NOTE: State laws change frequently and the following information may not reflect recent changes in the laws. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney since the information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.
While West Virginia is not known to be one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees, West Virginia is one of the majority of states that currently do not collect an estate tax at the state level. A few years ago, however, things were different before major changes took effect with regard to federal estate tax laws. What do federal estate tax laws have to do with West Virginia state estate taxes? Prior to January 1, 2005, West Virginia actually did collect a separate estate tax at the state level, called a "pick up tax" or "sponge tax," that was equal to a portion of the overall federal estate tax bill.
What is the Pick Up Tax or Sponge Tax?
The "pick up tax" or "sponge tax" is a state estate tax that is collected based on the state estate tax credit that the IRS allowed on the federal estate tax return, IRS Form 706, prior to January 1, 2005. Each state had different tax laws with regard to the pick up tax, so the amount that a state would collect varied based on that state's own estate tax laws. In essence, however, the overall estate tax bill was not increased or decreased due to the pick up tax. Instead, the total tax bill was apportioned between the IRS and state taxing authority.
So what does this mean in plain English? It means that a portion of the federal estate tax was actually taken away from the IRS and instead paid to the decedent's state taxing authority. As such, prior to January 1, 2005, if a deceased West Virginia resident owed federal estate taxes, then the West Virginia State Tax Department collected the pick up tax from the deceased West Virginia resident's estate.
What is the Future of the West Virginia Estate Tax?
Effective January 1, 2005, the pick up tax was officially phased out under the provisions of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act ("EGTRRA"). In response to these changes in federal law that phased out the pick up tax, some states that used to collect a pick up tax chose to enact laws that allow the state to still collect a state estate tax. This is referred to as "decoupling" since the states that enacted a state estate tax no longer based their state estate tax laws on current federal estate tax laws.
The majority of states did absolutely nothing and therefore no longer collect a state estate tax, and West Virginia is with the majority. In addition, while under the provisions of EGTRRA the pick up tax was supposed to return in 2011, it didn't due to the enactment of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 ("TRUIRJCA"), which reinstated federal estate taxes but did not bring back the pick up tax. Nonetheless, the provisions of TRUIRJCA were set to expire on December 31, 2012, which would have brought the pick up tax back in 2013, but Congress and President Obama acted in January 2013 to pass the American Taxpayer Relief Act ("ATRA"). Under the provisions of ATRA, the rules governing federal estate taxes as set forth under TRUIRJCA were made permanent, which means that the pick up tax was not resurrected in 2013 and will not come back in future years without further action by Congress. Thus, don't expect West Virginia to begin collecting a state estate tax any time soon.
For more information about the West Virginia estate tax, refer to Publication TSD-387 on the West Virginia State Tax Department website.
Does West Virginia Collect a State Inheritance Tax?
Does West Virginia currently collect a state inheritance tax, which is a tax assessed against the share received by each individual beneficiary of an estate as opposed to an estate tax, which is assessed against the entire estate? The answer to this question is No, West Virginia no longer collects a state inheritance tax since it was repealed for deaths occurring on or after July 1, 1985. However, there are six states - Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - that currently do. For more information about state inheritance taxes, refer to the State Inheritance Tax Chart.