Estate Taxes Erase a Lifetime of Work

By William Beach Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

Estate Taxes Erase a Lifetime of Work


William Beach Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


And now, some unsolicited advice for politicians during this election season: If you want to cut taxes, go after the worst taxes first.

In fact, let me go further and recommend my own selection for the "worst tax of all." It's the estate tax, an egregious little corner of the internal revenue code that punishes people who have worked hard their whole lives by taking away their right to leave an inheritance to their children.

If that sounds like a moral argument against the estate tax, it is. Distilled to its essence, the estate tax says: Work hard, be frugal, build a business, maybe acquire wealth - but don't even think about leaving it to your children. The government claims ownership over the first (and often the largest) share of your life's work. Your kids? Well, they can have what's left. This is not to deny that the estate tax still has its defenders, mainly liberals who think of it as a tax on "the rich." But try telling that to the millions of farmers and small-business owners who suffer at the hands of the estate tax. They want the tax repealed not because they are fabulously wealthy, but because it will prevent them from passing along their farms and businesses to their children. Even moderately successful farmers and small-business owners, after a lifetime of hard work, wind up with "estates" worth $600,000 - the figure at which the estate tax starts to bite. But when they die, their children can face such a large tax bill on the value of the estate that the only viable option is to sell the enterprise. The problem can be particularly acute for minorities and women, the very people liberals are always claiming they want to help. Women re-entering the work force after raising children often find starting their own business the best (if not the only) economic opportunity, and minorities view businesses as a way to establish economic independence and give their children a boost up the economic ladder. But the estate tax raises the prospect that all the financial security these small-business owners have worked to achieve will evaporate once the owner dies. In fact, a survey conducted last year showed that 58 percent of minority business owners believe their business will fail or have difficulty surviving after estate taxes take their toll. …

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