A lifetime friend Dave writes: “Because Congress is populated by venal idiots, the estate tax expires on January 1, 2010 only to rise again on January 1, 2011. So rich old people everywhere are deliberately engineering their lives to end during the next calendar year”
With that backdrop, please consider Rich Cling to Life to Beat Tax Man
Starting Jan. 1, the estate tax — which can erase nearly half of a wealthy person’s estate — goes away for a year. For families facing end-of-life decisions in the immediate future, the change is making one of life’s most trying episodes only more complex.
“I have two clients on life support, and the families are struggling with whether to continue heroic measures for a few more days,” says Joshua Rubenstein, a lawyer with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in New York. “Do they want to live for the rest of their lives having made serious medical decisions based on estate-tax law?”
The macabre situation stems from 2001, when Congress raised estate-tax exemptions, culminating with the tax’s disappearance next year. However, due to budget constraints, lawmakers didn’t make the change permanent. So the estate tax is due to come back to life in 2011 — at a higher rate and lower exemption.
To make it easier on their heirs, some clients are putting provisions into their health-care proxies allowing whoever makes end-of-life medical decisions to consider changes in estate-tax law. “We have done this at least a dozen times, and have gotten more calls recently,” says Andrew Katzenstein, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP in Los Angeles.
Of course, plenty of taxpayers themselves are eager to live to see the new year. One wealthy, terminally ill real-estate entrepreneur has told his doctors he is determined to live until the law changes.
“Whenever he wakes up,” says his lawyer, “He says: ‘What day is it? Is it Jan. 1 yet?'”
Under current laws in effect until the end of this year, the size of the exemption is $3.5 million per individual or up to $7 million per couple. The tax is slated to disappear entirely on Jan 1.
But estate planning in 2010 will be complicated by a new twist: a complex tax on capital gains that will affect a broader swath of taxpayers. The estate tax is scheduled to return in 2011 at a 55% rate with an exemption of slightly more than $1 million.
“I’ve been practicing for more than 30 years, and never has the timing of death made such a financial difference,” says Dennis Belcher, president of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. “People have a hard enough time talking about death and addressing estate planning without this.”
The situation is causing at least one person to add the prospect of euthanasia to his estate-planning mix, according to Mr. Katzenstein of Proskauer Rose. An elderly, infirm client of his recently asked whether undergoing euthanasia next year in Holland, where it’s legal, might allow his estate to dodge the tax.
His answer: Yes.
If you are wealthy, please don’t die in 2009. Hang on for another day.
Then, if you are terminally ill but with some time to live, consider moving to Holland where euthanasia is legal. Such is the idiocy of US tax law.
My Stand? I am all in favor of the right to die. However, I am opposed to laws that make it enormously tax advantageous to kill yourself (or for that matter someone to kill you).
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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