Trust and Estate Counsel

Tennessee Estate Planning Law

Insight and commentary on estate planning issues impacting affluent residents of Tennessee

Tennessee Inheritance Taxes Are Cheaper Than Federal Capital Gains Taxes

The estates of a lot of Tennessee decedents pay Tennessee inheritance taxes but do not pay federal estate taxes. The federal estate tax exemption is currently $3.5 million. As of the date of this article, various members of Congress favor extending this exemption amount indefinitely into the future. The Tennessee inheritance tax exemption is currently $1 million. There does not appear to be much likelihood that Tennessee will increase its exemption to match the federal exemption.

The difference between the federal and Tennessee exemptions means that unmarried decedents who die with a taxable estate with a value between $1 million and $3.5 million will pay Tennessee inheritance taxes but not federal estate taxes. There are several things that can be done to reduce the value of assets for Tennessee inheritance tax purposes.

Some of these steps can be taken shortly before death. As an example, a parent might make a deathbed gift of a fractional interest in real property to a child with the goal of capturing a fractional interest discount for the remaining portion of the property when the parent dies. There are also various post-mortem decisions that can affect the value of the assets owned by the estate.

Even though the estate is not subject to federal estate taxes, the date of death value of the assets becomes the basis of the assets for federal income tax purposes. Basis will be relevant when the estate or the beneficiaries later sell the assets. Federal capital gains taxes are 15% and are scheduled to increase to 20% in the year 2011. If the beneficiaries live in a state outside of Tennessee that imposes a capital gains tax, this will make the capital gains tax rate even higher. The maximum Tennessee inheritance tax rate is 9.5%.

Since capital gains tax rates are higher than the maximum Tennessee inheritance tax rate, it is generally not advisable to take steps that reduce the value of the decedent’s assets for Tennessee inheritance tax purposes, unless it is known that the beneficiaries will continue to own the assets in the estate for several years. The reduction in the value of the estate will increase capital gains taxes by more than the Tennessee inheritance taxes that are saved.

Making tax-free annual exclusion gifts is still a good idea. It is better to give cash as opposed to an appreciated asset that will receive a free basis increase upon death. A cash gift reduces Tennessee inheritance taxes without increasing capital gains taxes.