Key features of 2013 estate tax laws after American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) include the following.  Information from partner Karen Hindson of the Georgia and South Carolina estate planning firm Hindson & Melton LLC:

  • The exclusion amount of $5 million continues in effect but is inflation-adjusted; for 2012 the exclusion amount was $5.12 million and for 2013 it increases to $5.25 million.  If ATRA had not passed, the estate tax exclusion amount for 2013 would have dropped to $1 million, with no inflation adjustment.
  • Portability has been enacted as a permanent feature of federal estate tax law.  Portability allows a surviving spouse to utilize the unused portion of the first spouse to die’s gift and estate tax exclusion amount.
  • Portability is an election that requires filing a Form 706 estate tax return, even if the estate and gifts of the first spouse are less than the exclusion amount.   As a result, the surviving spouse must weigh the expense and complexity of filing the estate tax return against the likelihood that the second spouse to die will need the unused portion of the first spouse’s gift and estate tax exclusion amount.
  • Portability is not indexed for inflation after the year of death.
  • The estate tax return must be filed within 9 months after date of death so the portability election is time-sensitive.  It is possible to request a 6 month extension.
  • For 2013 and future years, the top tax rate for federal estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax increases to 40 percent.   Absent ATRA, the estate tax rate for 2013 would have jumped to 55 percent with no portability feature.
  • Some couples think that portability will fully address their estate tax planning concerns.  However, portability does not offer any creditor protection, and the surviving spouse might select beneficiaries that the first spouse did not intend after the death of the first spouse.  Traditional estate planning tools such as credit shelter trusts continue to offer safeguards that are desirable to some clients.
  • State estate tax and inheritance tax laws vary widely and must be considered in estate planning.  As states seek additional revenues, expect creativity on this front.  A limited number  of states currently give domestic partners tax parity with surviving spouses.
  • The annual gift tax exclusion amount has been $13,000; for 2013 it increases to $14,000 per donee ($28,000 if gift-splitting).

While the rules and the tools change from year to year, the fundamental importance of estate planning has not changed.  Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to clarify your estate planning objectives and implement a plan appropriate to your family and assets.  Hindson & Melton LLC serves clients in Georgia and South Carolina, including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Roswell, Charleston, and surrounding communities.

© Karen S. Hindson, Hindson & Melton LLC, March 23, 2013