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How to Calculate the Value of Your Gross Estate

Savings, Insurance, Retirement, Real Estate and Business Interests

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If you want to calculate your estate tax liability, you'll first need to calculate the value of your gross estate. Here's how.

Assets Included in Your Gross Estate

The assets that will be included in your gross estate for estate tax purposes are as follows:

  • Bank Accounts - Including checking, savings, money markets and CDs. If the account is in your sole name (including payable on death accounts) or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the account is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the account is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners made contributions to the account; if the account is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.


  • Investment Accounts - Including brokerage accounts and mutual funds. If the account is in your sole name (including payable on death accounts) or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the account is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the account is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners made contributions to the account; if the property is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.


  • Stocks and Bonds Held in Certificate Form - If the stock or bond is in your sole name or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the stock or bond is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the stock or bond is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners helped to purchase the stock or bond; if the stock or bond is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.


  • U.S. Savings Bonds - If the bond is in your sole name (including payable on death bonds) or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the bond is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the bond is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners helped to purchase the bond; if the bond is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.


  • Personal Effects - Including furniture and furnishings; clothing; jewelry; antiques; collectibles; art work; books; guns; computers; TVs and the like.


  • Automobiles, Boats, and Airplanes - If the vehicle is in your sole name or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the vehicle is in joint names with your spouse, only 50% of the value is included; if the vehicle is in joint names with someone other than your spouse, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners helped to purchase the vehicle.


  • Monies Owed to You - This includes mortgages held by you, personal loans you've made, and wages, bonuses, commissions and royalties owed to you at the time of your death.


  • Life Insurance - If you own the policy on your own life, 100% of the proceeds are included; if you own the policy on someone else's life, only the cash value is included.


  • Retirement Accounts - This category includes Roth and Traditional IRAs; Simple and SEP IRAs; 401(k)s; 403(b)s and annuities; 100% of the value is included.


  • Closely Held Business Interests - This category includes sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and stock held in closely held corporations. The value of your ownership interest is included.


  • Real Estate - If the property is in your sole name or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the property is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the property is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other property owners helped to purchase the property; if the property is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.


  • Certain Trust Assets - Certain trusts of which you are a beneficiary, including any trust over which you have a "general power of appointment," will be included in your gross estate at the full value of the trust property. This includes the full value of an "A Trust" established for your benefit as a surviving spouse using true "AB Trust" planning.


  • Taxable Lifetime Gifts - These are gifts that you made in excess of the annual gift tax exclusion amount in the year in which you made the gift. The exclusion amount used to be $10,000 per gift and is currently $12,000 but will go up to $13,000 in 2009.


  • Certain Transfers Made Within 3 Years of Death - This includes life insurance owned by you and transferred into an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust within 3 years of your date of death.

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