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Estate and Gift Taxes and Incentives for Inter Vivos Giving in the United States

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  • James Poterba

Abstract

This paper describes the current estate and gift tax rules that apply to intergenerational transfers in the United States. It summarizes the incentives for inter vivos giving as a strategy for reducing estate tax liability. It shows that the current level of intergenerational transfers is much lower than the level that would be implied by simple models of dynastic utility maximization. Moreover, it demonstrates that even among elderly households with net worth in excess of $2.5 million, roughly four times the net worth at which the estate tax takes effect, only about forty-five percent take advantage of the opportunity for tax-free inter vivos giving. Cross-sectional regressions using the 1995 Survey of Consumer Finances suggest that transfers rise with household net worth, possibly reflecting the impact of progressive estate taxes. In addition, households with a preponderance of their net worth in illiquid forms, such as a private business, are less likely to make transfers than their equally wealthy counterparts with more liquid wealth. Households with substantial unrealized capital gains, for whom the benefits of capital asset basis step-up at death are greatest, are less likely to make large inter vivos transfers than similarly wealthy households with higher basis assets. Nevertheless, the aggregate flow of intergenerational transfers is much smaller than the level that would result if all households that were likely to face the estate tax attempted to transfer resources through inter vivos gifts.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6842.

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Date of creation: Dec 1998
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Publication status: published as Poterba, James. “Estate and Gift Taxes and Incentives for Inter Vivos Giving in the United States,” Journal of Public Economics 79 (January 2001), 237-264.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6842

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  1. Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H. & Bernheim, B. Douglas, 1986. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Scholarly Articles 3721794, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. John B. Shoven & David A. Wise, 1996. "The Taxation of Pensions: A Shelter can Become a Trap," NBER Working Papers 5815, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Kuehlwein, Michael, 1994. "The non-equalization of true gift and estate tax rates," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(2), pages 319-323, February.
  4. Arthur B. Kennickell & Martha Starr-McCluer & Annika E. Sunden, 1997. "Family finances in the U.S.: recent evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Jan, pages 1-24.
  5. McGarry, K. & Schoeni, R.F., 1995. "Transfer Behavior With the Family: Results from the Asset and Health Dynamics Survey," Papers 95-09, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
  6. Kathleen McGarry, 1997. "Inter vivos Transfers and Intended Bequests," NBER Working Papers 6345, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1987. "Does the Estate Tax Raise Revenue?," NBER Working Papers 2087, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. William G. Gale & John Karl Scholz, 1994. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Accumulation of Wealth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 145-160, Fall.
  9. John Laitner & F. Thomas Juster, 1993. "New evidence on altruism: a study of TIAA-CREF retirees," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 86, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  10. Olivia S. Mitchell & James M. Poterba & Mark J. Warshawsky, . "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," Pension Research Council Working Papers 97-9, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  11. Auten, Gerald & Joulfaian, David, 2001. "Bequest taxes and capital gains realizations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 213-229, August.
  12. Laitner, John, 1993. "Intergenerational and interhousehold economic links," Handbook of Population and Family Economics, in: M. R. Rosenzweig & Stark, O. (ed.), Handbook of Population and Family Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 5, pages 189-238 Elsevier.
  13. Adams, James D., 1978. "Equalization of true gift and estate tax rates," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 59-71, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Mariacristina Nardi, 2004. "Wealth Inequality and Intergenerational Links," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71, pages 743-768, 07.
  2. Douglas Holtz-Eakin & John Phillips & Harvey Rosen, 1999. "Estate Taxes, Life Insurance, and Small Business," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 10, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
  3. David Joulfaian, 2005. "Choosing Between Gifts and Bequests: How Taxes Affect the Timing of Wealth Transfers," NBER Working Papers 11025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. James M. Poterba & Scott Weisbenner, 2000. "The Distributional Burden of Taxing Estates and Unrealized Capital Gains at the Time of Death," NBER Working Papers 7811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. William G. Gale & Joel B. Slemrod, 2001. "Rethinking the Estate and Gift Tax: Overview," NBER Working Papers 8205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Mauro Baranzini, 2005. "Modigliani's life-cycle theory of savings fifty years later," Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, vol. 58(233-234), pages 109-172.
  7. Jonathan S. Feinstein & Chih-Chin Ho, 2000. "Elderly Asset Management and Health: An Empirical Analysis," NBER Working Papers 7814, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Mauro Baranzini, 2005. "Modigliani's life-cycle theory of savings fifty years later," BNL Quarterly Review, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, vol. 58(233-234), pages 109-172.
  9. Douglas Holtz-Eakin & Donald Marples, 2001. "Distortion Costs of Taxing Wealth Accumulation: Income Versus Estate Taxes," NBER Working Papers 8261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Laura de Pablos Escobar, 2009. "Alternativas a la supresión del Impuesto sobre el Patrimonio," Documentos de trabajo de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales 09-06, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales.
  11. McGarry, Kathleen, 2001. "The cost of equality: unequal bequests and tax avoidance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 179-204, January.

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