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How Important Are Perpetual Tax Savings?

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  • James R. Hines Jr.

Abstract

Federal estate taxes give very wealthy families incentives to transfer resources directly to distant generations in order to avoid taxes on successive rounds of transfers. Until recently such transfers were impeded by the rule against perpetuities, which prevented transfers to most potential not-yet-born beneficiaries. Many American states have recently repealed the rule against perpetuities, raising concerns that the combination of tax incentives and new legal rights encourages the devotion of vast wealth to perpetual trusts designed to benefit distant generations, avoid taxes, and maintain a degree of control over the financial affairs of descendants in perpetuity. This paper analyzes the incentives created by federal transfer taxes, finding the tax benefits from establishing perpetual trusts to be quite modest, in representative cases ranging from 9-25 percent of just one component of the cost. Contrary to popular claims, tax benefits decline as investment returns rise. While U.S. states that have repealed the rule against perpetuities and adopted other policies to encourage trusts host substantial trust assets, evidence from tax returns suggests that perpetual trusts are unlikely to account for a significant portion of this business. Consequently, tax incentives may not be responsible for an important shift of assets into perpetual trusts.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18553.

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Date of creation: Nov 2012
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Publication status: published as How Important Are Perpetual Tax Savings? , James R. Hines Jr.. in Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 27 , Brown. 2013
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18553

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  1. Nordblom, Katarina & Ohlsson, Henry, 2005. "Tax Avoidance and Intra-Family Transfers," Working Paper Series 2005:6, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  2. Page, Benjamin R., 2003. "Bequest taxes, inter vivos gifts, and the bequest motive," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(5-6), pages 1219-1229, May.
  3. Joulfaian, David, 2005. "Choosing between gifts and bequests: How taxes affect the timing of wealth transfers," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(11-12), pages 2069-2091, December.
  4. B. Douglas Bernheim & Robert J. Lemke & John Karl Scholz, 2001. "Do Estate and Gift Taxes Affect the Timing of Private Transfers?," NBER Working Papers 8333, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Joulfaian, David & McGarry, Kathleen, 2004. "Estate and Gift Tax Incentives and Inter Vivos Giving," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 429-44, June.
  6. Poterba, James, 2001. "Estate and gift taxes and incentives for inter vivos giving in the US," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 237-264, January.
  7. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2006. "Bequest and Tax Planning: Evidence From Estate Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 12701, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. McGarry, Kathleen, 2001. "The cost of equality: unequal bequests and tax avoidance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 179-204, January.
  9. McGarry, Kathleen, 1999. "Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 321-351, September.
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