Tax-Saving Tips: How to Avoid Inheritance Tax on Property

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Written By kevin

A financial strategist with a knack for demystifying taxes and insurance, Kevin distills complex concepts into actionable advice.

Inheritance tax, often a significant concern for many, can considerably impact the value of property passed on to heirs. By understanding and strategically planning, it’s possible to reduce or even eliminate this tax burden. This article aims to provide insights and tips on managing inheritance tax effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Basics of Inheritance Tax: Understand its implications for property transfers after death.
  • Trusts for Tax Planning: Use trusts to potentially avoid probate and reduce tax liabilities.
  • Lifetime Gifts: Reduce taxable estate size through strategic gifting.
  • Consult Estate Planning Experts: Stay updated on varying laws and maximize savings through expert advice.

Understanding Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax is a levy imposed on assets inherited from a deceased individual. The person who inherits the assets is responsible for paying the tax. The rates can vary based on the size of the inheritance and the inheritor’s relationship to the deceased.

Factors Influencing Tax

The key determinants of inheritance tax are the value of the estate and the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased. For instance, the deceased’s spouse is typically exempt, meaning money and items that go to them aren’t subject to inheritance tax. Children of the deceased are also sometimes exempt.

It’s important to keep in mind that since the state sets these taxes, your tax situation, where you live, and the specifics of your inheritance can all significantly alter your tax bill.


Thresholds for inheritance tax vary, allowing tax-free estate transfers in certain cases. For example, the federal estate tax generally applies to assets over $12.92 million in 2023, and the estate tax rate ranges from 18% to 40%. Some states also have estate taxes, and they might have much lower exemption thresholds than the IRS. Assets that spouses inherit generally aren’t subject to estate tax.

Inheritance Tax vs. Estate Tax

Inheritance tax and estate tax are two different things. Inheritance tax is what the beneficiary—the person who inherited the wealth—must pay when they receive it. Estate tax, on the other hand, is the amount that’s taken out of someone’s estate upon their death based on the value of the estate. One, both, or neither could be a factor when someone dies.

How to Avoid Inheritance Tax

There are a few ways to minimize the tax bite on handed-down assets. One common element of estate planning is to give assets away before dying. Many states don’t tax gifts. Keep in mind that gifts don’t have to be cash—stocks, bonds, cars, or other assets count, too. Beneficiaries can only do so much to avoid inheritance taxes once they’ve inherited an estate. However, those leaving the estate can take steps ahead of time to ensure beneficiaries are in the best situation possible. These estate-planning vehicles include living trusts, irrevocable trusts, and grantor-retained annuity trusts.

States with Inheritance Tax

Only six states—Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—impose a tax on inherited assets as of 2023. In 2021, Iowa passed a bill to begin phasing out its state inheritance tax, eliminating it completely for deaths occurring after January 1, 2025.

The Impact of Inheritance Tax

Inheritance taxation might influence donors’ wealth accumulation, giving, migration, and avoidance behaviors. Inheritance taxation may also have an impact on decisions about savings and labor supply from the perspective of heirs.

The Future of Inheritance Tax

The 2018 estate tax exemption increase is only temporary, so the base exemption amount is set to drop back down to $5 million (adjusted for inflation) in 2026.

Benefits of Using Trusts

Trusts are legal arrangements that can offer numerous advantages in estate planning and asset management. They come in various forms, each with unique benefits tailored to specific needs and goals. Here are some key benefits of using trusts:

Types of Trusts

There are several types of trusts, including revocable, irrevocable, and generation-skipping trusts, each offering unique benefits. Some common types of trusts are:

  • Revocable trusts, also referred to as living trusts, allow the grantor to make changes or revoke them at any time. They offer flexibility and control over the distribution of assets.
  • Irrevocable Trusts: These trusts cannot be changed or revoked once established, providing more stability and potential tax benefits.

Avoiding Probate

Trusts can help streamline the estate distribution process by bypassing probate, a court-supervised process that can be time-consuming and costly. Assets held in a trust are not subject to probate, allowing for a faster and more efficient distribution to beneficiaries.

Tax Efficiency

Properly structured trusts can minimize inheritance tax and provide tax benefits for the grantor and beneficiaries. One way to do this is to set up an intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT). This way, the grantor can avoid gift, estate, and generation-skipping transfer taxes while still paying income tax on trust income. This lets the trust assets grow tax-free.

Control and Flexibility

Trusts offer grantors control over how and when their assets are distributed to beneficiaries, allowing for tailored estate planning strategies. They can also provide protection for beneficiaries with special needs or those who may not be financially responsible.


Trusts are private legal arrangements, unlike wills, which become part of the public record upon the grantor’s death. This privacy can be beneficial for individuals who wish to keep their estate distribution plans confidential.

