Attention, aged zillionaires: If you simply must shuffle off the mortal coil, 2010 is a financially opportune year to do so.
Tax cuts earlier in the decade gradually reduced the estate tax to its current level of zero in 2010, but it's scheduled to revert back to its previous state in 2011. Most estates of more than $1 million could lose a whopping 55% to the IRS.
The recently deceased George Steinbrenner's estate, as you might imagine, far exceeded that million-dollar threshold. The New York Yankees owner's total wealth was recently estimated at $1.15 billion. A 55% tax hit on that would come to more than $600 million, taking more than half of his heirs' inheritance. But since Steinbrenner died in 2010, the estate tax is … zero. (Congress is looking at reinstating it retroactively, but that appears increasingly unlikely.)
Before you start worrying that the tax man will pursue you beyond the grave, too, bear in mind a few salient facts. First, with the exemption at $3.5 million in 2009, the Tax Policy Center projected that only 5,500 estates would owe any tax. Next year, even if the exemption returns to $1 million, it's estimated that fewer than 45,000 estates nationwide will pay anything.
Also, the very wealthy can still find ways to get around much of the estate tax. Berkshire Hathaway
Among other philanthropists, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen recently pledged the bulk of his billions. Eli and Edythe Broad, who made their billions via KB Home
Some philanthropists support charity with their own foundations. eBay
For us, though, the main lesson to take from Mr. Steinbrenner's coup is that little tax details can make a big difference to your wealth. Learn how to pay less and save more in our Tax Center.
One way to keep the tax man at bay is to hang onto a stock for the long haul -- like this keeper.