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Monday, May 8, 2017

Where Is The Best Place To Die From An Estate And Inheritance Tax Perspective?

Several years ago, I wrote a few articles comparing the tax consequences of dying in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.  Now that New Jersey has amended its estate tax laws, I thought I should write another post for 2017.

I will write this blawg post with the following assumptions in mind:
1) Nothing is going to a surviving spouse (since no state taxes transfers to a surviving citizen spouse, this is generally not a factor).  Note, NJ still has an estate tax on transfers to a surviving NON-CITIZEN spouse if the transfer is for more than the state estate tax exemption amount, currently $2,000,000.
2) Nothing is going to anyone other than lineal descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.)  Transfers to nieces, nephews, friends, etc. can lead to a significant inheritance tax in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so that is really a different comparison.
3) Since different states have different rules regarding what types of assets are taxable and where they are located, I will presume that all assets described herein are taxable by your state of domicile at the time of death.
4) The tax rates computed here are approximations only.  This is particularly true because New Jersey has a well known problem with its current estate tax that needs to be addressed.  (Basically, NJ's estate tax law contains a "circular" math calculation to figure out the tax.  We are still awaiting guidance from NJ on how to best do this or if they will issue a correction making the math easier and more straightforward.)

Let's start off with the easiest of the four states, Florida.  Florida does not have an estate tax. Simply put, you do not have to worry about a tax upon death.

Pennsylvania has a FLAT 4.5% inheritance tax on all transfers to children and grandchildren.  There are some notable exemptions though.  In particular, Pennsylvania does NOT have an inheritance tax on:
1) life insurance;
2) real estate or business interests owned outside of Pennsylvania;
3) a "qualified family owned business interest" - defined as having fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees, a net book value of assets less than $5 million dollars, and being in existence for at least five years at the decedent's date of death. In addition, the principal purpose of the business must not be the management of investments or income-producing assets of the entity.  Here is a short post I wrote about the inheritance taxation of small businesses in PA;
4) Most family farms; and
5) certain IRAs, 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans.  Generally, if the decedent is under 59.5 years of age and not disabled, it won't be subject to a PA inheritance tax.  The decedent must have the right to terminate or withdraw the money without penalty to avoid the PA inheritance tax.

Additionally, Pennsylvania only taxes a portion of money held in joint account with another if it has been titled in joint name for more than 1 year.

New York has slowly been raising its estate tax exemption up towards the federal estate tax exemption limit.  However, NY never makes anything too easy.  For individuals dying between 4/1/16 and 3/31/17, the exemption amount is $4,187,500 and for individuals dying between 4/1/17 and 12/31/18, the exemption amount is $5,250,000.  Additionally, while NY exempts real estate located outside the state of New York from its estate tax, it also forbids deductions related to such property, which occasionally has the effect of taxing a portion of the property!

The worst part of New York's estate tax regime is that it has a substantial cliff.  Basically, if your assets are 5% higher than the exemption amount, YOU DO NOT QUALIFY FOR THE EXEMPTION!  So, currently if your estate is above $5,512,500, your pay a full tax on everything, and if you are between $5,250,000 and $5,512,500, you only receive a partial estate tax exemption.

The tax rates in New York range from 3.06% to 16% once you have over $10,100,000 of assets.

As stated above, because of the technical problem with NJ's statute, I my calculations are based upon the assumption that New Jersey will offer a true dollar for dollar credit for its $2,000,000 exemption in 2017 (on the first $2M of assets in the name of the decedent, not the last $2M).

Moreover, it should be noted that NJ has the fewest items that it excludes from its estate tax.  It doesn't include out of state real property or business interests fully, but it does do so on a proportionate level, effectively taxing some of it once you are above the exemption amount.

New Jersey DOES have an estate tax on life insurance if you owned the policy on your own life, unless paid to a citizen spouse or charity.

New Jersey's tax rates will be 7.2% to 16% depending upon how far above the $2,000,000 exemption amount you are.

It's still never that easy, except for Florida.  There is never a death tax in Florida, but let's compare:

NY estate tax vs. NJ estate tax vs. FL
Starting April 1, 2017, between New Jersey, New York and Florida,  if you have assets of less than $2,000,000 and are leaving everything to your children, it does not matter.  There is no state estate tax.

If you have assets between $2,000,000 and $5,250,000, it is cheaper to die in New York and Florida as neither of those two has an estate tax.  At about $5,000,000, New Jersey will have an estate tax of close to $292,000.

As your estate approaches, $5,500,000, New York quickly becomes the most expensive place to die because of the tax cliff.

NY estate tax vs. PA inheritance tax 
Starting April 1, 2017, between Pennsylvania and New York,  if you have assets of less than $5,250,000 and are leaving everything to your children, New York is the clear winner as it does not have a death tax and Pennsylvania has a flat 4.5% tax from the first dollar.

As your estate approaches, $5,500,000, New York quickly becomes a much more expensive place to die because of the tax cliff and because the rate is so much higher.

NJ estate tax vs. PA inheritance tax 
Starting January 1, 2017, between Pennsylvania and New Jersey,  if you have assets of less than $2,000,000 and are leaving everything to your children, New Jersey is the clear winner as it does not have a death tax and Pennsylvania has a flat 4.5% tax from the first dollar.

As your estate approaches, $4,000,000, New Jersey quickly becomes a much more expensive place to die because it has a higher tax rate.

Interestingly, the last time I made these calculations, for individuals dying before 2017, the cross-over point was $1,500,000.

As always, each client has a unique situation.  Many people who have assets in excess of $4,000,000 tend to own real estate in more than one jurisdiction, further complicating the tax picture.  Also just because you have a taxable estate now, it does not mean that you should move to avoid taxes upon your death.  It is usually possible to engage in tax planning to minimize any estate and inheritance taxes.  For instance, we can assist you with gift planning to minimize taxes upon your death.  Please contact us if you would like to learn more about how the changing laws affects you.


Marc said...

HI Kevin. Another very informative column. Question : As of January 1, 2018, with NJ eliminating its estate tax, would that put NJ and Fla on equal standing as to state estate taxes ?

Kevin A. Pollock, J.D., LL.M. said...

Dear Marc,

I will revisit the issue of NJ vs. FL in 2018 after the Gubernatorial election. There's a chance NJ may not keep the repeal, so it is premature to say if they will be on equal footing. However, if the NJ's estate tax repeal becomes permanent, yes, they will be no difference with respect to the estate tax. HOWEVER, remember NJ also has an inheritance tax. So if you are leaving money to siblings, friends, nieces and nephews or step-grandkids, Florida is still the place to go.

Marc said...

Thanks, Kevin. As I recall, it was Ben Franklin who said "...nothing can be said to be certain except for 'death' and 'taxes'." Conversely, I guess the only thing that can be said to be uncertain is the state of New Jersey's "death tax"...lol