Last week, President Bush signed into law H.R. 6081, the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008. One provision of this act dramatically changes the U.S. taxation of high net worth individuals that renounce their U.S. citizenship, or cease to be long term U.S. residents (“expatriates”).
In general, the provision imposes a “mark-to-market” tax on high net worth expatriates. Such individuals are subject to income tax on the net unrealized gain in their property as if the property had been sold for its fair market value on the day before the expatriation or residency termination. Net gain on the deemed sale is recognized to the extent it exceeds $600,000. The $600,000 amount is increased by a cost of living adjustment factor for calendar years after 2008.
Under the provision, an individual may elect to defer payment of the mark-to-market tax imposed on the deemed sale of property. Interest is charged for the period the tax is deferred at the rate normally applicable to individual underpayments.
Prior to these new rules, a high net worth individual could expatriate and entirely avoid U.S. tax on appreciated assets if they were not sold within the 10 year period after expatriation.
These new rules mark the fifth time since 1996 that the expatriation rules have been modified. Over this period of time, the rules have become much more objective and much more costly for high net worth expatriates.