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Please Explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax!

Posted on Fri Jun 27, 2014, on Probate and Estate Administration

From Our “Ask a Question” mailbag: “Can you explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax?”

Most recently updated June 22nd, 2018

Explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

Explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax.

“My father died recently in Philadelphia, and I have been reading about the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. I am confused. Can you explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax?”

Goal: Explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax for Non-Lawyers.

Whenever I am helping my Pennsylvania clients with estate planning or working with the executor of a Pennsylvania estate, I have the opportunity to explain how the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax works.

First, let’s break the tax down to its roots. The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is a Transfer Tax. It is different from the other taxes which you might pay regularly, like income tax, real estate tax or sales tax. A transfer tax is a tax levied when one owner transfers an asset to another. In this case, the transfer tax is taxing the transfer from the deceased to the beneficiary. You have paid transfer taxes in the past if you have ever bought a house or a vehicle with a title. To get the deed or title transferred you paid a fee to the state or county…a transfer tax.

The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is a transfer tax on the transfer of assets from the deceased Pennsylvanian (or someone with Pennsylvania real estate) to the new owner. It does not matter if the transfer is through a will, by beneficiary designation, through a revocable living trust or payable on death account. The tax is triggered when one person dies who owned or controlled an asset, and the asset then passed to someone else, typically called the beneficiary.

Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Forms

  • Form REV-1500: If the deceased was a Pennsylvania resident, the executor must file a PA Form Rev-1500 on or before nine months after the date of death. If you pay the tax within this nine-month period, there will be no interest due.  But, if the payment arrives after nine months, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue will charge interest and may levy a penalty.
  • Form Rev-1737: If the deceased was a non-Pennsylvania resident but owned real estate in Pennsylvania, the executor need file a PA Form Rev-1737 on or before nine months after the date of death. If you pay the tax within this nine-month period, there will be no interest due.  But, if the payment arrives after nine months, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue will charge interest and may levy a penalty.

Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Rates

Unlike most other states, the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax rates are not the same for every beneficiary. The rate that you will pay depends upon your relationship to the person who died.

  • 0% Tax Rate: Surviving spouses, charities and transfers to the government are exempt from the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. The probate process might require a tax return filed, but the result will be no tax due if the entire estate passes to only exempt beneficiaries.
  • 4.5% Tax Rate: Transfers to grandparents, parents, descendants (which include adopted and step-descendants) are subject to a 4.5% inheritance tax. This group is known as “Class A.”
  • 12% Tax Rate: Transfers to siblings, half-siblings by blood or adoption (but not step-siblings) are subject to a 12% inheritance tax. This group is known as “Class A1”.
  • 15% Tax Rate: Transfers to any person not mentioned above, such as close friends, neighbors or even long-term significant others are subject to a 15% inheritance tax. This group is known as “Class B.”

You can see why the LGBT community was concerned about marriage for tax purposes, as a gift to a spouse is taxed at 0% but a person with whom you have lived with for decades pays at 15%. This same tax problem faces same-sex couples that may have been living together and even raising children together. Getting married might have some costs, but it has tax savings also!

Exemptions from the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax

The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax exempts some assets.

  • Family Farm Exemption: If the deceased’s farm falls into a specific category, the land can pass free of the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax:
  • The farmland must transfer from the deceased to one of the deceased’s family.
  • The land must continue to be devoted to agricultural business for at least seven years.
  • The farmland must produce an annual gross income of at least $2,000.
  • Life Insurance Exemption: Life insurance payments on the life of the deceased are exempt from the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. It does not matter if they pass to the estate or directly to the beneficiary.

Deductible Expenses:

The Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax is levied on the fair market value of the deceased’s assets, but the gross number is reduced in two ways.

  • Deductions for Estate Expenses: The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue allows you to deduct expenses that were incurred while administrating the estate. Typical examples include the executor’s fees, the probate lawyer’s fees, filing fees at the Register of Wills and funeral expenses.
  • Deductions for Debts of the Descendant: The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue also allows deductions for the deceased’s debts that the executor subsequently paid. Typical examples are credit card bills, mortgages and income tax payments to the IRS or the Department of Revenue.

Preparing the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return

The Probate Attorney typically prepares the Inheritance Tax Return. An accountant can prepare the return, but many accountants are unfamiliar with the return. A typical arrangement for an estate is that the accountant prepares the deceased’s final income tax returns while the probate lawyer files the inheritance and estate tax returns.

The Probate Attorney’s understanding of estate and inheritance tax returns reduces the estate’s overall costs. An experienced probate team will be assembling and gathering the data necessary for the return. Collecting this information at the same time as the assets are more efficient.

Probate Questions?

The inheritance tax return is part of the overall probate process.  If you have more probate questions, please read my more detailed article, Probate Process: All You Need to Know.

In Conclusion: Please Explain the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax!

I hope that this article was helpful in explaining how the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Works. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation.

Let our probate lawyers help walk you through the confusing probate process. If you have more questions, please call to speak to one of our experienced probate lawyers.  Our lawyers are ready to answer your questions. Further, I included links to even more detailed information on my website. So, let me know how I did, comments and questions are welcome!

Furthermore, I would be happy to answer your questions.  If you have any other matters feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. We try to make the process as painless as possible!

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