Clintons Avoid Estate Taxes Despite Support for Estate Taxes

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Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Clintons may have been "dead broke" when they left the White House back in 2000 but — thanks to their ability to charge huge amounts of money for speeches, as well as the other money-making opportunities that come with having occupied the White House in the first place — they are multimillionaires now. And, according to a Bloomberg report, Bill and Hillary are attempting to shield their new-ish wealth from estate taxes, despite having both supported raising estate taxes on the wealthy in the past.

A examination of the Clintons' financial disclosures and local property records showed that the couple split the ownership of their Chappaqua house in half, and then put the two 50 percent shares into residence trusts. "That maneuver has multiple potential benefits, starting with the fact that any appreciation in the house’s value will now happen outside the estate," explains Bloomberg. "Additionally, using IRS interest rates, they can assume a discounted value for the house. Splitting the property into 50 percent shares also allows a valuation discount, because a partial interest in an indivisible house isn’t worth as much as a complete interest." Eventually, ownership of the home will be transferred to a beneficiary, to whom the Clintons could pay rent in order to continue living on the property, which is "another way to move assets outside of the estate." A tax expert told Bloomberg that the move could save Bill and Hillary "hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes." 

As another tax expert pointed out, such tactics are "pretty standard" for families with a lot of assets. But most of those people didn't publicly describe estate taxes as "part of our very fundamental belief that we should have a meritocracy" while calling for a lower per-person cap on tax exemptions, as Hillary did during her 2007 campaign. They also didn't win praise for vetoing a bill to repeal the estate tax, as Bill did when he was president in 2000. 

On the other hand, the Clintons' hypocrisy actually makes a pretty great case for strengthening estate tax rules, since it demonstrates that even those  who endorse them find the loopholes irresistible. Maybe Hillary can work that into her response to questions about her financial-planning techniques.