Whenever people come into large sums of money, such as inheritance, the first question is “how much will I be taxed on this money”? Believe it or not, money you receive from an inheritance is likely not taxable income to you.
Of course there are some caveats to this. If the inherited money is from an estate, there is a chance the money received was already taxed at the estate level. The current federal estate exclusion is $5,430,000 (estate taxes and the exclusion amount varies for states). Therefore, if the estate was large enough, a portion of the inheritance may have been subject to estate tax which is 40% in most cases. That being said, whether the money was or was not taxed at the estate level, you as an individual do not have to pay income taxes on the money.
Although the inheritance itself is not taxable, you may end up paying taxes if there is appreciation after the money is inherited. The type of account and distribution will dictate how the income will be taxed.
Basis Of Inherited Property
Typically, the basis of inherited property is the fair market value of the property on the date of the decedent’s death or the fair market value of the property on the alternate valuation date if the estate uses the alternate valuation date for valuing assets. An estate will choose to value assets on an alternate date subsequent to the date of death if certain assets, such as stocks, have depreciated since the date of death and the estate would pay less tax using the alternate date.
What the fair market value basis means is that if you inherit stock that was originally purchased for $500 and at the date of death has appreciated to $10,000, you will have a “step-up” basis of $10,000. If you turn around and sell the stock for $11,000, you will have a $1,000 gain and if you sell the stock for $9,000, you will have a $1,000 loss.
Inheriting a personal residence also provides for a step-up in basis but the gain or loss may be treated differently. If no one lives in the inherited home after the date of death, it will be treated similar to the stock example above. If you move into the home after death, any subsequent sale at a loss will not be deductible as it will be treated as your personal asset but a gain would have to be recognized and possibly taxed. If you rent the property subsequent to inheritance, it could be treated as a trade or business which would be treated differently for tax purposes.
Inheriting An IRA or Retirement Plan Account
Please read our article “Inherited IRA’s: How Do They Work” for a more detailed explanation of the three different types of distribution options.
When you inherit a retirement account, and you are not the spouse of the decedent, you will have three options; Lump Sum Distribution, 5 Year Payout, or Life Expectancy. Due to the fact that the decedent never paid taxes on the money in these accounts, it is taxable to the inheritor. The lump sum distribution will allow you to take the entire balance immediately, the 5 year payout will spread payments over the 5 years subsequent to death, and the life expectancy method will spread the payments over the inheritor’s lifetime. Whichever option is chosen, taxes will be due when the money is distributed.
If you are the spouse of the of the decedent, you are able to treat the retirement account as if it was yours and not be forced to take one of the options above. You will have to pay taxes on distributions but you do not have to start withdrawing funds immediately unless there are required minimum distributions needed.
Note: If the inherited account was an after tax account (i.e. Roth), the inheritor must choose one of the options presented above but no tax will be paid on distributions.
Non-qualified annuities are an exception to the step-up in basis rule. The non-spousal inheritor of a non-qualified annuity will have to take either a lump sum or receive payments over a specified time period. If the inheritor chooses a lump sum, the portion that represents the gain (lump sum balance minus decedent’s contributions) will be taxed as ordinary income. If the inheritor chooses a series of payments, distributions will be treated as last in, first out. Last in, first out means that the appreciation will be distributed first and fully taxable until there is only basis left.
If the spouse inherits the annuity, they most likely have the option to treat the annuity contract as if they were the original owner.
This article concentrated on inheritance at a federal level. There is no inheritance tax at a federal level but some states do have an inheritance tax and therefore meeting with a professional is recommended. New York currently does not have an inheritance tax.
Hi, I’m Rob Mangold. I’m the Chief Operating Officer at Greenbush Financial Group and a contributor to the Money Smart Board blog. We created the blog to provide strategies that will help our readers personally , professionally, and financially. Our blog is meant to be a resource. If there are questions that you need answered, pleas feel free to join in on the discussion or contact me directly.