For those Americans who have been able to build some wealth throughout their lifetimes, estate planning has a lot to do with addressing the reality of the estate tax. Many people would suggest that there should be no estate tax at all. Their most convincing argument is that any assets that are left over after you have passed away represent a remainder that you managed to hang on to after paying any number of taxes throughout your life. And the more successful you have been, the more you have been taxed.
Love it or loathe it, however, we will likely always have an estate tax. For the past 10 years, one problem with the tax is uncertainty. If the estate tax was somewhat uniform and adjusted according to market conditions it could be planned for intelligently, but who must pay it and how much must be paid has been all over the place in recent years. In 2008 the exclusion amount was $2 million; in 2009 it was $3.5 million; in 2010 the estate tax was repealed; and in 2011 the estate tax exclusion was scheduled to be just $1 million. In addition to the reduced exclusion, the rate of the tax was scheduled to rise to as much as 55% in 2011 unless there was some 11th hour legislation to alter the law.
Lo and behold, that legislation has in fact been passed and the estate tax burden will be significantly lessened going forward. The bill that is going to extend the Bush era tax cuts and provide all Americans with continued tax savings also contains an estate tax provision. In light of the enactment of this legislation the estate tax exclusion will now be $5 million, and the top rate of taxation has been reduced to 35%.
Once again, however, these changes are only temporary and are scheduled to sunset in two years. What happens on January 1, 2013? You guessed it - back to a $1 million exemption and 55% tax. Uncertainty is still the order of the day.
These changes will impact many estate plans, so you may want to pay your estate planning attorney a visit to discuss how this legislation affects your existing strategy.