The imminent federal estate tax legislation is on everyone’s minds, and it appears increasingly likely that the legislation this year will be a one-year patch, or a one-year freeze of the 2009 rules (a 45% estate tax rate and a $3.5 million exemption).

According to the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting (“AALU”), an important trade and public affairs group, permanent reform is less likely this year and enactment of a one-year patch is the most likely outcome.

Some of the important considerations in the estate tax legislation debate include:

  • Cost. According to congressional analysis, permanent enactment of the 45% estate tax rate and a $3.5 million exemption will “cost” the government $233 billion over 11 years (that is, compared to the 2001 rules which could return in 2011). Given large federal deficits, lawmakers may focus on the estate tax as one area to recover revenues lost through AMT reform, the R&D credit or other law changes.
  • Reunification, portability and indexing. Some of the more thought-provoking issues in the estate tax debate include (1) reunification of the gift and estate tax exemptions, (2) the portability of unused exemption amounts between spouses, and (3) indexing the exemption amounts to inflation.
  • Limitations on lack of control and lack of marketability discounts. Restrictions on the use of discounts are included in the “Pomeroy” bill, currently the leading bill in the House. It is of course unknown at this time whether this provision will be enacted.

The AALU predicts that the Senate debate on the estate tax will extend to mid or late December. We will continue to post updates as new issues arise regarding this legislation.