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Tax on inheritance


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, in most cases you will only have one option, fully distribute the account balance 10 years following the year of the decedents death.   The SECURE Act that was passed in December 2019 dramatically change the distribution options available to non-spouse beneficiaries. See the article below:


New Rules For Non Spouse Beneficiaries Of Retirement Accounts Starting In 2020


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


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.


Rob Mangold

About Rob………

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.

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Investment advisory services offered through Greenbush Financial Group, LLC. Greenbush Financial Group, LLC is a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through American Portfolio Financial Services, Inc (APFS). Member FINRA/SIPC. Greenbush Financial Group, LLC is not affiliated with APFS. APFS is not affiliated with any other named business entity. There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not ensure against market risk. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.