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Impact of Death, Retirement, and Disability on the 179 Deduction

What tax effect would death, retirement, or disability have on you or your business? Here’s an easy example to illustrate.

Let’s say that in 2017, you purchased for business use a pickup truck with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 6,000 pounds. Asserting that you use the pickup 100 percent for business, you expensed the entire $55,000 cost.

What happens to that $55,000 expensed amount if you die, retire, or become disabled before the end of the vehicle’s five-year depreciation period?

Death

If your heirs are not going to pay estate taxes, your death is about as good as it gets. Here’s why: You get to keep your Section 179 deduction. (It goes to the grave with you.)

Your pickup truck gets marked up to fair market value. (Remember, you expensed it to zero, but now at your death, the fair market value is the new basis to your heir or heirs.)

Example. Using Section 179, you expensed the entire cost of your $55,000 pickup truck. You die. Your daughter inherits the pickup at its fair market value, which is now $31,000, and sells it immediately for $31,000. Here are the results:

  •   You get to keep your Section 179 deduction—no recapture applies.
  •   Your daughter pays zero tax on her sale of the pickup truck.
  •   Your estate includes the $31,000 fair market value of the pickup, and if your estate is less than $11.4 million, your estate pays no estate taxes.

Disability

This is ugly. If you become disabled and you allow your business use of the pickup to fall to 50 percent or below during its five-year depreciable life, you must recapture and pay taxes on the excess deductions generated by the Section 179 deduction.

To make matters worse, you must use straight-line depreciation in making the excess-deduction calculation.

Retirement

With retirement, you have exactly the same problem as you would have if you were to become disabled. In fact, with retirement, you disable your business involvement, and that makes your pickup truck fail the more-than-50-percent-business-use test, resulting in recapture of the excess benefit over straight-line depreciation.