How estate taxes work. Estate tax applies to the excess of your gross estate over the allowable exclusion and deductions. Your gross estate is the current value (not the cost) of everything you own. The allowable exclusion for 2015 is $5,430,000, and an estate can deduct the following: 1. Assets left to a surviving spouse, without limitation. 2. Property left to qualifying charities. 3. Mortgages, debts, and administrative expenses and losses.
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