The estate tax is a moving target that wealth managers would like to see resolved once and for all. But the consensus among tax specialists is that Congress is most likely to address the estate tax when it decides late this year whether to extend the Bush tax cuts.
As it stands now, on Jan. 1, 2013, the estate tax will revert back to 2001 levels, which was a $1 million exemption and a 55% rate, from the current 35% top rate and $5 million portable exemption. When Congress addresses the Bush tax cuts, which will most likely be after the election, “an estate tax compromise will be part of that” discussion, says Jeremy Scott, an editor with Tax Analysts.
Based on the current make-up of Congress, Scott adds, “and unless the [presidential] election produces a decisive result, [the rate] that’s in place now will be either permanently extended or extended for at least another 10 years. I would be surprised if the [estate tax] reverted” back to Clinton-era rates. “I think [the rate] will end up somewhere where it is now.”
Another short-term extension, Scott opines, is also unlikely as Congress “doesn’t want to deal with this [estate tax] issue every two years.”
But Robert Miller, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, said that during NAIFA’s “Day on the Hill” on Tuesday, he spoke with at least eight congressmen who said lawmakers would likely “extend the current [estate tax] rates for another year.”
President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union speech in January that he wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire. “When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings. But we need to do more, and that means making choices,” Obama said. “Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.”
Obama asked: “Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else–like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.”
But Republicans have been trying to kill the estate tax for some time, with the most recent attack coming from Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who introduced a bill on Jan. 23, H.R. 3804, which would permanently repeal the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.
Scott says that Huelscamp’s bill “undoes everything that Obama has done–it eliminates the estate tax, which is a long-standing Republican position, and it permanently extends the Bush tax cuts for all income levels.” The House, he says, “might pass [the bill] but I’ve heard the Republican leadership may not even take up an estate tax bill in the near future.”
What’s more, he says, Republicans “certainly aren’t going to get the AMT repealed anytime soon because that would just blow the budget apart.”
Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, told Congress on Wednesday during his testimony on the CBO’s just released Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2012 to 2022, that the AMT is indexed for inflation after 2011, and under current law, Elmendorf said, its parameters are fixed, and the number of taxpayers affected by the AMT will jump from 4 million in calendar year 2011 to 30 million in 2012.
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