How High Net Worth Families Can Prepare for Increasing Estate Taxes

2026 is still a few years away. Even so, high-net-worth families face a pivotal change in their financial planning landscape due to a scheduled federal estate tax sunset. This term refers to the expiration of the temporary provisions introduced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in 2017, which significantly increased the estate tax exemptions.

Currently, these exemptions allow individuals and married couples to leave behind substantial assets without incurring federal estate taxes. However, with the sunset clause set to reduce these exemption levels in 2026, families need to reassess their estate planning strategies to prepare for potential increases in their tax liabilities.

So, let’s dive into the TCJA, some common estate tax exemptions, and strategies high-net-worth families can use to prepare as we head into the (tax exemption) sunset.


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act played a critical role in shaping the current estate tax framework. By doubling the exemption amounts for estate and gift taxes, the Act provided a temporary reprieve, enabling high-net-worth families to transfer more wealth tax-free.

For example, the exemption for married couples was elevated to approximately $25.84 million, adjusted for inflation, allowing substantial assets to be passed on without triggering federal estate taxes.

This significant shift not only offers immediate benefits but also underscores the importance of proactive planning before the 2026 adjustments, ensuring that families can navigate the impending changes with minimal financial disruption. After the sunset, these exemptions could drop significantly—as low as $7 million for individuals and $14 million for married couples.

Estate Tax Exemptions for High Net-Worth Families

With the 2026 changes on the horizon, high-net-worth families must pay particular attention to estate tax exemptions. These exemptions are pivotal in safeguarding portions of an estate from federal taxes at the owner’s death.

Gift tax exemptions also play a vital role, permitting the tax-free transfer of wealth during an individual’s lifetime up to certain limits. These mechanisms are indispensable in estate planning, aiming to reduce tax burdens and conserve wealth for succeeding generations.

The impending adjustments require a strategic review, especially for married couples, to ensure their wealth transfer remains as tax-efficient as possible. Here’s a breakdown of key exemptions and their significance, including those subject to rollback in 2026:

  • Estate Tax Exemption: This exemption protects a set amount of an estate’s value from federal estate taxes. Currently, this exemption is at historically high levels but is slated to decrease significantly in 2026.
  • Gift Tax Exemption: This allows individuals to give a certain amount annually to others without incurring a gift tax, with a lifetime limit that mirrors the estate tax exemption.
  • Marital Deduction: This deduction allows unlimited tax-free transfers between spouses, a critical tool for married couples in estate planning that remains unaffected by the 2026 changes.

Gift and Estate Tax Strategies Before the Changes Take Effect

As we approach the 2026 estate tax adjustments, high-net-worth families must closely examine and adjust their estate and gift tax strategies. The focus here is understanding how to leverage estate and gift tax exemptions effectively.

These methods not only capitalize on the current favorable exemption levels but also prepare families for the reduction in exemption amounts anticipated post-2026. By implementing these strategies, families can efficiently manage their estates, ensure a tax-effective wealth transfer, and secure their financial legacy against future changes.

This approach highlights the importance of proactive estate management. It’s not just about dealing with today’s tax environment but also about setting up future generations for success under the most advantageous terms possible.

Key strategies include:

  • Establishing Trusts: Creating trusts can help maximize exemptions by allocating assets to minimize the taxable estate.
  • Strategic Lifetime Gifts: Utilizing gift tax exemptions to transfer wealth during one’s lifetime reduces the estate’s overall taxable value.
  • Inflation Adjustments: Taking advantage of the adjustments for inflation on gift tax exemptions to increase tax-free transfers over time.

Leveraging Wealth Management for Estate Planning

Navigating estate planning necessitates a strategic partnership with wealth management professionals, especially for high-net-worth families.

Wealth advisors offer crucial insights into integrating comprehensive financial planning strategies, including tax mitigation, investment oversight, and legal frameworks, to safeguard and enhance family assets across generations. This integrated approach ensures that estate planning is not viewed in isolation but as a part of a broader financial strategy, aligning with the family’s overarching financial objectives to optimize tax efficiency and preserve wealth.

Minimizing tax liabilities is a focal point in estate planning for high-net-worth families, where wealth advisors play a key role. They can help devise and implement strategies such as tactical charitable contributions, strategic life insurance planning, and establishing specialized trusts or family limited partnerships.

These methods shield the estate from excessive taxation while ensuring the continuity of the family’s wealth legacy. Through these targeted strategies, wealth advisors are instrumental in guiding families through the complexities of estate taxation, facilitating a seamless and effective wealth transfer process that honors the family’s financial and legacy goals.

Real Estate Planning and Estate Tax

Real estate, often a significant portion of an estate’s value, requires careful planning to ensure it contributes positively to the estate’s overall tax efficiency. By incorporating real estate into comprehensive estate planning, families can navigate the potential tax implications more effectively, leveraging these assets to enhance the estate’s financial health while minimizing tax liabilities.

Techniques for including real estate efficiently in estate planning include:

  • Establishing a Real Estate Holding Company: This approach allows for the centralized management of real estate assets, potentially offering tax advantages and simplifying the transfer of these assets to heirs.
  • Utilizing a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT): This method involves transferring real estate into a trust while the grantor receives an annuity payment for a period. After the term, the remaining assets pass to the beneficiaries, potentially reducing gift taxes.
  • Implementing a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT): This strategy can be used for a personal residence, transferring the home to a trust for a specified term, reducing its value for estate tax purposes upon transfer to the beneficiaries.

Preparing for Post-2026 Estate Planning

As the federal estate tax sunset of 2026 approaches, high-net-worth families must look beyond immediate changes and anticipate the evolving landscape of estate and income tax planning. This forward-looking approach is essential to ensure that families remain well-positioned to protect their wealth and navigate future tax environments effectively.

Key ongoing strategies include:

  • Flexibility in Estate Planning Documents: Estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts, must be designed to accommodate changes in tax laws, allowing for adjustments without necessitating complete overhauls.
  • Diversification of Assets: Beyond real estate, diversifying investments across different asset classes can provide a buffer against the impact of changes in both estate and income tax rates.
  • Lifetime Gifting Strategies: Continuing to leverage gift tax exemptions and annual gifting allowances to reduce the taxable estate, mindful of potential shifts in exemption thresholds.
  • Utilization of Tax-Advantaged Accounts: Maximizing contributions to tax-advantaged retirement accounts to reduce income tax liabilities and plan for wealth transfer.