The Federal Estate Tax
History, Law, and Economics
A comprehensive and accessible account of the U.S. estate tax, examining its history and evolution, structure and inner workings, and economic consequences.
Governments have been levying some form of inheritance tax since the ancient Egyptians did so in the seventh century BC. In the United States, the federal government experimented with various forms of inheritance taxes, settling on an estate tax in 1916 and a gift tax in 1932. Despite this long history, there are few empirical studies of the federal estate tax. This book offers the first comprehensive look at U.S. estate and inheritance taxes, examining their history and evolution, structure and inner workings, and economic consequences. Written by David Joulfaian, a veteran economist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the book provides accessible accounts of such topics as changes in tax laws, issues of equity, the fiscal contribution of the estate tax, and its behavioral effects.
Joulfaian traces the evolution of U.S. inheritance taxes from 1797 to the present, noting that the estate tax rate and base expanded through 1976, then began to decline. He describes the tax itself, explaining that it currently applies to estates and gifts in excess of $11.18 million, and outlines applicable deductions and credits. He sketches a profile of taxpayers and their beneficiaries; surveys the revenues from estate and gift taxes; and discusses the effect of estate taxation on labor decisions, saving and wealth accumulation, charitable giving, life insurance ownership, and other economic activities. Finally, he addresses criticisms of the estate tax and analyzes its shortcomings. Accompanying tables present a wealth of data gathered by Joulfaian in his research and not available elsewhere.