Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Death and taxes

Starting Jan. 1, the estate tax -- which can erase nearly half of a wealthy person's estate -- goes away for a year [and comes back in 2011]. For families facing end-of-life decisions in the immediate future, the change is making one of life's most trying episodes only more complex.

"I have two clients on life support, and the families are struggling with whether to continue heroic measures for a few more days," says Joshua Rubenstein, a lawyer with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in New York. "Do they want to live for the rest of their lives having made serious medical decisions based on estate-tax law?" ...

One wealthy, terminally ill real-estate entrepreneur has told his doctors he is determined to live until the law changes.

"Whenever he wakes up," says his lawyer, "He says: 'What day is it? Is it Jan. 1 yet?'" ...

Estate-tax experts didn't expect Congress to allow the tax to lapse, and are flabbergasted that it is actually happening. ..

The situation is causing at least one person to add the prospect of euthanasia to his estate-planning mix, according to Mr. Katzenstein of Proskauer Rose. An elderly, infirm client of his recently asked whether undergoing euthanasia next year in Holland, where it's legal, might allow his estate to dodge the tax.

His answer: Yes.
--Laura Sanders, WSJ, on compelling evidence that bequest motives exist, at least among the wealthy at the end of life. HT: Greg Mankiw

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