This week Barron's--a publication of the Wall Street Journal--discussed how many favorable tax breaks, rates, and regulations are either set to expire or may soon be eliminated by policymakers. It was explained how those at the top of the income ladder have seen a steady stream of tax cuts over the past ten years. Under President Bush the top income tax level was cut, the capital-gains tax was slashed, and dividend tax rules were changed. Our New York estate planning lawyers know that there were also many alterations to trusts, gift rules, and other wealth transfers issues over the past decade.
However, many speculate that changes will now be made in the other direction as policymakers look for ways to tackle growing debt and budget deficits. As one observer explained, "acting now on any kind of tax break is wise given the mood in Congress these days." For example, perhaps that largest benefit set to expire is the $5 million gift and estate tax exclusion. The exclusion allows couples to essentially give away $10 million tax-free. The rates are currently set to revert back to $1 million at the end of 2012 unless legislative action is taken. This alone should be motivation for some families to focus immediate attention on their estate planning.
Other tax-saving tools may also not last indefinitely. For example, Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs) are popular for some. GRATs are created for a set term (often two to five years) with an annuity stream from the trust being given to the one who set it up over that term. When the term expires the remainder above a set interest rate goes to heirs. When an experienced estate planning attorney helps create the trust, it can be "zeroed out" so that the annuity stream is set such that there are no gift tax consequences. However, there are currently discussions about changing GRATs. They may soon require a ten year term and zeroing out may no longer be allowed.
Dynasty trusts may also be on the way out. These tools allow families to shelter assets from taxes indefinitely, keeping certain assets inside a family for generations. However, the President has proposed changing the rules such that all estate tax exemptions expire after ninety years. That would essentially remove the possibility of setting up these trusts.
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