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Estate vs. capital gains taxation: an evaluation of prospective policies for taxing wealth at the time of death

  • Robert B. Avery
  • Daniel Grodzicki
  • Kevin B. Moore
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    Debate over the U.S. federal estate tax has intensified recently as a result of the sunset provisions in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001 and changes in law passed in conjunction with the "fiscal cliff" at the end of 2012. Despite recent changes in the law, there remains an open debate regarding the extent to which prospective estates comprise assets that have been taxed previously. Using wealth data on U.S. households, we forecast changes in household wealth in the coming decade and calculate the importance of untaxed wealth in bequeathed estates. Connecting further to the debate, we investigate the impact of various policies on U.S. households. In particular, we compare policies in which the entire estate is taxed at death (estate tax) to those in which only the unrealized capital gains portion is subject to tax (capital gains tax). We estimate that the average unrealized capital gains in estates monotonically increases with the size of the estate, ranging from 13% for estates under $2 million to 55% for estates over $100 million. We also find that policies aimed at taxing the entire estate raise more revenue than those aimed at taxing unrealized gains. However, policies that tax only gains concentrate a larger portion of the tax burden on high wealth households.

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    Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2013-28.

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    Date of creation: 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2013-28
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    1. Avery, Robert B & Elliehausen, Gregory E & Kennickell, Arthur B, 1988. "Measuring Wealth with Survey Data: An Evaluation of the 1983 Survey of Consumer Finances," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 34(4), pages 339-69, December.
    2. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2012. "Taxation of Intergenerational Transfers and Wealth," NBER Working Papers 18584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    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. Auten, Gerald & Joulfaian, David, 2001. "Bequest taxes and capital gains realizations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 213-229, August.
    5. 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.
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