State level estate taxes are hitting some people hard

Washington finally declared a truce on the death tax this year, with estates now taxed at 40% with an exemption of $5 million. President Obama insisted on preserving this tax to spread the wealth, though it raises less than 2% of federal revenue and discourages lifetime savings, as even a 1981 study by Mr. Obama’s former chief economist Larry Summers showed.

Now the death-tax debate has shifted to state capitals, with mixed results depending on which party runs the state. Prior to 2001, states could impose an estate tax of up to 16% with no extra burden on their residents because a federal tax credit offset state estate taxes. That policy has ended and now state death levies are paid out of the assets of the deceased.

Four states—Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee—have reacted wisely by eliminating or phasing out their estate taxes. This leaves 18 states plus the District of Columbia that still impose a gift or estate levy. (See the nearby list.) Most of them still apply a 16% rate—as if federal rules haven’t changed.

The grand prize for self-abuse goes to Minnesota, which this year enacted a new 10% gift tax with a $1 million exemption. A gift tax is a levy on money given away while still alive. This tax is in addition to Minnesota’s 16% estate tax. The new law is all the more punitive because it applies the 16% estate tax (6% on top of the earlier 10% gift tax) to any gift within three years of death.

More at The Wall Street Journal: The Die Harder States