the name(s) and credentials of the individual(s) you are authorizing to represent the estate before the IRS. This could be an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), enrolled agent, or another eligible person.
  • Acts Authorized: This section specifies the tax matters for which the representative is authorized to act. For a decedent’s estate, this might include matters related to filing the final individual income tax return (Form 1040), the estate’s income tax return (Form 1041), and any issues related to the estate tax return (Form 706), among others.
  • Specific Use Not Recorded on CAF: If the power of attorney is for a specific use that the IRS will not record on its Centralized Authorization File (CAF), you must check the box in this section. Estate matters often fall under general representation and do not need this box checked, but it’s important to read the instructions carefully.
  1. Sign the Form

For a decedent, the executor or administrator of the estate must sign Form 2848. The signature section for the taxpayer will indicate that the person signing is doing so as the representative of the estate. The form should be signed in the capacity of the executor or administrator, such as “John Doe, Executor.”

  1. Attach Documentation

Attach a copy of the document showing your authority to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate, such as letters testamentary, letters of administration, or a similar legal document, unless these documents have already been filed with the IRS for a different matter.

Hiring an Orange County Tax Attorney

Obtaining a U.S. Federal Transfer Certificate is a critical step for the estates of nonresident citizens and nonresidents not citizens of the United States with assets in the U.S. Following the outlined steps and seeking professional assistance can ease the process, ensuring compliance with U.S. laws and the smooth transfer of assets to beneficiaries.

At Evolution Tax and Legal, we provide a unique value proposition to all of our clients: our team is dually-certified in law and accounting, which allows us to provide insight into the financial aspect of estate planning, as well as the legal implications for heirs. Contact the team today for immediate assistance.

February 20, 2024

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