Less than 3,500 estates will owe the Federal government in terms of estate tax by end of this year, the smallest figure ever to have been witnessed in over 75 years. Even as Congress embarks on the quest to reduce the number of taxable estates, legislation is spurring more estates to file tax return, even in instances where they have no outstanding tax balance. These measures will effectively increase expenses to persons who seek to carry out prudent estate planning, keep their planners and attorneys occupied, and flood the tax man with a huge number of tax returns.The main reason for all this is the flexibility of the provision in the job creation legislation that enables surviving spouses to personally claim estate tax returns on their own estate tax returns and on the exemptions that were not utilized by their spouses. This year, the value of an exemption is tagged at $5 million. In case a husband passes on this year and leaves behind an estate that has a taxable value of $3 million, his estate will not be liable for any tax, meaning his spouse’s estate is free to claim the $2 million in unutilized exemption when she passes on.The act of retaining the unused exemption, which is also known as portability, has its price. For instance, a surviving spouse is required to file this tax return on time, regardless of whether or not the estate is liable for any tax. If this is not done, the extra exemption is lost forever.Filing an estate return is mandatory for couples with considerably large estates with $10 million and above in combined tax threshold. Preserving this unused exemption will save on future taxes in case the estate of the survivor expands in excess of the quantity of an individual exemption.Smaller estates become beneficiaries only when they hold on to the unused exemption. In the year 2013, estate tax will revert to the rate it was before 2001, basically a $1 million exemption and a tax rate of 55 percent. The President, and Congress by extension, will surely not allow this to occur but may use an exemption that is under $5 million. For instance, there has been a proposal that the country reverts to the parameters of the 2009 estate tax, which was basically a tax rate of 45 percent and an exemption of $3.5 million. When one has an unused exemption courtesy of his/her spouse, it could save the survivor’s estate lots of money. This proposal is bound to raise a lot of concerns from people with estates.Without a doubt, estate tax lawyers are hard at work illustrating the benefits of filing tax returns to their clients, even when such is not compulsory by law.