Q: Do you have a new answer to the question posed in your column of May 28, 1984, regarding the calling of municipal bonds held by the bearer? I followed your suggestion at that time to solicit the services of Bevil, Bresler & Schulman; it was very good -- they gave me a complete portfolio printout of my bonds and even revised it one time. Fortunately, I had no other business dealings with BBS.
A: For the benefit of readers for whom this letter does not strike a familiar chord, I had written on that day about a free call-notification service offered by BBS for investors holding coupon municipal bonds who didn't want to miss redemption calls and the resulting loss of at least six months' interest.
The phrase "fortunately" in the letter refers to the fact, probably already known to many of you, that BBS got into trouble in its handling of government securities and was forced out of business. Having reread that earlier column, the word "fortunately" -- for my peace of mind -- also could refer to the fact that I made no recommendation for BBS other than use of the call service.
I am often amazed by the coincidental timing of some of the letters you send me. I had just gotten some new information and was considering updating that 1984 column when this letter arrived, giving me the perfect opportunity to do so.
A service very similar to the one formerly provided by BBS is now offered by Smith Barney. It is a free called-bond service offered to all investors, including those who are not clients. If you send them a list of your portfolio of coupon municipal bonds, they will enter it into their computer and then monitor it for calls.
In addition to notifying you of normal calls, Smith Barney also will provide information on mandatory and extraordinary redemptions, tenders, puts and put windows and defaults relating to any bond in your portfolio. All of this service is provided free; but, of course, if you are not now a Smith Barney client, you can anticipate occasional attempts to convert you to one -- a small price to pay for the service provided.
If you're interested, write to the Municipal Bond Department, Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co. Inc., Attn.: Toni Elliott, 1345 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10105. Mention this column, and ask for their information brochure and portfolio form. (Of course, if you're already a Smith Barney client, just call your account executive.)
Q: I've received conflicting information regarding estate tax planning. Would you answer the following questions: For federal estate tax purposes, what estate dollar limits apply before a spouse must pay an estate tax? Upon settlement of the estate, does the recipient have the same dollar limits in passing the estate to his or her heirs? Do estate valuations include such things as household goods, wearing apparel, jewelry, etc.? Do state tax laws follow the same pattern as the federal estate tax regulations?
A: There is no dollar limit to the assets that can pass to a surviving spouse without federal estate tax liability; under the gift/estate tax rules, there is an unlimited spousal exclusion.
That unlimited exclusion does not apply to assets being passed to other heirs, but the exclusion in that case is quite generous. For deaths occuring in 1986, there is no federal estate tax imposed until the net estate (after expenses such as burial, legal costs, etc.) exceeds $500,000; and next year (and thereafter) the ceiling goes to $600,000.
Personal property belonging to the deceased must be included in the estate -- such as clothing, jewelry, furniture, art objects, cars, stamp or coin collections. In most cases, they will be counted at the fair market value on the date of death.
State inheritance tax laws vary from state to state, and I can't cover all the variations here. In your state, Virginia, the rules generally follow the federal rules. However, county regulations may require that you file at least an inventory of assets even if no federal tax return is due.