Death & Taxes



Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

As April 15th draws near, the law offices of Provence Messervy and the CPA firm of Jarrard, Nowell & Russell often find ourselves answering questions about death and taxes in South Carolina. Here are three (3) common questions we receive and their answers:

1. Does South Carolina have estate taxes or inheritance taxes?

First, it’s important to understand the difference in these two types of taxes. Estate tax is a tax levied on the net value of the estate before it’s distributed to the heirs. An inheritance tax is a tax imposed on the people who inherit from an estate.

Residents of South Carolina have cause to celebrate when it comes to these taxes because South Carolina does not impose either tax. That being said, there are two areas where you need to be careful. First, if you inherit from someone who lived in an estate that DOES impose inheritance tax, you may receive a bill from that state. The states that impose this tax do not do so in the same manner, so it’s wise to consult with your tax professional in advance if you expect to receive this type of inheritance.

Second, the absence of a South Carolina estate tax doesn’t mean you are exempt from the federal tax. This leads to our second common question.

2. Do I still have to pay federal estate taxes if I live in a state with no estate taxes?

Yes. Living in a state that doesn’t impose these taxes does not exempt you from paying the federal government. However, there is good news in this regard. In 2016, an estate is not taxable at the federal level unless its value exceeds $5,000,000.00. For this reason, very few estates in South Carolina are forced to deal with any tax at all. However, if you are the Personal Representative of an estate valued in excess of $5,000,000,00, you need to contact both an accountant and probate attorney for advice. Similarly, if you believe your personal net worth exceeds this amount, it’s a wise investment to make sure your estate plan minimizes these taxes where allowable.

3. If there are no inheritance taxes in South Carolina, why do I have to pay income tax on the retirement accounts I received?

While it’s true that South Carolina residents don’t pay income tax on MOST inherited assets, there are exceptions to every rule. While inherited property is not considered “ordinary income” by the IRS, one exception is certain retirement accounts that were funded with pre-tax dollars. Income tax must be paid at the time these type of funds are distributed to the beneficiaries.

In conclusion, just remember not to let taxes sneak up on you. Talk to your estate planning attorney or a qualified CPA in advance about minimizing taxes at your death and preparing for any taxes you may pay as a result of an inheritance.

*Note: Thanks to Jarrard, Nowell & Russell for co-authoring this post with us and for always making themselves available to assist our clients.*

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6 Responses to Death & Taxes

  1. Christopher says:

    Just wanted to point out that in 2011 the $5,000,000 estate tax exemption was indexed for inflation. For the year 2016, the exemption is $5,450,000.

  2. Thanks for the comment and update!

  3. Scott says:

    How is the decease’s debt handled as it will be handled first before distribution of funds? Question #2: What should be looked out for if a settlement was entered prior to Probate between would be beneficiaries?

  4. I would encourage you to read the blog posts on this site about creditor’s claims as it helps explain how they are handled (there is a statutory priority) and how a good probate attorney will negotiate them down or do away with them completely. As for your second question, I’m not sure what you are referring to. Please provide more details and I’m happy to respond. I need to know if there is a will or this is an intestate estate, I need to know your role in the estate (beneficiary or PR or both) and I need to know what type of “settlement” we are talking about. A settlement usually refers to an agreement with an outside party resulting from a law suit as where I think you might be referring to a family settlement agreement whereby beneficiaries are agreeing to certain terms and transactions in the estate.

  5. Tiffany says:

    My grandmother died intestate, we sold her house while in probate and 3/4 of the proceeds went to her estate. It was well over a year, the probate is closed and funds are available for distribution. My grandmother was 80+ retired and was not required to file income taxes.

    However, as the PR do I need to file federal income taxes for her or for the estate?
    Also, what about SC state taxes? Because of the house sale the estate gained about 300K but I can not determine if I need to file taxes and what type of taxes to file. She lived in SC, but I live in VA so I am trying to navigate the SC law. thank you! 🙂

  6. Tiffany –

    Thanks so much for reading our blog and posting your question. Unfortunately, we do not have a CPA on staff to answer your question and as lawyers we don’t give tax advice. We have all of our Personal Representatives review their tax obligations with their accountant, the Decedent’s accountant or an accountant we refer them to. I would highly recommend you have this issue reviewed by a qualified CPA before disbursing funds to protect yourself as Personal Representative. Should you need a referral, please let us know and we will gladly offer you the names given to our clients.

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