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Bequest and Tax Planning: Evidence From Estate Tax Returns

  • Wojciech Kopczuk

I study bequest and wealth accumulation behavior of the wealthy (subject to the estate tax) shortly before death. The onset of a terminal illness leads to a very significant reduction in the value of estates reported on tax returns - 15 to 20% with illness lasting "months to years" and about 5 to 10% in case of illness reported as lasting "days to weeks". I provide evidence suggesting that these findings cannot be explained by real shocks to net worth such as due to medical expenses or lost income, but instead reflect "deathbed" estate planning. The results suggest that wealthy individuals actively care about disposition of their estates, but that this preference is dominated by the desire to hold on to their wealth while alive.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12701.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12701.

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Date of creation: Nov 2006
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Publication status: Published in Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2007, 122(4), 1801-1854
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12701
Note: AG PE
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  1. Kenneth Y. Chay & James L. Powell, 2001. "Semiparametric Censored Regression Models," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(4), pages 29-42, Fall.
  2. Honore, Bo E. & Powell, James L., 1994. "Pairwise difference estimators of censored and truncated regression models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1-2), pages 241-278.
  3. Glenn R. Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, . "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 3-95, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  4. Honore, Bo E. & Kyriazidou, Ekaterini & Udry, Christopher, 1997. "Estimation of Type 3 Tobit models using symmetric trimming and pairwise comparisons," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1-2), pages 107-128.
  5. Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 2002. "The Importance of Bequests and Life-Cycle Saving in Capital Accumulation: A New Answer," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 274-278, May.
  6. Christopher D. Carroll, 1998. "Why Do the Rich Save So Much?," NBER Working Papers 6549, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2004. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," NBER Working Papers 10260, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Mariacristina De Nardi, 2004. "Wealth Inequality and Intergenerational Links," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(3), pages 743-768.
  10. William G. Gale & Joel B. Slemrod, 2001. "Rethinking the Estate and Gift Tax: Overview," NBER Working Papers 8205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. 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.
  12. McGarry, Kathleen, 1999. "Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 321-351, September.
  13. Powell, James L, 1986. "Symmetrically Trimmed Least Squares Estimation for Tobit Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(6), pages 1435-60, November.
  14. Wojciech Kopczuk & Joel Slemrod, 2005. "Denial of Death and Economic Behavior," NBER Working Papers 11485, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Chen, Songnian, 1997. "Semiparametric estimation of the Type-3 Tobit model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 1-34, September.
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