Perhaps we should expect some untimely deaths among the rich this month. This is the last month they are likely to get away with it tax-free. The tax-cut bill passed by the Bush administration in 2001 mandated that the estate tax disappear in 2010, only to be restores next year at a 55 percent rate on estates above $1 million. This means that for every billionaire that dies this year, the Internal Revenue Service will pay a high price in lost revenue.
George Steinbrenner, who owned the Yankees, died this year leaving an estate of $1.5 billion. Janet Morse Cargill left behind a $1.6 billion fortune. Texas pipeline magnate Dan Duncan died with a net worth of $9.8 billion, and Walter Shorenstein of California real estate money had a $1.1 billion estate. Some lawyers estimated that these deaths cost the government $6.5 billion in foregone taxes.
I thank Freakonomics for the pointer.