Filing Becomes Important As Estate Tax Laws Change Even If Widows Do Not Owe Money

O. Reginald Osenton
November 14, 2012 — 1,439 views  
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A new portability clause in the American tax laws is good news for estate planning but likely cannot be relied upon permanently.

The provision allows a surviving spouse to claim any exemption not used by their deceased spouse on their own estate tax return. Since the exemption in 2011 was $5 million, a widow left with a $3 million estate owes no taxes. But then when the widow passes, the remaining $2 million can be added to the same $5 million ceiling. This means the widow's estate is exempt for up to $7 million, according to

This portability of estate exemption is simple compared to the tax maneuvers some estates attempt to avoid these taxes, and it was praised by tax lawyers upon signing. Unfortunately, the portability option concludes at the end of 2012, so it is only helpful to people who happen to lose a spouse in this calendar year.

In rare cases, someone who is terminally ill could use the portability option but even then it's still guesswork. The new law also complicates taxes for the surviving spouse if he or she decides to remarry one day.

So, while the sentiment from Congress was well-received in the estate law community because it addresses one of that group's significant concerns, the portability provision is almost unusable because it sunsets so quickly, according to

For now, the portability option will mean lots of paperwork for the IRS. As Congress' new rules mean fewer estates have to pay taxes, the new law encourages more estates to file tax returns even if they don't owe, according to Forbes.

So all surviving spouses this year have to file an estate tax return regardless of whether they owe or they lose the portability option forever. Estates have nine months to file an estate tax return and many miss that deadline.

Legislators could agree in 2012 to extend the portability provision in the estate tax law, or they could rewrite the whole thing. Forbes reported that the President has proposed bringing the estate tax laws back to where they were in 2009 when there was a $3.5 million exemption and a 45 percent tax rate.

Congress is notoriously unpredictable when it comes to drafting estate tax law. In late 2009, the U.S. Senate failed to vote on a bill that would have fixed a scheduled expiration of the tax. That meant there were no federal taxes on estates in 2010, according to

At the end of 2010, Congress passed the Tax Relief Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act. This is the law that brought the exemption to $5 million and introduces the portability option.

O. Reginald Osenton

Osenton Law Offices, P.A.

O. Reginald ("Reggie") Osenton is the Owner and President of Osenton Law Offices, P.A. If you need a Brandon estate planning lawyer, Tampa estate planning lawyer, or Tampa probate attorney, call 813.654.5777 or visit