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Finance • Legal Tax Reduction

How to Avoid Inheritance Tax: Everything You Need to Know

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If you ask any wealthy person in the US or any western country, how much taxes they pay, chances are they won’t be able to name all types of taxes.

There’s income tax, capital gains tax, VAT, property tax, in some cases wealth tax and more.

The wealthier you grow, the heavier the tax burden will be.

Governments don’t tax only the wealthy, of course, but many countries have set a threshold for certain tax categories.

That threshold is there to protect the lower and middle class from paying huge amounts in taxes, but what about the people who are barely above that threshold?

By and large, they are considered wealthy enough to afford that expense and hence not given much thought, or sympathy, to be honest.

Moreover, there’s rarely any open discourse about taxing the rich since the majority of the public can’t relate to that class.

But here’s what we think – if you’ve worked hard to get where you are right now, you should get the full advantage of your wealth.

You might also want to create generational wealth to pass on to your kids.

But the tragedy is that not only do you have to pay taxes during your lifetime, but taxes might be passed on to your kids as well, in the form of inheritance tax.

If you don’t know what inheritance tax is, you probably belong to one of the many countries that don’t impose it.

Is Inheritance Tax a Common Practice?

Inheritance tax isn’t common practice among countries.

In 2022, less than 30 countries levy an inheritance tax ranging from 4% (Italy) to 55% (Japan).

To put things in perspective, there are 193 UN member states worldwide. So, by the rules of probability, most people worldwide don’t have to worry about paying an inheritance tax.

For example, Australia, Canada, and China have no inheritance tax.

Mexico doesn’t impose an inheritance tax, either. Instead, inheritances are treated as income under the income tax law and are tax-exempt for Mexican residents.

Russia also has no inheritance tax.

The only exception is the royalties paid to the heirs (successors) of authors of works of science, literature, art, and discoveries, inventions, and industrial samples, which are subjected to RF personal income tax at the rate of 13%.

But not all high-tax countries want to let you off the hook that easily.

Some governments will sweep in at the last minute and take away a chunk of your wealth.

Just like the US and the UK.

Inheritance Tax in the UK

With a 40% standard inheritance tax rate, the UK is among the countries that levy one of the highest inheritance tax rates.

According to the official site of the UK government, the inheritance tax is imposed on the part of the estate that is above the £325,000 threshold.

Furthermore, no inheritance tax is imposed on estates above £325,000 if you leave it to your spouse, civil partner, a charity, or a community amateur sports club.

If you leave 10% or more of your estate’s net value to charity, you may be eligible to pay an inheritance tax at a reduced rate of 36% on certain assets.

While the inheritance tax in the UK is pretty high, it’s still far more straightforward than in the US.

Inheritance Tax in the US

In the US, there are federal estate taxes, state estate taxes, and also inheritance taxes.

To make things more complicated, many people have been led to believe that an estate tax is the same as an inheritance tax, which, unfortunately, is not true.

Not only is that not true, but you may even have to pay a federal estate tax, state estate tax, and an inheritance tax depending upon the state you reside in.

Talk about major damage.

This article is about inheritance taxes and how to reduce them, but you can’t do that if you are unclear about the difference between all the “post-death” taxes.

So first, let’s explain what each of these taxes means first.

Difference between Inheritance Tax, Federal Estate Tax, and State Estate tax

Difference between Inheritance Tax, Federal Estate Tax, and State Estate tax

Federal Estate Tax

A federal estate tax, as the name indicates, is levied on a federal level and is imposed on the transfer of a decedent’s taxable estate at death.

US citizens, residents, and non-resident aliens are all subjected to a top estate tax rate of 40%, but the estate tax exemption and the gross estate definition may vary.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), US citizens and residents are entitled to a federal estate tax exemption of $10 million, which is adjusted annually for inflation – for 2022, it’s $12.06 million.

While the non-resident aliens are entitled to an estate tax exemption of only $60,000 on US situs property. Inflation doesn’t come into play here.

For a US citizen or resident, the taxable estate is the fair market value (FMV) of a decedent’s worldwide assets at the date of death.

For US non-residents, only US-situs assets are taxed.

State Estate Tax

In addition to the federal estate and inheritance taxes, individuals may also have to pay a state estate tax, depending upon which state they reside in (at the time of death).

The state estate tax exemptions are generally far lower than federal estate tax exemptions.

As of 2022, the following jurisdictions levy an estate tax:

  • Washington State
  • Connecticut 
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois 
  • Massachusetts 
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • Maine
  • Oregon
  • Minnesota 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • District of Columbia

The tax rate varies from state to state, but it’s between 10% (Connecticut) to 20% (Washington State).

If you want to know more about estate taxes and how to avoid them, here’s an article that discusses the topic in detail.

Inheritance Taxes

Right off the bat, there is no federal inheritance tax in the US, rather, the inheritance tax is collected on a state level.

Unlike estate taxes, an inheritance tax is paid by the recipients of the inheritance (heirs, beneficiaries, etc.).

Currently, six states in the US levy an inheritance tax.

Now that you know the basics, let’s discuss inheritance taxes in detail.

What is an Inheritance Tax?

What is an Inheritance Tax

An inheritance tax is generally imposed on the value of the inherited assets and is paid by the beneficiaries of the inheritance, as opposed to the estate tax which is assessed on the estate itself before it is distributed among the beneficiaries.

The amount that the inheritors have to pay depends on the factors mentioned below:

  • Their relationship with the decedent
  • The value of the inheritance
  • The state in which they live, and the state(s) in which the decedent resided or owned property

Let’s discuss each of these factors below.

How Much Inheritance Tax Do You Have to Pay?

