A common confusion for heirs is what it means for their tax bills when they inherit stocks or bonds. Many assume they will need to pay federal taxes on the value of those securities at the time they are inherited.
As Money discusses in "I Inherited Stocks. How Can I Reduce the Taxes I Owe?," people who inherit securities do not have to pay anything on them right away. If the total value of the deceased's estate exceeds $5.45 million, then estate taxes are owed. But the estate pays those before any inheritances are distributed to heirs.
Heirs also inherit securities with what is known as a step-up basis. That means heirs inherit assets with a new basis - the value on the decedent’s date of death, not the date the decedent originally purchased them.
Thus, if the inherited securities are sold right away, then no taxes are due on them unless sold for more than the date of death value.
Consequently, it is possible capital gains tax might have to be paid if the securities are held for long enough for them to increase in value. Carefully choosing when to sell the securities can minimize those taxes.
If you have questions about taxation on any asset you inherit, it is a good idea to ask the estate's attorney.
Reference: Money (Oct. 4, 2016) "I Inherited Stocks. How Can I Reduce the Taxes I Owe?."