Financial Briefs

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Why Turn Down An Inheritance?

Sometimes you just have to say no, even when it might benefit you financially. Suppose you're in line to receive an inheritance—shouldn't you welcome it with open arms? In some cases there can be good reasons to turn down the money, using a "qualified disclaimer."

Why would you ever not take an inheritance? The best reason is to save your family money on taxes. By using a qualified disclaimer, the assets bypass your estate and go to the next beneficiary or beneficiaries. This enables you to preserve your personal estate tax exemption to use in other ways. In addition, in many states a disclaimer may be used to avoid claims of creditors.

The combined personal exemption for estate and gift taxes is $5.49 million in 2017, an amount that is indexed to inflation and normally increases every year. That gives most people plenty of wiggle room. But for those whose wealth exceeds that amount or who have already used up part of the exemption, estate and gift taxes may still be a major concern. In addition, most money you might want to transfer to grandchildren will be subject to the generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT). The GSTT exemption is the same as the estate and gift tax exemption.

If you were going to pass along assets you've inherited to the younger generation at some point anyway, the disclaimer expedites matters. The money ends up with the contingent beneficiaries named by the person who was leaving you the inheritance without ever touching your hands.

To qualify under the strict legal definition of a qualified disclaimer, the document must meet these requirements:

Note that you can't alter who will receive the property you're disclaiming. For instance, if the contingent beneficiaries are your nephews and nieces, you can't redirect the money to your own children. The designations made by the person who made the bequest control where the money goes.

Also, you can't disclaim property once you've accepted it. For example, if you receive money and use a small portion to pay for funeral arrangements for the decedent, you can't disclaim the inheritance afterwards.

Although future changes in the tax code might discourage the use of disclaimers, for now this is still a viable technique. Be sure to consult with your legal and financial advisors about any inheritance you may receive.