Estate tax exclusion to increase for next few years

Estate tax exclusion to increase for next few years

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

The New York State estate tax exclusion amount has increased again, as of April 1, 2015, to $3,125,000.00.

This is an increase from the $2,062,500 exclusion amount which was in effect from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015. The exclusion will increase again, each April 1st, in 2016 and 2017. On Jan. 1, 2019, the basic exclusion amount will be indexed for inflation annually and will be equal to the federal exclusion amount.

The New York State and federal exclusion amount is estimated to be $5,900,000.00 in 2019.

The exclusion and the time frame for each increase are as follows:
From April 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016 – $3,125,000.
From April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017 – $4,187,500.
From April 1, 2017 through December 31, 2018 – $5,250,000.
From January 1, 2019 forward – Will match the federal exemption indexed for inflation.

An item still of particular concern to many is the “cliff” language contained in the law.  If the estate is valued between 100 percent and 105 percent of the exclusion amount, the amount over the exclusion will be taxed.

In 2015, the 105 percent amount is $3,281,250.00.  However, once an estate exceeds the exclusion amount by more than 5 percent, not just the amount in excess of the exclusion amount is taxed, but, rather, the entire estate is subject to estate tax.

Practically, this means that taxable estates greater than 105 percent of the exclusion amount receive no benefit from the exclusion amounts shown above and will pay the same tax that would have been paid under the prior estate tax law.

New York repealed its gift tax in 2000.  This meant that as a New York resident, if you made lifetime gifts to friends or family members, the gift was not taxed or included in your New York gross estate for purposes of calculating your estate tax. With the estate tax law as enacted in 2014, there is a limited three year look-back period for gifts made between April 1, 2014 and Jan. 1, 2019. This means that if a New York resident dies within three years of making a taxable gift, the value of the gift will be included in the decedent’s estate for purposes of computing the New York estate tax.  The following gifts are excluded from the three year look back: (1) gifts made when the decedent was not a New York resident; (2) gifts made by a New York resident before April 1, 2014; (3) gifts made by a New York resident on or after January 1, 2019; and (4) gifts that are otherwise includible in the decedent’s estate under another provision of the federal estate tax law (that is, such gifts aren’t taxed twice).

The New York State estate tax law does not contain a portability provision, like in the federal estate tax law. Portability is a provision in the federal estate tax law that allows the unused estate tax exemption of a married taxpayer to carry over to his or her surviving spouse. Without portability, the manner in which a married couple holds title to their assets may continue to have a significant effect on the amount of New York State estate tax ultimately payable upon the survivor’s death.

This New York estate tax law is working to close, and eventually eliminate, the gap between the New York and federal estate tax exclusion amounts.  For the next four years, however, as the exclusion amount increases and the 3-year look-back for taxable gifts applies, tax planning will still be complex. That being said, it is important for anyone considering whether to make changes to their estate plans or gifting strategies to see an estate planning attorney specializing in these matters.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for 25 years.