Estate Tax Definition

Federal estate tax is imposed by the federal government on property transferred during life or at someone's death; it is officially called the unified gift and estate tax. All property, however owned and whether or not it goes through probate court before being given to inheritors, is subject to estate tax. In practice, however, far fewer than even 1% of estates actually owe federal estate tax. That's because for deaths in 2024, the first $13.61 million of property is exempt from the tax, and you can give away or leave an unlimited amount tax-free to a surviving spouse or charity. Spouses can combine their exemptions to leave a total of $27.22 million without owing any federal estate tax. Some states also impose their own estate tax, in addition to the federal one. See also: gift tax; compare: inheritance tax