John Oliver’s HBO show this weekend featured a segment on income and wealth inequality (warning: colorful language!), and Oliver cited
showing that 99.86 percent of all estates in 2013 owed no estate tax (see chart).
As Oliver mentioned and our paper explains, contrary to the myth that many people face the estate tax, the first $5.25 million of every estate (effectively $10.5 million per married couple) is exempt from tax (with that level indexed for inflation). That means that very few estates owe any tax. For those few that did in 2013, the “effective” tax rate — that is, the percentage of the estate’s value that is paid in taxes — was 16.6 percent, on average. That’s far below the top estate tax rate of 40 percent.
Rather than cutting investments in areas like education, medical research, and environmental protection in order to reduce the deficit, policymakers should be looking to strengthen the estate tax. Learn more about the myths and realities of the federal estate tax here.