Tax planning and 2011 estate tax law

While we await more details, recent action by Congress has the Bush tax cuts continuing for two more years, making the 2010 to 2011 tax planning straight forward – much like past years.

The new law provides relief on the AMT, no reduction in deductions and other benefits, which we plan to review in greater detail.

Also, it appears that, rather than return to a $1 million unified credit for estate taxes, at least a $3.5 million, if not a $5 million, credit and perhaps as low as a 35% tax rate will be the law next year.

Until we have more, please consider this summary of Tax planning: 2010 tips and traps, and 2011 changes

For 2010, some old provisions return and some new changes require action now:

2010 conversion to a Roth IRA has no income limit and two years to pay the taxes (please see to convert or not to convert).

Certain advantages in 2009 are lost for 2010 (see tax planning 2009 tips and traps and 2010 changes):
• AMT patch falls back;
• Casualty and theft loss limits fall back;
• Educator and tuition and fees deductions against adjusted gross income are not available;
• Deduction of state and local sales taxes ends;
• Exclusion of $2,400 of unemployment income ends; and
• Exclusion of income from qualified distributions from IRAs to charities ends.

However, some still apply in 2010:
• New home buyer credit (through the extended date)
• Energy Credit for solar power, fuel cells and certain energy efficient improvements are Schedule A deductions. There are two types of credit depending on what improvements were made to your home and taking the deductions requires you to have documentation.
• A tax refund can be used to buy U.S. Series I bonds.
• Note that a dependent child’s income is taxed when it exceeds $1,900.
• Educator’s Expense

Note that not all states accept the IRS changes, so the information and outcome could be different.

As we said before, tax planning involves a multi-year view to optimize what you end up paying.

You should also review your mortgage when you review tax information.

Estate Planning Update – still no federal estate tax

So far this year, there is no federal estate tax. This creates a planning quagmire.

Depending on how the estate tax clause is drafted in your estate plan, you could have the entire estate passing to children instead of a portion to the surviving spouse, or all of the estate passing to the surviving spouse, not using any state estate tax credit such that unnecessary state estate taxes become due at the first death.

Until Congress acts to pass a law to retroactively restore the federal estate tax, as expected, you should check your tax clause and review it with your attorney to see if a revision is in order.

You may find that your documents adequately deal with the combination of no federal estate tax and applicable state estate tax. Or, you may find that an amendment to your documents is needed to address this issue.

While reviewing the tax issue, make sure your durable powers of attorney and health care proxies or medial directives are also up to date.

Let us know if you have questions or comments. Thanks,

Steven