Tax Basis

Estate planning is an important aspect of wealth management.

It ensures the orderly distribution of assets upon one’s demise.

This is while considering the intricate web of tax implications.

One fundamental element in estate taxation is the “tax basis.” 

This blog will explore the concept of tax basis within the context of wills.

Defining Tax Basis

Tax basis, often called “cost basis” or “basis,” is the original value assigned to an asset for tax purposes. 

It also plays a role in determining the taxable gain or loss.

This will be when an asset is sold or transferred, including through inheritance, as a will stipulates.

Tax Basis In Inherited Assets

When assets are bequeathed through a will, the recipient (beneficiary).

This typically receives these assets with a stepped-up or stepped-down tax basis.

This depends on the prevailing market value at the time of the testator’s (deceased’s) death.

Stepped-Up Basis: 

In most cases, beneficiaries are fortunate to receive assets on a stepped-up basis.

This will be equal to the fair market value. It is on the date of the decedent’s death. 

This can lead to significant tax advantages.

It minimizes the potential capital gains tax liability if the beneficiary chooses to sell the inherited assets.

Stepped-Down Basis: 

However, there are exceptions to the stepped-up basis rule. 

In certain situations, the basis of the inherited assets may be stepped down to the date-of-death value.

This results in potential capital gains tax implications if the assets have appreciated since acquisition by the decedent.

Legal Considerations

Understanding tax basis within the context of wills is crucial for testators and beneficiaries.

As it can significantly impact the overall tax liability associated with the estate

Here are some legal considerations:

Proper Documentation: 

Testators should ensure that the basis of their assets is well-documented and communicated.

This will be within their will to avoid confusion or disputes among beneficiaries.

Tax Planning: 

Estate planners should incorporate strategies that maximize the stepped-up basis for beneficiaries, reducing potential tax burdens.

These strategies may include trusts or gifting arrangements during the testator’s lifetime.


Executors and beneficiaries must adhere to the legal and tax requirements.

This is associated with the inheritance of assets, accurately reporting the basis of inherited assets to tax authorities.

Example 1: Tax Basis In A Will – Charitable Bequest


Sarah, a wealthy philanthropist, has left a significant portion of her estate to her favorite charity, the Sunshine Foundation.

She wants to ensure the charity receives the maximum benefit from her legacy while minimizing potential tax liabilities for her heirs.

Tax Basis Consideration:

In Sarah’s will, she specifies that she wants to leave her valuable art collection to the Sunshine Foundation.

The art collection has appreciated significantly over the years, and its current fair market value is $1 million.

Sarah originally purchased the art collection for $200,000.

However, her adjusted tax basis in the collection is $300,000 due to certain improvements she made to the artwork over the years.

Example Of Tax Basis In The Will:

“I bequeath my valuable art collection, currently valued at $1 million, to the Sunshine Foundation, a registered charitable organization. To minimize any potential capital gains tax liability for my heirs, I hereby direct that the Sunshine Foundation receives this art collection with my adjusted tax basis of $300,000. I hope this ensures that the charity can use the collection’s full value for its charitable endeavors.”


In this example, Sarah is conscious of the tax implications of her legacy.

She specifies her adjusted tax basis of $300,000 in her will.

She ensures that her heirs will not be responsible for paying any capital gains taxes on the appreciated value of the art collection.

This is when it’s transferred to the charity.

This allows the Sunshine Foundation to benefit from the full $1 million value of the artwork without any tax consequences.