TurboTax / Tax Calculators & Tips / All Tax Guides / Tax Planning and Checklists / What Are Estate Taxes?

What Are Estate Taxes?

Updated for Tax Year 2016


OVERVIEW

When someone in your family dies and the property of the deceased transfers to you, the federal government imposes an estate tax on the value of all that property. Unfortunately, the body of law that governs these taxable transfers is constantly changing and so there may be an inconsistent application of the law from one year to the next. However, the good news is that the estate tax doesn’t affect many American taxpayers who aren’t in the top 2 percent of the nation’s wealthiest people.


What is the gross estate?

Similar to the concept of gross income on a personal income tax return, calculating estate tax starts with the gross estate. The gross estate includes the fair market value of all property your family member owned or had an interest in at the time of death including the life insurance and annuity proceeds. In certain instances, the gross estate can include the value of the property owned in the three years right before the family member’s death.

What qualifies as a taxable estate?

The tax law only provides a limited number of deductions that reduce the gross estate’s value. These deductions include funeral expenses, payments to satisfy outstanding debt, the value of the property intended for donation after death, any state death taxes and the value of property that transfers to a surviving spouse.

Are lifetime gifts taxable?

After calculation of the taxable estate is complete, you have to increase the amount by the value of all taxable gifts made since 1977. Gifts of property or money that your recently deceased family member made during his/her life are taxable if they exceed certain annual limitations.

However, you don’t have to increase the taxable estate for any gifts that didn’t exceed an annual limitation or gifts for which you file a gift tax return.

What is a unified credit?

The final net taxable estate value is subject to a tax reduction in an amount equal to your remaining balance of the unified credit. So what does that mean? Well, the tax laws provide every taxpayer a unified credit amount that exempts from the estate tax the tax on all lifetime gifts and property transfers at death that do not exceed a specified value. Only the value of the tax on all transfers that exceed the unified credit amount is due.

Due to the volatility of the estate tax laws, the amount of the gross estate that is not taxed is not determined until the year of death.

When do I pay estate tax?

Only when the tax on the net taxable estate exceeds your remaining balance of the unified credit does the estate need to remit a tax payment to the IRS.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $54.99*
Sign In

Looking for more information?

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.


Security is built into everything we do
Here's how
* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • TURBOTAX ONLINE/MOBILE

  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Absolute Zero $0 federal (1040EZ/1040A) + $0 state offer only available with TurboTax Federal Free Edition; offer may change or end at any time without notice. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice. Savings and price comparisons based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • QuickBooks Self-Employed Offer with TurboTax Self-Employed: File your 2016 TurboTax Self-Employed return between 4/19/17 and 10/16/17 to receive your complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed until 10/31/18. Activation by 12/31/17 required. Sign in to QuickBooks Self-Employed via mobile app or at https://selfemployed.intuit.com/turbotax; e-mail address used for activation and sign-in. Offer valid only for new QuickBooks Self-Employed customers. See QuickBooks.com for price comparison.
    • When you use TurboTax Self-Employed to file your 2017 taxes, you will have the option to renew your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription. If you do not purchase TurboTax Self-Employed by 10/15/18, you will have the option of renewing your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription by 10/31/18 for another year at the then-current annual subscription rate. You may cancel your subscription at any time from within the QuickBooks Self-Employed billing section.
  • Pays for itself (TurboTax Self-Employed): Estimates based on deductible business expenses calculated at the self-employment tax income rate (15%) for tax year 2016. Actual results will vary based on your tax situation.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Expert Help, Tax Advice and SmartLook: Included with Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed (via phone or on-screen); not included with Federal Free Edition (but available for purchase with the Plus bundle). SmartLook on-screen help is available on a PC, laptop or the TurboTax mobile app. TurboTax experts provide general advice, customer service and product help; tax advice provided only by credentialed CPAs, enrolled agents and tax attorneys. Feature availability varies by device. State tax advice is free. Service, area of expertise, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.
  • Tax Return Access, My Docs and My Analysis & Advice features: Access to all tax-related documents we have on file for you is available until you file your 2017 tax return or through 10/31/2018, whichever comes first. Terms and conditions may vary and are subject to change without notice.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • CompleteCheck: Covered under the TurboTax accurate calculations and maximum refund guarantees.
  • #1 rated online tax prep provider: Based on independent comparison of the best online tax software by TopTenReviews.com March 13, 2017.
  • TURBOTAX CD/DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE

  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice. This benefit is available with TurboTax Federal products except TurboTax Business.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support vary by time of year.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice via phone is included with Premier and Home & Business; fees apply for Basic and Deluxe customers. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2016 TurboTax products.
  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies; may require a free Intuit online account. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2016 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2012 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.