StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

Attention Wall Street Journal: It's Not A "Death" Tax

01 Nov 2009
Posted by Stan Collender

The Wall Street Journal should be so ashamed of this that it should voluntarily print not just a correction but also an apology.  This lead and third graph are reprehensible:

With the federal estate tax disappearing for most people, state death taxes have emerged as a surprise new worry.


That is down from the 17,500 estates that would have faced death taxes under the previous $2 million limit, the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates.

As I've said before, an estate tax doesn't tax death any more than the income tax taxes life.

(Hat tip to TPM.)

"Death tax" made my "Official

"Death tax" made my "Official 2007-2008 Political Glossary" (in the Republican section, of course).

State _______ taxes?

If you don't like the term "state death taxes" what term can you recommend? Writing about "state ______ taxes" requires some care because there are state estate taxes and state inheritance taxes. Using "state death taxes" might be an easier way to refer to these taxes than using "state estate/inheritance taxes" or "state death or inheritance taxes."

With regards to the federal estate tax, your earlier posts are on point. The federal estate tax is a tax on the privilege of transferring wealth. It is not an inheritance tax. Further, the label "death tax" when referring to the federal estate tax is highly politicized and misleading precisely for the reasons you stated.

Doth protest too much.


Sidney Kess, the "veteran estate attorney" quoted in the story talking about state "death tax" planning, is someone I've known and worked with for years, and is about as NON-right-wing political as imaginable.

Sidney's clients (and mine), Democrats near all (this is NYC), think of estate and inheritance taxes as "death taxes" because ... they apply at death. As in, "I must prepare my family and estate to deal with these taxes when I die."

If you think this is partisan political spin, it just shows how much more sensitive you are to partisan politics than to real people -- real Democrats -- who must deal with these taxes in the real world, and how they entirely reasonably view them. (Which is bad even if one's job is entirely partisan politics.)

This article is in an entirely non-political, reasoned presentation of financial planning issues involving the changing "federal estate tax" and its changing effects on "state estate and inheritance taxes", with the difference between estate and inheritance taxes noted.

If one is so very sensitive to alleged partisan political framing in the likes of this, as to deem it "reprehensible" and demand "an apology", then good gosh, every time the NY Times uses the word "choice" instead of "abortion" one really blow a gasket. Eh?

When I was in law school back long before Bush (or Clinton) and before estate tax became a political issue, these taxes were generically called "death taxes".

Not everything one doesn't like is a reprehensible plot by one's political enemies.

(You'd better hope -- or else the RNC and Rupert Murdoch have learned to work their evil machinations backward through time.)

Oh yeah? Try putting it in your casket.

Say I liquidated all of my estate and put it in my casket with me when I was buried. Maybe you CAN take it with you --- not that I believe that, but I've earned the right to find out --- it's my money, after all. You don't think I would escape the estate tax, do you? So your death-income counter-analogy is complete horse manure.

If you had any idea how insanely spendthrift the US government is, you'd be less anxious to see higher taxes.

It astonishes me that self-appointed martinets think the government knows how to spend my estate better than my wonderful and wise ex-wife
and children do. They earned it by having my back uring all the years when things were tough and belts were tight. They are the exact opposite of Paris Hilton, who should have been spanked silly growing up.

Still, PH is a paragon of good judgment compared to the US government.

death taxes

"Death taxes" is a technically correct phrase used to describe any tax (usually estate or inheritance) triggered by "death."

At least according to William Hoffman, MBA, JD, PhD, CPA and his co-authors. Hoffman has probably sold more tax texts than anyone on the planet.

"As I've said before, an

"As I've said before, an estate tax doesn't tax death any more than the income tax taxes life."

And 2+2=5, up is down, and day is night.

Income tax is levied against

Income tax is levied against your income, while Estate Death taxes are levied against your estate AFTER death, hence the name "death tax." An estate tax (without death) in theory, could be levied against your estate each year, just as income taxes are. One must DIE to incur the Death Tax on the estate. That's the difference.

Intergenerational transfer of wealth . . . a good thing?

If you don't want your heirs to pay taxes then give all your money to charity. That's what my parents have announced they are doing, so I don't have to worry about paying any taxes on an estate I receive because there won't be any. Warren Buffet is doing the same thing -- nearly all his money is going to the Gates Foundation.

I'd be fine with an 90% tax on estate transfers of over $10 million or so per heir.

Promising intergenerational transfer of wealth is a good way to raise lazy children -- the kind who do nothing for themselves or society while they wait to cash in their powerball lottery ticket. There's a reason they are called the "idle" rich.

What's the matter, can't your kids make it on their own?

Fact: Government runs huge expense tabs under both parties.
Fact: Taxes are collected to pay for (some of) these expenses
Fact: Choices are made as to who will pay and when they will pay. These choices are codified in our tax system.

I choose to tax the lazy, sloppy, sneering, cocaine-ridden drunken party boy/girls who stand to inherit wealth they did nothing to create rather than the LNA who had to clean out their daddy's bedpans to keep him alive a few more months. You, obviously, choose to tax the LNA.

How's that for presenting a case in inflammatory language that does nothing to bring sides together? Paris Hilton vs. my Aunt Sarah is exactly where we will take this...because after the Bush Great Recession, far too few real people have to worry about "death taxes" on their "death estates" that are "triggered by death" anymore; they're closer to Aunt Sarah's wealth level now. All the talk about deficits lately is to preempt any try to avoid the reinstatement of federal estate (oh, I'm sorry, DEATH) taxes. (As a note...taxes go down to nothing in 2010 and then back to 50%...if I were you, I'd watch my step for a year).

Tell your kids (and grandkids) to get a job; they're going to need one. I do worry about the job market for cocaine dealers, however...

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