If You're Rich, It's Cheaper To Die Before Jan. 1, 2011

If you’re a rich person, go ahead and die before Jan. 1, 2011: you’ll save a bunch of money for your family, says the WSJ.

When the Senate allowed the estate tax to lapse at the end of last year, it encouraged wealthy people near death’s door to stay alive until Jan. 1 so they could spare their heirs a 45% tax hit.

Now the situation has reversed: If Congress doesn’t change the law soon—and many experts think it won’t—the estate tax will come roaring back in 2011.

Not only will the top rate jump to 55%, but the exemption will shrink from $3.5 million per individual in 2009 to just $1 million in 2011, potentially affecting eight times as many taxpayers.

The math is ugly: On a $5 million estate, the tax consequence of dying a minute after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 rather than two minutes earlier could be more than $2 million; on a $15 million estate, the difference could be about $8 million.

Boy, that’s grim. The WSJ rubs it in with a gallery of rich people who died this year, possibly leaving tax-free estates.

Too Rich to Live? [WSJ]