Ol' George Steinbrenner chose a good year to die:
By dying in 2010, the billionaire and long-time New York Yankees owner's wealth avoids the federal estate tax, likely saving his heirs enough money to field an entire team of Alex Rodriguezes
. Steinbrenner's death Tuesday came during an unplanned year-long gap in the estate tax, the first since it was enacted in 1916. Political wrangling has stalemated efforts in Congress to replace the tax that expired in 2009.
That deprives the government of billions of dollars in annual revenue but represents an unexpected bonanza for those who inherit wealth.
"If you're super-wealthy, it's a good year to die," said Jack Nuckolls, an attorney and estate planner with the accounting firm BDO Seidman. "It really is."
The death of the 80-year-old Steinbrenner, who had been in poor health for years, highlights a quirky tax situation that has drawn much scrutiny among the moneyed but little on Main Street. Only those with estates valued at more than $3.5 million had to pay under the old law.
Forbes magazine has estimated Steinbrenner's estate at $1.1 billion. The federal estate tax in 2009 was 45 percent, with the $3.5 million per-person exemption. If he had died last year, his estate could thus have faced federal taxes of almost $500 million, depending on how the estate was structured.
Repubs love to rail against the estate tax, calling it the "death" tax, but only the very wealthy were subject to it. Certainly, Steinbrenner's heirs could pay the tax and remain incredibly rich.
I wonder how many more billionaires will kick the bucket before the year ends.