The U.S. Supreme Court In Kaestner: Deciphering the Constitutionally Required Minimum Contacts Necessary for State Taxation of Trust Income
Virginia Law & Business Review (Vol 15, Spring 2021, No 2)
34 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2021
Date Written: June 15, 2021
As far back as 1929, several states have sought to broaden their tax base by expanding taxation to out-of-state trusts that have in-state beneficiaries, even when the beneficiaries possess only a contingent interest in the trust’s assets. On June 21, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court confronted the constitutionality of this trust tax practice in North Carolina Dep’t of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust (“Kaestner Trust”). In Kaestner Trust, the Supreme Court issued a narrow decision in favor of the Trust, basing its opinion on a compilation of landmark constitutional law and civil procedure cases. Specifically, the Court ruled that the domicile of a contingent beneficiary on its own does not constitute sufficient “minimum contacts” between a trust and a jurisdiction for tax purposes, and thus the North Carolina statute violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Every jurisdiction has its own method of defining the minimum contacts necessary to bring a trust into its taxation orbit. In light of the Court’s decision, other state statutes that impose a fiduciary income tax based on weak connections may face constitutional scrutiny in the near future, including tax regimes containing “throwback” rules, “one-dollar” rules, and testamentary trust residency standards that rely indefinitely on the domicile of a testator. The main purpose of this article is to understand the Kaestner Trust decision, discuss how the impacted states have adjusted, and identify any statutes peripheral to the case that may face constitutional inquiry in the future.
The introduction to this article provides the foundation for understanding state trust taxation regimes and frames the controversy of multi-state taxation. Part II explains the facts within Kaestner Trust and analysis used by the Supreme Court in rendering the North Carolina statute unconstitutional. It also discusses how the North Carolina trust statute has been impacted. Part III identifies the other states, besides North Carolina, directly impacted by the Kaestner Trust decision and how these states have responded to the case. Part IV analyzes how the decision might promote further inquiry into the constitutionality of statutes that lie on the margins of Kaestner Trust. Finally, the article considers estate planning and trust drafting opportunities created by the case and concludes by briefly summarizing the significance of Kaestner Trust.
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