Best States to Retire In

June 9, 2020

Many factors influence the decision of where to retire.  Family, familiarity of surroundings, climate, and cost of living are just a few to consider.  What about state taxes?  They are often overlooked and just “accepted” as an expense.  In the current environment, the trend of where taxes could go based on the financial stability of the state also should be considered. For those with a keen eye for wealth preservation, state taxes are critically important in deciding where to live and ultimately retire.

The Best States Overall

The states with the best overall tax environments for high income and high net worth retirees are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, since they do not levy income, estate, inheritance, or gift taxes.  Also, they stack up well in most other tax categories, except for Nevada (high sales taxes) and Texas (high real estate taxes).  New Hampshire is also very advantageous but collects income tax on interest and dividends.  Other states also have favorable tax systems, but not in each tax category like the six noted above.

Other States Are Good Too for Unique Situations

Each retiree’s situation is unique and a satisfactory tax outcome may occur in states other than those listed above.  For example, if a retiree has a lot of interest and dividend income, then Washington may be a good state to retire, since it has no income tax but levies an estate tax on persons owning above $2.193 million in total assets.

Retirees with a lot of IRA and tax-qualified plan income should consider Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming, which do not tax such income and levy no estate tax.  Since Illinois and Washington do not tax such income, they may also be favorable domiciles, unless their estate tax applies.

Estate Planning Considerations

Transferring wealth during life via gift is an important strategy to avoid federal and state estate taxes.  Only one state – Connecticut – imposes a gift tax, but states like Illinois pull lifetime transfers back into the estate tax calculation so lifetime gift planning becomes tricky. Transfers during life are tax exclusive, meaning the recipient receives the full amount of the gift and the transferor pays the gift tax. Transfers at death are less tax efficient since they carry the tax burden along with the transferred asset, i.e. they are tax inclusive.

If estate taxes and inheritance taxes are a concern when planning the transfer of wealth, then pay close attention to the states that levy such taxes.  The jurisdictions with extremely low exemptions, thereby causing more exposure to death taxes, include Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington making planning even more challenging for high net worth retirees.

There are other strategies to consider such as forming a trust while resident of a tax-favorable state and then moving on to another jurisdiction.  Also, changing residency long before the sale of a business could result in significant tax savings.  The changes brought about by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act require a lot of thought to be given to strategies to preserve deductions for real estate taxes.

Plan for State Taxes!

The tax systems of the states are very different.  A retiree’s type and amount of assets can generate widely different results in different states.  If state taxes are a priority to a retiree, he or she must closely examine the type and amount of assets and determine which state provides the best overall tax result.


No representation is being made that any strategy shown will or is likely to achieve results similar to those shown in this presentation. BDF does not provide legal, tax, insurance, social security, or accounting advice. Clients of BDF should obtain their own independent tax, insurance, and legal advice based on their particular circumstances. The information herein is provided solely to educate on a variety of topics, including wealth planning, tax considerations, insurance, estate, gift, and philanthropic planning.