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Estate Tax Limbo Could Mean More Billionaires Dying

June 30, 2010

The recent passing of Texas pipeline tycoon Dan Duncan probably won’t be the last super-wealthy estate to escape the clutches of the IRS.

Duncan left behind a net worth of approximately $9 billion, according to Forbes, which his heirs will inherit without owing a penny of estate taxes. However, the disappearance of the 45 percent estate tax this year, and its reemergence next year at up to 55 percent, could prompt more billionaires and mere millionaires to shuffle off this mortal coil before Dec. 31.

A thought-provoking article in Time this week quotes an unidentified CPA in San Francisco who has a client he suspects is planning a tax-related suicide. The desire to preserve wealth and pass it down to the next generation may be influencing the health care decisions of not only the wealthy, but their heirs. Academic researchers have found that death rates have been influenced by major changes in the estate tax since 1916, according to writer Adam Fisher. On the other hand, he quotes AICPA spokesman Joel Allegretti as saying that the issue “has not popped up on our radar.”

Let’s just hope we don’t see the AICPA signing up Dr. Jack Kevorkian to deliver the keynote address at their next estate planning conference.

Comments (3)
Last laugh could be on them, should CONgress pass an estate tax and make it retroactive. They really dropped the ball here, what better revenue raiser than passing an estate tax for 2010?
Posted by karmadrome | Friday, July 02 2010 at 10:24AM ET
The heirs shouls not only look at the estate tax but also the potential extra income tax liability to the heirs due to the loss of the "step-up in basis" to date of death values for the inherited property. In a very large estate with a lot of appreciation, the income tax cost of no step up in basis could be more than the estate tax.
Posted by equigs | Thursday, July 01 2010 at 11:36AM ET
And those billionaires who are not contemplating suicide as a tax-planning strategy ought to keep a close eye on their heirs!
Posted by HWilsonCPA | Thursday, July 01 2010 at 10:54AM ET
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