The Role of Lifetime Gifts

Lifetime gifts play a significant role in estate planning, offering a range of benefits from estate reduction to immediate financial support for beneficiaries. Let’s delve into these aspects in more detail.

Estate Reduction: Gifting Assets Can Lower the Taxable Estate Value

When you gift assets, such as cash, stocks, or even a car, you’re not only providing immediate support to your loved ones but also potentially reducing your taxable estate. This is because the value of these gifts can grow in the hands of the recipients rather than in your estate, thereby reducing the overall value of your estate that could be subject to taxation.

For instance, if you were to gift the entire $12.92 million of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption to your children today, that money could grow over time. At a hypothetical investment growth rate of 5% per year for 10 years, that $12.92 million gift could end up being worth over $21.04 million, and your loved ones will have received the entire amount free from gift or estate taxes.

Timing and Taxation: Understanding the Implications of Gifting Within Seven Years of Death

The timing of your gifts can have significant tax implications. For example, if you hold onto your assets and pass away in 10 years, a large portion of the appreciated value of those assets would be taxed at 40%. This could result in your estate having to pay over $4.89 million in federal taxes, leaving your heirs with about $16.15 million in after-tax assets rather than $21.04 million had you made the gift sooner.

Moreover, the lifetime gift tax exemption amount is scheduled to decrease to six million dollars in 2026. Therefore, making gifts now not only guarantees your use of the current exemption but also allows the future appreciation of those gifts to escape estate taxation.

Financial Benefits for Recipients: Immediate Financial Support to Beneficiaries

Gifting assets during your lifetime allows your loved ones to benefit from your gifts right away. This can provide them with immediate financial support, helping them achieve life milestones like buying a home or funding their education.

For example, you might choose to give a family member an asset like a family cottage before its value increases, which could result in additional capital gains taxes upon your death.

Moreover, making a gift now gets that future appreciation out of your estate. So, if you make a gift and the asset grows, that growth is not going to be subject to estate tax.

However, it’s important to note that the recipients of your gifts inherit your cost basis for tax purposes. So, if the asset has appreciated significantly prior to the gift, the recipient could incur a substantial taxable gain when selling that asset. Therefore, it’s crucial to carefully select what assets you gift to minimize the impact of taxes.

Ensuring Your Gifts Are Used and Managed Properly

One concern many people have about giving assets away early is that the person receiving the gift may not be ready to handle the responsibility of managing such a large amount of money.

One way to address this concern is to give those assets to an irrevocable trust and make the child or teenager the beneficiary. This strategy ensures that the assets are protected from misuse while still providing financial support to the beneficiary.

The Importance of Expert Consultation

Estate planning is a complex process that requires up-to-date knowledge of changing laws and state-specific regulations. Consulting with an expert in estate planning can help you navigate these complexities and create a comprehensive plan tailored to your unique needs and goals.

Changing Laws

Estate laws frequently change at both the federal and state levels, making it essential to stay informed about the latest developments. For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 significantly impacted estate tax exemptions and rates. By working with an expert, you can ensure that your estate plan remains compliant with current laws and takes advantage of any new opportunities or strategies.

State-Specific Regulations

Tax laws and estate planning regulations can vary significantly across states. For instance, some states have their own estate or inheritance taxes, while others do not. Additionally, state laws may govern matters such as property rights of spouses, rights of children to inherit, and probate procedures. An expert in estate planning can help you understand and navigate these state-specific regulations, ensuring that your plan is tailored to your specific situation and compliant with the laws of your state.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Hiring an expert for estate planning advice can save you more than it costs in the long run. A well-crafted estate plan can minimize taxes, protect assets, and ensure a smooth transfer of wealth to your beneficiaries. By working with an expert, you can avoid costly mistakes and potential legal challenges that may arise from an improperly prepared estate plan. Additionally, an expert can help you identify and implement advanced planning strategies that may not be readily apparent or available through DIY estate planning resources.


Q1. What is inheritance tax?

A1. Inheritance tax is levied on the estate (property, money, possessions) of the deceased, over a certain value threshold.

Q2. How can I avoid paying inheritance tax on my property?

A2. Employ strategies like property gifting, setting up trusts, and utilizing exemptions to potentially reduce or avoid this tax.

Q3. What is lifetime gifting and how does it help?

A3. It involves transferring property during your lifetime, reducing estate size and potential tax. However, the implications vary, necessitating professional advice.

In conclusion, proactive inheritance tax planning can significantly benefit your heirs financially. It’s not just about saving money but also ensuring a smooth transfer of your legacy. Remember, early planning and professional guidance are key to effectively managing estate taxes.

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