Historically speaking, the federal estate tax is an excise tax levied on the transfer of a person's assets after death. In actuality, it is neither a death tax nor an inheritance tax, but more accurately a transfer tax. There are three distinct aspects to federal estate taxes that comprise what is called the Unified Transfer Tax: Estate Taxes, Gift Taxes, and Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes. Legal planning to avoid or minimize federal estate taxes is both a prudent and an important aspect of comprehensive estate planning.
If you are concerned about how your current estate and gift planning may function in light of ATRA 2012, and thereafter, then we encourage you to schedule a consultation.
California Estate Taxes
California's estate tax system is commonly referred to as a "pick up" tax. This is because California picks up all or a portion of the credit for state death taxes allowed on the federal estate tax return (federal form 706 or 706NA). Since there is no longer a federal credit for state estate taxes on the federal estate tax return, there is no longer basis for the California estate tax. California has neither an estate tax – a tax paid by the estate, nor an inheritance tax – a tax paid by a recipient of a gift from an estate.