New legislation has been introduced that would restore the estate tax and gift tax rates to 2009 levels. Michael Cohen, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, explains the proposed changes in this article.
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the ranking member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and other House Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday to restore the estate tax and gift tax rate and exemption level to the same amounts as in 2009.
At the beginning of January 2013, Congress passed legislation raising the estate tax rate to 40 percent (up from 35 percent), with an exemption for estates below $5 million, but indexed for inflation. Under current law, estates valued at or below $5.45 million ($10.9 million for a couple) are exempt from owing any estate tax.
The proposed legislation, The Sensible Estate Tax Act of 2016, would return the exemption and tax rate to 2009 levels, lowering the estate tax exemption to $3.5 million ($7 million jointly) and increasing the maximum tax rate to 45 percent. The bill would also restore the rates for the gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax. It would reinstate the $1 million lifetime gift exemption and retain the annual $14,000 gift tax exclusion and unlimited spousal portability.
“Over the past decade, fewer and fewer estates have been required to pay the estate tax, further exacerbating the growing issue of wealth inequality in our nation,” Levin said in a statement. “This disturbing trend is yet another stark example of how broken and unfair our tax code is, which is why we have to take action. Requiring more of the wealthiest estates to pay the estate tax and raising the estate tax rate are commonsense steps we can take toward making our tax code fairer.”
He noted that fewer than 5,200 estates owed any estate tax in 2015, resulting in 99.85 percent of all estates across the country owing no estate tax. Under current law significant appreciated assets pass tax-free without being subject to any tax on their appreciation, even after transfer and subsequent sale.
The Obama administration has included a proposal to set the estate and gift tax to 2009 levels in each of its previous budget proposals, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated last month would save more than $161 billion over 10 years.
Cosponsors of the bill include Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., Ways and Means Committee members Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-N.J., and Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.