As you probably know, there is no estate tax due for people who die in 2010. All year, we have been expecting the estate tax laws to be updated (and possibly imposed retroactively to January 1, 2010) but that has not happened. Further, it now appears that there will be no changes for 2010 and that people who die this year will not owe any estate taxes (or more accurately, their estate won't owe any estate taxes.)
However, that doesn't mean that large estates get a "free pass" this year. Things might even be more complicated. That is because a "carryover basis" rule is in effect this year. In previous years, people inheriting property enjoyed a "step up" in basis. That is, the basis of the property they inherited was generally the value of the property when the previous owner died. In 2010 however, people inheriting property also inherit the decedent's tax basis. This means that if you are inheriting property this year, you have to hope the decedent kept very detailed records.
The executor administering the estate can, however, increase the basis of the assets by $1.3M plus any expiring loss carryforwards and the amount by which any asset is worth less than its original cost. The practical implication of this $1.3M is that any estate with untaxed appreciation of up to $1.3M will escape tax free. However, the executor is responsible for designating those assets that will receive the $1.3M. If he or she doesn't pick the assets you inherited, you could find yourself owing taxes upon the sale of the inherited property. However, the good news is that the gains will be taxed at capital gains tax rates.
It is important to note that assets that pass to a surviving spouse are entitled to another $3M in untaxed apprection so it is still possible to shelter as much as $4.3M in appreciation. If you are the executor of an estate for someone who died in 2010, be sure to seek the assistance of a CPA because the rules can be very complicated and you don't want to make a costly error. And if you inherit assets from someone who died in 2010 be sure you know the basis of the asset and if you might owe capital gains taxes be careful to time the sale to minimize any taxes.