When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse has the option of taking the unused federal estate tax exclusion and applying it to their own estate. This is known as electing portability for the DSUE, Deceased Spousal Unused Exemption, according to a recent article “Estates can now request late portability election relief for 5 years” from the Journal of Accountancy.
The portability exemption has grown in use, and the scheduled decrease in the estate tax exemption starting on January 1, 2026, will no doubt dramatically expand the number of people who will be even more eager to adopt this process.
The IRS has extended the amount of time a surviving spouse may elect to take the Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion (DSUE) from two to five years. The expanded timeframe is a reflection of the number of requests for letter rulings from estates missing the deadline for what had been a two-year relief period. The overly burdened and underfunded agency needed to find a solution to an avalanche of estates seeking this relief. Most of the requests were from estates missing the deadline between two years and under five years from the decedent’s date of death.
To reduce the number of letter ruling requests, the IRS has updated the requirement by extending the period within which the estate of a decedent may make the portability election under the simplified method to on or before the fifth anniversary of the decedent’s death.
There are some requirements to use the simplified method. The decedent must have been a citizen or U.S. resident at the date of death and the executor must not have been otherwise required to file an estate tax return based on the value of the gross estate and any adjusted taxable gifts. The executor must also not have timely filed the estate’s tax return within nine months after the date of death or date of extended file deadline.
If it is determined later that the estate was in fact required to file an estate tax return, the grant of relief will be voided.
Note that this change doesn’t extend the period during which the surviving spouse can claim a credit or a refund of any overpaid gift or estate taxes on the surviving spouse’s own gift or estate return.
The DSUE will become even more popular after December 31, 2025, when the federal exemption changes from $12.6 million per person to $5 million (adjusted for inflation). Given the rise in housing prices, even people with modest estates may find themselves coming close or exceeding the federal estate tax level.
Reference: Journal of Accountancy (July 11, 2022) “Estates can now request late portability election relief for 5 years”