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How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxes

September 2, 2017 Stuart Mordfin, CPA, CGMA estate tax, gift tax exemption, federal estate tax, inflation, the gift tax, marital deduction, annual exclusion amount, tax reform legislation, death tax, lifetime gift and estate tax exemptions, estate tax exposure, state estate tax exposure

How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxesAmong the taxes that are being considered for repeal as part of tax reform legislation is the estate tax. This tax applies to transfers of wealth at death, hence why it’s commonly referred to as the “death tax.” Its sibling, the gift tax — also being considered for repeal — applies to transfers during life. Yet most taxpayers won’t face these taxes even if the taxes remain in place.

Exclusions and exemptions

For 2017, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per taxpayer. (The exemption is annually indexed for inflation.) If your estate doesn’t exceed your available exemption at your death, then no federal estate tax will be due.

Any gift tax exemption you use during life does reduce the amount of estate tax exemption available at your death. But every gift you make won’t use up part of your lifetime exemption. For example:

  • Gifts to your U.S. citizen spouse are tax-free under the marital deduction. (So are transfers at death — that is, bequests.)
  • Gifts and bequests to qualified charities aren’t subject to gift and estate taxes.
  • Payments of another person’s health care or tuition expenses aren’t subject to gift tax if paid directly to the provider.
  • Each year you can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount ($14,000 per recipient for 2017) tax-free without using up any of your lifetime exemption.

What’s your estate tax exposure?

Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. (But keep in mind that there could be estate tax exposure on your surviving spouse’s death, depending on the size of his or her estate.) The net number represents your taxable estate.

You can then apply the exemption amount you expect to have available at death. Remember, any gift tax exemption amount you use during your life must be subtracted. But if your spouse predeceases you, then his or her unused estate tax exemption, if any, may be added to yours (provided the applicable requirements are met).

If your taxable estate is equal to or less than your available estate tax exemption, no federal estate tax will be due at your death. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, the excess will be subject to federal estate tax.

Be aware that many states impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does. So you could have state estate tax exposure even if you don’t need to worry about federal estate tax.

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us. We also can keep you up to date on any estate tax law changes.

© 2017
Stuart Mordfin, CPA, CGMA

Written by Stuart Mordfin, CPA, CGMA

Stuart M. Mordfin has over 30 years of experience as a certified public accountant. He has worked with clients in such diverse industries as manufacturing, publishing, real estate development and operations, jewelry and other luxury products, retail, restaurants, a variety of professional service companies. In addition he has on numerous occasions worked as a court appointed accountant on receiverships, guardianships and bankruptcies. Stuart has developed and expanded his CPA practice through innovation, well-informed decision-making, and creative, proactive thinking. Stuart M. Mordfin joined the firm in 1987, and has been a partner since 1999. He became managing partner in 2004. Since his entrée into the firm, Stuart has lead the way for its expansion into financial planning services through the formation of Mordfin Financial & Business Advisors LLC. Stuart works with many family-owned businesses. Experiencing firsthand what it means to be an integral part of the family business, Stuart is able to offer a unique and valuable perspective to his clients. He is well qualified to assist family-owned businesses move from one generation to the next.

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