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End of an Era for Estate Tax Exemption?

02.05.2024 Written by: Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd.

estate tax exemption planning

The end is in sight for the federal estate tax exemption to sunset. Unless Congress makes the current law permanent, it will revert to the pre-2018 amount of $5 million, adjusted annually for inflation, on January 1, 2026. Although no one knows what Congress will or will not do, inaction makes for poor planning—especially when it comes to estate and tax considerations.

Federal estate and gift tax laws provide for a certain amount of wealth to pass free from estate or gift tax either as gifts made during life or upon a decedent’s death. This amount is called an “exemption” or “exclusion.” The current federal estate tax exemption is $13.61 million per person. The tax rate on assets that exceed the exemption amount is 40 percent.  Estate and gift tax laws are tied together—if a person makes a gift to another individual during life in excess of the annual exclusion amount (currently $18,000/person/year), and assuming such gift is not a gift payable to an educational institution or medical provider for such person’s benefit, such gift “eats into” that person’s ability to pass wealth free from tax at death.

In other words, hefty estate tax must be paid on a decedent’s assets that exceed the amount that can pass free from estate tax in the year of death, and the amount of wealth that can pass free from this tax is set to decrease. The estimated exemption amount for 2026 is $7 million for individuals and $14 million for married couples.

This upcoming change in the law presents an opportunity. If a person gifts away significant wealth between January 1, 2018, through midnight on December 31, 2025, and then later dies with a taxable estate, such gifts made in 2018-2025 over the exemption amount do not adversely affect the decedent. This means that if a person makes large gifts now, when the estate tax exemption is high, and dies post-2025, the person can pass more wealth tax-free. There may be other tax avoidance or tax minimization strategies to consider as well.

Although December 31, 2025, seems far in the future, it is important to understand how this change could affect your current estate plan and how long it may take to update or change your planning. Our team at Henningson & Snoxell is happy to review your estate plan and discuss options for additional planning! Contact us today.

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