A new report from Citizens for Tax Justice shows that the federal estate tax continues to reach less than one percent of estates, despite the complaints of anti-tax activists that middle-class people are crushed by the so-called "death tax." In most of the states that are home to Senators who want to abolish the estate tax, the percentage of estates affected is particularly low.
Under the Bush tax cuts, the estate tax is scheduled to change to allow even more estates to escape federal taxation. In 2004 and 2005 estates worth up to $1.5 million (or $3 million for estates owned by a married couple) were exempt from the estate tax. (Most of the estates listed in the new report were subject to that exemption.) Since then, the exemption has increased to $2 million ($4 million for married couples) and in 2009 the exemption will increase to $3.5 million ($7 million for married couples). In 2010 the estate tax will disappear entirely. After 2010 all the Bush tax breaks expire, including this generous treatment of estates.
Some lawmakers want to make permanent the complete repeal of the estate tax, which would cost over a trillion dollars over a decade. As this data makes clear, that would benefit very few families with the biggest estates.