How does the IRS unified credit work?

December 27, 2015

In a previous post, I talked about the IRS unified credit, the IRS version of a coupon.  Here are some of the specifics on the unified credit.

  • The unified credit for people passing away in 2015 is approximately $5.4 million. That number is indexed to inflation and will rise a small amount each year and less changed by Congress.
  • This means that a person can give away up to the unified credit amount either during their life or at the time of their death without knowing any tax to the IRS.
  • For example, a person could gift $1 million to one of their children at age 25 and not owe any tax to the IRS.  
    Nonetheless, a gift tax return would have to be filed with the IRS year the gift was made. That is because of another tax exclusion vehicle.

One more point to remember is that federal tax law allows you give an unlimited amount of property to your spouse (assuming the spouse is a US Citizen) without incurring any tax.  If you die with a 20 million dollar estate, you can pass all of it to your pass without any tax being due.

  • This sounds really good, right?  Leave everything to your spouse and have no tax issues, right?  Not so fast my friend, as Lee Corso from ESPN’s College GameDay would say.

It is true that there would no tax assessed on the transfer to your spouse.  Presumably, however, at some point that same spouse is going to transfer the spouse’s estate to people other than a spouse.  If that transfer happens and the estate is valued over the unified credit amount, taxes will be an issues.

Shawn Roberts

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I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. I tend to focus on estate planning and business issues. I make a living as an attorney working for Resolution Legal Group in Oklahoma City.

I am husband to Amy and the father of Sam and David. We live exactly in the path where the “wind comes sweeping down the plains.”