A History of the Death Tax: A Source of Revenue, or a Vehicle for Wealth Redistribution?
Probate and Property, May/June 2003, Volume 17, Number 3
By Debra Rahmin Silberstein
Debra Rahmin Silberstein is in private practice in Andover, Massachusetts.
A historical review of death taxes in the United States beginning in 1797 reveals a pattern of enactment and repeal. Enactment often occurred with the goal of raising revenue for a specific purpose, primarily military spending. Repeal often occurred in times of economic prosperity and when the specific revenue need decreased. In the 1920s, the goal of the estate tax expanded from merely increasing revenue to breaking up concentrations of wealth. By many measures, neither goal has been achieved. The revenue generated from the estate tax has decreased as a proportion of total tax revenue. Significant increases in exemptions, exclusions, and deductions will continue to contribute to the decreasing importance of the estate tax as a revenue source.
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