How to avoid capital gains tax on an inherited property

1 min readLast updated December 5, 2023by Rachel Carey

Take a look at practical strategies that empower you to navigate and minimize the impact of capital gains taxes on an inherited property.

Summary 

  • As with any capital asset, an inherited property has capital gains tax implications. 

  • Several strategies can minimize a capital gains tax burden. 

  • The “step-up in basis” tax provision is a pivotal strategy for an heir to minimize tax liabilities. 

  • Disclaiming an inherited property can avoid capital gains taxes completely. 

What are capital gain taxes? 

For an heir, inheriting a property is often filled with mixed emotions, from cherished memories of the person and the place to looming concerns over the prospect of tax liability on their newfound asset. That’s because when you inherit a property, it comes with the built-in potential for being liable for paying capital gains on an inherited house. This means that if and when you decide to sell the property, you could face a substantial tax bill based on the increase in its value over time.  

What are capital gains taxes? Capital gains taxes apply when an asset is sold for more than its purchase price. The amount of tax owed on the sale depends on the amount of time that you held onto that asset. If you sell the asset within a period of less than one year, short-term capital gains tax applies, which means that you will pay capital gains tax at the same rate that you spend on your ordinary income. Should you elect to sell the asset after holding onto it for more than one year, then long-term capital gains tax rates ranging from 0% to 20% would apply, depending on your total income.  

Why do people have to pay capital gain taxes on an inherited property? 

Paying capital gains on an inherited house may seem like an additional challenge during an already emotionally charged time. Still, it is essential to understand the underlying reasons for this taxation. 

Consider the following example: An uncle bequeaths you their beloved family home. The home was purchased in 2001 for $150,000. At the time of your uncle’s passing, the house is valued at $350,000. According to standard capital gains rules, if you elect to sell your inherited property at that stated value, you will incur a tax liability on the difference between the original purchase price and the selling price, being $200,000.      

The logic behind taxing such gains is grounded in the principle that any increase in the value of an asset is considered a form of income. Even though you did not actively generate this income, the government views it as a financial gain, necessitating taxation. 

How do you avoid capital gain taxes on an inherited property?  

Now that we have clarified what capital gains taxes are and why you would pay capital gains on an inherited house, let's explore strategies to minimize (or entirely circumvent) this financial burden. 

Apply the “step-up in basis” tax provision 

One highly effective strategy for avoiding capital gains tax on inherited property involves leveraging the "step-up in basis" tax provision that accompanies inherited assets.  

When you inherit a property, the IRS essentially “resets” the property’s value to its fair market value at the time of the decedent's death. This means that if you decide to sell the property soon after inheriting it, the capital gain is likely to be minimal, if not nonexistent. It's akin to starting with a clean slate for tax purposes. 

Hold on to the property 

Another approach is to retain ownership of the property.  

The longer the holding period, the greater the likelihood of its value appreciating. Selling the property after a certain period might qualify you for a lower tax rate or even exempt you from capital gains tax. 

Designating the property as your primary residence 

If the inherited property becomes your primary residence, you may be eligible for the Primary Residence Exclusion. This provision allows individuals to exclude up to $250,000 (or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly) of capital gains from the sale of their primary residence. 

The nuances of capital gains tax laws can be overwhelming. A qualified financial advisor can aid in understanding your tax liability and exploring strategies to minimize it or avoid it completely. By answering just a few questions, we'll connect you to an SEC-regulated financial advisor perfectly suited to your needs. Get matched with an advisor.  

Disclaiming an inheritance to avoid paying taxes  

Another way to avoid capital gains tax on inherited property is by disclaiming it.  

When you disclaim an inheritance, you are essentially refusing to accept it. This might seem counterintuitive, but it's a strategic move to avoid paying capital gains on an inherited house. Your refusal to inherit the property redirects the inheritance to the next eligible beneficiary in line. 

While unconventional, disclaiming an inheritance prevents you from becoming the legal owner of the property, thus circumventing the associated tax implications. Deciding to disclaim an inheritance requires careful consideration of the potential benefits and drawbacks. It is highly advisable to consult with a legal professional to fully understand the implications and consequences of such a decision f 

Need more information? 

A pragmatic approach to capital gains taxes on an inherited property requires strategic planning and a thorough understanding of the options available to you as the heir to that taxable asset. By capitalizing on the step-up basis, holding onto the property, making it your primary residence, and, when necessary, disclaiming the inheritance, you can minimize or entirely avoid capital gains taxes. 

In the face of an inherited property, proactive planning can significantly impact preserving your financial well-being. A qualified financial advisor can assist you in making informed decisions that align with your financial goals. Let Unbiased match you with a trustworthy financial advisor now.

Senior Content Writer

Rachel Carey

Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.