Six months into 2010 and the estate tax repeal is still making news. This time it’s a story about Texas billionaire Dan L. Duncan who died in March, leaving all of his billions to his spouse, family and various charitable organizations… and none to the government:

“Had his life ended three months earlier, Mr. Duncan’s riches — Forbes magazine estimated his worth at $9 billion, ranking him as the 74th wealthiest in the world — would have been subject to a federal tax of at least 45 percent. If he had lived past Jan. 1, 2011, the rate would be even higher… Instead, because Congress allowed the tax to lapse for one year and gave all estates a free pass in 2010, Mr. Duncan’s four children and four grandchildren stand to collect billions that in any other year would have gone to the Treasury.”

According to the NY Times article this news is meeting with mixed reactions. Opponents of the estate tax (sometimes called the death tax) are hoping to make the repeal permanent. Others, however, don’t agree:

“’The ultrawealthy in this country will still be able to pass on enormous wealth to the next generation,’ said Chuck Collins, who studies income inequality and has worked with billionaires like Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to promote an estate tax. Mr. Collins argues that the tax is a ‘recycling program for economic opportunity.’”

Whatever happens in future years, considering that this year is already half over,  it can only be hoped that heirs and executors won’t have to worry about the tax being reinstated for persons dying in 2010, although Congress could still reinstate it retroactively;  this leaves us free to look ahead and plan for 2011 when the estate tax is now set to return at a whopping 55%.  If you’re wondering how all these changes will impact your estate planning,  we may be able to help with some answers and with some techniques to “hedge” against the return of the estate tax.