Congress Begins to Work on the Federal Estate Tax

Experts view the current Federal Estate Tax system as a ticking time bomb. Some don’t consider planning for estate taxes because the 2009 threshold is set at $3.5 million. In other words, if you die in 2009 owning less than $3.5 million in total assets, you are not subject to a Federal Estate Tax.

If you die in 2010, as the law currently is written, no one owes estate tax, even if they had one hundred billion dollars (Dr. Evil reference, couldn’t resist). But here’s the rub: if you pass in 2011, the threshold reverts back to $1 million dollars.

Think you don’t have a million dollar estate? Without proper planning your estate can include your primary residence, vacation homes, and even life insurance policies. Still not concerned? The tax imposed can be 40%  to 50% of your total assets. Quite a kick-back to Uncle Sam. Dont’ fret, Congress is working on it!

The rest of this week’s blog is guest-written by Matthew Curtiss, Esq., a former classmate of mine with a practice in Mystic, CT.

With all of the talk of health care, public options, spicy mustard, socialism, and Michelle’s arms; its nice to see some members of Congress address the approaching year-long federal estate tax repeal.  NACSOnline has a nice overview of what proposals have been  put forth to date:

  • H.R. 436 – Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND-at large):
Makes the current exemption of $3.5 million and the rate of 45% permanent. (Estates between $10 million and $23.5 million would be taxed at 50%.).
  • H.R. 96 – Rep. Michael Conaway (TX-11): Increases to $1.85 million the maximum reduction amount for alternative valuations of farmland and other business property for estate tax purposes; and restores after 2009 the estate tax deduction for family-owned business interests and increase such deduction to $2 million. Allows annual inflation adjustments to such increased amounts after 2010.
  • H.R. 173 – Rep. John Salazar (CO-3): Excludes from an individual’s estate farmland so long as the land continues to be used for farming. To exclude such farmland from the total estate, the individual must have earned 50% of their gross income from farming in at least 3 of the 5 years from the individual’s last tax year and during 5 of the 8 years prior to the individual’s death the land must have been used for farming. If the land is subsequently sold or no longer used for farming a tax will be applied on the heirs.
  • H.R. 205 – Rep. Mac Thornberry (TX-13): Repeals the federal estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer taxes.
  • H.R. 498 – Rep. Harry Mitchell (AZ-5): Restores the unified credit against gift tax liability; provides for annual increases in the estate tax exclusion amount between 2010 and 2015 and establishes a permanent exclusion amount of $5 million for 2015 and thereafter; provides for an inflation adjustment to the estate tax exclusion amount after 2015; reduces estate tax rate brackets; and allows a surviving spouse to use the unused unified estate tax credit of a deceased spouse.
  • H.R. 2023 – Rep. Jim McDermott (WA-7): Sets a $2 million per-person exemption, indexed for inflation, and imposes a 55 percent top rate.
  • H.R. 3524 – Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-1): Prevents the value of inherited farmland from being subject to the estate tax if the decedent’s family continues to own it and farm it.

I do like the attempts to keep working farmland totally or partially exempt from tax; as it benefits non-corporate farmers.

For what its worth, with the hearth-care bill taking up so much time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a one year rollover of the current rates and exemptions.

Thanks to the Wills, Trusts and Estates Prof Blog for the heads up.

For more of Matt’s wisdom, be sure to visit his blog.


  1. […] Many experts believed this would NEVER happen. I discussed this in several past blog entries in September and December of last […]

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