As Benjamin Franklin once eloquently put it, there are only two things in this world that are certain: death and taxes. While taxes in many forms are a reality for every American in one form or another, the odds of you having to face estate taxes at the time of your death are demonstrably small.
There's been a lot in the news lately about President Trump's tax plan, and vague as the details are, one of the main standouts is the repeal of the estate tax. Millions are praising him for this simple action, but you have to wonder why, when at present, it only impacts about 0.01% of ALL estates in the United States. You read that correctly.
The estate tax is paid by billionaires and millionaires — it is not a tax on the middle class. An estate needs to be worth about $5.5 million before a penny of it gets taxed. Only 1 estate out of every 700 deaths pays any estate tax at all.
The most common misconception about the Estate Tax is that is applies to everyone - it doesn't. Since most uneducated people are unfamiliar that an "estate" is created at the time of death, this concept had to be explained by calling it the "death tax." Everyone dies, so everyone's estate must pay this, right?
Wrong. You'll only pay something if you are ridiculously rich...and even then there are so many loopholes to help you avoid paying anything at all.
Here are some key facts about the estate tax that you need to know before any kind of tax reform gets passed through Congress...
1) The estate tax is ONLY paid on assets greater than $5.49 million (2017) per individual ($10.98 million per couple). Even billionaires pay nothing on the first $5.49 million they leave to their heirs. If your estate at the time of death is less than $5.49 million, your estate pays the federal government NOTHING.
2) Only 1 in every 700 deaths results in paying the federal estate tax, in fact the vast majority of estates (99.9%) do not pay ANY federal estate taxes.
3) The estate tax was last raised in 2012, and applied to just $8.5 billion of inheritances -- this results in less than 1% of the $1.2 trillion that was set to be inherited that year.
4) While the top estate tax percentage is 40%, the average tax rate paid is just 17%.
5) This year, only about 20 small businesses and family farm estates will owe any estate taxes at all.
6) As it currently stands, the estate tax is set to raise $225 billion in revenues over the next 10 years. This is more than the $164 billion 10-year shortfall in the highway/mass transit trust funds.
7) Rich families are very good at avoiding these taxes - the Walton family (who owns half of Walmart) - has exploited a loophole in the estate tax to avoid paying nearly $3 billion in estate taxes. In the future, they would avoid tens of billions.
8) Sheldon Adelson (a Casino magnate) has also exploited a loophole to pass $8 billion onto his family members and avoid about $2.8 billion in estate taxes.
9) Of the 2.7 million people expected to die this year, the US Census Bureau estimates that only about 11,000 of them will need to have executors file for the estate tax in some capacity. Of those 11,000 deaths, only about 5,200 will actually end up owing anything to the government --- this is less than 0.2% of all anticipated deaths.