Learn How to Calculate the Value of Your Gross Estate

Man calculating the value of his estate
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If you want to calculate your estate tax liability, you'll first need to calculate the value of your gross estate. The assets that will be included in your gross estate for estate tax purposes include banking and investment accounts and real estate among other items.

Bank Accounts as Part of Your Estate

Including checking, savings, money markets, and CDs. If the account is in your sole name (including payable on death accounts) or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the account is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the account is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners made contributions to the account; if the account is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.

Investment Accounts

Investment accounts include brokerage accounts holding stocks, exchange-traded funds, bonds, mutual funds, and other investment securities. If the account is in your sole name (including payable on death accounts) or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the account is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the account is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners made contributions to the account; if the property is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.

Stocks and Bonds Held in Certificate Form

Some people may own stocks and bonds in the certificate—or paper copy—form. If the stock or bond is in your sole name or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the stock or bond is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the stock or bond is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners helped to purchase the stock or bond; if the stock or bond is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.

U.S. Savings Bonds

If the bond is in your sole name (including payable on death bonds) or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the bond is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the bond is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners helped to purchase the bond; if the bond is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.

Personal Effects Included in Your Estate

Including furniture and furnishings; clothing; jewelry; antiques; collectibles; artwork; books; guns; computers; TVs and the like.

Automobiles, Boats, and Airplanes

If the vehicle is in your sole name or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the vehicle is in joint names with your spouse, only 50% of the value is included; if the vehicle is in joint names with someone other than your spouse, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other account owners helped to purchase the vehicle.

Money Owed to You

This item can include mortgages held by you that another person is paying on, personal loans you've made to others, and wages, bonuses, commissions and royalties owed to you at the time of your death.

Life Insurance

If you own the policy on your own life, 100% of the proceeds are included. Should you own the policy on someone else's life, only the cash value is included.

Retirement Accounts

This category includes Roth and Traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs), as well as Simple and SEP IRAs. Also included are 401(k)s and 403(b)s that you may have through an employer and annuities. Your estate value will include 100% of these value.

Closely Held Business Interests

This category includes your interest in sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs) and stock held in closely held corporations. A closely held corporation's stock are shares held by a small group or a single individual in a business. The value of your ownership interest is included.

Real Estate in Your Gross Estate

If the property is in your sole name or in your Revocable Living Trust, the entire value is included; if the property is in joint names with your spouse with rights of survivorship, only 50% of the value is included; if the property is in joint names with someone other than your spouse with rights of survivorship, 100% of the value is included unless it can be proven that the other property owners helped to purchase the property; if the property is in joint names as tenants in common, only your proportionate interest is included.

Certain Trust Assets

Certain trusts of which you are a beneficiary, including any trust over which you have a "general power of appointment," will be included in your gross estate at the full value of the trust property. This includes the full value of an "A Trust" established for your benefit as a surviving spouse using true "AB Trust" planning.

Taxable Lifetime Gifts

These are gifts that you made in excess of the annual gift tax exclusion amount in the year in which you made the gift. The exclusion amount used to be $10,000 per gift and is currently $12,000 but will go up to $13,000 in 2009.

Certain Transfers Made Within 3 Years of Death

This includes life insurance owned by you and transferred to an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) within three years of your date of death.