Iowa Inheritance Tax: Everything you need to know

Inheritance tax is a tax on the transfer of assets from a deceased person to their beneficiaries. This article will explore the Iowa inheritance tax, how it differs from the estate tax, how it can be avoided, and walk through an example of the Iowa inheritance tax.

Inheritance Tax Overview

The inheritance tax is a tax on the transfer of assets from a person to their beneficiaries and is taxed to the beneficiaries of the assets. The tax is calculated on the value of the assets when they are gifted, and the tax rate is typically based on the value of the assets being inherited by the beneficiary, the relationship between the estate owner and the beneficiary, and the state they live in.

How Does It Work?

When a person dies, their assets are distributed according to the terms of their will, or if they did not have a will, according to the state’s laws. Depending on the value of the assets and the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased, these gifts may be subject to paying inheritance tax.

There is no federal inheritance tax, but some states have a tax on inheritances. However, even in states with an inheritance tax, it does not apply to any assets distributed to their spouse, specific types of assets, and particular other beneficiaries based on each state’s rules.

What states have to pay the inheritance tax?

The six states that impose an inheritance tax are:

  1. Pennsylvania
  2. Maryland
  3. Iowa
  4. Nebraska
  5. Kentucky
  6. New Jersey

What is the Inheritance Tax in Iowa?

If you are the descendant’s brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law, you will pay tax rates ranging from 5% on the first $12,500 of inheritance up to 10% on the value of inheritances worth more than $150,000.

All other individuals will pay between 10% and 15% of their inheritance. Corporations and other for-profit organizations will pay a flat 12% tax. Charitable, educational, and religious organizations are exempt from Iowa inheritance tax if they receive $500 or less, but they must pay a flat 8% if they receive an inheritance worth more than $500.

Inheritance Tax Exemption

A tax exemption is a type of tax relief that allows certain people or organizations to be exempt from paying certain taxes. This can include income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes. Fortunately, if you live in a state with an inheritance tax, you may still be eligible for a tax exemption for the inheritance tax. Here are some examples of potential inheritance tax exemptions:

  1. Spousal Exemption: Spouses who are married can transfer assets to each other tax-free, and the surviving spouse receives an inheritance tax exemption when receiving assets from their spouse.
  2. Charitable Donations: Donations made to qualified charitable organizations are exempt from these taxes
  3. Family Members: Immediate family members, such as children and parents, may also be exempted from inheritance taxes (or receive a lower tax rate) depending on the state.
  4. Tax-Free Gifts: You may receive up to a certain amount of assets without being subject to the inheritance tax based on each state’s rules.

What’s the difference between inheritance tax and estate tax?

The inheritance and estate tax are taxes on the transfer of assets from one person to another, but they are assessed differently. The estate tax is imposed on the estate of the deceased person or the person passing on the assets before they are distributed to heirs, and it is calculated on the total value of the assets when they are passed on. On the other hand, the tax on estate inheritance is imposed on the beneficiaries of those assets when passed on.

Another critical difference between the inheritance and estate tax is that there is no federal tax, and only some states impose an inheritance tax. On the other hand, there is a universal federal estate tax, and some states impose a state-level estate tax.

How to Avoid Inheritance Tax in Iowa

There are several ways to avoid or reduce the amount of inheritance tax owed outside exemptions. Common strategies are to:

  • Give the assets to the beneficiaries as early as possible. This allows the appreciation of the assets to avoid the inheritance tax.
  • Setting up specific types of trusts can allow your assets to be passed on without being subject to the inheritance tax. Three common trust structures used to do so are:
    • Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts (SLAT): With a SLAT, you can place assets into the trust, and your spouse (and, in practice, you) can access the assets during your lifetime. Your children and other descendants can also be named as beneficiaries. Often, the trust is structured so that the children only become primary beneficiaries after your spouse’s death.
    • Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT): 99 of the 100 wealthiest Americans use a trust structure to pass assets on to future generations. With a GRAT, you can place assets into the trust, any appreciation above a set percentage will pass to your beneficiary or trust estate tax-free, and you won’t use up any of your lifetime gift exemption. As a result, you can substantially reduce the size of your taxable estate while passing on assets to your heirs if you are willing to give some assets away to beneficiaries during your lifetime.
    • Dynasty Trusts: Designed to help individuals and families preserve their wealth, reduce or avoid estate taxes, and ensure that assets are managed and distributed according to their wishes over multiple generations.

Iowa Inheritance Tax Example

Lets analyze how much is the inheritance tax in Iowa with a real-life example.

Bob was an Iowa resident and passed away, leaving his $4m estate to his childhood best friend Jon. Because Jon isn’t a family member, he would be responsible for paying the Iowa inheritance tax on the inheritance. As a result, he would owe $600k in inheritance taxes.

On the other hand if Jon was Bob’s son, he would be responsible for paying around $400k in inheritance taxes.


The Iowa inheritance tax can be a significant burden for beneficiaries. It is essential to understand if it applies to you, how it works, and the different strategies that can be used to reduce or avoid it. By understanding the differences between inheritance tax and estate tax and the specific rules of the Iowa inheritance tax, individuals can plan to minimize the amount of inheritance tax their beneficiaries will have to pay.

Want to dive into inheritance taxes in depth? Check out our post on the U.S. inheritance taxes! Or contact our team for more information.

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