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More worries for the wealthy? Inheritance tax to jump unless Congress acts

The federal inheritance tax rate will jump to 55 percent in 2013 unless Congress acts.  Republicans and Democrats disagree on the best plan.  But a stalemate will result in higher inheritance taxes than either party wants.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / July 26, 2012



The way Congressional Republicans see it, farmers will have to sell their land and small businesses will have to put their firms on the auction block if nothing is done to prevent the inheritance tax from rising next year.

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Their solution: completely end what they call “the death tax.”

But, on the other side of the aisle, Congressional Democrats view eliminating the tax as yet another gift to the ultra-wealthy. Under President Obama’s plan, the rate would actually rise from current levels.

Unless the two sides can find a common ground, the estate tax will rise far higher than either party's proposal. The change in estate tax rates is one of several tax law changes slated to occur in January, when the Bush era income tax cuts will expire. 

Currently, the inheritance tax is 35 percent with a $5 million exemption per estate. On January 1, the rate jumps to 55 percent with a $1 million exemption.

According to Republicans, citing the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation, this would increase the number of estates that would pay the tax from 3,600 to 55,200.

“Remember, Americans work all their life paying income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes—only to have the government raid their farms, ranches and small businesses when they pass away,” said Utah’s Sen. Orin Hatch (R), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee in a statement.

President Obama has proposed moving the top rate to 45 percent with an exemption of $3.5 million per estate. That would be same formula that was in effect in 2009.

However, analysts who follow the issue say not all Democrats support Obama. “The Democrats are all over the map,” says Pete Davis of Davis Capital Investment Ideas, which supplies Washington intelligence to Wall Street firms. “Some are silent or in favor the Republican position, some Democrats would like to see a lower rate,” he says.

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