How Much Inheritance Tax Do You Have to Pay

By taking in an inheritor’s relationship with the deceased person, the value of their inheritance, and the state in which they reside, they can calculate if and how much inheritance taxes they may have to pay.

Consider Inheritor’s Relationship with the Decedent

An inheritor’s relationship with the deceased person could be the very thing that makes a tax-free inheritance possible for them.

Widows and widowers do not pay any taxes on inheritance. Domestic partners may also be eligible for a tax exemption, depending on the state.

Children, grand-children, and siblings are also exempt from paying inheritance taxes in a majority of US states.

Your relationship with the decedent is the primary factor that affects your tax exemption.

Factor in the Value of Assets Inherited

The value of the inherited assets could also play a role in certain states.

For example, Maryland doesn’t impose an inheritance tax if the estate (to be distributed) is valued at less than $50,000.

Similarly, Iowa doesn’t impose an inheritance tax if the estate is valued at less than $25,000.

In essence, people living in the US have to assess many factors when calculating their inheritance tax liability.

Inheritance Tax Varies State to State

An inheritance tax is imposed only on the amount of the inheritance that is above a certain threshold, which is determined by an exemption (given based on your relationship with the deceased and inheritance value).

Above the threshold, the state inheritance taxes are determined on a sliding basis, starting from a single digit and going up to 18%.

Currently, the following six states impose an inheritance tax:

  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Now that you know about inheritance taxes and how they are calculated, let’s see how you can avoid them.

How to Reduce Inheritance Tax

How to Reduce Inheritance Tax

The passing of a loved one is already a deeply sorrowful experience. Add unnecessary taxes on top, and it will get even worse.

So, here’s what you can do to avoid paying taxes on inheritance.

Consider an Alternate Valuation Date

Typically, the value of the inheritance is determined at the date of the decedent’s death. But in certain cases, an alternate valuation date can be chosen by an executor.

The alternate valuation date is six months after the date of the decedent’s death.

Once you choose the alternate date, you can’t undo that decision, and you have to stick to it.

Choosing an alternate date in a declining market can play to your advantage since then you will have to pay taxes on the reduced value of the estate, as compared to the date of the death.

This way, you will be able to avoid or minimize estate taxes and save the beneficiaries a lot of money in tax liabilities.

Consider Life Insurance Policy as a Medium to Transfer Assets

If you want to reduce or avoid estate taxes, you can use life insurance payouts as a medium to transfer your assets to your beneficiaries.

A life insurance payout to a named beneficiary will not be subjected to inheritance tax and is essentially tax-free at face value.

Furthermore, money received from an insurance payout is not considered taxable income.

This way, not only will you reduce your estate tax, but your beneficiaries will also not have to pay any taxes on their inheritance.

Put Your Trust in a Trust – Bonus Points if It’s Offshore

At Nomad Capitalist, we are no strangers to trusts and how beneficial they can be.

Setting up a trust, whether onshore or offshore, is a great way to protect your assets from the probate process, and misuse at the hands of the beneficiaries.

A trust also offers the grantor or the settler far more power over the management of their assets and how they’ll be used in the future.

There are many different kinds of trusts, but below, we have mentioned the two most common ones:

Revocable Trust: The settlor or the grantor has full control over a revocable trust.

A revocable trust, as the name indicates, can be altered or even canceled by the grantor at any time.

In the case of a revocable trust, the beneficiaries only get the property after the death of the settlor.

Irrevocable Trust: An irrevocable trust, as the name suggests, cannot be altered or canceled at any time by the grantor.

Once it’s properly set up, it cannot be undone, not even by the grantor.

Once you hand over your estate to the trust, the trust becomes the owner of the estate, and thus, that chunk of the estate is no longer subjected to estate taxes or inheritance taxes.

It may sound extreme and even counter-productive, but this lack of flexibility is the very shield that protects the assets of an individual or a business from malicious lawsuits later in life.

The grantor cannot retrieve their assets back from an irrevocable trust, even when ordered by a court of law to pay for a lawsuit.

Once in the protection of the trustee, the assets are secure for life.

Now, take this all, and add an extra protective layer of a foreign jurisdiction, preferably a tax-free or a tax-friendly country, and the courts of your country will never be able to snatch your assets.

That’s the power of an offshore trust. Want to know more?

Check out our ultimate guide about offshore trusts where we explain the whole concept in detail.

Do it the Nomad Way

Instead of sticking to one place and playing by its rules all your life, why not go where you are treated best?

If your home country seems to be bent on the idea of taking away huge chunks of your wealth in the name of taxes, why not get a second passport and move to a country with no taxes at all?

If a tax-free country is not offering the lifestyle that you prefer, there are many other tax-friendly countries to choose from, offering a similar lifestyle that you may be used to, like the Italian Golden Visa Program.

Once you switch to the nomad mindset, the possibilities are endless, and the freedom is incredible. 

How to Avoid Inheritance Tax FAQs

Can I be subjected to both the state estate tax and the inheritance tax?

Currently, Maryland is the only state that levies both an inheritance tax and a state estate tax. If you and your inheritors reside in Maryland, both taxes may apply (on the estate and the inheritance).

Which states levy an Inheritance tax?

States with no inheritance tax are mentioned below:

  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Protect Your Inheritance Money

With all the taxes that you have to pay during your lifetime, it’s already pretty hard to create generational wealth and leave a legacy for your heirs.

If you still somehow manage to do so, that’s not the end of the story.

Estate taxes and inheritance taxes will still rob your beneficiaries of a huge chunk of their inheritance.

If you think that’s not fair and you want to do something about it through proper tax planning and completely legal strategies, contact us.

We’ve dealt with clients who were right where you are, before they approached us and now they are living the life of their dreams, satisfied with the legacy they’ll leave behind for their loved ones.

You can do it too.


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