Inheritance Tax Explained: Who Pays and How Much?

Inheritance Tax Explained: Who Pays and How Much?

Business Desk, New Delhi. An inheritance tax is a tax that some states charge on what people inherit. It’s different from an estate tax because the person inheriting pays it, not the deceased’s estate. In the U.S., only six states have this tax, and it varies based on where the deceased lived, how much was inherited, and the relationship between the inheritor and the deceased.

Inheritance taxes are calculated based on various factors such as the value of the inheritance and your relationship to the deceased. Here’s how they generally work.

Exemption Amount

Every state that imposes an inheritance tax sets an exemption amount. This means that only the portion of your inheritance that exceeds this exempted amount is subject to taxation.

Tax Rates

Inheritance tax rates are typically progressive, meaning they increase as the value of the inheritance goes up. Rates often start in the single digits and can rise to between 15% and 18%, depending on the state and the amount inherited.

Relationship to the Deceased

Your relationship to the deceased affects both the exemption amount and the tax rate you’ll pay:

Spouses: Surviving spouses are often exempt from inheritance tax in states that levy it. This means they don’t pay any tax on their inherited assets.

Domestic Partners: In some states like New Jersey, domestic partners may also be exempt from inheritance tax.

Descendants: Descendants, such as children or grandchildren, may have different tax rates or exemptions based on the state. For example, they might only be subject to inheritance tax in specific states like Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

Therefore, the closer your relationship to the deceased, the higher the exemption amount and the lower the tax rate you’re likely to pay. It’s important to understand the specific rules and exemptions in your state when calculating potential inheritance taxes.

History of inheritance tax

The history of inheritance tax in the United States is intertwined with periods of economic need and evolving tax policies. It traces back to the Civil War era when the federal government temporarily imposed an inheritance tax from 1862 to 1870, primarily to finance war efforts.

A similar tax was levied during the Spanish-American War from 1898 to 1902. However, the modern federal estate tax, which is akin to inheritance tax, was established in 1916 and has remained a part of federal tax law since then. This tax was initially introduced as a means to generate revenue for the federal government.

In 1926, the federal government introduced a federal credit for state estate taxes, which incentivized states to implement their own estate taxes. This led to the widespread adoption of state estate taxes across the country, as states saw it as a viable revenue source. Over time, however, the federal government phased out this credit, causing many states to discontinue their estate taxes. Similarly, inheritance taxes, which began in some states as early as 1885, saw a decline in popularity over the years.

Currently, the federal government does not levy an inheritance tax, and only a handful of states still have inheritance taxes in place, with many of them having raised their exemption levels to reduce the number of estates subject to these taxes. This historical trajectory reflects the dynamic nature of tax policies in response to changing economic and fiscal landscapes.

How to utilize your inheritance tax effectively?

Effectively utilizing inheritance tax begins with understanding the tax laws and exemptions in your state, if applicable, to minimize tax liabilities. Seeking advice from financial advisors or planners specializing in estate planning and tax strategies is crucial to develop a personalized plan.

Planning ahead involves exploring options such as setting up trusts, utilizing gifting strategies, and investing in tax-efficient vehicles to mitigate tax impact on inherited assets. Educating yourself about financial management and tax planning empowers informed decision-making.

Regularly reviewing and updating your estate plan ensures alignment with evolving goals and tax regulations. Overall, a proactive and informed approach, coupled with professional guidance, can help navigate inheritance tax effectively and maximize the benefits of inherited wealth.

Which states have an inheritance tax?

Currently, six states in the United States impose an inheritance tax: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. However, Iowa is scheduled to eliminate its inheritance tax by 2025. Each of these states has its own set of regulations regarding who needs to pay the tax and at what rate.


In Iowa, the inheritance tax ranges from 1% to 4%, with exemptions for close family members such as spouses, children, and grandchildren, as well as certain charitable organizations.


Kentucky’s inheritance tax varies from 4% to 16% based on the relationship to the deceased and the value of assets, with exemptions for immediate family members like spouses, parents, and children.


Maryland imposes a flat 10% tax rate on assets over $1,000 and provides exemptions for spouses, children, siblings, and certain charitable entities. It is worth noting that Maryland is one of the few states that levy both an inheritance tax and an estate tax.


In Nebraska, inheritance tax rates range from 1% to 15%, depending on the heir’s relationship to the deceased and the value of assets, with exemptions for spouses and young heirs.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s inheritance tax ranges from 11% to 16%, with exemptions for spouses, children, parents, siblings, and certain charitable organizations.


Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax rates vary from 4.5% to 15%, with different rates for lineal heirs, siblings, and other heirs, and exemptions for spouses, minor children, and charities.

These states have specific criteria and tax rates for inheritance tax, often providing exemptions for close family members and charitable organizations.


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