Congress is Down to the Last Hour When it Comes to the Estate Tax Sunset Rules

Tick, tick, tick… The clock is ticking for Congress to act to extend/amend the current estate tax laws. They have about three weeks to prevent the federal estate tax to disappear all together in 2010. Experts agree that it is unlikely for Congress not to act.

The question is, however, will they act in time?

estate-tax-roller-coasterThe House approved a bill last week to create an entirely new, permanent, estate tax. According to this bill, estates would have an exclusion for taxes of $3.5 million ($7 million for couples). Under this measure the top tax rate for larger estates would be 45 percent. Another key provision of note is that for tax purposes, assets within an estate’s value is set when the estate holder dies, not when he or she originally acquired the assets. This spares heirs from hefty capital gains taxes on inheritances.

A million isn’t what it used to be

Without new legislation, the sunset provisions of current estate tax rules would erase the tax entirely in 2010. Why would anyone WANT Congress to pass a new Estate Tax then? Hold on to your hats because under the current legislation in 2011 the estate tax will be restored with a 55 percent tax rate and an exclusion of only $1 million. This means that anyone with an estate over $1 million will be subject to a 55 percent estate tax when they die.

Million-dollar estates aren’t as impressive as they once were. As the years pass, many everyday families are millionaires and don’t even know it. When calculating your estate you must include not only the value of what you think of being your assets, but also the value of your home, any vacation properties, and life insurance. Life insurance payouts plus the value of your home can easily put one above this $1 million threshold.

A middle class nightmare?

And while Congress could always take steps in 2010 to change that 2011 scenario, it must act this year to avoid triggering the 2010 estate rules. Losing the estate tax all together in 2010 might seem like a good deal for estate beneficiaries. But an even larger pool of taxpayers might get an unpleasant surprise. That’s because the value of assets in 2010 estates would be set, for tax purposes, at their level when they were originally acquired. In addition to being a bookkeeping nightmare, this provision would trigger capital gains taxes for any estate larger than $1.3 million. It would affect a much higher percentage of middle-class estates than the rules that currently exist.

Have you checked with your Elder Law Attorney?

Very few people have estates large enough to be affected by the newly proposed rules. Those fortunate enough to be among them should stay in touch with their estate planning attorney for further estate-tax developments and planning opportunities.
Check out my previous comments on this topic.


  1. Barry Maher says:

    Its about time. I hope Congress doesn’t screw this one up too!

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