With the gift and estate tax exemptions currently at $5 million ($10 million for married couples), you might think that estate valuations are less important. But even if you believe that your estate’s value is under the exemption amount, there are several good reasons to determine the value of your assets.
First, you may be surprised just how much your estate is actually worth. For example, if you own an insurance policy on your life, the death benefit will be included in your estate, which may be enough to trigger estate tax liability.
Second, the gift and estate tax exemptions are scheduled to drop to only $1 million in 2013. Unless Congress extends the current exemptions or makes them permanent, you’ll need to know the value of your assets to identify appropriate estate planning strategies.
Third, obtaining a qualified appraisal can limit the IRS’s ability to revalue your assets. If you make gifts that exceed the $13,000 annual gift tax exclusion, you’ll need to file a gift tax return, even if the gift is within your $5 million lifetime exemption. Generally, the IRS has three years to audit gift tax returns and challenge reported values for gifted assets. But that period doesn’t begin until the gift has been “adequately disclosed.”
For assets that are difficult to value — such as closely held business interests or real estate — the best way to satisfy the adequate-disclosure requirements and avoid an IRS challenge is to include a qualified professional appraisal with your return.
Finally, knowing the value of your assets can help you distribute the property according to your goals. If you wish to divide your assets equally among your children, knowing what your assets are worth will help ensure you’re treating your children fairly.