Let’s begin with a reasonably well-founded observation: The official repeal this year of estate taxes has seriously flawed most testamentary plans and created mild chaos for estate practitioners. Traditionally, estate planning attorneys have employed “word formula” dispositions phrased in terms of tax concepts for their drafted wills and trusts. For example, for people with larger estates, dispositions are divided into two categories:
One portion equal to the unused estate tax exemption often called the unified credit or the credit shelter trust for the benefit of a surviving spouse and descendents.
The other portion is allocated to equal the “optimum” marital deduction amount, usually expressed as the minimum amount necessary to reduce a person’s federal estate tax to zero.
In other cases, testators will cause a portion of their estate to equal the unused generation skipping tax (GST) exemption to pass in favor of or for the benefit of grandchildren. The word formula is applied because, historically, it has resulted in the optimal division or disposition of a decedent’s property.
Unfortunately, none of the above has any meaning if the concepts used to define them are no longer represented by federal statute. Accordingly, decedents of 2010 and their beneficiaries are confronted with impossible circumstances. An unintended outcome is the possible disinheritance of a surviving spouse or children.
Another interesting issue relates to existing generation-skipping trusts that are normally subject to GST on taxable distributions to “skip persons.” In
2010, none of the taxable distributions or “taxable terminations” will be subject to the tax. Possibly, the optimum outcome has arrived for GST trusts.
Within the current environment, grandparents can literally transfer fortunes to grandchildren and be subject to a one-time 35 percent gift tax.
Caution is appropriate, however, because it is impossible to predict what Congress will do. From a constitutional perspective, retroactive legislation remains a risk. If Congress retroactively reinstated estate and GST tax law, which Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has formally pledged to accomplish, then the above identified actions would be problematic.
Reinstatement of the estate tax system, notwithstanding a valid constitutional argument, would represent a symbol of poor legislation, in this author’s opinion. Here’s why: Executors and trustees of estates created in 2010, as fiduciaries, must act on current law and distribute inherited assets in a timely fashion. Would it not be legally awkward for Congress to force executors and trustees to rescind those distributions and formally adjust all 2010 estate tax returns?
So given the testamentary chaos resulting from the political process, what can we expect? Many practitioners believe legislation will occur that will reinstate the 45 percent tax rate for estate and GST applications with a $3.5 million unified exemption for each spouse. But, if Congress fails to act this year, then beginning in 2011, we will face the imposition of a 55 percent tax rate and a $1 million unified exemption. Given the current federal budget crisis, inaction will produce higher tax revenue.
This uncertain environment may provide compelling reasons for proactive folks to act. Seek qualified help with your own estate planning issues now — not later.
Philanthropic causes are becoming more meaningful to us
Everyone has been affected in some way by the deep recession. As a result, nonprofit service demand is up, but contributions are down. However, more people are contributing their time and efforts to help others. Due to a strong philanthropic lobby and the generous nature of American values, Congress has not tinkered with key charitable planning techniques. Many creative planning options exist that can help one accomplish their nonprofit objectives and enjoy enormous tax and estate benefits.
Source: Coyote Financial
Trends in Estate Planning:
More families are seeking qualified help with their financial lives
Interestingly, the revolution in technology and communication has not changed the desire or need for a personal advisory (coaching) relationship with someone deemed competent and trustworthy. Technology may help you find the right person, but no substitute is yet available for a caring, personal relationship.
Opportunities in Estate Planning
Source: Coyote Financial