When Does the Estate Tax Kick In?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The inflation-adjusted federal estate tax exemption for decedents dying in 2019 is $11.4 million per person (up from $11.18 million in 2018). This means that if your taxable estate’s assets are worth less than $11.4 million, no tax will be due.  If you are married, your spouse gets a separate $11.4 million exemption without owing federal estate tax. Tax is imposed, regardless of how you disperse your property or the relationship you have to the beneficiaries (except your spouse). The federal estate tax is 40% on assets above $11.4 million. 

The above federal estate tax limits will revert back in 2026 to 2017 levels; the figure is adjusted annually for cost of living increases.  

State tax liability

The estate tax exemption at the state level may differ from the federal estate tax exemption.  Some states follow federal law; others decouple from their federal counterpart.   Even if you do not owe any federal estate tax, you may incur a state estate or inheritance tax liability.

There are 12 states plus District of Columbia that impose an estate tax:  Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode island, Vermont, and Washington.

There is also a few states that impose an inheritance tax on the heir(s) of the assets of the deceased, with rates varying based on the relationship with the deceased: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Our recommendation is to review your estate tax planning documents for any changes in your circumstances and how these changes in the federal estate exemptions affect your estate plan.

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