Estate Taxation South of the Border: What’s set to change under the GOP’s Proposed Tax Plan?
The recently proposed tax changes by the federal government have left many Canadians on edge. In particular, tax planning for those owning small business corporations is currently under attack, and changes seem inevitable. (You can get a good overview of the proposed changes here.) As we grapple with the implications of these proposed changes in Canada, it is worth noting that our neighbours to the south are in the midst of a tax battle of their very own.
The United States is currently contemplating the new GOP tax bill, which President Trump aims to sign into law by the end of 2017. While discussing the entire breadth of the bill is beyond the scope of this blog (not to mention my caffeine supply), I think one aspect of the proposed bill is particularly worthy of discussion: the planned changes to estate taxation.
Currently, Americans can leave estates worth up to $5.49 million without passing any federal estate or gift tax. Estates worth more than that are subject to a 40% tax. Congress has already raised the estate assets threshold many times over the years; for example, in 2000, 52,000 estates had to pay the tax; it is now down to 5,000.
Congress is looking to raise the threshold once again, with the proposed GOP tax bill doubling that threshold to $11.2 million in 2018 and then doing away with the tax entirely by 2024. According to the Washington Post, the reduction and ultimate elimination of the estate tax would cost American tax payers $172 billion over a decade.
This provision to slash (and ultimately do away with) the federal estate tax has received a lot of buzz, which is perhaps disproportionate considering the proposal’s negligible impact on the American budget overall. According to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, the vast majority of Americans – 99.8%- are no longer affected by a federal estate tax. Of the .2% of Americans who are affected, nearly all those who do pay are among the wealthiest 5% of Americans, with the richest 0.1% paying 27% of the total tax. Thus, the crux of the debate over this provision would seem to rest on principle.
The Republican party argues that the estate tax, sometimes called a “death tax”, should be repealed because it is unfair by its very nature. In an interview with Fox News last Sunday, Speaker Paul Ryan (R- WI) stated the party position as follows: “We just think it’s unfair. Death should be not a taxable event, and we should not be stopping people from being able to pass their life’s work on to their kids.”
Democrats, on the other hand, are widely rejecting this provision, arguing that the proposed estate tax elimination constitutes a giveaway to the mega-rich, and that the money could be used more appropriately elsewhere.
Whether or not the proposed estate tax deduction will pass as part of the GOP tax plan remains to be seen; however, reports suggest progress is being made towards the goal of having a final bill signed into law by the President before Christmas.
Thanks for reading,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Lindsay Anderson (Law Student)