Wednesday, December 30, 2009

15 per day, every day

The Wall Street Journal puts the expiration of the estate tax on its front page, with Rich Cling to Life to Beat Tax Man. They quoted many prominent estate planners, all of whom are flabbergasted by the unfolding situation. Michael Graetz at Columbia called it "Congressional malpractice." He also said that if Congress couldn't get this fixed in 2009, what makes anyone think 2010 will be any different?

The Journal points out that even if the federal estate tax only affects 5,500 estates at 2009 exemption levels, the commonly used figure, that's 15 taxable estates per day. There will soon be a meaningful number of large estates passing without any federal estate or generation-skipping transfer tax.

That some families will delay "pulling the plug" on someone to push an inevitable death into 2010 to save on taxes is not very surprising to me, especially if the costs of the extended life support are not being paid by the family. What I found truly shocking in the Journal article is that there have been a serious number of inquiries about euthanisia.

Elderly, wealthy but infirm clients have been asking their lawyers about traveling to Holland to arrange their suicide, so as to lock in the estate tax savings that could be available in 2010!

Such plans would be thwarted if Congress attempts to retroactively restore the estate tax to January 1. The article touches on the constitutionality of that idea briefly. The question is closer than I earlier   believed (I've been looking into it for Merrill Anderson's Estate Planning Report). There is no question, however, that the constitutionality of a retroactive tax would be challenged in court.  It could be years before a final answer is available.

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