Friday, December 18, 2009

Still No News on the Estate Tax Front

As this week comes to a close, the buzz among estate planners is what Congress has NOT done so far. Time is running out and the ability to fix the unthinkable is dissipating quickly. The unthinkable is that beginning January 1 we will see the elimination of the estate and GST taxes, coupled with the introduction of carryover basis for people who die in 2010. This means that because of the repeal of the estate and GST tax (which only the wealthiest of 2% of the population pays), Congress had to do something else to replace this loss of revenue. Their answer was to do away with the "stepped-up" basis rules and to institute a modified carry over basis for assets that one inherits. This means that starting in 2010 everyone will now pay increased income taxes to offset the tax revenue lost from the Estate and GST tax!

The House is scheduled to recess for the holidays on December 18 and the Senate is focused on health care reform. This is a true dilemma for the estate planning community is that we still don't know what to tell clients to do at this point in time? But on other fronts........

Trademark infringement is a serious matter. A recent case filed in St. Louis however is proving to be the butt of some jokes. For an interesting (and I thought humorous) read check out the following ABA article here.

Health care reform has targeted savings from electronic record keeping as a way to save costs. But the implications of that are staggering. Some are now pointing out the loss of privacy and the exposure of confidential health information. See E-health records.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Higher Cost of Dying in other states

The Federal government is trying to decide what size of estate tax exemption citizens are going to have next year from the Federal Estate Tax. Under current law the exemption amount is currently $3,500,000.00 in 2009. If Congress does nothing the Federal Estate Tax exempt amount will be unlimited beginning January 1, 2010. I am betting we are going to see last minute legislation at the end of December to prevent the repeal of the repeal of the Estate tax for 2010.

However, state governments are also feeling the economic pinch and looking for ways to increase tax revenues. Dead people are an easy constituency to squeeze because they do not vote. For example, the State of Illinois "decoupled" its estate tax from the federal exemption amount beginning January 1, 2009. In Illinois anyone who dies this year pays an additional estate tax over anything one owns in excess of a $2,000,000 exemption from Illinois estate tax. What does the mean? If a Missouri resident dies with a $3,500,000 taxable gross estate in 2009, the taxpayer pays $0 Federal estate tax and $0 Missouri estate tax. The same taxpayer who dies in Illinois this year pays $0 Federal estate tax and $209,124 in Illinois estate tax. Picking the right state to die in for tax purposes can save some real dollars! Living on the correct side of the Mississippi can benefit one's loved ones significantly!

I think the Missouri tourism commission ought to adopt a new campaign to attract older citizens to move to Missouri before they die.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The House passes Tax Relief (Sort of)

On December 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Businesses Act of 2009 (H.R. 4154) by a vote of 225 to 200. Not exactly a land side; but, a beginning.

H.R. 4154 would:

· make permanent the $3.5 million estate tax exemption

· make permanent the 45 percent top rate.

· Prevent the untenable and unworkable switch (scheduled to take effect in 2010) from step-up to carryover basis.

One of the shortest tax bills ever to be passed, it is notable for what it does not say. Many of the changes requested by the Treasury department are absent. It is now up to the Senate. A lot has to occur before this becomes law. Stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lawmakers Scramble to Extend the Estate Tax

The bonanza of passing one's estate free of federal estate tax might actually happen on January 1, 2010. Due to a quirk in the tax code, the estate tax and generation skipping tax ("GST") are repealed for one year starting next year. Currently, anyone with a taxable estate of less than $3,500,000 is exempt from Federal Estate tax (and in Missouri from state estate tax as well). The Senate is considering legislation that would extend the $3,500.000 exemption another year in essence repealing the repeal of the estate tax. But, with time running out and the agenda focused on health care reform, there may not be time to do anything this term.

Starting in 2011 the Federal Estate Tax and GST tax would return and tax everything that one owns in excess of $1,000,000 at a 55% rate. This means that those who are very rich could take advantage of the one year repeal by dying in 2010. While this is a tough advice for any client, think of the social mayhem that could result by leaving such tax policy in place? Congress needs to act responsibly and deal with this legislation before it adjourns. Stay tuned for further updates.