Estate and Gift Taxes

Federal and state estate tax returns and any necessary gift tax returns are due nine months after the decedent’s date of death, though you can request a six-month extension. Unlike taxes due on the income of the decedent, the estate, and any trust, the estate tax is a tax on the transfer of assets occurring at the decedent’s passing. A decedent’s taxable estate, in contrast to his or her probate estate, includes every asset in his or her name at death, as well as any significant assets transferred to someone else during his or her life. It also includes any proceeds from his or her life insurance coverage.

A federal estate tax return is required if the value of the decedent’s assets exceeds the federal exclusion of $5 million, and a Massachusetts return will be required if the value of the decedent’s assets exceeds the state filing threshold of $1 million.

If the decedent gave gifts worth more than the annual gift tax exclusion ($14,000 now; $13,000 last year) in any particular year, he should have filed a gift tax return for the year. If he didn’t, you will have to do it. This is important because the $5 million federal exclusion applies both to assets passed at death and to lifetime gifts exceeding the applicable annual exclusion amount. So while the decedent, had he submitted a gift tax return, would have calculated a gift tax due, he would have applied part of that unified exclusion to wipe out the tax. The gift tax return calculates the resulting reduction to the exclusion available at death, so it must be prepared and filed as a prerequisite to the estate tax return, which will take that reduction into account.

This is a really good place to get a qualified lawyer’s help. The estate tax is incredibly complicated, and the price of mistakes can be very high. You really need to get this right.

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