There are a number of financial issues to consider when you inherit something:
In general, you don't have to pay any taxes on inheritances.
A few states do have inheritance taxes that tax distributions made to heirs, but if the estate is undergoing probate, the responsibility for paying these taxes actually falls to the executor, who must pay any taxes due out of your share. If your executor is using EstateExec, it will tell him or her if such taxes apply. If you are independently claiming the inheritance through a small estate process, then that responsibility will fall to you.
Note that tax-deferred accounts (typically a retirement account such as a standard IRA or 401K) enabled the original owner to contribute pre-tax money during his or her lifetime, which then grew tax-deferred. When you withdraw money from such an account, it will be taxed as income to you. Moreover, you are required to withdraw certain minimum amounts (and pay taxes on those amounts) every year. See IRS inherited IRA guidelines.
When and if you eventually sell something you inherited (such as a stock or real estate), you will have to report the sale on your income tax filings, reporting your gain as the difference between the sale price and your cost basis in the asset. Normally, the cost basis of an asset reflects the amount you paid to purchase the asset. In the case of inheritance, it normally reflects the market value of the asset on the date of the previous owner's death. If your executor is using EstateExec, it will generate a report for you that gives you the cost basis of anything you inherit, for use with your future tax filings.
See EstateExec Executor's Guide: Cost Basis for more information.
When you inherit something, it can be helpful to know how much it is worth. If the estate is going through probate, an executor can often provide this information to you, but if not, you may want to contact a local appraiser to understand what you've inherited.
Certain types of assets are easy to value, such as the contents of a bank account or shares of stock in a publicly traded company. Other asset types can be a little less definitive, such as a used car or collectible, which you can estimate using public references, or real estate, where you may want to look at the tax assessor's valuation and talk to a real estate agent about sales of comparable properties. Still other asset types can be downright difficult to value, such as artwork or a private business, for which you likely need hire a professional appraiser.
Here are some online resources that can help you determine asset values:
- Stocks & Funds: Yahoo Finance, MarketWatch
- Precious Metals: Kitco, APMEX
- Vehicles: Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, Cars.com
- Collectibles: Greatest Collectibles, Kovel's
Note that the descriptions and values listed for vehicles and collectibles should be used only as general guidelines: they cannot completely account for the variations in quality and condition of specific assets, changing economic conditions, or local demand.
If an asset is valuable (or might be!), and you cannot easily just look up the value, you probably need to hire a professional appraiser. Assets often requiring a professional appraisal include valuable artwork, valuable jewelry, real estate, and private businesses. Sometimes executors hire an estate liquidator or other professional to appraise the mundane contents of the estate, including furniture, dishes, clothing, and more. Depending on the asset, you may need a specialist.
Appraisers, depending on the geographic area, typically charge from $125 to $400 per hour, depending on a variety of factors including subject area and level of expertise; some charge additional fees for a site visit. You should avoid an appraiser who charges based on a percentage of an asset's value, as this goes against USPAP’s ethical requirement.
You can find an appraiser via the following groups:
- American Society of Appraisers (ASA)
- International Society of Appraisers (ISA)
- Appraisers Association of America
When selecting an appraiser, it can be important to establish that the appraiser is qualified: ask about certifications and any memberships in professional organizations. While sometimes inconvenient, it's best practice to hire an appraiser who is not also a dealer, or who doesn't offer to buy items him-or-herself, in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. It's also best practice to ask for a written estimate of the appraisal fee in advance.
If the estate executor is using EstateExec (or you are!), he or she may be able to put you in touch with local members of the American Society of Appraisers or the Appraisers Association of America who give discounts for EstateExec users.
For some items, it may instead make sense to use an online appraiser, as this can be faster and cheaper (or even free). On the other hand, the appraisal will likely not be as robust, since the appraiser doesn't have access to the actual item, and you may have to pay a fee for each individual item at a time. You can get online appraisals at:
As an heir, you are NOT responsible for paying the debts of the estate out of your own funds. You do NOT inherit responsibility for paying the debts of parents, for example. If the estate is insolvent (i.e., cannot pay all its bills), then creditors simply end up with less than owed, or even nothing ... as do you.
If an estate ends up being insolvent, and you somehow received a distribution anyway (perhaps through a small estate process), some states allow creditors to sue you to reclaim any amounts they are still owed. So you can't inherit a debt outright, but if you receive a distribution that the estate needed to pay its bills, you may be forced to pay out some or all of that distribution.
Heirs normally would like to receive their inheritances as soon as possible. Maybe there's a house you want to buy, a bill you need to pay, or you are dealing with your own medical costs.
Since estate settlement normally takes a least year, and sometimes much longer, heirs often ask the executor if they can receive some or all of their inheritance before the settlement completes. Unfortunately, the law is not designed to encourage early distributions, and an executor may be held personally liable if he or she makes a distribution to you, then later needs that money to pay estate debts or expenses because the market value of the remaining assets went down in the meantime, or previously unknown debts surface, for example.
As an alternative, an executor may "advance" you some or all of your inheritance in the form of a loan, which you must repay to the estate if it becomes necessary. Such an advance is still risky for the executor, because there is a chance that if that time comes, you may not be able to repay the advance, or even cooperate.
Because of these dynamics, an industry has developed that commercially provides advances on inheritances, in exchange for a percentage of the inheritance when it finally becomes available. These advances can be a godsend if you need the money right now, but they are expensive and will keep a significant portion of your ultimate inheritance for themselves, to cover their costs and their risks.
With those caveats in mind, here are some resources that may be helpful:
- Finder for Better Decisions — Explains inheritance advances and estate loans
- Inheritance Funding — Source of inheritance loans while waiting for probate to complete
- Probate Advance — Source of estate cash advances
If you are inheriting a significant amount, you may wish to seek the help of a financial advisor. There may be certain tax strategies you can follow that will minimize any long-term costs, you may want to diversify your inheritance to minimize risk, you may wish to invest the inheritance so that it grows even larger, or something else.
EstateExec does not recommend specific services, but here are a couple of resources that may be helpful:
- Financial Advisor Learning Center — Advice by Charles Schwab on finding an independent financial advisor
- Smart Asset — Source of financial advisors
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