It didn't take long for the billionaires to start dying this year, leaving the U.S. Treasury mourning millions in lost estate taxes, and many happy heirs.
On March 28, Texas gas pipeline billionaire Dan Duncan, the 74th richest person in the world, died. Under the estate tax of 2009, he would have owed up to $4 billion on his $9 billion estate, but because the estate tax is zilch for 2010, his heirs are considerably richer than they would have been had he passed away a few months earlier.
Now, with the death last week of George Steinbrenner, billionaire owner of the New York Yankees, the spotlight is again shining on Congress and its relative silence on this issue. Steinbrenner would have owed approximately $450 million if he died in 2009.
In 2009, the estate tax was 45 percent of assets, beyond the $3.5 million exclusion for each individual. This year, the tax lapses for just a year, only to come roaring back more ferociously in 2011 in the form of a 55-percent tax on estates over the $1 million exclusion.
Republicans and Democrats, as you might expect, are divided. Some Democrats are pushing to make last year's estate tax of 45 percent permanent, while a bipartisan group is proposing a 35-percent tax on estates over $10 million. Although the Senate wants to come to an agreement on a proposal before the August break, this promises to be a contentious issue.
What do you think Congress should do about the estate tax?
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