This article titled “How Volatility Eases Estate Planning” was in the September 06, 2011 online edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Families with taxable or potentially taxable estates (think $5M and up…) should consider reviewing this article in considering advanced planning ideas while asset values and interest rates are low and estate and gift tax laws are favorable.  Estate and gift tax laws are likely to change at least to some degree by the end of 2012:

Market volatility may be tough on the nerves, but it could be a boon for wealthy families looking to shelter assets from taxes while helping their children.

Two other factors affecting many estate-planning strategies also are favoring families right now: Interest rates are exceedingly low, and Congress has increased the federal gift-tax exemption to $5 million from $1 million for individuals through 2012, after which it reverts back to $1 million.Volatility Eases Estate Planning

“This is a golden opportunity to plan,” says Martin Shenkman, an estate-planning lawyer in Paramus, N.J.

Here are three ways to take advantage of this confluence of events:

Discounts. People with large chunks of stock in privately held companies have at least one reason to cheer recent economic events: The volatile stock market allows them to give away such stock at a bigger discount…

But when the publicly traded markets are more unpredictable than usual, owners of private stock have successfully argued for larger discounts on the value of their holdings as well. Mr. Hall has used an indicator of market volatility known as the VIX to defend larger discounts on transfers of stock in private companies…

“It’s a great time to gift private equity, because not only do you not have to pay gift tax, but the discount for marketability has shot up, too,” Mr. Hall says…

• GRATs. If your holdings are in battered stocks of publicly traded companies or a family business, you may want to consider a grantor-retained annuity trust, or GRAT. Such trusts work best when interest rates are low, as they are currently…

To raise revenue, Congress has been seeking to impose more restrictions on GRATs, including a requirement that they be in place for at least 10 years, she says. So far, though, the legislation hasn’t passed…

• Loans. Families also can take advantage of the convergence of low interest rates and low stock prices by making an intrafamily loan to fund an investment…