Advantage of Step-Up Basis for Estates?

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Advantage of Step-Up Basis for Estates?

The adjustment in the cost basis is sometimes overlooked in estate planning, even though it can be a tax game-changer. Under this tax provision, an inherited asset’s cost basis is determined not by what the original owner paid but by the value of the asset when it is inherited after the original owner’s death.

Since most assets appreciate over time, as explained in the article “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up” from Montgomery County News, this adjustment is often referred to as a “step-up” basis. A step-up can create significant tax savings when assets are sold and is a valuable way for beneficiaries to maximize their inheritance.

In most cases, assets included in the decedent’s overall estate will receive an adjustment in basis. Stocks, land, and business interests are all eligible for a basis adjustment. Others, such as Income in Respect of the Decedent (IRD), IRAs, 401(k)s, and annuities, are not eligible.

Under current tax law, the cost basis is the asset’s value on the date of the original owner’s death. The asset may technically accrue little to no gain, depending on how long they hold it before selling it and other factors regarding its valuation. The heir could face little to no capital gains tax on the asset’s sale.

Of course, it’s not as simple as this, and your estate planning attorney should review assets to determine their eligibility for a step-up. Some assets may decrease in value over time, while assets owned jointly between spouses may have different rules for basis adjustments when one of the spouses passes. The rules are state-specific, so check with a local estate planning attorney.

To determine whether the step-up basis is helpful, clarify estate planning goals. Do you own a vacation home you want to leave to your children or investments you plan to leave to grandchildren? Does your estate plan include philanthropy? Reviewing your current estate plan through the lens of a step-up in basis could lead you to make some changes.

Let’s say you bought 20,000 shares of stock ten years ago for $20 a share, with the original cost-basis being $400,000. Now, the shares are worth $40 each, for a total of $800,000. You’d like your adult children to inherit the stock.

There are several options here. You could sell the shares, pay the taxes, and give your children cash. You could directly transfer the shares, and they’d receive the same basis in your stock at $20 per share. You could also name your children as beneficiaries of the shares.

As long as the shares are in a taxable account and included in your gross estate when you die, your heirs will get an adjustment in basis based on the fair market value on the day of your passing.

If the fair market value of the shares is $50 when you die, your heirs will receive a step up in basis to $50. The gain of $30 per share will pass to your children with no tax liability.

Tax planning is part of a comprehensive estate plan, where an experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family minimize tax liabilities.

Reference: Montgomery County News (Dec. 20, 2023) “Maximizing Inheritance With A Step Up”

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