Death Tax to Fall to 0 Percent, Uncertainty Soars to 100 Percent

By December 31, 2009General

As of January 1, 2010, the federal estate tax falls to 0 percent. Unfortunately, as of Jan. 1, 2011, it returns to a top rate of 55 percent.

From The Blog of the Legal Times, “Estate Tax Battle Looms in 2010“:

“I think we all were really hopeful that everyone would come together and find that sweet spot that everyone could accept,” said Dena Battle, director of tax policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.

In the new year, lobbyists expect a rare effort to retroactively tweak the tax, which many are prepared to fight. . “I think there is going to be a significant effort to try and get this matter resolved early on,” Battle said. Chris Walters, manager for legislative affairs for the National Federation of Independent Business, said that “any tax increase that’s retroactive is unacceptable.”

USA Today reports taxpayers may be surprised to find that many estates are now taxed as capital gains. From “Estate tax set to expire Thursday“:

In the meantime, what might seem like a potential tax savings has become a guessing game for taxpayers, accountants, estate planners and tax lawyers. The impasse also could mean capital gains taxes on more inheritances.

“No one believed that Congress in its ultimate wisdom, with all the deficits looming, with a recession and two wars … would ever allow the estate tax to lapse. But that’s what’s happening,” said Martin Press, a tax attorney in Fort Lauderdale. “It’s created great uncertainty.”

Yes. Great, great uncertainty — and life-and-death consequences. From The Wall Street Journal, “Rich Cling to Life to Beat Tax Man“:

“I have two clients on life support, and the families are struggling with whether to continue heroic measures for a few more days,” says Joshua Rubenstein, a lawyer with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in New York. “Do they want to live for the rest of their lives having made serious medical decisions based on estate-tax law?”

UPDATE (6 p.m.): The expiration has definitely changed individual behavior, as witness USA TODAY’s founder, Al Neuharth, who writes a column, “For old, sick, rich is 2010 year to die?”:

In anticipation of the long-awaited death of the death tax, some at-risk people postponed some things until 2010. I know one person (me) who delayed until next week elective knee surgery (on both knees) that doctors recommended several years ago.

The odds are against my demise from that now rather-common surgery. But I decided to wait because I’ve carefully planned how to preserve in every way possible as much as possible of my little nest egg, not just for my wife but also for my eight children and two grandchildren.

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