The Tax Law of 2001
There's been speculation that tax law changes cut down the need for estate planning. There are two presuppositions to that -- that there has been a change in tax law, and that estate planning is only tax-driven.
Does the new tax law ease tax planning concerns?
Let me summarize the general approach of the new tax law
Tax reductions are phased in between now and 2010
In 2011 the entire act "sunsets" and we resume as though the law had never passed
In terms of estate and gift tax:
The non-taxable amount is increased from 2001's $675,000 to $1,000,000 2002, and then in phases to $3,500,000 in 2009
The maximum rate declines from 55% to 45% by 2007 (see tables)
The estate tax (but not the gift tax) is entirely repealed in 2010
In 2011, we go to
Exemption of $1,000,000 (scheduled under prior law, reinstated)
Maximum rates of 55% reinstated
So unless you have a pretty clear idea that you'll be lucky enough to die in 2010, your best approach is to plan for the tax environment of 2011, and include most of the tax planning ideas that were in use before the new tax law.
Furthermore, even if the estate tax were fully repealed, that has happened before, and been followed by reinstatement several times in U.S. history. Good tax planning is designed not only to reduce taxes at your generation level, but to minimize taxes for your children, while protecting their assets from spouses and creditors. See GIVE THE ADVANTAGES OF TRUSTS
Even if all the tax changes continued, there are non-tax issues which require planning
For death planning:
At a minimum -- a will -- even if you and your spouse own everything jointly -- one of you is guaranteed to survive. A will can spell things out at the survivor's death, and avoid bonding costs for the administrator appointed in the absence of a will.
A will enables you to choose the guardians for your children -- people who share your values and your ideas of raising children.
You don't have to support Porsche salesrooms
There is no relation between the amount Congress considers too small to tax, and the amount your children will be able to handle at 21. By using trusts, you can extend and delay their getting their hands on the money. You can leave the management in the hands of people you trust, with the support of a bank.
Tax changes do not affect the need to plan for the death of a business participant, whether to buy out your deceased partner's family, to have your family bought out, or to plan for someone to carry on the business.
For incapacity planning
Tax law changes do not affect the need to enable someone to act for you if you are incapacitated.
Powers of attorney and living trusts are still important tools for incapacity protection
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