With the significant changes in Washington DC since my last letter in October 2016, I’d like to dive straight in with an Estate Tax update.
HR 631 – The Death Tax Repeal Act of 2017 was introduced in the House on January 24th by Rep. Kristi Noem (R- S. Dakota) and co-sponsored by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia). Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) introduced companion bill, S205, in the Senate.
Both bills include repeal of the estate and generation skipping tax, but not the gift tax. This remains a struggle. I have spent considerable time these past weeks meeting with legislators and elected representatives from both sides of the aisle to explain why gift tax must be included in legislation. While it remains important to forge co-sponsors for these bills, our legislation will more likely be included in a larger tax reform bill. This is good news since repeal, or reform of some estate tax aspects, are more likely to be passed as part of a larger tax “package” than as a “stand alone” bill. Pay close attention, tax reform is likely to happen in the Spring!
Earlier this year, Family Enterprise USA, whose mission is to promote the interests of family businesses in the US, and on whose Board I serve, retained the services of respected pollster, Frank Luntz, to conduct a survey of one thousand US voters (GOPs, Dems, Independents) on their attitudes toward tax reform, including gift, estate, and generation skipping taxes. The findings were fascinating, illuminating and encouraging. To synthesize the data:
- Fully 77% of Americans support a reduction or repeal of the Estate Tax, fewer than one in four (23%) support current law.
- The combination of a double-taxation and treating death as an opportunity to collect more government revenue is a position few, if any, Americans will choose to support. They believe repeal is simpler and it is fairer.
- As a matter of principle death should not be a taxable event. It is wrong for Washington to take hard earned money that has already been taxed and tax it yet again at death.
Here are some other key survey findings:
- Over half of all voters – 52% – support eliminating the estate tax entirely. 30% oppose elimination; 18% were neutral or undecided. By party it’s an overwhelming winner with 72% of those in favor of repeal being members of the GOP. Intuitive perhaps, but the essential eye-opener for policy makers must be that swing voters support repeal 51% to 32% (18% neutral/undecided). Moreover, Democrats at 44% to 38% have a 6+ approval of outright repeal.
- Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) support reducing or amending the gift tax. 27% are neutral and only 25% oppose the elimination of the gift tax. When given specific reform options, 35% stated “repeal” versus only 15% who opted for leaving it as it is today.
- By almost identical numbers, nearly half of Americans support repealing the generation-skipping tax entirely. Less than 1 in 5 support keeping it intact. Their reason being that Americans do not want to see Washington eliminate the estate tax in name only, while collecting the revenue by other means like the gift and generation-skipping taxes.
- Some three-quarters of those surveyed across party lines agree that treating death as an opportunity to tax grieving families is an inherent problem — 63% of Democrats, 78% of independents, and 83% of Republicans.
- What they want LEAST: keeping the Estate Tax at the current rate and policy. We gave American’s three policy options: “eliminate the estate tax entirely” (38% of all voters chose this, along with 24% of Democrats, 36% of Swing Voters, and 57% of Republicans), “reduce it to 20%” (39% of all voters chose this, 41% of Democrats, 41% of Swing Voters, and 31% of Republicans), and “keep it at 40%” (just 23% of all voters, 35% of Democrats, 23% of swing voters, and 13% of Republicans).
I am excited to be getting the word out about these survey results. Here is a list of where I will be speaking. If you have, or know of a group that would be interested, please let me know.
- Los Angeles, CA – February 16: ivyFON (Family Office Workshop)
- Phoenix, AZ – February 23 & March 15: FOX Sr. Exec Council and FOX Exec. Council
- Austin, TX – March 3 ivyFON (Family Office Workshop)
- Sarasota, FL – March 18: GenSpring Family Symposium for GenSpring Clients
- Orange County, CA – April 21: Cal State Fullerton (Women in Leadership)
- West Palm Beach, FL – May 18: Florida Family Office Forum for Family Office Executives
You might also be interested to know that GenSpring, in collaboration with Marty Secada, Founder of ivyFON, is hosting two Family Office Workshops: April 4th in Los Angeles and May 9th in Orange County. In Los Angeles, the speaker will be Pat Soldano and in Orange County, Ernie Dawal, GenSpring’s Chief Investment Officer. If you would like more information, please email Marty at email@example.com, or check out ivyFON’s web site www.ivyFON.com.
Finally, enclosed is an article from Trust and Estates Magazine, co-authored with Chris Walters, Managing Director, GenSpring Western Region. “Snapping to Attention” discusses trends in the family office and wealth management business. I hope you find it of interest.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I look forward to keeping you apprised of all that is going on in the Estate Tax discussion.
Patricia M. Soldano