Normally, married couples own a home as joint tenant with rights of survivorship. When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse inherits the home and it does not trigger a taxable event. Unfortunately however, the capital gain exclusion is reduced to a single person’s share unless the survivor disposes of the property in the granted time.
When it comes to capital gain, married couples, filing jointly, have up to $500,000 of capital gain exclusion on qualifying sales. Since a surviving spouse is a single taxpayer, they are only entitled up to $250,000 exclusion of capital gain. For instance, if the home at the time of death is worth $900,000 with a basis of $400,000, the gain is $500,000. If the surviving spouse sells the home, their exclusion is only a maximum of $250,000 which would make the other $250,000 subject to long-term capital gains tax.
There is an exception to that rule however. If a sale occurs within two years of the death of their spouse, the survivor is entitled to the $500,0000 exclusion if the ownership and use tests are met prior to the death. The two-year period begins on the date of death and ends two-years after that date which means the property needs to close and fund by that anniversary.
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