When a married couple sells a jointly-owned home that has been owned and used as their primary home for two of the prior five years, they can exclude up to $500,000 of gain from the sale of the home. They can only do this once every two years, except under specific exceptions such as when the sale is related to a job move.

But what happens when two single individuals marry and each owns a home and both homes are sold within the same two-year period? Tax law allows them to sell their individual homes on a joint return within the same two-period. The amount they can exclude on each home is limited to $250,000. Each home is looked at separately based on the duration of the home's use and ownership by the individual that owned and used that home.

Example 1 — one spouse sells a home. Emily sells her home in June. She marries Jamie later in the year. She meets the ownership and use tests, but Jamie does not. Emily can exclude up to $250,000 of gain on a separate or joint return.

Example 2 — each spouse sells a home. The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that Jamie also sells a home. He meets the ownership and use tests on his home. Emily and Jamie can each exclude up to $250,000 of gain.