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We’re Not Dying to Give

Written by Dennis Sun
The dreaded estate tax, also known as the “death tax” expired last Jan. 1. Remember, that was the result of a decade-long policy that reduced the tax and repealed it for 2010, so we have less than three weeks that it is safe to die, because, unless Congress acts (imagine that), only $1 million of your estate is exempt from the tax and the rest gets nailed with a top rate of 55 percent.
    That is the result of a misguided tax law Congress passed in 2001. The Senate lacked a super majority of 60, so under the Byrd Rule, the repeal had to sunset after 10 years, when conditions revert to what they were before the law. Congress still has time to fix things, but they need to get going.
    Any farmer, rancher or landowner knows that, in these days, $1 million in land doesn’t take many acres, especially those with trees, water or a viewshed. We also hear the Obama budget stealthily increases it by assuming in its baseline that Congress will vote to continue the death tax at 2009 levels.
    “When the death tax was active, family farms, ranches and businesses could discount asset values to account for the fact that it is difficult to sell them to pay the death tax. The Obama people would disallow this discount and force families to pay the death tax on the full value of the assets, even though there would be no new cash generated to pay the tax. The budget would make it more difficult for family owned businesses to protect their business from the death tax as it grows,” says a Heritage Foundation report.
    The report also says repealing the death tax permanently would create 170,000 to 250,000 jobs each year. We all know it takes private people and companies with dollars to create jobs, not an over-inflated government.
    All of this makes estate planning really important. I heard someone say that around 40 percent of the landowners in Nebraska don’t even have a will. I don’t know about other states, but I bet their percentage without a will is also high, and having a will or planning an estate is easy. As the song says, “I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack,” and it is true.  
    If you can possibly make it, come to Casper for the “Making a Plan – Wyoming Agriculture Succession and Estate Transfer Workshop” at the Parkway Plaza from 11:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 12 to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13. You will get two lunches and an evening reception, plus vital information you and your family can really use. Experts in estate transfer will teach you what to do and what other producers, both young and those not so young, have done. These experiences are always well worth listening to, they have done it, and it works. Ag lenders, financial planners and an estate-planning attorney will also speak. The information you may receive would cost you close to $500 if you did it on your own.
    If you have the time, stay an extra day or so for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association 2011 Winter Roundup in Casper, it will be worth your time.
    Dennis