(Dow Jones) The families of wealthy people who died early in 2010 are starting to confront a confused set of deadlines in this rare year of no estate tax.

Federal tax returns are normally due on Form 706 nine months after death. For billionaire Glen W. Bell Jr., the Taco Bell founder who died in January, for example, the deadline would be next month. Since the estate tax has lapsed, the form isn't required-but according to tax advisors, many families are obliged to mock them up anyway to help make other tax calculations.

Nine months after death is also the time for a tax maneuver known as a disclaimer, which has special implications for heirs this year. Disclaimers are used to move assets from one generation to another, or to right some inequity in a will or further the wishes of the dead person. A spouse may disclaim assets she would otherwise inherit, and let them pass instead to children to take advantage of the lack of an estate tax. Children may also disclaim, to pass assets to grandchildren and avoid another potential tax in their own estates.

Beth Shapiro Kaufman, a partner at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington D.C., is telling families of those who died this year to defer disclaimer decisions until the deadline is about to expire. Although it's unlikely, Congress could still enact a retroactive estate tax, making a disclaimer disadvantageous.

The estate-tax lapse, which tax advisors predicted would never happen, took everyone by surprise. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 steadily pared the tax rates and increased the exemption-that is, the dollar amount at which an estate qualifies to be taxed-and Congress didn't step in to prevent the one-year repeal for 2010. Next year, the top rate on estates over $1 million will be 55% unless Congress makes a change.

Other billionaires who have died this year include Dan L. Duncan, a Texas oil tycoon ranked by Forbes magazine as the 74th wealthiest man in the world, who died in March, real estate developer Walter H. Shorenstein and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Lawyers for the estates couldn't be reached immediately.

Lauren Y. Detzel, chair of the estate and succession planning department at Dean, Mead, Egerton, Bloodworth, Capouano & Bozarth in Orlando, Fla., said uncertainty over the tax has caused big delays in handling the estates of the wealthy.

Perhaps the biggest job now for advisors is figuring out the cost basis of assets in estates. Cost basis is used to calculate capital gains on an item when the heir eventually sells it. Under usual rules, the basis for heirs is what the asset was worth when the person died. For items inherited this year, though, heirs must "carry over" the basis, valuing the asset at its original cost.

Figuring cost basis is traditionally a real headache, and this year is no different. Every advisor has a horror story about a particularly troublesome asset, often the stock of a company that went through numerous changes. For Detzel, a bugaboo is property that has been renovated extensively. The client may have "added a new roof, done this or that," making basis difficult to determine, she said.

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