castle-780982_1920-300x225Estate taxes are often referred to as death taxes. It seems that no matter what is going on, the government wants to get a piece of the pie. So when you pass away, if you have a large enough estate, there may be taxes that are owed. On top of that, there are inheritance taxes to be worried about. So how do you know the difference, how much you will owe, and what to plan for? Keep reading as Practical Taxes, your accountant in Billings, explains the difference between estate taxes, inheritance taxes, and who needs to worry about them.

 

Federal Estate Taxes

A few years ago, understanding estate taxes was a pain. There was a set amount that would be excluded, and that number stayed the same for a decade. After 10 years it needed to be adjusted for inflation, but congress was trying to decide what to do. There was a fear that it would reset, and anyone that died during the reset period would be subject to massive taxes.

Fortunately that has been figured out, and the estate tax exclusion now adjusts annually. For tax year 2015, your assets can total $5.43 million before you owe taxes. That means if your assets total $5.45 million, you only owe federal estate taxes on $20,000. Current estate tax rates are between 35% and 45% depending on your situation.

If you are fortunate to have an estate larger than the exclusion, and thus you will have to worry about the taxes, pay attention to the name of the tax. Estate taxes are paid by the estate before money is distributed to the heirs. The government doesn’t care if those assets are tied up in real estate either. The estate will have to raise the money any way possible to pay the tax.

State Inheritance Taxes

Fortunately there are only 15 states (and D.C.) that have an inheritance tax. Montana is not one of them. But in case you have two residences, pay attention.

State inheritance tax varies by state. There are different exclusions, different tax rates, and different provisions. Since Montana isn’t included, we won’t go into any details; but we can discuss it with you if your situation calls for it.

Just as estate taxes are paid by the estate, inheritance taxes are paid by the heir.

How to Avoid Estate Taxes

There are a couple of ways to avoid estate taxes. One involves reducing the size of your estate, the other actually involves increasing the size.

Reducing the size of your estate – The only true way to completely avoid estate taxes is to have an estate smaller than the exclusion of $5.43 million. However, rapidly reducing your estate is tough since you can only give away a certain amount every year. You can give $14,000 each year to anyone and avoid gift taxes. So if you have 10 grandkids, you can move $140,000 out to UGMA or UTMA accounts. You can move money out by donating to charity, or setting up an ILIT.

Increasing the size of your estate – Moving money into an ILIT will actually increase the size of your estate. Let’s suppose your estate is worth $6 million. You start an ILIT (the trust owns the insurance, the estate is the beneficiary) and give the trust $14,000 per year to pay the premiums. Suppose the death benefit is $4 million, your estate (at the time of your death) will be worth $10 million. The benefit here is that even though you owe taxes on the additional value; it is all paid with liquid money that comes from the life insurance.

Let Practical Taxes Help with Your Estate Planning

If you have estate planning needs, Practical Taxes can help. We can work closely with your attorney, your financial advisor, and you to draw up these plans. We will help you plan for your estate taxes, or help you avoid them if we can legally make it happen.

If you don’t have estate tax issues, we offer affordable tax preparation services in Billings. Give us a call at 406-894-2050 to learn more and to schedule your appointment.