Small Businesses and Family Farms Still Searching for Estate Tax Relief

On December 3, 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) that addresses the federal estate tax: H.R. 4154 - "A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the new carryover basis rules in order to prevent tax increases and the imposition of compliance burdens on many more estates than would benefit from repeal, to retain the estate tax with a $3,500,000 exemption, and for other purposes." This straightforward bill, which has no cosponsors, provides for the following:

- Repeal of the 2010 repeal of the federal estate tax as provided in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act ("EGTRRA").

- Maintaining the $3,500,000 federal estate tax exemption in 2010 and beyond.

- Freezing the maximum gift tax rate and estate tax rate at 45%.

Legislation enacted in 2001 gradually phases out the estate tax and ultimately repeals the tax in 2010. However, without congressional action to make the repeal permanent, the tax will revert in 2011 to the pre-2001 rates.

There are currently 16 bills that address estate tax reform in various ways circulating in the House of Representatives and three circulating in the Senate.

Under current law, a $5 million estate in 2009 would pay $675,000 in federal estate taxes, according to an analysis by Deloitte Tax. In 2010, no estate tax would be due, but the estate would be subject to a 15 percent capital gains tax. In 2011, the $5 million estate would pay $2,045,000 in estate taxes, according to the analysis. Under this House bill, $675,000 in estate taxes would be due, regardless of which year the estate is inherited.

With the current estate tax law expiring after 2010, H.R. 4154 provides certainty to help business owners plan for the estate tax and it maintains stepped-up basis. However, a $3.5 million exemption per person and a 45 percent rate do not provide adequate protection for many small businesses and farmers. In addition, the $3.5 million exemption is not indexed for inflation; protection from the estate tax will erode each year.

Often, it is not a pile of liquid assets (cash) that is taxed, but the land of a family farm, personal effects, or the capital and assets of a family-owned small business. Without the cash on hand to pay these taxes, heirs are forced to sell off businesses and small farms that have been in the family sometimes for generations.

Estate taxes fall disproportionately on small business owners and farmers because many of the assets are illiquid. For example, approximately 80 percent of farm assets are land based. Surviving family members may be forced to sell land, buildings, equipment, livestock, etc., to keep their businesses operating. In many cases, however, the assets that must be sold to pay the estate tax are the most important inputs needed to maintain the business.

Employing the proper estate planning techniques can minimize and sometimes eliminate the federal estate tax burden on your estate. The attorneys at Wright, Penning & Beamer have assisted numerous families and businesses in regards to protecting the assets they have worked hard to earn during their life, minimizing the impact of adverse tax consequences. The result is maintaining the value of these assets that our clients work hard to acquire.

Dan A. Penning

P.S. Check out the IRS’ 2010 Auto Mileage Deduction Rates Below:

The Internal Revenue Service has issued the 2010 optional standard mileage rates that are used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, the standard mileage rates are:

50 cents per mile for business purposes
16.5 cents per mile for medical or moving purposes
14 cents per mile in service of charitable organizations

The 2010 rates for business, medical and moving purposes are lower than last year's, reflecting generally lower transportation costs compared to a year ago.