September 27, 2016
Authored by: Stacie J. Rottenstreich and Stephanie Moll
Both presidential candidates have proposed changes to the estate tax regime. Coming as a surprise to nobody, the proposals are quite different.
Mr. Trump calls for a total repeal of the Federal estate tax. No matter how much wealth you accumulate during your life, under Mr. Trump’s plan, there will be no estate tax due on death. The Trump belief is that you have paid taxes your whole life; therefore, you shouldn’t be taxed again at death. However, the repeal of the estate tax comes with a caveat, even under this plan: capital gains held until death will be subject to tax, in some cases. Mr. Trump’s proposal eliminates stepped-up basis on death for estates over $10,000,000. Basically, under this plan, gain, determined using the deceased’s basis on the asset, would be subject to tax when an inheritor sells an asset, not when she or he inherits it on the death of a decedent. The $10,000,000 exemption is similar in amount to the current federal estate tax exemption. It is unclear if the $10,000,000 exemption is per person, or per married couple. Similarly, it is unclear if Trump’s plan eliminates gift and generation-skipping tax provisions as well.
The impact of Mr. Trump’s plan would be less felt by the wealthy who believe their children and grandchildren will retain the assets they inherit or those whose assets have not appreciated significantly, and more by those whose children plan on selling the assets they have inherited and whose assets have significant appreciation attached to them.
Mrs. Clinton’s plan calls for increasing the Federal estate tax. Originally, Mrs. Clinton proposed reducing the threshold at which estates are taxed, from $5,450,000 per individual or $10,900,000 per married couple to $3,500,000 per individual or $7,000,000 per married couple, and increasing the top estate tax rate from 40% to 45% for the highest-taxed estates. The end result of this plan seems to put the estate tax back to where it was in 2009. Yet, just last week, Clinton’s campaign material referred to an even more aggressive estate tax, with a 50% tax rate on estates over $10 million per individual, a 55% rate for estates over $50 million per individual and an unprecedented 65% tax rate for the largest estates valued at over $500 million per individual. The Clinton plan would also eliminate stepped-up-basis when assets pass to heirs on death. The combination of an estate tax without a corresponding step up in basis is quite novel, and if passed would be the first time in our country’s history that the estate tax system worked this way. The goal of Mrs. Clinton’s estate tax proposal is said to raise additional tax revenue by targeting the wealthiest in our country Proponents of an estate tax, like Mrs. Clinton’s, argue that it helps to stop wealthy people from getting even wealthier, generation after generation.
Undeniably, the impact of Mrs. Clinton’s plan will be felt by the wealthiest Americans. The goal according to the Clinton campaign would be use to use the additional revenue collected by the new estate tax regime to help pay for some of her plans which assist the middle class in our nation, like expanding the child tax credit and simplifying small business taxes.
Which candidate will win the election? Only time will tell. Stay tuned for election results and their potential impact on the estate tax.