Estate tax is the taxation of property held by an individual at the time of their death and is one of the oldest and most common forms of taxation. Such a tax can take the form, among others, of estate tax (a tax levied on the estate before any transfers). An estate tax is a charge upon the decedent's entire estate, regardless of how it is disbursed. An alternative is an inheritance tax (a tax levied on individuals receiving property from the estate). Taxes imposed upon death can provide incentive to transfer assets before death.
Gift tax laws are generally designed to prevent complete tax avoidance by this route. The Federal Estate Tax is integrated with the Federal Gift tax so that large estates cannot be shielded from taxation by lifetime giving. Many states also impose an estate tax.
The Federal Estate Tax is set forth beginning in § 2001 of the Internal Revenue Code. (26 U.S.C. 2001). The Federal Gift Tax is set forth beginning in 26 U.S.C. 2501. Generally, the Gift Tax applies to any transfer made without receiving value in return and without regard to intent.
The federal estate and gift taxes were linked together in the 2010 Tax Relief Act to have mostly the same tax rates and applicable exclusion amounts. Gifts and estates face a federal tax rate of around 40%, but Congress changes this rate frequently. Further, each individual has an applicable exclusion amount which allows a set lifetime amount of gifts and estates to be excluded from the tax.
[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]
menu of sources
Federal Constitution and Statutes
- The United States Constitution Article I, Section 8 - Congressional Power to Tax
- CRS Annotated Constitution: Fourteenth Amendment: Transfer (Inheritance, Estate, Gift) Taxes
- U.S. Code: 26 U.S.C., Subtitle B - Federal Estate & Gift Tax
Federal Agency Regulations
- Code of Federal Regulations: 26 C.F.R., Chapter 1, Subchapter B - Estate and Gift Taxes
Federal Judicial Decisions
- U.S. Supreme Court: Recent Estate & Gift Tax Decisions
- U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals: Recent Estate & Gift Tax Decisions
- Uniform Laws:
- Interstate Arbitration of Death Taxes
- Interstate Compromise of Death Taxes
- Estate Tax Apportionment Act (1958)
- Estate Tax Apportionment Act (1964)
- State Statutes Dealing with Taxation
State Judicial Decisions
- N.Y. Court of Appeals:
- Appellate Decisions from Other States
Key Internet Sources
- Federal Agency: Internal Revenue Service
- National Association of Financial and Estate Planning
- Estate Tax and Gift Tax (Nolo)
Useful Offnet (or Subscription - $) Sources
- Good Starting Point in Print: W. Leslie Peat & Stephanie J.Willbanks, Federal Estate and Gift Taxation: An Analysis and Critique, (2004)