Q&A: Taxes on a deceased spouse’s assets

Dear Liz: My dear friend’s husband just passed away and she is immediately selling off all his antiques through an auctioneer. Sales should net well over $100,000 this calendar year. Is there any way to offset the tax hit she will take on this? This will be on top of selling the house in the same calendar year.

Answer: Previous columns have discussed the favorable “step up” in tax basis that happens when someone dies.

Their assets, including at least half of a jointly-owned home, typically get updated to the current market value for tax purposes. Appreciation that occurred during the deceased’s lifetime is never taxed. In community property states, both halves of jointly-owned assets usually get this step up.

The auction shouldn’t generate much if any tax bill unless the antiques jump significantly in value between the date of his death and the date of the sale.

The same is true of the home sale if the friend lives in a community property state. If not, she may have potentially taxable appreciation on her half of the property. If the sale occurs within two years after the year her husband died, though, she can exclude up to $500,000 of home sale profits from her income. Otherwise she can exclude up to $250,000.

Your friend should consult a qualified tax pro who can review her specific situation and offer individualized advice.