Recent Deaths Bring Home the Consequences of No Estate Tax in 2010

There was too much confusion to be much rejoicing when the estate tax was repealed for a year on January 1st, 2010. Although the words “no estate tax” may sound good, nobody really expected the state of affairs would last. Most experts believed that Congress would never actually let it happen in the first place; then when ’09 became ’10 without any action on the estate tax repeal that the George W. Bush administration had put into place experts warned people not to get too comfortable, that a retroactive estate tax would likely be implemented.

Well, we’re 4 months into 2010 and there is still no retroactive estate tax—but there is also still no rejoicing. This is because the lack of estate tax has actually created more problems than it has solved for the wealthy and affluent. According to this article in Financial Advisor Magazine the recent deaths of Texas billionaire Dan Duncan and Taco Bell founder Glen W. Bell, Jr. have only made it clear to tax attorneys that “lawsuits of various kinds will blossom in the estate-tax vacuum. The more money left on the table when the wealthy die, the more likely heirs are to fight for years over who should inherit.”

And you don’t have to be a billionaire to feel the consequences of the lack of tax. This article in Bloomberg Businessweek explains that those who think they’re catching a break on the estate tax could instead “…wind up paying stiff capital-gains taxes on inheritances. That’s because of the disappearance of what’s known as the “step-up” in basis, which allowed assets to be revalued for tax purposes at the time of death.”

But even this is preferable to finding yourself unintentionally disinherited by standard estate tax clauses included in older wills and trusts, a scenario that is more likely to happen than you may think if your spouse or parent hasn’t had their estate plan reviewed yet this year.

What is the bottom line? Every silver lining has a dark cloud, and you want to take every precaution possible to keep your heirs safe from the storm during this “gap year” in the estate tax.