Personal Finance 
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Estate Plan: Essential for Most People

Most people assume that estate planning is only for the wealth. After all, there is the belief that estate plans are designed to help large estates avoid paying taxes when the owner dies. You should realize, though, that good estate planning can be helpful for anyone. When you have an estate plan, your wishes are made known, and you can structure your finances so that your desires are followed if you become incapacitated (but  still alive).

An estate plan has three main parts:
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 Taxes 
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5 Billionaires Who “Skated” On Death Tax

Anyone else find this slideshow distasteful?

The estate tax had a one year reprieve this year and anyone who passed an estate, i.e. died, would not have to pay the estate tax. Fortune tallied up how much money five estates “saved” when their billionaire died. The billionaires were Dan Duncan ($10 billion), John Kluge ($7.5 billion), Mary Janet Cargill ($2.5 billion), Walter Shorenstein ($1 billion), and, most probably famously, George Steinbrenner ($1 billion). It’s a loss of revenue of around $9.9 billion.

In case you’re wondering, $9.9 billion is fraction of a fraction of the national debt, which stands at over 13.8 trillion.

The distasteful part is that those five people had families who lost someone. While some of them might be celebrating the fact that they inherited more because the estate tax took a nap, but that doesn’t mean we should be counting the tax revenue we didn’t collect.

When you think about it, it’s a sad commentary on what we’ve become.


 Taxes 
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Estate Tax

The estate tax has gotten a lot of press this year because, well, it doesn’t exist this year and Congress is set to discuss what they want to do with it, along with tax rates, in subsequent years.

However, before we get into that, let’s get back to basics – what is the estate tax? The estate tax is a tax imposed on the transfer of an estate. That is, it’s a tax on assets when someone dies and transfers those assets to others. It’s imposed by the federal government and oftentimes by the state government as well, which can refer to it as an estate tax or an inheritance tax. No matter what you call it, or how you feel about it in terms of fairness, it’s a tax that has been collected for years and is a source of revenue to federal and state governments.

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 Government 
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House Extends Estate Tax Permenantly

This week, the House of Representatives passed H.R.4154, titled the “Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Businesses Act of 2009.” HR 4154 would amend the Internal Revenue Code to prevent the repeal of the estate tax next year. Under current law, there would be no estate tax for 2010 and your estate would transfer tax free to your heirs.

What is in the House bill? Thought many expect the bill not to pass in the Senate, the House bill exempts the first $3.5 million of a person’s estate and the first $1 million in gifts. Then the highest rate applied to the taxable portion of the estate would be 45%. CNN Money does some morbid math and claims that of the 2.5 million Americans expected to die in 2009, only 0.25% (5,500) have estates large enough to be taxable.

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 Taxes 
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Minimum Wage Increase/Estate Tax Cut Bill Details

No doubt you’ve read about how the Minimum Wage Increase bill has passed the House of Representatives 230-180. If you don’t really have the patience to read about it all, here are the details:

  • Federal minimum wage would increase from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour, phased in over the 3 years. (20 states and Washington DC already have minimum wages above the federal level, Washington State’s minimum wage is $7.63/hour)
  • Estate tax exemption for individuals with $5M, couples with $10M, by 2015. Estates worth up to $25M would be taxed capital gains (now 15%, scheduled to increase to 20%). For $25M+, tax would be fall to 30% by 2015.
  • The maneuver was aimed at defusing the minimum wage increase as a campaign issue for Democrats while using the popularity of the increase to achieve the Republican Party’s longtime goal of permanently cutting estate taxes.

    I’m personally against an estate tax (even though it affects only a very small number of people) and I don’t know the full economic ramifications of increasing the minimum wage, though I doubt the bad outweighs the good, but I would think this bill is a mixed positive.

    Details at CNN.


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