Estate Tax Repeal: Who Know's? This Is The Real Conversation You Want to Have

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Family business owners, other high-net- worth families, and their advisers, have an opportunity for conversation that can change lives. It’s not really about estate taxes. Trump’s plan to eliminate the estate tax is merely a convenient stimulus for the conversation.

Will it be repealed? An attorney friend gives that 50/ 50 odds. The way wind seems to be blowing these days, who the heck knows? The question is no doubt on your mind. But, the discussion around whether it will or will not be repealed serves no true purpose.

In the great scheme of things, estate taxes are unimportant. Most certainly the presence of the tax is beyond our control. We play the cards as they are dealt. Without an estate tax, planning gets easier. With an estate tax, there are plenty of ways to reduce or eliminate your family’s future tax bill. A bit more trouble. Costs some professional fees. But, quite manageable with focus.

The discussions I want to have run deeper. Now that you have created this wealth, what does it mean? What is its purpose? What is your purpose? I am speaking to you, the one in possession of this creation called financial wealth.

The trap I see over and over is one of playing out your same programming indefinitely. What do I mean by that? Let’s talk about a typical family business owner/ creator. He or she no doubt had something to prove. Everyone knows the definition of an entrepreneur, right? 30-years- old, flat broke, and just been fired! From there, it’s a lot of dirty hard work, risk, sacrifice, fear, and more. Most don’t make it, but you did. Somewhere along the way, this thing called positive cash flow showed up. Your business grew. You tried a lot of different things. Some worked. Some didn’t. On balance, you built something substantial. In the early years, you were scared, stressed, secretive and suspicious. You added along the way a state of constant harassment, a passion for control, success, and power.

I know everybody is different. But, I can’t tell you how many times I have had “the kid” jump up and say "That’s my Dad!” The point is, we all operate on our own programming. The programming that served you up to this point is probably not the same programming that will best serve you going forward.

I am all for saving estate taxes, having helped pull a few hundred million dollars from the grip of the IRS in my day. But, there has to be something bigger than a game with the IRS, with the goal of keeping more for the heirs as the key prize.

The bigger question – the only real question – is what is supposed to happen next? I will stick with you, the senior generation for now. What is to be your “second half”. (BTW, a really good book I recommend is Half-Time, by Bob Buford.) It’s not about age. It’s about what comes next for you. It is about the purpose of your wealth and what will bring you joy and fulfillment from today forward!

(This book is available at  Barnes & Noble  if you're interested)

(This book is available at Barnes & Noble if you're interested)

I am all for saving estate taxes, having helped pull a few hundred million dollars from the grip of the IRS in my day. But, there has to be something bigger than a game with the IRS, with the goal of keeping more for the heirs as the key prize.

Speaking of the heirs, we can ask ourselves the same sort of questions with respect to them. How do we use wealth to be a positive force in their lives, rather than a negative one? I get asked all the time “How much should we leave them?” That’s a good question, but it isn’t “the” question.” How do we protect them? What are the right structures? All of the structure stuff is important too. It is why estate planning attorneys are valuable with or without an estate taxes. But, those are just details.

The opportunity for you now is this. Discussion of estate tax repeal is ripe. Use that opportunity to go to the place that really matters. It is not about estate taxes. Whether we have estate tax or not simply dictates some of the planning that needs to occur. There will still need to be trusts and 100 other things, with or without the tax. The real questions are around purpose. Purpose of life and purpose of wealth. They are about using wealth to create meaning and fulfillment.

A final thought comes from the book Conscious Living, by Gay Hendricks.

“If you express what needs to be expressed within you, you will be happy and fulfilled. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s just that simple, but many of us spend our lives making it more complicated.”

Recommendation #1: Consider your own history up until now. What is your driving programming? What is the conversation you are having with yourself?

Recommendation #2: What is your second-half to be? What will bring you more joy and fulfillment than you have ever experienced? (With much less dirty-hard- work!)

Recommendation #3: How can wealth be a positive force for each member of your family? What steps do you need to take now?