It is important to evaluate the effects of federal and estate taxes on estate planning. An estate may be subject to taxes before it is distributed to beneficiaries.
A specified portion of an estate is exempt from estate taxes. During 2012, the first $5,120,000 of an estate can be distributed to children or other heirs tax-free. The top federal estate tax rate on the taxable portion of an estate is 35% in 2012.
While most gifts or estates are not large enough to pay federal tax, you should estimate your estate taxes based on your net worth. If your net worth is at or above the federal taxable limits, you can use strategies such as trusts, gifts, and contributions to minimize your tax liability. To assess your estate's value, add all assets, subtract any liabilities (including your mortgage), and also deduct funeral and administrative expenses. Do this periodically, as persons who have saved or invested for many years can have larger estates than they anticipated.
Keep in mind that if your estate’s value exceeds the exemption, the assets subject to tax upon your death may include cash, life insurance policies you owned, stocks and bonds, the family home, the family farm, tangible personal property (such as jewelry, clothing, art, furniture, china, computers, power tools, etc.), benefits under employee benefit plans, and retirement assets such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA's).
VIII. Gifting and Tax Strategies