Some States Provide a Fix for Deaths in 2010

Now that May of 2010 is upon us and there is still no federal estate tax finality, we can begin to look at the situations that families are facing where loved ones have passed since January 1.  A key issue is that their estate planning documents (wills or trusts) may not make sense in 2010 where there is no estate tax.

For example, a common provision in a Will if a person has a taxable estate is  "I leave my trust an amount equal to my applicable exclusion amount" - what does that mean?  Well, in 2009 "applicable exclusion amount" was loosely translated to $3.5 million. In 2011 "applicable exclusion amount" will loosely translate to $1 million.  In 2010 "applicable exclusion amount" has no meaning - it is a defined term under section 2010 of the Tax Code   which section does not exist this year (OK -  I am just now seeing the irony that a tax section that has no meaning in the year 2010 is section 2010).  The best was this was explained to me was "What if you had a Will that said it should be interpreted under the laws of the Soviet Union - there is no Soviet Union anymore, so what does that mean?"

Some states have come to the rescue and passed laws that say that where there is ambiguity in how to interpret a Will due to the 2010 repeal of the Federal Estate Tax, that the terms should be interpreted as if the person died on December 31, 2009 (when the estate tax was still in effect, so all the tax "terms of art" have meaning).    Julie Garber at About.com reports:

 

To date it appears that at least four states have actually passed laws designed to put the estate plans of people who die in 2010 in the same position as if they had died on December 31, 2009: Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Note that all of these laws have been written to become void if Congress acts to bring the federal estate tax back in 2010.

For those of us in New Jersey where there is no legislative solution, a quick fix is to have an amendment done to your documents to address how they should be interpreted if there is a death in 2010.