"America's millionaires and billionaires can die now, and not pay later under a quirk in the US estate tax law that Congress failed to act on in 2009.
The inheritance tax, which critics deride as a "death tax," officially expired on December 31 for those who pass away in 2010. But a stiff tax will come back for anyone who survives into 2011.
This bizarre scenario results from a law enacted in 2001 under president George W. Bush, which gradually phased out the estate tax by increasing the exemption to 3.5 million dollars in 2009, and eliminated the tax entirely in 2010.
For budget reasons, the law had a "sunset" provision that meant it would expire and the tax would return in 2011 at the pre-enactment levels of 55 percent of any inheritance amounts above one million dollars. [...]
[T]he Wall Street Journal reported that some wealthy Americans were kept on life support through the end of 2009, while others were considering a trip to the Netherlands in 2010 to take advantage of an assisted suicide law for terminally ill patients, with the tax loophole in mind.
Lee Farris, an estate tax specialist at United for a Fair Economy, which supports reinstatement of the inheritance tax, said the current situation is unfortunate.
'I think people should make life and death plans on what's best for that person and not on tax law,' she said.
'People are very upset that Congress has not taken care of this. They've had eight years of notice.'
Farris said that Congress is likely to enact a law retroactive to January 1, 2010, but that may be tested in the courts."
Read the full article by Rob Lever (Agence France Presse).
"This past Friday, New Years Day, 2010, the estate tax, which has been a part of the U.S. tax system for nearly a century, officially disappeared due to the Senate's failure to pass an extension last month. Now, Congressional leaders say that they will act swiftly to reinstate the tax, and to make it retroactive to January 1st of this year.
The action is supported by...United for a Fair Economy, which explains that permanent repeal of the estate tax would increase the federal deficit by $1.3 trillion dollars over 10 years. Those taxes would likely then be shifted from multi-millionaire inheritors to the middle class, at a time when middle class families are losing their jobs and homes."
Listen to the interview on WBAI.org (forward to mid-point for Hugh Hamilton's segment with UFE's Lee Farris).
"On New Year's Day the estate tax, an essential part of the U.S. tax system for nearly 100 years, will disappear because Congress failed to act in December. Congressional leaders now are pledging to act in early 2010 to reinstate the federal estate tax retroactive to Jan. 1. In the meantime, rhetoric over the estate tax will heat up while Congress grapples with what to do now.
This crazy situation is the result of the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, tax cuts that were supposed to lead to "trickle-down" prosperity for the rest of us. What we have seen instead is stagnation of wages for most Americans, while those at the very top have become extraordinarily rich. In fact, disparities of wealth and income are now at the highest level since the Gilded Age just before the stock market crash of 1929. [...]
That's not what America should be about. [...]
At a recent press event, Bill Gates Sr., Vanguard Group founder John Bogle and Richard Rockefeller called on Congress to pass a robust estate tax. After the group discussed the ways our government helped make their prosperity possible, from protecting copyrights to investing in new technologies and transportation systems, Gates, Sr. said, 'It's clear that those who become wealthy did not do it alone. The people owe something back to society that enables them to create that wealth.'"
Read the full op-ed by Brian Miller in The Sun (San Bernardino, CA).
- Kickin' Off the New Year
- The Battle for Consumer Protections
- Oregonians Vote for the Common Good
- State of the Dream 2010
- Addressing Corporate Mischief from Within
- Estate Tax in Limbo
"People should get ahead on their own merit, not based on the wealth of their parents," said Lee Farris, a senior organizer on estate tax policy at United for a Fair Economy. "And that's a core principal on which the American nation was founded: a belief in a meritocracy, not the belief in people who win the genetic lottery."
Watch video of this report on FoxNews.com.
Expiring Estate Tax Resurrects Congressional Tax Standoff
FoxNews.com, December 23, 2009
"For the super-wealthy -- or the merely very rich -- struggling to cope with their lavish lifestyles, 2010 may indeed prove, in morbid terms, to be a "good" year to die.
That's because the top tax rate for estates valued at more than $7 million, which is currently 45 percent, drops to zero next year. In 2011, it will be resurrected at the higher rate of 55 percent for estates valued at more than $1 million. [...]
