Q: As president-elect of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, what other hot topic is on your agenda this year?
A: Our organization has pushed a concept called portability [of the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions]. Portability would allow husband and wife, in effect, to combine their exemption amounts. A deceased spouse could transfer their unused exemption amount to a surviving spouse.  Here's how it would work: This year, each spouse's estate gets an exemption of $3.5 million before the estate tax is assessed.  When one spouse dies, and they leave their estate to the surviving spouse, it passes free of taxes to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse, however, only gets to use their exemption. So, if I die, I can give $3.5 million to anybody I want and not pay any taxes. If I leave my $3.5 million estate to my wife and my wife has an estate of her own of $3.5 million, she will now have an estate of $7 million, but currently only a $3.5 million exemption. With portability, she could use her husband's $3.5 million exemption and avoid estate tax exposure. Portability would eliminate the need for complicated estate planning.

Q: In the current economic environment, with significantly lower interest rates and depressed asset values, are there any unique estate planning opportunities?
A: Some clients see this time as a great opportunity.  If you own stock in a strong company with good long-term prospects and value, until recently, it might have been very expensive to transfer that stock to your children or grandchildren. But now with very depressed values you may be able to transfer many more shares for that same amount of money. One client a few weeks ago said this is a wonderful opportunity to make transfers to his children.  You can't time your death, but you can time the transfer. Rather than wait and let my children inherit the stock, I can transfer General Electric stock at $7 bucks a share because the value is determined when the gift is made. But the first thing is to take care of yourself. One parent can support multiple kids but multiple kids can't support one parent. The advice I always give is you don't want to be dependent on your children. It changes the relationship. You don't want to mess up the fabric of that relationship you have with your children by giving away too much and regretting making the gift. But if you have taken care of yourself and those who are dependent on you like your spouse and children, it can be a wonderful time to make a transfer.

Q: Amid the current financial duress, how have your clients been impacted?
A: The financial meltdown has made clients rethink what they should be doing right now. In other words, maybe I shouldn't be making this charitable gift right now because I need to take care of myself first.  I've seen a real concern in that area, people saying I wanted to do this for charity but I don't know if I can afford it now. Also, there were a lot of people depending on and living off the dividends many blue-chip companies were paying and in many cases those dividends have gone to zero. We are just starting to see the sad tales now. If you think about this entire meltdown, it occurred so quickly. When you get to clients who have $100 million in assets and above, this down market hasn't bothered them as much. It's at $50 million and below where it has made a huge difference. They don't feel as wealthy as they did before. This market meltdown is deeper and it happened much quicker and it's more widespread. Other bear markets in the past never hit the blue-chip stocks like this time. The GMs, the Fords, the Citigroups, the AIGs. This is worse than when the tech bubble popped because that decline was very secularized. It hit certain areas but not mainstream America.  It hit those people on the cutting edge. People in mainstream America hadn't jumped into that bubble wholeheartedly. But this bear market has hit mainstream America big time.