Stepped-Up Basis

The Stepped-Up Basis Benefit

Stepped-up basis is a tax provision that allows heirs to reduce their capital gains taxes. When someone inherits property, real or personal, businesses, and investments, the IRS resets the market value of these assets to their value on the date of the original owner’s death. Then, when the heir sells these assets, capital gains taxes are applied based on this reset value. The result is a situation that allows investors to pass assets to their heirs virtually tax-free. If you need help reducing capital gains tax or with any other financial issues, consider working with a Qualified Legal Advisor.

What Is the Stepped-Up Basis?

The stepped-up basis (sometimes known as the step-up cost basis or raise in basis) is a way of adjusting the capital gains tax. It applies to investment assets passed on in death.

When someone inherits capital assets such as stocks, mutual funds, bonds, real estate, businesses, and other investment property, the IRS “steps up” the cost basis of those properties. This means that for the purpose of capital gains tax, the IRS sets the original cost basis of any given asset to its value when the asset is inherited. When the heir sells this asset, they only pay money on profits calculated from the day they inherited it.

The result of the stepped-up basis loophole is that heirs save significant money on investment assets that they inherit. Moreover, this loophole is crucial for estate planning. When individuals prepare their wills and trusts, they can minimize how much the IRS takes by handing down securities rather than cash.

Example of the Stepped-Up Basis

Once again, Bert owns 10,000 shares of XYZ Co. stock. He bought those shares at $20, leading to an original cost basis of $200,000. Bert is planning his will and he wants to hand this stock down to his son. At this time, XYZ Co. is valued at $30 per share. Bert has two options.

Option A – Cash Transfer
For simplicity’s sake, let’s ignore any other tax issues.
Bert sells his shares in XYZ Co. His proceeds are $300,000 and his profits are $100,000. He pays a standard 15 percent capital gains tax on this transaction, coming to $15,000. As a result, Bert passes $285,000 down to his son.

Option B – Stock Transfer
Instead of selling his stock, Bert hands his shares of XYZ Co. down to his son entirely. When Bert dies, XYZ Co. is still worth $30 per share. His son inherits all 10,000 shares and sells them immediately upon receipt.

At the moment Bert’s son inherits these shares, the IRS resets their original cost basis to $30. Bert’s son sells these shares for $300,000. He owes no taxes on this sale because, as far as the IRS is concerned, he didn’t make a profit off this sale.

The stepped-up basis loophole allows someone to pass down assets without triggering a tax event, which can save estates considerable money. It does, however, come with an element of risk. If the value of this asset declines, the estate might lose more money to the market than the IRS would take.

However, keeping that in mind, the stepped-up basis is still an important part of estate tax planning.

Stepped-Up Basis

How Do Capital Gains Taxes Work?

Capital gains is a special, generally lower, category of taxes imposed at the time a security is sold and based on the amount by which that security has gained value. This is distinct from income taxes, which are imposed on money earned from salary and wages. (Put another way, the income tax is imposed on labor, the capital gains tax is imposed on investments.) For example, when someone sells stocks, the money that they earn off that sale triggers capital gains taxes.

The capital gains tax applies only to the profits by selling assets. The value of the asset when you first bought or acquired it is called its “original cost basis.” The IRS then calculates your profits by subtracting the proceeds of the sale from the asset’s original cost basis. Capital gains taxes are then applied to those profits.

Example of Capital Gains

Bert owns 1,000 shares of stock in XYZ Co. When he bought the shares, they were valued at $20 per share, leading to a purchase price (original cost basis) of $20,000.

A few years later Bert sells his investment in XYZ Co. When he sells the shares, they are worth $35 each. As a result, Bert gets $35,000 from his sale (the proceeds).

Bert pays capital gains taxes on his profits from this sale, and his income bracket makes his tax rate 15 percent. As a result, he pays the following in taxes:

  • Profit = Proceeds – Original cost basis = $35,000 – $20,000 = $15,000
  • Capital gains tax rate * Profit = 15 percent * $15,000 = $2,250

Bert pays $2,250 in federal taxes on his sale.

If however, Bert were to die before he sells his shares and his Wife (depending upon the jurisdiction) or Children sell the stock, the basis would be stepped-up from $20,000 to $35,000, thus, there is no capital gain, in that the stock sold for the new stepped up value.


Stepped-up basis is a tax law that applies to estate transfers. When someone inherits investment assets, the IRS resets the asset’s original cost basis to its value at the date of the inheritance. The heir then pays capital gains taxes on that basis. The result is a loophole in tax law that reduces or even eliminates capital gains tax on the sale of these inherited assets.

A knowledgeable attorney and legal advisor can be a great partner in managing the tax implications of your estate plan. Finding the right Attorney who fits your needs is easy. Just Contact us at Beyer, Pongratz, & Rosen, a Professional Law Corporation, and we are ready to help you with your Estate, Business, Asset Protection needs.

The attorneys with Beyer, Pongratz, and Rosen have vast experience with every aspect of estate planning, probate, and business structuring. We are here to help! Give us a call to get started 916-369-9750 or contact us online to set up a FREE consultation. We look forward to working with you.

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