Each year, some 5,500 people in America are subjected to the estate tax. But next year, changes in the capital gains tax will further complicate estate planning as will likely congressional action.
The House has passed an extension of current law and the Senate is set to take up the issue next year.
Democratic leaders, who support the estate tax, could make a new law retroactive to January 1 -- a move likely to lead to legal challenges. [...]"
Read the full article on FoxNews.com.
Estate Tax Statement from Richard Rockefeller, M.D.
The following statement was delivered on Responsible Wealth's 12/11/12 Estate Tax Teleconference (printed here from transcription):
Thank you very much and it’s delightful to go after the three of you and hear how much concurrence there is in points of view and maybe I have a couple of more things to add.
Just quickly by the way, I was Chair of the Rockefeller Family Fund. I currently chair the Rockefeller Brothers Fund but the rest of this you have correct. I’m also a great grandson to John D. Rockefeller and I’m a father and a grandfather myself, so the tradition continues.
To me, the reasons for maintaining the federal estate tax are simple but they’re really compelling and some days I just don’t get it why this isn’t clear to everybody including people with wealth. The first reason that moves me is a personal one and has to do with my own children and my grandchildren. I care about their inheritance of course, but I don’t look upon that inheritance as a purely material thing. The quality of the world they grow up in will contribute as much or more to their well-being as any amount of money and possessions that I could bequeath. That is to say if the world I leave them is one of gated communities and growing inequality and misery among the have nots and downward mobility for the middle class and the degraded environment and a rotting social and physical infrastructure, then their inheritance will be a shabby one no matter how much money they get. I don’t see any way around that argument unless people like living in gated communities.
So anyway, a strong federal estate tax will reduce inequality and prevent the rise of our hereditary aristocracy, help maintain the social and physical infrastructure that supports us all, and by doing so will provide as much to my descendants as I could provide them on my own just by passing money to them.
The other reason I support the federal estate tax is that as Abigail said, it encourages individuals and families of wealth such as mine to direct significant portions of their estates to philanthropy and by a little more personal background, I do currently Chair the Board of Directors of Rockefeller Brothers Fund. I’m former chair of the advisory board, not the board of directors, to Doctors without Borders. I’ve served on a number of other boards. Have founded and run three non-profits and my heritage and these roles keep me keenly aware of the importance of private philanthropy to addressing a host of societal humanitarian and environmental needs which neither the business nor the government sectors can meet nearly as effectively.
There is moreover bipartisan agreement in the US that the non-profit sector contributes importantly to the health of our society and to our democracy. Foundations and non-governmental organizations can generally think more creatively and take greater risks than can those in government. Incentives in the non-profit world encourage NGOs to think and act with broader perspectives and longer time horizons when businesses generally can’t constrained as they are by the requirements of short term earnings report.
Donating money philanthropically results in 100 cents on every $1.00 going to the cause that a donor chooses. A strong federal estate tax would only allow $0.50 on each $1.00 or so to go to our heirs, and the difference between those two provides a great incentive to philanthropy.
So again in closing, I just want to emphasize that as a great grandson of John D. Rockefeller, I’m perfectly happy that a portion of the wealth he made goes with each succeeding generation towards paying the estate tax, and this is echoing what others have said, that our family’s fortune would never have been made in the first place without the foundation of public laws, public education, and material infrastructure that underpinned the American industry in my great grandfather’s time and continue to do so today. So, far from resenting a system which asks us to help pay for this infrastructure from one generation to the next, I believe that a strong estate tax makes sense for me and for the causes I support and for my children and my grandchildren and my country. Thanks.
The following statement was pre-recorded and delivered on UFE's 12/15/09 Estate Tax Teleconference.
"My name is Richard Rockefeller. I am a family physician living in Falmouth, Maine.
I happen also to be the son of David Rockefeller, and great-grandson to John D. Among other philanthropic activities I currently chair the Board Directors of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as well as the Advisory Board to Doctors Without Borders-USA. My heritage and these roles keep me keenly aware of the importance of private philanthropy to addressing a host of societal, humanitarian and environmental needs, which neither the business nor the government sectors can meet nearly as effectively.
