Filing Estate Taxes for a Deceased Family Member

Filing personal and estate tax returns is one of the executors jobs.
Filing personal and estate tax returns is one of the executor’s most important jobs.

If you’re the executor (or personal representative) of a loved one’s estate, and they were well-off, you’ll be dealing with several tax issues. The article “How to file a loved one’s taxes after they’ve passed away” from Market Watch gives a general overview of the decedent’s potential tax liabilities.

Winding down the financial aspects of the estate is one of the tasks done by the executor. The executor is identified in the decedent’s Will or appointed by a judge. If the decedent had a revocable living trust or an irrevocable trust, the trust document names a trustee who works in conjunction with the executor.

The executor is responsible for filing the federal income tax returns for the decedent’s personal income (Form 1040) as well as for the income generated by the estate or trust (Form 1041). The estate’s first federal income tax year starts immediately after the date of death. The tax year-end date can be December 31 or the end of any other month that results in a first tax year of 12 months or less. The IRS form 1041 is used for estates and trusts and the estate income tax return is due on the 15th day of the fourth month after the tax year-end.

For example, if a person dies in 2019 and the executor chooses December 31 as the tax year-end, the estate tax return would be due April 15, 2020. An extension is available, but it’s only for five and a half months. In this example, the due date could be extended to September 30.

There’s no need to file a Form 1041 if all of the decedent’s income-producing assets are directly distributed to the spouse or other heirs and, thus, bypass probate. This is the case when property is owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship, as well as with IRAs and retirement plan accounts and life insurance proceeds with designated beneficiaries.

Unless the estate is valued at more than $11.4 million in 2019, no federal estate tax (also known as the “death tax”) will be due.

But the executor needs to find out if the decedent made any large gifts before death. That means gifts larger than $15,000 in 2018-2019 to a single person, $14,000 for gifts in 2013-2017; $13,000 in 2009-2012, $12,000 for 2006-2008; $11,000 for 2002-2005 and $10,000 for 2001 and earlier. If these gifts were made, the excess over the applicable threshold for the year of the gift must be added back to the estate to see if the federal estate tax exemption has been surpassed. Check with the estate attorney or tax professional to ensure that this is handled correctly.

The unlimited marital deduction permits any amount of assets to be passed to a spouse – as long as the decedent was married to a U.S. citizen. However, the surviving spouse will need expert estate planning to pass the family’s wealth to the next generation, without a large tax liability.

While the taxes and tax planning are more complex when significant assets and estate taxes are involved, estate planning is perhaps even more important for those with modest assets as there is a greater need to protect the family and less room for error. An estate planning attorney can strategically plan to protect family assets even when the assets are not so grand.

Reference: Market Watch (June 17, 2019) “How to file a loved one’s taxes after they’ve passed away”

Other articles you may find interesting:

Widowed? What Happens Next?

Why Unmarried Couples Need Estate Planning