Everyone is talking about the lack of a Federal estate tax this year, but as this New York Times article points out, there are still 20 states that levy a local estate tax. It explains how state estate taxes can complicate the process of dealing with a recently deceased family member’s finances, and provides advice on how to plan for local estate taxes.
The first quarter is nearly over, and the federal government has made no move to reinstitute the estate tax. So dying today seems free, right?
There is just one problem: If you live in one of 20 states with a state estate tax, you could find your existing estate tax plans causing more harm than good.
State estate taxes are not new. They had just been a secondary element in the course of figuring out the much higher federal estate tax.
Now, the issue is sorting through wills written to maximize the old federal exemption from estate taxes — $3.5 million in 2009. In states with their own estate taxes, some of these provisions could distribute money and incur taxes in ways the deceased never expected — or maybe not if the federal estate tax is reinstated. As Jerry Weihs, director of advanced planning at Sun Life Financial, said: “We’re in a state of ambiguity.”
The biggest issue with the state estate taxes is wills that contain so-called formula clauses. Many wills were redrafted in the last decade to take into account the increasing federal estate tax exemption. Instead of rewriting the will every few years, clauses were put in to reflect the rising exemption amount.