The District of Columbia already moved to reduce its estate tax exemption from $5.67 million in 2020 to $4 million for individuals who die on or after Jan. 1, 2021. A resident with a taxable estate of $10 million living in the District of Columbia will owe nearly $1 million in state estate tax, says the article “State Death Tax Hikes Loom: Where Not To Die In 2021” from Forbes. It won’t be the last change in state death taxes.
Seventeen states and D.C. levy their own death taxes in addition to the federal estate tax, which as of this writing is so high that it effects very few Americans. Florida isn’t one of those states. In fact, Florida doesn’t have an estate tax or an inheritance tax, which is one of the many reasons it’s such a popular place for older Americans to live.
In 2021, the federal estate tax exemption is $11.7 million per person. But in 2026, it will drop back to $5 million per person, with adjustments for inflation. However, that is only if nothing changes.
President Biden has already called for the federal estate tax to return to the 2009 level of $3.5 million per person. The increased tax revenue purportedly would be used to pay for the costs of fighting the “pandemic” and “infrastructure improvements”. It remains to be seen whether this will actually happen because many law makers believe such a move would potentially destroy the family businesses, farms and ranches that drive and feed the economy. President Biden has also proposed eliminating the step up in basis on appreciated assets at death.
Changes that take place at the federal level are likely to drive changes at the state level. States that don’t have a death tax may look at adding one as a means of increasing revenue, meaning that estate planning may become even more important in the near future. States with high estate tax exemptions could also reduce their state exemptions to the federal exemption, adding to the state’s income and making things simpler. Right now, there is a disconnect between the federal and the state tax exemptions, which leads to considerable confusion.
Five states have already made changes in 2021, in a variety of forms. Vermont has increased the exemption to $5 million in 2021. Connecticut’s exemption will be increased $7.1 million. And the states of Maine, Rhode Island and New York have increased their exemptions because of inflation.
The overall trend in the recent past had been towards reducing or eliminating state estate taxes. In 2018, New Jersey dropped their estate tax, but kept the inheritance tax. In 2019, Maryland added a portability provision to its estate tax, so a surviving spouse may carry over the unused predeceased spouse’s exemption amount.
As mentioned above, Florida doesn’t have an estate tax or an inheritance tax, so your clients living (and dying) here in the Sun Shine State, and their families, won’t be subject to these taxes. However, if you live in or plan to move to a state where there are state death taxes, talk with an estate planner to create a flexible estate plan that will address the current and future changes in the federal or state exemptions. While you’re at it, keep an eye on the state’s legislature for what they’re planning.
Reference: Forbes (Jan. 15, 2021) “State Death Tax Hikes Loom: Where Not To Die In 2021”