I recently inherited an annuity, and I am considering taking a lump sum distribution. I thought I had the income tax situation sussed out, but then I stumbled across mention of a possible estate tax. Does estate tax apply to annuity distributions? If so, does it apply in my home state (where there is no state income tax) or in the home state of the decedent?


3 Answers 3


There can be Federal estate tax as well as State estate tax due on an estate, but it is not of direct concern to you. Estate taxes are paid by the estate of the decedent, not by the beneficiaries, and so you do not owe any estate tax. As a matter of fact, most estates in the US do not pay Federal estate tax at all because only the amount that exceeds the Federal exemption ($5.5M) is taxable, and most estates are smaller. State estate taxes might be a different matter because while many states exempt exactly what the Federal Government does, others exempt different (usually smaller) amounts. But in any case, estate taxes are not of concern to you except insofar as what you inherit is reduced because the estate had to pay estate tax before distributing the inheritances. As JoeTaxpayer's answer says more succinctly, what you inherit is net of estate tax, if any.

What you receive as an inheritance is not taxable income to you either. If you receive stock shares or other property, your basis is the value of the property when you inherit it. Thus, if you sell at a later time, you will have to pay taxes only on the increase in the value of the property from the time you inherit it. The increase in value from the time the decedent acquired the property till the date of death is not taxable income to you. Exceptions to all these favorable rules to you is the treatment of Traditional IRAs, 401ks, pension plans etc that you inherit that contain money on which the decedent never paid income tax. Distributions from such inherited accounts are (mostly) taxable income to you; any part of post-tax money such as nondeductible contributions to Traditional IRAs that is included in the distribution is tax-free.

Annuities present another source of complications. For annuities within IRAs, even the IRS throws up its hands at explaining things to mere mortals who are foolhardy enough to delve into Pub 950, saying in effect, talk to your tax advisor. For other annuities, questions arise such as is this a tax-deferred annuity and whether it was purchased with pre-tax money or with post-tax money, etc. One thing that you should check out is whether it is beneficial to take a lump sum distribution or just collect the money as it is distributed in monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual payments. Annuities in particular have heavy surrender charges if they are terminated early and the money taken as a lump sum instead of over time as the insurance company issuing the annuity had planned on happening. So, taking a lump sum would mean more income tax immediately due not just on the lump sum but because the increase in AGI might reduce deductions for medical expenses as well as reduce the overall amount of itemized deductions that can be claimed, increase taxability of social security benefits, etc. You say that you have these angles sussed out, and so I will merely re-iterate

Beware the surrender charges.


If you are the beneficiary of an annuity, you might receive a single-sum distribution when the annuity owner dies. The amount of this death benefit might be the current cash value of the annuity or some other amount based upon contract riders that the owner purchased. The tax on death benefits depends on a number of factors. Death benefits are taxed as normal income.

Unlike other investments, the named beneficiary of a non-qualified annuity does not get a step-up in tax basis to the date of death. However, that doesn't mean the beneficiary will have to pay taxes on the full amount. Because the purchaser of the annuity made the investment with after-tax dollars, only the amount attributable to investment income is taxed, but it will be taxed as ordinary income and not enjoy any special capital gains treatment. When there is a death benefit that exceeds the value of the account, that additional amount is also taxed as ordinary income.

Taxes on annuities depend on several circumstances:

  • qualified annuities
  • non-qualified annuities
  • step-up rule
  • death benefit riders

For more information on distribution of inherited annuities and taxes - go to Annuities HQ-- http://www.annuitieshq.com/articles/distribution-options-inherited-annuity/ they go into details that could help you even more.

One thing that Annuities HQ points out is if you take the lump sum payout, you may be pushed into a higher tax bracket.

Along with doing research I would also contact a financial advisor!


The page you linked shows "Federal changes eliminated Florida's estate tax after December 31, 2004" but no, estates are settled by the decedent's executor in the decedent's state. You receive an inheritance net of estate tax if any was due.

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