While the concept of “portability” is not entirely new, it is a fairly important tax concept for all married couples.
In fact, a recent Forbes article titled “Estate Tax Portability - New Paradigm For Estate Planning” is a primer of sorts for couples still unfamiliar with the concept now become law. With the advent of “portability,” most married persons in theory do not need to worry about maximizing the estate/gift tax exemption of each spouse. Formerly, couples had to craft special trusts and other devices to ensure the opportunity to shelter their combined estate/gift tax exemption amount.
Under ATRA the estate/gift tax exemption amount for each spouse is “portable” between spouses. Consequently, not only can the surviving spouse inherit all of the couple’s assets, but can inherit the exemption amount attributed to the deceased spouse. This “portability” benefit is not automatic and what appears simple can become complex.
The surviving spouse is required to file the correct tax forms (i.e. IRS Form 706) to claim the unused estate/gift tax exemption of the deceased spouse. Fail to do the paperwork and you fail to get the benefit of portability. At the current time, portability falls into the “estate planning tool” category but, it’s only a tool of limited utility.
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Reference: Forbes (July 20, 2013) “Estate Tax Portability - New Paradigm For Estate Planning”