I am here today to attest that the Federal Estate Tax encourages individuals and families of wealth such as mine to direct significant portions of their estates to philanthropy.
The estate tax is of enormous benefit to the philanthropic community, and its loss would be commensurately harmful. A 2004 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that complete repeal of the estate tax would have reduced total annual philanthropic giving by between $13 and $25 billion in the year 2000, an amount roughly equal to all foundation giving in that year.
Let me illustrate why the estate tax provides an incentive for wealthy people to make philanthropic gifts. Let’s say my wife and I knew we were going to die soon, which we don’t fortunately, this is just a “for instance”. And imagine that we had an estate of $27 million. Our combined exemption would be $7 million, leaving a taxable amount of $20 million.
Every dollar of that $20 million that we direct to tax-exempt organizations would go 100% to those organizations. Meanwhile, every dollar we choose to direct instead toward our children would be taxed at 45%, so there’s a strong incentive for us to give more to charity and less to our children once we get beyond the exemption.
In any case, the $7 million exemption is already a hefty amount to give to our children, tax-free, and they’ve already received a lot of gifts and other advantages in their lifetime.
Let me close by saying that as the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, I am perfectly happy that a portion of the wealth he made goes with each succeeding generation toward paying the estate tax. The Rockefeller fortune could never have been created without the foundation of public laws, public education and infrastructure which undergirded American industry in my great-grandfather’s time and continues to do so today. Therefore, far from resenting our tax system, which allows this infrastructure to remain strong, I believe that a strong estate tax makes perfect sense."
"In a Dec. 17 letter to senators, Americans for a Fair Estate Tax said the decision to let the tax expire was 'incomprehensible.' It said the tax’s elimination would be a boost to the wealthy that would negatively affect charitable giving and hurt government coffers.
'Repeal of any weakening of the tax would result in significant loss of revenue for vital public programs and infrastructure, and would benefit only the largest one in 500 estates that are subject to the tax at its current level,' said the group, which includes a number of labor organizations and left-leaning groups.
Only estates larger than $7 million per couple or $3.5 million for individuals are subject to the estate tax.
Democrats warn those under that threshold will be hit by a higher capital gains tax because of Congress’s inaction.
Under the rules set to go into place on Jan. 1, a capital gains tax of 15 percent would apply to estates above $1.3 million. The tax would be calculated based on gains accrued since the estate was purchased.
'The people that are most likely to be hurt by this are the people who have an estate between $1.3 million and $7 million,' said Lee Faris, of United for a Fair Economy, which wants to extend the estate tax."
Read the full article by Ian Swanson in The Hill.
"Opponents of the estate tax face a worthy adversary in their fight to extend Bush-era policies that favor a few rich families. Members of United for A Fair Economy--a group that includes the father of the Microsoft founder and one of the richest men in the U.S., Bill Gates Sr.; Vanguard Fund founder John Bogle; the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Richard Rockefeller; along with SEIU's Anna Burger--are calling on the Senate to act to extend the current estate tax before the holiday recess."
Read the full blog on SEIU.org
Estate Tax Teleconference 2009
Thank you for your interest in our December 15, 2009 Estate Tax Teleconference, featuring Bill Gates, Sr., Vanguard Founder John C. Bogle, Richard Rockefeller, SEIU International Secretary/Treasurer Anna Burger, Lee Farris (UFE), moderated by Mike Lapham (RW/UFE).
We thank all of our speakers for their support and the wonderful and unique contributions they made, and all those who joined as participants on the call.
The teleconference was attended by journalists from the Associated Press, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and many others.
Written statements from our featured speakers:
Listen to the teleconference (M4V 72.7MB)
IF YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE PRESS and would like to speak with UFE staff or the other speakers about the estate tax, please contact Mazher Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-423-2148 x101. For other inquiries regarding the estate tax, please contact UFE’s Estate Tax Policy Coordinator, Lee Farris, email@example.com or 617-423-2148 x133.
Thank you again for your interest in this event, and keep checking our website for news updates on the estate tax.