The 2001 tax relief bill (EGTRRA), drastically reduced the impact of the death tax over the course of a decade, so that it was eliminated entirely for one year in 2010 — a good year to die, joked a number of pundits. The bill lowered marginal rates and increased the applicable exclusion amount, but it also included a provision allowing individuals to carry over exclusion dollars that were unused by their spouse at the time of his or her death. This “portability” measure effectively increased the applicable exclusion for many households, in some instances putting millions of dollars beyond the reach of the federal government.
The death tax rose from the grave at the end of 2010, with a Bush-era top rate of 35% and an applicable exclusion amount of $5 million ($5.12 million in 2012).
In 2013, the death tax will revert to its antiquated, pre-2001 form. The applicable exclusion amount will plummet to $1,000,000, and the top marginal rate will leap twenty points to 55%. A 5% surtax will also return, to be levied on estates between $10 million and $17 million. This raises the top effective rate of the death tax to 60%.