Laws governing estate planning are extremely complex and can change frequently. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you anticipate changes to applicable laws as well as adjust your estate plan to continue providing the benefits you want whenever the law does change. One of the most misunderstood elements of estate planning involves the estate tax. Many individuals don’t believe the estate tax will apply to them because their estates are not large enough to exceed the exemption allowed, which in 2017 is $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for married couples. While this is often true, many people often don’t calculate the value of their estate correctly. Even an otherwise average estate can exceed the exemption limit, especially if you factor in one spouse dying first and the second spouse inheriting the bulk of first spouse’s estate. However, there are tools that can protect your assets from the estate tax by keeping it within your allotted exemption amount.
A portability election is a tool available to spouse’s that survive the other spouse. When one person in a marriage dies, their estate is totaled to determine what – if any – tax consequences are triggered. When a first-to-die spouse’s estate is completely covered by the individual estate tax exemption and the bulk of the assets within that estate pass to the surviving spouse, this can cause the surviving spouse’s estate to surpass the individual estate tax exemption limit so that the combined value of the estates of both the first-to-die spouse and surviving spouse are taxed when the surviving spouse passes away. A portability election allows a surviving spouse to use leftover exemption amounts from the first-to-die spouse so there is a chance that the surviving spouse’s personal exemption can be combined with the leftover exemption from the first-to-die spouse to shield the surviving spouse’s estate from the estate tax, too.