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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Millionaires Aren't Impressed by Estate Tax Reform

Most of the nation's millionaires believe that the repeal of the estate tax will leave them paying less, but few are ready to change their estate plans, says a recent survey.

Over the next eight years, the estate tax will be gradually reduced, both by cutting the tax rate and by increasing the exemption levels. In 2010, the estate tax will be completely repealed, but heirs will be subject to capital gains taxes on any inheritance that they sell. Unless the is ratified by a 60-40 vote in the senate, the estate tax will automatically spring back into effect in 2011.

According to a survey of "high net worth individuals" - defined as those who have more than $1 million in assets, not including a home, above and beyond their debts - conducted for The Phoenix Cos. Inc., 64 percent said they believed the new legislation would decrease their taxes, but an additional 30 percent thought the law would either have no impact on their estate taxes or cause their taxes to go up.

"This group is knowledgeable about the tax law changes, but they are not responding with dramatic changes in their estate plans," says Walter Zultowski, senior vice president of marketing and market research for Phoenix Life Insurance Co. "They know that the law leaves the future open with its sunset provision."

According to Zultowski, these provisions have left many millionaires uncertain about what the future of estate planning holds, and most are choosing to sit tight with their current inheritance plans.

The survey also found that of high net worth individuals:

  • 47 percent plan to consult a financial advisor about estate planning.
  • 41 percent plan to leave existing trust funds in place.
  • 33 percent plan to either increase or maintain their plans for charitable giving.
  • 33 percent plan to either increase or maintain their plans for tax advantaged giving to their children.
  • 26 percent will leave existing life insurance policies in place.
  • Less than 5 percent plan to drop life insurance, terminate their trusts, or decrease their giving to charities or children.

"I think the big change you will see is that people will pay more attention to estate planning in a broader sense - more than just paying for estate taxes," says Zultowski.

The findings about the effects of the estate tax changes are a selection from Phoenix's annual wealth management survey.

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