The Senate’s failure to decide what to do about the estate tax is bound to open up more demand for estate planners this year.

Lance Hall, president of FMV Opinions, a firm that does valuations of estates, said he was surprised that the Senate didn’t manage to pass at least a one-year patch. Now he and others can only speculate on what the government will decide to do. In the meantime, the estate tax has been suspended for one year and is scheduled to come back next year at a 55 percent rate for estates over $1 million.

He predicts that some of the large law firms will try to buy boutique estate planning firms this year, as heirs and potential heirs try to determine what the best strategies will be for dealing with inheritance taxes this year and in the years ahead.

Hall’s firm has valued estates such as that of the late Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz, as well as some of the executives and producers behind DreamWorks and pre-1974 Disney movies. He noted that the value of estates like Michael Jackson’s tends to go up with the celebrity's notoriety. Estate planners who deal with entertainment clients have found that heirs can continue to earn money from new formats like music video games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and need to plan accordingly for the royalty proceeds.

“We always thought of a royalty stream for a celebrity as something declining,” said Hall. “They die and they’re not producing any new work. If you’re not producing any new work, your audience dies off. Now all of a sudden with the new distribution techniques, you’re actually increasing the audience.”

Estate planners are likely to increase their clientele next year if Congress doesn’t manage to pass new rules on the estate tax. If the tax applies to estates valued at just $1 million next year, versus $3.5 million last year, that’s going to mean a sizable increase in the number of people whose estates will be taxable.