Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Estate Tax

2010 is a great year to die.

One of the Bush administration tax cuts enacted early in his presidency was a phase out of the Estate Tax. Each year the taxes collected by the estate tax was reduced as larger and larger estates were protected by a rising exemption. Well, this is the year of the final phase out.

What is the estate tax? It is a tax on the value of all your assets less any liabilities, such as your home mortgage, when you die. So if you have a house worth $400,000 and a mortgage of $100,000 (you wish), plus some investments worth $500,000, you have an estate worth $800,000. Check my math if you wish.

Once you figure out the value of your estate, you go to a chart and calculate what your estate tax will be. Someone dying in 2009 would need a net estate of $3,500,000 before they would pay any estate tax. (Don’t you wish you had an estate that large?)

2010 is the year that the estate tax goes completely away. So no matter what the size of your estate, there will be no estate tax on it. For anyone with a taxable estate, that is good news. For someone with an estate less than $3,500,000, it is bad news.

Let me explain. Up until 12/31/09, assets you inherited got a step up in tax basis. Supposed your grandfather paid $1 per share for 1000 shares of IBM stock back in 1955. It now sells for about $130 per share. So the stock that your grandfather bought for $1000 is worth $130,000. If your grandfather died on 12/31/09and you inherited his stock, your tax basis would be stepped up from $1 per share to $130 per share. So if you sold it for $140 per share you would only pay tax on $10,000 ($140 per share minus the ‘cost” of $130 per share times 1000 shares). Under current tax law your tax would be about $2000.

If he died on 1/1/10 your tax cost would be what he paid for it or $1 per share. So you would pay tax on a $139,000 gain if you sold it for $140 per share. The tax would be about $28,000. This is quite a difference.

Back in the middle of the Great Health Care Debate, Congress considered changing the law to freeze the Estate Tax at the 2009 level. The change got lost in the GHCD. I expect some sort of change to occur this year but who knows what form it will take. Watch this blog for updates.

1 comment:

Thom said...

I have had some questions about the Gift Tax as it relates to the Estate Tax. Up to now the Gift Tax was coupled with the Estate Tax to determine your tax liability. The Gift Tax was not repealed for 2010 and remains in effect. It will recouple with the Estate Tax in 2011. Lets wait to see what Congress does about it.