Of Death, Taxes, and Death Taxes

Of Death, Taxes, and Death Taxes

A couple of weeks ago, the blogosphere saw a flurry of indignation over the notion of "death taxes." Here at tax.com, Chris Bergin chastised Rep. Sam Graves for his insistence that "death should not be a taxable event." Elsewhere, Brad DeLong, Stan Collender, and Linda Beale also took aim at this not-so-new political neologism.

The critics point out -- correctly -- that the federal estate tax does not, in fact, tax death. Rather, it taxes the transfer of an estate. Efforts to rename the levy are clearly political, designed to build support for its permanent repeal...

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It's worth recalling that long before GOP pollster Frank Lutz ostensibly coined the death tax slander, the term was in regular use by reputable tax experts -- including fans of the estate tax. Even back in Franklin Roosevelt's day, when Treasury economists were endorsing the upward march of estate tax rates, they routinely described the levy as a "death tax."

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Look, the anti-estate tax folks scored a win when they revived the death tax terminology. Good for them. But the battle for the estate tax should be won on its merits, which are easy to articulate. The battle over terminology is a distraction.

View TaxAnalysts' Joe Thorndike's opinion in its entirety on TAX.com.