The rumour mill in estate planning circles has me and my colleagues wondering, worrying, and scurrying like little fuzzy hamsters on a wheel or those guinea pigs in that commercial, “Row! Row! Row!” Why? Because this is probably the last year where the federal lifetime estate tax exemption, which is currently at $5.12M with a marginal tax rate of 35%, will be available for gifting. If Congress doesn’t act by December 31 of this year, the exemption will fall to $1M with a marginal tax rate of 55%. That means that the $5.12M you might be able to leave to children and grandchildren free of estate taxes today will be reduced to $2.26M on January 1 of next year. And the rumour that has us planners running and rowing is that Congress isn’t going to do anything until after the election, not until perhaps the beginning of next year.
Now I’ve written (and tweeted) at length about how one’s estate can reach the $1M mark quickly, even if you don’t think you’re rich. So I’m going to talk about another aspect related to waiting until it’s too late: your trash or treasure.
Many parents and grandparents and maybe even you collect “stuff.” Some of this “stuff” is truly items only they or you could love. However, some of this stuff is truly treasure that Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or your friendly neighborhood estate sale groupie who knows her Mikimotos or who has followed the first edition market since his childhood could love. So if you receive something from dearly departed Grandpa that isn’t warming your heart, before putting a “For Sale” sign on it, get it appraised first; a quick Google search might do the trick.
Equally and maybe more importantly, if you have or a loved one is considering giving you something from a collection that is near and dear, such as vintage cameras from the 40s and 50s, sterling filigree jewelry from the 30s, an English buffet server from the 19th century, or a bar stool from Studio 54, you might consider having it appraised and placing in a trust or suggesting that they place it in trust this year. Otherwise, if that Erte design collection from the roaring twenties isn’t placed in trust and your grandma passes away, those beautiful designs may be on the lawn to pay the estate tax bill “Nana” left you along with the rest of her stuff.