Definition: Death Taxes

"Death Taxes" Defined.

The term "death taxes" refers to taxes that are imposed by the federal and some state governments (Minnesota included) on someone's estate upon their death. For federal and Minnesota purposes, the term refers only to estate taxes. Some states also have an inheritance tax which is different from the estate tax. Whereas the estate tax is levied based on the size of a person's estate, an inheritance tax is imposed on the assets a particular beneficiary inherits from the deceased person's estate.

What is an "Estate"?

A person's estate is determined as of the date of death. It includes all personal and real property that the person owned at the time of death. Typically this would be the home, retirement accounts, checking and savings accounts and the like. Business interests, investment properties, brokerage accounts, and life insurance are also included in a person's estate. Other assets that may be included are those transferred within three years of death and an interest in a trust (depending on the type of interest). The value of all of these items added up is the person's gross estate. When the value of the gross estate exceeds the exemption limit for the estate tax, the deceased person's estate will be required to file an estate tax return and possibly pay estate tax.

Federal Estate Taxes

The current exemption limit for federal estate tax purposes is $5.45 million for individuals dying in 2016. This amount is set to go up each year with inflation. Basically, when the net estate (that is, the gross estate minus allowable deductions) is more than the federal exemption amount of $5.45 million, the estate will pay estate tax. The federal estate tax is a flat 40% of the amount over the exemption. Estates that are required to file both federal and Minnesota estate tax returns may end up paying both taxes. See 2016 Estate and Gift Tax Update.

Minnesota Estate Taxes

The current exemption limit for Minnesota estate tax purposes is $1.6 million for individuals dying in 2016. This amount is set to go up to $1.8 million in 2017 and $2 million in 2018 and beyond. Minnesota's estate tax is a marginal progressive tax. The first rate bracket for Minnesota estates is 10% of the amount over the exemption. Many of the same basic rules apply to the Minnesota estate tax return as the federal (though there are some great tax savings opportunities for Minnesota farmers and small businesses). See Minnesota Farm Land Deduction Offers Estate Planning Opportunities for Farmers.

Estate Planning

Some advance planning can help families minimize or eliminate the impact of estate taxes on their estates. This can be especially important for Minnesota purposes, that has not adopted portability - a method by which a deceased spouse can pass his or her unused exemption amount to the surviving spouse.

The attorneys at Ward & Oehler are experienced in estate planning for individuals, farmers, and families throughout Southeastern Minnesota. To schedule an appointment, call (507) 288-5567 or contact us online.

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Categories: Estate Planning