The writer of Ecclesiastes did not have tax law in mind when he said that there is a time to live and a time to die. However, because Congress did not act to extend the current federal estate tax law, the tax expires on December 31. The federal estate tax is scheduled to resurface in 2011 at a rate of 55% on estates valued at $1 million or higher.
During the time that the tax is not in effect, it will be replaced by a 15% capital gains tax on inherited property that is sold (subject to the taxpayer's right to use current values to save at least $1.3 million of assets from capital gains).
In short, there is great uncertainty regarding estate taxes which probably will not be resolved until some time next year. At that time, Congress could reauthorize the estate tax, possibly retroactive to January 1. Such a law, even though retroactive, could be constitutional.
On the other hand, perhaps this is the ideal time persons with a substantial estate should do the right thing for their families by reviewing their estate planning documents.