Typically, people take it for granted that there will not be any tax when they sell their personal residence. Technically, there is a tax, but the government also offers a limited exclusion under Section 121 of the Internal Revenue Code.
For individuals who sell their primary residence, you can exclude the first $250,000 of gain. After that, it is subject to a capital gains tax. For married couples, you can exclude the first $500,000 of gain.
In order to qualify for the exclusion, you must have OWNED and USED the residence as your principal residence for 2 of the last 5 years ending with the date of sale (it does not have to be consecutively). If the home was previously used as a rental property, in a business or for another non-qualified use, there may be longer holding requirements or a reduced exemption amount.
One common estate planning tool that many attorneys create is a revocable living trust. A revocable living trust, also known as just a Living Trust, is device to manage a person’s assets during life and after death. While the Grantor is alive, the Grantor can manage his or her trust funds as the Grantor wishes. When the Grantor passes, it acts like a Will but with the added benefit of avoiding probate. If a person sets up a revocable trust, it is highly recommended to transfer all real estate into this trust, including the primary residence.
Another common estate planning tool, particularly for individuals doing Medicaid planning or VA benefit planning, is to move the primary house to an irrevocable trust, which is set up as an intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT). An IDGT is a type of trust that is outside a Grantor’s estate for estate tax purposes while simultaneously requiring the Grantor to be taxed on the income earned in the Trust.
Under Internal Revenue Code Treasury Regulation 1.121-1(c)(3), if a residence is owned by a trust, for the period that a taxpayer is treated under sections 671 through 679 (relating to the treatment of grantors and others as substantial owners) as the owner of the trust or the portion of the trust that includes the residence, the taxpayer will be treated as owning the residence for purposes of satisfying the 2-year ownership requirement of section 121, and the sale or exchange by the trust will be treated as if made by the taxpayer.
So, the long winded answer to the question is, yes, if a trust owns a primary residence and it is set up correctly, it can qualify for the Capital Gains Tax Exclusion under Section 121 of the Code.