Under the new federal estate tax law, the exclusion amount, or the value of an estate that can pass free of federal estate tax, is increased to $5,000,000. This $5,000,000 exemption will end, unless extended or modified by new legislation, on December 31, 2012. One of the most significant changes brought about by the new law with regard to preparing a Last Will or an estate plan, is the portability or transfer of the unused portion of the $5,000,000.00 exclusion between spouses.
In a simple example, say a husband dies in 2011 and leaves his entire $5,000,000 estate to his wife but does not use any part of this $5,000,000 exclusion for estate tax purposes. If the wife then dies in 2012, she can use both her own $5,000,000 exclusion and the $5,000,000 exclusion that was unused by her husband. Thus, the wife can pass on to others a $10,000,000 estate tax free. In the present law, the death of both spouses must occur between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012.
As with all new statutes, particularly involving taxes, novel questions always arise. Suppose a surviving spouse has survived not just one but two (2) predeceased spouses. Could the survivor’s exemption possibly reach $15,000,000 by adding the unused exclusions of both of the two pre-deceased spouses to that of the surviving spouse. The explanation accompanying the law provides that the surviving spouse can only use the exclusion of the last deceased spouse.
In order to utilize the unused exclusion of a deceased spouse, the executor of the first deceased spouse’s estate needs to timely file an estate tax return for the deceased spouse, compute the unused exclusion amount and elect that it can be utilized by the second spouse.
As is true with many aspects of estate settlement and administration, an Executor or estate fiduciary must be aware of his or her options and obligations to secure the maximum benefits for the estate and estate beneficiaries. Preparing and filing estate tax returns is just one of many areas that requires the assistance of a qualified probate lawyer.
New York Probate Attorney Jules M. Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to probate, estate planning and estate settlement. Brooklyn Probate matters and estate proceedings throughout New York require the attention of an experienced estate attorney. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.