Opponents want new secretary to scrap Treasury Department estate-tax proposal

It's not clear how President-elect Donald J. Trump's nominee for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, would approach the Treasury estate-tax rule

Jan 19, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Opponents of a Treasury Department proposal that would change the way inherited assets are valued want the Trump administration to rip up the rule.

The proposal was not finalized by the Obama administration, which means that the Trump Treasury can take it off the books.

“We want to tear it out by the roots rather than leave it pending for a future administration to enact,” said Palmer Schoening, chairman of the Family Business Coalition.

President-elect Donald J. Trump's nominee for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday morning for his nomination hearing, which was expected to last well into the afternoon.

It's not clear how Mr. Mnuchin, if he's confirmed by the Senate, will approach the Treasury estate-tax rule. It would curb tax strategies that certain taxpayers use to provide a valuation discount when transferring assets that have limited liquidation rights, such as shares in a closely held business.

The Obama administration asserted that the rule was needed to close a “tax loophole” that some taxpayers used to understate the value of their assets. Critics of the rule say that it would undermine the passing of businesses from one generation to another.

The Treasury Department indicated earlier this month that it would not be able to finalize the rule because it received approximately 10,000 comment letters about it.

Those letters, as well as testimony at a Dec. 1 agency hearing, demonstrated the strong opposition to it, Mr. Schoening said. Legislation also was introduced in the House and Senate last year to stop the proposal.

“The reaction from stakeholders slowed it down,” Mr. Schoening said.

It's pretty clear that the proposal will die, said Charlie Douglas, director of wealth planning at Cedar Rowe Partners.

“Market and minority interest discounts are alive and well,” Mr. Douglas said.

They're useful in estate planning, Mr. Douglas said, if they pertain to actual business entities. They can be abused if they're used to pass shares in a public company, such as Apple, between generations.

“They are to some degree justified as long as there is an active business purchase,” Mr. Douglas said.

With the demise of the rule, Mr. Douglas said he is looking forward to some stability surrounding the estate tax — which has a 40% rate and an exemption of $5.4 million per person — until it is addressed in broader tax reform.

“There's a little legislative fatigue around estate planning,” Mr. Douglas said. “Clients are tired. Attorneys are tired.”

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