Estate Tax

Estate Tax Definition

Estate Tax is a tax levied upon the inherited assets by heirs after the death of the asset holder and is calculated based on the market value of the asset(s) in question. However, a limit is applied over which the taxes are applied, plus, the amount which exceeds the limit is only eligible for such tax.

  • In the U.S., IRS has applied a base limit of $11.4 million for the year 2019, over which an estate tax is applied once such asset(s) are transferred. This limit is not constant for each state within the country, though, with a difference in the floor limit and rates for charging the tax.
  • Estate Tax is calculated as, Market Value of all property owned at the time of death or to be acquired, which is transferred to the heir over the state-imposed limit.
  • The estate includes all the assets of the deceased individual, including cash and other interests.
  • Deductions from the calculation of the above estate: Any last minute rituals expenses and/or other monetary obligations on the deceased.
Estate Tax

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Examples of Estate Tax

You can download this Estate Tax Excel Template here – Estate Tax Excel Template

Example #1

Let’s consider; Joe left his family with $100,000 worth of assets upon his death. Will the family be liable for any estate taxes?


In this scenario – no. As the inherited assets are below the limit required for calculation, no estate taxes should be levied.

Example #2

In the above example, consider that Joe has a family, including his wife and 2 kids. After death, Joe left $15 million worth of assets for his family. Will his family be now liable for any estate taxes?


Even in this case, the family is not liable. Joe’s wife would be considered as the legal heir to all his passed on wealth. Estate taxes are not levied if the spouse inherits the deceased’s wealth.

Example #3

Now consider that Joe’s wife passed away before him. After his death, Joe has now left $15 million for each of his kids. Now, we can determine estate taxes for Joe’s kids as each kid inherits assets worth more than the stipulated limit under jurisdiction.

Eligible amount for tax calculation will be:

$15,000,000 – $11,400,000: $3,600,000 for each kid

Or, $7,200,000 on the whole.

Once again, had Joe left a total of $15 million between both his kids, then they would not have been liable to pay any estate taxes.

Based on the table above, if Joe is a New York resident, below taxes applied would apply to his kids:

Estate Tax Example 1.1

$238,800 to be paid by each kid.


  • These taxes are not levied on the spouse. After death, if the estate of the deceased is passed on to the spouse, then no such taxes are levied. However, the same is not the case with other inheritors.
  • As the limit for assessing such taxes is high, the common man is not burdened with significant obligations on basic inheritance. These tax services to be charged on the heavy pocket citizens of the state.
  • The tax serves as one of the significant sources of revenue for the Government.


Limitations of Estate Tax

  • The major limitation set for such taxes is the high limit, which is mutually decided amongst members of the financial department of any State. Hence, only very highly valued assets fall under the purview of its calculation. However, the limits set by the state are in consideration of all pros and cons.
  • Another major limitation to calculating such taxes is that it considers the market value of such assets as on the valuation date. Hence, depending upon the situation, it may or may not differ on other dates and thus may or may not be eligible to estate taxes at all if it (or does not) breaches the required state threshold limit.

Essential Points to Note about Change in Estate Tax

  • Limit for such tax is dynamic every year, and changes with the law of the land. The Government of each state decides and determines the limit every year based on various parameters.
  • The more the richness inherited, the more the estate taxes levied on the inheritor. They are directly proportional to the wealth acquired.


An estate tax is very similar to inheritance taxes and gift taxes. The critical difference between an estate and inheritance tax is that the latter is levied after the assets are passed on, and depending upon the individual’s inheritance, they are required to pay their share of such tax. Gift taxes are levied during the lifetime of an individual when they pass on an asset of value greater than $15,000 or cash in such amount to other individuals. An individual is eligible for gift taxes every year when they pass on their assets/cash as gifts.

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This article has been a guide to what is Estate Tax and its definition. Here we discuss how to calculate estate tax along with examples, advantages, and its drawback. You can learn more from the following articles –

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