After much wrangling and dealmaking, both houses of Congress have passed bills making substantial changes to federal tax law. Although it's not entirely certain, it seems likely that there will shortly be agreement on a tax bill to become law next year. The Senate bill doubles the exemption from federal estate tax, while the House bill goes further and eventually repeals the federal estate tax. So many fewer people (or no) people will pay the federal estate tax in the future. But there are reasons why estate planning will still be important, and perhaps more important, and here are a few of them:

  • In some cases, it will make sense to revise the planning previously done in an effort to avoid federal estate taxes. There might be different planning that is more appropriate to family situations if the estate tax need not be considered. Many estate plans will need a careful review, to consider overall tax results. And this leads to a second reason for enhanced planning:
  • Which is income tax issues. If the federal estate tax fades from importance for most people, the federal income tax remains. The step up in the basis of assets that occurs at death is a valuable tax avoidance technique, and this technique might suggest changes as to when assets are to be transferred. More emphasis will be given by estate planners to income tax issues that affect not just the people doing the estate planning but also their heirs. Clearly, estate planning will have a broader focus if the proposed tax law changes are enacted, encompassing estate tax (if there is one) and income tax issues for the entire family and not just those doing the current planning. Which leads to a third reason for planning:
  • And that is planning to make the transmission of wealth a positive development for the next generations and not a negative and disruptive one. Estate planners have long lists of clients for whom wealth transfer decisions caused negative results within families and created decades of hard feelings. Careful thought must be given to how wealth is transferred and what discussion there should be of family goals and aspirations. Keeping wealth a secret is not a good option, but having a discussion with family members of the wealth planning decisions often leads to better results from that wealth transfer, and this is a process in which estate planners can offer their experience and expertise.