Wednesday, June 9, 2010
A Texas pipeline tycoon who died two months ago may become the first American billionaire allowed to pass his fortune to his children and grandchildren tax-free.
Dan L. Duncan, a soft-spoken farm boy who started with $10,000 and two propane trucks, and built a network of natural gas processing plants and pipelines that made him the richest person in Houston, died in late March of a brain hemorrhage at 77.
Had his life ended three months earlier, Mr. Duncan’s riches — Forbes magazine estimated his worth at $9 billion, ranking him as the 74th wealthiest in the world — would have been subject to a federal tax of at least 45 percent. If he had lived past Jan. 1, 2011, the rate would be even higher — 55 percent.
Instead, because Congress allowed the tax to lapse for one year and gave all estates a free pass in 2010, Mr. Duncan’s four children and four grandchildren stand to collect billions that in any other year would have gone to the Treasury. ...
The bonanza in tax savings for Mr. Duncan’s descendants is sure to be unsettling to those who have paid estate taxes on more modest wealth — until Jan. 1 of this year, it applied to any estate valued at more than $3.5 million, taxing only the money exceeding that threshold, or $7 million for a couple’s estate. ...
Many lawyers say Mr. Duncan’s heirs have the means and motivation to wage a fierce court battle to challenge the constitutionality of any retroactive tax. ...
Advocates of the tax say it is unconscionable that Congressional leaders have allowed the richest Americans to reap a new tax break at a time when deficits are soaring and the income gap between wealthy and poor citizens remains near historic levels.
(Hat Tip: Ann Murphy.)