Exemption portability, made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, provides significant estate planning flexibility to married couples if sufficient planning hasn’t been done before the first spouse’s death. How does it work? If one spouse dies and part (or all) of his or her estate tax exemption is unused at death, the estate can elect to permit the surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s remaining estate tax exemption.
But making lifetime asset transfers and setting up trusts can provide benefits that exemption portability doesn’t offer. For example, portability doesn’t protect future growth on assets from estate tax like applying the exemption to a credit shelter trust does. Also, the portability provision doesn’t apply to the GST tax exemption, and some states don’t recognize exemption portability.
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