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Who Pays the Estate Tax? Group Aims to Debunk the Myths

November 30, 2009

PORTLAND, Maine - With so many big-ticket items on the table, such as health-care reform and climate policy, it's easy for an issue like the estate tax to get lost in the shuffle. That's the tax paid on the estates of multi-millionaires when they die. But the devil is in the details, says Mike Lapham of United for a Fair Economy, a Boston-based nonprofit group. He says several powerful groups have been working to repeal the estate tax for quite some time and, according to Lapham, one of the biggest misconceptions about the tax such groups have perpetuated is that it affects everyone.

"The estate tax only applies to people in about the top one percent of our society. So, 99 out of a hundred people never pay the estate tax."

Currently, in order to have your estate pay the tax, you would need to leave behind net assets of more than $3.5 million as an individual, or $7 million as a couple. Those who want to eliminate the tax say leaving more money to members of wealthy families spurs job growth and is good for business. But Lapham says the vast majority of small businesses and farms do not pay the estate tax.

"It's an important source of revenue. $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years will come from the estate tax, and that's money that, if we don't tax super-wealthy folks who are dying, then is going to be shifted into other people's taxes. And we think it makes sense to have a tax on the people who have done very well in this society."

United for a Fair Economy supports a plan introduced by Washington Congressman Jim McDermott, which Lapham calls "the most fiscally responsible" of all the proposals being considered. McDermott's plan would keep the tax in place, and expand it to include those who leave estates of over $2 million per individual or $4 million per couple.

The estate tax has been cut five times since 2001. It expires at the end of this year so Congress must decide on a plan for next year within the next few weeks. Maine's U.S. Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have often voted to end or repeal the estate tax.

There's more information at:

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - ME