Mike Collins: You have read the headlines about the new Federal Estate Tax Law. Good news, in general, $5 million personal exclusion, new 35% flat rate, and return of those stepped up basis rules for capital gains purposes. By the way, that new $5 million exclusion is portable as between spouses, which means that if the first spouse doesn't use the entire $5 million when he or she passes away, the surviving spouse can take advantage of the excess at the second death.
So this is all great news, but don't let that great news lure you into a false sense of security. Remember, there are far more important issues than taxes when it comes to doing your estate plan.
First of all, the new law is only a temporary fix. In less than two years that $5 million exclusion will return back to $1 million and the top rate will go back up all the way to 55%. Not only that, 22 states in this country have their own State Estate Tax.
More importantly, tax planning is not the only element of your estate plan. In fact, it's not the most important element; there are other issues like probate-avoidance and managing for ourselves while we are still alive if we need some help down the road. Even more critical, let's make sure we keep our children's inheritance out of the divorce court or law suites, bankruptcy, foreclosure proceedings.
But there is another interesting aspect of the new law. Congress made the new law retroactive to January 1st, 2010, which means that for most middle class and upper-middle class families, they are going to have a $5 million exclusion available even for deaths that occurred last year.
So is the new law good news? You bet. Let's let it serve as on occasion to get our personal estate plan up-to-date and our legal house in order. Someday someone you love would be very happy that you do it.