For 2016, the estate tax exemption is $5.45 million per individual, up from $5.43 million in 2015. That means an individual can leave $5.45 million to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple will be able to shield $10.9 million from federal estate and gift taxes. The annual gift exclusion remains the same at $14,000. The federal estate and gift tax exemptions rise with inflation, and the IRS announced the new numbers. The inflation bump up matters to those who try to whittle down their estates to keep below the threshold, which was as low as $2 million in 2008, $1 million in 2003 and $675,000 in 2001. The estate and gift tax exemption amount was set at $5 million in 2011, indexed for inflation. The top federal estate tax rate is 40 percent.