Center for State Tax Policy

Estate and Gift Taxes

The federal government taxes transfers of wealth in three ways: through the estate tax, the gift tax and the generation-skipping transfer tax. Together these taxes make up the federal transfer tax system. In addition, many U.S. states impose estate taxes.

Estate taxes and generation-skipping transfer taxes are paid on the contents of estates or proceeds of trusts, while transfers of wealth between living persons are subject to gift taxes. The federal government enacted the first estate tax in 1916. Studies routinely find that estate taxes discourage entrepreneurship and lead to large tax compliance costs.

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