Blog Qualified Disclaimers

January 17, 2021

By Cowles Liipfert

Qualified Disclaimers can be useful tools to alter the way property passes at death, and are often used as a method to reduce transfer taxes, such federal estate tax or gift tax.

Simply stated, a qualified disclaimer is a refusal to accept a gift, bequest, devise or beneficiary designation, done in a manner which meets certain statutory requirements.

Disclaimers may be made of lifetime gifts, but that is extremely rare, and this article will focus on transfers after a transferor’s death.

A qualified disclaimer after a transferor’s death must be in writing, it must clearly identify the property which is being disclaimed, and it must be signed by the person making the disclaimer, or his or her legal representative. The written disclaimer must be delivered to the transferor’s legal representative, such as the executor of an estate, and in North Carolina to the probate court, within nine months after the transferor’s death, with the exception of a disclaimer by a minor disclaimant, which may be made within nine months after the minor disclaimant’s twenty-first birthday.

Property cannot be disclaimed after it has first been accepted by an individual. For example, if an individual accepts stock dividends, he or she cannot later disclaim the shares of stock which paid those dividends.

The disclaimed property passes as though the disclaimant had predeceased the transferor. If there is a will, it passes to the successor devisees or beneficiaries under the will, after it has been disclaimed by the primary devisee or beneficiary. If there is no will, the property must pass to the secondary heirs under state law, who would have inherited the disclaimed property if the disclaimant had predeceased the decendent.

The person making the disclaimer cannot direct that a disclaimed devise or inheritance be passed to someone else, other than the person or persons who would have received the property if the disclaimant had predeceased the transferor. For example, a will leaves property to the transferor’s brother if he survives the transferor, and if he does not survive the transferor, the will leaves the property to the transferor’s sister. The disclaimant cannot disclaim the property and direct that is passes to his or her children, instead of to the sister.

The disclaimed property passes to the successors without any tax consequences to the person making the disclaimer, provided that the disclaimer is “qualified.” That is, the qualified disclaimer is not subject to gift tax, which would have been applicable if the person making the disclaimer had accepted the property and subsequently made a gift of that property to the transferees.

Generally, a disclaimant cannot disclaim property to a trust that names the disclaimant as a beneficiary of the trust or gives the disclaimant the power to direct the further disposition of the disclaimed property. For example, if the disclaimant is also the trustee of the trust to which the disclaimed property passes because of a disclaimer, and, as Trustee, has the discretionary power to direct its further disposition then the disclaimer would not be qualified unless the disclaimant also disclaimed his discretionary power.

There is an exception for a spouse, who can be a beneficiary of a trust, but the spouse cannot have the power to further direct the disposition of the trust property after the disclaimer, unless the spouse also disclaims his or her right to direct such disposition.

It is possible to disclaim partial interests in property, but not interests which cannot be severed into separate shares at the time of the disclaimer. For example, a person may disclaim 1,000 out of a total 2,000 shares of stock in an estate, but he or she cannot accept the dividends for life and disclaim the “remainder interest” in those shares after his or her death. In that case, a “vertical” disclaimer of half the shares will work, but a “horizontal” disclaimer would not work.

If the disclaimant is the trustee of the trust into which property is disclaimed, but as trustee is given the authority to make distributions among several beneficiaries, then the disclaimant must also disclaim his or her fiduciary power to direct the disposition among those beneficiaries.

Generally, a person cannot disclaim property in order to become qualified for Federal Title XIX assistance, such as Medicaid. The person must disclose all of his or her property to qualify or to remain qualified, including any property the person has disclaimed or wishes to disclaim.

Disclaimers are very technical in nature and you should not try to disclaim property without the assistance of a qualified attorney.