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Filing an estate tax return when the estate doesn’t owe any taxes

We’ve been looking in recent posts at Donald Trump’s plan to eliminate the estate tax, and considering the changes this will bring to wealthy and moderately wealthy Americans. As we noted last time, changes in estate taxation at the federal level do not necessarily mean changes in death taxes—whether as estate tax or inheritance tax—at the state level.

In some cases, those who might not owe estate taxes at the federal level might end up owing taxes at the state level. Or, an estate might not owe taxes at either the federal level or the state level, but there still might be reasons for the estate to file tax paperwork. One such reason we mentioned last time, for Florida citizens, is to remove the automatic estate tax lien. 

Florida estates of those who are not required to file a federal estate tax return still need to file out paperwork to remove the automatic estate tax line. This is done by recording the paperwork in the court of every Florida county where the taxpayer owned real property. Filling this paperwork allows the property to be transferred with a clear title, and the paperwork may also be needed in probate court.

At the federal level, there may also be circumstances where an estate tax return would need to be completed even when no estate tax is due. One such situation is when the estate of a deceased spouse wants to transfer any of the deceased spouse’s unused estate tax exclusion amount to a surviving spouse. To do this, an estate tax return must be filed, regardless of the size of the gross estate. A federal estate tax return may also need to be filed for a deceased individual who was a nonresident and not a U.S. citizen at the time of death, if the individual has assets in the United States.

Working through tax paperwork related to estate taxation is not always an easy matter, of course, and working with an experienced attorney helps ensure that one has proper guidance, assistance navigating tax law, and advocacy before tax authorities and in court.


Florida Department of Revenue, Florida’s Estate Tax, Accessed Dec. 13, 2016.

IRS, Frequently Asked Questions on Estate Taxes, Accessed Dec. 13, 2016.

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