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Will High Estate Tax Exemptions Mean Less Planning?

Practitioners just don’t believe the high estate tax exemption will last very long.

Taxes are at the front of every estate planning practitioner’s mind these days—even more so than usual.

In preparation for the Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning, Trusts & Estates conducted a survey of its subscribers that included questions on how they expected tax reform to affect their practices. Over 1,000 subscribers responded to the survey. About 70 percent said that they represented individuals with a net worth of less than $25 million.

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubles the estate and gift tax exemption, the practitioners we surveyed didn’t seem concerned about the potential effects on their practices. About 66 percent said they were a little or not worried at all about the effects of tax reform on their practices’ revenue. In terms of the effect on the type of work they do in their practices, 49.5 expected modest changes, while 52 percent expected little or no changes.

Of those respondents involved in estate tax planning, only 26.2 percent expected to have less of this type of work, while 56.6 percent expected it to remain the same. One possible explanation for these responses is that practitioners just don’t believe the high estate tax exemption will last very long. Many believed that the changes to the estate tax (75.3 percent) and gift tax (82.6 percent) wouldn’t be permanent.

Respondents also expected their work in estate litigation to remain steady, with 64.2 percent saying their amount of work in this area would remain the same. 

The biggest expected growth appeared to be in income tax planning, with 45.8 percent expecting to see more work.

Those looking to branch into other types of work mentioned a variety of related areas, including asset protection, retirement planning and philanthropic planning.

Overall, many are looking to diversify their practices somewhat, though it appears that most of the planners we surveyed simply aren’t that worried about the professional ramifications of tax reform.

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