When you consider the subject of estate planning it is useful to recognize the fact that it is an ongoing process. Your initial estate plan is going to be based on a snapshot of your life as it existed at that time. Clearly, things do not stand still and events happen in your life that often times render your existing estate plan obsolete. Things like changes in marital status and additions and subtractions to the family would fit this description.
In addition, there are things that take place that are out of your control that affect your estate planning efforts. Legislative changes that impact the tax code are among them, and with this in mind we would like to take a look at the lay of the land at the present time.
The estate tax and the gift tax are unified, and at the present time there is a $5 million unified exclusion. So if your estate and any gifts that you have given utilizing your unified exclusion do not exceed this amount no estate or gift taxes will be levied. Estates or gifts exceeding the exclusion are taxed at 35%. Keep in mind that any gift exceeding the annual exclusion amount of $13,000 per person, reduces the estate tax exemption by the amount of the gift.
Those parameters are only in place through the end of next year. At that time the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 will expire and the rate of the tax will rise to as much as 55% while the unified exclusion is reduced to just $1 million.
So, this presents an interesting situation. The $5 million exclusion becomes a $1 million exclusion when 2013 arrives, so it would be logical to consider giving gifts to your loved ones in 2012 before the exclusion is reduced.
Of course it is possible that changes to the laws could take place at any time, and this is another factor to consider. Clearly, the pending reduction of the exclusion is food for thought and it is something to discuss with your estate planning attorney.