In the last days of 2009, Congress let the federal estate tax die for 2010.

That’s right, for those who are “smart” enough to pass away this year, there is no federal estate tax.

I’m imagining that Dr. Kevorkian’s 800-number will be ringing off the hook on New Year’s Eve.

But according to the Financial Planning Association of Washington, D.C., individuals and families should keep their eyes on another big estate tax issue — a potentially huge hit from their home state.

Working with estate attorneys, tax experts and financial advisors such as certified financial planners can help individuals determine their estate tax situation, especially now that many states have significant budget woes and may be looking for more revenue.

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia impose estate taxes.

Eight states, including Pennsylvania, have inheritance taxes, which are levied on heirs, not estates. Maryland and New Jersey have both.

Every state puts its own wrinkle on estate taxes, and that’s why it’s important for retirees to check the laws in the states where they plan to settle for good.

One possible solution is a bypass trust — a trust that essentially allows the assets of a deceased spouse to be drawn on by the survivor, preserving the benefit of both individual exemptions.

In other words, if a married couple lives in a state with a $1-million individual exemption and establishes such a trust, it would allow them to pass as much as $2 million to their heirs.

Additionally, purchasing life insurance in a trust can be the safest way to avoid the impact of estate taxes.

As states start flipping their taxpayers’ couch cushions for more revenue, experts say it’s also important for individuals and couples to be careful about domicile issues — the actual amount of time individuals live (and therefore can be taxed) in a particular state.

Revenue officials might check the minute details on a taxpayer’s lifestyle to determine where that person might owe tax — car registrations, club memberships, voting records, etc.

Taxpayers concerned about their estate tax situations might also bring another key group of people into the discussion — their heirs.

When talking about extensive assets, it’s good to discuss the tax situations of the giving and the receiving parties to make sure the chosen solutions are best for both sides.

It is best to hold a financial planning family meeting to discuss charitable giving intentions, and the protection of the total family’s wealth.

Clear communication on planning strategies will ensure maximum family wealth preservation.

Author's Bio: 

Al Benelli is a Certified Financial Planner® practitioner and founder of The Merlin Group, a financial advisory firm located in Trooper, PA. An engineering and business major from Penn State and St. Joseph’s Universities, Al continues his education through the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania.

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