It’s official. For 2018, the estate and gift tax exemption is $5.6 million per individual, up from $5.49 million in 2017. That means an individual can leave $5.6 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple will be able to shield north of $11 million ($11.2 million) from federal estate and gift taxes. And the annual gift exclusion amount is $15,000 for 2018—up from $14,000 where it’s been stuck since 2013.
Meanwhile, Congress and the President are in the midst of tax reform, and the elimination of the federal estate tax is a topic for discussion. It’s anyone’s bet how it will be resolved.
What’s a person to do? The first thing to do is to figure out whether any of this applies to you. Do you have more than $5.6M? If you don’t, then federal estate taxes should not be a worry. However, if you live in one of 18 states and the District of Columbia with some kind of death tax, you should be paying attention to your state’s inheritance or estate tax.
To complicate matters, the state exemption amounts have been changing recently as some states seek to align their exemptions with the federal amounts. Eight out of the 18 states and DC ushered in death tax changes for 2017. The good news is that they are all changes that lessen the tax bite.
But the key here is to revisit your plan if you live in a state that is making changes or has made changes recently, even if the change is tax repeal/reduction. Your will may be drafted using the older, lower thresholds and there may be unintended consequences. In other words, you may be trying to avoid taxes that you no longer need to avoid.
Here are the states with death taxes: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Illinois, Maryland, D.C, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii.
These states have changed their exemptions in 2017: New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Minnesota. Inflation adjustments to the exemption are taking place in Delaware, Rhode Island, Maine, Hawaii and Washington.
If you live in a state with recent tax reform, or if your estate documents are more than five years old, it might be time to review them. The good news is that exemptions are up, and a little planning can go a long way to saving tax dollars.