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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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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
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2007, 122(4), 1801-1854
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12701
Note: AG PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Christopher D. Carroll, 1998. "Why Do the Rich Save So Much?," NBER Working Papers 6549, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  4. 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.
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  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. 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.
  9. Mariacristina deNardi, 2000. "Wealth Inequality and Intergenerational Links," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0547, Econometric Society.
  10. Chen, Songnian, 1997. "Semiparametric estimation of the Type-3 Tobit model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 1-34, September.
  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. 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.
  13. William G. Gale & Joel B. Slemrod, 2001. "Rethinking the Estate and Gift Tax: Overview," NBER Working Papers 8205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2006. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 607-643, August.
  15. 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.
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