It is logical to assume that passing along assets to your heirs after you die is not something that will cost you a lot of money. Why should it? Of course you have to retain the services of an estate planning attorney to get the correct documents in place, but after that it would seem as though no further costs should be incurred. Unfortunately however, there is indeed a formidable source of asset erosion out there that must be addressed in the form of the federal estate tax.
Who has to pay the estate tax? This is a very good question, and it is not an easy one to answer because the parameters of the estate tax are constantly changing. The dividing line that you need to keep an eye on is the estate tax exclusion. Right now the estate tax exclusion is $5 million, which means that only the portion of your estate that exceeds this amount is subject to the estate tax, which is presently carrying a 35% maximum rate. However, if the laws stay the same as they are right now, in 2013 the estate tax exclusion will be $1 million, and the top rate of the tax will be 55%. In 2008 the exclusion was $2 million; in 2009 it was $3.5 million; and during 2010 it was repealed, so you can see that it is difficult to plan ahead considering the way that the exemption is always changing.
Estate planning attorneys often emphasize the fact that your estate plan is going to have to be updated as your life changes. But in addition to the changes that take place in your own life you have to be ready to react to circumstances that are not under your control, such as alterations to the estate tax laws. The wise course of action is to stay in touch with your estate planning attorney who will keep you apprised of changes that may have an impact on your estate plan.