Some States Have Tough Estate and Inheritance Taxes

For now, most people don’t have to be scared of federal estate taxes. In 2022, only estates valued at $12.06 million or more for an individual ($24.12 million or more for a married couple) need to pay federal estate taxes. Even better for the very wealthy, there’s no federal inheritance tax for heirs who reside in such lofty economic brackets, notes the recent article titled “States with Scary Death Taxes” from Kiplinger.

By definition, estate taxes are paid by the estate and based on the estate’s overall value, while inheritance taxes are paid by the individual who inherits property, assets, or anything else of value. This isn’t to say “regular people” don’t need to worry about death taxes. We do, because states have their own estate taxes, and a few still have inheritance taxes.

A number of states eliminated estate taxes in the last ten years or so, in an effort to keep retirees from leaving and heading to places like Florida, where there’s no estate tax. However, a dozen states and the District of Columbia still have estate taxes, six states have an inheritance tax and one has both an estate and inheritance tax: Maryland.

Here’s how some state taxes look in 2022:

Connecticut has an estate tax, with an exemption level at $7.1 million. However, there is no inheritance tax. The Nutmeg state is the only state with a gift tax on assets gifted during one’s life.

The District of Columbia has an estate tax, with an exemption level of $4 million.

Hawaii’s estate tax exemption level is $5.49 million., one of the higher state estate tax exclusions, and is not adjusted for inflation.

Illinois’s estate tax is $4 million, but there’s no inheritance tax. It’s known as one of the least taxpayer friendly states in the country for retirees.

Iowa is phasing out inheritance taxes, but this doesn’t take effect until 2025. In the meantime, there’s no estate tax, and if the estate is valued at less than $25,000, there’s no inheritance tax. No taxes are due on property inherited by a lineal ascendent or descendent, but for other family members, the taxes range from 8%—12%.

There’s no estate tax in Kentucky. However, depending upon your relationship to the person who died and the value of the property, the inheritance tax is 4% to 16%.

Maine has an estate tax exemption of $5.87 million, but no inheritance tax.

Maryland’s has both an estate tax exemption of $5 million and a flat 10% inheritance tax.

Massachusetts has no inheritance tax and a $1 million estate tax exemption.

Minnesota has a low estate tax exemption of $3 million. Any taxable gifts made three years prior to death are included.

New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have no inheritance taxes, while Pennsylvania has no estate tax but does have an inheritance tax.

It’s not necessary to move purely to avoid estate or inheritance taxes. An experienced estate planning attorney uses strategic tax planning as part of an estate plan, minimizing tax liability and preserving assets.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 29, 2022) “States with Scary Death Taxes”

Will Inheritance and Gift Tax Exemptions Change in 2021?

The federal estate and gift tax exemption is applied to the sum total of a person’s taxable gifts during life and the assets they leave behind at death. In 2017, Congress doubled the exemption, starting in 2018. That number continues to rise with inflation until 2025, unless the laws are changed. According to the article “Estate and Gift Taxes 2021—2022: Here’s What You Need to Know” from The Wall Street Journal, the 2017 expansion cut the number of taxable estates from about 8,000 to about 3,000 in 2019.

Gift Tax Exemptions. In 2020, the exemption was $11.58 million per individual ($23.16 million per married couple). An inflation adjustment increased this amount to $11.7 million per person and $23.4 million per couple. For 2020 and 2021, the top estate-tax rate is 40%.

That increase is set to end in 2025, but both the Treasury Department and the IRS issued regulations in 2019 allowing the increased exemption to apply to gifts made while this increase is in effect, even if Congress lowers the exemption after those gifts were made.

Capital Gains After Death. Under current law, investments owned at the time of death are not subject to capital gains taxes. This is referred to as a “step-up in basis.” Congress and the Biden administration are now considering reducing or eliminating this benefit as a means of raising revenue.

Annual Gift Tax Exemptions. In 2020 and 2021, the annual gift-tax exclusion is $15,000 for each individual donor, for each individual recipient. You can give anyone up to $15,000 in assets per year and not owe any federal gift taxes. A generous couple with two married children and six grandchildren may give away $300,000 to their ten descendants. The couple could also give $30,000 to as many other people as they want, friends or family members or perfect strangers.

Above the $15,000 per donor, per recipient, gifts are subtracted from the lifetime gift and estate-tax exemption. Annual gifts are not deductible for income tax purposes and they are not considered income for the recipient. If the gift is not cash, the giver’s “cost basis” does carry over to the recipient.

Other Tax-Free Gifts. Another way to make a gift is to pay educational or health expenses for another person. The payment must go directly from the person giving the gift to the college, private school, or medical provider on behalf of another person. Otherwise, it will not have any tax benefit for the person giving the gift.

While a generous gift is always welcome, making a gift that is part of a holistic estate plan benefits you and your recipients. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about the role of gifting in your overall estate plan.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 8, 2021) “Estate and Gift Taxes 2021—2022: Here’s What You Need to Know”