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2010: A good year to die?

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Morbid? Yes. But we point to a front page article in the Wall Street Journal about how the temporary lapse in the estate tax is affecting wealthy families. It fits with our own estate planning story in the upcoming January issue of Boomer Market Advisor Magazine, and we suggest readers give it a look.

According to the story, for families facing end-of-life decisions in the immediate future, the repeal 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,” Joshua Rubenstein, a lawyer with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in New York, told the paper. “Do they want to live for the rest of their lives having made serious medical decisions based on estate-tax law?”

The paper calculates that currently, the tax applies to about 5,500 taxpayers a year. So, on average, at least 15 people die every day whose estates would benefit from the the tax’s lapse.

The macabre situation (to say the least) 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.

The paper reports that in order 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,” his lawyer told the paper, “He says: ‘What day is it? Is it Jan. 1 yet?’”